[Frontispiece: THE CLERGYMAN'S VISIT TO TOR BAY.]
A CHILD OF THE GLENS;
PUBLISHED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF GENERAL LITERATURE AND EDUCATION, APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE
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The clergyman's visit to Tor Bay . . . . . . Frontispiece
A strange waif of the sea
Jim building castles-in-the-air.
A CHILD OF THE GLENS;
Doubtless some of our readers are acquainted with the noble "coast road" that skirts round the north-eastern corner of Ireland, extending, it might almost be said, from Belfast to Londonderry. The characteristic features of this noble esplanade (for such it is) are chiefly to be seen between the little town of Larne, where the railway ends, and Cushendall. Throughout this drive of forty miles you are never out of sight or sound of the sea. The almost level road is seen far ahead of the traveller, like a white boundary line between cliff and wave. You wonder at first if the road was made merely to gladden the tourist, for it does not seem likely that there could be much traffic other than that of pleasure-seekers thus along the margin of the sea. The configuration of this part of the County Antrim, however, explains the position of the road, and justifies the engineer who was so happily enabled to combine the utilitarian with the romantic. A series of deep cut gorges, locally known as "The Glens," intersect the country, running at right angles to the coast-line and thus forming a succession of gigantic ridges, over which it would be impossible to drive a road. For this reason it has been found necessary to wind round the mouths of these romantic valleys, which are guarded and shut off from each other by a number of formidable and noble headlands, foremost among which ranks the beautiful Garron Point. Thus a succession of surprises await the tourist. Having fairly made your way between the foot of the towering cliff and the inflowing tide, with no prospect in front but huge and grotesque-shaped rocks, which look bent on opposing all further advance, you suddenly find that you have doubled the point. A blue bay opens before you, shut in at its farther side by the next promontory, at the base of which you can distinctly trace the white streak of dusty road, that sweeps round the bay in a graceful semicircle. To your left—or while you are speaking, almost directly ahead—is the wide opening of one of the "Glens"—sweet, retired abodes of peace, sheltered and happy as they look out forever on the sea. The barren and rocky highlands, terminated by the wild bluffs that so courageously plunge themselves into the waves, become gradually softened and verdure-clad as they slope downward, while the narrow valley itself is studded with trees and pretty homesteads.
The people of "The Glens" are peculiar, primitive, and distinct. In these shut-in retreats the ancient Irish and Roman Catholic element largely prevails. When, in consequence of frequent rebellions, the original inhabitants were well-nigh exterminated, and their places taken by Scotch and English settlers, the natives found a refuge in the wilder and more remote parts of the country. Thus, here and there in Ulster—generally known as "Protestant Ulster"—we come upon little nooks and nests where for two centuries the primitive Irish race has survived. Naturally, living in the presence of their more pushing and prosperous Presbyterian neighbours, these last representatives of a conquered nationality are for the most part of a retiring and suspicious disposition. In quiet country places there is seldom any manifestation of open hostility, and intermarriages and neighbourly feeling have done much to smooth away the edge of bitter memories, but at bottom there remains a radical difference of sentiment, as of creed, which constitutes an impassable, though for the most invisible, barrier.
Michael McAravey was a good specimen of the old Ulster Roman Catholic. He was a tall, powerful man, of nearly seventy at the time when our story opens, while he did not look sixty. His hair was long, iron-grey, and wiry, and it was only when uncovered that the high, bald, wrinkled forehead gave indication of his real age. A rebel at heart, the son of a man who had been "out" in '98, Michael had gone through life with a feeling that every man's hand was against him. Sober, self-reliant, and hard-working, the man was grasping and hard as flint. By tradition and instinct a bitter enemy to Protestantism, he was not on that account a friend of the priest, or a particularly faithful son of the Church. He had his own "notions" about things, and though a professed "Catholic," his neighbours used to speculate whether age or sickness would ever have power to bend that proud spirit, and bring Michael to confession and a humble reception of the "last rites" of the Church. Early in life McAravey had married a Presbyterian girl, and the almost inevitable estrangement that results from a "mixed marriage" had cast its shadow over the lives of the pair. The Kanes had belonged to the small and rigid body of "Covenanters," and never a Sabbath from childhood till her marriage had 'Lisbeth failed to walk the four rough, up-hill, dreary miles that separated her father's home from the meeting-house that rose alone, and stern as the Covenant itself, on the bleak moorland above Glenariff. But her last Sabbath-day's journey was taken the week before her wedding. Michael had gloomily announced that no wife of his should be seen going to a "meeting-house," and though he never sought to bring her to mass (perhaps in part because it might have involved going himself), his resolution never varied. Nor did his wife contend against it. The habit once broken, she felt no inclination to undertake those long and wearisome journeys. But a Covenanter she meant to live and die. Nothing would have tempted her into the Presbyterian chapel close by. And thus when there came two children to be baptized the difficulty as to religion was compromised, and a triumph allowed to neither side, by the babes being solemnly received into the compassionate and truly Catholic fold of what was then the Established Church. That both these little ones had been taken away by death was a misfortune, and tended to harden even more the somewhat disagreeable and rigid lines that marked the individuality of both Mr. and Mrs. McAravey.
Not that the home thus early laid desolate was altogether unblessed by young faces. For many years the McAraveys had had charge of two little children, who called them father and mother. But, as it was quite evident that no such relationship as this could exist, so it came to be generally understood that there was no tie of blood at all. What connection there might be, or who the children were, was a mystery none had ever solved, nor was it likely that any inquiries—if such had ever been ventured upon—had met with much encouragement on the part of "auld Mike" or his equally taciturn wife.
Though the Antrim glens had been the scene of such courtship as it is possible to conceive of between Michael McAravey and Elizabeth Kane, they had for many years ceased to be the place of their abode. Previous to the opening of our tale, McAravey had fallen into the tenant-right and goodwill of a farm held by an elder and unmarried brother, and hither he had accordingly moved with his wife, now past middle-age, and the two little ones that called her mother. To find the spot where the McAraveys now lived—a spot yet more retired and more lovely than any in the glens properly so called—we must once more return to the great "coast road." Having reached Cushendall, the scenery becomes more imposing, and the high background almost deserves the name of a mountain. Here, at length, the rugged and towering coast-line successfully defies further violation of its lonely majesty. Accordingly the baffled road bends abruptly to the left, and turning its back upon the sea proceeds to climb the long, dreary slope of a flat-topped, uninteresting mountain, and then, having reached the highest point (which is scarcely to be discerned), descends, till once more the sea is come upon at the secluded little country town of Ballycastle. The extreme northeast point of Ireland is thus cut off, and thus the ordinary tourist is cut off too, from one of Nature's most fairy-like retreats. On looking back from Ballycastle you at once perceive the necessity for your bleak and tedious mountain drive. The eye immediately catches and rests fascinated upon the gigantic and literally overhanging precipice of Fair Head, as it rears its peculiar and acute-angled summit against the sky. One look, and you are convinced that no road could wind its way round the base of that frowning monster. But let us strive to penetrate this cut-off region either on foot across the moors, or by the rough mountain road that suffices for the wants of the few and scattered residents. Standing (sometimes not without difficulty) on the pitched-up edge of the mighty headland, and gazing on the remote sea beneath, you feel oppressed by the sense of Nature's vastness and your own insignificance. Nor does the dreary extent of rock and pool-dotted moor that stretches inland to the very horizon afford any relief to such feelings. So you turn away in search of rest and shelter. Then but a comparatively few downward steps and you find that the tempestuous wind has ceased to wrangle with you; already you are beneath the shadow of the great rock. Descending further, the bleak aspect of Nature is transformed. The heather gives place to dwarf shrubs; the bare, weather-beaten rocks are clothed with blackberry bushes, or hidden amid luxurious bracken. Dark hollies clinging to detached rocks present varied and life-like forms. The air has suddenly become still. The butterflies hover over the foxgloves. The wild strawberry is at your feet. The sloeberries ripen around you. The sea before you might be the Mediterranean, so gently does it ripple up to the very edge of the hundred tiny plants that force their way amid the sand. Great rock bastions shut you in on either side, and behind, the green slope you had descended rises upward till it meets the blue sky beyond. You might be in the south of England rather than in the "black north" of Ireland; and you are struck with the probably accidental suggestiveness of the name—Tor Bay. It was here that McAravey's lot was cast, and here that Elsie and Jim used in their leisure hours to gather the strawberries and stain themselves with sloes.
Not that Elsie and Jim had many leisure hours. Like all else in the little household, they had their work to do. McAravey's "farm" was but a little patch of ten acres, part of it not even yet quite won back from rock and bracken. On this he toiled as only a man can toil who works for himself, and is assured of his interest in the soil on which he drops his sweat. That he had no grown-up son (as might have been) to aid his declining strength was a hidden sorrow to the old man. He worked on, however, and bravely did his uncomplaining wife assist him. Neither of them had ever known an hour of either ill health or idleness, and they were guiltless of any conscious or intentional cruelty when they early and sternly disciplined their young charges to the same laborious life. The duties of the children were manifold. Jim herded McAravey's two or three cows, or acted as scarecrow in the little patch of corn, each precious grain of which was grudged to the passing birds. Elsie scoured the house, and carried out milk to one or two somewhat distant neighbours. But the most arduous labour of the children was one that they shared together. When the weather suited—after a stormy night, or when there was a spring tide—they would stand for hours on the beach, often wet to the waists, dragging the tempest-tossed sea-weed to the shore with large wooden rakes. This occupation was not merely arduous but dangerous. More than once had little Jim, who was of lighter build than the girl, been fairly dragged off his feet by the force of the receding wave, as it wrestled with him for the possession of the mass of floating weed which he had hooked in his rake. The weed thus drawn to shore was subsequently sorted, the greater part being used for manure, while the rest was burned in one of those rough kilns that abound along the coast, and reduced to kelp, which is used in the manufacture of soap and glass, and from which iodine is extracted. Thus, almost from infancy, the children had been inured to labour, and alas! for them the sunny hours of idle rambling amid the tangled foliage of the glen were few and far between. Neither child had received any education. The only school was nearly four miles off, up on the open moorland. It was only in summer that the children could possibly attend, and even then their visits were infrequent and irregular. On all religious subjects their young minds were dark as night. Even a few days at school had taught them that such things as reading and writing existed, and Jim especially had developed in him vague ideas as to the power and wealth that might be obtained if once he could master these mysterious subjects. But religion was only known to them as being provocative of party quarrels and domestic disagreements. Harsh and brief as was the general style of intercourse between Mr. and Mrs. McAravey, there was no absolute anger or violence about it, except when allusion was made to the difference that through life had separated husband and wife. Even then it seemed strange to the children that such fierce feelings and such ill words should be excited by a matter that had absolutely no influence on ordinary life, and which was never introduced but as a bone of contention. Nor hitherto had the poor neglected ones any opportunity of learning the blessed truths of a Father's and a Saviour's love from any other quarter. There was no place of worship in the glen. The Presbyterian chapel was a mile away, and even there no Sunday-school was held. As for the Church, into the fold of which the poor babes had been received, it was scarcely to be thought of, being fully four miles off, across a rough mountain district. Here the Rev. Cooper Smith ministered to a congregation that fluctuated much, but was never very large. The parish was enormous, and the Church-people dotted over it in a most unmanageable fashion. Yet it was surprising what a considerable number of people were brought together on a fine Sunday morning in summer. The clergyman, too, persevered in keeping together what was at least the nucleus of a Sunday-school, consisting of some twelve or fifteen children, whom he and the clerk taught in the church before service. But from this means of grace Elsie and Jim were cut off by distance, even if, as was more than doubtful, their foster-parents would have allowed them to attend. In the glen that sloped down to Tor Bay, there were no Church-people, and but few children of any sort. Thus spiritual darkness reigned supreme throughout this beautiful domain. Twice during five years in a professional capacity (though several times on pic-nics) had the Rev. Cooper Smith made his way to Tor Bay. The people had received him with a patronising kindness, that was peculiarly irritating to his sensitive and somewhat small nature.
"Sit down, mon, and rest yeresel' a bit; ye must be tired," said McAravey, looking over his shoulder as he stalked out of the cottage.
"Don't you think you ought to send those children to school, Mrs. McAravey?" asked the clergyman, whose kind heart had been touched, on the occasion of a recent pic-nic, to see the half-drowned little ones toiling amid the heaps of wet and writhing sea-wrack.
"Maybe ye 'd send yere carriage to fetch them up the brae!" remarked Mrs. McAravey, with a harsh, disagreeable laugh at her own pleasantry.
"Well, it is rather far," replied Mr. Smith, somewhat apologetically; "but it grieves me to see them growing up in ignorance, and without any knowledge of the Saviour."
"Thank ye, sir," cried Mrs. McAravey, satirically, "but I think ma mon and mysel' knows our duties, and can teach the wains, too, wi'out any parson comin' to help us. A pretty thing to tell us we knows nothing o' the Saviour! I can tell you, mon, I've walked more miles o' the Sawbath to my place o' worship than some folks as I know walks in a week."
The clergyman, somewhat taken aback at this outbreak, felt a rising flush of anger, and could only reply—
"I think, my good woman, you might remember whom you are speaking to, and might be civil to a stranger when he comes into your house."
To judge by the response, the second part of this appeal was more effective than the first. An appeal to authority or respect of persons is not usually successful in Ulster.
"I knows rightly who I 'm speakin' to, and I don't see as it makes any differ; but I 'm sorry I spoke sharp, seein' ye come so far, only I can't thole to be towd I 'm na fit to train up a wain in the knowledge o' the Saviour."
Expressing a hope that Elsie and Jim would come to school when weather and work permitted, and with a somewhat vague remark about "calling again," the Rev. Cooper Smith beat as graceful a retreat as was possible.
His other calls that day were scarcely more satisfactory, for though he encountered no such actual rudeness, there was everywhere the same patronising familiarity.
Andrew McAuley, the wealthiest farmer in the glen, invited him to have "a drop o' something," adding, by way of encouragement, "Ye needn't be afeerd—there's plenty iv it in the house."
The only person who seemed to recognise his spiritual office was widow Spence, who, as the clergyman stood hesitating before leaving the cottage (he was debating whether he should offer the old woman a shilling), sympathetically remarked—
"Maybe, then, ye 'd like to mak' a wee bit o' a prayer afore ye go back?"
Unreasonably, perhaps, the rector felt rebuked and annoyed by this incident, and he walked home with a heavy heart. What could be done for Tor Bay—so beautiful, yet so barbarous—so out of the way in every sense? His personal efforts did not seem likely to be rewarded with success, even if he could keep—which he did not himself believe that he could—to the often-made resolution to be more frequent and regular in his visits across the hill. He had been wounded in many points that day, yet he had not gone away without hearing one note of encouragement. Many a day and many a night he saw, like Paul, the figure of one who said to him, "Come over . . . and help us." Only the figure was that of a brown, blushing, merry-eyed girl of nine, who held by the hand a delicate-looking, white-haired, timid boy. Again and again he fancied himself walking sadly and dreamily on the pure smooth sand of the beautiful secluded bay. Again and again he was murmuring the lines—
"Every prospect pleases, And only man is vile"—
when he hears a voice, and turning, sees the half-amused, half-eager look of Elsie as she had said—
"Please, Jim says he 'd like to go to school, minister; and I 'd like too, if it wasn't so far."
The pleading voice was not in vain. After much anxious consideration the Rev. Cooper Smith resolved to use his efforts to get the aid of a Scripture-reader for Tor Bay, and other outlying districts of his vast parish. The munificence of an elderly lady enabled him to bring his arrangements to a successful issue more rapidly than he had hoped. He was also fortunate in obtaining a fit and proper person for the post. Robert Hendrick was by birth and education an Ulster man; but having been for several years employed in the south-west, he had acquired something of that geniality, tact, and courtesy which is, perhaps, deficient in the hard Scotch character of the Northerns. There was nothing of professional piety or of the professional reader about Hendrick. A bright, active, smiling little man, he was soon a favourite in Tor Glen. His visits were made twice a-week, and the inhabitants soon found him a useful and obliging friend. He executed small commissions, carried letters from Ballycastle, and acted generally as a medium of communication with the outer world. But while thus wisely winning his way by kindly offices, he was not unmindful of that other world which it was his duty to bring before the minds of the people of the secluded vale. One evening of the week a homely service, half Bible-class, half prayer-meeting, was held, to which a considerable number of the Presbyterians, and even a few Roman Catholics, dropped in. The other evening was devoted to teaching the few little ones who could be gathered together. Elsie and Jim were among the earliest pupils; Jim was actuated by an almost morbid craving for knowledge, and for Elsie anything novel had sufficient attraction. Mrs. McAravey, notwithstanding her self-righteous indignation when questioned by the clergyman, had in her heart a belief that religious instruction was the proper thing for children. She remembered the stern discipline of her own early years—not, indeed, with any pleasure, but with a firm conviction that severe spiritual as well as physical labour was good for the young. That "Auld Mike" permitted the children to attend the reader's class was a matter of surprise to many, and that Hendrick had been able to capture them added not a little to his reputation. McAravey had, however, been pleased with the frank, obliging address of the reader; and perhaps, too, there was some softer feeling in his hard, silent nature than folks gave him credit for. Anyhow he made no opposition; and though he did not fail to notice their absence every Friday evening, he "asked no questions for conscience sake"—or rather he rested satisfied with the result of his first inquiry.
"Where's the wains, 'Lisbeth, I wonder?"
"How should I know?" was the somewhat Jesuitical reply. "Maybe they 're gone to the town end; but they 'll be right enough, you may be sure." And there the matter dropped for many a day.
Meanwhile school-work went on. The precocious Jim made amazing progress in reading and writing—arts from which Elsie's impatient nature revolted. This distaste was, however, counterbalanced by the girl's quickness in other respects. By dint of memory, and an excellent ear, she soon had at her finger ends whole passages of Scripture, together with a number of psalms and hymns, from one to the other of which she ran with a vivacity and heedlessness, that often pained her teacher. She was soon the leader of the little choir, and could sing, with wonderful correctness, "Shall we gather at the river?" "I think when I read that sweet story of old, How when Jesus was here among men." "As pants the hart for cooling streams," &c.
Robert Hendrick was deeply interested in his little pupils. Jim seemed likely to grow up a pattern boy. Punctual and diligent, with grave, attentive eyes and quiet demeanour, he could not but elicit the approval of his teacher. Yet Hendrick could not conceal from himself that Elsie was his favourite—Elsie, so reckless and so irreverent, so headstrong, and at times even violent. He used to tremble for the child's future, as, attracted by the sweet, true ring of her voice, he saw the eager, merry eyes wandering all round the room, while the lips were singing the most sacred words. Those awful and profound truths, that were to him the only realities, and which animated his every effort, were apparently to this sweet young singer but as fairy tales, or even as mere empty words on which to build up the fabric of her song; and at times he even doubted whether it was right to lay bare the mysterious agonies of redeeming love to such a careless eye, and to familiarise such a child with scenes so awful, but which seemed to wake no note of love or reverence. Yet Robert Hendrick loved and prayed for the child, content to work on for her, as for so many others in the glen, in simple faith and loving hope.
With the approach of winter the Friday evening class had to be discontinued. Most of the children lived at a considerable distance from the place of meeting; nor was a walk across the moors always feasible in rough weather. Even for a time the Wednesday service had to be suspended; so that for a couple of months the glen relapsed into its former state of spiritual night. Not altogether, however. The good seed cast upon the waters had found a resting-place in several hearts; and the opening of spring, and with it the resumption of the Scripture-reader's visits, were eagerly looked forward to by many, both young and old.
It was the end of March, when an event occurred which would have been a more than nine days' wonder even in a busier spot than Tor Bay. The equinoctial gales had been protracted and severe. For days the sea off Fair Head, and through the strait that separates the mainland from Rathlin Island, had run mountains high; and now, though the surface was smooth and glistening in the bright spring sun, the long, heavy swell, as it broke in thundering rollers on the shore, bore witness to the fierceness of the recent conflict. The night had been wild and dark, but it was succeeded by one of those balmy days that are sent as harbingers of coming summer. Elsie and Jim had been busy ever since the return of the tide, about noon, dragging to shore the masses of sea-wrack that the recent storms had loosened and sent adrift.
The afternoon was now far advanced, and the children were growing weary of their work. Several heaps of brown, wet, shining weed stood at intervals along the sands, as monuments of their zeal. They began to look wistfully towards the hill for "father," who had promised to meet them at the conclusion of the day's work; but again and again they had looked in vain. It was now growing almost dusk. They had thought of desisting from their task, when a succession of gigantic rollers, like the fierce rear-guard of the great army that for so many hours had been broken to pieces on the sands, was seen approaching.
With a solemn reverberation the first giant toppled over, and swept a mass of mingled foam and sea-weed up the sands, far past where the wet and weary little toilers were standing. Knee-deep in the rapidly returning body of water, they strove with their rakes to arrest some fragments of the whirling and tangled mass of weeds. But the second giant was at hand. Checked in its advance by the retreating fragments of its predecessors, the monster hesitated. And then the two masses of water clashing together rose up in fierce embrace, while the foam and spray of their contention was blown by the keen east wind into the children's faces. But the force of the tide was spent, and the second wave, though victorious in the wrestle, scarce survived the conflict, and did not even flow over the children's feet. Elsie, therefore, sprang forward almost to the spot where the wave had broken, and brought down her rake into the midst of a huge and tangled mass. The retiring wave struggled hard to retain its own, so that the child was fairly drawn out by its force.
"Let go, let go!" cried Jim, as he caught the girl's dress to help her resistance; "the rake will float in again."
But Elsie was fascinated. She felt at once that the body she held was solid, though soft and yielding, and so she clung to the long rake-handle with all her might. The conflict was over in a few moments. The waters retired defeated, and left upon the sands a dark, limp, saturated body.
"Come away, come away!" shrieked the boy, as Elsie was cautiously advancing towards the mysterious object. The girl stood still, and hesitated a moment, while a vague dread crept over her. What was it that lay there in the bleak, cold twilight, so still and shapeless, and yet with such an awful suggestion of life about it? She was lost in bewilderment when the boy's voice recalled her—
"Elsie, Elsie, mind the wave!"
She had but a moment in which to spring back, as the third giant, towering above its predecessors, lifted the inert body on its crest, and flung it contemptuously high up upon the shore. Then the waters swept back and left the two children shivering alone on the strand: behind them were the dull, dead heaps of sea-weed, and at their feet a black mass of clothing. The children clung together in silent awe. Neither of them had ever seen a dead body. Hitherto death had been an abstraction, but now they felt themselves face to face with the reality.
"Let's run and look for father," suggested Jim, in a frightened whisper.
"We can't leave her alone, Jim," responded the girl, now pale and grave as she had never been before, and looking from the body to the line of foaming water but a few feet beyond; "the tide might turn and take her away again."
"I wish it had not brought her!" gasped Jim, through his chattering teeth.
"Hush," said Elsie; and then, after a pause, "if you go fetch some one, I'll stay here."
"Aren't you afraid? I am."
"Go," said Elsie, "go quick; it's getting dark."
Hesitatingly the boy left her, and walked almost backwards till he reached the top of the beach; then, with a short cry of fear, he turned his hack on the sea, and ran up the path towards his home.
Elsie stood alone with the dead. She looked on the heaps of sea-weeds, and then along the line of breakers, that seemed even now gathering strength for a return movement. It was a trying ordeal for a child of ten, but the terrible novelty of the situation seemed to give her courage. She advanced towards the body, which she now saw was that of a woman dressed in black. She lay upon her back, the face only hidden by the tangled hair and sea-weed. Elsie noticed as she gazed, for what seemed hours, on the still form, that there was a gold chain round the neck, and two rings on the finger of the hand that rested upon the beach. As the gloom of the afternoon deepened, a sense of pity and yearning quite new to her, and which destroyed all fear, crept over the child. An irresistible longing urged her to draw back the tangled hair from the face. For a moment she turned away terrified, but then knelt down, and with trembling hands began to draw out the weeds, and to smooth back the heavy brown hair from the cold face. She grew absorbed in her task, and almost fancied the worn, yet beautiful and gentle features looked pleased and grateful. She even ventured to lift the heavy arm from the sand, but it fell back so stiffly that the child was terrified, and stood a little apart, wondering where the poor lady had come from. She knew not how long she had waited, when she was aroused by the sound of a voice. Looking up, she beheld Michael McAravey by her side.
"Well, Elsie, lass, what's all this? There 's that wee fool Jim crying himself into fits, and raving about dead bodies in the sea-weed. Blessed mother! so it is a dead body," he added, excitedly, as he caught sight of the object of Elsie's regard. The old man was only unnerved for a moment; then turning his back to the sea and putting his hands to his mouth, he gave a loud "halloa," which echoed across the silent bay, but brought no other response.
"Now, lass, look sharp and run up the brae, and call some of the men, or the tide will be in upon us. And we 'll lose the wrack, too, for the matter of that. Away you go in a moment," he added, sternly, as the child seemed reluctant to abandon what she held to be her peculiar charge.
Elsie obeyed, and was fortunate enough, just as she was turning into the by-road that led to the shore, to run against George Hendrick.
"What has scared you so, Elsie?" he said, kindly, as he stopped the headlong child; "are you in mischief, and running away from anybody?"
"O Mr. Hendrick, we 've found a drowned lady on the shore, and I 'm running to tell the people; father's with her."
"Where?" cried the reader, quickly.
"In the sandy cove, where we get the sea-wrack."
"Well, Elsie, you run on to McAuley's, and ask him to bring down some spirits in case she might be alive still; and lose no time—there's a good girl."
So saying, Hendrick sprang over the low fence and hurried down the shore. He soon saw through the dusk a tall figure bending over some object on the sand. It rose as he approached, and he at once recognised McAravey. The old man was singularly excited and flurried—far more so than when he had joined Elsie.
"Thank God some one has come!" he cried; "and you 're the very man I 'd like to see."
"Is she quite dead?" said Hendrick, kneeling beside the body.
"Aye, dead enough and stiff," answered the old man; "but see, the tide is almost on us. Let's fetch her up a bit. I did not like to touch her till some one came."
Between them they lifted the body into a place of safety, and then McAravey, whose agitation had not diminished, said, with affected indifference—
"While we are waiting I 'll just drag up a wee lock of that weed; there is no use letting the tide fetch it away again." So saying, he proceeded to lift in his arms the heaps that were nearest the sea, and to place them beyond the high-water line.
Meanwhile Hendrick had been examining the features of the dead woman, and was startled to recognise one with whom he had conversed only the day before. This was the only important point brought out at the inquest, which took place in a couple of days. Hendrick deposed to having met a woman dressed like the deceased, as far as he could judge, walking on the cliffs past Fair Head. She had asked him about a short cut to Tor Bay by a rocky path which led abruptly down to the shore, and which, she said, she half-remembered. He had warned her that the way was a dangerous one, especially in bad weather. She had laughed, and said she had once been down the Grey Man's Path, and had known the coast well in childhood. She had not told him her business in Tor Bay, but had said they might, perhaps, meet there. Had anything else passed? Yes, he had given her a little tract, as she seemed anxious and troubled. Anything else? No, except that when parting she had asked him the correct time in order to set her watch. Did Hendrick see the watch? No, but he thought she wore a chain, and was certain she had spoken of setting her watch, which she said had gone down. This matter excited some interest, because, though the tract given by Hendrick was found in the pocket of the dress, no watch or chain could be discovered. Had the unfortunate woman been robbed, and then thrown into the sea? Or had the watch and chain been stolen by Mike or the children, who first found the body? Or might they not easily have been lost from the body that had been so long tossed by the waves? Elsie's examination did not tend to clear her of suspicion. Her answers to the preliminary questions as to "the nature of an oath" were somewhat flippant and unsatisfactory. As to the chain, she first spoke positively of having seen it, then hesitatingly, ending by saying she was frightened and knew nothing about it.
McAravey swore positively that he had seen no gold chain, and therefore had not taken one. Though an ugly suspicion was thus created, no further steps could be taken, Hendrick declining to vouch for more than an "impression" that the deceased wore a chain. Evidence of identity there was none. The linen was marked "E. D," and the mourning ring, which guarded a plain gold one, had merely the words, "In memory, H. D., 186—." The only further evidence was that of a public car-driver between Cushendall and Ballycastle, who deposed to having had a passenger who corresponded to the description of the dead woman. She had no luggage, and walked away when the car stopped. A woman was also found who had given deceased a night's lodging. She said she had seemed excited and somewhat flighty—was restless at night, and started off early, having paid a shilling for her lodging and breakfast. This last witness added to the confusion by saying she saw no chain, and did not believe her lodger had a watch, since she had several times asked her the hour, and had annoyed her into saying she ought to have a watch of her own. This witness's "impression" was that deceased had replied, "I wish I had, and I wouldn't trouble you." This was absolutely all that could be ascertained. And accordingly the dead woman was buried by the Rev. Cooper Smith, in Rossleigh graveyard, which she had told Hendrick she had known well in her childhood. All the neighbourhood flocked to the funeral, and even Michael McAravey was for the first time in his life seen inside the doors of a Protestant church. The old man seemed much cut up, probably owing to the doubts cast on his honesty. So sad was the fate of the unknown wanderer, and so great the interest excited, that it was determined to record the mysterious event in a simple headstone, erected by subscription. To the surprise of everybody, McAravey, who had never been known to trouble himself about any one else's affairs, or to give away a shilling, took the matter up warmly, and himself subscribed fifteen shillings, which he paid in three instalments. The stone was erected, bearing this inscription:—
OF MRS. E. D. (NAME UNKNOWN),
FOUND DROWNED NEAR TOR POINT
On the 13th of March, 186—.
This Stone is Erected by Subscription.
The events narrated in the last chapter were not without lasting effects on most of the persons immediately concerned in them. Michael McAravey was an altered man. His proud reserve seemed changing into petulant self-vindication. He began to look fully his age, and, like many other men of so-called iron constitution, when his strength began to give way it collapsed at once. He also conceived a violent antipathy to George Hendrick. The children were forbidden to attend the class, which had now been resumed; and although they came twice surreptitiously, Mr. Hendrick was no sooner aware of this than he felt obliged to tell them that their first duty was obedience to their guardians. It was a hard parting both for teacher and pupils. It cost George Hendrick no slight effort to dismiss his two favourite scholars, nor could he at once see his duty plain in the matter. As for the children they were broken-hearted and rebellious; but the quiet, sympathetic tenderness of their friend at length reconciled them to their lot. Except on this point, McAravey was far more considerate with the children than formerly. He was now a good deal in the house, having become very asthmatic, and often shielded Elsie and Jim from Mrs. McAravey's harsh tongue.
The effect of what they had gone through was no less evident in the children, though they were very differently affected. Jim never recovered the panic of that March day. Nothing could induce him to go near the shore alone, and the very sight of the sea excited the lad. It was otherwise with Elsie. That solitary interview with the dead had sobered her. The dead woman's face was seldom absent from her thoughts. Elsie had grown to love it, and to regard it as something mysterious and superhuman. She had never before seen so refined and beautiful a countenance; and there was something in the rigid aspect of death that quieted and awed, while it did not the least terrify the child. As the months went by, and the actual event began to fade in the distance, the pale sweet face, with the dripping brown hair drawn back from it, became more and more of an ideal for veneration and love. Thus, while Jim could never be induced to pass near the sandy cove alone, Elsie ceased to have any special association with the actual scene of the occurrence. But in her moments of passion or heedlessness she ever saw before her the dead face—kind, but so calm and firm, that it repressed in an instant her most impetuous outbursts.
As the autumn drew on it became evident that Michael McAravey was dying. That he knew it himself was gathered from the fact that more than once, during the summer, he had walked over to Ballycastle to attend Mass. There seemed a weight on the old man's mind, which he was unable or unwilling to shake off. 'Lisbeth, who for years had suffered severely from "rheumatics," and who had made up her mind that she was to die before the "old man," was but an indifferent nurse. Elsie, however, more than took her place. Michael had become much attached to the child, and as he daily grew weaker he came to look to her for everything.
"Ye 'r a brave wee lass, Elsie," he used to say, "and I doubt I 've not been over kind to ye, but I can't do without ye now."
One gloomy September afternoon, when the blustering winds were again celebrating the return of the equinox, Michael, who had been sleeping heavily all day, suddenly started up and astonished his wife by an eager request that she would send at once for George Hendrick and Father Donnelly.
"I doubt you 're raving, Mike, to send for such a pair. What do you want with either, not to say both? Nice company they 'd be for each other."
"I tell you I'm dying, and I must see them both," cried her husband, rising, gaunt and excited, in the bed. "I say, Elsie," he continued, "this is Wednesday; run down and see can you find Mr. Hendrick anywhere about."
Elsie departed at once, while 'Lisbeth tried to soothe the invalid, muttering all the time, however, her scorn of "Readers" and hatred of "Papish priests."
George Hendrick was easily found, and in a few minutes was sitting by the old man's side, soothing him with simple, kindly words, and waiting for an opening through which to approach the inner man.
"I 've not treated you fair, my mon, and I didn't wish to die without tellin' you so. Besides, there 's a thing or two I 've been thinkin' long to speak about, and now the time's come. I 've sent for Father Donnelly."
"It's far to send and long to wait, Mike; do you not think we can do as well without him?" asked the reader.
"I've not sent for him, and ye may be sure I 'll have none o' your Papish priests coomin' about the house, leastways whiles I 'm in it," interrupted Mrs. McAravey.
"Then you 'd better get out of it," said the old man; "I never interfered with you and your Ranters and Covenanters, and I don't mean to be interfered with. I tell ye, George Hendrick, I'll die in the Church of my fathers, even if I 'm——"
"Hush!" cried Hendrick, putting his hand to the excited man's mouth; "we 'll send for the priest if you wish. God forbid that I should stand between you. Young Jim McAuley is going over to Ballycastle, and will take a message if Elsie gives it him; but he can't be here for three or four hours at least, so let us be quiet a wee bit now. You said you wanted to see me, Mike; and perhaps while we are waiting you 'd like to hear the message of God out of His own book—you needn't wait to send to Ballycastle for it."
"You may read a bit if ye like," responded McAravey, leaning back on the bed, quite satisfied now that the priest had been sent for; "only no controversy; it's not fit for a dyin' man—or for any man, for the matter o' that."
"No controversy!" said Hendrick, smiling; "well, will this suit you? 'Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.' Do you believe that, Mike?"
"Aye, aye; it's wonderful to think on," murmured the dying man, in his deep, solemn voice. "I doubt I 've been a bit hard sometimes, but I 've always been honest and paid my way." Then after a pause, "Ye may go on with your readin'; I 'm no ways prejudiced. I think Prodestan and Catholic is pretty much alike with God."
"Aye, Mike, alike in this, that 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' None of us can stand before Him as we are; but remember what Paul says again, there could be no disputing about, 'This is a true saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.'"
"I believe that," said McAravey; "but now I 'd like to sleep a bit; only don't go away, for if the priest don't come in time, I must confess to you, George. Ye won't object to hear me and give me absolution, will you?" he added with an effort to smile.
"I won't leave you, Mike, and I'll hear what you have to say; and as for absolution, I 'll try to point you to the great Absolver—our Advocate with the Father—who is the propitiation for our sins."
It was after ten o'clock when Father Donnelly arrived. After a short private interview with the patient, Hendrick was summoned to the room.
"There is a part of my confession," said the old man, "which, by your leave, father, I 'd like my friend to hear—it will save us the time of going over the same bit twice."
The priest nodded silently, not, however, looking very pleased at the somewhat light tone in which McAravey spoke.
"It's about the two children, and the poor creature that was found by them on the sands last spring. It's been heavy on my mind this long time, and I can't go out of the world without explaining all I know about the story. And now to begin at the beginning. It's just about seven years ago, and a couple before we came here, that the children came to us. We were very hard-up at that time, and 'Lisbeth and I were down in heart about loosin' our own wains, when one day I was in the market at Ballymena, and there I met James Kinley. He asked me, would the missus like to make a trifle by taking charge of a couple of children? I said I thought she might, and so he brought me to the hotel, and I saw a young woman as said she and her husband were going abroad, and wished to leave the two little ones with some respectable person in the glens. Well, I saw her a second time, and then it was all settled. She gave us 20 pounds down, and said she would write. I didn't like to ask questions, thinking, perhaps, it wasn't all on the square about the bairns, and so I'm not sure I ever even knew the name rightly—it was Davis, or Davison, or Dawson, or something that way. Tom Kinley knew all about the parties, and so I did not trouble. And then when he went to America there was no one to inquire of. Well, we had one letter about a year after, from some place in Inja, I think, and in it they said they was going further, and mightn't be able to write for some time. There was a directed envelope inside, and I sent off a few lines to say the wains was well. After that we never heard more, and we always thought the father and mother had got killed in the strange parts they went to. So we never told the young 'uns anything, but determined to make the best shift we could for them. Then came the day they found the body, and this is where my sore trouble began. After Elsie left me, I was still lookin' at the poor dead thing, when it come on me like a dream that I had seen the face before. At first I couldn't think where it was, and then I remembered the lady Kinley had brought me to see in Ballymena. I stooped down to look at her, and then I noticed the chain round her neck. There was no watch on it, but a sort of wee case that opened, and inside there was a picture and a wee bit o' paper folded. You may be sure Mike McAravey had no thought of stealing; but when I saw some one comin', I said to myself, 'These things belong to the wains, and if I leave 'em here they 'll not get 'em unless I tell all I knows.' And my heart bled to think of the children hearing the first of their mother, when they saw her lying dead. So I slipt the chain and case into my pocket, just as George Hendrick came up. Ye remember, perhaps, I was so confused-like I didn't know what I was doing. Maybe ye thought I was scared. Then, when we brought up the body, I went and put the chain under the big heap o' sea-weed. When all the fuss was made at the inquest, I was sorry I had hid the things, but I daren't tell then. And mind ye, Father Donnelly, I told no lie, for there was no watch, and the chain wasn't gold at all, but an old-fashioned silver affair. Even so it was a weight on me, so I thought the best thing I could do was to sell it, and they gave me fifteen shillings in Coleraine. And that's how I got the first money for the monument. The wee case—a locket, I believe, they call it—I 've kept yet. It's made up in a parcel in the corner of the wee box under the bed. And now that's all I 've to say; but I knows this affair, and the way the folk has doubted me has been the cause of my breaking up. And there 's poor Elsie—I believe she swore she didn't see the chain just to keep me out of trouble, and that cut me most of all to be the means o' bringin' the poor innocent lass to tell a lie."
"I'm sorry you did not tell me all this before," said George Hendrick, his eyes filling with tears as he gazed on the stern, deep-lined face of the old man; "it might all have been explained."
"I'm sorry too, and often thought to do it; but you see I took a dislike to you, because your mentioning about the watch—when after all there was no watch—was the cause of my trouble."
"And now you see, Mike," said the priest, "the evil results of not coming to confession; I 've often warned you."
"So you have, Father Donnelly, and it's no fault o' yours if I haven't been a better Catholic; but I 'm punished now, so let us forget the past."
"Aye," said the priest, "you have suffered for your fault; and now wouldn't you like to receive the last rites, in case anything might happen before I come again?"
It was not too soon, for when daylight dawned the proud, restless spirit had taken flight. Long after the priest had left, Hendrick had sat, Bible in hand, pointing the dying sinner to the Great High Priest of our profession; and when the struggle was over he started home across the moors in the bleak morning, cheered and thankful in heart, believing that his labours that night had "not been in vain in the Lord."
Michael McAravey's death made a considerable difference in the position of his family. His widow was unable to retain and work the land; and though she obtained a considerable sum by way of tenant-right from McAuley, to whose farm the little patch was now united, she yet found herself in very straitened circumstances, especially as she regarded spending her principal as almost a sin. It was a bitter struggle, and, yet by degrees there crept into her heart a degree of peace and contentment such as she had never known before. Both she and Elsie had been deeply affected by the earnest and simple appeals of the Scripture-reader during that last sad night of watching by the bed of death. The more so, in all probability, in that the words were not addressed directly to them, so that there was none of that irritation which often results when one feels himself being "preached at." Hendrick was now a weekly visitor at Mrs. McAravey's cottage, and he had at length the gratification of seeing, in this one home at least, the results of his long-continued and faithful labours. At his suggestion, Jim, who, especially after the old man's death, could be made nothing of at home, was sent to a distant relative in Coleraine, where he had an opportunity of pursuing his studies at the Model School, with a view to entering some sort of business. This was almost the only object for which Mrs. McAravey would permit a portion of her small capital to be touched. For the rest, she and Elsie struggled on almost in poverty, but helped and, as far as possible, kept in work by the kindness of the neighbours. In some mysterious way the substance of McAravey's confession had become public property, and it was known and suspected by everybody but herself that something had come out to identify the drowned woman as Elsie's mother. Thus the child found herself, she knew not why, an object of interest to every member of the little community. And the remembrance of the dead woman was really like that of a mother to her. As Mrs. McAravey grew rapidly aged, Elsie acquired the habit of calling her "gran;" while the feelings of tenderness and sympathy that had been first roused in her by the sight of that poor soiled dead face, with the hair and sea-weed dashed across it, were cherished and sanctified by the daily call made on them in consequence of the old woman's increasing infirmities. The child had even come, strangely enough, to think of and speak to the object of her dreams as "mother." Was it an accident? Was it an instinct? Was it the result of some overheard expressions which, passing through her consciousness unnoticed, had yet made a lasting impression on the brain of the imaginative child? Or was it a providential suggestion sent by an all-pitying Father to this desolate and wandering lamb?
Thus time slipped by uneventfully, as far as external circumstances were concerned, but not purposelessly. The hard lot of the poor suffering old woman was being lighted, and her spirit trained for that eternity which was now growing large upon her vision, as earthly affairs shrank into a smaller compass. Elsie, too, who had never yet crossed the hill that seemed to meet the sky at the top of the glen, was learning lessons of perseverance and patient endurance, which would not be lost upon her, whatever the future of the child might be. Jim was seldom at home, and, alas! but little of the old childish attachment survived. The boy was ambitious, business-like, and plodding. His heart was in the town, and he seemed to retain no affection for the associations of his childhood: some of them were absolutely abhorrent to him. George Hendrick was profoundly disappointed in the lad. Not that a word could be said against his character. He was steady, diligent, and submissive. And when he was placed in a position where he could earn something, he never failed to send what he could to the old woman who had sacrificed so much to bring him on. But there seemed a total absence of feeling or religious sentiment about the lad. If he was sober and steady, it was merely because he scorned the weakness and waste consequent upon dissipation. He was pushing and ambitious, well spoken of and respected, but his old teacher failed not to see that all his thoughts were "of the earth, earthy."
When she was nearly fifteen (as far as her ago was known) a new world was opened up for Elsie. The rector's family were now growing up, and he was blest enough to find in his children, not a hindrance, but the greatest comfort and assistance in his arduous and often cheerless work. Miss Smith and her sister Louisa had recently taken the musical arrangements of the church in hand, and not before it was needed, were now busying themselves to select and train a rustic choir. The fame of Elsie's vocal abilities had been brought to Rossleigh Rectory by Hendrick, and so one day Mrs. McAravey was surprised by a visit from two bright, fresh young girls. In her reception of them you could not recognise the hard, rude woman who had so sorely repulsed their father on his first visit to the glen.
"Mr. Hendrick has been telling us about you and Elsie," began Miss Smith, "and we have only been waiting for the moors to be tolerably dry to come over and see you. Now we 've once got here, I hope we shall be good friends."
"Thank ye, miss; thank ye kindly. I shall be glad to see ye, and I hope ye won't be strangers. It's not often any one passes this way, and I often think very long when Elsie's out."
"We hear Elsie has a very good voice, and we want to know whether she could not manage to come over and sing in the choir, in summer-time at least."
"Aye, the lass has a good voice enough, and a good heart too, God bless her! She 'll sing her hymns to me here half the night when I'm kept awake with the pain. But, begging your pardon, young ladies, I don't care much for these new-fangled hymns; it's the good old psalms that I like—them's the Lord's work and not man's. And, as for Elsie singing in the church, it's very kind of you to think of her; but it 'a a long road, or rather no road at all. But here 's the lass, and she 'll speak for hersel'."
At this moment Elsie entered the cottage, and was delighted at the invitation, for which, it may be told, George Hendrick had already prepared her. "But how could she leave poor gran?" The old woman thought this could be managed if she was only wanted for the morning. And so it was finally settled that Elsie should, on fine Sundays, walk over to Rossleigh in time for the half-past eleven service, remaining for dinner at the rectory, in order that she might attend the afternoon Sunday-school, and thence return to Tor Bay at about four in the afternoon. To all this Mrs. McAravey assented, though probably the three young girls had no conception of the sacrifice it was to the invalid thus to consent to her being left alone from ten o'clock of a Sunday morning till nearly five.
Elsie soon became a favourite at the rectory. Young and enthusiastic, she thought nothing of the four miles' walk across the rough moorland; nor did it ever occur either to her or Mrs. McAravey that, in partaking of the rector's hospitality, she was profiting by the delicate sympathy of the girls for their hard-worked and ill-fed protegee.
Mrs. Cooper Smith was much interested in Elsie, and offered to procure her a situation, or to take her into her own house as maid for the younger children. But Elsie, who thankfully received every other favour, and availed herself of every opportunity for improving herself, steadily declined to leave poor Mrs. McAravey. The family at the rectory could not but approve this resolve, and so for the time nothing further was said on the subject.
The rector had now established a monthly service at Tor Bay, over which he himself presided. This service, as well as the Scripture-reader's classes, was held in Mrs. McAravey's cottage, for which accommodation the old woman was almost compelled to accept a consideration that went far towards paying her rent. Elsie, from having been the chief care, had now become the invaluable assistant of the reader. The population of the neighbourhood had been recently augmented by the advent of a number of miners, engaged in opening up the numerous streaks of iron ore that have of recent years begun to be worked in the Antrim glens. Elsie, who had long since overcome her prejudice against the arts of reading and writing, was now quite competent to act as Mr. Hendrick's assistant, or even as his substitute. For this help, too, she was, after a time, induced to accept a trifling remuneration.
So had the good providence of God opened out a way for this poor parentless child, that at the age of sixteen or seventeen she found herself in a position of usefulness and importance that was pleasing to her. A homely night-school had been established on four evenings of the week, of which Elsie was the recognised and paid mistress. Her old and trusty friend George Hendrick came over as of yore on Wednesdays, and also on Fridays when no school was held, the evening being occupied by the service, and singing practice which followed.
Elsie's pure and sweet example, and bright and playful manner, were of priceless value among the somewhat rough and careless mining population which had now been settled on the moors about the headlands.
The girl was happy in herself, and therefore failed not to inspire others with something of the innocent sunshine of her own nature. She still was haunted by the dear, dead face of her whom she had learned to love as a sort of angelic mother. But she had learnt a better faith than that of hero-worship, and had come to look to another Presence, that was human and yet divinely glorious, for guidance, sympathy, and direction.
Thus matters continued for two years. Elsie was now a grown young woman, and her school was regularly established. Her's was a happy and contented time—
"Never feeling of unrest Broke the pleasant dream she dreamed. Only made to be her nest All that lovely valley seemed, No desire of soaring higher Stirred or flattered in her breast."
Even had she desired to move, the presence of Mrs. McAravey would have rendered it impossible. Though much softened and improved, the old woman had scarcely become an agreeable companion. The hard, Covenanting leaven had moulded her from childhood, and though of late years she had been touched by a gentler spirit, it was impossible that habits of a lifetime should be entirely eradicated. She suffered much pain, borne for the most part uncomplainingly, and was now nearly helpless. Elsie was not the sort of person to think herself a martyr. Indeed, it never occurred to her that, in thus watching and consoling the declining years of this poor, decrepid old body, she was even performing a noble, and at times fatiguing and painful, duty. She took it all as a matter of course. It came to her in the order of Providence, and formed an element and feature in the state of life to which it had pleased God to call her, and in which she had resolved by the Divine blessing to do her duty.
Thus matters might long have held their quiet course had it not been for Jim. As it has been said, he was very different in disposition from Elsie. Restless, eager, and full of curiosity, he could not understand her placid yet cheerful nature. He knew not the secret of her inner life, and of the way in which that life animated and directed the outer. The young man saw less and less of Tor Glen, having now obtained a good situation in a flax store at Ballymena.
Some little time previous Elsie and Jim had both been confirmed; and since that event the Rev. Cooper Smith and George Hendrick had had several consultations with regard to them. They were very unwilling to disturb the minds of the young people, nor had they anything definite to impart; yet it did not seem right to keep them in ignorance of what was known or suspected as to their parentage. Jim, moreover, had displayed a good deal of curiosity on the subject, and had questioned Hendrick as to the meaning of the reports that had come to his ever open ears about old McAravey's knowledge of the drowned woman.
At length it was resolved that Elsie and Jim should be invited to the rectory on a Saturday afternoon, and the whole matter fully explained. All being assembled on the day named, the rector briefly repeated what McAravey had said on his death-bed, as it had been told to him by Hendrick. It appeared that before the old man's death the locket had been brought out from its place of concealment, and, in presence of the priest, handed over to Hendrick, who had next day brought it to the rector. Upon investigation the locket had been found to contain the portrait of a man, and also a small folded piece of paper. The face was intelligent and powerful, but by no means pleasing. The eyes were eager and piercing, the lines about the mouth firm and deep-cut; the features in general somewhat coarse, and plainly those of a man in the lower walks of life, and one accustomed to hard toil both of mind and body. The paper had proved to be the pawn ticket of a watch pledged in Belfast for the sum of one pound, the name upon it being Henderson. Mr. Smith had redeemed the watch, which now lay before him with the locket on the table.
"You see, Elsie," he said, turning to the girl, whose eyes were full of tears, "we have but slight evidence to show either that this is your father's portrait, or that the poor creature who came to so untimely an end was your mother. It is curious that the name on the ticket is Henderson, while McAravey said the person who brought you and Jim to him was called Davison or Davis, or something like that. Of course it is quite possible the poor creature did not like to give her right name at a pawn office. What do you think?"
"I have always felt as if she was my mother," said Elsie; "and I should be glad if it turned out so. It seems very probable."
"I'm sure this rough-looking fellow is no father of mine," cried Jim, who had been sadly disappointed at the unromantic character of the revelation; "but I'll find out the secret of this matter yet. Meantime, I suppose, sir, the watch is mine. Elsie may take the locket."
"Don't you think you are somewhat precipitate, Jim?" said the rector, smiling. "This is just one of the points Mr. Hendrick and I have been considering. Of course it is just possible that some day the poor drowned woman may be identified, and turn out to have no connection with you at all. But I am inclined to think she was your mother, and that that accounts for her coming to Tor Bay. We have thought it only right, therefore, that you and Elsie should have the locket and watch, for the present at least. As for the division, you must arrange that between you."
"I think I ought to have the watch, as I said, sir, and Elsie the locket."
"Well, perhaps that is the most suitable division," said the rector, coldly; "but I don't think you are quite consistent in claiming the watch so eagerly, and at the same time scorning the miniature, since, in all probability, if the watch belonged to your mother, the likeness is that of your father."
"As such I at least shall be glad to keep it," said Elsie.
Jim was somewhat crestfallen at the rector's rebuke, but merely added, with some pomposity—
"Now that I have been informed of the circumstances, I shall probably, by the aid of this watch, be able to unravel the mystery of my parentage."
He meant it merely as a piece of brag to cover his retreat, and as such the rector and Hendrick took it, receiving his words with a quiet smile.
"I consider that Mr. Smith has acted very wrongly in keeping these things from us so long," commenced the young man, as he and Elsie walked home together after ac early dinner at the rectory.
"O Jim! how can you say so? Mr. Smith could have had no motive but consideration for our feelings."
"I say nothing against his motives, only that I think he acted wrongly. Valuable time has been lost; but clergymen are never good men of business, and Scripture-readers are like them, I suppose."
"Jim, I don't like to hear you speak like that; it's ungrateful. And what you mean by valuable time I can't conceive."
"I dare say you don't understand the value of time, leading the sort of life you do in a place where nobody ever knows the hour," said the youth, superciliously, as he glanced at his newly-acquired treasure; "but of course I mean time has been lost in investigating our family history."
"I'm quite content to be as I am," said Elsie. "If the history was known, it would probably be neither important nor interesting. I don't see how the watch will help you, Jim; and you know you won't have the likeness."
And she looked into the lad's face with her merry brown eyes. But Jim was on his high horse, and merely replied—
"I cannot say what I shall do all at once, but the matter shall be looked into at an early date."
Elsie smiled, as the rector and Scripture-reader had done—not visibly, indeed, as they had, yet Jim somehow felt he was being laughed at, which made him angry.
"He is a smart lad that, but I don't like him," said the rector, as he and Hendrick watched Elsie and Jim going down the avenue. "He wants to be a fine gentleman, and is ashamed of his father's portrait—an ill-looking fellow enough, it must be admitted."
"Aye, I didn't like that," said Hendrick; "but he is a steady boy, and may do well when the conceit has been taken out of him a wee bit."
"If only a 'wee bit' is taken, there will be what the people call a good little wee lock left. But I sincerely hope, for his own sake, that his pride will be taken out of him. He is insufferable."
For the present, at least, Jim was elated with a pardonable pride in his watch, and, after the manner of youths thus recently set up, he looked at it again and again during his walk next morning across the headlands to Ballycastle, where he had to catch the Ballymoney car, thence to proceed to Ballymena by train. Ho was looking at his watch for the hundredth time, and half smiling to himself at his rash and boastful words as to making it the means of discovering his family history, when a sudden thought occurred to him. He looked long and eagerly at the watch, while his pale face flushed up. "I have it," he muttered; "and if I'm right, I shall take down the minister a bit."
It was a long, tedious journey by foot and car and rail that lay before him, and his patience was almost exhausted when he reached his destination. Once arrived, he immediately sat down to write in his humble lodgings. The watch bore the name of the maker, "John Turnwell, Leeds, 7002." Was it not possible that a record had been preserved, stating when and to whom the watch had been sold. Ho did not know whether such was the practice, but at all events he would inquire. A brief note was soon written and left ready for the morning mail; then the tired and excited lad went to bed, and dreamed of a beautiful lady who said she was his mother, and that his father was a lord, and had been murdered by the repulsive-looking man in the locket; and then a carriage and pair came thundering up to his lodgings, and his employer stood in the hall as he passed down, and congratulated him, and called him "my lord." Then he thought he saw the man in the locket looking at him with hard, cold mouth, and then the face grew smaller till it shrunk into the locket, and it was open on the breast of the dead woman as she lay on the sands; and he saw himself and Elsie standing by the body. In a moment he passed into the little figure, and felt himself turning to call Mike McAravey, as he had done so long ago. The horror of that last vision awoke him. It was late, and he had only time to get his letter posted and to hurry to his office.
But Jim could not rest, till in the course of a few days a letter arrived with the Leeds post-mark. He trembled as he took it in his hand, and then as he read a flush mantled up his face, and he burst into a laugh as he saluted himself in the cheap mirror that adorned the mantelpiece—
"Aw, mi lord! Glad to make your lordship's acquaintance!"
The note ran thus:—
"WATCH AND CLOCK FACTORY, LEEDS,
"August 19, 187—.
"SIR,—In reply to your favour of the 16th inst. we beg to say that we always keep a register of all watches made or sold by us.
"No. 7002, an English lever made by ourselves, appears to have been purchased by Lady Waterham, of Burnham Park, in this neighbourhood, on the 21st of October, 185—.
"We should advise you to communicate at once with her ladyship, who is now at home.
"We remain, Sir, your obedient Servants, "J. TURNWELL & Co.
"Mr. J. McARAVEY, "Market Street, Ballymena, Ireland."
It was enough to turn the head of an ambitious boy. Poor Jim, though generally cautious and reticent, could not contain himself, and, in strict confidence, revealed his coming splendour to one or two of his companions. It was soon reported that Jim McAravey had come in for a fortune of 50,000 pounds, and was the son of a lord. Even his employers seemed to treat him with new consideration, and, though annoyed that the affair had got so soon bruited about, he could not feel angry when he saw himself pointed at in the street, and half jokingly spoken of as "my lord" by his fellow-clerks.
Jim's first step was to write a somewhat haughty letter to the Rev. Cooper Smith, and an excessively gushing and almost affectionate one to Elsie. Both letters were shown to George Hendrick, the consequence being that one afternoon on returning home Jim found the Scripture-reader awaiting him. "The young lord" (as they called him) was about to offer a gracious but distant welcome, when Hendrick, who had heard the town talk, anticipated him by exclaiming—
"Well, Jim, my boy, I'm afraid you have been making a rare fool of yourself!"
"I would thank you to explain your language," said the young man with great hauteur.
"There, don't be offended, lad," replied the reader, kindly; "I only meant it was a pity you let this thing get talked of before you had more certainty. I needn't tell you, Jim, how glad we shall all be to hear of anything really to your advantage."
"I'm not aware that the thing has been talked about. I only mentioned it to one or two personal friends, with a view to obtaining their advice."
"Your friends have not been discreet, then," said Hendrick; "why, Jim, the whole town is talking about you, and should this come to nothing, you will have made yourself ridiculous. Had you no truer or older friends with whom you might have consulted? I 'm sorry for this, Jim."
"If you mean Mr. Smith and yourself, I must say you did not seem to take much interest in my welfare—and Elsie is not much better," he added, bitterly. "Perhaps it will be different now."
"Come, Jim, you don't believe a word of all that. You know well who your truest friends are, though we don't always encourage all your notions. But will you not let me see this famous letter?"
Hendrick read the letter carefully, and then asked, "And what do you mean to do, Jim?"
"Why of course go over to see her ladyship as soon as I can arrange matters here. I shall speak to Messrs. Moore to-morrow, and see whether they can let me free at once—I should think under the circumstances they would."
"My dear Jim," cried the reader, "are you mad? You don't seriously mean to give up, or run the risk of losing, your situation for what may after all prove a wild goose chase?"
This was just what Jim had contemplated, and it was not without difficulty that good George Hendrick brought him to a sounder judgment. Unlike Jim's youthful friends, who, partly animated by love of mischief and partly by youth's natural hopefulness, had encouraged him to indulge the most glowing fancies, Hendrick showed him gently, but plainly, how fragile was the foundation on which he had been building. The watch might have been stolen, or lost, or given away. There might turn out to be no direct or traceable connection between Lady Waterham and the unknown woman whose property it had been. Jim was not shaken in his own private conviction (strengthened as it had been by his dream), but he was too hard-headed not to admit the reasonableness of Mr. Hendrick's arguments; and the more he heard of the tales that had been circulated, the more deeply he regretted his pride and misplaced confidence. He finally made no objection to Hendrick's proposal that the matter should be left in the hands of the Rev. Cooper Smith, who was going to England in the course of ten days, and was willing to make a slight detour to Leeds. So it was settled. The watch and locket were entrusted to the rector, who promised to see the watchmaker and Lady Waterham.
"You seem more annoyed than anything else," said Jim crossly to Elsie, when the final arrangements were being made in the rectory study.
"I cannot say I am pleased," replied the girl. "I fear lest you should be disappointed, Jim; and, on the other hand, I don't want to be anything but what I am. I have not been brought up a lady, and to find that I had been born one would be no pleasure. If you could be a lord, Jim, without affecting me, it would be all right."
"Why, Elsie, you have no ambition."
"None to be put in a false position, which I could not rightly fill."
"What a solemn and mysterious communication," said Lady Waterham, laughing, as she handed a letter across the breakfast table to her husband.
"Pooh! my dear, it is some Irish beggar; you had better not see him," said his lordship as he rose from the table.
"O scarcely—it would be too impertinent."
The letter ran as follows:—
"The Rev. Cooper Gore Smith presents his compliments to Lady Waterham, and trusts that she will find it convenient to receive him on Tuesday morning at about eleven o'clock, when he hopes to have the honour of waiting on her ladyship.
"The Rev. Cooper Gore Smith's reasons for troubling Lady Waterham can scarcely be explained in a letter. Suffice it that the affair on which he is engaged is of considerable importance to those chiefly concerned, and may even prove not to be without interest for her ladyship.
"Railway Hotel, Leeds, "Sept. 3, 187—."
This the worthy man flattered himself was in his best style. He was considerably puffed up by the importance of his mission, and, although he had the wisdom to keep them secret, his aspirations were nearly as far-reaching as those of Jim himself. To have been the friend and patron of two long-lost scions of nobility was an idea too romantic and agreeable not to be dwelt on, even though he reminded himself again and again that it had probably no foundation. It was, therefore, with no little self-importance that the note was penned, and in a similar frame of mind he started for Burnham Park next morning.
Lady Waterham was sitting in the morning-room with her two daughters when the clergyman was announced.
Lady Eleanor and Lady Constance More were like each other, being both agreeable-looking, simple, and yet elegant. They seemed about the same age, and were certainly past their first youth; still they looked bright and cheerful, and evidently troubled themselves but little about the advancing years. Lady Waterham was somewhat frigid in her manner, and as she slightly rose and pointed Mr. Smith to a chair, he became conscious that he had forgotten the exact words in which he had intended to commence the conversation. This led to a slight pause, but having plenty to say, he soon found a way to begin.
"I have ventured to call on your ladyship about two young persons in whom I am deeply interested, and into whose parentage I am making inquiries. The story is a romantic one, and will take some little time to relate——" He was brought to a sudden pause by the cold, inquiring look of Lady Waterham.
"But I ought to tell your ladyship how I come to call on you."
"Thank you, sir," said her ladyship, drily—she was beginning to suspect that her husband had been right.
"Well, the fact is," continued Mr. Smith, "the only clue to identity which we have is this watch, which it appears was purchased by you some twenty-three years ago at Mr. Turnwell's in Leeds."
Her ladyship was not like her daughters, and scarcely quite relished being reminded of what happened twenty-three years ago. She took the watch coldly, and, after looking at it a moment, said—
"Really, sir, I think there must be some mistake. I remember nothing about this watch. I am sure it was never mine, nor have any of us lost a watch. I am sorry you should have had so much trouble."
"Excuse me, your ladyship, but it seems almost certain that the watch was bought on your account. I have seen the entry in Messrs. Turnwell's books, from which this is a copy."
"This is very strange," said Lady Waterham, as she read the memorandum. "L7 10s. it cost, I see."
"When was it, mamma?" asked Lady Eleanor, looking up for the first time.
"The 18th of April, 185—."
"O mamma, I know! It must be the watch we gave to dear Elsie before she was married. You remember the marriage was in May, and that was the year I am sure. I was just fourteen."
"Fourteen and twenty-three are thirty-seven," said the Rev. Cooper Smith to himself, as he looked at the still fresh and eager face.
"Poor dear Elsie! what has become of her? Do you know her, sir?" she continued, turning to the clergyman.
"The girl on whose behalf I am inquiring is called Elsie, and it seems probable she was your friend's daughter."
"I must tell you, sir, who our Elsie was," said her ladyship, who had caught and did not like the word "friend." "She had been my maid; but we found her so conscientious, nice-mannered, and well-informed, that she almost occupied the position of nursery governess to the younger children. We were all very much attached to her, and when she married we gave her a watch, which Lady Eleanor supposes must be the same as this. The marriage was not a happy one, and we opposed it as long as we could. After some time she went to India, and thence I think to China, with her husband. For many years we have heard nothing of her, though I think we fancied we saw his name among those lost in a terrible shipwreck some years ago. It was a sad story altogether. Poor Elsie! Do you remember how anxious we used to be about her, girls?"
"It was only the other day I was thinking of her, and wondering what had become of the little baby. You know I was its god-mother, and she was called after me."
"Yes, indeed, I had forgotten," said Lady Waterham; "but perhaps, sir, you would kindly tell us what you know about our former protegee."
Mr. Smith told the sad tale with which our readers are acquainted as briefly as he could. At the end there was a pause, and then her ladyship said—
"Poor foolish girl! She would not take my advice, and I foresaw that her end would not be happy."
"Our poor dear Elsie!" said Lady Constance, her eyes overflowing. "It was a sad day for her when she first saw that horrid man Damer; her head was quite turned afterwards."
"At all events my baby godchild is living, and a credit to me apparently," said Lady Eleanor.
"And the boy?" said the clergyman.
There was a pause. The Ladies Constance and Eleanor looked at each other, and then at their mother.
"I have not mentioned the boy," said her ladyship; "but that is the most painful part of the subject. He is not Elsie's brother at all; and what is worse, it was never exactly known who he was. About four months after the marriage a poor woman came to the village. She said her name was Damer, and inquired for Elsie's husband. He was very much put out by her appearance, but at once took a lodging for her, where the poor thing had a baby, and died immediately after. Damer said the woman was his only sister, and accordingly that he must take the child. At the time Elsie seemed to have no doubts, but every one else talked about it. Some said the woman was his wife, and others—you can imagine what they said. Shortly after that they left the neighbourhood, and we never saw Elsie again. Her husband, I must tell you, was a mechanical engineer, and considered an excellent workman. He got a capital appointment in India after he left Leeds, and Elsie wrote to tell us she was going with him. It was then I so strongly urged her to stay at home with the children; but she would not be guided, and merely wrote to say she had placed them with some people in the north of Ireland, where, I think, she came from herself."
"I fancy," said Lady Eleanor, "I have some of her letters still. You remember, mamma, they were imprisoned in China, with a number of other English people, for ever so long. It was after they were released that we had the last letter (which I am sure I kept), saying that she was coming home. We did not know at the time whether she meant alone or not; and then when we saw Edgar Damer's name among the people lost in that vessel—I forget its name—we concluded that she must have gone on before."
Thus piecing together the broken memories of the past, the morning went by. The Rev. Cooper Smith stayed to luncheon, and in the course of conversation various confirmatory incidents came out. The miniature in the locket was at once recognised, and it appeared that the locket itself had been the special gift of little Lady Eleanor. A more careful comparison of dates proved quite satisfactory, showing, among other things, that the body had been found at Tor Bay just four months after the date of the letter which Lady Eleanor had succeeded in finding, and in which Elsie said she was to start in a few days, and would be nearly four months on the voyage. "My first visit will be to the glens, and then I shall try to go over and see you. I have so much to tell, and to ask your kind advice about. I am unhappy and anxious, and feel somehow as if I would never see either my child or you, though I am writing about it. It is so long since we have heard of anybody, we seem to have been dead, as it were."
Having returned to his hotel, the clergyman made some brief notes of the story that had thus providentially been brought to light. He did not know whether to feel pleasure or disappointment. He was glad to have the mystery cleared up; glad, too, to find that Elsie had had so sweet a mother, and was likely to have such kind and liberal friends. Yet he could not but feel sorry for the collapse that was awaiting Jim's castle in the air. It would be a bitter trial for him, and he knew not how Jim would bear it. Mr. Smith was somewhat puzzled, moreover, what to do himself. He had promised to write to the expectant Jim; but now he could not bring himself to do so. His own holiday would not expire for a fortnight, and he was naturally reluctant to return home sooner than was necessary. While debating what was best to be done, a telegram was put into his hand. It was from the irrepressible and anxious Jim. "Please telegraph results obtained immediately. Reply paid for." "The fool!" muttered Mr. Smith; and, yielding to a sudden irritation, he filled up the reply for which the boy was waiting:
"All clear enough, but quite unsatisfactory as far as you are concerned."
It was a cruel blow, and no sooner was it dealt than he was sorry for it. He resolved to write to the poor lad, and, finding an invitation to dine at Burnham Park, which had first to be accepted, he sat down, well pleased with himself and all the world. The letter to Jim was kindly. The whole truth was not told, but it was announced that Jim and Elsie were no connections of the Waterham family. All else was reserved for verbal explanation.
The dinner at Burnham was pleasant enough. The earl was affable, and after dinner had several reminiscences of that "clever dog Damer" to tell, which did not raise his character in the clergyman's estimation. When about to leave, Lady Eleanor handed him a note for Elsie, adding—
"I do wish so she would come over and see us! Of course I should gladly pay all her expenses."
The Rev. Cooper Smith left Leeds next morning quite satisfied with himself, and, having written a long letter to Hendrick, giving a general idea of his discoveries, he went on his tour with a light heart.
Poor Jim! his pride had indeed met with a fall. The rector's letter was soothing enough, but the winged messenger which he himself had demanded had arrived full twenty-four hours earlier. Full of the most ridiculous dreams, that he would have been ashamed to put in words even to himself, the young man tore open the brown cover. One glance at the cruelly brief, well-written announcement, and all the top-heavy aerial erection his vanity had heaped up lay shattered around him. Poor boy! shall we not pity him? From very childhood, though so silent and undemonstrative, he had fed himself with extravagant visions and wild speculations. All this had been merely an amusement, though an unhealthy one. The dreamer had scarcely entertained the idea of his dreams possibly proving true. But the train was laid for a future explosion—the imagination was diseased, and so when the watchmaker's letter came, all the shadowy fancies of the past seemed to be suddenly transformed into substantial realities. He fancied ho had always known that which hitherto he had only amused himself by fancying.
The blow was sharp and decisive, and Jim felt he had brought it on himself. Curiously enough, however, the sudden stinging pain acted as a tonic stimulant. The lad summoned up all the latent manliness and force of his character. He looked the thing in the face, and saw clearly that he had played the fool. He knew that he would be laughed at, and resolved to bear it like a man.
Next day came Mr. Smith's letter, and it was as balm to the wounded spirit. Elsie also wrote a line to say she was glad not to be a lady, and believed that he would get on all the better for not being a lord.
Thus it came to pass that when the Rev. Cooper Smith arrived at Ballymena station, the first person he met was Jim McAravey.
"I do not know how to thank you, sir, for all the trouble you have taken; I at least was not worthy of it. But I trust this piece of folly has been enough for me. I hope I am wiser, but I shall strive not to be sadder."
Mr. Smith was as much surprised as pleased at this change in the young man's character, and he the more regretted having to tell the whole of the narrative, which was sure to cause further pain to the lad. However, it had to be done, and Jim, who was no coward, took it all better than might have been expected.
"And so I am only Elsie's half-brother, at best—or shall I say at worst?" said the poor lad, with trembling voice. "I'm afraid, sir, I shall be terribly laughed at here, but I must bear it as best I can. I have brought it on myself."
Elsie was profoundly thankful for the result of the investigation. As she had said herself, she "did not feel like being a lady," and was therefore glad to be delivered from what would have been, to her, an unwelcome fate. At the same time it was a pleasure to obtain definite information as to her parentage, and also to find that in Lady Eleanor she had a friend who had known and loved her mother, and who was bound to herself by a sacred tie. That Jim had proved not to be her brother was, if the truth be told, a relief. Elsie had often reproached herself that she did not feel for him that sisterly affection which she believed it her duty to cultivate. In fact she began to like Jim better now, partly because he was decidedly improved by the "taking down" he had received, and partly because affection was no longer a duty to which the girl had to school her heart.
Lady Eleanor's letter was kind in the extreme. She told Elsie in simple language how they had all loved her mother, and enclosed for her perusal the one or two letters that had been preserved. "Although Elsie could not remember their last meeting, yet they were not strangers, since Lady Eleanor did not forget that she had held her in her arms at the baptismal font." Elsie was urged most affectionately to go over to England, if it were only for a time; and it was suggested that if she settled there Mrs. McAravey might accompany her. Elsie, however, felt at once that, even could she bear the journey, it would be a cruelty to transplant the aged woman from her native soil to a region where she would find all things alien and strange. Nor would she entertain the idea of deserting the poor old body, though Mrs. McAravey stoically offered to give her up.
"I won't stand in your way, Elsie, lass, though I can't bear to think of it; but it's not long I'll be here to trouble anyone, and I'd like to know you were well provided."
But Elsie would not be persuaded, nor could her new friends do otherwise than approve her noble resolve. They were disappointed, but felt that such a girl was worthy of their affection and patronage, and trusted that time would afford them opportunities of benefiting her.
The winter that ensued was a trying one. The snow lay deep on the moors, so that Tor Bay was practically shut off from the rest of the world. The rector was not able to get over, and even George Hendrick's visits were few and far between. For several weeks Elsie could not go to church, and when she did the fatigue and wet brought on a cold which stuck to her all the winter. Old Mrs. McAravey seemed fast approaching her end; she long had been quite crippled with rheumatism, and now her mind was at times beginning to give way. It was a sad, dreary time for Elsie. Scarcely any children were able to come to school; and as she struggled on day after day at what seemed, in her present low state of health, a barren and uninteresting task, she could not but have visions of the comfortable home she might have acquired with her hitherto unseen friends. Not that she ever regretted her decision; indeed Elsie was scarcely capable of entertaining a selfish thought. Without any apparent effort she lived for others, and habitually thought of them before herself. Yet it was a trying time for the poor young girl—gloomy and disheartening days, succeeded by restless and anxious nights, and literally not a soul to speak to.
Jim, too, had a bad time of it that winter. So great had been the ridicule to which he had been subjected in Ballymena, that he was at length forced to abandon his position. Messrs. Moore accepted his resignation somewhat coldly. They regretted the loss of a valuable servant, but Jim had failed to gain the affection of his employers. He had "kept himself to himself" with such reserve that no one took much interest in him, though his good business qualities were fully appreciated. Messrs. Moore gave him a high character for steadiness and capacity, but they did not seem inclined to go out of their way to obtain him employment. Poor Jim was much mortified at the calmness with which his resignation was received. He knew that he had done his duty to his employers faithfully, and therefore he felt hurt when they made no effort to retain him. The poor lad had well-nigh to begin again. He went to Belfast, and there soon obtained employment, but in a far inferior position to that which he had occupied at Messrs. Moore's. Moreover, he soon found that in the great capital of the linen trade there were numbers of young men as capable, as energetic, and in many cases better educated than himself. It was a harsh and unpleasant experience, but Jim had the strength and courage to bear up under it. He still was full of a laudable confidence in himself, and felt sure that patience and diligence would have their due reward. It was a hard struggle, however. Trade was bad, and after a few months the house in which he was just getting established was compelled to stop payment. For a few weeks Jim was absolutely without employment. After that time he obtained another situation, and thus escaped being reduced to actual poverty; for the first time, however, he was brought face to face with the possibility of privation—of being unable (however willing and however anxious) to obtain the means of gaining his daily bread.
Thus the winter and spring wore on. Almost the first gleam of sunshine that came to Elsie with the reviving year was a letter from Lady Eleanor, in which she said that as Elsie would not come to see them, they had almost resolved to go and look for her. The earl, her father, had often spoken of taking them to the Giant's Causeway, and so they thought of running over before Easter if the weather was fine, which after so severe a winter they hoped it might be. The hope thus held out was destined to be gratified. Easter was late that year, and the weather in March and April beautiful. Jim was astonished one day early in April by receiving a letter from Elsie, directing him to wait upon the Earl and Lady Waterham, who were to arrive from Fleetwood next morning, and would stay a day at the Royal Hotel. Jim blushed as he recalled the vain dreams of six mouths before, and naturally felt some embarrassment at the prospect of meeting such exalted personages. However, he conducted himself so modestly and naturally that he won the approval of the whole party. Even the earl, who, out of dislike to Damer, was much prejudiced against the lad, spoke kindly to him, and expressed a willingness to serve him, if possible, at any time.
Having proceeded to Larne by train, the party posted along the noble coast road, arriving at the Ballycastle Inn in time for a very late dinner. Next day the younger ladies, having procured two stout ponies and a guide, started for Tor Bay, taking the magnificent Fair Head en route. They were determined to find out Elsie for themselves, and to take her by surprise in the midst of her ordinary work. It was one of those glorious spring days that might have belonged to June, were it not for a keenness in the air that surprised you when the sun was for a few seconds over-clouded. There was, too, a clearness in the atmosphere that warm summer days cannot claim, with a suspicion of frost, as you looked towards the sea. And often did the two ladies look in that direction during their ride on the lofty headlands. Rathlin Island lay below them, separated by the few miles of narrow and often impassable sea, but to-day it was but a "silver streak." Far in the horizon the Scotch coast could be seen all along the line, while the Mull of Cantyre looked but a few miles away, the very houses and boundaries being almost distinguishable. Full in front the sun gleamed on Ailsa Craig, as it rose abrupt and lovely from out of the sea. Elsie, though familiar with it, had not been insensible to all this beauty. She had spent almost the entire night at Mrs. McAravey's side, nor did the old woman fall off to sleep till it was almost time to open school. It was a weary morning's work; and when the children went home to dinner the exhausted girl wandered down to the beach (having seen that Mrs. McAravey still slept) in search of fresh air and quiet before resuming her duties. Since the arrival of Lady Eleanor's last letter she had naturally enough been excited and nervous. She knew that in a few days at latest she should see her mother's friend, and one who promised to be hers. Would she like her? Would the meeting be a disappointment, or otherwise? What should she say? Where would they meet? How should she dress herself? The first meeting with one to whom we are bound by any ties, whom we have long corresponded with, or are likely in the future to be much associated with, is always looked forward to with embarrassment and nervousness. How much was this the case with a poor, simple orphan girl, who had never been five miles from home, called upon to encounter a titled lady, who actually claimed her as her godchild, and to whom she felt bound by so many tender associations? Filled with thoughts of the approaching interview, Elsie wandered, she knew not whither, on the beach. Suddenly a shadow seemed to pass over her, and she became conscious of the bitterness of the north-east wind that blew upon the shore. Drawing her cloak round her, she looked up and found that she had come under the shade of the great cliff that rose at the extremity of Sandy Creek. She stood still a moment, gazing on the dreary scene, and then a sudden flood of recollection came over her. The tide was low, and she stood on the very spot, as it seemed, where, twelve years before, she had caught sight of the strange black mass that was being tossed on the sand amid the tangled sea-weed. She saw herself a trembling, ragged child, alone by the dead body in the fast gathering twilight. And this was the only time that she had seen her mother. The girl was out of spirits, low in health, and very weary, and so, for the only time almost in her life, she gave way to repining thoughts. All the gracious path by which a kindly Providence had led her was obscured, and she thought of herself merely as the orphan child of this poor dead thing that lay upon the sand. The whole history of the past flooded back upon her. She saw little Jim, so eager to escape from the gruesome sight; then Mike McAravey approaching through the twilight, and herself as she ran up against good George Hendrick; then rose up the horrid bewildering scene at the inquest; and finally she seemed to stand in the bleak wind-blown moorland churchyard, and before her was the nameless head-stone, "In Memory of E. D." The sense of loneliness was complete as she stood beneath the overhanging cliff exposed to the biting nor'-east wind. With an effort she aroused herself, and looking up with tear-filled eyes to the pale clear blue sky so far away, she resolutely turned back into the warm sunshine that seemed the more dazzling after its temporary withdrawal. It was almost school-time, and on the far hill-side path Elsie's quick eyes caught sight of two or three tiny little figures, as they trotted down the path towards her cottage-school. In a moment all sadness was banished, and she felt herself again.