THE GUINEA STAMP
ANNIE S. SWAN
* * * * *
FIVE SHILLING SERIES.
THE GATES OF EDEN.
A Story of Endeavour. By ANNIE S. SWAN. Large crown 8vo, cloth, with Portrait of the Authoress.
BRIAR AND PALM.
A Study of Circumstance and Influence. By ANNIE S. SWAN. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, Illustrated.
ONE FALSE STEP.
By ANDREW STEWART. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, Illustrated.
NOEL CHETWYND'S FALL.
By Mrs. J. H. NEEDELL. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, Illustrated.
SIR JOHN'S WARD.
By JANE H. JAMIESON. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, Frontispiece.
ST. VEDA'S; or, The Pearl of Orr's Haven.
By ANNIE S. SWAN. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, with Frontispiece by ROBERT M'GREGOR.
By ROBINA F. HARDY. With Frontispiece by ROBERT M'GREGOR, R. S. A. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra.
By ARTHUR W. MARCHMONT. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra.
AFTER TOUCH OF WEDDED HANDS.
By HANNAH B. MACKENZIE. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra.
THE GUINEA STAMP.
A Tale of Modern Glasgow. By ANNIE S. SWAN. Large crown 8vo, cloth extra.
Edinburgh & London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier.
* * * * *
THE GUINEA STAMP
A Tale of Modern Glasgow
ANNIE S. SWAN (Mrs. Burnett-Smith)
Author of 'Aldersyde,' 'Across Her Path,' 'The Gates of Eden,' 'The Ayres of Studleigh,' 'Who Shall Serve?'
'The rank is but the guinea stamp, The man's the gowd for a that.'
Edinburgh and London Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier 1892
Books By Annie S. Swan.
Sheila. With Frontispiece. Maitland of Laurieston.
The Gates of Eden. With Portrait of the Authoress. Briar and Palm. With Six Chalk Drawings. St. Veda's. With Frontispiece by Robert M'Gregor. The Guinea Stamp. A Tale of Modern Glasgow.
Aldersyde. With Six Original Illustrations by Tom Scott. Carlowrie. With Six Original Illustrations by Tom Scott. Doris Cheyne. With Illustrations of the English Lake District. Who Shall Serve? A Story for the Times.
Aldersyde. Carlowrie. Hazell & Sons. Illustrated. A Divided House. Illustrated. Ursula Vivian. Illustrated. The Ayres of Studleigh. Illustrated.
2s. In Paper Boards.
Aldersyde. Carlowrie. The Ayres of Studleigh. Illustrated.
Cloth, 1s. 6d.; Paper Covers, 1s. Illustrated.
Across Her Path. A Divided House. Cheap Edition. Sundered Hearts. Robert Martin's Lesson. Mistaken, and Marion Forsyth. Shadowed Lives. Ursula Vivian. Cheap Edition. Dorothea Kirke. Vita Vinctis. By Robina F. Hardy, Annie S. Swan, and Jessie M. E. Saxby. Wrongs Righted. The Secret Panel. Thomas Dryburgh's Dream, and Miss Baxter's Bequest. Twice Tried. A Vexed Inheritance. Hazell & Sons. Cheap Edition. A Bachelor in Search of a Wife.
Mistaken. Marion Forsyth. Thomas Dryburgh's Dream. Miss Baxter's Bequest.
Douglas Roy. Katie's Christmas Lesson. Tom's Memorable Christmas. Bess: The Story of a Waif. The Bonnie Jean.
Edinburgh and London OLIPHANT ANDERSON & FERRIER. MORRISON AND GIBB, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.
I. FATHERLESS, 7
II. WHAT TO DO WITH HER, 16
III. THE NEW HOME, 26
IV. A RAY OF LIGHT, 34
V. LIZ, 43
VI. PICTURES OF LIFE, 51
VII. LIZ SPEAKS HER MIND, 60
VIII. EDGED TOOLS, 68
IX. AN IMPENDING CHANGE, 77
X. IN AYRSHIRE, 86
XI. DARKENING DAYS, 95
XII. SETTING HIS HOUSE IN ORDER, 104
XIII. THE LAST SUMMONS, 113
XIV. THOSE LEFT BEHIND, 122
XV. HER INHERITANCE, 131
XVI. FAREWELL, 139
XVII. THE WEST END, 148
XVIII. 'THE DAYS THAT ARE NOT,' 157
XIX. THE SWEETS OF LIFE, 166
XX. PLANS, 174
XXI. ACROSS THE CHANNEL, 182
XXII. A HELPING HAND, 190
XXIII. REAL AND IDEAL, 198
XXIV. THE UNEXPECTED, 206
XXV. THE FIRST WOOER, 214
XXVI. UNDER DISCUSSION, 222
XXVII. GLADYS AND WALTER, 229
XXVIII. A TROUBLED HEART, 236
XXIX. AN AWAKENING, 243
XXX. TOO LATE! 250
XXXI. 'WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN,' 259
XXXII. THE WANDERER, 266
XXXIII. A FAITHFUL FRIEND, 274
XXXIV. WHAT WILL SHE DO? 283
XXXV. A REVELATION, 291
XXXVI. TETE-A-TETE, 299
XXXVII. CHUMS, 307
XXXVIII. IN VAIN, 315
XXXIX. GONE, 323
XL. THE MATRONS ADVISE, 331
XLI. A GREAT RELIEF, 338
XLII. A DISCOVERY, 345
XLIII. A WOMAN'S HEART, 352
XLIV. THE MAGDALENE, 361
XLV. THE BOLT FALLS, 369
XLVI. THE WORLD WELL LOST, 377
THE GUINEA STAMP
It was an artist's studio, a poor, shabby little place, with a latticed window facing the north. There was nothing in the furnishing or arrangement of the room to suggest successful work, or even artistic taste. A few tarnished gold frames leaned against the gaudily-papered wall, and the only picture stood on the dilapidated easel in the middle of the floor, a small canvas of a woman's head, a gentle Madonna face, with large supplicating eyes, and a sensitive, sad mouth, which seemed to mourn over the desolation of the place. The palette and a few worn brushes were scattered on the floor, where the artist had laid them down for ever. There was one living creature in the room, a young girl, not more than sixteen, sitting on a stool by the open window, looking out listlessly on the stretch of dreary fenland, shrouded in the cold and heavy mist. It was a day on which the scenery of the fen country looked desolate, cheerless, and chill. These green meadows and flat stretches have need of the sunshine to warm them always. Sitting there in the soft grey light, Gladys Graham looked more of a woman than a child, though her gown did not reach her ankles, and her hair hung in a thick golden plait down her back. Her face was very careworn and very sad, her eyes red and dim with long weeping. There was not on the face of the earth a more desolate creature than the gentle, slender girl, the orphan of a day. At an age when life should be a joyous and lovely thing to the maiden child, Gladys Graham found herself face to face with its grimmest reality, certain of only one thing, that somewhere and somehow she must earn her bread. She was thinking of it at that moment, with her white brows perplexedly knitted, her mouth made stern by doubt and apprehension and despair; conning in her mind her few meagre accomplishments, asking herself how much they were likely to bring in the world's great mart. She could read and write and add a simple sum, finger the keys of the piano and the violin strings with a musicianly touch, draw a little, and dream a great deal. That was the sum total of her acquirements, and she knew very well that the value of such things was nil. What, then, must become of her? The question had become a problem, and she was very far away yet from its solution.
The house was a plain and primitive cottage in the narrow street of a little Lincolnshire village—a village which was a relic of the old days, before the drainage system was introduced, transforming the fens into a fertile garden, which seems to bloom and blossom summer and winter through. Its old houses reminded one of a Dutch picture, which the quaint bridges across the waterways served to enhance. There are many such in the fen country, dear to the artist's soul.
John Graham was not alone in his love for the wide reaches, level as the sea, across which every village spire could be seen for many a mile. Not very far away, in clear weather, the great tower of Boston, not ungraceful, stood out in awe-inspiring grandeur against the sky, and was pointed out with pride and pleasure by all who loved the fens and rejoiced in the revived prosperity of their ancient capital. For ten years John Graham had been painting pictures of these level and monotonous plains, and of the bits to be found at every village corner, but somehow, whether people had tired of them, or hesitated to give their money for an unknown artist's work, the fortune he had dreamed of never came. The most of the pictures found their way to the second-hand dealers, and were there sold often for the merest trifle. He had somehow missed his mark,—had proved himself a failure,—and the world has not much patience or sympathy with failures. A great calamity, such as a colossal bankruptcy, which proves the bankrupt to be more rogue than fool, arouses in it a touch of admiration, and even a curious kind of respect; but with the man out at elbows, who has striven vainly against fearful odds, though he may have kept his integrity throughout, it will have nothing to do; he will not be forgiven for having failed.
And now, when he lay dead, the victim of an ague contracted in his endeavour to catch a winter effect in a marshy hollow, there was nobody to mourn him but his motherless child. It was very pitiful, and surely in the wide world there must have been found some compassionate heart who would have taken the child by the hand and ministered unto her for Christ's sake. If any such there were, Gladys had never heard of them, and did not believe they lived. She was very old in knowledge of the world, that bitterest of all knowledge, which poverty had taught. She had even known what it was, that gentle child, to be hungry and have nothing to eat—a misery enhanced by the proud, sensitive spirit which was the only heritage John Graham had left the daughter for whom, most cheerfully, he would have laid down his life. The village people had been kind after their homely way; but they, working hard all day with their hands, and eating at eventide the substantial bread of their honest toil, were possessed of a great contempt for the worn and haggard man who tramped their meadow-ways with his sketch-books under his arm, his daughter always with him, preserving still the look and manners of the gently born, though they wore the shabbiest of shabby garments, and could scarcely pay for the simple food they ate. It was a great mystery to them, and they regarded the spectacle with the impatience of those who did not understand.
It was the month of November, and very early that grey day the chilly darkness fell. When she could no longer see across the narrow street, Gladys let her head fall on her hands, and so sat very still. She had eaten nothing for many hours, and though feeling faint and weak, it did not occur to her to seek something to strengthen her. She had something more important than such trifling matters to engross her thoughts. She was so sitting, hopeless, melancholy, half-dazed, when she heard the voice of an arrival down-stairs, and the unaccustomed tones of a man's voice mingling with the shriller notes of Miss Peck, their little landlady. It was not the curate's voice, with which Gladys had grown quite familiar during her father's illness. He had been very kind; and in his desperation, when his end approached, Graham had implored him to look after Gladys. It was a curious charge to lay upon a young man's shoulders, but Clement Courtney had accepted it cheerfully, and had even written to his widowed mother, who lived alone in a Dorsetshire village, asking her advice about the girl. Gladys was disturbed in her solitude by Miss Peck, who came to the door in rather an excited and officious manner. She was a little, wiry spinster, past middle life, eccentric, but kind-hearted. She had bestowed a great deal of gratuitous and genuine kindness on her lodgers, though knowing very well that she would not likely get any return but gratitude for it; but times were hard with her likewise, and she could not help thinking regretfully at times of the money, only her due, which she would not likely touch now that the poor artist was gone. She had a little lamp in her hand, and she held it up so that the light fell full on the child's pale face.
'Miss Gladys, my dear, it is a gentleman for you. He says he is your uncle,' she said, and her thin voice quite trembled with her great excitement.
'My uncle?' repeated Gladys wistfully. 'Oh yes; it will be Uncle Abel from Scotland. Mr. Courtney said he had written to him.'
She rose from her stool and turned to follow Miss Peck down-stairs.
'In the sitting-room, my dear, he waits for you,' said Miss Peck, and a look of extreme pity softened her pinched features into tenderness. 'I hope—I hope, my dear, he will be good to you.' She did not add what she thought, that the chances were against it; and, still holding the lamp aloft, she guided Gladys down-stairs. There was no hesitation, but neither was there elation or pleasant anticipation in the girl's manner as she entered the room. She had ceased to expect anything good or bright to come to her any more, and perhaps it was as well just then that her outlook in life was so gloomy; it lessened the certainty of disappointment. A little lamp also burned on the round table in the middle of the narrow sitting-room, and the fire feebly blinked behind Miss Peck's carefully-polished bars, as if impressed by the subdued atmosphere without and within. Close by the table stood a very little man, enveloped in a long loosely-fitting overcoat, his hat in one hand and a large damp umbrella in the other. He had an abnormally large head, and a soft, flabby, uninteresting face, which, however, was redeemed from vacancy by the gleam and glitter of his remarkably keen and piercing black eyes. His hair was grey, and a straggling beard, grey also, adorned his heavy chin. Gladys was conscious of a strong sense of repulsion as she looked at him, but she tried not to show it, and feebly smiled as she extended her hand.
'Are you Uncle Abel, papa's brother?' she asked—a perfectly unnecessary question, of course, but it fell from her involuntarily, the contrast was so great; almost she could have called him an impostor on the spot.
'Yes,' said Uncle Abel in a harsh undertone; 'and you, I suppose, are my niece?'
'Yes. Can I take your overcoat or your umbrella?' asked Gladys; 'and would you like some tea? I can ask Miss Peck to get it. I have not had any myself—now I come to think of it.'
'I'll take off my coat. Yes, you can take it away, but don't order tea yet. We had better talk first—talking always makes one hungry; then we can have tea, and we won't require any supper. These are the economics poor people have to study. I guess you are no stranger to them?'
Gladys again faintly smiled. She was not in the least surprised. Poverty had long been her companion, she expected nothing but to have it for her companion still. She took her uncle's hat and overcoat, hung them in the little hall, and returned to the room, closing the door.
'Perhaps you are cold, uncle?' she said, and, grasping the poker, was about to stir up the fire, when he hastily took it from her, with an expression of positive pain on his face.
'Don't; it is quite warm. We can't afford to be extravagant; and I daresay,' he added, with a backward jerk of his thumb towards the door, 'like the rest of her tribe, she'll know how to charge. Sit down there, and let us talk.'
Gladys sat down, feeling a trifle hurt and abashed. They had always been very poor, she and her father, but they had never obtruded it on their own notice, but had tried cheerfully always to accept what they had with a thankful heart. But Love dwelt with them always, and she can make divine her humblest fare.
Mr. Abel Graham fumbled in the inner pocket of his very shabby coat, and at last brought out a square envelope, from which he took the curate's letter.
'I have come,' he said quite slowly, 'in answer to this. I suppose you knew it had been written?'
'If it is Mr. Courtney's letter, yes,' answered Gladys, unconsciously adopting her uncle's business-like tone and manner. 'Of course he told me he had written.'
'And you expected me to come, of course?'
'I don't think I thought about it much,' Gladys answered, with frankness. 'It is very good of you to come so soon.'
'I came because it was my duty. Not many people do their duty in this world, but though I'm a very poor man, I won't shirk it—no, I won't shirk it.' He rubbed his hands together slowly, and nodded across the hearth to his niece. Instead of being pleased, as she ought to have been, with this announcement, she gave a quick little shiver. 'My brother John—your father, I mean—and I have not met for a good number of years, not since we had the misfortune to disagree about a trifle,' continued the old man, keeping his eyes fixed on the girl's face till she found herself made nervous by them. 'Time has proved that I was right, quite right; but my brother John was always, if you will excuse me saying it, rather pigheaded, and'—
'Don't let us speak about him if you do not feel kindly to him!' cried the girl, her great eyes flashing, her slender frame trembling with indignation. 'I will not listen, I will go away and leave you, Uncle Abel, if you speak harshly of papa.'
'So'—Abel Graham slapped his knee as he uttered this meditative monosyllable, and continued to regard his niece with keener scrutiny, if that were possible, than before. 'It is John's temper—a very firebrand. My dear, you are very young, and you should not be above taking advice. Let me advise you to control that fiery passion. Temper doesn't pay—it is one of the things which nothing can ever make pay in this world. Well, will you be so kind as to give me a little insight into the state of your affairs? A poor enough state they appear to be in, if this parson writes truly—only parsons are accustomed to draw the long bow, for the purpose of ferreting money out of people's pockets. Well, my dear, have you nothing to tell me?'
Gladys continued to look at him with dislike and distrust she made no attempt to disguise. If only he would not call her 'my dear.' She resented the familiarity. He had no right to presume on such a short acquaintance.
'I have nothing to tell you, I think,' she said very coldly, 'except that papa is dead, and I have to earn my own living.'
WHAT TO DO WITH HER.
'Your own living? I am glad to hear you put it so sensibly. I must say I hardly expected it,' said the old man, with engaging frankness. 'Well, but tell me first what your name is. I don't know what to call you.'
'Gladys,' she answered; and her uncle received the information in evident disapproval.
'Gladys! Now, what on earth is the meaning of such a name? Your father and mother ought to be ashamed of themselves! Why can't people name their children so that people won't stare when they hear it? Jane, Susan, Margaret, Christina,—I'm sure there are hundreds of decent names they might have given you. I think a law should be passed that no child shall be named until he is old enough to choose for himself. Mine is bad enough,—they might as well have christened me Cain when they were at it,—but Gladys, it beats all!'
'I have another name, Uncle Abel. I was baptized Gladys Mary.'
'Ah, that's better. Well, I'll call you Mary; it's not so heathenish. And tell me what you have thought of doing for yourself?'
'I have thought of it a great deal, but I have not been able to come to any decision,' answered Gladys. 'Both papa and Mr. Courtney thought I had better wait until you came.'
'Your father expected me to come, then?'
'Yes, to the last he hoped you would. He had something to say to you, he said. And the last morning, when his mind began to wander, he talked of you a great deal.'
These details Gladys gave in a dry, even voice, which betrayed a keen effort. She spoke almost as if she had set herself a task.
'I came as soon as I could. The parson wrote urgently, but I know how parsons draw the long bow, so I didn't hurry. Business must be attended to, whatever happens. You don't know what it was your father wished to say? He never asked you to write it, or anything?'
'No, but in his wandering he talked of money a great deal, and he seemed to think,' she added, with a slight hesitation, 'that you had taken some from him. Of course it was only his fancy. Sick people often think such things.'
'He could not possibly in his senses have thought so, for I never had any money, or he either. We could not rob each other when there was nothing to rob,' said the old man, but he avoided slightly his niece's clear gaze. 'Well, Mary, I am willing to do what I can for you, as you are my brother's only child, so you had better prepare to return to Scotland with me.'
Gladys tried to veil her shrinking from the prospect, but her sweet face grew even graver as she listened.
'I am a very poor man,' he repeated, with an emphasis which left no doubt that he wished it to be impressed firmly on her mind,—'very poor; but I trust I know my duty. I don't suppose, now, that you have been taught to work with your hands—in the house, I mean—the woman's kingdom?'
This sentimental phrase fell rather oddly from the old man's lips. He looked the very last man to entertain any high and chivalrous ideal of womanhood. Gladys could not forbear a smile as she answered,—
'I am afraid I am rather ignorant, Uncle Abel. I have never had occasion to do it.'
'Never had occasion; hear her!' repeated the old man, quite as if addressing an audience. 'She has never had any occasion. She has been born and cradled in the lap of luxury, and I was a born fool to ask the question.'
The desolate child felt the keenness of the sarcasm, and her eyes filled with hot tears. 'You don't understand, Uncle Abel, you never can understand, and there is no use trying to make you,' she said curiously. 'I think I had better call Miss Peck to get tea for us.'
'Not yet; we must settle everything, then we needn't talk any more. I am your only relation in the world, and as I have been summoned, perhaps unnecessarily, on this occasion, I must, and will, do my duty. I have not taken the long and expensive journey from Scotland for nothing, remember that. So sit down, Mary, and tell me exactly how matters stand. How much money have you?'
The colour mounted high to the girl's white brow, and her proud mouth quivered. Never had she so felt the degradation of her poverty! Now it seemed more than she could bear. But she looked straight into her uncle's unlovely countenance, and made answer, with a calmness which surprised herself,—
'There is no money, none at all—not even enough to pay all that must be paid.'
Abel Graham almost gasped.
'All that must be paid! And, in Heaven's name, how much is that? Try to be practical and clear-headed, and remember I am a poor man, though willing to do my duty.'
'Mr. Courtney and I talked of it this morning, when we arranged that the funeral should be to-morrow,' Gladys answered in a calm, straight, even voice, 'and we thought that there might be five pounds to pay when all was over. Papa has some pictures at the dealers'—two in Boston, and three, I think, in London. Perhaps there might be enough from these to pay.'
'You have the addresses of these dealers, I hope?' said the old man, with undisguised eagerness.
'Yes, I have the addresses.'
'Well, I shall apply to them, and put on the screw, if possible. Will you tell me, if you please, how long you have lived in this place?'
'Oh, not long,—in this village, I mean,—only since summer. We have been all over the fens, I think; but we have liked this place most of all.'
'Heathens, wandering Jews, vagabonds on the face of the earth,' said the old man to himself. 'So you have arranged that it will be to-morrow—you and the parson? I hope he understands that he can get nothing for his pains?'
'I don't know what you are talking about,' said Gladys, and her mouth grew very stern—her whole face during the last hour seemed to have taken on the stamp and seal of age.
'And what hour have you arranged it for?'
'Eleven, I think—yes, eleven,' answered Gladys, and gave a quick, sobbing breath, which the old man elected not to notice.
'Eleven?' He said it over slowly, and took a penny time-table from his pocket, and studied it thoughtfully. 'We can get away from Boston at one. It's the worst kind of place this to get at, and I don't know why on earth your father should have chosen it'—'to die in,' he had almost added; but he restrained these words. 'We can't get to Glasgow before midnight, I think. I hope you won't object to travelling in the night-time? I must do it. I can't be away any longer from business; it must be attended to. I hope you can be ready?'
'I don't mind it at all,' answered Gladys in a still, quiet voice. Her heart cried out against her unhappy destiny; but one so desolate, so helpless and forlorn, may not choose. 'Yes, I shall be ready.'
'Well, see that you are. Punctuality is a virtue—one not commonly found, I am told, in your sex. You will remember, then, Mary, that I am a very poor man, struggling to get the necessaries of life. You have no false and extravagant ideas of life, I hope? Your father, surely, has taught you that it is a desperate struggle, in which men trample each other remorselessly under foot. Heaven knows he has had experience of it, so far as I can hear and see.'
'He never told me anything, Uncle Abel. We were happy always, he and I together, because we loved each other. But I know that life is always hard, and that the good suffer most,' said Gladys simply.
A strange and unwonted thrill touched the selfish heart of the old man at these words, as they fell gravely from the young lips, formed in their perfect sweetness for the happy curves of joy and hope.
'Well, well, if these are your views, you are less likely to be disappointed,' he said, in gruff haste. 'Well, to go on. I am a poor man, and I have a poor little home; I hope, when you come to share it, you will be a help, and not altogether a burden on it?'
'I shall try. I can learn to work. I must learn now,' Gladys answered, with exemplary meekness.
'There is an old woman who comes to do my little turn of a morning. There is no reason why now I should not dispense with her services. She is dear at the money, anyhow. I have often grudged it.'
'I wonder to hear that you are so poor,' said Gladys, looking straight into his face with her young, fearless eyes. 'Papa told me once that you were quite rich, and that you had a splendid business.'
Abel Graham looked distinctly annoyed at this unexpected statement regarding his worldly affairs.
'Your father, Mary, was as ignorant of the practical affairs of life as an unborn babe. He never showed his ignorance more than when he told you that fabrication—a pure fabrication of his fancy. I have a little trade in the oil and tallow line. No, not a shop, only a little warehouse in a back street in Glasgow. When you see it you will wonder how it has ever kept body and soul together. A splendid business! Ha! ha! That is good!'
'And do you live near it, Uncle Abel?'
'I live at it—in it, in fact; my house is in the warehouse. It's not a very genteel locality, nor a fine house, it is good enough for me; but I warn you not to expect anything great, and I can't alter my way of life for you.'
'I hope I should never expect it,' answered Gladys quietly. 'And you live there quite alone?'
'Not quite. There is Walter Hepburn.'
'Who is Walter Hepburn?' asked Gladys, and the Scotch name fell most musically from her lips for the first time, the name which was one day to be the dearest to her on earth.
'He's the office boy—an imp of the devil he is; but he is sharp and clever as a needle; and then he is cheap.'
'Are cheap things always good, Uncle Abel?' Gladys asked. 'I have heard papa say that cheap things are so often nasty, and he has spoken to me more than once of the sin of cheapness. Even genius must be bought and sold cheaply. Oh, he felt it all so bitterly.'
'Mary Graham, your foolish father was his own worst enemy, and I doubt he will prove yours too, if that is all he has taught you. You had better get tea at once.'
Thus rebuked, Gladys retired to the kitchen, and, to the no small concern of the little landlady, she sat down on the low window-seat, folded her hands on the table, and began helplessly to weep.
'My dear, my dear, don't cry! He hasn't been good to you, I know he hasn't. But never mind; better times will soon dawn for you, and he will not stay. I hope he will go away this very night,' she said very sympathetically.
'No, he will stay till to-morrow, then I must go with him. He has offered me a home, and I must go. There is nothing else I can do just now,' said Gladys. 'I can't believe, Miss Peck, that he is papa's brother. It is impossible.'
'Dear Miss Gladys, there is often the greatest difference in families. I have seen it myself,' said Miss Peck meditatively. 'But now you must have something to eat, and I suppose he must be hungry too'—
'If you would get tea, please, we should be much obliged; and oh, Miss Peck, do you think you could give him a bed?'
'There is nothing but the little attic, but I daresay it will do him very well. He doesn't look as if he were accustomed to anything much better,' said Miss Peck, with frank candour. So it was arranged, and Gladys, drying her eyes, offered to help the little woman as best she could.
Abel Graham looked keenly and critically at his niece when she returned to the room and laid the cloth for tea. His eye was not trained to the admiration or appreciation of beauty, but he was struck by a singular grace in her every movement, by a certain still and winning loveliness of feature and expression. It was not the beauty sought for or beloved by the vulgar eye, to which it would seem but a colourless and lifeless thing; but a pure soul, to which all things seemed lovely and of good report, looked out from her grave eyes, and gave an expression of gentle sweetness to her lips. With such a fair and delicate creature, what should he do? The question suggested itself to him naturally, as a picture of his home rose up before his vision. When he thought of its meagre comfort, its ugly environment, he confessed that in it she would be quite out of place. The house in which he had found her, though only a hired shelter, was neat and comfortable and home-like. He felt irritated, perplexed; and this irritation and perplexity made him quite silent during the meal. They ate, indeed, without exchanging a single word, though the old man enjoyed the fragrant tea, the sweet, home-made bread, and firm, wholesome butter, and ate of it without stint. He was not, indeed, accustomed to such dainty fare. Gladys attended quietly to his wants, and he did not notice that she scarcely broke bread. When the meal was over, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and rose from the table.
'Now, if you don't mind,' he said almost cheerfully, the good food having soothed his troubled mind, 'I would like to take a last look at my brother. I hope they have not screwed down the coffin?'
Gladys gave a violent start. The word was hideous; how hideous, she had never realised till it fell from her uncle's lips. But she controlled herself; nothing was to be gained by exhibitions of feeling in his presence.
'No, they will come, I think, to-morrow, quite early. I did not wish it done sooner,' she answered quietly. 'If you come now, I can show you the door.' She took the lamp from the table, and, with a gesture of dignity, motioned him to follow her. At the door of the little room where the artist had suffered and died she gave him the lamp, and herself disappeared into the studio. Not to sit down and helplessly weep. That must be over now; there were things to be thought of, things to do, on the threshold of her new life, and she was ready for action. She found the matches, struck a light, and began at once to gather together the few things she must now sacredly cherish as mementoes of her father. First she took up with tender hand the little canvas from the easel, looked at it a moment, and then touched the face with her lips. It was her mother's face, which she remembered not, but had been taught to love by her father, who cherished its memory with a most passionate devotion. She wrapped it in an old silk handkerchief, and then began a trifle dreamily to gather together the old brushes with which John Graham had done so much good, if unappreciated, work. Meanwhile the old man was alone in the chamber of death. He had no nerves, no fine sensibilities, and little natural affection to make the moment trying to him. He entered the room in a perfectly matter-of-fact manner, set the lamp on the washhand-stand, and approached the bed. As he stood there, looking on the face, calm, restful, beautiful in its last sleep, a wave of memory, unbidden and unwelcome, swept over his selfish and hardened heart. The years rolled back, and he saw two boys kneeling together in childish love at their mother's knee, lisping their evening prayer, unconscious of the bitter years to come. Almost the white, still outline of the dead face seemed to reproach him; he could have anticipated the sudden lifting of the folded eyelids. He shivered slightly, took an impatient step back to the table for the lamp, and made haste from the room.
THE NEW HOME.
Next day at noon that strangely-assorted pair, the sordid old man and the gentle child, set out in a peasant's waggon, which he had hired for a few pence, to ride across the meadows to Boston. The morning was very fair. In the night the mist had flown, and now the sun shone out warm and cheerful, giving the necessary brightness to the scene. It lay tenderly on the quaint fen village, and the little gilt vane on the church steeple glittered proudly, almost as if it were real gold.
Gladys sat with her back to the old horse, quite silent, never allowing her eyes for a moment to wander from that picture until distance made it dim. She had no tears, though she was leaving behind all that love had hallowed. She wondered vaguely once or twice whether it would be her last farewell, or whether, in other and happier years, she might come again to kneel by that nameless grave. Abel Graham paid small attention to her. He tried to engage in a conversation with the peasant who sat on the front of the waggon, holding the reins loosely in his sunburnt hands; but that individual was stolid, and when he did vouchsafe a remark, Abel did not understand him, not being familiar with fen vernacular. They reached Boston in ample time for the train, even leaving half an hour to spare. This half hour the old man improved by hunting up the dealer in whose hands were two of his brother's pictures, leaving Gladys at the station to watch their meagre luggage. He drove a much better bargain than the artist himself could have done, and returned to the station inwardly elated, with four pounds in his pocket; but he carefully concealed from his niece the success of his transaction—not that it would have greatly concerned her, she was too listless to take interest in anything. At one o'clock the dreary railway journey began, and after many stoppages and changes, late at night Gladys was informed that their destination was reached. She stepped from the carriage in a half-dazed manner, and perceived that they were in a large, brilliantly-lighted, but deserted, city station. All her worldly goods were in one large, shabby portmanteau, which the old man weighed, first in one hand and then in the other.
'I think we can manage it between us. It isn't far, and if I leave it, it will cost tuppence, besides taking Wat Hepburn from his work to-morrow to fetch it.'
'Can't we have a cab?' asked Gladys innocently.
'No, we can't; you ought to know, if you don't, that a cab is double fare after midnight,' said the old man severely. Just look in the carriage to make sure nothing is left.'
Gladys did so, then the melancholy pair trudged off out from the station into the quiet streets. Happily the night was fine, though cold, with a clear, star-begemmed sky, and a winter moon on the wane above the roofs and spires. A great city it seemed to Gladys, with miles and miles of streets; tall, heavy houses set in monotonous rows, but no green thing—nothing to remind her of heaven but the stars. She had the soul of the poet-artist, therefore her destiny was doubly hard. But the time came when she recognised its uses, and thanked God for it all, even for its moments of despair, its bitterest tears, because through it alone she touched the great suffering heart of humanity which beats in the dark places of the earth. In the streets after midnight there is always life—the life which dare not show itself by day, because it stalks in the image of sin. Gladys was surprised, as they slowly wended their way along a wide and handsome thoroughfare, past the closed windows of great shops, to meet many ladies finely dressed, some of them beautiful, with a strange, wild beauty, which half-fascinated, half-terrified her.
'Who are these ladies, Uncle Abel?' she asked at length. 'Why are so many people in the streets so late? I thought everybody would be in bed but us.'
'They are the night-birds, child. Don't ask any more questions, but shut your eyes and hold fast by me. We'll be home in no time,' said the old man harshly, because his conscience smote him for what he was doing.
Gladys again became silent, but she could not shut her eyes. Soon they turned into another street, in which were even more people, though evidently of a different order. The women were less showily dressed, and many of them had their heads bare, and wore little shawls about their shoulders. As they walked, the crowd became greater, and the din increased. Some children Gladys also saw, poorly clad and with hungry faces, running barefoot on the stony street. But she kept silence still, though growing every moment more frightened and more sad.
'Surely this is a terrible place, Uncle Abel,' she said at last. 'I have never seen anything like it in my life.'
'It isn't savoury, I admit; but I warned you. This is Argyle Street on a Saturday night; other nights it is quieter, of course. Oh, he won't harm you.' A lumbering carter in a wild state of intoxication had pushed himself against the frightened girl, and looked down into her face with an idiotic leer.
Gladys gave a faint scream, and clung to her uncle's arm; but the next moment the man was taken in charge by the policeman, and went to swell the number of the drunkards at Monday's court.
'Here we are. This is Craig's Wynd, or The Wynd, as they say. We have only to go through here, and then we are in Colquhoun Street, where I live. It isn't far.'
In the Wynd it was, of course, rather quieter, but in the dark doorways strange figures were huddled, and sometimes the feeble wail of a child, or a smothered oath, reminded one that more was hidden behind the scenes. Gladys was now in a state of extreme mental excitement. She had never been in a town larger than Boston, and there only on bright days with her father. It seemed to her that this resembled the place of which the Bible speaks, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. To the child, country born and gently reared, whom no unclean or wicked thing had ever touched, it was a revelation which took away from her childhood for ever. She never forgot it. When years had passed, and these dark days seemed almost like a shadow, that one memory remained vivid and most painful, like a troubled dream.
'Now, here we are. We must let ourselves in. Wat Hepburn will be away long ago. He goes home on Saturday night,' said the old man, groping in his pocket for a key. It was some minutes before he found it, and Gladys had time to look about her, which she did with fearful, wondering eyes. It was a very narrow street, with tall houses on each side, which seemed almost to touch the sky. Gladys wondered, not knowing that they were all warehouses, how people lived and breathed in such places. She did not know yet that this place, in comparison with others not many streets removed, was paradise. It was quiet—quite deserted; but through the Wynd came the faint echo of the tide of life still rolling on through the early hours of the Sabbath day.
'Here now. Perhaps you had better stay here till I bring a light,' said the old man at length.
'Oh no, I can't; I am terrified. I will come in, cried Gladys, in affright.
'Very well. But there's a stair; you must stand there a moment. I know where the matches are.'
Gladys stood still, holding in to the wall in silent terror. The atmosphere of the place depressed her—it smelt close and heavy, of some disagreeable oily odour. She felt glad to turn her face to the door, where the cool night air—a trifle fresher—could touch her face. Her uncle's footsteps grew fainter and fainter, then became louder again as he began to return. Presently the gleam of a candle appeared at the farther end of a long passage, and he came back to the door, which he carefully closed and locked. Then Gladys saw that a straight, steep stair led to the upper floor, but the place Abel Graham called his home was on the ground floor, at the far end of a long wide passage, on either side of which bales of goods were piled. He led the way, and soon Gladys found herself in a large, low-ceiled room, quite cheerless, and poorly furnished like a kitchen, though a bed stood in one corner. The fireplace was very old and quaint, having a little grate set quite unattached into the open space, leaving room enough for a stool on either side. It was, however, choked with dead ashes, and presented a melancholy spectacle.
'Now,' said the old man, as he set the portmanteau down, 'here we are. One o'clock in the morning—Sunday morning, too. Are you hungry?'
'No,' said Gladys, 'not very.'
'Or cold, no? That's impossible, we've walked so fast. Just take off your things, and I'll see if there's anything in the press. There should be a bit of bread and a morsel of cheese, if that rascal hasn't gobbled them up.'
Gladys sat down, and her eyes wandered over all the great wide room into its shadowy corners, and it was as if the frost of winter settled on her young heart. The old man hung up his coat and hat behind the door, and, opening the press, brought therefrom the half of a stale loaf, a plate on which reposed a microscopic portion of highly-coloured butter, and a scrap of cheese wrapped in paper. These he laid on the bare table, where the dust lay white.
'Eat a mouthful, child, and then we'll get to bed,' he said. 'You'll need to sleep here in my bed to-night, and I'll go to the back room, where there's an old sofa. On Monday I'll get some things, and you can have that room for yourself. Tired, eh?'
Uncle Abel's spirits rose to find himself at home, and the child's sank lower at the prospect stretching out before her.
'No—that is, not very. It seems very long since morning.'
'Ay, it's been a longish day. Never mind; tomorrow's Sunday, and we needn't get up before ten or eleven.'
'Don't you go to church, Uncle Abel?'
'Sometimes in the afternoon, or at night. Oh, there are plenty of churches; they grow as thick as mushrooms, and do about as much good. Won't you eat?'
The fare was not inviting; nevertheless, Gladys did her best to swallow a few morsels, because she really felt faint and weak. It did not occur to the miser that he might kindle a cheerful spark of fire to give her a welcome, and to make her a cup of tea. He was not less cold and hungry himself, it may be believed, but he had long inured himself to such privation, and bore it with an outward semblance of content.
When they had eaten, he busied himself getting an old rug and a pillow from the chest standing across one of the windows, and carried them into the other room, then he bade Gladys get quickly to bed, and not burn the candle too long. He went in the dark himself, and when Gladys heard his footsteps growing fainter in the long passage a great terror took possession of her, the place was so strange, so cold, so unknown. For some time she was even afraid to move, but at last she rose and crossed the floor to the windows, to see whether from them anything friendly or familiar could be seen. But they looked into the street, and had thick iron bars across them, exactly like the windows of a gaol. It was the last straw added to the burden of the unhappy child. Her imagination did not lack in vividness, and a thousand unknown terrors rose up before her terrified eyes. If only from the window she might have looked up to the eyes of the pitying stars, she had been less desolate, less forlorn. A sharp sense of physical cold was the first thing to arouse her, and she took the candle and approached the bed. Now, though they had ever been poor, the artist and his child had kept their surroundings clean and wholesome. In her personal tastes Gladys was as fastidious as the highest lady in the land. She turned down the covering, and when she saw the hue of the linen her lip curled, and she hastily covered it up from sight. In the end, she laid herself down without undressing above the bed, spreading a clean handkerchief for her head to rest upon; and so, worn-out, she slept at last an untroubled and dreamless sleep, in which she forgot for many hours her forlorn and friendless state.
A RAY OF LIGHT.
Sunday was a dreary day. It rained again, and the fog was so thick that it seemed dim twilight all day long in Gladys's new home. Her uncle did not go out at all, but dozed in the chimney-corner between the intervals of preparing the meagre meals. On Sunday Abel Graham attended to his own housekeeping, and took care to keep a shilling off Mrs. Macintyre's pittance for the same. Gladys, though unaccustomed to perform household duties except of the slightest kind, was glad to occupy herself with them to make the time pass. The old man from his corner watched with much approval the slender figure moving actively about the kitchen, the busy hands making order out of chaos, and adding the grace of her sweet young presence to that dreary place. On the morrow, he told himself, he should dismiss the expensive Mrs. Macintyre. Yes, he had made a good investment, and then the girl would always be there, a living creature, to whom he might talk when so disposed.
'It isn't at all a bad sort of place, my dear,' he said quite cheerfully. 'At the back, in the yard, there's a tree and a strip of grass. In spring, if you like, you might put in a pennyworth of seeds, and have a flower.'
This was a tremendous concession. Gladys felt grateful for the kindly thought which prompted it.
'One tree, growing all by itself. Poor thing, how lonely it must be!'
The old man looked at her curiously.
'That's an odd way to look at it. Who ever heard of a tree being lonely? You have a great many queer fancies, but they won't flourish here. Glasgow is given up to business; it has no time for foolish fancies.'
Gladys gravely nodded.
'Papa told me so. Is it very far to Ayrshire, Uncle Abel?'
The old man gave a quick start.
'To Ayrshire! What makes you ask the question? What has put such a thing into your head?'
'Papa spoke of it so often, of that beautiful village where you and he were born. He was so sorry I could not pronounce it right, Mauchline.'
As that sweet voice, with its pretty English accent, uttered the familiar name, again a strange thrill visited the old man's withered heart.
'No, you don't say it right. But I wonder that he spoke of it so much; we were poor enough there, herd boys in the fields. We couldn't well have a humbler origin, eh?'
'But it was a beautiful life—papa said so—among the fields and trees, listening to the birds—the same songs Burns used to hear. I seem to know every step of the way, all the fields in Mossgiel, and every tree in the woods of Ballochmyle. Just before he died, he tried to sing,—oh, it was so painful to hear his dear, trembling voice,—and it was "The Bonnie Lass o' Ballochmyle." If it is not very far, will you take me one day, when you have time, Uncle Abel, to see Mauchline and Mossgiel and Ballochmyle?'
She looked at him fearlessly as she made her request, and her courage pleased him.
'We'll see. Perhaps at the Fair, when fares are cheap. But it will only be to please you; I never want to see the place again.'
'Oh, is not that very strange, Uncle Abel, that papa and you should think of it so differently? He loved it all so much, and he always said, when we were rich, we should come, he and I together, to Scotland.'
'He was glad enough to turn his back on it, anyhow. If he had stayed in Glasgow, and attended to business, he might have been a rich man,' said he incautiously.
'You are not rich, though you have done so,' said Gladys quickly, looking at him with her young, fearless eyes. 'I think papa was better off than you, because he could always be in the country, and not here.'
The undisguised contempt on the girl's face as she took in her surroundings rather nettled the old man, and he gave her a snappish answer, then picked himself up, and went off to his warehouse.
Next day Gladys had to rise quite early—before six—and with her own hands light the fire, under the old man's superintendence, thus receiving her first lesson in the economy of firelighting. She was very patient, and learned her lesson very well. While she was brushing in the hearth she heard another foot on the passage, and was further astonished by the tones of a woman's voice giving utterance to surprise.
'Mercy on us! wha's he gotten noo?'
The words, uttered in the broadest Scotch, and further graced by the unlovely Glasgow accent, fell on the girl's ears like the sound of a foreign tongue. She paused, broom in hand, and looked in rather a bewildered manner at the short stout figure standing in the doorway, with bare red arms akimbo, and the broadest grin on her coarse but not unkindly face.
'I beg your pardon, what is it?' Gladys asked kindly, and the surprise deepened on the Scotchwoman's face.
'Ye'll be his niece, mebbe—his brither's lass, are ye, eh? And hae ye come to bide? If ye hiv, Almichty help ye!'
Gladys shook her head, not understanding yet a single word. At this awkward juncture the old man came hurrying along the passage, and Mrs. Macintyre turned to him with a little curtsey.
'I'm speakin' to the young leddy, but she seemin'ly doesna understand. I see my work's dune; mebbe I'm no' to come back?'
'No; my niece can do the little that is necessary, so you needn't come back, Mrs. Macintyre, and I'm much obliged to you,' said the old man, who was polite always, in every circumstance, out of policy.
'Ye're awn me wan an' nine, fork it oot,' she answered brusquely, and held out her brawny hand, into which Abel Graham reluctantly, as usual, put the desired coins.
'Yer brither's dochter, genty born?' said Mrs. Macintyre, with a jerk of her thumb. 'Gie her her meat; mind, a young wame's aye toom. Puir thing, puir thing!'
Abel Graham hastened her out, but she only remained in the street until she saw his visage at one of the upper windows, then she darted back to the kitchen, and laid hold of the astonished Gladys by the shoulder. 'If ye ever want a bite—an' as sure as daith ye will often—come ye to me, my lamb, the second pend i' the Wynd, third close, an' twa stairs up, an' never heed him, auld skin o' a meeser that he is!'
She went as quickly as she came, leaving Gladys dimly conscious of her meaning, but feeling intuitively that the words were kindly and even tenderly spoken, so they were not forgotten.
When the water had boiled, the old man came down to supervise the making of the porridge—a mystery into which Gladys had not been yet initiated. Three portions were served on plates, a very little tea put in a tiny brown teapot, and breakfast was ready. Then Abel went into the passage and shouted to his young assistant to come down.
Gladys was conscious of a strong sense of curiosity as she awaited the coming of the 'imp,' which was his master's favourite name for him, and when he entered she felt at first keenly disappointed. He was only a very ordinary-looking street boy, she thought, rather undersized, but still too big for his clothes, which were stretched on him tightly, his short trousers showing the tops of his patched boots, which were several sizes too large for him, and gave him a very ungraceful appearance. He had not even a collar, only an old tartan scarf knotted round his neck, and from the shrunk sleeves of the old jacket his hands, red and bony, appeared abnormally large. But when she looked at his face, at the eyes which looked out from the tangle of his hair, she forgot all the rest, and her heart warmed to him before he had uttered a word.
'This is Walter Hepburn—my niece, Mary Graham; and you may as well be friendly, because I can't have any quarrelling here,' was the old man's introduction; then, without a word of thanksgiving, he fell to eating his porridge, after having carefully divided the sky-blue milk into three equal portions.
The two young persons gravely nodded to each other, and also began to eat. Gladys, feeling intuitively that a kindred soul was near her, felt a wild desire to laugh, her lips even trembled so that she could scarcely restrain them, and Walter Hepburn answered by a twinkle in his eye, which was the first bright thing Gladys had seen in Glasgow. But though she felt kindly towards him, and glad that he was there, she did not by any means admire him, and she even thought that if she knew him better she would tell him of his objectionable points. For one thing, he had no manners; he sat rather far back from the table, and leaned forward till his head was almost on a level with his plate. Then he made a loud noise in his eating, which disturbed Gladys very much—certainly she was too fastidious and delicate in her taste for her present lot in life. When that strange and silent meal was over, the old man retired to the warehouse and left the children alone. But that did not disconcert them, as might have been expected. From the first moment they felt at home with each other. Walter was the first to speak. He leaned up against the chimneypiece, and meditatively watched the girl as she began deftly to clear the table.
'I say, miss,' he said then, 'do you think you'll like to be here?'
The English was pretty tolerable, though the accent was very Scotch.
'No. How could I?' was the frank reply of Gladys. 'But I have nowhere else, and I should be thankful for it.'
Walter thrust his hands into his diminutive pockets, and eyed her with a kind of meditative gravity.
'Are you always thankful when you should be?' he inquired.
'I am afraid not,' Gladys answered, with a little shake of her head. 'You live here all the week, don't you, till Saturday night, when you go home?'
'Yes; and I'm always thankful, if you like, when Monday comes.'
Gladys looked at him in wonder.
'You are glad when Monday comes, to come back here? How strange!—and the other place is home. Have you a father and mother?'
'Yes, worse luck.'
Again Gladys looked at him, this time with strong disapproval.
'I don't understand you. It is very dreadful, I think, that you should talk like that.'
'Is it? Perhaps if you were me, and had it to do, you'd understand it. I wish I was an orphan. When a man's an orphan he may get on, but he never can if he has relations like mine.'
'Are they—are they wicked?' asked Gladys hesitatingly.
The lad answered by a short, bitter laugh.
'Well, perhaps not exactly. They only drink and quarrel, and drink again, whenever they have a copper. Saturday and Sunday are their head days, because Saturday's the pay. But I'm better off than Liz, because she has to be there always.'
'Is Liz your sister?'
'Yes. She isn't a bad sort, if she had a chance, but she never will have a chance there; an' perhaps by the time I'm able to take care of her it will be too late.'
Gladys did not understand him, but forbore to ask any more questions. She had got something fresh to ponder over, another of the many mysteries of life.
'I say, he's a queer old buffer, the boss, isn't he?' asked Walter, his eye twinkling again as he jerked his thumb towards the door. 'They say he's awful rich, but he's a miserable old wretch. I'd rather be myself than him any day.'
'I should think so,' answered Gladys, looking into the fine open face of the lad with a smile, which made him redden a little.
'I say, you might tell me why you think I'm so much better off than him. I sometimes think myself that I'm the most miserable wretch in the world.'
'Oh no, you're not; you are quite young, and you are a man—at least, you will be soon. If I were you I should never think that, nor be afraid of anything. It isn't very nice to be a girl like me; with you it is so different.'
'Well, perhaps I ought to be thankful that I'm not a woman. I never thought of that. Women have the worst of it mostly, now I think of it. I'm sorry for you.'
Gladys looked at him gratefully, and both these young desolate hearts, awaking to the possibilities and the sorrows of life, felt the chord of sympathy responding each to the other.
'He gives me five shillings a week here and my meat. They take it all at home, and I want so awful to go to the night school. Do you know, it takes me all my time to read words of three or four letters?'
'Oh, how dreadful! I can read; I'll teach you,' she cried at once. 'Perhaps it would do till you can go to school.'
'Could you? Would you?'
The boy's whole face shone, his eyes glowed with the light of awakened hope. He felt his own power, believed that he could achieve something if the first great stumbling-block were removed. Something of his gladness communicated itself to Gladys—showed itself in the heightened, delicate colour in her cheek, in the lustre of her eyes. So these two desolate creatures made their first compact, binding about them in the very hour of their meeting the links of the chain which, in the years to come, love would make a chain of gold.
Abel Graham's business was really that of a wholesale drysalter in a very small way. His customers were chiefly found among the small shopkeepers who abounded in the neighbourhood, and as he gave credit for a satisfactory time, he was much patronised. To give credit to a certain amount was the miser's policy. When he once got the unhappy debtors in his toils it was hopeless to extricate themselves, and so they continued paying, as they were able, high prices and exorbitant interest, which left them no chance of making any profit in their own humble sphere. He had also lent a great deal of money, his income from that source alone being more than sufficient to keep himself and his niece in modest comfort, had he so willed. But the lust of gold possessed him. It was nothing short of physical pain for him to part with it, and he had no intention of changing his way of life for her. He was known in the district under the elegant sobriquet of Skinny Graham; and when Gladys heard it for the first time, she laughed silently to herself, thinking of its fitness. The simple-hearted child quickly accommodated herself to her surroundings, accepting her meagre lot with a serenity a more experienced mind might have envied. She even managed to make a little atmosphere of brightness about her, which at once communicated itself to the two who shared it with her. They viewed this exquisite change, it may be believed, from an entirely different standpoint. The old man liked the comfort and the cleanliness which the girl's busy hands made in their humble home; the boy looked on with deep eyes, wonderingly, catching glimpses of her white soul, and knowing that it was far above and beyond the sordid air it breathed. She went out a great deal, wandering alone and fearlessly in the streets—always in the streets, because as yet she did not know that even in that great city, where the roar and the din of life are never still, and the air but seldom clear from the smoke of its bustle, are to be found quiet resting-places, where the green things of God grow in hope and beauty, giving their message of perpetual promise to the heart open to receive it. Gladys would have welcomed that message gladly, ear and heart having been early taught to wait and listen for it, but as yet she believed Glasgow to be but a city of streets, of dull and dreadful stones, against which the tide of life beat remorselessly for ever. And such life! For very pity the child's heart grew heavy within her often as she looked upon the stream of humanity in these poor streets, on the degraded, hopeless faces, the dull eyes, the languid bearing of those who appeared to have lost interest in, and respect for, themselves. She believed it wholly sad. Standing on the outside, she knew nothing of the homely joys, the gleams of mirth, the draughts of happiness possible to the very poor. She thought their laughter, when it fell sometimes upon her ears, more dreadful than their tears. So she slipped silently about among them, quite unnoticed, looking on with large sad eyes, and almost as an angel might. Sometimes looking to the heavens, which even walls and roofs of stone could not shut out, she wondered how God, who loved all with such a tender love, could bear to have it so. It vexed her soul with doubts, and made her so unhappy that even in her dreams she wept. Of these things she did not speak to those about her yet, though very soon it became a habit with her and Walter to discuss the gravest problems of existence.
The old man offered no objections to the lessons, only stipulating that no unnecessary candles should be consumed. He allowed but one to lighten the gloom of the large kitchen; and every evening after tea the same picture might have been seen—the old man dozing in the chimney-corner, and the two young creatures at the little table with books and slates, the unsteady light of the solitary candle flickering on their earnest faces. Teacher and taught! Very often in the full after years they looked back upon it, and talked of it with smiles which were not far off from tears. It is not too much to say that the companionship of Walter was the only thing which saved Gladys from despair; but for the bright kinship of his presence she must have sunk under the burden of a life so hard, a life for which she was so unfitted; but they comforted each other, and kept warm and true in their young hearts faith in humankind and in the mercy of Heaven.
As the days went by, Walter dreaded yet more the coming of Saturday, and Sunday to be spent in his own house in Bridgeton, but as yet he had not spoken of his great sorrow to Gladys, only she was quick to notice how, as the week went by and Saturday came, the shadow deepened on his face. She felt for him keenly, but her perception was so delicate, so quick, she knew it was a sorrow with which she must not intermeddle. There were very many things in life, Gladys was learning day by day, more to be dreaded than death, which is so often, indeed, the gentlest friend.
One Monday morning Walter appeared quite downcast, so unusual with him that Gladys could not forbear asking what troubled him.
'It's Liz,' he said, relieved to be asked, though diffident in volunteering information. 'She's ill,—very badly, too,—and she is not looked after. I wish I knew what to do.'
Gladys was sympathetic at once.
'What is it?—the matter, I mean. Have they had a doctor?'
'Yes; it's inflammation of the lungs. She's so much in the streets at night, I think, when it's wet; that's where she's got it.'
'I am very sorry. Perhaps I could do something for her. My father was often ill; he was not strong, and sometimes caught dreadful chills painting outside. I always knew what to do for him. I'll go, if you like.'
The lad's face flushed all over. He was divided between his anxiety for his sister, whom he really loved, and his reluctance for Gladys to see his home. But the first prevailed.
'If it wouldn't be an awful trouble to you,' he said; and Gladys smiled as she gave her head a quick shake.
'No trouble; I shall be so glad. Tell me where to find the place, and I'll go after dinner, before it is dark. Uncle Abel says I must not go out after dark, you know.'
'It's a long way from here, and you'll have to take two cars.'
'I know the Bridgeton car; but may I not walk?'
'No; please take these pennies. When you are going to see my sister, I should pay. Yes, take them; I want you to.'
Gladys took the coppers, and put them in her pocket. She knew very well they would reduce the hoard he was gathering for the purchase of a coveted book, but she felt that in accepting them she was conferring a rare pleasure on him. And it was so. Never was subject prouder of a gift accepted by a sovereign than Walter Hepburn of the fact that that day Gladys should ride in comfort through the wet streets at his expense. It was another memory for the after years.
In the afternoon, accordingly, Gladys dressed and went out. Her uncle had provided her with a warm winter cloak, which enveloped her from head to foot. It was not new. Had Gladys known where it came from, and who had worn it before her, she might not have enjoyed so much solid satisfaction in wearing it, but though she had been told that it was an unredeemed pledge she would not have known what it meant.
It was a dry afternoon, though cloudy and cold. It was so near Christmas that the shops were gay with Christmas goods; but in those who have no money to spend in such luxuries, the Christmas display can only awaken a dull feeling of envy and discontent. By dint of much asking, after leaving the car, Gladys found the street where the Hepburns lived. It was not so squalid as the immediate neighbourhood of her own home, but it was inexpressibly dreary—one of these narrow long streets, with high 'lands' on either side, entered by common stairs, and divided into very small houses. Outwardly it looked even respectable, and was largely occupied by the poorer labouring class, who often divided their abodes by letting them out to lodgers. It was one of the streets, indeed, where the overcrowding had attracted the serious consideration of the authorities.
A bitter wind, laden with the promise of snow, swept through it from end to end, and caught Gladys in the teeth as she entered it. It was not a very cheerful welcome, and Gladys looked with compassion upon the children playing on the pavement and about the doorways, but scantily clad, though their blue fingers and pinched faces did not seem to damp their merriment. The child-heart, full of glee and ready for laughter, always will assert itself, even in the most unfavourable circumstances. Round the door which Gladys desired to enter, a little band of boys and girls were engaged playing the interesting game of 'Here's the Robbers passing by,' and Gladys stood still, watching them with a kind of quiet, tender interest, trying to understand the words, to which they gave many strange meanings. They grew shy of the scrutiny by and by, and the spell was broken by an oath which fell glibly from the lips of a small boy, showing that it was no stranger to them. Gladys looked inexpressibly shocked, and hastened into the stair, which was very dirty, and odorous of many evil smells. The steps seemed endless, but she was glad as she mounted to find the light growing broader, until at last she reached the topmost landing, where the big skylight revealed a long row of doors, each giving entrance to a separate dwelling. The girl looked confusedly at them for a moment, and then, recalling sundry directions Walter had given, proceeded to knock at the middle one. It was opened at once by a young woman wearing a rusty old black frock and a large checked apron, a little shawl pinned about her head quite tightly, and making her face look very small and pinched. It was a very pale face,—quite ghastly, in fact,—the very lips white, and her eyes surrounded by large black circles, which made Gladys think she must be very ill.
'Well, miss?' she said coolly and curtly, holding the door open only about three inches.
'Does Mrs. Hepburn live here?' asked Gladys, thinking she had made a mistake.
'Yes, but she's no' at hame. Come back the morn. Eh, Liz, will yer mither be oot the morn?'
'Ay; ask her what she wants,' a somewhat husky voice announced from the interior, followed by a fit of coughing quite distressing to hear.
'Oh, is that Walter's sister, who is ill?' said Gladys eagerly. 'Please, may I come in? Ask her. Tell her that I have come from Colquhoun Street to see her. I am Gladys Graham.'
The young woman disappeared into the interior; a whispered consultation followed, and a general hurrying movement of things being put straight, then Gladys was bidden come in.
She stepped into the little narrow dark passage, closed the door, and entered the kitchen where the two girls were. It was quite a comfortable place, clean and warm, though the air was close, and not wholesome. It had a few articles of kitchen furniture, and two beds, one in each corner, which rather crowded the space. On one of the beds, half-lying, half-sitting, was Liz, Walter's sister, with a blanket pinned round her shoulders, and a copy of the Family Reader in her hand, open at a thrilling picture of a young lady with an impossible figure being rescued from a runaway horse by a youth of extraordinary proportions.
Gladys entered the kitchen rather hesitatingly,—the young woman with the sullen grey face disconcerted her—but when she looked at Liz she smiled quite brightly, and came forward with a quick, ready step.
'How are you? I am so sorry you are ill. Walter thought I might come to see you. I hope you will soon be better.'
Liz allowed her hand to be shaken, and fixed her very bright blue eyes keenly on the girl's sweet face. Gladys felt that she was being scrutinised, that the measure of her sincerity was gauged by that look, but she did not evade it. With Liz, Gladys was much surprised. She was so different from the picture she had drawn, so different from Walter; there was not the shadow of a resemblance between them. Many would have called Liz Hepburn beautiful. She was certainly handsome after her kind, having straight, clear-cut features, a well-formed if rather coarse mouth, brilliant blue eyes, and a mass of reddish-brown hair, which set off the extreme fairness of her skin. Gladys felt fascinated as she looked, though she felt also that there was something fierce, and even wild, in the depths of these eyes. Evidently they found satisfaction in their survey of the stranger's face, for she laid down the paper, and gave her head a series of little nods.
'Gie her a chair, Teen, and shove the teapat on to the hob,' she said, offering to her guest such hospitality as was in her power.
PICTURES OF LIFE.
Gladys sat down, and suddenly became conscious of what she was carrying, a little flower-pot, in which bloomed a handful of Roman hyacinths, their delicate and lovely blossoms nestling among the tender green of their own leaves, and a bit of hardy fern. It was her only treasure, which she had bought for a few pence in the market one morning, and she had nothing else to bring to Liz.
'Will you take this? Is it not very pretty? I love it so much, but I have brought it for you. My father liked a flower when he was ill.'
Liz gave another enigmatical nod, and a faint, slow, melancholy smile gathered about the lips of Teen as she sat down to her work again, after having stirred the fire and pushed the dirty brown teapot on to the coals. In this teapot a black decoction brewed all day, and was partaken of at intervals by the two; sometimes they ate a morsel of bread to it, but other sustenance they had none. Little wonder the face of Teen was as cadaverous as the grave.
Then followed an awkward silence, during which Liz played with the frayed edge of the blanket, and Teen stitched away for dear life at a coarse garment, which appeared to be a canvas jacket. A whole pile of the same lay on the unoccupied bed, and Gladys vaguely wondered whether the same fingers must reduce the number, but she did not presume to ask. She did not feel drawn to the melancholy seamstress, whose thin lips had a hard, cold curve.
'Were you reading when I came in? I'm afraid I have stopped you,' said Gladys at length.
'Ay, I was readin' to Teen "Lord Bellew's Bride; or the Curse of Mountford Abbey." Splendid, isn't it, Teen?' said Liz quite brightly. 'We buy'd atween us every week. I'll len' ye'd, if ye like. It comes oot on Wednesday. Wat could bring'd on the Monday.'
'Thank you very much,' said Gladys. 'I haven't much time; I have a great deal to do in the house.'
'Hae ye? Ay, Wat telt me; an', michty! ye dinna look as if ye could dae onything. The auld sinner, I'd pooshin him!'
Liz looked quite capable of putting her threat into execution, and Gladys shrank a little away from the fierceness of her eyes.
'Ye are ower genty. His kind need somebody that'll fecht. If he was my uncle, and had as muckle money as they say he has, I'd walk oot in silk and velvet in spite o' his face. I'd hing them a' up, an' then he'd need to pay.'
Gladys only vaguely understood, but gathered that she was censuring the old man with the utmost severity.
'Oh, I don't think he is as rich as people say, and he is very kind to me,' said she quickly. 'If he had not taken me when my father died, I don't know what would have become of me.'
'Imphm! The tea's bilin', Teen. Look in my goon pocket for a penny, an' rin doon for twa cookies.'
The little seamstress obediently rose, pushed back the teapot, and disappeared.
'If I wis you,' said Liz the moment they were alone, and leaning forward to get a better look at Gladys, 'I wadna bide. Ye wad be faur better workin' for yersel'. If ye like, I'll speak for ye whaur I work, at Forsyth's Paper Mill in the Gorbals. I ken Maister George wad dae onything I ask him.'
She flung back her tawny locks with a gesture of pride, and the rich colour deepened in her cheek.
'Oh, you are very kind, but I don't think I could work in a mill. I don't know anything about it, and I am quite happy with my uncle—as happy as I can be anywhere, away from papa.'
Liz regarded her with a look, in which contempt and a vague wonder were oddly mingled.
'Weel, if you are pleased, it's nae business o' mine, of course. But I think ye are a fule. Ye wad hae yer liberty, onyway, and I could show ye a lot o' fun. There's the dancin'-schule on Saturday nichts. It's grand; an' we're to hae a ball on Hogmanay. I'm gettin' a new frock, white book muslin, trimmed wi' green leaves an' a green sash. Teen's gaun to mak' it. That's what for I'll no' gang to service, as my mither's aye wantin'. No me, to be ordered aboot like a beast! I'll hae my liberty, an' maybe some day I'll hae servants o' my ain. Naebody kens. Lord Bellew's bride in the story was only the gatekeeper's dochter, an' that's her on the horse, look, after she was my Lady Bellew. Here's Teen.'
Breathless and panting, the little seamstress returned with the cookies, and made a little spread on the bare table. Gladys was not hungry, but she accepted the proffered hospitality frankly as it was given, though the tea tasted like a decoction of bitter aloes. She was horrified to behold the little seamstress swallowing it in great mouthfuls without sugar or cream. Gladys had sometimes been hungry, but she knew nothing of that painful physical sinking, the result of exhausting work and continued insufficiency of food, which the poisonous brew for the time being overcame. Over the tea the trio waxed quite talkative, and 'Lord Bellew's Bride' was discussed to its minutest detail. Gladys wondered at the familiarity of the two girls with dukes and duchesses, and other persons of high degree, of whom they spoke familiarly, as if they were next-door neighbours. Although she was very young, and knew nothing of their life, she gathered that its monotony was very irksome to them, and that they were compelled to seek something, if only in the pages of an unwholesome and unreal story, to lift them out of it. It was evident that Liz, at least, chafed intolerably under her present lot, and that her head was full of dreams and imaginings regarding the splendours so vividly described in the story. All this time Gladys also wondered more than once what had become of the parents, of whom there was no sign visible, and at last she ventured to put the question—
'Is your mother not at home to-day?'
This question sent the little seamstress off into a fit of silent laughter, which brought a dull touch of colour into her cheeks, and very much improved her appearance. Liz also gave a little short laugh, which had no mirth in it.
'No, she's no' at hame; she's payin' a visit at Duke Street.' And the little grave nod with which Gladys received this information further intensified the amusement of the two.
'Ye dinna see through it,' said Liz, 'so I'll gie ye'd flat. My faither and mither are in the gaol for fechtin'. They were nailed on Saturday nicht.'
Gladys looked genuinely distressed, and perhaps for the first time Liz thought of another side such degradation might have. She had often been angry, had felt it keenly in her own passionate way, but it was always a selfish anger, which had not in it a single touch of compassion for the miserable pair who had so far forgotten their duty to each other and to God.
'Gey bad, ye think, I see,' said Liz soberly. 'We're used to it, and dinna fash oor thoombs. She'll be hame the nicht; but he's gotten thirty days, an' we'll hae a wee peace or he comes oot.'
Gladys looked at the indifferent face of Liz with a vague wonder in her own. That straight, direct glance, which had such sorrow in it, disconcerted Liz considerably, and she again turned to the pages of 'Lord Bellew.'
'Don't you get rather tired of that work?' asked Gladys, looking with extreme compassion on the little seamstress, who was again hard at work.
'Tired! Oh ay. We maun tire an' begin again,' she answered dully. 'It's sair on the fingers.'
She paused a moment to stretch out one of her scraggy hands, which was worn and thin at the fingertips, and pricked with the sharp points of many needles.
'It's dreadful; the stuff looks so hard. What do you make?'
'Men's canvas jackets, number five, thirteenpence the dizen,' quoted the little seamstress mechanically, 'an' find yer ain threed.'
'What does that mean?' asked Gladys.
'I get a penny each for them, an' a penny ower.'
'For making these great things?'
'Oh, I dinna mak' them a'. The seams are run up wi' the machine afore I get them. I pit in the sleeves, the neckbands, an' mak' the buttonholes. There's mair wark at them than ye wad think.'
'Is the money not very little?'
'Maybe; but I'm gled to get it. I'm no' able for the mill, an' I canna sterve. It keeps body an' soul thegither—eh, Liz?'
'Nae mair,' said Liz abstractedly, again absorbed in her paper. 'But maybe oor shot 'll come.'
Gladys rose to her feet, suddenly conscious that she had made a very long visit. Her heart was heavier than when she came. More and more was the terrible realism of city life borne in upon her troubled soul.
'I'm afraid I must go away,' she said very quietly. 'I am very much obliged to you for being so kind to me. May I come again?'
'Oh, if ye like,' said Liz carelessly. 'But ye'll no' see Teen. She lives doon the street. My mither canna bide her, an' winna let her nose within the door, so we haud a jubilee when she's nailed.'
'Oh, please don't speak like that of your mother!'
Liz looked quite thunderstruck.
'What for no'? I've never gotten onything frae her a' my days but ill. I'll tell ye what—if I had ta'en her advice, I'd hae gane to the bad lang syne. Although she is my mither, I canna say black's white, so ye needna stare; an' if ye are no' pleased ye needna come back, I didna spier ye to come, onyway.'
'Oh no; pray forgive me if I have made a mistake. I am so sorry for it all, only I cannot understand it.'
'Be thankfu' if ye dinna, then,' replied Liz curtly. 'I'm no' very ceevil to ye. I am much obleeged to ye for comin', for the flooers, an' mair than a', for teachin' Wat to read.'
Her face became quite soft in its outline; the harshness died out of her bright eyes, leaving them lovely beyond expression. Gladys felt drawn to her once more, and, leaning forward, without a moment's hesitation she kissed her on the brow. It was a very simple act, no effort to the child who had learned from her English mother to give outward expression to her feelings; but its effect on Liz was very strange. Her face grew quite red, her eyes brimmed with tears, and she threw the blanket over her head to smother the sob which broke from her lips. Then Gladys bade good-bye to the little seamstress, and slipped away down the weary stair and into the grimy street, where already the lamps were lit. Her mind was full of many new and strange thoughts as she took her way home, and it was with an effort she recovered herself sufficiently to attend to her simple duties for the evening. But when the old man and the boy came down from the warehouse, supper was ready as usual, and there was nothing remarked, except that Gladys was perhaps quieter than usual.
'Yes, I have been, and I saw your sister, Walter,' she said at last, when they had opportunity to talk alone. 'She is much better, she says, and hopes to get out soon.'
'Did you see anybody else?'
'Yes, a friend whom she called Teen; I do not know her other name,' answered Gladys.
'Teen Balfour—I ken her. An' what do you think of Liz?'
He put the question with a furtive anxiety of look and tone not lost on Gladys.
'I like her. At first I thought her manner strange, but she has a feeling heart too. And she is very beautiful.'
'You think so too?' said the lad, with a strange bitterness; 'then it must be true.'
'Why should it not? It is pleasant to be beautiful, I think,' said Gladys, with a little smile.
'For ladies, for you, perhaps it is, but not for Liz,' said Walter. 'It would be better for her if she looked like Teen.'
Gladys did not ask why.
'I am very sorry for her too. It is so dreadful her life, sewing all day at these coarse garments. I have many mercies, more than I thought. And for so little money! It is dreadful—a great sin; do you not think so?'
'Oh yes, it's a sin; but it's the way o' the world,' answered Walter indifferently. 'Very likely, if I were a man and had a big shop, I'd do just the same—screw as much as possible out of folk for little pay. That's gospel.'
Gladys laid her hand on his arm, and her eyes shone upon him. 'It will not be your gospel, Walter, that I know. Some day you will be a rich man, perhaps, and then you will show the world what a rich man can do. Isn't there a verse in the Bible which says, "Blessed is he that considereth the poor"? You will consider the poor then, Walter, and I will help you. We shall be able to do it all the better because we have been so poor ourselves.'
It was a new evangel for that proud, restless, bitter young heart, upon which the burden of life already pressed so heavily. Gladys did not know till long after, that these words, spoken out of the fulness of her sympathy, made a man of him from that very day, and awakened in him the highest aspirations which can touch a human soul.
LIZ SPEAKS HER MIND.
'Wat,' said Liz Hepburn to her brother next time he came home, 'what kind o' a lassie is thon?'
It was a question difficult for Walter to answer, and, Scotch-like, he solved it by putting another.
'What do you think of her?'
'I dinna ken; she's no' like ither folk.'
'But you liked her, Liz?' said Walter, with quite evident anxiety.
'Oh ay; but she's queer. How does she get on wi' Skinny?'
'Well enough. I believe he likes her, Liz, if he would let on.'
Liz made a grimace.
'I daursay, if he can like onything. I telt her my mind on the business plain, an' offered to get her into our mill.'
'Oh, Liz, you might have had more sense! Her work in a mill!' cried Walter, with more energy than elegance.
'An' what for no'?' queried Liz sharply. 'I suppose she's the same flesh and bluid as me.'
'Shut up, you twa,' said a querulous, peevish voice from the ingle-neuk, where the mother, dull-eyed, depressed, and untidy, sat with her elbows on her knees. She was in a poor state of health, and had not recovered from the last week's outburst. It was Saturday night, but there was no pay forthcoming from the head of the house, who was still in Duke Street Prison. Walter looked at his mother fixedly for a moment, and the shadow deepened on his face. She was certainly an unlovely object in her dirty, unkempt gown, her hair half hanging on her neck, her heavy face looking as if it had not seen soap and water for long, her dull eyes unlit by any gleam of intelligence. Of late, since they had grown more dissipated in their habits, Walter had fallen on the plan of keeping back his wages till the beginning of the week—the only way in which to ensure them food. Seldom, indeed, was anything left after Saturday and Sunday's carousal.
'Is there anything the matter the day, mother?' he asked quite kindly and gently, being moved by a sudden feeling of compassion for her.
'No, naething; but I'm clean dune. Wad ye no' bring in a drap, Wat?' she said coaxingly, and her eye momentarily brightened with anticipation.
'It won't do you any good, mother, ye ken that,' he said, striving still to speak gently, though repulsion now mingled with his pity. 'A good dinner or supper would do ye more good. I'll bring in a bit steak, if ye'll cook it.'
'I've nae stammick for meat,' she said, relapsing into her dull state. 'I'm no' lang for this world, an' my wee drap's the only comfort I hae. Ye'll maybe wish ye hadna been as ill to me by an' by.'
'I'm comin' alang some nicht, Wat,' said Liz, who invariably treated such remarks with the most profound contempt, ignoring them entirely. 'D'ye think Skinny'll let me in?'
'I daresay,' answered Walter abruptly, and, sitting down on the window-box, he looked through the blindless window upon the masses of roofs and the twinkling lights of the great city. His heart was heavy, his soul sick within him. His home—so poor a home for him, and for all who called it by that sweet name—had never appeared a more miserable and homeless place. It was not the smallness nor the poverty of its furnishing which concerned him, but the human beings it sheltered, who lay a burden upon his heart. Liz was out of bed, crouching over the fire, with an old red shawl wrapped round her—a striking-looking figure in spite of her general deshabille, a girl at whom all men and many women would look twice. He wished she were less striking, that her appearance had matched the only destiny she could look for—grey, meagre, commonplace, hopeless as a dull November day.
'Your pecker's no' up, Wat?' she said, looking at him rather keenly. 'What are ye sae doon i' the mooth for?'
Walter made no reply. Truth to tell, he would have found it difficult to give expression to his thoughts.
'He's aye doon i' the mooth when he comes here, Liz,' said the mother, with a passing touch of spirit. 'We're ower puir folk for my lord noo that he's gettin' among the gentry.'
'The gentry of Argyle Street an' the Sautmarket, mother?' asked Walter dryly. 'They'll no' do much for ye.'
'Is Skinny no' gaun to raise yer screw, Wat?' asked Liz. 'It's high time he was thinkin' on't.'
'I'll ask him one o' these days, but he might as well keep the money as me. This is a bottomless pit,' he said, with bitterness. 'It could swallow a pound as quick as five shillings, an' never be kent.'
'Ye're richt, Wat; but I wad advise ye to stick in to Skinny. He has siller, they say, an' maybe ye'll finger it some day.'
One night not long after, Liz presented herself at the house in Colquhoun Street, to return the visit of Gladys. As it happened, Walter was not in, having heard of a night school where the fees were so small as to be within the range of his means. Gladys looked genuinely pleased to see her visitor, though she hardly recognised in the fashionably-dressed young lady the melancholy-looking girl she had seen lying on the kitchen bed in the house of the Hepburns.
'Daur I come in? Would he no' be mad?' asked Liz, when they shook hands at the outer door.
'Do you mean my uncle?' asked Gladys. 'He will be quite pleased to see you. Come in; it is so cold here.'
'For you, ay; but I'm as warm's a pie, see, wi' my new fur cape—four an' elevenpence three-farthings at the Polytechnic. Isn't it a beauty, an' dirt cheap?'
Thus talking glibly about what was more interesting to her than anything else in the world, Liz followed Gladys into the kitchen, where the old man sat, as usual, in his arm-chair by the fireside, looking very old and wizened and frail in the flickering glow of fire and candle light.
'This is Walter's sister, Uncle Abel,' Gladys said, with that unconscious dignity which singled her out at once, and gave her a touch of individuality which Liz felt, though she did not in the least understand it.
The old man gave a little grunt, and bade her sit down; but, though not talkative, he keenly observed the two, and saw that they were cast in a different mould. Liz looked well, flushed with her walk, the dark warm fur setting off the brilliance of her complexion, her clothes fitting her with a certain flaunting style, her manner free from the least touch of embarrassment or restraint. Liz Hepburn feared nothing under the sun.
'And are you quite better, Liz?' asked Gladys gently, with a look of real interest and sympathy in her face.
'Oh ay, I'm fine. Wat's no' in?' she said, glancing inquiringly round the place.
'No; he has heard of a teacher who takes evening pupils for book-keeping and these things, and has gone to make arrangements with him.'
Never had the nicety of her speech and her sweet, refined accent been more marked by Abel Graham. He looked at her as she stood by the table, a slender, pale figure, with a strange touch of both child and maiden about her, and he felt glad that she was not like Liz. Not that he thought ill of Liz, or did not see her beauty, such as it was, only he felt that the maiden whom circumstances had cast into his care and keeping was of a higher type than the red-cheeked, bright-eyed damsel whom so many admired.
'An' when hae ye been oot, micht I ask?' inquired Liz calmly. 'Ye're a jimpy-looking thing.'
'Not since Sunday.'
'Sunday! Mercy me! an' this is Friday. She'll sune be in her grave, Mr. Graham. Folk maun hae fresh air. What way d'ye no' set her oot every day?'
'She is welcome to go if she likes, miss. I don't keep her in,' answered the old man tartly.
'Maybe no', but likely she has that muckle adae she canna get,' replied Liz fearlessly. 'It's a fine nicht—suppose ye tak' a walk wi' me? The shops is no' shut yet.'
'Shall I go, uncle?' asked Gladys.
'If ye want, certainly; but come in in time of night. Don't be later than nine.'
'Very well,' answered Gladys, and retired into her own room to make ready for her walk.
Then Liz, turning round squarely on her seat, fixed the old man fearlessly with her eyes, and gave him a piece of her mind.
'I saw ye lookin' at her a meenit ago, Maister Graham, an' maybe ye was thinkin' the same as me, that she's no' lang for this world. Is't no' a sin an' a shame for a cratur like that to work in a place like this? but it's waur, if it be true, as folk say, that there's nae need for it.'
So astonished was Abel Graham by this plain speaking on the part of a girl he had never seen in his life, that he could only stare.
'It's true,' added Liz significantly; 'she's yin o' the kind they mak' angels o', and that's no' my kind nor yours. If I were you, I'd see aboot it, or it'll be the waur for ye, maybe, after.'
Happily, just then Gladys returned for her boots, and in her mild excitement over having a companion to walk with, she did not observe the very curious look on her uncle's face. But Liz did, and gave an inward chuckle.
'How's your father and mother?' he asked, making the commonplace question a cover for the start he had got.
'Oh, they're as well as they can expect to be,' Liz replied. 'He cam' oot on Monday. I spiered if they had gi'en him a return ticket available for a week.'
The hard little laugh which accompanied these apparently heartless words did not in the least deceive Gladys, and, looking up from the lacing of her boots, she flashed a glance of quick sympathy upon the girl's face, which expressed more than any words.
'They're surely very ill-kinded,' was Abel Graham's comment, in rather a surprised tone. Liz had given him more information about her people in five minutes than Walter had done in the two years he had been with him. The difference between the two was, that while sharing the bitterness of their home sorrows, the one found a certain relief in telling the worst, the other shut it in his heart, a grief to be brooded over, till all life seemed tinged and poisoned by its degradation.
'Oh, it's drink,' she said carelessly,—'the same auld story. Everything sooms awa' in whisky; they'll soom awa' theirsel's some day wi'd, that's wan comfort. I'm sure that's wan thing Wat an' me's no' likely to meddle wi'. We've seen ower muckle o' the misery o' drink. It'll never be my ruin, onyway. Are ye ready, Gladys?'
'In a minute, just my hat and gloves,' Gladys answered, and again retired.
'I say, sir, d'ye no' think ye should raise Wat's wages? I had twa things to say to ye the nicht, an' I've said them. Ye needna fash to flyte; I'm no' feared. If ye are a rich man, as they say, ye're waur than oor auld yin, for he haunds oot the siller as lang as it lasts.'
'You are a very impudent young woman,' said Abel Graham, 'and not a fit companion for my niece. I can't let her go out with you.'
'Oh, she's gaun the nicht, whether you let her or no',' was the calm answer. 'And as to being impident, some folk ca's the truth impidence, because they're no' accustomed to it. But aboot Wat, ye ken as weel as me, ye micht seek east an' west through Glesca an' no' get sic anither. He's ower honest. You raise his wages, or he'll quit, if I should seek a place for him mysel'.'
The calm self-assertion of Liz, which had something almost queenly in it, compelled the respect of the old man, and he even smiled a little across the table to the chair where she sat quite at her ease, delivering herself of these remarkably plain statements. In his inmost soul he even enjoyed them, and felt a trifle sorry when Gladys appeared, ready to go. Liz sprang up at once, and favoured the old miser with a gracious nod by way of farewell.
'Guid-nicht to ye, then, an' mind what I've said. I was in deid earnest, an' I'm richt, as ye'll maybe live to prove. An' mind that there's ower wee a pickle angels in Glesca for the ither kind, and we'd better tak' care o' what we hae.'
'Noo, whaur wad ye like to gang?' inquired Liz, as they shut the outer door behind them.
'Anywhere; it is pleasant to be out, only the air is not very good here. Do you think it is?'
'Maybe no'. We'll look at the shops first, onyhoo, an' then we'll gang an' meet Teen Ba'four. D'ye mind Teen?'
'Oh yes. Is she quite well? She looked so ill that day I saw her. I could not forget her face.'
'Oh, she's well enough, I think. I never asks. Oor kind gangs on till they drap, an' then they maistly dee,' said Liz cheerfully. 'But Teen will hing on a while yet—she's tough. I dinna see her very often. My mither disna like her. She brings me the Reader on Fridays. Eh, wummin, "Lord Bellew's Bride" is finished. Everything was cleared up at the end, an' the young man Lord Bellew was jealous o' turns oot to be only her brither. The last chapter tells aboot the christenin' o' the heir, an' she wears a white brocade goon, trimmed wi' real pearls an' ostrich feathers. Fancy you an' me in a frock like that! Wad it no' mak' a' the difference?'
'I don't know, I'm sure. I never thought of it,' answered Gladys, quietly amused.
'Hae ye no'? I often think o'd. If I lived in a big hoose, rode in a carriage, an' wore a silk dress every day, I wad be happy, an' guid too, maybe. It's easy to be guid when ye are rich.'
'The Bible doesn't say so. Don't you remember how it explains that it is so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?'
Liz looked round in a somewhat scared manner into her companion's face.
'D'ye read the Bible?' she asked bluntly. 'I never dae, so I canna mind that. I never thocht onybody read it—or believed it, I mean—except ministers that are paid for it.'
'Oh, that is quite a mistake,' said Gladys warmly. 'A great many people read it, because they love it, and because it helps them in the battle of life. I couldn't live without it. Walter and I read it every night.'