Слике страница
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

during that twelve months improved herself in very many ways even the fondest of them all could see.

Julius Denny had insisted on Frank Wollaston coming down as his best man, and the young barrister had neither stress of work to plead as an excuse, nor lack of wish to secure a few quiet minutes with Isabel's principal bridesmaid, Freda. He knew that she had spent the whole of the previous autumn, winter, and spring, with the exception of Christmas and the New Year, not at Girton, but studying oil and portrait-painting in town under the Savilles' roof. And he knew that she did not mean to do even this the coming winter, in order not to make the home party of daughters, now diminished by Isa's marriage, smaller or less cheerful for her father than was inevitable, before Molly and Dora came back from school, ready in turn to play their part as “the young ladies” of the house, the following Easter.

. So much he had learnt from Mrs. Saville even if he had seldom seen Freda herself in his afternoon calls in Queen Anne's Gardens. And on the wedding-day, when Isa with many sobs and tears had at last torn herself from her father's neck and taken her husband's arm to drive away, with the piteous reproachful still childish cry, “Oh, why did you make me marry you? I-I wish I hadn't!" and Sir Charles and Lady Wollaston had carried Mr. and Mrs. Denny and the few extraneous elder guests away to the Great House for afternoon tea, to leave their dear old friend, the Rector, quiet,-Francis made his opportunity, followed Freda to her old favourite seat under the yew tree, and though her reception of his approach was one of her old pettish movements, sat himself beside her and said quietly,

“ So you have not gone to Girton ?”
"No."
“And did not try for that scholarship and fail ?”
“ No.”
“ And are not studying medicine ?”
“ No.”

« Nor surgery ?”

He winced a little even at the thought; and nothing could have seemed more incongruous than the very mention of such a word in connection with this still charming-looking if also somewhat preoccupied-looking maiden, in her present pretty, picturesque attire as chief bridesmaid. She turned and faced him as she varied her reply to answer distinctly,

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

* Not yet.”

“Good heavens, Freda! You never really thought of carrying such a preposterous, hateful idea into execution ?” he cried, rising in his wrath and consternation.

“I don't know what you mean by thinking' about it,” she repeated wearily, “I don't think about it : I settled it all a year ago, and leave it till the time comes to act. As long as father lives I have other things to think of and to do."

. May he live for ever then !”

“Ah! if he could,” and tears welled up into her eyes. She and she alone had been witness and helper in a late most unexpected and most terrible attack of pain. She had not told Francis that Medicine had been ber real work in town the past winter six months, painting her recreation, though that too with a set purpose.

“But he can't, dear; and extreme age is really a very pitiable end of honoured life. From Marlborough's eyes the tears of dotage flow,'

. -nothing could be sadder."

Oh, yes ! don't picture it,” and she hid her face in her hands. “But he looks well,-quite as well as last year.”

“ You are fond of quotations, so I need only say, 'appearances are deceitful,” she answered, bitterly.

Freda, dear Freda, hear me. It is the law of nature that daughters should leave or lose their fathers, and husbands take their place to them, and then their own sons and daughters lead them in their turn gently down the hill of life.”

She tried to speak, but only sobbed,
“Don't, -don't try to comfort me with mere platitudes."

“Freda, come back to me. I am sure you loved me once,—and I have done nothing to forfeit any woman's love. Ask my father, ask-"

“What are you saying ? What are you doing, Francis ? Do you think I ever mean to marry ?”

“I hope and trust so,—and myself !” No, no one.

Could I, could I run the risk of bringing others into the world only to be as miserable as myself! And I do love you, Frank, and always have loved you, and always shall love you,if in quite another way to that you mean ; really a purer, better way it seems to me. Arthur wrote of Queenie two years ago, Thank God, I know a good woman when I see her,' and I say

with him, and

CG

[ocr errors]

66

[ocr errors]

thank God, I know an honest man !' And I know you are good, and far too good for me.”

Freda, you madden me !" “I should if I married you ! you would find me such a shrew,” and she tried to laugh. “I mean it. I feel so irritable, so snappish, so unreasonable.”

“But are not so. There is a change in you, I know; no doubt it comes of the effort you make to control such feelings, for they do not appear except in that new line across your forehead.”

“I am so glad you weren't poetical and called it ‘brow,' Francie,” and she rose. “Dear, good, kind, faithful friend, do marry, and that soon. I cannot bear to think I have in any way spoiled your life.”

I can wait.”

• You will drive me mad if you do!” she cried hotly but with the passion of truth. “Never, never allude to this subject again, or we must cease even to be friends. I shall decline to meet you, even here, far more in town," and she took up her hat and flew off like a wounded bird to the house, and poor Francis Wollaston knew her far too well to dream one moment of pursuing her.

Arthur had given away poor pretty little Isa and her father married her. The following Sunday,—the regular Brayscombe christening Sunday,—the elder man baptized, with Andrew Shadbolt's twentieth granddaughter, his own first grandson, “George Frederick Desmond Erle.” Even Arthur had not suggested Moggs or Potticary, so as to follow the usual Erle perpetuation of the mother's previous name. It was even his father who proposed introducing Frederick, in honour of the mother, whom he and Dulcie always called Frederica. Sir Charles Wollaston and George had at once offered to be sponsors to this precious son and grandson; and with them were associated Aunt Elizabeth, Dulcibella, and Diana Saville, for thus both Arthur and his wife had insisted it must be. This was Queenie's first visit to her husband's home, for sea-air being ordered on her recovery last July, Aunt Elizabeth had carried her and the children, and kind ailing little Mrs. Bell, down to Eastbourne. Thus Adelaide Meyrick had not been cheated of the last two of the three months of her friend's visit to her by the sea, which they had so happily planned together from the earliest spring of that long year.

How much Arthur had to show his wife beside his four unknown sisters, his mother's grave, old Andrew, and many other village friends.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But perhaps at nothing did he himself look oftener and with deeper feeling than at Friedeswide’s bold attempt the previous June, now standing in an odd corner of the old school-room, to take his father, Dulcie, and good old Max, together as they had stood, and sat, and lain after reading Aunt Elizabeth's first telegram concerning his own troubles. Good old Max now laid to rest,—and honoured rest,-and if before his master, still in a good old age,—in the border land of roses and hawthorns uniting the Rectory garden and their dear churchyard.

“Don't keep looking at that poor picture,” Freda had said impatiently one day. “Dulcie's hand is quite out of drawing; and I laboured on and on at the ridiculously audacious attempt, till I actually lost the one likeness I had cared for and had caught at first. Now, after this last year's London teaching and real study in the life-school, I am going to try again.”

May I have this then ?” “Not till I have the other," cried Freda, jealously.

No, but when you have. And I'll pay you beforehand with these twelve brand new copies of that volume of 'Essays from the Spectator, by Arthur Desmond Erle, B.A.,' which Kegan Paul's just sent

Artist and author! I heard some one congratulating father only yesterday upon having two such talented children."

“It strikes me, Arthur, that though to earn one's own bread and cheese by one's wits is very sweet,--and to earn helpless orphans' bread and butter, as you do, sweeter still, -that our dear father's two most talented children would gladly become fools' to be as he is! and cut off their right hands, if so they could attain to Dulcie's and Diana's blessed faith and faithfulness !”

But, with Arthur, this ardent wish was deep as ardent, and too deep for words. He just smiled,-a smile that meant nothing or something, according as Freda chose to interpret it, and walked straight away. Straight, for he knew the conservative ways of the house well, to the old hook in the back passage where had hung the chancel key this fifty years, when that back passage had been the then new front entrance. And thence straight through the garden into the church, —not ever-open as S. Gabriel's at Hereford, or S. Thomas’ at Burnt Ash,—and thus he could, once within it, lock himself in, secure from eye or intrusion of any fellow-man. So long he knelt, praying on and on, if mostly in the one Divine yet human form of words, “O

me.

my FATHER, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, Thy will be done,” at the familiar chancel-rails, that the sun had crept round to the west and was streaming on him through the tower window put in to his mother's memory when he arose. Not “converted”“ would to God I could believe in conversion, still more experience it,” had often been his thought the past two years,—yet strengthened, comforted, even made in some strange way content to bear his present burden, since it seemed God's will to keep still longer in this valley of doubt and humiliation one who, by nature, so craved and lived on sympathy. Had Freda really been able to read her brother's heart she might have learnt that God's grace may conquer nature if in darkest ways; and, honestly sought, does do it even for the weakest.

No word had passed on the subject between himself and his father, far less himself and Dulcie, since that Wednesday in Bromley Street a year ago. “To run the slightest risk of undermining another's faith, that at least shall never be laid to my charge,” had been very early his determination. “No man shall come to such misery as mine through me. To think how lightly men and boys flung moral and religious firebrands about them at ' New,' and every one everywhere at dear old Oxford six years back; and if then they did not seem to affect me—fresh from such a home as this, and preoccupied by art and music and a thousand lighter follies,—they smouldered on to kindle into flame unquenchable by man when I once did stand still to think !”

He spent this one christening Sunday with them, and of what it cost him to hear George reading the lessons for his father, and feel himself judged and rightly, unfit even to render this service, he breathed no word and gave no sign. But not Dulcie and Freda alone had now an habitual line of thought and care upon otherwise smooth brows. He insisted that the following Friday he must return to Stepney, although Queenie and the children, as every one exclaimed they could not part with them, should stay behind him if longer country air were really good for them, and doubtless it would be.

“Oh, Arthur, must you really go ? it has been so delightful to have you again,” pleaded Dulcibella.

Yes, I must; only Isa's marriage should have brought me now: or father's great wish our boy should be christened on the regular christening Sunday, as from you downwards all his own children had been, have kept me! Not that I don't love the old place,—and you, dear,—

« ПретходнаНастави »