THE WORLD'S GREATEST BOOKS
ARTHUR MEE Editor and Founder of the Book of Knowledge
J.A. HAMMERTON Editor of Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopaedia
VOL. V FICTION
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Acknowledgment and thanks for permission to use "The Garden of Allah," by Mr. Robert Hichens, are herewith tendered to A.P. Watt & Son, London, England, for the author.
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Table of Contents
GRAY, MAXWELL Silence of Dean Maitland
GRIFFIN, GERALD The Collegians
HABBERTON, JOHN Helen's Babies
HALEVY, LUDOVIC Abbe Constantin
HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL The Scarlet Letter House of the Seven Gables
HICHENS, ROBERT The Garden of Allah
HOLMES, OLIVER WENDELL Elsie Venner
HUGHES, THOMAS Tom Brown's Schooldays Tom Brown at Oxford
HUGO, VICTOR Les Miserables Notre Dame de Paris The Toilers of the Sea The Man Who Laughs
INCHBALD, ELIZABETH A Simple Story
JAMES, G.P.R. Henry Masterton
JOHNSON, SAMUEL Rasselas
JOKAI, MAURICE Timar's Two Worlds
KERNAHAN, COULSON A Dead Man's Diary
KINGSLEY, CHARLES Alton Locke Hereward the Wake Hypatia Two Years Ago Water-Babies Westward Ho!
KINGSLEY, HENRY Geoffry Hamlyn Ravenshoe
A Complete Index of THE WORLD'S GREATEST BOOKS will be found at the end of Volume XX.
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The Silence of Dean Maitland
Mary Gleed Tuttiett, the gifted lady who writes under the pseudonym of "Maxwell Gray," was born at Newport, Isle of Wight. The daughter of Mr. F.B. Tuttiett, M.R.C.S., she began her literary career by contributing essays, poems, articles, and short stones to various periodicals. With the appearance of "The Silence of Dean Maitland," in 1886, Maxwell Gray's name was immediately and permanently established in the front rank of living novelists. The story and its problem, dramatically set forth, and with rare literary art, became one of the most discussed themes of the day. Since that time Maxwell Gray has produced a number of stories, among them being "The Reproach of Annesley" (1888), "The Last Sentence" (1893), "The House of Hidden Treasure" (1898), and "The Great Refusal" (1906), and also several volumes of poems. This little version of "The Silence of Dean Maitland" has been prepared by Miss Tuttiett herself.
The story opens on a grey October afternoon in the Isle of Wight, in the 'sixties. Alma Lee, the coachman's handsome young daughter, is toiling up a steep hill overlooking Chalkburne, tired and laden with parcels from the town. As she leans on a gate, Judkins, a fellow-servant of her father's, drives up in a smart dog-cart, and offers her a lift home. She refuses scornfully, to the young groom's mortification; he drives off, hurt by her coquetry and prophesying that pride goes before a fall.
Then a sound of bells is heard—a waggon drawn by a fine bell-team climbs the hill, and stops by Alma. She accepts the waggoner's offer of a lift, and on reaching the gate of her home in the dusk, is distressed by his insistence on a kiss in payment, when out of the tree-shadows steps Cyril Maitland, the graceful and gifted son of the rector of Malbourne, newly ordained deacon.
He rebukes the waggoner, rescues Alma, and escorts her across a field to her father's cottage. There he is welcomed with respectful affection as the rector's son and Alma's former playmate. Afterwards she lights him to the gate, where a chance word of his evokes from her an innocent and unconscious betrayal of her secret love, kindling such strong response in him as he cannot conquer except by touching a letter in his breast- pocket. This letter is from Marion Everard, to whom he has been a year engaged.
He walks through the dark to Malbourne Rectory, where, by the fire, he finds his invalid mother, his twin sister, Lilian, and two younger children. Here he appears the idol of the hearth—genial, graceful, gifted, beautiful, and warm-hearted. But he betrays ambition, sudden and great haste to be married, and some selfishness. He walks to his lodging in a neighbouring village, where trifling circumstances point to a refined sensuousness, self-indulgence, and sophistry in his character, leading to the neglect of serious duty. The shadow of impending tragedy is hinted at from the first line of the book.
December in the following year. Cyril now an East End curate, and Henry Everard, M.D., going by rail to Malbourne. Everard asleep; manly, cheerful, intellectual, healthy in body and mind. Cyril awake; consumed by unspeakable sorrow. Everard wakes; Cyril suddenly becomes gay in response to his friend's high spirits. They chaff each other. Cyril preaches to Everard, when Henry scolds him for fasting, and his laxity of faith and practice. They pass Belminster, when Cyril betrays unconscious ambition at Everard's jesting prophecy that he would preach as bishop in the cathedral. Asceticism is defended by Cyril and condemned by Everard. Cyril speaks of the discipline of sorrow, and presses a spiked cross under his clothes into his side. Everard exalts the discipline of joy. The friends have been privately educated together, and were together at Cambridge. Henry admires Cyril's character and mental brilliance; Cyril regards Henry with condescending affection. Everard is silently in love with Lilian.
Cyril and Everard in the meantime have arrived at Malbourne Rectory. Cyril and Marion, who have not met since a quarrel, are alone together. She wonders that he makes so much of the little tiff. He talks of his unworthiness, and makes her promise to cleave to him through good and evil report. At dinner, Everard asks for all the villagers, and gathers that Alma Lee is disgraced. "Alma, little Alma, the child we used to play with!" he cries afterwards to the men Maitlands. "Who is the scoundrel?" Cyril grows impatient under the discussion that follows. "After all, she is not the first!" he says at last, to Everard's indignation.
Sunday. All classes meeting on the way to church, when Cyril preaches for the first time to his friends and neighbours, who throng to hear him. He preaches with passionate earnestness upon the beauty of innocence and the agony of losing it. "That once lost," he says, "the old careless joy of youth never returns."
The village parliament in the moonlit churchyard after service comment with humour on the sermon, and on Cyril's eloquence, learning, and good heart. Granfer, the village oracle, prophesies that the queen will make a bishop of him. Ben Lee, talking with Judkins by the harness-room fire, supposes that Cyril was thinking of Alma in his sermon. "He always had a kind heart." But Judkins speaks of his suspicions of Everard as Alma's betrayer, alludes to his frequent visits to Mrs.
Lee during her illness some months ago, and his constant meeting with Alma. Lee is convinced of Everard's guilt. "I'll kill him!" he cries furiously.
It is a lovely winter's day, and Cyril, Lilian, and Everard are walking through the woods at the back of Lee's cottage. Cyril puts something into a hollow tree, and intimates a chaffinch's call. Another bird replies. Cyril walks on to Oldport, leaving Everard and Lilian, between whom there follows a warm love scene and betrothal. During this episode Mrs. Lee, Alma's stepmother, tells her husband that Alma is gone to meet her unknown lover in the wood at the signal of a chaffinch's call. Lee follows, and finds Alma there alone. He picks up a paper she had torn and dropped; it contains an assignation for that evening at dusk. Before luncheon Everard changes the grey suit he was wearing, and had stained in a muddy ditch. He goes to a lonely cottage on the downs in the afternoon; returning in the evening, he gets a black eye while romping with little Winnie Maitland. After bathing the eye, he sponges the stained suit, and is surprised to find blood on it. Cyril has been absent in Oldport all day, and on his return goes to bed with a headache, speaking to nobody. A man in Henry's grey suit passes through the hall at dusk, followed by the cat, who never runs after anyone but Lilian and Cyril.
That evening, New Year's eve, there is a gay party of rustics at the wheelwright's house. In the midst of Granfer's best story in rushes Grove, the waggoner, crying that Ben Lee had just been found murdered in the wood. The same night Alma gives birth to a son.
Next day, Cyril, in great mental anguish, goes to Admiral Everard's house, and incidentally puts to a brother clergyman there a case of conscience: Should a man who has acted unwisely, and is guilty of unintentional homicide, imperil a useful and brilliant career by confession? Not if he had such great gifts and opportunities of doing good as Cyril has, he is told. By this pronouncement and a love scene with Marion, Cyril is much comforted.
In the meantime, Ben Lee's death is by many being imputed to Everard, who is quite unconscious of these suspicions. He is much surprised at the appearance of policemen at the rectory that afternoon, and still more so at being arrested on the charge of murdering Lee.
After due examination, Everard is committed for trial on the charge of murder. His best witness, Granfer, who had seen and spoken with him in the village at the moment of the alleged murder, greatly discredited his evidence by his circumlocution and stupidity, purposely affected to set the court in a roar. He admitted that Everard gave him money and tobacco. Judkins swore that at three o'clock Lee told him Everard had asked Alma to meet him at dusk that evening in the wood, and that he—Lee—meant to follow Everard there and exact reparation from him; that Alma and Everard were known to be together in the wood on the morning of Lee's death (when Everard was with Lilian), and that he himself had seen them meet often clandestinely in the spring during Mrs. Lee's illness, when letters, books, and flowers had passed between them. On the eve of Lee's death he had seen Everard go into the copse at dusk carrying a heavy stick.
Ingram Swaynestone, Grove, the waggoner, and Stevens, the Sexton, all saw Everard going on the upland path to Swaynestone. But the blacksmith swore to seeing him in the village street at the same hour. A keeper saw him going to the copse at the same time that a shepherd met him on the down going in another direction. At five o'clock two rectory maids saw Everard run in by the back door and upstairs, followed by the cat; he made no reply when Miss Maitland spoke to him. An hour later, Everard asked the cook for raw meat for a black eye, which he said he got by running against a tree in the dark. Blood was found in a basin in his room, and on the grey suit, which was much stained and torn, as if by a struggle. A handkerchief of Everard's was found in the wood, also a stick he had been seen with in the morning.
Everard's evidence at the inquest was that he left Malbourne Rectory about four, wearing a black coat, met the blacksmith in the village, and the shepherd on the down, and finding the cottage on the down empty, returned, seeing no one till he met Granfer at Malbourne Cross, and reached the rectory at six, where a romp with Winnie Maitland gave him the black eye, that he promised her not to speak about. He could not account for the blood found on his clothes.
Cyril is much shocked by the verdict and committal of Everard, but is sure that he will be cleared. "He must be cleared," he says, "at any cost." Pending the assize trial, he baptises three unknown babes in Malbourne Church. When asking the name of one of the children in his arms, he is told "Benjamin Lee." His evident deep emotion at this evokes sympathy from all present. During the trial at Belminster he has a great spiritual conflict in the cathedral while a fugue of Bach's is played on the organ, suggesting a combat between the powers of evil and good. But he feels that he cannot renounce his brilliant prospects. Coming out, he hears that Alma has declared Everard is the man who was with her father when he met his death in the struggle she heard while outside the copse.
Cyril at once rushes to the court, which he had only left for an hour, just in time to hear the verdict, "Manslaughter."
"Stop!" he cries. "I have evidence—the prisoner is innocent!"
The judge, not understanding what he says, orders his removal; his friends, thinking him distracted, persuade him to be quiet while the utmost sentence—twenty years—is given. On hearing this, Cyril, with a loud cry, falls senseless. He remains in delirium many weeks. A pathetic farewell between Henry and Lilian, who is the only believer in his innocence, and who renews her promise to him, closes the first part.
The tragedy, faintly foreshadowed from the first line, and gradually developed from Cyril's self-righteousness and irrepressible joy in Alma's unguarded betrayal of unconscious passion, has darkened the whole story. Sin has engendered sin. Cyril's noble purpose to devote himself entirely to his high calling, and be worthy of it, has become pitiless ambition.
His self-respect, spiritual pride and egoism; his ready tact, social charm, and power of psychological analysis, subtle sophistry and self-deception; his warmest affection, disguised self-love; his finest qualities perverted lead to his lowest fall.
His weak and belated attempt to right Alma's wrong has killed her father. Alma's desecrated love has turned to fierce idolatry, laying waste Lilian's happiness, and working Henry's complete ruin. Cyril's cowardice has delayed clearing his friend till it is too late to save him.
Not poppy, not mandragora, Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
will ever medicine again to him that sweet sleep he had before his guilt.
III.—The Darkness of a Prison
A summer Sunday two years later. Alma and her child in a cornfield, listening to bells ringing for Cyril's homecoming with his bride. All the softness and youth gone from Alma's tragic face, and the last gleams of penitence from her heart, since her perjury. Jealousy is prompting her to go and tell Marion all. But Judkins comes and interrupts these wild thoughts. He offers marriage, rehabilitation, and a home in America. She hesitates. She is shunned by all, and can get no work in Malbourne, but has not been destitute; money has found its way mysteriously to her cottage. So for the child's sake she accepts.
Tea on the rectory lawn. Lilian is thinking of the prisoner, Lennie wondering aloud, "How does Alma like having to go to hell for lying about Henry?" Cyril is terribly agitated at this. He has scarcely yet recovered from his long mental illness after Henry's sentence. Marion is not happy—she may never allude to Henry. The slightest reference to him makes Cyril ill. Later, in the moonlight, Ingram Swaynestone asks Lilian, whom he has always loved, to marry him. He cannot believe that she is secretly engaged to Henry. She points towards Henry's prison. "I am all that man has on earth, and I love him!" she says.
Nine years later. Convicts pulling down the old walls of Portsmouth. An officer's funeral passes by. No. 62—Henry—overhears people speaking of the manner of the officer's death, and his name, Major Everard. Tears fall on the convict's hands as he works. No. 62's father is port admiral. Alma's perjury in court had revealed all to Henry, and reduced him to apathetic despair. "There is no God—no good anywhere!" he cried. But in time Lilian's periodic letters gave him heart and hope, and he had accepted his fate bravely, trying to lift up and cheer his fellow- prisoners. In the darkness and uproar of a thunderstorm he escapes from the guarded works. His adventures, during which he comes accidentally and unrecognized in contact with his brother's widow, his sister, and her children, who prattle of family matters in his hearing, and, after a few weeks' wandering, by his being recaptured while lying on the roadside unconscious from hunger and exhaustion. This part of the story concludes with the reception of this news by Lilian and Cyril, whose unintentional neglect has caused the miscarriage of a letter that would have enabled Henry to escape.
IV.—"I Will Confess my Wickedness"
Everard is free, and, wearing the grey suit of a discharged prisoner, is travelling from Dartmoor to London by train. Marion, his brother, Leslie, Mrs. Maitland, and the admiral are all dead. Everything is strange and changed to him. Liberty is sweet and bitter. He is prematurely aged and broken down; the great future that had been before him is now for ever impossible. His still undeveloped scientific theories and discoveries have been anticipated by others. He feels the prison taint upon him; he will not see Lilian until it is removed, and he has become accustomed to the bewilderment of freedom.
After a few days' pause he starts from London for Malbourne, stopping at Belminster, through which he had made his last free journey with Cyril, when he told him that "an ascetic is a rake turned monk." Passing the gaol in which he had suffered so much, he goes to the cathedral. He asks who is now Dean of Belminster.
The verger is surprised. "Where have you been, sir, not to have heard of the celebrated Dean Maitland?" The great dean! The books he has written, the things he has done! All the world knows Dean Maitland, the greatest preacher in the Church of England.
The deanery interior. Cyril, charming and adored as ever, is considering whether he shall accept the historic bishopric of Warham. A strange youth from America is announced, and asks the dean to give him a university education—"because I am your son." "Since when," returns the dean tranquilly, "have you been suffering from this distressing illusion?" The youth bears a letter from Alma. She is dying in Belminster, and implores him to come to her. She cannot die, she writes, till she has cleared Everard. After this terrible scene Cyril is in agony, and nearly commits suicide. "But one sin in a life so spotless!" he moans. The same evening Everard, overwhelmed with accounts of Cyril's good deeds and spiritual counsels, and examining with mingled awe and pity the numerous books he has written, goes to hear one of the Anglican Chrysostom's lectures to working men in the cathedral.
The music heard by Cyril during his mental conflict there years before is being played. Cyril thinks Lee's death and Henry's suffering the work of Fate, since in wearing Everard's clothes he had no thought of impersonating him, but only of avoiding the publicity of clerical dress; nor had he dreamed of meeting or of struggling with Ben Lee. Meaning to go to Alma, who is already dead, later on that night, Cyril preaches upon the sin of Judas, with great power and passion. "I charge you, my brothers, beware of self-deception!" Everard pities him; he feels that his own eighteen years' sufferings were nothing in comparison with Cyril's secret tortures. Suddenly the preacher stops with a low cry of agony. He has caught Everard's eye. He wishes the cathedral would fall and crush him. "I am not well," he says, leaving the pulpit. Everard writes him a letter that night, saying he has long known and forgiven all; he asks Cyril to use his own secret repentance and unspoken agony for the spiritual help of others.
The dean receives and reads the letter at breakfast next morning. He then shuts himself alone in his study for several hours. Then he takes leave of his blind son and only surviving daughter—all the other children died in infancy—and sends them away to a relative. Everard, after waiting vainly for Cyril's answer, goes to Malbourne. He travels in the same carriage as the judge who had sentenced him, and tells him that he was innocent, but is unable to clear himself. Nobody recognises him at Malbourne. He hears his case discussed at the village inn, where he stops an hour, too much agitated to go to the rectory. "He never done it," is the general verdict.
Then follows the pathetic meeting of Henry and Lilian. Mr. Maitland had gradually ceased to believe in his guilt. "But I could never forgive the man who let you suffer in his stead," he says. Lilian shudders at this. Cyril is discussed. "Our dear Chrysostom; our golden-mouth!"
Next day, Sunday, old friends welcome Everard. He has a great reception from the villagers. Lilian presses him to say who was the guilty man. Mark Antony, the cat, is still alive. "Only once did Mark make a mistake," she says, "when he ran after that grey figure in the dusk. Else he never ran after any but myself and Cyril. Henry, you know who killed Ben Lee. Tell me," she sobs, "oh, tell me it was not he!" Henry cannot tell her. Lilian is deeply distressed. "His burden was heavier than mine," Henry says. He comforts her.
The same day, at morning prayer, Cyril enters the cathedral. The organ is playing Mendelssohn's "O Lord, have mercy upon me!" The cathedral is packed with people of all degrees, known and unknown, friends and strangers. The thought that all these will soon know his shame turns Cyril sick. The faces of all those he has injured rise and reproach him. He goes through another great spiritual conflict, but his soul emerges at last, stripped of all pretence, in the awful presence of his Maker, shuddering with the shame of its uncovered sin, and alone. He nerves himself to an effort beyond his strength, as he stands in the pulpit before the innumerable gaze of the vast congregation, by holding Henry's letter as a talisman in his hand. Thus he preaches his last and greatest sermon. "I will confess my wickedness, and be sorry for my sin." This he does literally. He tells the whole story in detail, but without names, sometimes unable to go on for agony and shame, sometimes with tears streaming from his eyes. He tells it there that all may take warning from him. He intends to give himself up to justice as soon as possible. He does not spare himself. Since his first sin, he says, "I have not had one happy hour." He never repented, though always consumed with remorse, until his friend forgave him. "That broke my stony heart," he says. The congregation are deeply moved and horrified. Many think he is under a delusion caused by sorrow for his friend, and mental strain. Having finished in the usual way, he sat down in the pulpit, and neither spoke nor moved again. There he was found later, dead.
Next day Henry, who deeply moved, has watched by the dead body of the dean in his library, has to break the news of Cyril's death to Mr. Maitland, in the very room in which Mr. Maitland had accused him of Cyril's crime and given him up to the police. The adoring father's mind gives way under the blow, his memory is permanently confused, and he lives tranquilly on for some years in the belief that Cyril has only gone away for a few days.
The story ends with a family scene by Lake Leman, where Henry and Lilian, happily married, are living for a time with Mr. Maitland and Cyril's children, whom Henry has kept from knowing their father's guilt.
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Gerald Griffin, born at Limerick on December 12, 1803, was one of the group of clever Irishmen who, in imitation of Tom Moore, sought literary fame in London in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. At the age of twenty he was writing tales of Munster life. In 1829 he became popular through the tale of "The Collegians," here epitomised—a tale that has held the stage to the present day under the title of "The Colleen Bawn." Nine years later, Griffin renounced literature, returned to Ireland, and entered the Church, and on June 12, 1840, died in a monastery at Cork. A tragedy written in his early days was produced successfully by Macready after Griffin's death. His fame, however, depends on his pictures of Irish life, and they are concentrated best in the literary accessories of the present melodrama.
I.—A Secret Wife
At a pleasure garden on a hill near Limerick, Eily O'Connor, the beautiful daughter of Mihil O'Connor, the rope-maker, first met Hardress Cregan, a young gentleman fresh from college; and on the same night, as she and her father were returning homeward, they were attacked by a rabble of men and boys, and rescued by the stranger and his hunchbacked companion, Danny Mann. A few days afterwards Danny Mann visited the rope-walk, and had a long conversation with Eily, and from that time the girl's character seemed to have undergone a change. Her recreations and her attire became gayer; but her cheerfulness of mind was gone. Her lover, Myles Murphy, a good-natured farmer from Killarney, gained over her father to his interests, and the old man pressed her either to give consent to the match or a good reason for her refusal. After a distressing altercation, Eily left the house without a word of farewell.
She had married Hardress Cregan secretly, and the priest had died immediately after the ceremony. The first time she was seen, but not recognised, in her boyish husband's company was by the Dalys, to which family his fellow-collegian and intimate friend, Kyrle Daly, belonged. A boat passed along the river before their house containing a hooded girl, the hunchback, and Hardress Cregan himself. After they had disappeared, Kyrle Daly rode to pay court to Anne Chute, Hardress's cousin, and, to his great distress, learned that she could never be his wife although she had no other engagement. From her manner he realised that he had a rival, and the knowledge plunged him into the deepest despair. After her refusal he went to spend the night at one of his father's dairy farms, a few miles down the river. Whilst supper was being prepared, word came that Hardress's boat was being swamped, with every soul aboard.
The collegian, however, brought the boat safely to the shore, and procured a room for his wife in the dairy-woman's cottage, passing her off as a relative of Danny Mann's. She retired at once and Hardress and Kyrle sat talking together of Anne Chute. The sight of his friend's sufferings won Hardress's sympathies. He protested his disbelief in the idea of another attachment, and recommended perseverance.
"Trust everything to me," he said. "For your sake I will take some pains to become better known to this extraordinary girl, and you may depend on it you shall not suffer in my good report."
When the household was asleep, Hardress went to his wife's room, and found her troubled because of the strangeness of their circumstances.
"I was thinking," she said, "what a heart-break it would be to my father if anyone put it into his head that the case was worse than it is. No more would be wanting, but just a little word on a scrap of paper, to let him know that he needn't be uneasy, and he'd know all in time."
The suggestion appeared to jar against the young husband's inclinations. He replied that if she wished he would return with her to her home, and declare the marriage.
"If you are determined on certainly destroying our happiness," he continued, "your will shall be dearer to me than fortune or friends. If you have a father to feel for you, you will not forget, my love, that I have a mother whom I love as tenderly, and whose feelings deserve some consideration."
He took her hand and pressed it in a soothing manner.
"Come, dry those sweet eyes, while I tell you shortly what my plans shall be," he said.
"You have heard me speak of Danny Mann's sister, who lives on the side of the Purple Mountain, in the Gap of Dunlough? I have had two neat rooms fitted up for you in her cottage, and you can have books to read, and a little garden to amuse you, and a Kerry pony to ride over the mountains. In the meantimes I will steal a visit now and then to my mother, who spends the autumn in the neighbourhood. I will gradually let her into my secret, and obtain her forgiveness. I am certain she will not withhold it. I shall then present you to her. She will commend your modesty and gentleness; we will send for your father, and then where is the tongue that shall venture to wag against the fame of Eily Cregan!"
The young man left her, a little chagrined at her apparent slowness in appreciating his noble condescension. In his boyhood he had entertained a passion for his cousin, Anne Chute; but after the long separation of school and college, he had imagined that his early love was completely forgotten. The feeling with which he regarded her now was rather of resentment than indifference, and it had been with a secret creeping of the heart that he had witnessed what he thought was the successful progress of Kyrle Daly's attachment. It was under those circumstances that he formed his present hasty union with Eily. His love for her was deep, sincere, and tender. Her entire and unbounded confidence, her extreme beauty, her simplicity and timid deference made a soothing compensation to his heart for the coldness of the haughty, though superior beauty, whose inconstancy had raised his indignation.
In the morning, accompanied by Eily and Danny Mann, he sailed for Ballybunion, where they rested in a cavern while the hunchback sought an eligible lodging for the night. During his absence Hardress told Eily that Danny Mann was his foster-brother, and that he himself had been the cause of the poor fellow's deformity.
"When we were children he was my constant companion," he said. "Familiarity produced a feeling of equality, on which he presumed so far as to offer rudeness to a little relative of mine, a Miss Chute, who was on a visit to my mother. She complained to me, and my vengeance was summary. I seized him by the collar, and hurled him with desperate force to the bottom of a flight of stairs. An injury was done to his spine."
But Danny Mann had shown naught but good nature and kindly feeling ever since. His attachment had become the attachment of a zealot. Hardress was sometimes alarmed at the profane importance he attached to his master's wishes; he seemed to care but little what laws he might transgress when the gratification of Hardress's inclination was in question.
A week afterwards Hardress visited his parents at their Killarney residence, to find that his mother, with her niece, Anne Chute, had gone to a grand ball in the neighbourhood. His father was spending the night with his boon fellows, and a favourite old huntsman lay dying in a room near by. This retainer told his young master that Anne Chute loved him well, and that she deserved a better fortune than to love without return. Hardress went to bed, and was awakened by his mother upon her return. She reproved him for his long absence, and told him of the sensation his beautiful cousin was making in society. In the morning he met Anne with some consciousness and distress. A womanly reserve and delicacy made the girl unwilling to affect an intimacy that might not be graciously acknowledged. She treated him coldly, and began to read some silly novel of the day.
"Ah, Eily, my own, own Eily!" he murmured to himself. "You are worth this fine lady a hundred times over!"
His mother appeared; her raillery entrapped both him and Anne in a scene of coquetry. No longer embarrassed by the feeling of strangeness and apprehension which had depressed her spirits on their first meeting after his return from college, Anne now assumed ease and liveliness of manner. Every hour he spent in her society removed from his mind the prejudice he had conceived against her, and supplied its place with a feeling of strong kindness. When he left the merry circle to return to Eily, blank regret fell suddenly upon his heart. But the sorrow which Anne manifested at his departure, and the cordial pleasure with which she heard of his intention to return soon, inspired him with the strangest happiness. The next time he thought of Eily and his cousin, the conjunction was less favourable to the former.
"My poor little love!" he thought. "How much she has to learn before she can assume, with comfort to herself, the place for which I have designed her!"
At the cottage Eily received him with rapture and affection, and every other feeling was banished from his mind. But in the course of the evening she remarked that he was more silent and abstracted than she had ever seen him, and that he more frequently spoke in connection of some little breach of etiquette, or inelegance of manner, than in those terms of eloquent praise and fondness which he was accustomed to lavish upon her. The next day he returned to his mother's house leaving her in tears.
That night Mrs. Cregan gave a ball, at which he was one of the gayest revellers. Soon afterwards his mother also told him that Anne was in love, and with none other than himself. In great agitation he replied that he had already pledged himself to another. She insisted that any other engagement must be broken, since if there was to be a victim it should not be Anne. The lady's violent maternal affection overruled him, and in spite of the call of honour he dared not tell her that he was already married.
During the ensuing weeks Eily perceived a rapid and fearful change in his temper and appearance. His visits were fewer and shorter, and his manner became extraordinarily restrained and conscious.
But when she told him that the loneliness was troubling her, he accused her of jealousy.
"If I was jealous, and with reason," said Eily. smiling seriously, "nobody would ever know it; for I wouldn't say a word, only stretch upon my bed and die. I wouldn't be long in his way, I'll engage."
Hardress warned her never to inquire into his secrets, nor to effect an influence which he would not admit. He bade her avoid suffering the slightest suspicion to appear, since when suspicions are afloat men find the temptation to furnish them with a cause almost irresistible. Eily protested that she was joking, and his uneasy conscience threw him into a paroxysm of fury.
"Curse on you!" he cried. "Curse on your beauty, curse on my own folly, for I have been undone by both! I hate you! Take the truth; I'll not be poisoned with it! I am sick of you; you have disgusted me! I will ease my heart by telling you the whole. If I seek the society of other women, it is because I find not among them your meanness and vulgarity!"
"Oh, Hardress," shrieked the affrighted girl, "you are not in earnest now?"
"I do not joke!" he exclaimed, with a hoarse vehemence.
"Oh, my dear Hardress, listen to me! Hear your poor Eily for one moment! Oh, my poor father! Forgive me, Hardress. I left my home and all for you. Oh, do not cast me off! I will do anything to please you. I will never open my lips again. Only say you do not mean all that."
He tore himself away, leaving Eily unconscious on the ground. On the summit of the Purple Mountain, which was all surrounded by mist, he met Danny Mann, and confided to him that his love of Eily had turned to hatred, asking his advice concerning what must be done.
"Sorrow trouble would I even give myself about her," said Danny, "only send her home packin' to her father!"
"Should I send Eily home to earn for myself the reputation of a faithless villain!" said Hardress.
"Why, then I'll tell you what I'd do," said Danny, nodding his head. "Pay her passage out to Quaybec, an' put her aboard of a three-master. Do by her as you'd do to dat glove you have on your hand. Make it come off as well as it comes on, an' if it fits too tight, take the knife to it. Only give me the word, an' I'll engage Eily O'Connor will never trouble you any more. Don't ax me any questions; only, if you are agreeable, take off that glove an' give it to me for a token. Lave the rest to Danny."
Hardress gazed upon the face of the hunchback with an expression of gaping terror, as if he stood in the presence of the Arch Tempter himself. Then he caught him by the throat, and shook him with appalling violence.
"If you ever dare again to utter a word or meditate a thought of evil against that unhappy creature," he cried, "I will tear you limb from limb between my hands!"
Hardress had left Eily almost unprovided with funds. After a few weeks she was obliged to write for pecuniary assistance. The letter was unheeded. She borrowed a pony, and went to ask advice from her father's brother, Father O'Connor, of Castle Island. The priest received her very coldly, but became deeply moved upon hearing that she was legally married. She begged him to inform her father that she hoped soon to ask his pardon for all the sorrow she had caused. He gave her all the money he had, and she returned to the cottage.
Danny Mann delivered Eily's letter, and sat drinking with his master in Mrs. Cregan's drawing-room. Anne Chute entered, and finding the man she loved in an intoxicated condition she withdrew in sorrow and disgust.
He asked the girl's forgiveness when soberness returned, and she told him that she was greatly distressed because of his changed manner. For a long time past there had been a distressing series of misconceptions on her part, and of inconsistencies on his. She could not explain how deeply troubled she felt.
The intoxication of passion overcame Hardress, and he told her that the key to everything was that he loved her. She forgave him, and he was about to send a reassuring line to his mother, when he found in his hands a portion of Eily's letter, in which she begged him to let her go back to her father. He turned white with fear, but Mrs. Cregan entered, and her strong will overbore his scruples. He declared himself ready to marry his beautiful cousin. Then he sought Danny Mann, and reminded him of his suggestion about hiring a passage for Eily in a North American vessel.
"You bade me draw my glove from off my hand, and give it for a warrant," he said, plucking off the glove slowly finger by finger. "My mind is altered. I married too young; I didn't know my own mind. I am burning with this thralldom. Here is my glove."
Danny took it, whilst they exchanged a look of cold and fatal intelligence. Hardress gave him a purse, and repeated that Eily must not stay in Ireland, that three thousand miles of roaring ocean were a security for silence. Not a hair of her head must be hurt, but he would never see her more. Then he wrote on the back of Eily's letter instructions for her to put herself under the bearer's care, and he would restore her to her father. She determined to obey at once, and without a murmur, and at nightfall left the cottage in Danny's company. Two hours afterwards Hardress himself arrived in a fit of compunction. On learning that they had departed, he swore to himself that if this his servant exceeded his views, he would tear his flesh from his bones, and gibbet him as a miscreant and a ruffian.
The night grew wild and stormy; a thunderstorm broke over the hill. Hardress slumbered in his chair, crying out, "My glove, my glove! You used it against my meaning! I meant but banishment. We shall be hanged for this!"
He awoke from a fearsome nightmare, and, unable to remain longer in the cottage, ran home with the speed of one distracted. There he rebuked his mother wildly, telling her that she had forced him into madness, and that he was free to execute her will—to marry or hang, whichever she pleased. His love of Anne now became entirely dormant, and he was able to estimate the greatness of his guilt without even the suggestion of a palliative. Anne returned to Castle Chute, and preparations were soon being made for the wedding. Hardress and his mother went to stay there, and Kyrle Daly heard for the first time that he had won the girl's love, instead of pleading his fellow-collegian's cause as he had promised. The anger he felt was diverted by a family tragedy—the death of his mother. At her wake Hardress appeared, and found himself face to face with old Mihil O'Connor, his father-in-law. The ropemaker, who had only a faint recollection of having met him before, told him of his heart-break because of Eily's disappearance, and misread his agitation for sympathy.
Some while afterwards the gentry of the neighbourhood hunted the fox, and the dogs found on the bank of the Shannon a body covered with a large blue mantle that was drenched with wet and mire. A pair of small feet in Spanish leather shoes appearing from below the end of the garment showed that the body was that of a female, whilst a mass of long, fair hair which escaped from the hood proved that death had found the victim untimely in her youth.
IV.—Exiled for Life
Hardress confided the mournful story to his mother, assuring her that he was Eily's murderer. After the first extreme agitation, the lady declared that he overrated the measure of his guilt. She reproached him for his lack of confidence, after all the love she had showered upon him. He clenched his hand, and she affected to fear that he intended to strike her. At her outcry of fear he sank to her feet, lowering his forehead to the very dust.
"There is one way left for reparation," he said. "I will give myself up. There is peace and comfort in the thought."
He was interrupted by the entrance of Anne. Mrs. Cregan accounted for her son's excitement by saying that he was ill. Later in the evening they heard that the coroner had not even found anyone to identify the body, and that the jury had returned a verdict of "Found Drowned." Some days afterwards Hardress went shooting to the creek, and, believing that he had killed a serving-man, fled panic-stricken back to the house. The fellow, however, was unhurt, but his cries attracted the attention of a stranger who had lain concealed under a bank. A party of soldiers appeared now and fired at this unknown man, and soon he staggered and was taken prisoner.
Mrs. Cregan came to Hardress's room with fearful tidings. Eily's dress had been recognised, and suspicion had fallen upon Danny Mann. Hardress told her that his former servant had left the country, but soon the soldiers arrived at the house with the hunchback in charge. Late that night Hardress left his bed, and entered the stable where Danny was confined. The hunchback advanced towards him slowly, his hands wreathed together, his jaw dropped, and his eyes filled with tears. He offered Hardress the glove.
"I had my token surely for what I done," he said. "'Here is your warrant,' you says. Worn't them your words?"
"But not for death," replied Hardress. "I did not say for death."
"I own you didn't," said Danny Mann. "I felt for you, an' I wouldn't wait for you to say it. Your eye looked murder; as sure as that moon is shinin', so sure the sign of death was on your face that time, whatever way your words went."
Hardress gave him money, and helped him to escape, bidding him leave the country. "If ever we should meet again on Irish soil," he said, "it must be the death of either."
The exertions for Danny Mann's recapture proved unavailing, and in a few weeks the affair had begun to grow unfamiliar to the tongues and recollections of the people. Hardress's depression reached an unbearable degree, and Anne at last grew seriously uneasy. He assured her that if she knew all she would pity and not blame. Then, one day when they were walking together they came upon some countryfolk dancing in the road, and amongst them Hardress recognised the hunchback. He caught him by the throat and flung him violently against the wall.
Danny Mann was taken into custody again, and, before the magistrate, told of Hardress's complicity in the crime. He declared that he had always loved his master, but that from the moment of the assault a change had come over his love.
"He had his revenge, an' I'll have mine," he said. "He doesn't feel for me, an' I won't feel for him. Write down Danny Mann for the murderer of Eily, an' write down Hardress Cregan for his adviser." He produced the certificate of Eily's marriage. "I took it out of her bosom after—" He shuddered with such violence that the door trembled. "She kep' her hand in her bosom upon that paper to the last gasp, as if she thought it was to rob her of that I wanted."
The magistrate, accompanied by a guard, rode to Castle Chute. It was the wedding evening, and the house was filled with gay company. As all sat at table together, Hardress heard a low voice whisper in his ear, "Arise, and fly for your life!" The wineglass fell from his hand, and he became filled with terror. Once again he heard the voice, "Arise, I tell you! The army is abroad, and your life is in danger!"
As he was preparing to escape, his mother entered his presence.
"The doors are all defended!" she cried. "There is a soldier set on every entrance! You are trapped and caught! The window—come this way, quick—quick!"
She drew him passively into her own bed-chamber; some minutes later the soldiers forced their way forward, and found him concealed in an inner place. His mother sank at his feet, and cried out that the crime was hers, since she had been the author of his first temptation, the stumbling-block between him and repentance.
"I have tied the cord upon your throat!" she shrieked. "I have been your fellest foe! You drank in pride with my milk, and passion under my indulgence!"
Hardress took the wretched woman in his arms and kissed her forehead.
"I will pray for you at the moment of my death, as you will pray for me," he said. Then he surrendered himself to the soldiers, and was taken away. At the trial the mercy of the executive power was extended to his life, and he was sentenced to perpetual exile. As the convict ship which was to bear him from home waited in the river, he was brought from his gaol and left for a short time on the quay, where he heard that Eily's father had died, after praying for and forgiving his enemies. The boat arrived to convey him to the ship, and whilst descending the steps he was overcome by a seizure, and would have fallen but for the aid of his escort. The dawn of the following morning beheld him tossed upon the waves of the Atlantic, and looking back to the clifted heads of the Shannon, that stood like a gigantic portal opening far behind. The land of his nativity faded rapidly on his sight, but before the vessel came in sight of that of his exile, he had rendered up the life which the law forbore to take.
Danny Mann died amid all the agonies of a remorse which made even those whose eyes had looked upon such cases shrink back with fear and wonder. Mrs. Cregan lived many years after Hardress's departure, practising the austere and humiliating works of piety which her Church prescribes for the penitent.
Anne Chute, in the course of time, became Kyrle Daly's wife, and they were as happy as earth could render hearts that looked to higher destinies and a more lasting rest.
* * * * *
John Habberton, the author of "Helen's Babies," was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 24, 1842. He enlisted in the army in 1862, and served through the Civil War, at the close of which he adopted journalism as a profession, becoming, in due course, literary editor of the "Christian Union." His first and most popular story, "Helen's Babies," after being declined by various publishers, appeared in 1876, and more than a quarter of a million copies have been sold in America alone. According to Mr. Habberton himself, the story "grew out of an attempt to keep for a single day the record of the doings of a brace of boys of whom the author is half-owner." Apart from a number of novels, Mr. Habberton has also written a "Life of George Washington," and a play, "Deacon Cranket," performed more than five hundred times.
The first cause of the existence of this book may be found in a letter, written by my sister, and received by me, Harry Burton, salesman of white goods, bachelor, aged twenty-eight, just as I was trying to decide where I should spend a fortnight's vacation. She suggested, as I was always complaining of never having time to read, I should stay at her place, while she and her husband went on a fortnight's visit. She owned she would feel easier if she knew there was a man in the house.
"Just the thing!" I ejaculated. Five minutes later I had telegraphed my acceptance, and had mentally selected books enough for a dozen vacations. I knew enough of Helen's boys to be sure they would give one no annoyance. Budge, the elder, was five years of age, and had generally, during my flying visits, worn a shy, serious, meditative, noble face, and Toddie was a happy little know-nothing of three summers, with tangled yellow hair.
Three days later I hired a hackman to drive me from Hillcrest Station. Half a mile from my brother-in-law's residence the horses shied violently, and the driver, after talking freely to them, remarked, "That was one of the Imps!"
As he spoke the offending youth came panting beside our carriage, and in a very dirty sailor-suit I recognised my nephew Budge. Then a smaller boy emerged from the bushes at the side of the road, and I beheld the unmistakable lineaments of Toddie.
"They're my nephews!" I gasped.
"Budge," I said, with all the sternness I could command; "do you know me?"
"Yes; you're Uncle Harry. Did you bring us anything?"
"I wish I could have brought you some big whippings for behaving so badly. Get into this carriage."
As they clambered up, I noticed that each one carried a very dirty towel, knotted tightly in the centre. After some moments' disgusted contemplation of these rags, I asked Budge what these towels were for.
"They're not towels, they're dollies," promptly answered my nephew.
"Goodness!" I exclaimed. "I should think your mother might buy you respectable dolls, and not let you appear in public with these loathsome rags."
"We don't like buyed dollies," said Budge. "These dollies is lovely. Mine's got blue eyes and Toddie's has got brown eyes."
"I want to shee your watch," remarked Toddie, snatching the chain and rolling into my lap.
"Oh-oo-ee! So do I!" shouted Budge, hastening to occupy one knee, and in transit wiping his shoes on my trousers and the skirts of my coat.
A carriage containing a couple of ladies was rapidly approaching; I dropped my head to avoid meeting their glance, for my few minutes of contact with my dreadful nephews had made me feel inexpressibly un-neat. The carriage stopped. I heard my own name spoken. There, erect, fresh, neat, bright-eyed, fair-faced, smiling, and observant, sat Miss Alice Mayton, a lady who for about a year I had been adoring from afar.
"When did you arrive, Mr. Burton?" she asked. "You're certainly a happy-looking trio—so unconventional! You look as if you had been having such a good time."
"I—I assure you, Miss Mayton, that my experience has been the reverse of a pleasant one. If King Herod were yet alive I'd volunteer as an executioner."
"You dreadful wretch!" exclaimed the lady. "Mother, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Burton, Helen Lawrence's brother. How is your sister, Mr. Burton?"
"I don't know," I replied; "she's gone with her husband on a visit, and I've been silly enough to promise to give an eye to the place while they're away."
"Why, how delightful!" said Miss Mayton. "Such horses! Such flowers! Such a cook!"
"And such children!" said I, glaring at the Imps, and rescuing my handkerchief from Toddie.
"Why, they're the best children in the world! Helen told me so. Children will be children, you know. I don't wish to give any hints, but at Mrs. Clarkson's, where we're boarding, there's not a flower in the whole garden. I break the Tenth Commandment every time I pass Colonel Lawrence's. Good-bye."
"Of course you'll call," said Miss Mayton, as the carriage started; "it's dreadfully stupid here. No men, except on Sundays."
I bowed assent. In the contemplation of all the shy possibilities my short chat with Miss Mayton had suggested, I had quite forgotten my dusty clothing and the two little living causes thereof.
II.—The Fate of a Bouquet
Next morning at breakfast Toddie remarked, "Ocken Hawwy, darsh an awfoo funny chunt upstairs. I show it to you after brepspup."
"Toddie's a silly little boy," said Budge, "he always says brepspup for brekbux."
"Oh, what does he mean by chunt, Budge?"
"I guess he means trunk," replied my elder nephew.
Recollections of my childish delight in rummaging an old trunk caused me to smile sympathetically at Toddie, to his great delight.
A direful thought struck me. I dashed upstairs. Yes, he did mean my trunk. While a campaigner, I had learned to reduce packing to an exact science. Now, if I had an atom of pride in me, I might have glorified myself, for it certainly seemed as if the heap upon the floor could never have come out of one single trunk.
In the lid of my dressing-case lay my dress-coat, tightly rolled up. Snatching it up, with a violent exclamation, there dropped from it—one of these infernal dolls. A howl resounded from the doorway.
"You tookted my dolly out of her k'adle—want to wock my dolly oo-ee- ee!"
I called the girl, and asked where the key was that locked the door between my room and the children's.
"Please sir, Toddie threw it down the well."
I removed the lock and told the coachman to get ready at once to drive to Paterson, where the nearest locksmith lived, by the hill road, one of the most beautiful roads in America.
Away went the horses, and up rose a piercing shriek and a terrible roar. I looked out hastily, only to see Budge and Toddie running after the carriage and crying pitifully. The driver stopped of his own accord—he seemed to know the children's ways and their results—and I helped them in, meekly hoping the eye of Providence was upon me.
That afternoon I devoted myself to making a bouquet for Miss Mayton, and a most delightful occupation I found it.
Not that I was in love with Miss Mayton. A man may honestly and strongly admire a handsome, brilliant woman, and delight himself in trying to give her pleasure without feeling it necessary she shall give him herself in return.
My delight suddenly became clouded. What would folks say? Everybody knew where Mike was employed—everybody knew I was the only gentleman at present residing at Colonel Lawrence's. Ah, I had it.
I had seen in one of the library drawers a pasteboard box—just the size. I dropped my card into the bottom, neatly fitted in the bouquet, and went in search of Mike.
He winked cheeringly, and said he would do it "as clane as a whistle. Divil a man can see, but the angels, and they won't tell."
"Very well, Mike. Here's a dollar for you. You'll find the box on the hat-rack in the hall."
With a head full of pleasing fancies I went down to supper, and found my new friends unusually good. Their ride seemed to have toned down their boisterousness, and elevated their little souls. So when they invited me to put them to bed I gladly accepted. Toddie disappeared somewhere, and came back disconsolate.
"Can't find my doll's k'adle!" he whined.
"Never mind, old pet!" said I, soothingly, "uncle will ride you on his foot."
"But I want my dolly's k'adle, tawse my dolly's in it, and I want to shee her!"
"Don't you want me to tell you a story?"
For a moment Toddle's face indicated a terrible internal conflict between old Adam and Mother Eve; finally curiosity overpowered natural depravity, and Toddie muttered, "Yesh!"
Very soon a knock at the door interrupted me. "Come in!" I shouted.
In stepped Mike, with an air of the greatest secrecy, handed me a letter and the box. What could it mean? I hastily opened the envelope, while Toddie shrieked, "Oh, darsh my dolly's k'adle—dare tizh!" snatched and opened the box, and displayed—his doll!
My heart sickened as I read, "Miss Mayton herewith returns to Mr. Burton the package which has just arrived, with his card. She recognises the contents as a portion of the property of one of Mr. Burton's nephews, but is unable to understand why it should have been sent to her."
"Toddie!" I roared, as my younger nephew caressed his loathsome doll, "where did you get that box?"
"On the hat-wack," he replied, with perfect fearlessness. "I keeps it in ze bookcase djawer, and somebody took it 'way an' put nasty ole flowers in it."
"Where are those flowers?" I demanded.
Toddie looked up with considerable surprise, but promptly replied, "I froed 'em away—don't want no ole flowers in my dolly's k'adle. That's ze way she wocks—see?" And this horrible little destroyer of human hopes rolled that box back and forth with the most utter unconcern.
Of language to express my feeling to Toddie, I could find absolutely none. Within these few minutes I had discovered how very anxious I really was to merit Miss Mayton's regard, and how very different was the regard I wanted from that which I had previously hoped might be accorded to me. Under my stern glance Toddie gradually lost interest in his doll, and began to thrust forth his piteous lower lip, and to weep copiously.
"Dee Lord, not make me sho bad." He even retired to a corner and hid his face in self-imposed penance.
"Never mind, Toddie," said I sadly; "you didn't mean to do it, I know."
"I wantsh to love you," sobbed Toddie.
"Well, come here, you poor little fellow."
Toddie came to my arms, shed tears freely upon my shirt-front, and finally remarked, "Wantsh you to love me!"
I kissed Toddie, and petted him, and at length succeeded in quieting him. He looked earnestly, confidingly, in my eyes, and then said, "Kish my dolly, too!"
I obeyed. My forgiveness was complete, and so was my humiliation. I withdrew abruptly to write an apology.
III.—Budge, the Interpreter
On Monday morning I devoted myself to Toddie's expiatory bouquet, in which I had the benefit of my nephews' assistance and counsel, and took enforced part in the conversation.
At two o'clock I instructed Maggie to dress my nephews, and at three we started to make our call. As we approached, I saw Miss Mayton on the piazza. Handing the bouquet to Toddie, we entered the garden, when he shrieked, "Oh, there's a cutter-grass!" and with the carelessness born of perfect ecstasy, dropped the bouquet.
I snatched it before it reached the ground, dragged him up to Miss Mayton, and told him to give the bouquet to the lady. As she stooped to kiss him, he wriggled off like a little eel, shouted "Tum on!" to his brother, and a moment later both were following the lawn-mower at a respectful distance.
"Bless the little darlings!" said Miss Mayton. "I do love to see children enjoying themselves!"
We settled down to a pleasant chat about books, pictures, music, and the gossip of our set. Handsome, intelligent, composed, tastefully dressed, she awakened to the uttermost every admiring sentiment and every manly feeling. When I began to take leave, Miss Mayton's mother insisted that we should stay to dinner.
"For myself, I should be delighted, Mrs. Mayton," said I, "but my nephews have hardly learned company manners yet."
"Oh, I'll take care of the little dears," said Miss Mayton. "They'll be good with me, I know."
She insisted, and the pleasure of submitting to her will was so great that I would have risked even greater mischief. The soup was served, and Toddie immediately tilted his plate so that part of its contents sought refuge in the folds of Miss Mayton's dainty, snowy dress. She treated that wretched boy with the most Christian forbearance during the rest of the meal.
When the dessert was finished, she quickly excused herself, and I removed Toddie to a secluded corner, and favoured him with a lecture which caused him to howl pitifully, and compelled me to caress him and undo all the good I had done.
I awaited Miss Mayton's reappearance to offer an apology for Toddie, and to make my adieus. The other ladies departed in twos and threes, and left us without witnesses.
Suddenly she appeared, and, whatever was the cause, she looked queenly. She dropped into a chair, and the boys retired to the end of the piazza to make experiments on a large Newfoundland dog, while I, the happiest man alive, talked to the glorious woman before me, and enjoyed her radiant beauty. The twilight came and deepened, and our voices unconsciously dropped to lower tones, and her voice seemed purest music.
Suddenly a small shadow came between, and the voice of Budge remarked, "Uncle Harry 'spects you, Miss Mayton."
"Suspects me! Of what, pray?" exclaimed the lady, patting my nephew's cheek.
"Budge," said I—I felt my voice rising nearly to a scream—"Budge, I must beg you to respect the sanctity of confidential communications."
"What is it, Budge?" persisted Miss Mayton. "You know the old adage, Mr. Burton, 'Children and fools speak the truth.' Of what does he suspect me, Budge?"
"'Tain't suspect at all," said Budge; "it's espect."
"Expect?" echoed Miss Mayton.
"Respect is what the boy is trying to say, Miss Mayton," I interrupted. "Budge has a terrifying faculty for asking questions, and the result of some of them this morning was my endeavour to explain the nature of the respect in which gentlemen hold ladies."
"Yes," said Budge; "I know all about it. Only Uncle Harry don't say it right. What he calls respect I calls love."
"Miss Mayton," I said hastily, earnestly, "Budge is a marplot, but he is a very truthful interpreter, for all that. Whatever my fate may be, do not——"
"I want to talk some," observed Budge. "You talk all the whole time. I—when I loves anybody I kisses them." Miss Mayton gave a little start, and my thoughts followed each other with unimagined rapidity. She was not angry, evidently. Could it be that——? I bent over her, and acted on Budge's suggestion. She raised her head slightly, and I saw that Alice Mayton had surrendered at discretion. Taking her hand, I offered to the Lord more fervent thanks than He had ever heard from me in church. Then Budge said, "I wants to kiss you, too." And I saw my glorious Alice snatch the little scamp into her arms and treat him with more affection than I had ever imagined was in her nature.
Suddenly two or three ladies came upon the piazza.
"Come, boys!" said I. "Then I'll call with the carriage to-morrow at three, Miss Mayton. Good-evening."
That night I wrote to my sister to inform her that the scales had fallen from my eyes—I saw clearly that my nephews were angels. And I begged to refer her to Alice Mayton for collateral evidence.
IV.—The Fruit of My Visit
A few days later I had a letter from my sister to say she had been recalling a fortnight's experience they once had of courtship in a boarding-house, so had determined to cut short her visit and hurry home. Friday morning they intended to arrive—blessings on their thoughtful hearts! And this was Friday. I hurried into the boys' room and shouted, "Toddie! Budge! Who do you think is coming to see you this morning?"
"Who?" asked Budge.
"Organ-grinder?" queried Toddie.
"No; your papa and mamma."
Budge looked like an angel at once, but Toddie murmured mournfully, "I fought it wash an organ-grinder."
"Oh, Uncle Harry," said Budge, in a perfect delirium of delight, "I believe if my papa and mamma had stayed away any longer I believe I would die. I've been so lonesome for them that I haven't known what to do. I've cried whole pillowsful about it, right here in the dark."
"Why, my poor old fellow," said I, picking him up and kissing him. "Why didn't you come and tell Uncle Harry, and let him try to comfort you?"
"I couldn't," said Budge. "When I gets lonesome, it feels as if my mouth was all tied up, and a big, great stone was right in here." And Budge put his hand on his chest.
"If a big tone wash inshide of me," said Toddie, "I'd take it out and frow it at the shickens."
"Toddie," I said, "aren't you glad papa and mamma are coming?"
"Yesh," said Toddie. "Mamma always bwings me candy fen she goes anyfere."
During the hour which passed before it was time to start for the depot, my sole attention was devoted to keeping the children from soiling their clothes, but my success was so little, I lost my temper utterly.
"Harness the horse, Mike," I shouted.
"An' the goat, too," added Budge.
Five minutes later I was seated in the carriage.
"Are you all ready, boys?" I asked.
"In a minute," said Budge; "soon as I fix this. Now," he continued, getting into his seat and seizing the reins and whip, "go ahead!"
"Wait a minute, Budge. Put down that whip, and don't touch the goat with it once. I'm going to drive very slowly; all you need do is to hold the reins."
"All right," said Budge; "but I like to look like mans when I drive."
The horses went at a gentle trot, and the goat followed very closely. When within a minute of the depot the train swept in. I gave the horses the whip, looked, and saw the boys close behind me. Nothing but the sharpest of turns saved me from a severe accident. As it was, I heard two hard thumps upon the wooden wall, and two frightful howls, and saw both my nephews mixed up on the platform, while the driver of the stage growled in my ear, "What in thunder did you let 'em hitch that goat to your axletree for?"
How the goat's head and shoulders maintained their normal connection during the last minute of my drive, I leave naturalists to explain. Fortunately, the children had struck on their heads, and the Lawrence- Burton skull is a marvel of solidity. I set them on their feet, promised them all the candy they could eat for a week, and hurried them to the other side of the depot. Budge rushed at Tom, exclaiming, "See my goat, papa?"
Helen was somewhat concerned about the children, but found time to look at me with so much of sympathy, humour, affection, and condescension that I really felt relieved when we reached the house. And how gloriously the rest of the day passed off! We had a delightful little lunch, and Tom brought up a bottle of Roederer, and we drank to "her and her mother." Then Helen proposed, "The makers of the match—Budge and Toddie," which was honoured with bumpers. The gentlemen toasted did not respond, but stared so curiously I sprang from my chair and kissed them soundly, while Helen and Tom exchanged significant glances.
Young as they are, I find frequent reason to be jealous of them, but artifice alone can prevent them monopolising the time of an adorable being of whose society I cannot possibly have too much. She insists that, when the ceremony takes place in December, they shall officiate as groomsmen, and I have no doubt she will carry her point In fact, when I retire for the night without first seeking their room, and putting a grateful kiss on their unconscious lips, my conscience upbraids me with base ingratitude. To think I might yet be a hopeless bachelor had it not been for them, is to overflow with gratitude to the Giver of Helen's Babies.
* * * * *
The Abbe Constantin
Ludovic Halevy, born in Paris on January 1, 1834, was a nephew of Jacques Francois Halevy, the famous operatic composer. Beginning life in the Civil Service, he himself achieved considerable distinction as a dramatic author, "Frou-Frou," written in collaboration with Meilhac, being one of the greatest theatrical successes of his century. He soon, however, forsook the drama for fiction. His first novel, "Monsieur and Madame Cardinal," published in 1873, gave ample promise of the inventive genius and gift of characterisation that were fully realised nine years later in "L'Abbe Constantin." The tale, an exquisite study of French provincial life, came as a distinct revelation of French life and character to English readers. It has reached 240 editions, and has been translated into all European languages. In 1886 Halevy was elected to the French Academy. He died on May 8, 1908.
I.—"The Good Days Are Gone"
With footstep firm and strong, despite his weight of years, an old priest was walking along a dusty country road one sunny day in May 1881. It was more than thirty years since the Abbe Constantin had first become cure of the little village sleeping there in the sunny plain of France, beside a dainty stream called the Lizotte. He had been walking for a quarter of an hour along the wall of the Chateau de Longueval. As he reached the massive entrance gates he stopped and gazed sadly at two immense bills pasted on the pillars. They announced the sale by auction that day of the Longueval estate, divided into four lots: (1) The castle, with all its grounds and parks; (2) the farm of Blanche-Couronne, 700 acres; (3) the farm of Rozeraie, 500 acres; (4) the forest and woods of Mionne, 900 acres. The reserve prices totalled the respectable sum of 2,050,000 francs!
So that magnificent estate, which for two centuries had passed intact from father to son in the Longueval family, was to be divided. The bills announced, it was true, that after the preliminary sale of the four lots the highest bidder might bid for the whole estate. But it was an enormous sum, and no purchaser was likely to present himself.
The Marquise de Longueval, dying six months since, had left three heirs, her grandchildren, two of whom were under age, so that the estate had to be put up for sale. Pierre, the eldest, an extravagant young man of twenty-three, had foolishly squandered half his money, and was quite unable to re-purchase Longueval.
It was twelve o'clock. In an hour the chateau would have a new master. Who would he be? Who could take the place of the marquise, the old friend of the country cure, and the kindly friend of all the villagers. The old priest walked on, thinking sadly of the habits of thirty years suddenly interrupted. Every Thursday and every Sunday he had dined at the chateau. How much had they made of him! Cure of Longueval! All his life he had been that, had dreamed of nothing else. He loved his little church, the little village, and his little vicarage.
Still in pensive mood, he was passing the park of Lavardens when he heard some one calling him. Looking up, he saw the Countess of Lavardens and her son Paul. She was a widow; her son a handsome young man, who had made a bad start in the world and now contented himself by spending some months in Paris every year, when he dissipated the annual allowance from his mother, and returned home for the rest of the year to loaf about in idleness or in pursuit of stupid sports.
"Where are you off to, Monsieur le Cure?" asked the countess.
"To Souvigny, to learn the result of the sale."
"Stay here with us. M. de Larnac is there, and will hasten back with the news. But I can tell you who are the new owners of the castle."
At this the abbe turned into the gates of the countess's grounds, and joined that lady and her son on the terrace of their house. The new owners, it appeared, were to be M. de Larnac, M. Gallard, a rich Paris banker, and the countess herself, for the three had agreed to purchase it between them.
"It is all settled," the lady assured him. But presently M. de Larnac arrived with the news that they had been unable to buy it, as some American had paid an enormous sum for the entire estate. The person who was now to be the great lady of Longueval was named Madame Scott.
M. de Larnac had some further particulars to add. He had heard that the Scotts were great upstarts, and that the new owner of the castle had actually been a beggar in New York. A great lawsuit had resulted in favour of her and her husband, making them the owners of a silver-mine.
"And we are to have such people for neighbours!" exclaimed the countess. "An adventuress, and no doubt a Protestant, Monsieur le Cure!"
The abbe was very sore at heart, and, never doubting but that the new mistress of the castle would be no friend of his, he took his way homeward. In his imagination he saw this Madame Scott settled at the castle and despising his little Catholic church and all his simple services to the quiet village folk.
He was still brooding over the unhappy fate of Longueval when his godson, Jean Reynaud—son of his old friend Dr. Reynaud—to whom he had been as good as a father, and who was worthy of the old priest's love, dismounted at his door. For Jean was now a lieutenant in the artillery stationed in the district, and much of his leisure was spent at the abbe's house. Jean tried to console him by saying that even though this American, Madame Scott, were not a Catholic, she was known to be generous, and would no doubt give him money for the poor.
II.—The New Parishioners
The abbe and his godson were in the garden next day, when they heard a carriage stop at the gate. Two ladies alighted, dressed in simple travelling costumes. They came into the garden, and the elder of the two, who seemed to be no more than twenty-five, came up to the Abbe Constantin saying, with only the slightest foreign accent, "I am obliged to introduce myself, M. le Cure. I am Madame Scott, in whose name yesterday the castle and estate were bought, and if it is no inconvenience I should be glad to take five minutes of your time." Then, turning to her companion, she said, "This is my sister, Miss Bettina Percival, as you may have guessed."
Greatly agitated, the abbe bowed his respects, and led into his little vicarage the new mistress of Longueval and her sister. The cloth had been laid for the simple meal of the old priest and the lieutenant, and the ladies seemed charmed with the humble comfort of the place.
"Look now, Susie," said Miss Bettina, "isn't this just the sort of vicarage you hoped it would be?"
"And the abbe also, if he will allow me to say so," said Madame Scott. "For what did I say in the train this morning, Bettina, and only a little while ago in the carriage?"
"My sister said to me, M. le Cure," said Miss Percival, "that she desired, above all things, that the abbe should not be young, nor melancholy, nor severe, but that he should be white-haired and gentle and good."
"And that is you exactly, M. le Cure," said Madame Scott brightly. "I find you just as I had hoped, and I trust you may be as well pleased with your new parishioners."
"Parishioners!" exclaimed the abbe. "But then you are Catholics?"
"Certainly we are Catholics!" And noting the surprise of the old abbe, she went on to say, "Ah, I understand! Our name and our country made you expect we should be Protestants and unfriendly to you and your people. But our mother was a Canadian and a Catholic, of French origin, and that is why my sister and I speak French with just a little foreign accent. My husband is a Protestant, but he leaves me full liberty, and so my two children are being educated in my own faith. And that is why we have come to see you the first day we have arrived."
The good old priest was overwhelmed by the news, but his joy almost brought tears to his eyes when the ladies each presented him with a thousand francs, and promised five hundred francs a month for the poor. He had never handled so much money in all his life before.
"Why, there will be no poor left in all the district!" he stammered.
"And we should be glad if that were so," said Madame Scott, "for we have plenty, and we could not do better with it."
Then followed the happiest little dinner party that had ever taken place beneath the abbe's roof. Madame Scott explained how her husband had bought the chateau as a surprise for her, and that neither she nor her sister had seen it until that morning.
"Now, tell me," she suggested, "what they said about the new owner." The old priest blushed, and was at a loss to answer. "Well, you are a soldier," she continued, turning to Lieutenant Reynaud, "and you will tell me. Did they say that I had been a beggar?"
"Yes, I heard that said."
"And that I had been a performer in a travelling circus?"
"That also I heard said," he admitted.
"I thank you for your frankness; and now let me tell you that, while I can see nothing in either case that would be any disgrace to me, the story does not happen to be true. I have known what it is to be poor, for my parents died eight years ago, leaving us only a great lawsuit, but my father's last wish was that we should fight it to the end. With the aid of the son of one of his old friends, now my husband, we fought and won. That is how I came into my fortune. The stories you have heard were invented by spiteful Paris journalists."
After the ladies had taken their departure for Paris, the Abbe Constantin was as happy as he had so lately been miserable. And as for Lieutenant Reynaud, the vision of their fresh and charming faces was with him all through the military manoeuvres in which he was now engaged. But as both of them were equally charming in his mind, he concluded he could not have fallen in love, or he would have known which he admired the more.
He did not know how many were the suitors in Paris for Miss Bettina, and possibly if he had seen the sisters among the fashionable people of that gay city he would never have given them a second thought, for he was a true son of the country, this healthy and manly young officer, whose tastes were as simple as the surroundings in which he had grown up demanded.
Miss Bettina, indeed, had only to say the word, and she might have been the Princess Romanelli. "And I should like to be a princess, for the name sounds well," she said to herself. "Oh, if I only loved him!" There were many men of rank and title who would have been glad to have married the wealthy young American lady, but she found herself in love with none of them, and now she was looking forward to the fourteenth of June, when she and her sister were to leave Paris for Longueval. During their stay at the castle they were to entertain many friends, but for ten days they were to be free to roam the woods and fields, and forget the distractions of their fashionable life in the capital.
"But you forget," said Madame Scott, on their way to Longueval, "that we are to have two people to dinner to-night."
"Ah, but I shall be glad to welcome both of them—particularly the young lieutenant," Bettina confessed, with a touch of shyness.
Great alterations had been made at the castle during the month that had elapsed. The rooms had been refurnished, the stables and coach-houses were stocked, the pleasure-grounds made trim and beautiful, and servants were busy everywhere. When the abbe and Jean arrived, they were ushered in by two tall and dignified footmen, but Madame Scott received them with all the frankness she had shown at the vicarage, and presented her son Harry and her daughter Bella, who were six and five years old. Then Miss Percival joined them, and presently they were all talking together like old friends. But the happiest of all was Abbe Constantin. He felt at home again—too much at home—and when coffee was served on the terrace in front of the chateau after dinner, he lost himself in an agreeable reverie. Then—terrible catastrophe!—he fell into his old habit, and sank into an after dinner doze, as he had so often done in the days of the marquise.
Jean and Bettina found much to say to each other, and as the ladies were looking forward to riding round the estates, Jean, who rode every day for exercise, promised to join them. It was quite clear that Miss Bettina was glad to see them both—"particularly the young lieutenant!" And when Madame Scott and her sister walked up the avenue, after having accompanied Jean and the abbe to the gate, Bettina confessed that she expected to be scolded for being so friendly with Jean.
"But I shall not scold you," Madame Scott said, "for he has made a favourable impression on me from the first. He inspires me with confidence."
"That is just how I feel towards him," said Bettina quietly.
As for Jean, he talked so much to Paul about his visit that that gay young man accused him of having fallen in love, but, of course, that was mere nonsense! There was no fear of Jean falling in love! For a poor lieutenant could never dream of winning an heiress for his wife. When next he met Bettina they had a very long talk about their people, and it appeared that they were both descendants of French peasants. That was why Jean loved the country folk around Longueval. And when he had served his time in the army, he thought he would retire on half-pay—an old colonel, perhaps—and come back to live there.
"Always quite alone?" asked Bettina.
"Why, I hope not."
"Oh, then you intend to marry!"
"Well, one may think of that, though one need not always be seeking to marry."
"Yet there are some who look for it, I know, and I have heard that you might have married more than one girl with a handsome fortune if you had wished."
"And how do you know that?" asked Jean.
"Monsieur le Cure told me. I soon found that nothing makes your godfather happier than to talk of you, and in our morning walks he tells me your history. Tell me why you refused these good marriages."
"Simply because I thought it better not to marry at all than to marry without love," was Jean's frank avowal.
"I think so, too," said Bettina.
She looked at him. He looked at her, and suddenly, to the great surprise of both, they found nothing more to say. Fortunately, at this moment Harry and Bella burst into the room with an invitation to see their ponies.
Three weeks, during which Longueval has been crowded with visitors, have passed, and the time has come for Jean to take the road for the annual artillery practice. He will be away for twenty days, and, while he wishes to be off, he wonders how those twenty days will pass without a sight of Bettina, for now he frankly adores her. He is happy and he is miserable. He knows by every action and every word that she loves him as truly as he loves her. But he feels it his duty to fight against his own heart's wish, lest the penniless lieutenant might be thought to covet the riches of the young heiress.
But he could not drag himself away without one last meeting. Yet when he saw how anxious Bettina was to please him and make him happy with her friendship, he was afraid to hold her in his arms lest he might be tempted to tell her how full his heart was with love for her. She excused herself to Paul de Lavardens so that she might give his dance to Jean, but Jean declined the favour on the plea that he was not feeling well, and, to save himself, he hastened off without even shaking her hand.
But all this only told his secret the more clearly to the heart that loved him.
"I love him, dear Susie," said Bettina that night, "and I know that he loves me for myself; not for the money I possess."
"You are sure, my dear?"
"Yes; for he will not speak; he tries to avoid me. My horrid money, which attracts others to me, is the thing that keeps him from declaring his love."
"Be very sure, my dear, for you know you might have been a marchioness or a princess if you had wished. You are sure you will not mind being plain Madame Reynaud?"
"Absolutely; for I love him!"
"Now let me make a proposal," Bettina went on. "Jean is going away to-morrow; I shall not see him for three weeks, and that will be time to know my own mind. In three weeks may I go and ask him myself if he will have me for his wife? Tell me, Susie, may I?"
Of course her sister could but consent, and Bettina was happy.
Next morning she had a wild desire to wave Jean a good-bye. In the pouring rain she made her way through the woods to the terrace by the road, her dress torn by the thorns, and her umbrella lost, to wave to him as he passed, saying to herself that this would show him how dear he was in her thoughts.
Mr. Scott had come from Paris before Jean was back, and he, too, approved of Bettina's plan, for they wished her to marry only one she truly loved. But when the lieutenant came back with his regiment, he had made up his mind to avoid meeting Bettina, and had even decided to exchange into another regiment. He refused an invitation to the chateau, but the good abbe begged of him not to leave the district.
"Wait a little, until the good God calls me. Do not go now."
Jean urged that honour made it clear to him he should go away. The abbe told him that he was quite sure Bettina's heart was all for him as truly as he believed Jean's love was all for her. Her money, Jean confessed, was the great drawback, as it might make others think lightly of his love for her. Besides, he was a soldier, and he could not condemn her to the life of a soldier's wife.
The abbe was still trying to convince his godson, when there came a knock at the door, and the old man, opening the door, admitted—Bettina!
She went straight to Jean and took him by both hands, saying, "I must go to him first, for less than three weeks ago he was suffering!" The young lieutenant stood speechless. "And now to you, M. le Cure, let me confess. But do not go away, Jean, for it is a public confession. What I have to say I would have said to-night at the chateau, but Jean has declined our invitation, and So I come here to say it to M. le Cure."
"I am listening, mademoiselle," stammered the cure.
"I am rich, M. le Cure, and, to speak the truth, I like my money very much. I like it selfishly, so to say, for the joy and pleasure I have in giving. I have always said to myself, 'My husband must be worthy of sharing this fortune,' and I have also said, 'I want to love the man who will be my husband!' And now I am coming to my confession.... Here is a man who for two months has done all he could to hide from me that he loves me.... Jean, do you love me?"
"Yes," murmured Jean, his eyes cast down like a criminal, "I love you."
"I knew it." Bettina lost a little of her assurance; her voice trembled slightly. She continued, however, with an effort. "M. le Cure, I do not blame you entirely for what has happened, but certainly it is partly your fault."
"Yes, your fault. I am certain you have spoken to Jean too much of me, much too much. And then you have told me too much of him. No, not too much, but quite enough! I had so much confidence in you that I began to consider him a little more closely. I began to compare him with those who, for more than a year, have sought my hand. It seemed to me that he was their superior in every way. Then, there came a day... an evening... three weeks ago, the eve of your departure, Jean, and I found I loved you. Yes, Jean, I love you!... I beg you, Jean, be still; do not come near me.... I have still something to say, more important than all. I know that you love me, but if you are to marry me I want your reason to sanction it. Jean, I know you, and I know to what I should bind myself in becoming your wife. I know what duties, what sacrifices, you have to meet in your calling. Jean, do not doubt it, I would not turn you from any one of these duties, these sacrifices. Never! Never would I ask you to give up your career.
"And now, M. le Cure, it is not to him but to you that I speak. Tell me, should he not agree to be my husband?"
"Jean," said the old priest gravely, "marry her. It is your duty, and it will be your happiness."
Jean took Bettina in his arms, but she gently freed herself, and said to the abbe, "I wish—I wish your blessing." And the old priest replied by kissing her paternally.
One month later the abbe had the happiness of performing the marriage ceremony in his little church, where he had consecrated all the happiness and goodness of his life.
* * * * *
The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist and essayist, was born on July 4, 1804, at Salem, Massachusetts. His father, a master mariner, died early, and the boy grew up in a lonely country life with his mother. He graduated at Bowdoin College, but his literary impulse had already declared itself, and he retired to Salem to write, unsuccessfully for many years. Later he held subordinate official positions in the custom-house at Salem, and lived for a few months in the Brook Farm socialistic community. Severing his connection with the Civil Service in 1841, it was Nathaniel Hawthorne's intention to devote himself entirely to literature. In this he was unsuccessful, and in a short while was forced to accept a position in the custom-house again, this time as surveyor in his native town of Salem. It was during this period he wrote "The Scarlet Letter," published in 1850, which immediately brought him fame, and still remains the most popular of his novels. Hawthorne himself has described how the story came to be written. The discovery of an old manuscript by a former surveyor, and a rag of scarlet cloth, which, on careful examination, assumed the shape of a letter—the capital A—gave a reasonably complete explanation of the whole affair of "one Hester Prynne, who appeared to have been rather a noteworthy personage in the view of our ancestors." Nathaniel Hawthorne died on May 18, 1864.
I.—The Pedestal of Shame
The grass-plot before the jail in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door.
The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, the grim presence of the town-beadle, and following him a young woman who bore in her arms a baby of some three months old.
The young woman was tall, and those who had known Hester Prynne before were astonished to perceive how her beauty shone out. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A, and it was that scarlet letter which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer.
A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. It was no great distance from the prison door to the market-place, and in spite of the agony of her heart, Hester passed with almost a serene deportment to the scaffold where the pillory was set up.
The crowd was sombre and grave, and the unhappy prisoner sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes.
One man, small in stature, and of a remarkable intelligence in his features, who stood on the outskirts of the crowd, attracted the notice of Hester Prynne, and he in his turn bent his eyes on the prisoner till, seeing she appeared to recognise him, he slowly raised his finger and laid it on his lips.
Then, touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood next to him, he said, "I pray you, good sir, who is this woman, and wherefore is she here set up to public shame?"
"You must needs be a stranger, friend," said the townsman, "else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne, and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal in godly Master Dimmesdale's church. The penalty thereof is death. But the magistracy, in their great mercy and tenderness of heart, have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory, and for the remainder of her natural life to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom."
"A wise sentence!" remarked the stranger gravely. "It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not at least stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known—he will be known!"
Directly over the platform on which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balcony, and here sat Governor Bellingham, with four sergeants about his chair, and ministers of religion.
Mr. John Wilson, the eldest of these clergymen, first spake, and then urged a younger minister, Mr. Dimmesdale, to exhort the prisoner to repentance and to confession. "Speak to the woman, my brother," said Mr. Wilson.
The Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale was a man of high native gifts, whose eloquence and religious fervour had already wide eminence in his profession. He bent his head, in silent prayer, as it seemed, and then came forward.
"Hester Prynne," said he, "if thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer. Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him, for, believe me, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life."
Hester only shook her head.
"She will not speak," murmured Mr. Dimmesdale. "Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart!"
Hester Prynne kept her place upon the pedestal of shame with an air of weary indifference. With the same hard demeanour she was led back to prison.
That night the child at her boson writhed in convulsions of pain, and the jailer brought in a physician, whom he announced as Mr. Roger Chillingworth, and who was none other than the stranger whom Hester had noticed in the crowd.
He took the infant in his arms and administered a draught, and its moans and convulsive tossings gradually ceased.
"Hester," said he, when the jailer had withdrawn, "I ask not wherefore thou hast fallen into the pit. It was my folly and thy weakness. What had I—a man of thought, the bookworm of great libraries—to do with youth and beauty like thine own? I might have known that in my long absence this would happen."
"I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester.
"We have wronged each other," he answered. "But I shall seek this man whose name thou wilt not reveal, as I seek truth in books, and sooner or later he must needs be mine. I shall contrive naught against his life. Let him live! Not the less shall he be mine. One thing, thou that wast my wife, I ask. Thou hast kept his name secret. Keep, likewise, mine. Let thy husband be to the world as one already dead, and breathe not the secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of?"
"I will keep thy secret, as I have his."
II.—A Pearl of Great Price
When her prison-door was thrown open, and she came forth into the sunshine, Hester Prynne did not flee.
On the outskirts of the town was a small thatched cottage, and there, in this lonesome dwelling, Hester established herself with her infant child. Without a friend on earth who dared to show himself, she, however, incurred no risk of want. She possessed an art that sufficed to supply food for her thriving infant and herself—the art of needlework.
By degrees her handiwork became what would now be termed the fashion. She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her skill, and her needlework was seen on the ruff of the governor; military men wore it on their scarfs, and the minister on his bands.
As time went on, the public attitude to Hester changed. Human nature, to its credit, loves more readily than it hates. Hester never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage, and so a species of general regard had ultimately grown up in reference to her.
Hester had named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price, and little Pearl grew up a wondrously lovely child, with a strange, lawless character. At times she seemed rather an airy sprite than human, and never did she seek to make acquaintance with other children, but was always Hester's companion in her walks about the town.