THE BETH BOOK
Being a Study of the Life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure A Woman of Genius
IAGO. Come, hold your peace.
EMILIA. 'Twill out, 'twill out:—I hold my peace, Sir? no; I'll be in speaking, liberal as the air: Let heaven, and men, and devils, let them all All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak. SHAKESPEARE
New York: D. Appleton 1897.
"I cannot gather the sunbeams out of the east, or I would make them tell you what I have seen; but read this and interpret this, and let us remember together. I cannot gather the gloom out of the night sky, or I would make that tell you what I have seen; but read this and interpret this, and let us feel together. And if you have not that within you which I can summon to my aid, if you have not the sun in your spirit and the passion in your heart which my words may awaken, though they be indistinct and swift, leave me, for I will give you no patient mockery, no labouring insults of that glorious Nature whose I am and whom I serve."—RUSKIN.
"The men who come on the stage at one period are all found to be related to one another. Certain ideas are in the air. We are all impressionable, for we are made of them; all impressionable, but some more than others, and these first express them. This explains the curious temporaneousness of inventions and discoveries. The truth is in the air, and the most impressionable brain will announce it first, but all will announce it a few minutes later. So women, as most susceptible, are the best index of the coming hour."—EMERSON.
The day preceding Beth's birth was a grey day, a serene grey day, awesome with a certain solemnity, and singularly significant to those who seek a sign. There is a quiet mood, an inner calm, to which a grey day adds peculiar solace. It is like the relief which follows after tears, when hope begins to revive, and the warm blood throbs rebelliously to be free of the shackles of grief; a certain heaviness still lingers, but only as a luxurious languor which is a pleasure in itself. In other moods, however, in pain, in doubt, in suspense, the grey day deepens the depression of the spirits, and also adds to the sense of physical discomfort. Mrs. Caldwell, looking up at noon from the stocking she was mending, and seeing only a slender strip of level gloom above the houses opposite, suddenly experienced a mingled feeling of chilliness and dread, and longed for a fire, although the month was June. She could not afford fires at that time of year, yet she thought how nice it would be to have one, and the more she thought of it the more chilly she felt. A little comfort of the kind would have meant so much to her that morning. She would like to have felt it right to put away the mending, sit by a good blaze with a book, and absorb herself in somebody else's thoughts, for her own were far from cheerful. She was weak and ill and anxious, the mother of six children already, and about to produce a seventh on an income that would have been insufficient for four. It was a reckless thing for a delicate woman to do, but she never thought of that. She lived in the days when no one thought of the waste of women in this respect, and they had not begun to think for themselves. What she suffered she accepted as her "lot," or "The Will of God"—the expression varied with the nature of the trouble; extreme pain was "The Will of God," but minor discomforts and worries were her "lot." That much of the misery was perfectly preventable never occurred to her, and if any one had suggested such a thing she would have been shocked. The parson in the pulpit preached endurance; and she understood that anything in the nature of resistance, any discussion even of social problems, would not only have been a flying in the face of Providence, but a most indecent proceeding. She knew that there was crime and disease in the world, but there were judges and juries to pursue criminals, doctors to deal with diseases, and the clergy to speak a word in season to all, from the murderer on the scaffold to the maid who had misconducted herself. There was nothing eccentric about Mrs. Caldwell; she accepted the world just as she found it, and was satisfied to know that effects were being dealt with. Causes she never considered, because she knew nothing about them.
But she was ill at ease that morning, and did think it rather hard that she should not have had time to recover from her last illness. She acknowledged to herself that she was very weak, that it was hard to drag the darning-needle through that worn stocking, and, oh dear! the holes were so many and so big that week, and there were such quantities of other things to be done, clothes mended and made for the children, besides household matters to be seen to generally; why wasn't she strong? That was the only thing she repined about, poor woman, her want of physical strength. She would work until she dropped, however, and mortal man could expect no more of her, she assured herself with a sigh of satisfaction, in anticipation of the inevitable event which would lay her by, and so release her from all immediate responsibility. Worn and weary working mothers, often uncomplaining victims of the cruelest exactions, toilers whose day's work is never done, no wonder they welcome even the illness which enforces rest in bed, the one holiday that is ever allowed them. Mrs. Caldwell thought again of the fire and the book. She had read a good deal at one time, and had even been able to play, and sing, and draw, and paint with a dainty touch; but since her marriage, the many children, the small means, and the failing strength had made all such pursuits an impossible luxury. The fire and the book—who knows what they might not have meant, what a benign difference the small relaxation allowed to the mother at this critical time might not have made in the temperament of the child? Perhaps, if we could read the events even of that one day aright, we should find in them the clue to all that was inexplicable in its subsequent career.
In deciding that she could not afford a fire for herself, Mrs. Caldwell had glanced round the room, and noticed that the whisky bottle on the sideboard was all but empty. She got up hastily, and went into the kitchen.
"I had quite forgotten the whisky," she said to the maid-of-all-work, who was scraping potatoes at the sink. "Your master will be so put out if there isn't enough. You must go at once and get some—six bottles. Bring one with you, and let them send the rest."
The girl turned upon her with a scowl. "And who's to do my dinner?" she demanded.
"I'll do what I can," Mrs. Caldwell answered. The servant threw the knife down on the potatoes, and turned from the sink sullenly, wiping her hands on her apron as she went.
Mrs. Caldwell rolled up her sleeves, and set to work, but awkwardly. Household work comes naturally to many educated women; they like it, and they do it well; but Mrs. Caldwell was not one of this kind. She was not made for labour, but for luxury; her hands and arms, both delicately beautiful in form and colour, alone showed that. Her whole air betokened gentle birth and breeding. She looked out of place in the kitchen, and it was evident that she could only acquit herself well among the refinements of life. She set to work with a will, however, for she had the pluck and patience of ten men. She peeled vegetables, chopped meat, fetched water, carried coals to mend the fire, did all that had to be done to the best of her ability, although she had to cling many times to table, or chair, or dresser, to recover from the exertion, and brace herself for a fresh attempt. When she had done in the kitchen she went to the dining-room and laid the cloth. The sulky servant did not hurry back. She had a trick of lingering long on errands, and when at last she did appear she brought no whisky.
"They're going to send it," she explained. "They promised to send it at once."
"But I told you to bring a bottle!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, stamping her foot imperiously.
The girl walked off to the kitchen, and slammed the door.
Mrs. Caldwell's forehead was puckered with a frown, but she got out the mending again, and sat down to it in the dining-room with dogged determination.
Presently there was a step outside. She looked up and listened. The front door opened. Her worn face brightened; backache and weariness were forgotten; her husband had come home; and it was as if the clouds had parted and the sun shone forth.
She looked up brightly to greet him. "You've got your work over early to-day," she said.
"I have," he answered drily, without looking at her.
The smile froze on her lips. He had come back in an irritable mood. He went to the sideboard when he had spoken, and poured himself out a stiff glass of whisky-and-water, which he carried to the window, where he stood with his back to his wife, looking out. He was a short man, who made an instant impression of light eyes in a dark face. You would have looked at him a second time in the street, and thought of him after he had passed, so striking was the peculiar contrast. His features were European, but his complexion, and his soft glossy black hair, curling close and crisp to the head, betrayed a dark drop in him, probably African. In the West Indies he would certainly have been set down as a quadroon. There was no record of negro blood in the family, however, no trace of any ancestor who had lived abroad; and the three moors' heads with ivory rings through their noses which appeared in one quarter of the scutcheon were always understood by later generations to have been a distinction conferred for some special butchery-business among the Saracens.
Mrs. Caldwell glanced at her husband, as he stood with his back to her in the window, and then went on with the mending, patiently waiting till the mood should have passed off, or she should have thought of something with which to beguile him.
When he had finished the whisky-and-water, he turned and looked at her with critical disapprobation.
"I wonder why it is when a woman marries she takes no more pains with herself," he ejaculated. "When I married you, you were one of the smartest girls I ever saw."
"It would be difficult to be smart just now," she answered.
He made a gesture of impatience. "But why should a woman give up everything when she marries? You had more accomplishments than most of them, and now all you do, it seems to me, is the mending."
"The mending must be done," she answered deprecatingly, "and I'm not very strong. I'm not able to do everything. I would if I could."
There was a wild stampede at this moment. The four elder children had returned from school, and the two younger ones from a walk with their nurse, and now burst into the room, in wild spirits, demanding dinner. It was the first bright moment of the morning for their mother, but her husband promptly spoilt her pleasure.
"Sit down at table," he roared, "and don't let me hear another word from any of you. A man comes home to be quiet, and this is the kind of thing that awaits him!"
The children shrank to their places abashed, while their mother escaped to the kitchen to hurry the dinner. The form—or farce—of grace was gone through before the meal commenced. The children ate greedily, but were obediently silent. All the little confidences and remarks which it would have been so healthy for them to make, and so good for their mother to hear, had to be suppressed, and the silence and constraint made everyone dyspeptic. The dinner consisted of only one dish, a hash, which Mrs. Caldwell had made because her husband had liked it so much the last time they had had it. He turned it over on his plate now, however, ominously, blaming the food for his own want of appetite. Mrs. Caldwell knew the symptoms, and sighed.
"I can't eat this stuff," he said at last, pushing his plate away from him.
"There's a pudding coming," his wife replied.
"Oh, a pudding!" he exclaimed. "I know what our puddings are. Why aren't women taught something sensible? What's the use of all your accomplishments if you can't cook the simplest dish? What a difference it would have made to my life if you had been able to make pastry even."
Mrs. Caldwell thought of the time she had spent on her feet in the kitchen that morning doing her best, and she also thought how easy it would have been for him to marry a woman who could cook, if that were all he wanted; but she had no faint glimmering conception that it was unreasonable to expect a woman of her class to cook her dinner as well as eat it. One servant is not expected to do another's work in any establishment; but a mother on a small income, the most cruelly tried of women, is too often required to be equal to anything. Mrs. Caldwell said nothing, however. She belonged to the days when a wife's meek submission to anything a man chose to say made nagging a pleasant relaxation for the man, and encouraged him to persevere until he acquired a peculiar ease in the art, and spoilt the tempers of everybody about him.
The arrival of the family doctor put an end to the scene. Mrs. Caldwell told the children to run away, and her husband's countenance cleared.
"Glad to see you, Gottley," he said. "What will you have?"
"Oh, nothing, thank you. I can't stay a moment. I just looked in to see how Mrs. Caldwell was getting on."
"Oh, she's all right," her husband answered for her cheerfully. "How are you all, especially Miss Bessie?"
"Ha! ha!" said the old gentleman, sitting down by the table. "That reminds me I'm not on good terms with Bessie this morning. I'm generally careful, you know, but it seems I said something disrespectful about a Christian brother—a Christian brother, mind you—and I've been had up before the family tribunal for blasphemy, and condemned to everlasting punishment. Lord!—But, mark my words," he exclaimed emphatically, "a time will come when every school-girl will see, what my life is made a burden to me for seeing now, the absurdity of the whole religious superstition."
"O doctor!" Mrs. Caldwell cried, "surely you believe in God?"
"God has not revealed Himself to me, madam; I know nothing about Him," the old gentleman answered gently.
"Ah, there you know you are wrong, Gottley," Mr. Caldwell chimed in, and then he proceeded to argue the question. The old doctor, being in a hurry, said little in reply, and when he had gone Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, with wifely tact—
"Well, I think you had the best of that!"
"Well, I think I had, poor old buffer!" her husband answered complacently, his temper restored. "By the way, I've brought in the last number of Dickens. Shall I read it to you?"
Her face brightened. "Yes, do," she rejoined. "One moment, till Jane has done clearing the table. Here's your chair," and she placed the only easy one in the room for him, in the best light.
These readings were one of the joys of her life. He read to her often, and read exceedingly well. Books were the bond of union between them, the prop and stay of their married life. Poor as they were, they always managed to find money for new ones, which they enjoyed together in this way. Intellectuality balanced the morbid irritability of the husband's temperament, and literature made life tolerable to them both as nothing else could have done. As he read now, his countenance cleared, and his imaginary cares fell from him; while his wife's very real ones were forgotten as she listened, and there was a blessed truce to trouble for a time. Unfortunately, however, as the reading proceeded, he came to a rasping bit of the story, which began to grate upon his nerves. The first part had been pleasurably exciting, but when he found the sensation slipping from him, he thought to stay it with a stimulant, and went to the sideboard for the purpose. Mrs. Caldwell's heart sank; the whisky bottle was all but empty.
"Oh, damn it!" he exclaimed, banging it down on the sideboard. "And I suppose there is none in the house. There never is any in the house. No one looks after anything. My comfort is never considered. It is always those damned children."
"Henry!" his wife protested; but she was too ill to defend herself further.
"What a life for a man," he proceeded; "stuck down in this cursed hole, without a congenial soul to speak to, in or out of the house."
"That is a cruel thing to say, Henry," she remonstrated with dignity.
"Well, I apologise," he rejoined ungraciously. "But you must confess that I have some cause to complain."
He was standing behind her as he spoke, and she felt that he eyed her the while with disapproval of her appearance, and anger at her condition. She knew the look only too well, poor soul, and her attitude was deprecating as she sat there gazing up pitifully at the strip of level greyness above the houses opposite. She said nothing, however, only rocked herself on her chair, and looked forlornly miserable; seeing which brought his irritation to a climax. He flung the book across the room; but even in the act, his countenance cleared. He was standing in the window, and caught a glimpse of Bessie Gottley, who was passing at the moment on the opposite side of the road, and looked across at him, smiling and nodding invitingly. Mrs. Caldwell saw the pantomime, and her heart contracted with a pang when she saw how readily her husband responded. It was hard that the evil moods should not be conquered for her as well as for Bessie Gottley.
Bridget came in just then, bringing the belated whisky.
"Oh, you did order it," he graciously acknowledged. "Why didn't you say so?" He opened the bottle, and poured some out for himself. "Here's to the moon-faced Bessie!" he said jocularly.
Mrs. Caldwell went on with the mending. Her husband began to walk up and down the room, in a good humour again. He walked peculiarly, more on his toes than his heels, with an odd little spring in each step, as if it were the first step of a dance. This springiness gave to his gait a sort of buoyancy which might have seemed natural to him, if exaggerated, in his youth, but had the air of an affectation in middle life, as if it were part of an assumption of juvenility.
"Won't you go on with the reading?" his wife said at last. His restlessness worried her.
"No," he answered; "I shall go out. I want exercise."
"When will you be back?" she asked wistfully.
"Oh, hang it all! don't nag me. I shall come back when I like."
He left the room as he spoke, slamming the door behind him. Mrs. Caldwell did not alter her attitude, but the tears welled up in her eyes, and ran down her haggard cheeks unheeded. The children came in, and finding her so, quietly left the room, all but the eldest girl, who went and leant against her, slipping her little hand through her mother's arm. The poor woman kissed the child passionately; then, with a great effort, recovered her self-control, put her work away, gave the children their tea, read to them for an hour, and saw them to bed. The front door was open when she came downstairs, and she went to shut it. A lady, who knew her, happened to be passing, and stopped to shake hands. "I saw your husband just now sitting on the beach with Bessie Gottley," she informed Mrs. Caldwell pleasantly. "They were both laughing immoderately."
"Very likely," Mrs. Caldwell responded with a smile. "She amuses my husband immensely. But won't you come in?"
"No, thank you. Not to-night. I am hurrying home. Glad to see you looking so well;" with which she nodded, and went her way; and Mrs. Caldwell returned to the little dining-room, holding her head high till she had shut the door, when she burst into a tempest of tears. She was a lymphatic woman ordinarily, but subject to sudden squalls of passion, when she lost all self-control.
She would have sobbed aloud now, when the fit was on her, in the face of the whole community, although the constant effort of her life was to keep up appearances. She had recovered herself, however, before the servant came in with the candles, and was sitting in the window looking out anxiously. The greyness of the long June day was darkening down to night now, but there was no change in the sultry stillness of the air. Summer lightning played about in the strip of sky above the houses opposite. One of the houses was a butcher's shop, and while Mrs. Caldwell sat there, the butcher brought out a lamb and killed it. Mrs. Caldwell watched the operation with interest. They did strange things in those days in that little Irish seaport, and, being an Englishwoman, she looked on like a civilised traveller intelligently studying the customs of a savage people.
But as the darkness gathered, the trouble of her mind increased. Her husband did not return, and a sickening sensation of dread took possession of her. Where had he gone? What was he doing? Doubtless enjoying himself—what bitterness there was in the thought! She did not grudge him any pleasure, but it was hard that he should find so little in her company. Why was there no distraction for her? The torment of her mind was awful; should she try his remedy? She went to the sideboard and poured herself out some whisky, but even as she raised it to her lips she felt it unworthy to have recourse to it, and put the glass down untouched.
After that she went and leant against the window-frame. It was about midnight, and very few people passed. Whenever a man appeared in the distance, she had a moment of hope, but only to be followed by the sickening sensation of another disappointment. The mental anguish was so great that for some time she paid no attention to physical symptoms which had now begun. By degrees, however, these became importunate, and oh the relief of it! The trouble of her mind ceased when the physical pain became acute, and therefore she welcomed it as a pleasant distraction. She was obliged to think and be practical too; there was no one in the house to help her. The sleeping children were of course out of the question, and the two young servants, maid-of-all-work and nurse, nearly as much so. Besides, there was the difficulty of calling them. She felt she must not disturb Jane who was in the nursery, for fear of rousing the children; but should she ever get to Bridget's room, which was further off? Step by step she climbed the stairs, clinging to the banister with one hand, holding the candle in the other. Several times she sank down and waited silently, but with contracted face, till a paroxysm had passed. At last she reached the door. Bridget was awake and had heard her coming. "Holy Mother!" she exclaimed, startled out of her habitual sullenness by her mistress's agonised face. "Yer ill, ma'am! Let me help you to your bed!"
"Fetch the doctor and the nurse, Bridget," Mrs. Caldwell was just able to gasp.
In the urgency and excitement of the moment, there was a truce to hostilities. Bridget jumped up, in night-dress and bare feet, and supported her mistress to her room. There she was obliged to leave her alone; and so it happened that, just as the grey dawn trembled with the first flush of a new and brighter day, the child arrived unassisted and without welcome, and sent up a wail of protest. When the doctor came at last, and had time to attend to her, he pronounced her to be a fine child, and declared that she had made a good beginning, and would do well for herself, which words the nurse declared to be of happy omen. Her father was not fit to appear until late in the day. He came in humbly, filled with remorse for that mis-spent night, and was received with the feeble flicker of a smile, which so touched and softened him that he made more of the new child, and took a greater interest in her than he had done in any of the others at the time of their birth. There was some difficulty about a name for her. Her father proposed to call her Elizabeth—after his sister, he said—but Mrs. Caldwell objected. Elizabeth was Miss Gottley's name also, a fact which she recollected, but did not mention. That she did not like the name seemed reason enough for not choosing it; but her husband persisted, and then there was a hot dispute on the subject above the baby's cradle. The dispute ended in a compromise, the mother agreeing to have the child christened Elizabeth if she were not called so; and she would not have her called Eliza, Elsie, Elspeth, Bessie, Betsy, or Bess either. This left nothing for it but to call her Beth, and upon consideration both parents liked the diminutive, her father because it was unaccustomed, and her mother because it had no association of any kind attached to it.
For the first three months of her life Beth cried incessantly, as if bewailing her advent. Then, one day, she opened her eyes wide, and looked out into the world with interest.
It was the sunshine really that first called her into conscious existence, the blessed heat and light; up to the moment that she recognised these with a certain acknowledgment of them, and consequently of things in general outside herself, she had been as unconscious as a white grub without legs. But that moment roused her, calling forth from her senses their first response in the thrill of warmth and well-being to which she awoke, and quickening her intellect at the same time with the stimulating effort to discover from whence her comfort came. She could remember no circumstance in connection with this earliest awakening. All she knew of it was the feeling of warmth and brightness, which she said recurred to her at odd times ever afterwards, and could be recalled at will.
Some may see in this first awakening a foreshadowing of the fact that she was born to be a child of light, and to live in it; and certainly it was always light for which she craved, the actual light of day, however; but nothing she yearned for ever came to her in the form she thought of, and thus, when she asked for sunshine it was grudgingly given, fate often forcing her into dark dwellings; but all the time that light which illumines the spirit was being bestowed upon her in limitless measure.
The next step in her awakening was to a kind of self-consciousness. She was lying on her nurse's lap out of doors, looking up at the sky, and some one was saying, "Oh, you pretty thing!" But it was long years before she connected the phrase with herself, although she smiled in response to the voice that uttered it. Then she found herself on her feet in a garden, moving very carefully for fear of falling; and everything about her was gigantic, from Jane Nettles, the nurse, at whose skirt she tugged when she wanted to attract attention, to the brown wallflower and the purple larkspur which she could not reach to pull. There was a thin hedge at the end of the garden, through which she looked out on a path across a field, and a thick hedge on her left, in which a thrush had built a nest at an immense height above her head. Jane lifted her up to look into the nest, and there was nothing in it; then Jane lifted her up again, and, oh! there was a blue egg there; and Jane lifted her up a third time, and the egg had brown spots on it. The mystery of the egg awed her. She did not ask herself how it came to be there, but she felt a solemn wonder in the fact, and the colour caused a sensation of pleasure, a positive thrill, to run through her. This was her first recognition of beauty, and it was to the beauty of colour, not of form, that her senses awoke! Through life she had a keen joy and nice discrimination in colours, and seemed to herself to have always known their names.
But those spots on the egg. She was positive that they had come between her first and second peep, which shows how defective her faculty of observation, which became so exact under cultivation, was to begin with. Beth also betrayed other traits with regard to the spots, which she carried through life—the trick of being most positive when she was quite in the wrong, for one; and want of faith in other people, for another.
Jane said: "Did you see the spots that time, dearie?"
"Spots just comed," Beth declared.
"No, dearie, spots always there," Jane answered.
"Spots comed," Beth maintained.
"No, dearie. Spots always there, only you didn't see them."
"Spots comed now!" Beth stamped, and then, because Jane shook her head, she sat down suddenly on the gravel, and sent up a howl which brought her father out. He chucked Jane under the chin. Jane giggled, then made a sign; and there was Mrs. Caldwell looking from one to the other.
To Beth's recollection it seemed as if she had rapidly acquired the experiences of this first period. Each incident that she remembered is apparently trifling in itself, but who can say of what significance as an indication? In those first few years, had there been any there with intelligence to interpret, they probably would have found foreshadowings of all she might be, and do, and suffer; and that would have been the time to teach her. To me, therefore, these earliest impressions are more interesting than much that occurred to her in after life, and I have carefully collected them in the hope of finding some clue in them to what followed. In several instances it seems to me that the impression left by some chance observation or incident on her baby mind, made it possible for her to do many things in after life which she certainly never would have done but for those early influences. It would be affectation, therefore, to apologise for such detail. Nothing can be trivial or insignificant that tends to throw light on the mysterious growth of our moral and intellectual being. Many a cramped soul that struggles on in after years, vainly endeavouring to rise on a broken wing, might, had the importance of such seeming trifles in its development been recognised, have won its way upward from the first, untrammelled and uninjured. It was a Jesuit, was it not, who said: "Give me the child until it is six years old; after that you can do as you like with it." That is the time to make an indelible impression of principles upon the mind. In the first period of life, character is a blossom that should be carefully touched; in the second the petals fall, and the fruit sets; it is hard and acrid then until the third period, when, if things go well, it will ripen on the bough, and be sweet and wholesome—if ill, it will drop off immediately, and rot upon the ground.
Beth was a combative child, always at war with Jane. There was a great battle fought about a big black velvet bonnet that Beth wanted to wear one day. Beth screamed and kicked and scratched and bit, and finally went out in the bonnet triumphantly, and found herself standing alone on the edge of a great green world dotted with yellow gorse. A hot, wide dusty road stretched miles away in front of her; and at an infinite distance overhead was the blue sky flecked with clouds so white and dazzling that her eyes ached when she looked at them. She had stopped a moment to cry, "Wait for me!" Jane walked on, however, taking no notice, and Beth struggled after her, whimpering, out of breath, choked with dust, scorched with heat, parched with thirst, tired to death—how she suffered! A heartless lark sang overhead, regardless of her misery: and she never afterwards heard a lark without recalling the long white road, the heat, and dust, and fatigue. She tore off the velvet bonnet, and threw it away, then began another despairing "Wait for me!" But in the midst of the cry she saw some little yellow flowers growing in the grass at the roadside, and plumped down then and there inconsequently to gather them. By that time Jane was out of sight; and at the moment Beth became aware of the fact, she also perceived an appalling expanse of bright blue sky above her, and sat, gazing upwards, paralysed with terror. This was her first experience of loneliness, her first terrified sensation of immensity.
Then the snowdrops and crocuses were out, and the sky grew black, and she sat on the nursery floor and looked up at it in solemn wonder. Flakes of snow began to fall, a few at first, then thicker and thicker, till the air was full of them, and Jane said, "The Scotch are picking their geese," and immediately Beth saw the Scotch sitting in some vague scene, picking geese in frenzied haste, and throwing great handfuls of feathers up in the air; which was probably the first independent flight of her imagination.
It is astonishing how little consciousness of time there is in these reminiscences. The seasons are all confounded, and it is as if things had happened not in succession but abreast. There was snow on the ground when her brother Jim was with her in the wash-house, making horse-hair snares to catch birds. They made running loops of the horse-hair, and tied them on to sticks, then went out and stuck them in the ground in the garden outside the wash-house window, sprinkled crumbs of bread, and crept carefully back to watch. First came a robin with noiseless flight, and lit on the ground with its head on one side; but the children were too eager, and in their excitement they made a noise, and the robin flew away. Next came a sparrow, saw the children, saw the crumbs, and, with the habitual self-possession of his race, stretched in his head between the sticks, picked out the largest piece of bread, and carried it off in triumph. Immediately afterwards a blackbird flew down, and hopped in among the snares unconsciously. In a moment he was caught, and, with a wild shout of joy, the children rushed out to secure their prize; but when they reached the spot the blackbird had burst his bonds and escaped. Then Beth threw a chunk of wood at her brother, and cut his head open. His cries brought out the household, and Beth was well shaken—she was always being shaken at this time—and marched off promptly to papa's dressing-room, and made to sit on a little chair in the middle of the floor, where she amused herself by singing at the top of her voice—
"All around Sebastopol, All around the ocean, Every time a gun goes off, Down falls a Russian."
She wondered why her father and mother were laughing when they came to release her. Before they appeared, however, brother Jim, her victim, had come to the door with his head tied up, and peeped in; and she knew that they were friends again, because he shot ripe gooseberries at her across the floor as if they had been marbles. There is a discrepancy here, seeing that snow and ripe gooseberries are not in season at the same time. It is likely, however, that she broke her brother's head more than once, and the occasions became confounded in her recollection.
When the children went to bathe off the beach, Beth would not let Jane dip her if kicking, scratching, and screaming could prevent it. There used to be terrible scenes between them, until at last one day somebody else's old Scotch nurse interfered, and persuaded Beth to go into the water with her and consent to be dipped three times. Beth went like a lamb—instead of having to be dragged in and pushed under, given no time to recover her breath between each dip, half choked with sand and salt water, and finally dragged out, exhausted by the struggle, and certainly suffering more than she had benefited by the immersion. The cold water came up about her and took her breath away as the old Scotch nurse led her in, and Beth clung to her hand and panted "Wait!" as she nerved herself for the dip. Nurse had promised to wait until Beth was ready, and it was Beth's faith in her promise that gave her courage to go bravely through the ordeal. The old Scotch nurse never deceived her as Jane had done, and so Beth learnt that there are people in the world you can depend on.
There was one painful circumstance in connection with those battles on the beach. Beth was such a tiny girl, they did not think it necessary to give her a bathing dress, and consequently she was marched into the water with nothing on; and the agony of shame she suffered is indescribable. But the worst of it was, the shame wore off. Jim teased her about it and called her "a little girl," a dreadful term of reproach in those days, when the boys were taught to consider themselves superior beings. Beth flew at him, and fought him for it, but was beaten; and then she took off her things in the nursery, and scampered up and down before them all, with nothing on, just to show how little she cared.
It is astonishing how small a part Beth's family play in these childish recollections. Her father took very little notice of the children. He was out of health and irritable, and only tried to save himself annoyance; not to disturb him was the object of everybody's life. Probably he only appeared on the scene when Beth was naughty, and the recollection, being painful, was quickly banished. She remembered him coming downstairs when she was standing in the hall one day, when her mother was away from home. He had a letter in his hand, and asked her if she would send her love to mamma. Her heart bounded; it seemed to her such a tremendous thing to be asked; and she was dying to send her love; but such an agony of shyness came upon her, she could not utter a word. She had a little hymn-book in her hand, however, which she held out to her father. No, that would not do. He could not send the book, only her love. Didn't she love mamma? Didn't she! But not a word would come.
All through life she was afflicted with that inability to speak at critical times. Dumb always was she apt to be when her affections were concerned, except occasionally, in moments of strong excitement; and in anger, when she was driven to bay. The intensity of her feelings would probably have made her dumb in any case in moments of emotion; but doubtless the hardness of those about her at this impressionable period strengthened the defect. It is impossible to escape from the hampering influences of our infancy. Among Beth's many recollections of these days, there was not one of a caress given or received, or of any expression of tenderness; and so she never became familiar with the exquisite language of love, and was long in learning that it is not a thing to be ashamed of and concealed.
Later that day, with a mighty effort, she summoned up courage enough to go down to her father. She was determined to send the message to mamma; but when it came to the point, she was again unable to utter a word on the subject. Her mother had gone to stay with her relations in England. Beth found her father in the dining-room, and several other people were present. He was standing by the sideboard, mixing whisky-and-water, so, instead of sending her love to mamma, Beth exclaimed, confidently and pleasantly, "If you drink whisky, you'll be drunk again."
A smart slap rewarded this sally. Beth turned pale and recoiled. It was her first taste of human injustice. To drink and to be drunk was to her merely the natural sequence of cause and effect, and she could not conceive why she should be slapped and turned out of the room so promptly for uttering such a simple truth.
Beth was present at many discussions between her father and mother, and took much interest in them, all the more perhaps, because most of what was said was a mystery to her. She wondered why any mention of the "moon-faced Bessie" disturbed her mother's countenance. Jane Nettles, too—when her mother was out, her father used to come and talk to Jane, and they laughed a good deal. He admired Jane's white teeth, and the children used to make Jane show them her teeth after that.
"Papa says Jane's got nice white teeth," Beth said to her mother one day, and she never forgot the glance which Mrs. Caldwell threw at her husband. His eyes fell before it.
"What! even the servants, Henry!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, and then she left the room. Beth learned what it all meant in after years, the career of one of her brothers furnishing the clue. Like father, like son.
It was after this that Mrs. Caldwell went to visit her relations in England, accompanied by two of the children. It was in the summer, and Jane took Beth to the Castle Hill that morning to see the steamer, with her mother on board, go by. The sea was iridescent, like molten silver, the sky was high and cloudless, and where sea and sky met and mingled on the horizon it was impossible to determine. Numbers of steamers passed far out. They looked quite small, and Beth did not think there was room in any of them for her mother and brother and sister. They did not, therefore, interest her much, nor did the policeman who came and talked to Jane. But the Castle Hill, and the little winding path up which she had come, the green of the grass, the brambles, the ferns, the ruined masonry against which she leant, the union of sea and sky and shore, the light, the colour, absorbed her, and drew her out of herself. Her soul expanded, it spread its wings, it stretched out spiritual arms to meet and clasp the beloved nature of which it felt itself to be a part. It was her earliest recognition of their kinship, a glimpse of greatness, a moment of ecstasy never to be forgotten, the first stirring in herself of the creative faculty, for in her joy she burst out into a little song—
"Far on the borders of the Arcane."
It was as if the pleasure played upon her, using her as a passive instrument by which it attained to audible expression. For how should a child know a word like Arcane? It came to her as things do which we have known and forgotten—the whole song did in fact; but she held it as a possession sacred to herself, and never recorded it, or told more than that one line, although it stayed with her, lingered on her lips, and in her heart, for the rest of her life. It was a great moment for Beth, the moment when her further faculty first awoke. On looking back to it in after years, she fancied she found in it confirmation of an opinion which she afterwards formed. Genius to her was yet only another word for soul. She could not believe that we all have souls, or that they are at all equally developed even in those who have obtained them. She was a child under six at this time, Jane Nettles was a woman between twenty and thirty, and the policeman—she could not say what age he was; but she was the only one of the three that throbbed responsive to the beauty of the wonderful scene before them, or felt her being flooded with the glory of the hour.
Meanwhile, what her parents would have called her education had begun. She went with Mildred, her elder sister, to a day school. They used to run down the street together without a nurse, and the sense of freedom was delicious to Beth. They had to pass the market where the great mealy specimen potatoes were displayed, and Mary Lynch's shop—she was the vegetable woman, who used to talk to Mrs. Caldwell about the children when they went there, and one or the other always called them "poor little bodies," upon which they commented afterwards among themselves. Mary Lynch was a large red-faced woman, and when the children wanted to describe a stout person they always said, "As fat as Mary Lynch." One house which Beth had to pass on her way to school made a strong impression on her imagination. It was a gloomy abode with a broad doorstep and deep portico, broken windows, and a mud-splashed door, from beneath which she always expected to see a slender stream of blood slowly trickling. For a man called Macgregor had murdered his wife there—beaten her brains out with a poker. Beth never heard the name Macgregor in after life without a shiver of dislike. Much of her time at school was spent in solitary confinement for breaches of the peace. With a face as impassive as a monkey's she would do the most mischievous things, and was always experimenting in naughty tricks, as on one occasion when Miss Deeble left the schoolroom for a minute, but had to come hurrying back, recalled by wild shrieks; and found that Beth had managed in that minute to tip up a form with four children on it, throw their books out of the window, and sprinkle ink all over the floor. Miss Deeble marched her downstairs to an empty kitchen, and left her sitting on a stool in the middle of it with an A B C in her hand. But Beth took no interest in the alphabet in those days, and hunted black-beetles with the bellows instead of learning it. The hearthstone was the place of execution. When she found a beetle, she would blow him along to it with the bellows, and there despatch him. She had no horror of any creature in her childhood, but as she matured, her whole temperament changed in this respect, and when she met a beetle on the stairs she would turn and fly rather than pass it, and she would feel nauseated, and shiver with disgust for hours after if she thought of it. She knew the exact moment that this horror came upon her; it happened when she was ten years old. She found a beetle one day lying on its back, and thinking it was dead, she took it up, and was swinging it by its antennae when the creature suddenly wriggled itself round, and twined its prickly legs about her finger, giving her a start from which she never recovered.
Beth probably got as far as A B ab, while she was at Miss Deeble's; but if she were backward with her book, her other faculties began to be acute. It was down in that empty kitchen that she first felt the enchantment of music. Some one suddenly played the piano overhead and Beth listened spell-bound. Again and again the player played, and always the same thing, practising it. Beth knew every note. Long afterwards she was trying some waltzes of Chopin's, and came upon one with which she was quite familiar. She knew that she had heard it all, over and over again, but could not think when or where. Presently, however, as she played it, she perceived a smell of black-beetles, and instantly she was back in that disused kitchen of Miss Deeble's, listening to the practising overhead.
All Beth's senses were acute, and from the first her memory helped itself by the involuntary association of incongruous ideas. Many people's recollections are stimulated by the sense of smell, but it is a rarer thing for the sense of taste to be associated with the past in the same way, as it was in Beth's case. There were many circumstances which were recalled by the taste of the food she had been eating at the time they occurred. The children often dined in the garden in those early days, and once a piece of apple-dumpling Beth was eating slid off her plate on to the gravelled walk. Some one picked it up, and put it on her plate again, all covered with stones and grit, and the sight of hot apple-dumpling made her think of gravel ever afterwards, and filled her with disgust; so that she could not eat it. She had a great aversion to bread and butter too for a long time, but that she got over. It would have been too great an inconvenience to have a child dislike its staple food, and in all probability she was forced to conquer her aversion, and afterwards she grew to like bread and butter; but still, if by any chance the circumstances which caused her dislike to it recurred to her when she was eating a piece, she was obliged to stop. The incident which set up the association happened one evening when her father and mother were out. Beth was alone in the dining-room eating bread and butter, and Towie, the cat, came into the room with a mouse in her mouth. The mouse was alive, and Towie let it run a little way, and then pounced down upon it, then gave it a pat to make it run again. Beth, lying on her stomach on the floor, watching these proceedings, naturally also became a cat with a mouse. At last Towie began to eat her mouse, beginning with its head, which it crushed. Beth, eating her bread and butter in imitation, saw the white brains, but felt no disgust at the moment. The next time she had bread and butter, however, she thought of the mouse's brains and felt sick; and always afterwards the same association of ideas was liable to recur to her with the same result.
But even the description of anything horrifying affected her in this way. One day when she was growing up her mother told her at dinner that she had been on the pier that morning and had seen the body of a man, all discoloured and swollen from being in the water a long time, towed into the harbour by a fishing boat. Beth listened and asked questions, as she always did on these occasions, with the deepest interest. She was taking soup strongly flavoured with catsup at the moment, and the story in no way interfered with her appetite; but the next time she tried catsup, and ever afterwards, she perceived that swollen, discoloured corpse, and immediately felt nauseated. It is curious that all these associations of ideas are disagreeable. She had not a single pleasant one in connection with food.
All of Beth that was not eyes at this time was ears, and her brain was as busy as a squirrel in the autumn, storing observations and registering impressions. It does not do to trust to a child's not understanding. It may not understand at the moment, but it will remember all the same—all the more, perhaps, because it does not understand; and its curiosity will help it to solve the problem. Beth did humorous things at this time, but she had no sense of humour; she was merely experimenting. Her big eyes looked out of an impassive face solemnly; no one suspected the phenomenal receptivity which that stolid mask concealed, and, because the alphabet did not interest her, they formed a poor opinion of her intellect. The truth was that she had no use for letters or figures. The books of nature and of life were spread out before her, and she was conning their contents to more purpose than any one else could have interpreted them to her in those days. And as to arithmetic, as soon as her father began to allow her a penny a week for pocket-money, she discovered that there were two half-pennies in it, which was all she required to know. She also mastered the system of debit and credit, for, when she found herself in receipt of a regular income, and had conquered the first awe of entering a shop and asking for things, she ran into debt. She received the penny on Saturday, and promptly spent it in sweets, but by Monday she wanted more, and the craving was so imperative, that when Miss Deeble sent her down to the empty kitchen in the afternoon, she could not blow black-beetles with any enthusiasm, and began to look about for something else to interest her. It being summer, the window was open, but it was rather out of her reach. She managed, however, with the help of her stool, to climb on to the sill, and there, in front of her, was the sea, and down below was the street—a goodish drop below if she had stopped to think of it; but Beth dropped first and thought afterwards, only realising the height when she had come down plump, and looked up again to see what had happened to her, surprised at the thud which had jarred her stomach and made her feet sting. She picked herself up at once, however, and limped away, not heeding the hurt much, so delightful was it to be out alone without her hat. By the time she got to Mary Lynch's she was Jane Nettles going on an errand, an assumption which enabled her to enter the shop at her ease.
"Good-day," she began. "Give me a ha'porth of pear-drops, and a ha'porth of raspberry-drops, Mary Lynch, please. I'll pay you on Saturday."
"What are you doing out alone without your hat?" Mary Lynch rejoined, beaming upon her. "I'm afraid you're a naughty little body."
"No, I'm not," Beth answered. "It's my own money." Mary Lynch laughed, and helped her liberally, adding some cherries to the sweets; and, to Beth's credit be it stated, the money was duly paid, and without regret, she being her mother at the moment, looking much relieved to be able to settle the debt, which shows that, even by this time, Beth had somehow become aware of money-troubles, and also that she learned to read a countenance long before she learned to read a book.
She straggled home with the sweets in her hand, but did not eat them, for now she was a lady going to give a party, and must await the arrival of her guests. She did not go in by the front door for obvious reasons, but up the entry down which the open wooden gutter-spout ran, at a convenient height, from the house into the street. The wash-house was covered with delicious white roses, which scented the summer afternoon. Beth concealed her sweets in the rose-tree, and then leant against the wall and buried her nose in one of the flowers, loving it. The maids were in the wash-house; she heard them talking; it was all about what he said and she said. Presently a torrent of dirty water came pouring down the spout, mingling its disagreeable soapy smell with that of the flowers. Beth plucked some petals from the rose she was smelling, set them on the soapy water, and ran down the passage beside them, until they disappeared in the drain in the street. This delight over, she wandered into the garden. She was always on excellent terms with all animals, and was treated by them with singular confidence. Towie, the cat, had been missing for some time, but now, to Beth's great joy, she suddenly appeared from Beth could not tell where, purring loudly, and rubbing herself against Beth's bare legs. The sun poured down upon them, and the sensation of the cat's warm fur above her socks was delicious. Beth tried to lift her up in her arms, but she wriggled herself out of them, and began to run backwards and forwards between her and a gap in the hedge, until Beth understood that she wished her to follow her through it into the next garden. Beth did so, and the cat led her to a little warm nest where, to Beth's wild delight, she showed her a tiny black kitten. Beth picked it up, and carried it, followed by the cat, into the house in a state of breathless excitement, shrieking out the news as she ran. Beth was immediately seized upon. What was she doing at home when she ought to have been at school? and without her hat, too! Beth had no explanation to offer, and was hustled off to the nursery, and there shut up for the rest of the day. She stood in the window most of the time, a captive princess in the witch's palace, waiting for the fairy-prince to release her, and catching flies.
The sky became overcast, and a big gun was fired. Beth's father had something to do with the firing of big guns, and she connected this with the gathering gloom, stories of God striking wicked people down with thunder and lightning for their sins, and her own naughtiness, and felt considerably awed. Presently a little boy was carried down the street on a bed. His face looked yellow against the sheets. He was lying flat on his back, and had a little black cap on, which was right out of doors, but wrong in bed. He smiled up at Beth as they carried him under the window, and she stretched out her arms to him with infinite pity. She knew he was going to die. They all died, that family, or had something dreadful happen to them. Jane Nettles said there was a curse upon them, and Beth never thought of them without a shudder. That boy's sisters both died, and one had something dreadful happen to her, for they dug her up again, and when they opened the coffin the corpse was all in a jelly, and every colour of the rainbow, according to Jane Nettles. Beth believed she had been present upon the occasion, in a grass-grown graveyard, by the wall of an old church, beneath which steps led down into a vault. The stones of the steps were mossy, and the sun was shining. There was a little group of people standing round, with pale, set, solemn faces, and presently something was brought up, and they all pressed forward to look at it. Beth could not see what it was for the grown-up people, and never knew whether or not the whole picture had been conjured up by her imagination; but as there was always a foundation of fact in the impressions of this period of her life, it is not improbable that she really was present at the exhumation, with the curious and indefatigable Jane Nettles.
Opposite the nursery window, on the other side of the road, was the butcher's shop, in front of which the butcher made his shambles. Late in the evening he brought out a board and set it on trestles, then he brought a sheep, lifted it up by its legs and put it on its back on the board, tied its feet, and cut its throat. Beth watched the operation with grave interest, but no other feeling. She had been accustomed to see it all her life.
Presently Beth's father and mother went out together, and then Beth stole downstairs, and out to the wash-house to find the sweets in the white rose-tree. Mildred and Jim were doing their lessons in the dining-room, and she burst in upon them with the sweets; but Mildred was cross, and said:
"Don't make such a noise, Beth, my head aches."
The next day was Sunday. Beth knew it by the big black bonnet which played such a large part in her childish recollections. She had a kind of sensation of having seen herself in it, bobbing along to church, a sort of Kate Greenaway child, with a head out of all proportion to the rest of her body, and feeling singularly satisfied—a feeling, however, which was less a recollection than an experience continually renewed, for a nice gown or bonnet was always a pleasure to her.
In church she sat in a big square pew on one side of the aisle, and on the other side was another pew exactly like it, in which sat a young lady whom Beth believed to be Miss Augusta Noble in the Fairchild Family. Augusta Noble was very vain, and got burnt to death for standing on tiptoe before the fire to look at herself in a new frock in the mirror on the mantelpiece. Beth thought it a suitable end for her, and did not pity her at all—perhaps because she went on coming to church regularly all the same.
After the service they climbed the Castle Hill; and there was the grey of stonework against a bright blue sky, and green of grass and trees against the grey, and mountainous clouds of dazzling white hung over a molten sea; and because of the beauty of it all, Beth burst into a passion of tears.
"What is the matter with that child?" her father exclaimed impatiently. "It's very odd other people can bring up their children properly, Caroline, but you never seem to be able to manage yours."
"What's the matter with you, you tiresome child?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, shaking Beth by the arm. Beth only sobbed the more. "Look," said her mother, pointing to a small lake left by the sea on the shore when the tide went out, where the children used to wade knee-deep, or bathe when it was too rough for them to go into the sea; "look, there's the pond, that bright round thing over there. And look below, near the Castle—that great green mound is the giant's grave. When the giant died they buried him there, and he was so big, he reached all that length when they laid him in the ground."
"And when he stood up where did he reach to?" said Beth, interested in a moment.
"Oh, when he sat here, I should think he could make a footstool of his own grave, and when he stood up he could look over the Castle."
Beth, with big dilated eyes and wet cheeks, saw him do both, and was oppressed to tears no more that day by delight and wonder of the beautiful; but she was always liable to these paroxysms, the outcome of an intensity of pleasure which was positive pain. So, from the first, she was keenly susceptible to outdoor influences, and it was now that her memory was stored with impressions which were afterwards of inestimable value to her, for she never lived amongst the same kind of scenery again.
The children had the run of some gentleman's grounds, which they called The Walks. There were banks of flowers, and sidewalks where the London pride grew, and water, and great trees with hollows in them where the water lodged. Beth called these fairy wells, and put her fingers in to see how deep they were, and there were dead leaves in them; and there, on a memorable occasion, she found her first skeleton leaf, and told Jane Nettles she really didn't know before that there were such things. Once there was a wasp's nest hanging from a branch, and they met a young man coming away from it, holding a handkerchief to his face. He stopped to tell Jane Nettles how he had been stung, and the children wandered off unheeded to look at the nest. It was all grey and gossamer, like cobwebs laid in layers. Beth was an Indian scout inspecting it from behind a neighbouring tree; and then she shelled it with sticks, but did not wait to see it surrender.
They picked up horse-chestnuts from under the trees, in the season, and hammered the green rind off with stones for the joy of seeing the beautiful shining, slippery, dark brown, or piebald, polished fruit within; and also, when there were wet leaves on the ground, they gathered walnuts from out of the long tangled grass, and stained their fingers picking off the covering, which was mealy-green when it burst, and smelt nice; but the nut itself, when they came to it, was always surprisingly small. There were horrid mahogany-coloured pieces of liver put about the walks on sticks sometimes. Jane Nettles said they were to poison the dogs because they came in and destroyed the flowers. Beth wondered how it was people could eat liver if it poisoned dogs, and was careful afterwards not to touch it herself. Most children would have worried the reason out of their nurse, but Jane Nettles was not amiable, and Beth could never bring herself to ask a question of any one who was likely either to snub her for asking, or to jeer at her for not knowing. There are unsympathetic people who have a way of making children feel ashamed of their ignorance, and rather than be laughed at, a sensitive child will pretend to know. Beth was extraordinarily sensitive in this respect, and so it happened that, in later life, she sometimes found herself in ignorance of things which less remarkable people had learnt in their infancy for the asking.
These were certainly days of delight to Beth, but the charm of them was due less to people than to things—to some sight or scent of nature, the smell of new-mown hay from a waggon they had stood aside to let pass in a narrow lane, a glimpse of a high bank on the other side of the road—a high grassy bank, covered and crowned with trees, chiefly chestnuts, on which the sun shone; hawthorn hedgerows from which they used to pick the green buds children call bread-and-butter, and eat them; and one privet-hedge in their own garden, an impenetrable hedge, on the other side of which, as Beth imagined, all kinds of wonderful things took place. The flowers of those early days were crocuses, snowdrops, white roses, a little yellow flower they called ladies' fingers, sea-pinks, and London pride—particularly London pride. In the walks Jane Nettles used to teach her the wonderful rhyme of—
"London Bridge is broken down, Grand, said the little Dee, London Bridge is broken down, Fair-Lade-ee."
And so the rhyme, London pride amongst the rock-work, the ornamental water, a rustic bridge, shining laurel leaves, mahogany-coloured liver, warmth, light, and sweet airs all became mingled in one gracious memory.
People, however, as has been already shown, also came into her consciousness, but with less certainty of pleasing, wherefore she remembered them less, for it was always her habit to banish a disagreeable thought if she could. One day she went into the garden with her spade and an old tin biscuit-box. She put the box on the ground beside her, with the lid off, and began to dig. By-and-by the kitten came crooning and sidling up to her, and hopped into the box. Beth instantly put on the lid, and the kitten was a corpse which must be buried. She hurriedly dug its grave, put in the box, and covered it up with earth. Just as she had finished, a gruff voice exclaimed: "What are ye doing there, ye little divil?" and there was old Krangle the gardener, looking at her over the hedge. "Dig it up again directly," he said, and Beth, much startled, dug it up quicker than she had buried it. The kitten had been but loosely covered, and was not much the worse, but had got some earth in its eye, which was very sore afterwards. People wondered what had hurt it, and Beth looked from one to the other and listened with grave attention to their various suppositions on the subject. She said nothing, however, and Krangle also held his peace, which led to a very good understanding between them. Krangle had a cancer on his lip, and Beth was forbidden to kiss him for fear of catching it. He had a garden of his own too, and a pig, and little boiled potatoes in his cottage. The doctor's brother died of cancer, and Beth supposed he had been naughty and kissed old Krangle, though she wondered he cared to, as Krangle had a very prickly chin. The doctor often came to see papa. He used to talk about the Bible, and then the children were sent out of the room. Once Beth hid under the table to hear what he said. It was all about God, whom it appeared that he did not like. He had a knob at the end of his nose, and Beth laughed at it, in punishment of which, as she used to believe, her own nose developed a little knob at the end. Her mind was very much exercised about the doctor and his household. He and his brother and sister used to live together, but now he lived alone, and on a bed in one of the rooms, according to Jane Nettles, there were furs, and lovely silks, satins, and laces, all being eaten by moths and destroyed because there was no one to look after them. It seemed such a pity, but whose were they? Where was the lady?
Bridget used to come up to the nursery when the children were in bed, to talk to Jane Nettles, and look out of the window. Those gossips in the nursery were a great source of disturbance to Beth when she ought to have been composing herself to sleep. She recollected nothing of the conversations more corrupting than that ghastly account of how the girl was exhumed, so it is likely that the servants exercised some discretion when they dropped their voices to a whisper, as they often did; but these whispered colloquies made her restless and cross, and brought down upon her a smart order to go to sleep, to which she used to answer defiantly, "I will if you'll ask me a riddle." One of the riddles was: "Between two sticks, between two stones, between two old men's shin-bones. What's that?" The answer had something to do with a graveyard, but Beth could not remember what.
She used to suffer a small martyrdom in her little crib on those evenings from what she called "snuff up her nose," a hot, dry, burning sensation which must have been caused by a stuffy room, and the feverish state she tossed herself into when she was kept awake after her regular hour for sleep. Sometimes she sat up in bed suddenly, and cried aloud. Then Jane Nettles would push her down again on her pillow roughly, and threaten to call mamma if she wasn't good directly. Occasionally mamma heard her, and came up of her own accord, and shook her by the shoulder, and scolded her. Then Beth would lie still sobbing silently, and wretched as only a lonely, uncomprehended, and uncomplaining child can be. No one had the faintest conception of what she suffered. Her naughtinesses were remembered against her, but her latent tenderness was never suspected. Once the old Doctor said: "That's a peculiarly sensitive, high-strung, nervous child; you must be gentle with her," and both parents had stared at him. They were matter-of-fact creatures themselves, comparatively speaking, with a notion that such nonsense as nervousness should be shaken out of a child.
At dinner, one day, Beth saw little creatures crawling in a piece of cheese she had on her plate, and uttered an exclamation of disgust.
"Those are only mites, you silly child," her father said, and then to her horror, he took up the piece, and ate it. "Do look at that child, Caroline!" he exclaimed, "she's turned quite pale."
Beth puzzled her head for long afterwards to know what it meant to turn pale.
Little seeds of superstition were sown in her mind at this time, and afterwards flourished. She found a wedding-ring in her first piece of Christmas cake, and was told she would be the first of the party to marry, which made her feel very important.
Being so sensitive herself, she was morbidly careful of the feelings of others, and committed sins of insincerity without compunction in her efforts to spare them. She and Mildred were waiting ready dressed one day to go and pay a call with mamma. Beth had her big bonnet on, and was happy; and Mildred also was in a high state of delight. She said Beth's breath smelt of strawberries, and wanted to know what her own smelt of.
"Raspberries," Beth answered instantly. It was not true, but Beth felt that something of the kind was expected of her, and so responded sympathetically. When they got to the house, they were shown into an immense room, and wandered about it. Beth upset some cushions, and had awful qualms, expecting every moment to be pounced upon, and shaken; but she forgot her fright on approaching her hostess, and discovering to her great surprise that she was busy doing black monkeys on a grey ground in woolwork. She was astonished to find that it was possible to do such wonderful work, and she wanted to be taught immediately; but her mother made her ashamed of herself for supposing that she could do it, silly little body. They stayed dinner, and Beth cried with rage because the servant poured white sauce over her fish, and without asking her too. The fish was an island, and Beth was the hungry sea, devouring it bit by bit. Of course if you put white sauce over it, you converted it into a table with a white cloth on, or something of that kind, which you could not eat, so the fish was spoilt. She got into a difficulty, too, about Miss Deeble's drawing-room, which was upstairs, overlooking the bay, and you could only see the water from the window, so there were water-colours on the wall. Her mother smilingly tried to explain, but Beth stamped, and stuck to her point; the water accounted for the water-colours.
On the way home, Beth found a new interest in life. The mill had been burnt down, and they went to see the smouldering embers, and Beth smelt fire for the first time. The miller's family had been burnt out, and were sheltering in a shed. One little boy had his fingers all crumpled up from the fire. Beth's benevolence awoke. She was all sympathetic excitement, and wanted to do something for somebody. The miller's wife was lying on a mattress on the floor. She had a little baby, a new one, a pudgy red-looking thing. Mrs. Caldwell fed the other children with bread-and-milk, and Beth offered to teach them their letters.
Mrs. Caldwell laughed at her: "You teach them their letters!" she exclaimed. "You had better learn your own properly." And Mildred also jeered. Beth subsided, crimson with shame at being thus lowered in everybody's estimation. She was deficient in self-esteem, and required to be encouraged. Praise merely gave her confidence; but her mother never would praise her. She brought all her children up on the same plan, regardless of their different dispositions. It made Mildred vain to praise her, and therefore Beth must not be praised; and so her mother checked her mental growth again and again instead of helping her to develop it. "It's no use your trying to do that, Beth, you can't," she would say, when Beth would have done it easily, if only she had been assured that she could.
Beth had a strange dream that night after the fire, which made a lasting impression upon her. Dorman's Isle was a green expanse, flat as a table, and covered with the short grass that grows by the sea. At high tide it was surrounded by water, but when the tide was low, it rested on great grey, rugged rocks, as the lid of a box rests upon its sides. Between the grey of the rocks and the green of the grass there was a fringe of sea-pinks. That night she dreamt that she was under Dorman's Isle, and it was a great bare cave, not very high, and lighted by torches which people held in their hands. There were a number of people, and they were all members of her own family, ancestors in the dresses of their day, distant relations—numbers of strange people whom she had never heard of; as well as her own father and mother, brothers and sisters. She knew she was under Dorman's Isle, but she knew also that it was the dark space beneath the stage of a theatre. When she entered, the rest of the family were already assembled; but they none of them spoke to each other, and the doors kept opening and shutting, and the people seemed to melt away, until at last only three or four remained, and they were just going. She saw the shine on the paint of the door-posts, and the smoke of the torches, as they let themselves out. Then they had all gone, and left her alone in a cave full of smoke. Vainly she struggled to follow them, the doors were fast, the smoke was smothering her, and in the agony of a last effort to escape she awoke.
In after days, when Beth began to think, she used to wonder how it was she knew those people were her ancestors, and that the place was like any part of a theatre. She had never heard either of ancestors or theatres at that time. Was it recollection? Or is there some more perfect power to know than the intellect—a power lying latent in the whole race, which will eventually come into possession of it; but with which, at present, only some few rare beings are perfectly endowed. Beth had the sensation of having been nearer to something in her infancy than she ever was again—nearer to knowing what it is the trees whisper—what the murmur means, the all-pervading murmur which sounds incessantly when everything is hushed, as at night; nearer to the "arcane" of that evening on the Castle Hill when she first felt her kinship with nature, and burst into song. It may have been hereditary memory, a knowledge of things transmitted to her by her ancestors along with their features, virtues, and vices; but, at any rate, she herself was sure that she possessed a power of some kind in her infancy which gradually lapsed as her intellectual faculties developed. She was conscious that the senses had come between her and some mysterious joy which was not of the senses, but of the spirit. There lingered what seemed to be the recollection of a condition anterior to this, a condition of which no tongue can tell, which is not to be put into words, or made evident to those who have no recollection; but which some will comprehend by the mere allusion to it. All her life long Beth preserved a half consciousness of this something—something which eluded her—something from which she gradually drifted further away as she grew older—some sort of vision which opened up fresh tracts to her; but whether of country, or whether of thought, she could not say. Only, when it came to her, all was immeasurable about her; and she was above—above in a great calm through which she moved without any sort of effort that is known to us; she just thought it, and was there; while humanity dwindled away into insignificance below.
One other strange vision she had which she never forgot. With her intellect, she believed it to have been a dream, but her further faculty always insisted that it was a recollection. She was with a large company in an indescribable, hollow space, bare of all furnishments because none were required; and into this space there came a great commotion, bright light and smoke, without heat or sense of suffocation. Then she was alone, making for an aperture; struggling and striving with pain of spirit to gain it; and when she had found it, she shot through, and awoke in the world. She awoke with a terrible sense of desolation upon her, and with the consciousness of having traversed infinite space at infinite speed in an interval of time which her mortal mind could not measure.
All through life, when she was in possession of her further faculty, and perceived by that means—which was only at fitful intervals, doubtless because of unfavourable circumstances and surroundings—she was calm, strong, and confident. She looked upon life as from a height, viewing it both in detail and as a whole. But when she had only her intellect to rely upon, all was uncertain, and she became weak, vacillating, and dependent. So that she appeared to be a singular mixture of weakness and strength, courage and cowardice, faith and distrust; and just what she would do depended very much on what was expected of her, or what influence she was under, and also on some sudden impulse which no one, herself included, could have anticipated.
Up to this time, Beth's reminiscences jerk along from incident to incident, but now there come the order and sequence of an eventful period, perfectly recollected. The date is fixed by a change of residence. Her father, who was a commander in the coastguard, was transferred on promotion from the north of Ireland to another appointment in the wild west, and Beth was just entering upon her seventh year when they moved. Captain Caldwell went on in advance to take up his appointment, and Jim accompanied him; Mildred, Beth, and Bernadine, the youngest, who had arrived two years after Beth, being left to follow with their mother. The elder children had been sent to England to be educated. In their father's absence Mildred and Bernadine were transferred to their mother's room, Jane Nettles and Bridget, the sulky, had disappeared, and Kitty slept in the nursery with Beth. Beth had grown too long for her crib, but still had to sleep in it, and her legs were cramped at night and often ached because she could not stretch them out, and the pain kept her awake.
"Mamma, my legs do ache in bed," she said one day.
"Beth, you really are a whiny child, you always have a grievance," her mother complained.
"But, mamma, they do ache."
"Well, it's only growing pains," Mrs. Caldwell replied with a satisfied air, as if to name the trouble were to ease it. And so Beth's legs ached on unrelieved, and, when they kept her awake, Kitty became the object of her contemplation. The sides of the crib were like the seat of a cane-bottomed chair, and Beth had enlarged one of the holes by fidgeting at it with her fingers. This was her look-out station. A night-light had been conceded to her nervousness at the instance of Dr. Gottley, when it became a regular thing for her to wake in the dark out of one of her vivid dreams, and shriek because she could not see where she was. The usual beating and shaking had been tried to cure her of her nonsense, but this sensible treatment only seemed to make her worse, she was such a tiresome child, till at last, when Dr. Gottley threatened serious consequences, the light was allowed, a dim little float that burned on an inch of oil in a glass of water, and made Kitty look so funny when she came up to bed. Kitty began to undress, and at the same time to mutter her prayers, as soon as she got into the room; and sometimes she would go down on her knees and beat her breast, and sigh and groan to the Blessed Virgin, beseeching her to help her. Beth thought at first she was in great distress, and pitied her, but after a time she believed that Kitty was enjoying herself, perhaps because she also had begun to enjoy these exercises. Beth had been taught to say her Protestant prayers, but not made to feel that she was addressing them to any particular personality that appealed to her imagination, as Kitty's Blessed Lady did.
"Kitty, Kitty," she cried one night, sitting up in her crib, with a great dry sob. "Tell me how to do it. I want to speak to her too."
Kitty, who was on her knees on the floor, with her rosary clasped in her hands, her arms and shoulders bare, and her dark hair hanging down her back, looked up, considerably startled: "Holy Mother! how you frightened me!" she exclaimed. "Go to sleep."
"But I want to speak to her," Beth persisted.
"Arrah, be good now, Miss Beth," Kitty coaxed, still on her knees.
"I'll be good if you'll tell me what to say," Beth bargained.
Kitty rose from her knees, went to the side of the crib, and looked down at the child.
"What do ye want to say to her at all?" she asked.
"I don't know," Beth answered. "I just want to speak to her. I just want to say, 'Holy Mother, come close, I love you. Stay by me all night long, and when the daylight comes don't forget me.' How would you say that, Kitty?"
"Bless your purty eyes, darlint!" said Kitty, "just say it that way every time. It couldn't be better said, not by the praste himself. An' if the Blessed Mother ever hears anything from this world," she added in an undertone, "she'll hear that. But turn over now, an' go to sleep, honey. See! I'll stand here till ye do, and sing to you!"
Beth turned over on her left side with her face to the wall, and settled herself to sleep contentedly, while Kitty stood beside her, patting her shoulder gently, and crooning in a low sweet voice—
"Look down, O Mother Mary, From thy bright throne above; Send down upon thy children One holy glance of love! And if a heart so tender With pity flows not o'er, Then turn, O Mother Mary, And smile on me no more."
As Beth listened her little heart expanded, and presently the Blessed Virgin stood beside her bed, a heavenly vision, like Kitty, with dark hair growing low on her forehead and hanging down her back, blue eyes, and an earnest, guileless face. Beth's little mouth, drooping with dissatisfaction ordinarily, curled up at the corners, and so, thoroughly tranquillised, she fell happily asleep, with a smile on her lips.
Kitty bent low to look at her, and shook her head several times. "Coaxin's better nor bating you, anyway," she muttered. "But what are they going to do wid ye at all?" She stood up, and raised her clasped hands. "Holy Mother, it 'ud be well maybe if ye'd take her to yourself—just now—God forgive me for saying it."
Next morning Mrs. Caldwell was sitting at breakfast with Beth and Mildred. Every moment she glanced at the window, and at last the postman passed. She listened, but there was no knock, and her heart sank.
"Beth, will you stop drumming with your spoon?" she exclaimed irritably. As she spoke, however, Kitty came in with the expected letter in her hand, and Mrs. Caldwell's countenance cleared: "I thought the postman had passed," she exclaimed.
"No, m'em," Kitty rejoined. "I was standin' at the door, an' he gave me the letter."
Mrs. Caldwell had opened it by this time, but it was very short. "How often am I to tell you not to stand at the door, letting in the cold air, Kitty?" she snapped.
"And how'd I sweep the steps, m'em, if you plase, when I'm not to stand at the door?"
But Mrs. Caldwell was reading the letter, and again her countenance cleared. "Papa wants us to go to him as soon as ever we can get ready!" was her joyful exclamation. "And, oh, they've had such snow! See, Mildred, here's a sketch of the chapel nearly buried."
"Oh, let me see, too," Beth cried, running round the table to look over Mildred's shoulder.
"Did papa draw that? How wonderful!"
"Beth, don't lean on me so," Mildred said crossly, shaking her off.
The sketch, which was done in ink on half a sheet of paper, showed a little chapel with great billows of snow rolling along the sides and up to the roof. After breakfast, Mildred sat down and began to copy it in pencil, to Beth's intense surprise. The possibility of copying it herself would never have occurred to her, but when she saw Mildred doing it of course she must try too. She could make nothing of it, however, till Mildred showed her how to place each stroke, and then she was very soon weary of the effort, and gave it up, yawning. Drawing was not to be one of her accomplishments.
Kitty was to accompany them to the west.
When the day of departure arrived, a great coach and pair came to the door, and the luggage was piled up on it. Beth, with her mouth set, and her eyes twice their normal size from excitement, was everywhere, watching everybody, afraid to miss anything that happened. Her mother's movements were a source of special interest to her. At the last moment Mrs. Caldwell slipped away alone to take leave of the place which had been the first home of her married life. She was a young girl when she came to it, the daughter of a country gentleman, accustomed to luxury, but right ready to enjoy poverty with the man of her heart; and poverty enough she had had to endure, and sickness and sorrow too—troubles inevitable—besides some of those other troubles, which are the harder to bear because they are not inevitable. But still, she had had her compensations, and it was of these she thought as she took her last leave of the little place. She went to the end of the garden first, closely followed by Beth, and looked through the thin hedge out across the field. She seemed to be seeing things which were farther away than Beth's eyes could reach. Then she went to an old garden seat, touched it tenderly, and stood looking down at it for some seconds. Many a summer evening she had sat there at work while her husband read to her. It was early spring, and the snowdrops and crocuses were out. She gathered a little bunch of them. When she had made the tour of the garden, she returned to the house, and went into every room, Beth following her faithfully, at a safe distance. In the nursery she stood some little time looking round at the bare walls, and seeming to listen expectantly. No doubt she heard ghostly echoes of the patter of children's feet, the ring of children's voices. As she turned to go she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes. In her own room she lingered still longer, going from one piece of furniture to another, and laying her hand on each. It was handsome furniture, such as a lady should have about her, and every piece represented a longer or shorter period of self-denial, both on her own part and on her husband's, and a proportionately keen joy in the acquisition of it. She remembered so well when the wardrobe came home, and the dressing-table too, and the mahogany drawers. The furniture was to follow to the new home, and each piece would still have its own history, but, once it was moved from its accustomed place, new associations would have to be formed, and that was what she dreaded. She could picture the old home deserted, and herself yearning for it, and for the old days; but she could not imagine a new home or a new chapter of life with any great interest or pleasure in it, anything, in fact, but anxiety.
When at last she left the house, she was quite overcome to find that a little crowd of friends of every degree had collected to wish her good speed. She went from one to the other, shaking hands, and answering their words in kindly wise. Mary Lynch gave Beth a currant-cake, and lifted her into the coach, though she could quite well have got in by herself. Then they were off, and Mrs. Caldwell stood at the door, wiping her eyes, and gazing at the little house till they turned the corner of the street, and lost sight of it for ever.
The tide was out, Dorman's green Isle rested on its grey rocks, the pond shone like a mirror on the shore, and the young grass was springing on the giant's grave; but the branches were still bare and brown on the Castle Hill, and the old grey castle stood out whitened by contrast with a background of dark and lowering sky. Beth's highly-strung nerves, already overstrained by excitement, broke down completely under the oppression of those heavy clouds, and she became convulsed with sobs. Kitty took her on her knee, but tried in vain to soothe her before the currant-cake and the motion of the coach had made her deadly sick, after which she dozed off from sheer exhaustion.
The rest of the journey was a nightmare of nausea to her. She was constantly being lifted out of the carriage, and made to lie on a sofa somewhere while the horses were being changed, or put to bed for the night, and dragged up again unrefreshed in the early morning, and consigned once more to misery. Sometimes great dark mountains towered above her, filling her with dread; and sometimes a long lonely level of bare brown bogs was all about her, overwhelming her little soul with such a terrible sense of desolation that she cowered down beside Kitty, and clung to her shivering.
Once her mother shook her for something, and Beth turned faint.
"What's the matter with her, Kitty?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, alarmed by her white face.
"You've jest shook the life out of her, m'em, I think," Kitty answered her tranquilly: "An' ye'll not rare her that way, I'm thinking."
Mrs. Caldwell began to dislike Kitty.
On the third day they drove down a delightful road, with hedges on either hand, footpaths, and trees, among which big country-houses nestled. The mountains were still in the neighbourhood, but not near enough to be awesome. On one side of the road was a broad shallow stream, so clear you could see the brown stones at the bottom, a salmon-stream with weirs and waterfalls.
They were nearing a town, and Kitty began to put the things together. Beth became interested. Mamma looked out of the window every instant, and at last she exclaimed in a tone of relief, which somehow belied the words: "Here's papa! I knew he would come!" And there was a horse at the window, and papa was on the horse, looking in at them. Mamma's face became quite rosy, and she laughed a good deal and showed her teeth. Beth had not noticed them before.
"What are you staring at, Beth?" Mildred whispered.
"Mamma's all pink," Beth said.
"That's blushing," said Mildred.
"What's blushing?" said Beth.
"What does she do it for?"
"She can't help it."
Beth continued to stare, and at last Mrs. Caldwell noticed it, and asked her what she was looking at.
"You've got nice white teeth," said Beth. Mrs. Caldwell smiled.
"Have you only just discovered that?" papa asked through the window.
"You never told me," Beth protested, thinking herself reproached. "You said Jane Nettles had."
The smile froze on mamma's lips, and papa's horse became unmanageable. Beth saw there was something wrong, and stopped, looking from one to the other intently.
Mrs. Caldwell recovered herself. "What a stolid face she has!" she remarked presently by way of breaking an awkward pause.
Beth wondered what "stolid" meant, and who "she" was.
"She doesn't look well," papa observed.
"She's jest had the life shook out of her, sir," Kitty put in.
"Kitty, how dare you?" Mrs. Caldwell began.
"It's to the journey I'm alludin' now, m'em," Kitty explained with dignity. "The child can't bear the travellin'."
"Well, it won't last much longer now," said papa, and then made some remark to mamma in Italian, which brought back her good-humour. They always spoke Italian to each other, because papa did not know French so well as mamma did. Beth supposed at that time that all grown-up people spoke French or Italian to each other, and she used to wonder which she would speak when she was grown up.
They stopped at an inn for an hour or two, for there was still another stage of this interminable journey. Mildred had a bag with a big doll in it, and some almond-sweets. She left it on a window-seat when they went to have something to eat, and when she thought of it again it was nowhere to be found.
"They would steal the teeth out of your head in this God-forsaken country," Captain Caldwell exclaimed, in a tone of exasperation.
An awful vision of igneous rocks, with mis-shapen creatures prowling about amongst them, instantly appeared to Beth in illustration of a God-forsaken country, but she tried vainly to imagine how stealing teeth out of your head was to be managed.
When they set off again, and had left the grey town with its green trees and clear rivulet behind, the road lay through a wild and desolate region. Great dark mountains rolled away in every direction, and were piled up above the travellers to the very sky. The scene was most melancholy in its grandeur, and Beth, gazing at it fascinated, with big eyes dilated to their full extent, became exceedingly depressed. At one turn of the way, in a field below, they saw a gentleman carrying a gun, and attended by a party of armed policemen.
"That's Mr. Burke going over his property," Captain Caldwell observed to his wife. "He's unpopular just now, and daren't move without an escort. His life's not worth a moment's purchase a hundred yards from his own gate, and I expect he'll be shot like a dog some day, with all his precautions."
"Oh, why does he stay?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.
"Just pluck," her husband answered; "and he likes it. It certainly does add to the interest of life."
"O Henry! don't speak like that," Mrs. Caldwell remonstrated. "They can't owe you any grudge."
Captain Caldwell flipped a fly from his horse's ear.
Beth gazed down at the doomed gentleman, and fairly quailed for him. She half expected to see the policemen turn on him and shoot him before her eyes, and a strange excitement gradually grew upon her. She seemed to be seeing and hearing and feeling without eyes, or ears, or a body.
The carriage rocked like a ship at sea, and once or twice it seemed to be going right over.
"What a dreadfully bad road!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.
"Yes," her husband rejoined, "the roads about here are the very devil. This is one of the best. Do you see that one over there?" pointing with his whip to a white line that zigzagged across a neighbouring mountain. "It's disused now. That's Gallows Hill, where a man was hanged."
Beth gazed at the spot with horror. "I see him!" she cried.
"See whom?" said her mother.
"I see the man hanging."
"Oh, nonsense!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed. "Why, the man was hanged ages ago. He isn't there now."
"You must speak the truth, young lady," papa said severely.
Beth, put to shame by the reproof, shrank into herself. She was keenly sensitive to blame. But all the same her great grey eyes were riveted on the top of the hill, for there, against the sky, she did distinctly see the man dangling from the gibbet.
"Kitty," she whispered, "don't you see him?"
"Whisht, darlint," Kitty said, covering Beth's eyes with her hand. "I don't see him. But I'll not be after calling ye a liar because ye do, for I guess ye see more nor most, Holy Mother purtect us! But whisht now, you mustn't look at him any more."
The carriage came to the brow of the mountain, and down below was their destination, Castletownrock, a mere village, consisting principally of one long, steep street. Some distance below the village again, the great green waves of a tempestuous sea broke on a dangerous coast.
"The two races don't fuse," papa was saying to mamma, "in this part of the country, at all events. There's an Irish and an English side to the street. The English side has a flagged footpath, and the houses are neat and clean, and well-to-do; on the Irish side all is poverty and dirt and confusion."
Just outside the village, a little group of people waited to welcome them—Mr. Macbean the rector, Captain Keene, the three Misses Keene, and Jim.
The carriage was stopped, and they all got out and walked the rest of the distance to the inn, where they were to stay till the furniture arrived. On the way down the street they saw their new home. It made no impression on Beth. But she recognised the Roman Catholic Chapel on the other side of the road from papa's drawing, only it looked different because there was no snow.
The "gentleman and lady" who kept the inn, Mr. and Mrs. Mayne, with their two daughters, met them at the door, and shook hands with mamma, and kissed the children.
Then they went into the inn parlour, and there was wine and plum-cake, and Dr. and Mrs. Macdougall came with their little girl Lucy, who was eleven years old, Mildred's age.
Mr. Macbean, the rector, who was tall and thin, and had a brown beard that waggled when he talked, drew Beth to his side, and began to ask her questions, just when she wanted so much to hear what everybody else was saying, too.
"Well, and what have you been taught?" he began.
Beth gazed at him blankly.
"Do you love God?" he proceeded, putting his hand on her head.
Beth looked round the room, perplexed, then fixed her eyes on his beard, and watched it waggle with interest.
"Ask her if she knows anything about the other gentleman," Captain Keene put in jocosely—"here's to his health!" and he emptied his glass.