THE FARRINGDONS BY ELLEN THORNEYCROFT FOWLER
AUTHOR OF CONCERNING ISABEL CARNABY, A DOUBLE THREAD, ETC.
NEW YORK D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1900 COPYRIGHT, 1900, All rights reserved.
For all such readers as have chanced to be Either in Mershire or in Arcady, I write this book, that each may smile, and say, "Once on a time I also passed that way."
CHAPTER PAGE I.—THE OSIERFIELD 1 II.—CHRISTOPHER 12 III.—MRS. BATESON'S TEA-PARTY 29 IV.—SCHOOL-DAYS 51 V.—THE MOAT HOUSE 70 VI.—WHIT MONDAY 90 VII.—BROADER VIEWS 114 VIII.—GREATER THAN OUR HEARTS 137 IX.—FELICIA FINDS HAPPINESS 156 X.—CHANGES 187 XI.—MISS FARRINGDON'S WILL 213 XII.—"THE DAUGHTERS OF PHILIP" 232 XIII.—CECIL FARQUHAR 249 XIV.—ON THE RIVER 272 XV.—LITTLE WILLIE 292 XVI.—THIS SIDE OF THE HILLS 306 XVII.—GEORGE FARRINGDON'S SON 325 XVIII.—THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILLS 346
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They herded not with soulless swine, Nor let strange snares their path environ: Their only pitfall was a mine— Their pigs were made of iron.
In the middle of Sedgehill, which is in the middle of Mershire, which is in the middle of England, there lies a narrow ridge of high table-land, dividing, as by a straight line, the collieries and ironworks of the great coal district from the green and pleasant scenery of the western Midlands. Along the summit of this ridge runs the High Street of the bleak little town of Sedgehill; so that the houses on the east side of this street see nothing through their back windows save the huge slag-mounds and blazing furnaces and tall chimneys of the weird and terrible, yet withal fascinating, Black Country; while the houses on the west side of the street have sunny gardens and fruitful orchards, sloping down toward a fertile land of woods and streams and meadows, bounded in the far distance by the Clee Hills and the Wrekin, and in the farthest distance of all by the blue Welsh mountains.
In the dark valley lying to the immediate east of Sedgehill stood the Osierfield Works, the largest ironworks in Mershire in the good old days when Mershire made iron for half the world. The owners of these works were the Farringdons, and had been so for several generations. So it came to pass that the Farringdons were the royal family of Sedgehill; and the Osierfield Works was the circle wherein the inhabitants of that place lived and moved. It was as natural for everybody born in Sedgehill eventually to work at the Osierfield, as it was for him eventually to grow into a man and to take unto himself a wife.
The home of the Farringdons was called the Willows, and was separated by a carriage-drive of half a mile from the town. Its lodge stood in the High Street, on the western side; and the drive wandered through a fine old wood, and across an undulating park, till it stopped in front of a large square house built of gray stone. It was a handsome house inside, with wonderful oak staircases and Adams chimneypieces; and there was an air of great stateliness about it, and of very little luxury. For the Farringdons were a hardy race, whose time was taken up by the making of iron and the saving of souls; and they regarded sofas and easy-chairs in very much the same light as they regarded theatres and strong drink, thereby proving that their spines were as strong as their consciences were stern.
Moreover, the Farringdons were of "the people called Methodists"; consequently Methodism was the established religion of Sedgehill, possessing there that prestige which is the inalienable attribute of all state churches. In the eyes of Sedgehill it was as necessary to salvation to pray at the chapel as to work at the Osierfield; and the majority of the inhabitants would as soon have thought of worshipping at any other sanctuary as of worshipping at the beacon, a pillar which still marks the highest point of the highest table-land in England.
At the time when this story begins, the joint ownership of the Osierfield and the Willows was vested in the two Miss Farringdons, the daughters and co-heiresses of John Farringdon. John Farringdon and his brother William had been partners, and had arranged between themselves that William's only child, George, should marry John's eldest daughter, Maria, and so consolidate the brothers' fortunes and their interest in the works. But the gods—and George—saw otherwise. George was a handsome, weak boy, who objected equally to work and to Methodism; and as his father cared for nothing beyond those sources of interest, and had no patience for any one who did, the two did not always see eye to eye. Perhaps if Maria had been more unbending, things might have turned out differently; but Methodism in its severest aspects was not more severe than Maria Farringdon. She was a thorough gentlewoman, and extremely clever; but tenderness was not counted among her excellencies. George would have been fond of almost any woman who was pretty enough to be loved and not clever enough to be feared; but his cousin Maria was beyond even his powers of falling in love, although, to do him justice, these powers were by no means limited. The end of it was that George offended his father past forgiveness by running away to Australia rather than marry Maria, and there disappeared. Years afterward a rumour reached his people that he had married and died out there, leaving a widow and an only son; but this rumour had not been verified, as by that time his father and uncle were dead, and his cousins were reigning in his stead; and it was hardly to be expected that the proud Miss Farringdon would take much trouble concerning the woman whom her weak-kneed kinsman had preferred to herself.
William Farringdon left all his property and his share in the works to his niece Maria, as some reparation for the insult which his disinherited son had offered to her; John left his large fortune between his two daughters, as he never had a son; so Maria and Anne Farringdon lived at the Willows, and carried on the Osierfield with the help of Richard Smallwood, who had been the general manager of the collieries and ironworks belonging to the firm in their father's time, and knew as much about iron (and most other things) as he did. Maria was a good woman of business, and she and Richard between them made money as fast as it had been made in the days of William and John Farringdon. Anne, on the contrary, was a meek and gentle soul, who had no power of governing but a perfect genius for obedience, and who was always engaged on the Herculean task of squaring the sternest dogmas with the most indulgent practices.
Even in the early days of this history the Miss Farringdons were what is called "getting on"; but the Willows was, nevertheless, not without a youthful element in it. Close upon a dozen years ago the two sisters had adopted the orphaned child of a second cousin, whose young widow had died in giving birth to a posthumous daughter; and now Elisabeth Farringdon was the light of the good ladies' eyes, though they would have considered it harmful to her soul to let her have an inkling of this fact.
She was not a pretty little girl, which was a source of much sorrow of heart to her; and she was a distinctly clever little girl, of which she was utterly unconscious, it being an integral part of Miss Farringdon's system of education to imbue the young with an overpowering sense of their own inferiority and unworthiness. During the first decade of her existence Elisabeth used frequently and earnestly to pray that her hair might become golden and her eyes brown; but as on this score the heavens remained as brass, and her hair continued dark brown and her eyes blue-gray, she changed her tactics, and confined her heroine-worship to ladies of this particular style of colouring; which showed that, even at the age of ten, Elisabeth had her full share of adaptability.
One day, when walking with Miss Farringdon to chapel, Elisabeth exclaimed, a propos of nothing but her own meditations, "Oh! Cousin Maria, I do wish I was pretty!"
Most people would have been too much afraid of the lady of the Willows to express so frivolous a desire in her august hearing; but Elisabeth was never afraid of anybody, and that, perhaps, was one of the reasons why her severe kinswoman loved her so well.
"That is a vain wish, my child. Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain; and the Lord looketh on the heart and not on the outward appearance."
"But I wasn't thinking of the Lord," replied Elisabeth: "I was thinking of other people; and they love you much more if you are pretty than if you aren't."
"That is not so," said Miss Farringdon—and she believed she was speaking the truth; "if you serve God and do your duty to your neighbour, you will find plenty of people ready to love you; and especially if you carry yourself well and never stoop." Like many another elect lady, Cousin Maria regarded beauty of face as a vanity, but beauty of figure as a virtue; and to this doctrine Elisabeth owed the fact that her back always sloped in the opposite direction to the backs of the majority of people.
But it would have surprised Miss Farringdon to learn how little real effect her strict Methodist training had upon Elisabeth; fortunately, however, few elder people ever do learn how little effect their training has upon the young committed to their charge; if it were so, life would be too hard for the generation that has passed the hill-top. Elisabeth's was one of those happy, pantheistic natures that possess the gift of finding God everywhere and in everything. She early caught the Methodist habit of self-analysis and introspection, but in her it did not develop—as it does in more naturally religious souls—into an almost morbid conscientiousness and self-depreciation; she merely found an artistic and intellectual pleasure in taking the machinery of her soul to pieces and seeing how it worked.
In those days—and, in fact, in all succeeding ones—Elisabeth lived in a world of imagination. There was not a nook in the garden of the Willows which was not peopled by creatures of her fancy. At this particular time she was greatly fascinated by the subject of heathen mythology, as set forth in Mangnall's Questions, and had devoted herself to the service of Pallas Athene, having learned that that goddess was (like herself) not surpassingly beautiful, and was, moreover, handicapped by the possession of gray eyes. Miss Farringdon would have been horrified had she known that a portion of the wood was set apart by Elisabeth as "Athene's Grove," and that the contents of the waste-paper basket were daily begged from the servants by the devotee, and offered up, by the aid of real matches, on the shrine of the goddess.
"Have you noticed, sister," Miss Anne remarked on one occasion, "how much more thoughtful dear Elisabeth is growing?" Miss Anne's life was one long advertisement of other people's virtues. "She used to be somewhat careless in letting the fires go out, and so giving the servants the trouble to relight them; but now she is always going round the rooms to see if more coal is required, without my ever having to remind her."
"It is so, and I rejoice. Carelessness in domestic matters is a grave fault in a young girl, and I am pleased that Elisabeth has outgrown her habit of wool-gathering, and of letting the fire go out under her very nose without noticing it. It is a source of thanksgiving to me that the child is so much more thoughtful and considerate in this matter than she used to be."
Miss Farringdon's thanksgiving, however, would have been less fervent had she known that, for the time being, her protegee had assumed the role of a Vestal virgin, and that Elisabeth's care of the fires that winter was not fulfilment of a duty but part of a game. This, however, was Elisabeth's way; she frequently received credit for performing a duty when she was really only taking part in a performance; which merely meant that she possessed the artist's power of looking at duty through the haze of idealism, and of seeing that, although it was good, it might also be made picturesque. Elisabeth was well versed in The Pilgrim's Progress and The Fairchild Family. The spiritual vicissitudes of Lucy, Emily, and Henry Fairchild were to her a drama of never-failing interest; while each besetment of the Crosbie household—which was as carefully preserved for its particular owner as if sin were a species of ground game—never failed to thrill her with enjoyable disgust. She knew a great portion of the Methodist hymn-book by heart, and pondered long over the interesting preface to that work, wondering much what "doggerel" and "botches" could be—she inclined to the supposition that the former were animals and the latter were diseases; but even her vivid imagination failed to form a satisfactory representation of such queer kittle-cattle as "feeble expletives." Every Sunday she gloated over the frontispiece of John Wesley, in his gown and bands and white ringlets, feeling that, though poor as a picture, it was very superior to the letterpress; the worst illustrations being better than the best poetry, as everybody under thirteen must know. But Elisabeth's library was not confined to the volumes above mentioned; she regularly perused with interest two little periodicals, called respectively Early Days and The Juvenile Offering. The former treated of youthful saints at home; and its white paper cover was adorned by the picture of a shepherd, comfortably if peculiarly attired in a frock coat and top hat—presumably to portray that it was Sunday. The latter magazine devoted itself to histories dealing with youthful saints abroad; and its cover was decorated with a representation of young black persons apparently engaged in some religious exercise. In this picture the frock coats and top hats were conspicuous by their absence.
There were two pictures in the breakfast-room at the Willows which occupied an important place in Elisabeth's childish imaginings. The first hung over the mantelpiece, and was called The Centenary Meeting. It represented a chapel full of men in suffocating cravats, turning their backs upon the platform and looking at the public instead—a more effective if less realistic attitude than the ordinary one of sitting the right way about; because—as Elisabeth reasoned, and reasoned rightly—if these gentlemen had not happened to be behind before when their portraits were taken, nobody would ever have known whose portraits they were. It was a source of great family pride to her that her grandfather appeared in this galaxy of Methodist worth; but the hero of the piece, in her eyes, was one gentleman who had managed to swarm up a pillar and there screw himself "to the sticking-place"; and how he had done it Elisabeth never could conceive.
The second picture hung over the door, and was a counterfeit presentment of John Wesley's escape from the burning rectory at Epworth. In those days Elisabeth was so small and the picture hung so high that she could not see it very distinctly; but it appeared to her that the boy Wesley (whom she confused in her own mind with the infant Samuel) was flying out of an attic window by means of flowing white wings, while a horse was suspended in mid-air ready to carry him straight to heaven.
Every Sunday she accompanied her cousins to East Lane Chapel, at the other end of Sedgehill, and here she saw strange visions and dreamed strange dreams. The distinguishing feature of this sanctuary was a sort of reredos in oils, in memory of a dead and gone Farringdon, which depicted a gigantic urn, surrounded by a forest of cypress, through the shades whereof flitted "young-eyed cherubims" with dirty wings and bilious complexions, these last mentioned blemishes being, it is but fair to add, the fault of the atmosphere and not of the artist. For years Elisabeth firmly believed that this altar-piece was a trustworthy representation of heaven; and she felt, therefore, a pleasant, proprietary interest in it, as the view of an estate to which she would one day succeed.
There was also a stained-glass window in East Lane Chapel, given by the widow of a leading official. The baptismal name of the deceased had been Jacob; and the window showed forth Jacob's Dream, as a delicate compliment to the departed. Elisabeth delighted in this window, it was so realistic. The patriarch lay asleep, with his head on a little white tombstone at the foot of a solid oak staircase, which was covered with a red carpet neatly fastened down by brass rods; while up and down this staircase strolled fair-haired angels in long white nightgowns and purple wings.
Not of course then, but in after years, Elisabeth learned to understand that this window was a type and an explanation of the power of early Methodism, the strength whereof lay in its marvellous capacity of adapting religion to the needs and use of everyday life, and of bringing the infinite into the region of the homely and commonplace. We, with our added culture and our maturer artistic perceptions, may smile at a Jacob's Ladder formed according to the domestic architecture of the first half of the nineteenth century; but the people to whom the other world was so near and so real that they perceived nothing incongruous in an ordinary stair-carpet which was being trodden by the feet of angels, had grasped a truth which on one side touched the divine, even though on the other it came perilously near to the grotesque. And He, Who taught them as by parables, never misunderstood—as did certain of His followers—their reverent irreverence; but, understanding it, saw that it was good.
The great day in East Lane Chapel was the Sunday School anniversary; and in Elisabeth's childish eyes this was a feast compared with which Christmas and Easter sank to the level of black-letter days. On these festivals the Sunday School scholars sat all together in those parts of the gallery adjacent to the organ, the girls wearing white frocks and blue neckerchiefs, and the boys black suits and blue ties. The pews were strewn with white hymn-sheets, which lay all over the chapel like snow in Salmon, and which contained special spiritual songs more stirring in their character than the contents of the Hymn-book; these hymns the Sunday School children sang by themselves, while the congregation sat swaying to and fro to the tune. And Elisabeth's soul was uplifted within her as she listened to the children's voices; for she felt that mystical hush which—let us hope—comes to us all at some time or other, when we hide our faces in our mantles and feel that a Presence is passing by, and is passing by so near to us that we have only to stretch out our hands in order to touch it. At sundry times and in divers manners does that wonderful sense of a Personal Touch come to men and to women. It may be in a wayside Bethel, it may be in one of the fairest fanes of Christendom, or it may be not in any temple made with hands: according to the separate natures which God has given to us, so must we choose the separate ways that will lead us to Him; and as long as there are different natures there must be various ways. Then let each of us take the path at the end whereof we see Him standing, always remembering that wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein; and never forgetting that—come whence and how they may—whosoever shall touch but the hem of His garment shall be made perfectly whole.
And when perchance of all perfection You've seen an end, Your thoughts may turn in my direction To find a friend.
There are two things which are absolutely necessary to the well-being of the normal feminine mind—namely, one romantic attachment and one comfortable friendship. Elisabeth was perfectly normal and extremely feminine; and consequently she provided herself early with these two aids to happiness.
In those days the object of her romantic attachment was her cousin Anne. Anne Farringdon was one of those graceful, elegant women who appear so much deeper than they really are. All her life she had been inspiring devotion which she was utterly unable to fathom; and this was still the case with regard to herself and her adoring little worshipper.
People always wondered why Anne Farringdon had never married; and explained the mystery to their own satisfaction by conjecturing that she had had a disappointment in her youth, and had been incapable of loving twice. It never struck them—which was actually the case—that she had been incapable of loving once; and that her single-blessedness was due to no unforgotten love-story, but to the unromantic fact that among her score of lovers she had never found a man for whom she seriously cared. In a delicate and ladylike fashion she had flirted outrageously in her time; but she had always broken hearts so gently, and put away the pieces so daintily, that the owners of these hearts had never dreamed of resenting the damage she had wrought. She had refused them with such a world of pathos in her beautiful eyes—the Farringdon gray-blue eyes, with thick black brows and long black lashes—that the poor souls had never doubted her sympathy and comprehension; nor had they the slightest idea that she was totally ignorant of the depth of the love which she had inspired, or the bitterness of the pain which she had caused.
All the romance of Elisabeth's nature—and there was a great deal of it—was lavished upon Anne Farringdon. If Anne smiled, Elisabeth's sky was cloudless; if Anne sighed, Elisabeth's sky grew gray. The mere sound of Anne's voice vibrated through the child's whole being; and every little trifle connected with her cousin became a sacred relic in Elisabeth's eyes.
Like every Methodist child, Elisabeth was well versed in her Bible; but, unlike most Methodist children, she regarded it more as a poetical than an ethical work. When she was only twelve, the sixty-eighth Psalm thrilled her as with the sound of a trumpet; and she was completely carried away by the glorious imagery of the Book of Isaiah, even when she did not in the least understand its meaning. But her favourite book was the Book of Ruth; for was not Ruth's devotion to Naomi the exact counterpart of hers to Cousin Anne? And she used to make up long stories in her own mind about how Cousin Anne should, by some means, lose all her friends and all her money, and be driven out of Sedgehill and away from the Osierfield Works; and then how Elisabeth would say, "Entreat me not to leave thee," and would follow Cousin Anne to the ends of the earth.
People sometimes smile at the adoration of a young girl for a woman, and there is no doubt but that the feeling savours slightly of school-days and bread-and-butter; but there is also no doubt that a girl who has once felt it has learned what real love is, and that is no small item in the lesson-book of life.
But Elisabeth had her comfortable friendship as well as her romantic attachment; and the partner in that friendship was Christopher Thornley, the nephew of Richard Smallwood.
In the days of his youth, when his father was still manager of the Osierfield Works, Richard had a very pretty sister; but as Emily Smallwood was pretty, so was she also vain, and the strict atmosphere of her home life did not recommend itself to her taste. After many quarrels with her stern old father (her mother having died when she was a baby), Emily left home, and took a situation in London as governess, in the house of some wealthy people with no pretensions to religion. For this her father never forgave her; he called it "consorting with children of Belial." In time she wrote to tell Richard that she was going to be married, and that she wished to cut off entirely all communication with her old home. After that, Richard lost sight of her for many years; but some time after his father's death he received a letter from Emily, begging him to come to her at once, as she was dying. He complied with her request, and found his once beautiful sister in great poverty in a London lodging-house. She told him that she had endured great sorrow, having lost her husband and her five eldest children. Her husband had never been unkind to her, she said, but he was one of the men who lack the power either to make or to keep money; and when he found he was foredoomed to failure in everything to which he turned his hand, he had not the spirit to continue the fight against Fate, but turned his face to the wall and died. She had still one child left, a fair-haired boy of about two years old, called Christopher; to her brother's care she confided this boy, and then she also turned her face to the wall and died.
This happened a year or so before the Miss Farringdons adopted Elisabeth; so that when that young lady appeared upon the scene, and subsequently grew up sufficiently to require a playfellow, she found Christopher Thornley ready to hand. He lived with his bachelor uncle in a square red house on the east side of Sedgehill High Street, exactly opposite to the Farringdons' lodge. It was one of those big, bald houses with unblinking windows, that stare at you as if they had not any eyebrows or eyelashes; and there was not even a strip of greenery between it and the High Street. So to prevent the passers-by from looking in and the occupants from looking out, the lower parts of the front windows were covered with a sort of black crape mask, which put even the sunbeams into half-mourning.
Unlike Elisabeth, Christopher had a passion for righteousness and for honour, but no power of artistic perception. His standard was whether things were right or wrong, honourable or dishonourable; hers was whether they were beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant. Consequently the two moved along parallel lines; and she moved a great deal more quickly than he did. Christopher had deep convictions, but was very shy of expressing them; Elisabeth's convictions were not particularly deep, but such as they were, all the world was welcome to them as far as she was concerned.
As the children grew older, one thing used much to puzzle and perplex Christopher. Elisabeth did not seem to care about being good nearly as much as he cared: he was always trying to do right, and she only tried when she thought about it; nevertheless, when she did give her attention to the matter, she had much more comforting and beautiful thoughts than he had, which appeared rather hard. He was not yet old enough to know that this difference between them arose from no unequal division of divine favour, but was simply and solely a question of temperament. But though he did not understand, he did not complain; for he had been brought up under the shadow of the Osierfield Works, and in the fear and love of the Farringdons; and Elisabeth, whatever her shortcomings, was a princess of the blood.
Christopher was a day-boy at the Grammar School at Silverhampton, a fine old town some three miles to the north of Sedgehill; and there and back he walked every day, wet or fine, and there he learned to be a scholar and a gentleman, and sundry other important things.
"Do you hear that noise?" said Elisabeth, one afternoon in the holidays, when she was twelve and Christopher fifteen; "that's Mrs. Bateson's pig being killed."
"Hear it?—rather," replied Christopher, standing still in the wood to listen.
"Let's go and see it," Elisabeth suggested.
Christopher looked shocked. "Well, you are a horrid girl! Nothing would induce me to go, or to let you go either; but I'm surprised at your being so horrid as to wish for such a thing."
"It isn't really horridness," Elisabeth explained meekly; "it is interest. I'm so frightfully interested in things; and I want to see everything, just to know what it looks like."
"Well, I call it horrid. And, what's more, if you saw it, it would make you feel ill."
"No; it wouldn't."
"Then it ought to," said Christopher, who, with true masculine dulness of perception, confounded weakness of nerve with tenderness of heart.
Elisabeth sighed. "Nothing makes me feel ill," she replied apologetically; "not even an accident or an after-meeting."
Christopher could not help indulging in a certain amount of envious admiration for an organism that could pass unmoved through such physical and spiritual crises as these; but he was not going to let Elisabeth see that he admired her. He considered it "unmanly" to admire girls.
"Well, you are a rum little cove!" he said.
"Of course, I don't want to go if you think it would be horrid of me; but I thought we might pretend it was the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and find it most awfully exciting."
"How you do go on about Mary Queen of Scots! Not long ago you were always bothering about heathen goddesses, and now you have no thought for anything but Mary."
"Oh! but I'm still immensely interested in goddesses, Chris; and I do wish, when you are doing Latin and Greek at school, you'd find out what colour Pallas Athene's hair was. Couldn't you?"
"No; I couldn't."
"But you might ask one of the masters. They'd be sure to know."
Christopher laughed the laugh of the scornful. "I say, you are a duffer to suppose that clever men like schoolmasters bother their heads about such rot as the colour of a woman's hair."
"Of course, I know they wouldn't about a woman's," Elisabeth hastened to justify herself; "but I thought perhaps they might about a goddess's."
"It is the same thing. You've no idea what tremendously clever chaps schoolmasters are—much too clever to take any interest in girls' and women's concerns. Besides, they are too old for that, too—they are generally quite thirty."
Elisabeth was silent for a moment; and Christopher whistled as he looked across the green valley to the sunset, without in the least knowing how beautiful it was. But Elisabeth knew, for she possessed an innate knowledge of many things which he would have to learn by experience. But even she did not yet understand that because the sunset was beautiful she felt a sudden hunger and thirst after righteousness.
"Chris, do you think it is wicked of people to fall in love?" she asked suddenly.
"Not exactly wicked; more silly, I should say," replied Chris generously.
"Because if it is wicked, I shall give up reading tales about it." This was a tremendous and unnatural sacrifice to principle on the part of Elisabeth.
Christopher turned upon her sharply. "You don't read tales that Miss Farringdon hasn't said you may read, do you?"
"Yes; lots. But I never read tales that she has said I mustn't read."
"You oughtn't to read any tale till you have asked her first if you may."
Elisabeth's face fell. "I never thought of doing such a thing as asking her first. Oh! Chris, you don't really think I ought to, do you? Because she'd be sure to say no."
"That is exactly why you ought to ask." Christopher's sense of honour was one of his strong points.
Then Elisabeth lost her temper. "That is you all over! You are the most tiresome boy to have anything to do with! You are always bothering about things being wrong, till you make them wrong. Now I hardly ever think of it; but I can't go on doing things after you've said they are wrong, because that would be wrong of me, don't you see? And yet it wasn't a bit wrong of me before I knew. I hate you!"
"I say, Betty, I'm awfully sorry lo have riled you; but you asked me."
"I didn't ask you whether I need ask Cousin Maria, stupid! You know I didn't. I asked you whether it was wrong to fall in love, and then you went and dragged Cousin Maria in. I wish I'd never asked you anything; I wish I'd never spoken to you; I wish I'd got somebody else to play with, and then I'd never speak to you again as long as I live."
Of course it was unwise of Christopher to condemn a weakness to which Elisabeth was prone, and to condone one to which she was not; but no man has learned wisdom at fifteen, and but few at fifty.
"You are the most disagreeable boy I have ever met, and I wish I could think of something to do to annoy you. I know what I'll do; I'll go by myself and see Mrs. Bateson's pig, just to show you how I hate you."
And Elisabeth flew off in the direction of Mrs. Bateson's cottage, with the truly feminine intention of punishing the male being who had dared to disapprove of her, by making him disapprove of her still more. Her programme, however, was frustrated; for Mrs. Bateson herself intervened between Elisabeth and her unholy desires, and entertained the latter with a plate of delicious bread-and-dripping instead. Finally, that young lady returned to her home in a more magnanimous frame of mind; and fell asleep that night wondering if the whole male sex were as stupid as the particular specimen with which she had to do—a problem which has puzzled older female brains than hers.
But poor Christopher was very unhappy. It was agony to him when his conscience pulled him one way and Elisabeth pulled him the other; and yet this form of torture was constantly occurring to him. He could not bear to do what he knew was wrong, and he could not bear to vex Elisabeth; yet Elisabeth's wishes and his own ideas of right were by no means always synonymous. His only comfort was the knowledge that his sovereign's anger was, as a rule, short-lived, and that he himself was indispensable to that sovereign's happiness. This was true; but he did not then realize that it was in his office as admiring and sympathizing audience, and not in his person as Christopher Thornley, that he was necessary to Elisabeth. A fuller revelation was vouchsafed to him later.
The next morning Elisabeth was herself again, and was quite ready to enjoy Christopher's society and to excuse his scruples. She knew that self of hers when she said that she wished she had somebody else to play with, in order that she might withdraw the light of her presence from her offending henchman. To thus punish Christopher, until she had found some one to take his place, was a course of action which would not have occurred to her. Elisabeth's pride could never stand in the way of her pleasure; Christopher's, on the contrary, might. It was a remarkable fact that after Christopher had reproved Elisabeth for some fault—which happened neither infrequently nor unnecessarily—he was always repentant and she forgiving; yet nine times out of ten he had been in the right and she in the wrong. But Elisabeth's was one of those exceptionally generous natures which can pardon the reproofs and condone the virtues of their friends; and she bore no malice, even when Christopher had been more obviously right than usual. But she was already enough of a woman to adapt to her own requirements his penitence for right-doing; and on this occasion she took advantage of his chastened demeanour to induce him to assist her in erecting a new shrine to Athene in the wood—which meant that she gave all the directions and he did all the work.
"You are doing it beautifully, Chris—you really are!" she exclaimed with delight. "We shall be able to have a splendid sacrifice this afternoon. I've got some feathers to offer up from the fowl cook is plucking; and they make a much better sacrifice than waste paper."
Christopher was too shy in those days to put the fact into words; nevertheless, the fact remained that Elisabeth interested him profoundly. She was so original, so unexpected, that she was continually providing him with fresh food for thought. Although he was cleverer at lessons than she was, she was by far the cleverer at play; and though he had the finer character, hers was the stronger personality. It was because Elisabeth was so much to him that he now and then worried her easy-going conscience with his strictures; for, to do him justice, the boy was no prig, and would never have dreamed of preaching to anybody except her. But it must be remembered that Christopher had never heard of such things as spiritual evolutions and streams of tendency: to him right or wrong meant heaven or hell—neither more nor less; and he was overpowered by a burning anxiety that Elisabeth should eventually go to heaven, partly for her own sake, and partly (since human love is stronger than dogmas and doctrines) because a heaven, uncheered by the presence of Elisabeth, seemed a somewhat dreary place wherein to spend one's eternity.
"Why do feathers make a better sacrifice than paper?" repeated Christopher, Elisabeth being so much absorbed in his work that she had not answered his question.
"Oh! because they smell; and it seems so much more like a real sacrifice, somehow, if it smells."
"I see. What ideas you do get into your head!"
But Elisabeth's volatile thoughts had flown off in another direction. "You really have got awfully nice-coloured hair," she remarked, Chris having taken his cap off for the sake of coolness, as he was heated with his toil. "I do wish I had light hair like yours. Angels, and goddesses, and princesses, and people of that kind always have golden hair; but only bad fairies and cruel stepmothers have nasty dark hair like me. I think it is horrid to have dark hair."
"I don't: I like dark hair best; and I don't think yours is half bad." Christopher never overstated a case; but then one had the comfort of knowing that he always meant what he said, and frequently a good deal more.
"Don't you really, Chris? I think it is hideous," replied Elisabeth, taking one of her elf-locks between her fingers and examining it as if it were a sample of material; "it is like that ugly brown seaweed which shows which way the wind blows—no, I mean that shows whether it is going to rain or not."
"Never mind; I've seen lots of people with uglier hair than yours." Chris really could be of great consolation when he tried.
"Aren't the trees lovely when they have got all their leaves off?" said Elisabeth, her thoughts wandering again. "I believe I like them better now than I do in summer. Now they are like the things you wish for, and in the summer they are like the things you get; and the things you get are never half as nice as the things you wish for."
This was too subtle for Christopher. "I like them best with the leaves on; but anyhow they are nicer to look at than the chimneys that we see from our house. You can't think how gloomy it is for your rooms to look out on nothing but smoke and chimneys and furnaces. When you go to bed at night it's all red, and when you get up in the morning it's all black."
"I should like to live in a house like that. I love the smoke and the chimneys and the furnaces—they are all so big and strong and full of life; and they make you think."
"What on earth do they make you think about?"
Elisabeth's gray eyes grew dreamy. "They make me think that the Black Country is a wilderness that we are all travelling through; and over it there is always the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, to tell us which way to go. I make up tales to myself about the people in the wilderness; and how they watch the pillar, and how it keeps them from idling in their work, or selling bad iron, or doing anything that is horrid or mean, because it is a sign to them that God is with them, just as it used to be to the Children of Israel."
Christopher looked up from his work. Here was the old problem: Elisabeth did not think about religion half as much as he did, and yet the helpful and beautiful thoughts came to her and not to him. Still, it was comforting to know that the smoke and the glare, which he had hated, could convey such a message; and he made up his mind not to hate them any more.
"And then I pretend that the people come out of the wilderness and go to live in the country over there," Elisabeth continued, pointing to the distant hills; "and I make up lovely tales about that country, and all the beautiful things there. That is what is so nice about hills: you always think there are such wonderful places on the other side of them."
For some minutes Christopher worked silently, and Elisabeth watched him. Then the latter said suddenly:
"Isn't it funny that you never hate people in a morning, however much you may have hated them the night before?"
"Don't you?" Rapid changes of sentiment were beyond Christopher's comprehension. He was by no means a variable person.
"Oh! no. Last night I hated you, and made up a story in my own mind that another really nice boy came to play with me instead of you. And I said nice things to him, and horrid things to you; he and I played in the wood, and you had to do lessons all by yourself at school, and had nobody to play with. But when I woke up this morning I didn't care about the pretending boy any more, and I wanted you."
Christopher looked pleased; but it was not his way to express his pleasure in words. "And so, I suppose, you came to look for me," he said.
"Not the first thing. Somehow it always makes you like a person better when you have hated them for a bit, so I liked you awfully when I woke this morning and remembered you. When you really are fond of a person, you always want to do something to please them; so I went and told Cousin Maria that I'd read a lot of books in the library without thinking whether I ought to or not; but that now I wanted her to say what I might read and what I mightn't."
This was a course of action that Christopher could thoroughly understand and appreciate. "Was she angry?" he asked.
"Not a bit. That is the best of Cousin Maria—she never scolds you unless you really deserve it; and she is very sharp at finding out whether you deserve it or not. She said that there were a lot of books in the library that weren't suitable for a little girl to read; but that it wasn't naughty of me to have read what I chose, since nobody had told me not to. And then she said it was good of me to have told her, for she should never have found it out if I hadn't."
"And so it was," remarked Christopher approvingly.
"No; it wasn't—and I told her it wasn't. I told her that the goodness was yours, because it was you that made me tell. I should never have thought of it by myself."
"I say, you are a regular brick!"
Elisabeth looked puzzled. "I don't see anything brickish in saying that; it was the truth. It was you that made me tell, you know; and it wasn't fair for me to be praised for your goodness."
"You really are awfully straight, for a girl," said Christopher, with admiration; "you couldn't be straighter if you were a boy."
This was high praise, and Elisabeth's pale little face glowed with delight. She loved to be commended.
"It was really very good of you to speak to Miss Farringdon about the books," continued Christopher; "for I know you'll hate having to ask permission before you read a tale."
"I didn't do it out of goodness," said Elisabeth thoughtfully—"I did it to please you; and pleasing a person you are fond of isn't goodness. I wonder if grown-up people get to be as fond of religion as they are of one another. I expect they do; and then they do good things just for the sake of doing good."
"Of course they do," replied Christopher, who was always at sea when Elisabeth became metaphysical.
"I suppose," she continued seriously, "that if I were really good, religion ought to be the same to me as Cousin Anne."
"The same as Cousin Anne! What do you mean?"
"I mean that if I were really good, religion would give me the same sort of feelings as Cousin Anne does."
"What sort of feelings?"
"Oh! they are lovely feelings," Elisabeth answered—"too lovely to explain. Everything is a treat if Cousin Anne is there. When she speaks, it's just like music trickling down your back; and when you do something that you don't like to please her, you feel that you do like it."
"Well, you are a rum little thing! I should think nobody ever thought of all the queer things that you think of."
"Oh! I expect everybody does," retorted Elisabeth, who was far too healthy minded to consider herself peculiar. After another pause, she inquired: "Do you like me, Chris?"
"Rather! What a foolish question to ask!" Christopher replied, with a blush, for he was always shy of talking about his feelings; and the more he felt the shyer he became.
But Elisabeth was not shy, and had no sympathy with anybody who was. "How much do you like me?" she continued.
"But I want to know exactly how much."
"Then you can't. Nobody can tell how much they like anybody. You do ask silly questions!"
"Yes; they can. I can tell how much I like everybody," Elisabeth persisted.
"I have a sort of thermometer in my mind, just like the big thermometer in the hall; and I measure how much I like people by that."
"How much do you like your Cousin Anne?" he asked.
"Ninety-six degrees," replied Elisabeth promptly.
"And your Cousin Maria?"
"And Mrs. Bateson?"
"Fifty-four." Elisabeth always knew her own mind.
"I say, how—how—how much do you like me?" asked Christopher, with some hesitation.
"Sixty-two," answered Elisabeth, with no hesitation at all.
And Christopher felt a funny, cold feeling round his loyal heart. He grew to know the feeling well in after years, and to wonder how Elisabeth could understand so much and yet understand so little; but at present he was too young to understand himself.
MRS. BATESON'S TEA-PARTY
The best of piggie when he dies Is not "interred with his bones," But, in the form of porcine pies, Blesses a world that heard his cries, Yet heeded not those dying groans.
"Cousin Maria, please may I go to tea at Mrs. Bateson's with Christopher?" said Elisabeth one day, opening the library door a little, and endeavouring to squeeze her small person through as narrow an aperture as possible, as is the custom with children. She never called her playmate "Chris" in speaking to Miss Farringdon; for this latter regarded it as actually sinful to address people by any abbreviation of their baptismal names, just as she considered it positively immoral to partake of any nourishment between meals. "Mrs. Bateson has killed her pig, and there will be pork-pies for tea."
Miss Farringdon looked over her spectacles at the restless little figure. "Yes, my child; I see no reason why you should not. Kezia Bateson is a God-fearing woman, and her husband has worked at the Osierfield for forty years. I have the greatest respect for Caleb Bateson; he is a worthy man and a good Methodist, as his father was before him."
"He is a very ignorant man: he says Penny-lope."
"Says what, Elisabeth?"
"Penny-lope. I was showing him a book the other day about Penelope—the woman with the web, you know—and he called her Penny-lope. I didn't like to correct him, but I said Penelope afterward as often and as loud as I could."
"That was very ill-bred of you. Come here, Elisabeth."
The child came and stood by the old lady's chair, and began playing with a bunch of seals that were suspended by a gold chain from Miss Farringdon's waist. It was one of Elisabeth's little tricks that her fingers were never idle when she was talking.
"What have I taught you are the two chief ends at which every woman should aim, my child?"
"To be first a Christian and then a gentlewoman," quoted Elisabeth glibly.
"And how does a true gentlewoman show her good breeding?"
"By never doing or saying anything that could make any one else feel uncomfortable," Elisabeth quoted again.
"Then do you think that to display your own knowledge by showing up another person's ignorance would make that person feel comfortable, Elisabeth?"
"No, Cousin Maria."
"Knowledge is not good breeding, remember; it is a far less important matter. A true gentlewoman may be ignorant; but a true gentlewoman will never be inconsiderate."
Elisabeth hung her head. "I see."
"If you keep your thoughts fixed upon the people to whom you are talking, and never upon yourself, you will always have good manners, my child. Endeavour to interest and not to impress them."
"You mean I must talk about their things and not about mine?"
"More than that. Make the most of any common ground between yourself and them; make the least of any difference between yourself and them; and, above all, keep strenuously out of sight any real or fancied superiority you may possess over them. I always think that Saint Paul's saying, 'To the weak became I as weak,' was the perfection of good manners."
"I don't think I quite understand."
Miss Farringdon spoke in parables. "Then listen to this story. There was once a common soldier who raised himself from the ranks and earned a commission. He was naturally very nervous the first night he dined at the officers' mess, as he had never dined with gentlemen before, and he was afraid of making some mistake. It happened that the wine was served while the soup was yet on the table, and with the wine the ice. The poor man did not know what the ice was for, so took a lump and put it in his soup."
"The younger officers began to giggle, as you are doing," Miss Farringdon continued; "but the colonel, to whom the ice was handed next, took a lump and put it in his soup also; and then the young officers did not want to laugh any more. The colonel was a perfect gentleman."
"It seems to me," said Elisabeth thoughtfully, "that you've got to be good before you can be polite."
"Politeness appears to be what goodness really is," replied Miss Farringdon, "and is an attitude rather than an action. Fine breeding is not the mere learning of any code of manners, any more than gracefulness is the mere learning of any kind of physical exercise. The gentleman apparently, as the Christian really, looks not on his own things, but on the things of others; and the selfish person is always both unchristian and ill-bred."
Elisabeth gazed wistfully up into Miss Farringdon's face. "I should like to be a real gentlewoman, Cousin Maria; do you think I ever shall be?"
"I think it quite possible, if you bear all these maxims in mind, and if you carry yourself properly and never stoop. I can not approve of the careless manners of the young people of to-day, who loll upon easy-chairs in the presence of their elders, and who slouch into a room with constrained familiarity and awkward ease," replied Miss Farringdon, who had never sat in an easy-chair in her life, and whose back was still as straight as an arrow.
So in the afternoon of that day Christopher and Elisabeth attended Mrs. Bateson's tea-party.
The Batesons lived in a clean little cottage on the west side of High Street, and enjoyed a large garden to the rearward. It was a singular fact that whereas all their windows looked upon nothing more interesting than the smokier side of the bleak and narrow street, their pigsties commanded a view such as can rarely be surpassed for beauty and extent in England. But Mrs. Bateson called her front view "lively" and her back view "dull," and congratulated herself daily upon the aspect and the prospect of her dwelling-place. The good lady's ideas as to what constitutes beauty in furniture were by no means behind her opinions as to what is effective in scenery. Her kitchen was paved with bright red tiles, which made one feel as if one were walking across a coral reef, and was flanked on one side with a black oak dresser of unnumbered years, covered with a brave array of blue-and-white pottery. An artist would have revelled in this kitchen, with its delicious effects in red and blue; but Mrs. Bateson accounted it as nothing. Her pride was centred in her parlour and its mural decorations, which consisted principally of a large and varied assortment of funeral-cards, neatly framed and glazed. In addition to these there was a collection of family portraits in daguerreotype, including an interesting representation of Mrs. Bateson's parents sitting side by side in two straight-backed chairs, with their whole family twining round them—a sort of Swiss Family Laocoon; and a picture of Mr. Bateson—in the attitude of Juliet and the attire of a local preacher—leaning over a balcony, which was overgrown with a semi-tropical luxuriance of artificial ivy, and which was obviously too frail to support him. But the masterpiece in Mrs. Bateson's art-gallery was a soul-stirring illustration of the death of the revered John Wesley. This picture was divided into two compartments: the first represented the room at Wesley's house in City Road, with the assembled survivors of the great man's family weeping round his bed; and the second depicted the departing saint flying across Bunhill Fields burying-ground in his wig and gown and bands, supported on either side by a stalwart angel.
As Elisabeth had surmised, the entertainment on this occasion was pork-pie; and Mrs. Hankey, a near neighbour, had also been bidden to share the feast. So the tea-party was a party of four, the respective husbands of the two ladies not yet having returned from their duties at the Osierfield.
"I hope that you'll all make yourselves welcome," said the hostess, after they had sat down at the festive board. "Master Christopher, my dear, will you kindly ask a blessing?"
Christopher asked a blessing as kindly as he could, and Mrs. Bateson continued:
"Well, to be sure, it is a pleasure to see you looking so tall and strong, Master Christopher, after all your schooling. I'm not in favour of much schooling myself, as I think it hinders young folks from growing, and puts them off their vittles; but you give the contradiction to that notion—doesn't he, Mrs. Hankey?"
Mrs. Hankey shook her head. It was her rule in life never to look on the bright side of things; she considered that to do so was what she called "tempting Providence." Her theory appeared to be that as long as Providence saw you were miserable, that Power was comfortable about you and let you alone; but if Providence discovered you could bear more sorrow than you were then bearing, you were at once supplied with that little more. Naturally, therefore, her object was to convince Providence that her cup of misery was full. But Mrs. Hankey had her innocent enjoyments, in spite of the sternness of her creed. If she took light things seriously, she took serious things lightly; so she was not without her compensations. For instance, a Sunday evening's discourse on future punishment and the like, with illustrations, was an unfailing source of pure and healthful pleasure to her; while a funeral sermon—when the chapel was hung with black, and the bereaved family sat in state in their new mourning, and the choir sang Vital Spark as an anthem—filled her soul with joy. So when Mrs. Bateson commented with such unseemly cheerfulness upon Christopher's encouraging appearance, it was but consistent of Mrs. Hankey to shake her head.
"You can never tell," she replied—"never; often them that looks the best feels the worst; and many's the time I've seen folks look the very picture of health just before they was took with a mortal illness."
"Ay, that's so," agreed the hostess; "but I think Master Christopher's looks are the right sort; such a nice colour as he's got, too!"
"That comes from him being so fair complexioned—it's no sign of health," persisted Mrs. Hankey; "in fact, I mistrust those fair complexions, especially in lads of his age. Why, he ought to be as brown as a berry, instead of pink and white like a girl."
"It would look hideous to have a brown face with such yellow hair as mine," said Christopher, who naturally resented being compared to a girl.
"Master Christopher, don't call anything that the Lord has made hideous. We must all be as He has formed us, however that may be," replied Mrs. Hankey reprovingly; "and it is not our place to pass remarks upon what He has done for the best."
"But the Lord didn't make him with a brown face and yellow hair; that's just the point," interrupted Elisabeth, who regarded the bullying of Christopher as her own prerogative, and allowed no one else to indulge in that sport unpunished.
"No, my love; that's true enough," Mrs. Bateson said soothingly: "a truer word than that never was spoken. But I wish you could borrow some of Master Christopher's roses—I do, indeed. For my part, I like to see little girls with a bit of colour in their cheeks; it looks more cheerful-like, as you might say; and looks go a long way with some folks, though a meek and quiet spirit is better, taking it all round."
"Now Miss Elisabeth does look delicate, and no mistake," assented Mrs. Hankey; "she grows too fast for her strength, I'll be bound; and her poor mother died young, you know, so it is in the family."
Christopher looked at Elisabeth with the quick sympathy of a sensitive nature. He thought it would frighten her to hear Mrs. Hankey talk in that way, and he felt that he hated Mrs. Hankey for frightening Elisabeth.
But Elisabeth was made after a different pattern, and was not in the least upset by Mrs. Hankey's gloomy forebodings. She was essentially dramatic; and, unconsciously, her first object was to attract notice. She would have preferred to do this by means of unsurpassed beauty or unequalled talent; but, failing these aids to distinction, an early death-bed was an advertisement not to be despised. In her mind's eye she saw a touching account of her short life in Early Days, winding up with a heart-rending description of its premature close; and her mind's eye gloated over the sight.
The hostess gazed at her critically. "She is pale, Mrs. Hankey, there's no doubt of that; but pale folks are often the healthiest, though they mayn't be the handsomest. And she is wiry, is Miss Elisabeth, though she may be thin. But is your tea to your taste, or will you take a little more cream in it?"
"It is quite right, thank you, Mrs. Bateson; and the pork-pie is just beautiful. What a light hand for pastry you always have! I'm sure I've said over and over again that I don't know your equal either for making pastry or for engaging in prayer."
Mrs. Bateson, as was natural, looked pleased. "I doubt if I ever made a better batch of pies than this. When they were all ready for baking, Bateson says to me, 'Kezia,' he says, 'them pies is a regular picture—all so smooth and even-like, you can't tell which from t'other.' 'Bateson,' said I, 'I've done my best with them; and if only the Lord will be with them in the oven, they'll be the best batch of pies this side Jordan.'"
"And so they are," said Elisabeth; "they are perfectly lovely."
"I'm glad you fancy them, my love; take some more, deary, it'll do you good."
"No, thanks; I'd rather have a wig now." And Elisabeth helped herself to one of the three-cornered cakes, called "wigs," which are peculiar to Mershire.
"You always are fortunate in your pigs," Mrs. Hankey remarked; "such fine hams and such beautiful roaded bacon I never see anywhere equal to yours. It'll be a sad day for you, Mrs. Bateson, when swine fever comes into the district. I know no one as'll feel it more."
"Now you must tell us all about your niece's wedding, Mrs. Hankey," Mrs. Bateson said—"her that was married last week. My word alive, but your sister is wonderful fortunate in settling her daughters! That's what I call a well-brought-up family, and no mistake. Five daughters, and each one found peace and a pious husband before she was five-and-twenty."
"The one before last married a Churchman," said Mrs. Hankey apologetically, as if the union thus referred to were somewhat morganatic in its character, and therefore no subject for pride or congratulation.
"Well, to be sure! Still, he may make her a good husband."
"He may or he may not; you never can tell. It seems to me that husbands are like new boots—you can't tell where they're going to pinch you till it's too late to change 'em. And as for creaking, why, the boots that are quietest in the shop are just the ones that fairly disgrace you when you come into chapel late on a Sunday morning, and think to slip in quietly during the first prayer; and it is pretty much the same with husbands—those that are the meekest in the wooing are the most masterful to live with."
"What was the name of the Churchman your niece married?" asked Mrs. Bateson. "I forget."
"Wilkins—Tom Wilkins. He isn't a bad fellow in some respects—he is steady and sober, and never keeps back a farthing of his wages for himself; but his views are something dreadful. I can not stand them at any price, and so I'm forever telling his wife."
"Dear me! That's sad news, Mrs. Hankey."
"Would you believe it, he don't hold with the good old Methodist habit of telling out loud what the Lord has done for your soul? He says religion should be acted up to and not talked about; but, for my part, I can't abide such closeness."
"Nor I," agreed Mrs. Bateson warmly; "I don't approve of treating the Lord like a poor relation, as some folks seem to do. They'll go to His house and they'll give Him their money; but they're fairly ashamed of mentioning His Name in decent company."
"Just so; and that's Tom Wilkins to the life. He's a good husband and a regular church-goer; but as for the word that edifieth, you might as well look for it from a naked savage as from him. Many a time have I said to his wife, 'Tom may be a kind husband in the time of prosperity, as I make no doubt he is—there's plenty of that sort in the world; but you wait till the days of adversity come, and I doubt that then you'll be wishing you'd not been in such a hurry to get married, but had waited till you had got a good Methodist!' And so she will, I'll be bound; and the sooner she knows it the better."
Mrs. Bateson sighed at the gloomy prospect opening out before young Mrs. Wilkins; then she asked:
"How did the last daughter's wedding go off? She married a Methodist, surely?"
"She did, Mrs. Bateson; and a better match no mother could wish for her daughter, not even a duchess born; he's a chapel-steward and a master-painter, and has six men under him. There he is, driving to work and carrying his own ladders in his own cart, like a lord, as you may say, by day; and there he is on a Thursday evening, letting and reletting the pews and sittings after service, like a real gentleman. As I said to my sister, I only hope he may be spared to make Susan a good husband; but when a man is a chapel-steward at thirty-four, and drives his own cart, you begin to think that he is too good for this world, and that he is almost ripe for a better one."
"You do indeed; there's no denying that."
"But the wedding was beautiful: I never saw its equal—never; and as for the prayer that the minister offered up at the end of the service, I only wish you'd been there to hear it, Mrs. Bateson, it was so interesting and instructive. Such a lot of information in it about love and marriage and the like as I'd never heard before; and when he referred to the bridegroom's first wife, and drew a picture of how she'd be waiting to welcome them both, when the time came, on the further shore—upon my word, there wasn't a dry eye in the chapel!" And Mrs. Hankey wiped hers at the mere remembrance of the scene.
"But what did Susan say?" asked Elisabeth, with great interest. "I expect she didn't want another wife to welcome them on the further shore."
"Oh! Miss Elisabeth, what a naughty, selfish little girl you are!" exclaimed Susan's aunt, much shocked. "What would Miss Farringdon think if she heard you? Why, you don't suppose, surely, that when folks get to heaven they'll be so greedy and grasping that they'll want to keep everything to themselves, do you? My niece is a good girl and a member of society, and she was as pleased as anybody at the minister's beautiful prayer."
Elisabeth was silent, but unconvinced.
"How is your sister herself?" inquired Mrs. Bateson. "I expect she's a bit upset now that the fuss is all over, and she hasn't a daughter left to bless herself with."
Mrs. Hankey sighed cheerfully. "Well, she did seem rather low-spirited when all the mess was cleared up, and Susan had gone off to her own home; but I says to her, 'Never mind, Sarah, and don't you worry yourself; now that the weddings are over, the funerals will soon begin.' You see, you must cheer folks up a bit, Mrs. Bateson, when they're feeling out of sorts."
"You must indeed," agreed the lady of the house, feeling that her guest had hit upon a happy vein of consolation; "it is dull without daughters when you've once got accustomed to 'em, daughters being a sight more comfortable and convenient than sons, to my mind."
"Well, you see, daughters you can teach to know theirselves, and sons; you can't. Though even daughters can never rest till they've got married, more's the pity. If they knowed as much about men as I do, they'd be thanking the Lord that He'd created them single, instead of forever fidgeting to change the state to which they were born."
"Well, I holds with folks getting married," argued Mrs. Bateson; "it gives 'em something to think about between Sunday's sermon and Thursday's baking; and if folks have nothing to think about, they think about mischief."
"That's true, especially if they happen to be men."
"Why do men think about mischief more than women do?" asked Elisabeth, who always felt hankerings after the why and wherefore of things.
"Because, my dear, the Lord made 'em so, and it is not for us to complain," replied Mrs. Hankey, in a tone which implied that, had the role of Creator been allotted to her, the idiosyncrasies of the male sex would have been much less marked than they are at present. "They've no sense, men haven't; that's what is the matter with them."
"You never spoke a truer word, Mrs. Hankey," agreed her hostess; "the very best of them don't properly know the difference between their souls and their stomachs; and they fancy that they are a-wrestling with their doubts, when really it is their dinners that are a-wrestling with them. Now take Bateson hisself, and a kinder husband or a better Methodist never drew breath; yet so sure as he touches a bit of pork, he begins to worn hisself about the doctrine of Election till there's no living with him."
"That's a man all over, to the very life," said Mrs. Hankey sympathetically; "and he never has the sense to see what's wrong with him, I'll be bound."
"Not he—he wouldn't be a man if he had. And then he'll sit in the front parlour and engage in prayer for hours at a time, till I says to him, 'Bateson,' says I, 'I'd be ashamed to go troubling the Lord with a prayer when a pinch o' carbonate o' soda would set things straight again.'"
"And quite right, Mrs. Bateson; it's often a wonder to me that the Lord has patience with men, seeing that their own wives haven't."
"And to me, too. Now Bateson has been going on like this for thirty years or more; yet if there's roast pork on the table, and I say a word to put him off it, he's that hurt as never was. Why, I'm only too glad to see him enjoying his food if no harm comes of it; but it's dreary work seeing your husband in the Slough of Despond, especially when it's your business to drag him out again, and most especially when you particularly warned him against going in."
Mrs. Hankey groaned. "The Bible says true when it tells us that men are born to give trouble as the sparks fly upward; and it is a funny Providence, to my mind, as ordains for women to be so bothered with 'em. At my niece's wedding, as we were just speaking about, 'Susan,' I says, 'I wish you happiness; and I only hope you won't live to regret your marriage as I have done mine.' For my part, I can't see what girls want with husbands at all; they are far better without them."
"Not they, Mrs. Hankey," replied Mrs. Bateson warmly; "any sort of a husband is better than none, to my mind. Life is made up of naughts and crosses; and the folks that get the crosses are better off than those that get the naughts, though that husbands are crosses I can't pretend to deny; but I haven't patience with single women, I haven't—they have nothing to occupy their minds, and so they get to talking about their health and such-like fal-lals."
"Saint Paul didn't hold with you," said Mrs. Hankey, with reproach in her tone; "he thought that the unmarried women minded the things of the Lord better than the married ones."
"Saint Paul didn't know much about the subject, and how could he be expected to, being only a bachelor himself, poor soul? But if he'd had a wife, she'd soon have told him what the unmarried women were thinking about; and it wouldn't have been about the Lord, I'll be bound. Now take Jemima Stubbs; does she mind the things of the Lord more than you and I do, Mrs. Hankey, I should like to know?"
"I can't say; it is not for us to judge."
"Not she! Why, she's always worrying about that poor little brother of hers, what's lame. I often wish that the Lord would think on him and take him, for he's a sore burden on Jemima, he is. If you're a woman you are bound to work for some man or another, and to see to his food and to bear with his tantrums; and, for my part, I'd rather do it for a husband than for a father or a brother. There's more credit in it, as you might say."
"There's something in that, maybe."
"And after all, in spite of the botheration he gives, there's something very cheerful in having a man about the house. They keep you alive, do men. The last time I saw Jemima Stubbs she was as low as low could be. 'Jemima,' I says, 'you are out of spirits.' 'Mrs. Bateson,' says she, 'I am that. I wish I was either in love or in the cemetery, and I don't much mind which.'"
"Did she cry?" asked Elisabeth, who was always absorbingly interested in any one who was in trouble. With her, to pity was to love; and it was difficult for her ever to love where she did not pity. Christopher did not understand this, and was careful not to appeal to Elisabeth's sympathy for fear of depressing her. Herein, both as boy and man, he made a great mistake. It was not as easy to depress Elisabeth as it was to depress him; and, moreover, it was sometimes good for her to be depressed. But he did unto her as he would she should do unto him; and, when all is said and done, it is difficult to find a more satisfactory rule of conduct than this.
"Cry, lovey?" said Mrs. Bateson; "I should just think she did—fit to break her heart."
Thereupon Jemima Stubbs became a heroine of romance in Elisabeth's eyes, and a new interest in her life. "I shall go and see her to-morrow," she said, "and take her something nice for her little brother. What do you think he would like, Mrs. Bateson?"
"Bless the child, she is one of the Good Shepherd's own lambs!" exclaimed Mrs. Bateson, with tears in her eyes.
Mrs. Hankey sighed. "It is the sweetest flowers that are the readiest for transplanting to the Better Land," she said; and once again Christopher hated her.
But Elisabeth was engrossed in the matter in hand. "What would he like?" she persisted—"a new toy, or a book, or jam and cake?"
"I should think a book, lovey; he's fair set on books, is Johnnie Stubbs; and if you'd read a bit to him yourself, it would be a fine treat for the lad."
Elisabeth's eyes danced with joy. "I'll go the first thing to-morrow morning, and read him my favourite chapter out of The Fairchild Family; and then I'll teach him some nice games to play all by himself."
"That's a dear young lady!" exclaimed Mrs. Bateson, in an ecstasy of admiration.
"Do you think Jemima will cry when I go?"
"No, lovey; she wouldn't so far forget herself as to bother the gentry with her troubles, surely."
"But I shouldn't be bothered; I should be too sorry for her. I always am frightfully interested in people who are unhappy—much more interested than in people who are happy; and I always love everybody when I've seen them cry. It is so easy to be happy, and so dull. But why doesn't Jemima fall in love if she wants to?"
"There now!" cried Mrs. Bateson, in a sort of stage aside to an imaginary audience. "What a clever child she is! I'm sure I don't know, dearie."
"It is a pity that she hasn't got a Cousin Anne," said Elisabeth, her voice trembling with sympathy. "When you've got a Cousin Anne, it makes everything so lovely."
"And so it does, dearie—so it does," agreed Mrs. Bateson, who did not in the least understand what Elisabeth meant.
On the way home, after the tea-party was over, Christopher remarked:
"Old Mother Bateson isn't a bad sort; but I can't stand Mother Hankey."
"She says such horrid things." He had not yet forgiven Mrs. Hankey for her gloomy prophecies respecting Elisabeth.
"Not horrid, Chris. She is rather stupid sometimes, and doesn't know when things are funny; but she never means to be really horrid, I am sure."
"Well, I think she is an old cat," persisted Christopher.
"The only thing I don't like about her is her gloves," added Elisabeth thoughtfully; "they are so old they smell of biscuit. Isn't it funny that old gloves always smell of biscuit. I wonder why?"
"I think they do," agreed Christopher; "but nobody except you would ever have thought of saying it. You have a knack of saying what everybody else is thinking; and that is what makes you so amusing."
"I'm glad you think I'm amusing; but I can't see much funniness in just saying what is true."
"Well, I can't explain why it is funny; but you really are simply killing sometimes," said Christopher graciously.
The next day, and on many succeeding ones, Elisabeth duly visited Jemima Stubbs and the invalid boy, although Christopher entreated her not to worry herself about them, and offered to go in her place. But he failed to understand that Elisabeth was goaded by no depressing sense of duty, as he would have been in similar circumstances; she went because pity was a passion with her, and therefore she was always absorbingly interested in any one whom she pitied. Strength and success and such-like attributes never appealed to Elisabeth, possibly because she herself was strong, and possessed all the qualities of the successful person; but weakness and failure were all-powerful in enlisting her sympathy and interest and, through these, her love. As Christopher grew older he dreamed dreams of how in the future he should raise himself from being only the nephew of Miss Farringdon's manager to a position of wealth and importance; and how he should finally bring all his glories and honours and lay them at Elisabeth's feet. His eyes were not opened to see that Elisabeth would probably turn with careless laughter from all such honours thus manufactured into her pavement; but if he came to her bent and bruised and brokenhearted, crushed with failure instead of crowned with success, her heart would never send him empty away, but would go out to him with a passionate longing to make up to him for all that he had missed in life.
A few days after Mrs. Bateson's tea-party he said to Elisabeth, for about the twentieth time:
"I say, I wish you wouldn't tire yourself with going to read to that Stubbs brat."
"Tire myself? What rubbish! nothing can tire me. I never felt tired in my life; but I shouldn't mind it just once, to see what it feels like."
"It feels distinctly unpleasant, I can tell you. But I really do wish you'd take more care of yourself, or else you'll get ill, or have headaches or something—you will indeed."
"No, I shan't; I never had a headache. That's another of the things that I don't know what they feel like; and yet I want to know what everything feels like—even disagreeable things."
"You'll know fast enough, I'm afraid," replied Christopher; "but even if it doesn't tire you, you would enjoy playing in the garden more than reading to Johnnie Stubbs—you know you would; and I can go and read to the little chap, if you are set on his being read to."
"But you would much rather play in the garden than read to him; and especially as it is your holidays, and your own reading-time will soon begin."
"Oh! I don't matter. Never bother your head about me; remember I'm all right as long as you are; and that as long as you're jolly, I'm bound to have a good time. But it riles me to see you worrying and overdoing yourself."
"You don't understand, Chris; you really are awfully stupid about understanding things. I don't go to see Jemima and Johnnie because I hate going, and yet think I ought; I go because I am so sorry for them both that my sorriness makes me like to go."
But Christopher did not understand, and Elisabeth could not make him do so. The iron of duty had entered into his childish soul; and, unconsciously, he was always trying to come between it and Elisabeth, and to save her from the burden of obligation which lay so heavily upon his spirit. He was a religious boy, but his religion was of too stern a cast to bring much joy to him; and he was passionately anxious that Elisabeth should not be distressed in like manner. His desire was that she should have sufficient religion to insure heaven, but not enough to spoil earth—a not uncommon desire on behalf of their dear ones among poor, ignorant human beings, whose love for their neighbour will surely atone in some measure for their injustice toward God.
"You see," Elisabeth continued, "there is nothing that makes you so fond of people as being sorry for them. The people that are strong and happy don't want your fondness, so it is no use giving it to them. It is the weak, unhappy people that want you to love them, and so it is the weak, unhappy people that you love."
"But I don't," replied Christopher, who was always inclined to argue a point; "when I like people, I should like them just the same as if they went about yelling Te Deums at the top of their voices; and when I don't like them, it wouldn't make me like them to see them dressed from head to foot in sackcloth and ashes."
"Oh! that's a stupid way of liking, I think."
"It may be stupid, but it's my way."
"Don't you like me better when I cry than when I laugh?" asked Elisabeth, who never could resist a personal application.
"Good gracious, no! I always like you the same; but I'd much rather you laughed than cried—it is so much jollier for you; in fact, it makes me positively wretched to see you cry."
"It always vexes me," Elisabeth said thoughtfully, "to read about tournaments, because I think it was so horrid of the Queen of Beauty to give the prize to the knight who won."
Christopher laughed with masculine scorn. "What nonsense! Who else could she have given it to?"
"Why, to the knight who lost, of course. I often make up a tale to myself that I am the Queen of Beauty at a tournament; and when the victorious knight rides up to me with his visor raised, I just laugh at him, and say, 'You can have the fame and the glory and the cheers of the crowd; that's quite enough for you!' And then I go down from my dais, right into the arena where the unhorsed knight is lying wounded, and take off his helmet, and lay his head on my lap, and say, 'You shall have the prize, because you have got nothing else!' So then that knight becomes my knight, and always wears my colours; and that makes up to him for having been beaten at the tournament, don't you see?"
"It would have been a rotten sort of tournament that was carried on in that fashion; and your prize would have been no better than a booby-prize," persisted Christopher.
"How silly you are! I'm glad I'm not a boy; I wouldn't have been as stupid as a boy for anything!"
"Don't be so cross! You must see that the knight who wins is the best knight; chaps that are beaten are not up to much."
"Well, they are the sort I like best; and if you had any sense you'd like them best, too." Whereupon Elisabeth removed the light of her offended countenance from Christopher, and dashed off in a royal rage.
As for him, he sighed over the unreasonableness of the weaker sex, but accepted it philosophically as one of the rules of the game; and Chris played games far too well to have anything but contempt for any one who rebelled against the rules of any game whatsoever. It was a man's business, he held, not to argue about the rules, but to play the game according to them, and to win; or, if that was out of his power, to lose pluckily and never complain.
Up to eighteen we fight with fears, And deal with problems grave and weighty, And smile our smiles and weep our tears, Just as we do in after years From eighteen up to eighty.
When Elisabeth was sixteen her noonday was turned into night by the death of her beloved Cousin Anne. For some time the younger Miss Farringdon had been in failing health; but it was her role to be delicate, and so nobody felt anxious about her until it was too late for anxiety to be of any use. She glided out of life as gracefully as she had glided through it, trusting that the sternness of her principles would expiate the leniency of her practice; and was probably surprised at the discovery that it was the leniency of her practice which finally expiated the sternness of her principles.
She left a blank, which was never quite filled up, in the lives of her sister Maria and her small cousin Elisabeth. The former bore her sorrow better, on the whole, than did the latter, because she had acquired the habit of bearing sorrow; but Elisabeth mourned with all the hopeless misery of youth.
"It is no use trying to make me interested in things," she sobbed in response to Christopher's clumsy though well-meant attempts to divert her. "I shall never be interested in anything again—never. Everything is different now that Cousin Anne is gone away."
"Not quite everything," said Christopher gently.
"Yes; everything. Why, the very trees don't look the same as they used to look, and the view isn't a bit what it used to be when she was here. All the ordinary things seem queer and altered, just as they do when you see them in a dream."
"Poor little girl!"
"And now it doesn't seem worth while for anything to look pretty. I used to love the sunsets, but now I hate them. What is the good of their being so beautiful and filling the sky with red and gold, if she isn't here to see them? And what is the good of trying to be good and clever if she isn't here to be pleased with me? Oh dear! oh dear! Nothing will ever be any good any more."
Christopher laid an awkward hand upon Elisabeth's dark hair, and began stroking it the wrong way. "I say, I wish you wouldn't fret so; it's more than I can stand to see you so wretched. Isn't there anything that I can do to make it up to you, somehow?"
"No; nothing. Nothing will ever comfort me any more; and how could a great, stupid boy like you make up to me for having lost her?" moaned poor little Elisabeth, with the selfishness of absorbing grief.
"Well, anyway, I am as fond of you as she was, for nobody could be fonder of anybody than I am of you."
"That doesn't help. I don't miss her so because she loved me, but because I loved her; and I shall never, never love any one else as much as long as I live."
"Oh yes, you will, I expect," replied Christopher, who even then knew Elisabeth better than she knew herself.
"No—I shan't; and I should hate myself if I did."
Elisabeth fretted so terribly after her Cousin Anne that she grew paler and thinner than ever; and Miss Farringdon was afraid that the girl would make herself really ill, in spite of her wiry constitution. After much consultation with many friends, she decided to send Elisabeth to school, for it was plain that she was losing her vitality through lack of an interest in life; and school—whatever it may or may not supply—invariably affords an unfailing amount of new interests. So Elisabeth went to Fox How—a well-known girls' school not a hundred miles from London—so called in memory of Dr. Arnold, according to whose principles the school was founded and carried on.
It would be futile to attempt to relate the history of Elisabeth Farringdon without telling in some measure what her school-days did for her; and it would be equally futile to endeavour to convey to the uninitiated any idea of what that particular school meant—and still means—to all its daughters.
When Elisabeth had left her girlhood far behind her, the mere mention of the name, Fox How, never failed to send thrills all through her, as God save the Queen, and Home, sweet Home have a knack of doing; and for any one to have ever been a pupil at Fox How, was always a sure and certain passport to Elisabeth's interest and friendliness. The school was an old, square, white house, standing in a walled garden; and those walls enclosed all the multifarious interests and pleasures and loves and rivalries and heart-searchings and soul-awakenings which go to make up the feminine life from twelve to eighteen, and which are very much the same in their essence, if not in their form, as those which go to make up the feminine life from eighteen to eighty. In addition to these, the walls enclosed two lawns and an archery-ground, a field and a pond overgrown with water-lilies, a high mound covered with grass and trees, and a kitchen-garden filled with all manner of herbs and pleasant fruits—in short, it was a wonderful and extensive garden, such as one sees now and then in some old-fashioned suburb, but which people have neither the time nor the space to lay out nowadays. It also contained a long, straight walk, running its whole length and shaded by impenetrable greenery, where Elisabeth used to walk up and down, pretending that she was a nun; and some delightful swings and see-saws, much patronized by the said Elisabeth, which gave her a similar physical thrill to that produced in later years by the mention of her old school.
The gracious personality which ruled over Fox How in the days of Elisabeth had mastered the rarely acquired fact that the word educate is derived from educo, to draw out, and not (as is generally supposed) from addo, to give to; so the pupils there were trained to train themselves, and learned how to learn—a far better equipment for life and its lessons than any ready-made cloak of superficial knowledge, which covers all individualities and fits none. There was no cramming or forcing at Fox How; the object of the school was not to teach girls how to be scholars, but rather how to be themselves—that is to say, the best selves which they were capable of becoming. High character rather than high scholarship was the end of education there; and good breeding counted for more than correct knowledge. Not that learning was neglected, for Elisabeth and her schoolfellows worked at their books for eight good hours every day; but it did not form the first item on the programme of life.
And who can deny that the system of Fox How was the correct system of education, at any rate, as far as girls are concerned? Unless a woman has to earn her living by teaching, what does it matter to her how much hydrogen there is in a drop of rain-water, or in what year Hannibal crossed the Alps? But it will matter to her infinitely, for the remainder of her mortal existence, whether she is one of those graceful, sympathetic beings, whose pathway is paved by the love of Man and the friendship of Woman; or one of that much-to-be-blamed, if somewhat-to-be-pitied, sisterhood, who are unloved because they are unlovely, and unlovely because they are unloved.