The Lily and the Thorn by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant
The Murrays of Overbeck, in the parish of Waterdale, among the hills,
were nothing but a family of peasants. Nevertheless they were the cause
of so much trouble and confusion that no ducal house could have done
more to excite and interest the neighbourhood, which is the reason why
we now attempt to give a sketch of their earlier story. The later part
of it has, alas, by other means and in other ways, been blazoned before
all the world.
Elizabeth Murray, the mother, was always considered a woman out of the
common. She was tall and strong and handsome even in her old age, and in
her youth it was said she had been as powerful as a man, doing many
feats of strength altogether beyond the power of either men or women of
ordinary calibre. She it was from whom the children took their beauty.
It was not beauty of the full-blown rustic kind, but that of finer
quality, the only true beauty, perhaps, in the formal meaning of the
word: that which involves regularity and nobleness of features rather
than the evanescent charms of complexion and colour. Elizabeth was not
even exalted enough in position to be called Mrs Murray. She was
addressed by everybody by her Christian name. She was a woman who drove
her beasts to the field, milked her cows and churned her butter with her
own hands, and would hoe and dig her potatoes without flinching, had
there been need. But she had the carriage and bearing of a queen, and a
majestic style of form and feature such as few queens possess. When she
stood in the little market-place in Waterside, with her eggs and
chickens for sale, she might have been a Roman matron—Portia, stately
in old age, or the mother of Coriolanus. It was said that there was
Gipsy blood in her veins, and no one knew where she came from, or how it
was that a peaceable countryman like Abel Murray should have wanted to
marry her. There were many who did not hesitate to say that she had
driven the poor man to death. But it is easy to say such things, and
very difficult to prove them. If her strength, high spirit, and
imperious temper were too much for him, Abel Murray was not the man to
say it; but he died, nevertheless, leaving her open to such accusations,
as he might have done had he married a white maiden with no character at
all. But he left all he had in her hands, with the three little
children, who were as yet too young to be anything but encumbrances; and
Elizabeth had worked for her children like a slave, like a heroine. All
that they had in the world was a little house among the hills, far from
all other habitations of men, and a few bare, unproductive fields, less
profitable than they were sacred, as having been "in the family" for
generations. Here the widow toiled and struggled alone, telling nobody
of her privations and indebted to nobody, making out of her few cows and
her poultry-yard enough to support her children and bring them safely
through the simple dangers of childhood. From dangers more serious,
however, where is the mother, however exalted, who can defend her sons
and daughters? She was absolutely and passionately devoted to them, and
during all the best years of her life toiled for them night and day; and
if afterwards, when those perils befell them which she could not guard
them from, Elizabeth, used to sacrifice everything in her own person,
became selfish for her children and exacted sacrifices from others, such
as she herself felt it natural to make, may not a little pity mingle
with the blame her fault deserved? The passion of motherhood does not
bear so high a place among human passions as it once was supposed to do,
being set down now as a sort of animal instinct merely, we are told. But
high or low, it is a very great and strong and overwhelming sentiment,
and now and then works harm enough as well as good.
She had three children, all dark and handsome like herself. The eldest
boy, Abel, was a young Hercules, stronger and taller for his age than
any boy in the neighbourhood; and his little sister Lily, almost as soon
as she reached her teens, had been talked of far and near as the beauty
of Waterdale. Abel had other qualities besides. When he was about twelve
years old his mother deprived herself of his services, then just
becoming valuable, in order to send him to school. He went through
storms and sunshine, never missing a day, whatever might be the weather,
and in a year had driven the parish schoolmaster to despair, who had no
more to teach him. He was as clever as he was handsome, and he was more
ambitious than either, and full of that intellectual curiosity which is
the making of a scholar. It was a fatal day for Elizabeth when she sent
the boy to school, as all who knew them said. He could read and write
very well before he went there at all, and what does a country boy want
more? But after he had begun there was no getting him to care for
anything else but learning. He borrowed all the schoolmaster's store of
books, which was not great, and devoured them; then interested the
clergyman and got admission to his library; then, best and worst of all,
so caught the attention of a visitor that his whole lot in life was
changed. This stranger took the boy and sent him to a school where he
could learn more than was possible in Waterdale; then finding him worth
the trouble, sent him to the university and made "a gentleman" of him.
Thus, instead of labouring upon the tiny miserable farm, cultivating the
late little patch of corn and working among the "beasts," and taking his
share in the labours which his mother had carried on since he was a
child, the boy carried his handsome face and keen intellect into the
world, and throve, as was supposed, though the little house at Overbeck
heard little of him. In one point of view, it was hard that he should
thus deprive his mother of his legitimate assistance and leave her to
toil alone; but then she, of all others, was the one most anxious that
he should improve his position and rise into a higher place than that in
which he was born. If she felt a pang at his complete desertion of her,
she never put it into words, but rejoiced that he had made his way to
better things, and exulted with the whole force of her being in the
consciousness that her boy was "a gentleman." She bore the additional
labour without grudging, and toiled on with a high heart, never fearing
work. The work was sweet so long as Abel went on prospering and
progressing; and the proud mother, rejoicing in his advancement, never
betrayed to any one how soon this boy for whom she had toiled forgot all
about his home.
By-and-by, however, it became necessary to think how Lily, her only
daughter, was to set out in life. Lily had grown to be seventeen amid
the silence of the hills. She had the education of her class, could read
well enough, and write decently, though without any clear principles as
to spelling, and she was no doubt in her turn a help to her mother, who
was still strong and vigorous bodily, and in the prime of her days.
Lily had plenty to do at home, and might have gone on there, never
venturing upon the world, if she had chosen. But in that humble class it
is recognised that a lass as well as a lad may naturally desire to see
something of the world and to try her wing and her fortune even out of
the cosiest nest. It never occurred to Elizabeth Murray to question this
law of nature; indeed, had Lily chosen to remain under the shelter of
her mother's shadow for ever, it is probable that the mother would have
held it her duty to send her forth to try her own powers and strength.
The only question was, what was Lily to do? To go to service was the
first thing they thought of, and indeed tried; and the beautiful girl,
looking like a half-savage princess, full of natural dignity, but
untrained to conventional "manners," sometimes rude in youthful
ignorance, if always sweet in natural temper, marched down from her
native hills where all was wild and solitary and free, into the
restraint of a little genteel home in a little gossiping village, and
there made, as was very natural, a disastrous failure in her first
place. Lily did not understand the many restraints nor the unceasing
scoldings; and the minute and constant supervision to which she was
subjected drove her wild with indignation and resentment. What was she,
the daughter of a woman who sold butter and eggs in the market, to
"speak back" to a lady—and to be as fond of her own way as if she had
been a lady too? Elizabeth was sent for, and there were storms and
passions; but the upshot was that Lily, after having been smoothed down
and calmed on Saturday by her mother's representations and
remonstrances, overcome by home-sickness and love of freedom, and
general disgust with the world which was so contrary, ran away secretly
on Sunday evening, and got home at midnight, to the great scandal of the
gossips in the village she had left, who were very eager to find out who
had been with her. But no one had been with her. Lily had not learned
enough by that time either of herself or others to be vain. She was as
yet more annoyed and angered by the stare of wondering admirers than
pleased by their admiration. All life was still before her, a vague
sweet chaos, undiscerned and undivined.
But after this it became more impossible still that Lily should tamely
stay at home and help her mother. Though "the town" had been
disagreeable to her while she was in it, it had a certain charm when
recollected in the fields at Overbeck, where she never saw any one. The
excitement of a carriage passing now and then, a party of
tourists—strangers, perhaps foreigners—or of great people of the
county, lords and ladies like those in the story-books: the wild
exhilaration of a show or pedlar's van, the errand to a shop where
countless desirable things were to be seen at least, if not to be
had—all these sweetnesses, once tasted, leave a want, a void, when they
have passed away, that nothing else can fill up. Lily felt this, though
she did not wish to feel it. The remembrance of the constantly exacted
obedience, the unrelaxing rule, and all the crosses of her first
"service," were very distasteful to her. Home at a distance had seemed
heaven. But, if the flaming sword had been swept aside, and Adam and Eve
had found the entrance to Paradise reopen to them after the excitement
of the struggle with barren earth, would they have gone back, one
wonders? Home was (theoretical) Paradise to Lily; but how gay and how
exciting, if not pleasant, looked now the little Purgatory below, which
had seemed no better that an Inferno to the girl cribbed and cabined and
confined! The very gleam of the light in the shop window, the lamp over
the inn door—what a sense of dissipation and gaiety was in them! There
was nothing like this on the hills, where the stars were the only lamps,
and the tinkling of the beck all the music; whereas on the other hand
sometimes an organ-grinder would come into the town, and once there had
been a German band! The silence and the loneliness overcame Lily after
that taste of the excitements of life. She was sick of her old familiar
mountains; and the horizon on the landward side, a horizon which was
contracted within the limits of a tree or two and a village
steeple—that was the best of all.
Then there came sinkings of heart, and fitful ill-temper upon the part
of the girl, who did not know what she would be at. But Elizabeth was
learning wisdom, and knew. She said, "Lily, my lass, you must not bide
here. It's fine to have you, but when I'm dead and gone, what would you
do up on the fells? You would have to dig potatoes like me. Service is
no heritage, but to have a good trade at your fingers' ends, what a
thing that would be! I think I will speak to Miss Prentice on Saturday;
that's lively. You could see whatever's going on out of her windows, and
folks passing by to the castle; the young squire is at home, and there's
balls, and I don't know what. I'm 'most sure you will like that, Lily,
Lily was too wild to respond with immediate approval, but her heart
jumped. She had seen the young ladies and the young gentlemen out
riding, and what a sight it was! They filled the streets, the horses'
hoofs ringing like soldiers, and the ladies' long habits sweeping down,
and the horses arching their shining necks. And when there was a ball,
if you knew one of the servants you might be let in to see the ladies in
their beautiful dresses, and to hear the music; and sometimes Miss
Prentice would be sent for with one of her girls to hold the pins.
Lily's heart danced at the thought of these delights. Miss Prentice was
the dressmaker in Waterside, and lived in the street which was nearest
to the gate of the castle, and where everything could be seen that was
Here Lily went accordingly, after there had been various consultations
between her mother and the dressmaker. "My Lily is a good lass; there's
no harm in her," Elizabeth said. "You may think I'm partial; but who
should know her like me; and who so anxious to see if there's ill in
her? She's a good lass, but she's fanciful: she takes things into her
"Most folks does," said Miss Prentice; "especially them that is good for
something. So long as she is not taken up with lads and nonsense——"
"Never such a thought has been in her head," said Elizabeth, with some
"Ah! that's more than I would say of a saint. I'm not fond of the pretty
ones, for my part; they're fine to try things on, for all looks well on
them; but they seldom settle to the business as I could like. Lads are
the destruction of the business; but you're an honest woman, Elizabeth
Murray, and you've had a fight to bring up your bairns. I'll take her
and I'll try her, to show my respect for her mother; and that's as fair
as I can say."
Elizabeth made her acknowledgments like a duchess, with conscious
dignity. "I cannot think a bairn of mine will ever shame me," she said;
"if you take her canny, you'll never get a saucy word from my Lily. It's
the unmannerly that make bad manners. If I saw her with a good business
at her finger-ends I think I could die happy."
"Die! not you! You're not of the dying kind," said Miss Prentice,
briskly; "and as for the business, if she will stick to the business, it
will never forsake her: if she be not too bonnie for the business," the
dressmaker added with a sigh. She was an enthusiast for her profession,
as all artists should be, and sighed at the thought of those temptations
of intrusive life which tempt the neophyte astray.
Thus it was that Lily came to Waterside to learn the dressmaking. She
was a great deal too pretty for the business. Miss Prentice, who was a
wise woman in her way, and who felt the advantage of having a girl (in
such lonely places not yet called a young lady) upon whom every garment
looked well, took great precautions in her treatment of the mountain
Lily, and grew fond of her, and made much of her. And by-and-by Lily
became enlightened as to the sweetness of admiration. She learned after
a time why it was that the young squire rode past so slowly, staring at
the dressmaker's window, and why other young men of less high degree
passed the same way so often. She pretended even to herself that she was
very angry with them all, for staring at her thus. But in her heart she
soon ceased to be angry, and began to find the universal homage not
unsweet. When she heard the horse's hoofs she was not averse to being
visible or half-visible behind the fashion-book in the window. How
handsome he looked on his horse, handsomer than the lads on foot—the
town-lads who went and came, and saw nothing but the book of fashions!
Lily's heart began to beat a little quicker at certain hours of the day
when (she began to divine) he was likely to pass. He! of course; who
could any one mean by that but the chief gentleman of the place, young
Squire Ridley, who up the water and down the water was better known than
any other man?
Meanwhile, Elizabeth had to help her with the beasts and the potatoes,
and all her work, only the other boy, the youngest, of whom nothing has
been said. No one thought it necessary to say anything about him. He was
only Dick—he was the man of all work, though he was but sixteen. He was
Elizabeth's prop, her right hand, whom she could always depend upon; but
she did not make much account of Dick, any more than other people did.
He never gave any trouble,—whatever anxiety came, it would not be by
When Lily began her dressmaking in the Waterside village, her brother
Abel had just attained the highest object of his ambition. He had become
a fellow of his college, and thus was provided at once with the means of
living, and with a position which was doubly dear to him, in that it
supplied his greatest want, a recognised standing-ground and social
rank, such as it is. Nothing could be more honourable to a man than thus
to have gained, by his own exertions, a position so entirely
satisfactory; but there were elements involved which made his success
very different from that of most of his contemporaries. He did not
announce it to his family, or indeed give them the least hint of this
new step in life, with all the advantages it brought. This was not
because he wanted to be unkind, or from any mean desire to keep his
prosperity to himself. Could he have sent to them anonymously, without
risk of inquiry, a share of his income, he would have been glad to do
so; but he did not know how to resume his intercourse with them in his
changed circumstances. What pleasure could there be in any meeting now,
he asked himself? It seemed to him that any contact with the rude homely
habits of his own class would be intolerable: all the more intolerable
that he could not deceive himself on the subject, or deny that the
honest, thrifty peasant folk were a credit to him, as he, were he as
good as they, would be a credit to them. It must be allowed in his
defence that a young University man of distinguished talents and
prospects, to whom the best society in the country might be open, and
who was already on intimate terms with many young great people and
dawning notabilities, had need be of heroic strain to be capable of
confessing that his mother was a woman who sold eggs and butter in the
market. And Abel was not heroic. He was excitable, susceptible, nervous,
and visionary, doing little credit, so far, to his mountain breeding.
Perhaps it was because the fact of his dependence, and the extreme
goodness of the patron who had done so much for him, had been unduly
impressed upon his young mind, that he was so anxious now to conceal his
origin entirely, and shrank from his family and kind with so much dread
and horror. But it is more difficult to explain how, doing this, he
should yet have accepted the invitation which young Charley Landale, a
much humbler member of his college, pressed upon him eagerly yet
timidly. The Landales were well known to Abel, though they knew him only
as a great scholar and "rising man," of whose friendship their son was
proud. They were gentry of Waterdale, and it was thus to his own
district, the very parish in which he had been brought up, that he was
invited to go. It was madness to do so; yet he did it with rash
excitement in consciousness of the danger, and foolish hankering after
his birthplace: a kind of loyalty in disloyalty, very strange and
unusual. Though the idea that his parentage might be found out alarmed
him beyond measure, yet the thought of going "home" was sweet, in the
most inconsistent way. Discovery would be death; but to dare discovery,
to push danger to the very verge of ruin, was excitement, and made his
heart beat. He liked the thrill of feeling, though it was pain, and
might be destruction. His entire being seemed to be quickened with that
mixture of pleasure, and wretchedness, and fear. And so it came to pass
that just as Lily began to enter into the secret delight of having a
lover who was "a gentleman," Abel reappeared in Waterdale, as the
honoured guest of one of the best families in the district—he who had
been a shepherd boy, a rough-shod, unkempt urchin, when he left the
place. He was even told of the beauty of the village as he was driven
through it, and directed to Miss Prentice's window. "There is such a
pretty girl there!" Charley said, pointing with his whip as he drove
past. How little he knew! Thus the brother and sister, unknown to each
other, were brought together by the mysterious entanglements of fate.
The two greatest houses in the district were those of the Ridleys, who
lived in the Castle, and were the oldest and furthest descended of all
the gentry of the county; and the Featherstonhaughs, who, though
probably of as old descent (for do not we all derive from Adam?), had
come into importance only within the last four or five generations. Sir
Richard, the present representative of the latter family, was still
young, a man of five-and-thirty, and divided the suffrages of the
district with Roger Ridley, the eldest son of the Squire, who was,
though much younger, his natural rival in almost every way. Roger was
the most popular of the two with the countryside generally, being what
it is usual to call thoroughly English: a young man who threw himself
into the popular life, was a bold rider, a fair shot, and ready to take
his part in all the sports of his contemporaries, small or great. Sir
Richard had his partisans more chiefly in his own class. He was not so
frank and friendly, not so open to all comers as the young squire, but
he was master of his own house and goods, whereas Roger Ridley was only
second, and dependent on his father; and he was rich and entertained
largely, which the family at Waterside Castle were not wealthy enough to
do. This rivalry, however, had been apparently brought to an end by the
betrothal of Sir Richard to Roger's sister, Mary Ridley, a young lady of
whom Waterdale was proud. Mary was too good for Featherstonhaugh, the
partisans of the Ridleys said; but it was a marriage so entirely
suitable in every point of view, that no reasonable person could find a
word to say against it, and all social difficulties and family
contentions were settled by it. These details of local history Charley
Landale told to his visitor when they strolled out, soon after Abel's
arrival, "to see the neighbourhood," with which the stranger was so
anxious to show no acquaintance. The Landales were within the charmed
circle of county people, and highly esteemed in Waterdale, but they had
no claim to approach the greatness of the Ridleys and Featherstonhaughs.
Landale took his friend to the water, and showed him with pride the
beautiful lake, fringed by low hills, with lines of greater peaks in the
distance. "There's the Castle on the right hand. I'll ask Ridley to show
you all over it some day. It's a wonderful old place; and that is the
chase, spreading along to the west. They have some of the finest oaks in
the county there. The village lies lower down, but we passed through it,
don't you remember? That's the beck, as they call it, meandering down
from the hills. Do you see the road, like a white line, above the
bridge? There's a most glorious view from that point. Oh yes, I suppose
you who have been in Switzerland may despise it perhaps—but we are of a
different opinion. I don't think anything in the world can be much
finer—the lake in the foreground, and all the hills behind."
"You may be sure I shan't despise it," said Abel. How well he knew every
point his good-humoured companion showed him!—Not a curve of the shore,
not a little bay or inlet that was not far more familiar to him than to
Charley. He had gone bird's-nesting in the chase before he was breeched.
He had fished in the lake almost before he could speak. He had roamed
out and in of all the wonders of the Castle, and could have guided the
Ridleys themselves, not to say Charley Landale, about all its holes and
corners. But nothing of this dared he to say. He stood and gazed like a
man in a dream, feeling that it was unsafe to open his lips, and that
even his eyes alone must betray him. But no one suspected him. The good
Landales would as soon have believed he came from Jupiter as that he
came under false pretences; and Charley believed in him as he believed
in the British constitution or any of the other standards which are
unquestionable by men of his simplicity of faith.
"Now look out," said Charley as they turned homeward, the dinner hour
being near. They had made a long round to see the country, and had
dropped in at the house of another college acquaintance five miles off
for lunch. "Now look out—for if we have luck we may see the Lily, and
she is worth looking at. It's an uncommon kind of face—not pink and
white, like the usual village beauty; she's dark, as dark as you are,
with eyes like two stars; you never saw such eyes. Come this way, it is
not so dusty as the high road. This is the lover's lane—there's always
a lover's lane close by a village; and by Jove, Murray, look out—here's
a pair of lovers in it; bad luck for them, but rather fun for us. Why
should two people always look so caught? They might put the best face
upon it; they might have met by accident—they might be talking
business. But they always betray themselves and look guilty. Hallo! upon
my word; it is Lily herself—and," he added, with a low whistle of
wonder and dismay, "Ridley, I do believe!—what an ass, in broad day!"
Murray looked at the two figures in the distance with strange intensity
of interest. He remembered the young squire well, and all about
him,—his lordly good-nature and liberality—the sixpences he would toss
at a poor boy who held his horse, though himself very little older than
that boy. He was interested to see him again, to note whether time had
changed him much, even to run the risk of recognition; but how could
Roger Ridley see in young Landale's companion the boy who had held his
horse, and to whom he had chucked sixpences? Abel pressed on, somewhat
eagerly, not listening to Charley, who had begun to think of retreat.
"If we turn back they'll think no one has seen them," Charley was
saying; "it's not a pleasant thing to be caught like this; suppose we
"Is that your Lily?" said Abel. A great sudden flush had come to his
face. They were not near enough to see her features distinctly, but
there was something in her general air and aspect that struck him.
Instead of paying any attention to Charley's suggestion, he went on with
great strides. And by this time the pair had seen them, and Landale's
precautions were of no further avail. Good-natured Charley did not
perceive at the first moment that it was his friend's fault. He was
compunctious as to his own share in it; but it was too late now to turn
or go back.
"It is I that am an ass," he said; "a lover's lane ought to be sacred:
but never mind, Murray, come along, there is no good in looking
conscious now. Come along, as if it were the most natural thing in the
world. Oh, yes, it's Lily, sure enough. There, she's off, poor little
dear! I dare say she hates you and me. See how ceremoniously he is
taking off his hat to her; met by accident, of course. Hallo, Ridley!
you have come this way, like ourselves, to avoid the dust, I suppose?"
"That is so," said Roger, coming up to them with the portentous gravity
of a man who has something to conceal. "It is the short cut from
Grimston, where I've just been for my father. He is in full cry after
some excavations they have been making. You know his antiquarian turn;
and look here—I dare say it's some new manufactured antiquity from
Brummagem direct—no, not that," he said, with confusion, "I don't mean
that," dropping a little gold locket of very modern form and
resplendent newness. Murray stooped to pick it up, but was forestalled
by the owner, who snatched at it, raising a flushed and excited
countenance as he hid the toy in his hand. "It is this I mean," he
cried, taking an old coin out of his waistcoat pocket. Then he stood
facing the two young men uneasily. "I think it is the hottest day we
have had this season," he said.
It was not Abel's part to speak. He was himself too much agitated to do
so. He would have known the young squire anywhere, if he had met him at
the end of the world, he felt; and the sudden shock of recognition drove
out of his mind the more important question who the girl was. He bent
his head over the coin which Ridley held out in his hand. Why should not
he be recognised as easily as the other? He dared not face the defiant
yet abashed eyes with which the young squire stared at him, responding
with a hurried bow to Landale's introduction. But the coin was safe
ground; he peered at it, bending towards it as if he had been
short-sighted, and glad of the little learning that gave him something
to say. "Have you Roman remains here?" he said. "I think the coin is
genuine." Roger Ridley started slightly at the sound of his voice.
"That will please my father," he said, and looked at Murray again. There
was some thrill of likeness in the voice—a tone which recalled to him
the other voice which as yet had scarcely died out of his ear—a
fantastic likeness, no doubt suggested by his own imagination, which was
full of Lily. "I will tell him you vouch for it," he added, with a
smile, "and if he agrees with you (which he is sure to do, for one
always believes in Roman remains on one's own land), he will think you
an oracle. Bring Mr Murray to see the Castle, Charley. And good-bye, for
I must hurry home."
"Ay, ay, he'll hurry home now we have parted him from Lily," said
Charley, nodding his head. "You see for yourself. That is what I told
you. He will commit himself and do something foolish if he doesn't
"Who is she?" said Abel: his heart was thumping against his side with
many emotions. To have looked the young squire calmly in the face, whom
he knew so well, and to have borne his gaze, was surely enough for one
"Oh, a country lass, I believe; the daughter of a woman up on the fells.
By the way, her name's Murray, like yours. It's partly a Gipsy name, you
"Is it?" said Abel. This time he could not hear his own voice, so loud
was his heart beating. But he added, "All Scotch names have a democratic
wideness; the clan includes both high and low." This was what he meant
to have said. And as Charley looked quite unmoved it is to be supposed
he got it safely uttered; but his blood was running at such a force
through his veins, and his heart going like the piston of a
steam-engine, with such tumult and riot of sound, that whether he said
these words or not, or said some others in place of them, he never knew.
Lily had met the young squire many times already in the Lover's Lane.
The back-door of Miss Prentice's little house was near of access, and
the girl had been too much dazzled by her conquest to think of right and
wrong. Besides, had she been put to defend herself, she had, you may be
sure, enough to say. There is no harm in meeting your sweetheart when
you have no reason to be ashamed of him; and she was a free-born lass of
the fells, and what if she did meet Mr Ridley and talk to him? Did that
harm any one? She herself was proudly indifferent to being badly spoken
of. "Those that know me," said Lily, "know me—and that's enough." She
was proud, she meant no harm, and why should there be any danger in
talking to a civil-spoken gentleman? Only ridiculous people with
prejudices could see harm in it. It was a scolding from Miss Prentice
which made Lily accord the first interview to the young squire. "It
means no good to a lass like you when a gentleman comes after her," the
dressmaker had said, and Lily had blazed into fury. "Them that speaks
civil to me, I'll speak civil to them," the hot-headed girl said in all
the pride of conscious purity. That was not the way to take a lass, the
forewoman remarked, shaking her head; and she took the rustic beauty
aside and whispered to her that however pleasant a gentleman's ways
might be, the like of them kept honest lads away. "And to lose a good
honest man that would give you a good house of your own, all for a laugh
with the young squire, that would be little to your advantage." "Am I
thinking of a man, or of what would be for my advantage?" said Lily,
bursting away from this second counsellor, stung with vexation and
shame. And it was in this mood that she rushed out, all tears and wrath,
her eyes sparkling, her cheeks glowing, almost into young Ridley's arms.
There were ladies of his own rank in the countryside for whom he had a
general admiration, and any one of whom, if thrown in his way, might
have absorbed the thoughts of the light-hearted young man; but Lily
blazed upon him in her agitation, more beautiful, and far more engaging,
than any of them. She wept to him, and stormed and laughed and bid him
go, yet let him stay, with all the caprice which is more captivating
than good sense and virtue. He had never been so much amused, so charmed
out of himself; no one had ever before so thrown open to him the doors
of her inner being: and all these changes and fluctuations reflected in
the most lovely eyes he had ever seen, and touched and modified and
softened by reference to himself, how could he be otherwise than
overcome? As for Lily, his manners, so different from all the rural
lads, his respect and delicacy which touched the finer fibres in the
girl's heart, even his clothes and external graces, and the princely way
in which he would take off his hat to her—the swains of the fells did
not think it necessary to take off their hats—subdued her wholly.
Perhaps she was in love with the gentleman even before she was in love
with Roger; but that warmer sentiment had already sprung up when she was
startled and fled off like a frightened dove at the sudden apparition of
these two strange figures strolling down the Lover's Lane. Two men!
what business had they there? Another pair would have comprehended,
would have been full of fellow-feeling; but the harsh unsympathetic
appearance of the two dark figures shutting out the light felt like
discovery, like a judicial sentence. Lily fled, though the moment was so
interesting. He had just shown her a locket, which he was going to give
her—the little glistening golden toy had been held up for her
admiration, and her hand was timidly put forth to take it, "only to look
at it," with rising tears and compunctions, when these two heaved in
sight, and Lily turned and fled. As she rushed away with her heart
beating, it seemed to her that Providence itself had interfered. To
"speak to" any one so civil and so kind, to speak when you were spoken
to, was of the very alphabet of rustic politeness. Who could find fault
with that? no one—not even her mother. But even Lily, already
half-beguiled, felt that when she took a present from the young squire
another link would be riveted. Ornaments were not so common then as now,
and the trinket was a temptation to her, as well as the still more
delightful thought of having thus a link between them, and something of
his which it would make her heart jump to receive and to look at. But a
present—it was not right to take a present,—it seemed to bind her to
something, it seemed like a promise given.
The path of the girl who has wandered into those dazzling forbidden
ways, and has "a gentleman coming after her," is full of thorns and
difficulties, if also of pride and dazzling hopes. When Miss Prentice
and her girls were about to sit down to their homely supper, the little
maid-of-all-work mysteriously whispered to Lily that there was "one
wanting to speak to her," an intimation which set the girl's heart once
more beating. Who could it be? She was half disappointed, half relieved,
to find that it was only an old woman, who gave her a little parcel and
had nothing to say; but when the enclosure, being opened, was found to
contain the locket and a letter, Lily's whole being was suddenly
penetrated with excitement and surprise, and that delicious
self-consciousness which is made up of vanity and delight and gratitude.
She read only a few words in the letter, words which seemed to fill her
veins with a subtle warmth, expanding her whole being, and thrust it
into her pocket, that she might obey the call of Miss Prentice, hungry
for her supper, who was calling at the foot of the stairs for Lily. Lily
had run to her own room to see what the communication was. She came
down-stairs so rapidly as to account for the colour in her cheeks; but
how account for the dazzle in her eyes, which were so shining, yet misty
with the excess of light in them? Miss Prentice could not tell what to
make of her: "You're thinking of something?" she said, with quickly
awakened suspicion. "Most folks think of something—except them that's
stupid," was Lily's reply; and what answer could be made to it? Yet,
though it was a truism, Miss Prentice's query had a just meaning;
something that had nothing to do with the bread and cheese, something
very different from Miss Musgrave's petticoat and Mrs Armstrong's new
mantle, something that was beyond the dressmaking, was in Lily's eyes.
"I wish that girl was with her mother. I wish she had never darkened my
door. I wish she were safe away, and no harm done," Miss Prentice said
to her forewoman. "Hoot! there's no harm in her," said that functionary,
who did not think her employer knew what way to take a lass. But the
dressmaker shook her head. "Them that have little harm in themselves are
sometimes the cause of plenty of harm to others," she said,
sententiously. But how could she let the mother know, when all she had
to tell of was that dazzlement in Lily's eyes?
And what a business it was for Lily to get her letter read and her
beautiful locket looked at! She was not so happy as to have a room to
herself, and there was "something to finish," which the girls had to
return to, and which kept them stitching till it was late. When she
tried to get away for a moment her comrades looked black at her, as one
who was evading her share of the work, and Miss Prentice called her
back, with something which sounded like a taunt. "You'll not go out,
young woman, again, to-night," she said. "I was not going out, nor
thinking of going out," said Lily, instantly on the defensive. "I was
wanting—to look out, and see what kind of a night it was." So that it
was not till the morning dawned, and showed her room companion fast
asleep, that Lily ventured to finish reading that beautiful letter which
was like nothing she had ever heard of before. She had not been able to
sleep for thinking of it, and she had held her locket in her hand, and
put it on a ribbon to try how it felt on her neck in the dark, not
venturing to light her candle. In the blue dawn, as it gradually made
everything visible, she did not venture on so much as this; but folded
it away in its paper, after once making acquaintance with it, under
cover of her little bit of curtain. Her companion slumbered soundly,
unmoved by her restlessness. It was a grievance to Lily generally that
this companion snored, but how glad she was that Sarah should snore this
morning, showing herself fast asleep! She read her letter thus over and
over, her young bosom swelling with pride and happiness, her heart
afloat on a vague sea of imaginative delight. How his praises and his
protestations seem to fill her very veins with sweetness, smoothing away
all fear or trouble! The sensation was so exquisite that Lily did not
know how to contain it. She, a country lass and no more, was it she that
was that queen among women, that lily among all the meaner flowers, that
angel on earth? She did not understand it, nor did she believe it. But
the incredulous confusion of wonder and almost amusement in her mind
only enhanced the happiness. Lily had never thought it of any serious
importance what was said to her by any "lad"; lads talked to lasses like
that always from the beginning of time; meaning—yes, something, no
doubt—to make themselves agreeable, to gain a little amusement for
themselves. But no one thought anything more of it: a stroll through the
Lover's Lane, a laughing and a talking, a grip of her hand, or attempt,
never successful, for Lily was farouche in shy pride, at a kiss—that
was nothing, and meant nothing,—but this——?
For the truth was that the young squire had been much more seriously
affected than Lily by the events of the evening. He had been caught in
his love-making, and convicted of it even, for had not the stranger seen
the little locket which he had bought for his Lily? Through the eyes of
that stranger he seemed to see—what? His beautiful Lily, a mere village
belle, to be flirted with by any one—by the stranger's self, perhaps,
when his, Ridley's, back was turned. This thought irritated him in the
wildest way. Perhaps he divined that Lily was not yet "in love with"
himself, and therefore had no defence against the overtures of another;
and real love is always modest, thinking every other adventurer more
likely of success than itself. This idea had been more than he could
bear. He had been a careless fellow enough, harming no one, indeed, but
no way specially on his guard as to the looks he might send hither or
thither, the words he might say; was this the retribution for many a
light flirtation? The idea that Lily was but one of the others, and
would lend as willing an ear to Charley Landale, for instance, or
Charley Landale's friend, stung him to the quick. In an instant all the
difference came home to him. Lily!—there was but one Lily in the world,
and she was his, or else, as all poetry and romance said, he was no more
his own. Nothing like this had happened to him in his life before. The
idea of another man talking of love to Lily, perhaps gaining her
attention, that was not to be endured. It was this that made him write
the letter which she read in the blue morning before even the birds were
awake. "My Lily, my darling! you hold my life in your hands," he said.
Was it true? There was no reason for saying it if it were not true.
Nothing could he gain but Lily, except the loss of all that it was
possible to lose. His father, who was no dainty gentleman indeed, but
proud as Lucifer, proud of his moss-trooping ancestors and old descent,
was capable of excommunicating his son for such a crime, though he could
not disinherit him; and Roger knew very well from what a height of scorn
his sister, she who was to marry young Featherstonhaugh, would look down
upon such a plebeian bride. All these things were food for thought
before he committed himself, but his heart leapt beyond all thought when
he wrote that letter pouring forth his impassioned heart to the soft,
unawakened creature, who as yet knew no more how she was expected to
respond than she understood any other mystery.
And there had been another stimulant to his rising passion administered
that same afternoon. When Lily fled, Roger had stood still, thrilling in
every nerve, and talked to the new-comers, longing all the time to pick
a quarrel with them, little suspecting who one of them was; and when,
having got rid of them, he turned, excited and irritated, homeward, whom
should he meet but Featherstonhaugh, his brother-in-law that was to be.
Sir Richard's engagement to his sister Mary had not been much to Roger's
taste. The fellow had but half a heart, he always thought, and he was
not worthy of Mary Ridley. Mary had thought otherwise, however, and it
was she who had to decide. But when the young squire met his rival
potentate in the moment of his own discomfiture, when all his nerves
were jarring and thrilling, it is impossible to describe the causeless
irritation that seized him. He felt more like a quarrel than he had ever
felt before in his life.
"Going home?" the one said to the other, with all the dulness of a man
who has nothing else to say.
"Yes; are you dining with us?" said Ridley, equally commonplace.
"Not to-day; I have still my house full. Did you meet any one as you
came along? I have just seen a—vision—a—I don't know who she was—a
wonderful creature to behold upon the road to Waterside."
"Here is enthusiasm!" said Roger, laughing harshly. "If it were not
Mary—Mary, I think, has reason to complain."
"Mary!—oh, it was not a lady at all!" cried Sir Richard, with some
eagerness. "It was—a girl—a—somebody of the lower classes. Mary! She
would have admired as much as I did, had she been here."
"I would not advise you to trust to that," said Roger, growing less and
less pleasant in tone. Featherstonhaugh looked at him surprised. He did
not feel guilty in respect to Mary; in fact, he had not thought of Mary
at all, and the suggestion annoyed him a little. Surely he was not
compelled to shut his eyes in future to every beautiful face because of
Mary! He looked at Roger curiously. The incipient rivalry and enmity
between the two had not gone so far with him as with the other, but yet
he felt it also. Roger was not of his species, a rough fellow, given to
sports and rural dissipation, who did not know a Claude from a Poussin,
or a Hobbema from a Ruysdael (in Sir Richard's day the worship of the
early Italians was for the moment in abeyance, so he did not swear by
Botticelli). The thought came upon him then strongly, as he stood
confronting his neighbour and future relation, that to go through the
world with this fellow always near would take a great deal of the
pleasure out of life.
"And what was the goddess like?" Roger added in his own despite. He was
so wroth and so sore that the smile he forced grew into a sneer without
any will of his. Had the lout been drinking? was the question which,
with some disgust, Sir Richard asked himself.
"I daresay it is some beauty of the village," he said, keeping his
temper; "but since you did not see her, it is not worth while talking
about it. I asked for mere—curiosity—because it is rare to see so
perfect a face." Then he added, after a pause, "You met those other men,
I suppose? I hear Charley Landale had a great scholar with him. Who is
it, do you know? A known man? or only one of the lesser lights who may
represent great scholarship here?"
"I never knew we were so ignorant in Waterdale," said Roger, finding it
very difficult to master himself, "but I daresay you're right enough,"
he added, forcing a smile. "I saw Charley Landale with some owl or
other, but I did not pay much attention. Scholars don't lie much in my
way. I leave all that sort of thing to you, Featherstonhaugh; there may
as well be some division of labour, you know."
"What will be your share?" said the other, not intending any insult; for
indeed, it seemed to him, a man who knew nothing about art and did not
care for knowledge, what could be his share of anything worth thinking
of? Roger coloured to his hair, and said something that was not pious
under his breath.
"I'm off," he said. "It is pleasant to know that you entertain so good
an opinion of me." And with a wave of his hand he turned away. On the
whole Sir Richard had the best of it. Roger went home with an additional
sting in his heart: for it was true enough that Featherstonhaugh knew
much more than he did, and could take advantage of all he knew, and
probably a little more. And he was Mary's betrothed lover, confound him,
and yet had noticed her! But of that, indeed, who could say anything?
Could there be on the face of the earth a clod so heavy, a lout so
insensible, as to see her and pass her by without wondering worship? A
perfect face! Yes, indeed, it was a perfect face, but not one that would
ever smile for Dick Featherstonhaugh.
A few days afterwards, Charley Landale and his friend went to the Castle
by special invitation to see the old squire's books and antiquities, and
himself. "Don't stay talking to the girls; I would as soon keep the
Queen waiting for luncheon," said Charley, on the way down-stairs, "as
the old squire. He is an old Turk if ever there was one. They dare not
say their souls are their own. Even Mary—but of course you don't know
anything about Mary?"
"No. I suppose not; unless perhaps I may have met her in society," said
Murray, with a faltering in his voice which he could not quite steady.
It was not in him to say boldly that he knew nothing about Mary—Mary,
whom he remembered, from her floating hair to her dancing feet, a vision
of delight. Her name thrilled through him, though he had only a boy's
recollection of her to move him. Once, when he was just on the edge of
the ascent which had led to fortune, Mary had been at the Vicarage, when
he in his new clothes, the protégé of the Vicar's friend, had been
there also, and they had shared the nursery tea together and made
friends. The children had all patronised Abel, but Mary had been kind.
She had taken a fancy to the common boy whom the young people at the
Vicarage considered beneath them, and that perhaps was why he remembered
her so tenderly; though by this time a little sentimental haze of fancy
and distance encircled that meeting, and Abel was of opinion that he had
entertained a boyish passion for the young lady who was so much his
superior. With the strangest tremor at his heart he went to meet her
now. He knew he should recognise her wherever he met with her—would not
she know him also? The sense of danger excited him. He had his nerves
strung for self-defence, not remembering what other uglier words might
apply perhaps to what he said—Lies! in strict fact it might be so; but
it is very seldom at Abel's age that one has boldness to characterise
the little fictions that may be necessary to give the world a true
impression of one's dignity boldly as lies: they are, perhaps,
inventions, little flights of the imagination; or he who tells them is
"led into them," not by premeditation, unconsciously, by accident; lies
are told by other people, seldom by ourselves. If they asked him
point-blank whether he was Abel Murray, why then, to be sure—but they
were not likely to ask that question in so many words, and for the rest
it should be as his stars ordained.
Roger Ridley met them at the gate, and led Murray to the library where
his father was. "Find your way to the drawing-room, Charley; no one
expects you or me to know anything," he said. "This is the way to my
father's sanctum," and he pushed back the curtains and opened the oak
door. The passages were panelled oak, dark, with a glistening of
reflection about, while heavy curtains were hung here and there to shut
out draughts and noise from the squire's sanctuary. Murray, who was used
to the serious luxury of old wainscot and pictures, followed him
silently, with less sense of the incongruity of the position than if
they had taken the other turn which led to Miss Ridley's
presence-chamber, the heart of the house. The squire in his library was
not necessarily more awe-inspiring than the head of a college. Yet when
he found himself in the old lofty room, clothed with books, Abel felt
that to himself no head of a college could be so alarming as this old
gentleman, whose keen eyes seemed to search through and through him,
with suspicion in them, or so at last it seemed to his guilty soul. He
remembered being brought there once before for some supposed offence to
endure the inspection of the squire's keen eyes. It seemed the very same
look which pierced him to the midriff now, and Mr Ridley's words were
not reassuring. "How do you do, Mr Murray?" he said; "I am very glad to
see you. Such visitors as you are rare in a country place. But God bless
me, your face is familiar! I think I must have seen you before?"
Abel's cheeks grew crimson again, but he answered bravely with a smile,
"I do not think I have ever had that honour; but we are always knocking
up against each other, the Americans say, in this little island."
At this gentle pleasantry the squire laughed, or pretended to laugh. "A
curious people the Americans," he said—"very odd people. I have had one
or two of them down here. This is the sort of thing they don't
understand. It's a sad puzzle to them; existing for so many centuries
and yet not much of a thing after all," said the squire, waving his
hands towards his surroundings. He kept a corner of his eye upon Abel to
watch how he responded to this challenge.
"No, not much of a thing," said Murray, looking round upon it with
veneration,—"only the most perfect old house in England. It may not be
a very great matter, as you say, but there is nothing else like it in
"Ah!" said the squire, rubbing his hands, "I perceive you know what you
are talking of. I have a few old books here to show you, which I think
will please you. We are not rich, but we have never been tempted, like
some people, to turn all our treasures into money. We have a few old
pictures still and old books to enrich the old walls. I wish my son was
more interested in them, but Roger cares for none of these things. He
has not my tastes. 'A primrose by the river's brim, a yellow primrose
was to him'—Well, well, Mr Murray, we are not all made alike. You are
one of the Scotch Murrays, I suppose?"
This question came in so suddenly that Abel, though he ought to have
been on his guard, was startled. "By origin, yes, no doubt," he said;
then added, with more self-command, "But I have been brought up by
a—friend. I know more about my adopted family than my own."
"Ah!" the squire said, with a momentary stare; then he opened a glass
case and plunged into the congenial occupation of showing his treasures.
Roger, who knew them all by heart, after a time went quietly away,
leaving the stranger alone with his father. What a strange sensation it
was! and how clear and distinct was the recollection of standing in this
same room a dozen years before, his head drooping, his heart beating as
loudly as now. If the squire should turn upon him, and charge him with
his real origin—if he should demand to know on what pretext the son of
Elizabeth Murray, of Overbeck, had found his way among the Ridleys, what
could the intruder say? But Mr Ridley asked no such questions, made no
uncomfortable suggestions. On the contrary, he took down all the
treasures of which he was most proud, and the illuminated MS. which (he
said) the British Museum had bid for, to show to the only person, with
an air of knowing anything about it, who had visited him for years.
Abel, for his part, did not much believe in that story about the British
Museum. But he examined the treasures with understanding, and said all
that could be said in praise of them, and to the glory of the family who
possessed them, listening even patiently to the squire's account of his
grandfather, who was a collector, though with so much buzzing in his
ears, and curious bewilderment of suppressed feeling, that he scarcely
could follow the story. Abel had been in greater houses than this, and
had talked familiarly to men more notable than Squire Ridley; but he
could not forget the abashed boy, whom he seemed to see standing there,
in his rough country clothes, listening to the squire's objurgations
with a beating heart. He could not forget him. He was two people, not
one, in that haunted place. "You little rascal, if I hear anything of
the kind again I'll have you soundly whipped to show you what your duty
is"—was that what the squire was saying?—or was it this, "My
grandfather came just in time to make a good bargain with the superior
of the convent: the poor monk had ceased to care for what was once the
glory of their house," &c. Instead of sobbing audibly, with his fists
rammed into his eyes, was it an ingratiating smile and look of
deferential attention which Abel was turning upon the rural potentate?
"How lucky that some one was there who knew the value," he said. Was it
a dream? There was something unusual in the very sound of his own voice.
"Bless me! there is the luncheon bell. I must not detain you longer,"
said the squire. "I fear I have bored you already; and my daughter will
upbraid me for keeping you all the morning over my toys, as she calls
them. Ah, well! I suppose we old people can't expect the young ones to
take after us or adopt our tastes. You have given me a very pleasant
morning, Mr Murray. I don't know when I have enjoyed a couple of hours
so much. It is not every one who has the good taste to admire, but there
are still fewer who understand as you do. It has been, I assure you, a
"You are very good to say so—after having given me such true
enjoyment," said Abel, confused, and feeling ready to stumble on the
stairs, as at his previous interview, and to hear, "That way, you little
wretch. John, look after this boy, and see him off the premises." He
could have laughed as he felt himself ushered with ceremonious
politeness by the squire himself towards the drawing-room, where the
very John, who had then dismissed him with a kick, was standing now,
grown somewhat elderly and imperative, to remind Miss Ridley that the
bell had rung five minutes since. Abel could have laughed, but not
because he was amused. The sight of John sent a chill and then a rush of
hot blood over him. He thought John looked at him keenly. But, indeed,
this was a mere illusion of conscience. John only glanced with
disapproval at the strange gentleman who had kept his master too late
And then Miss Ridley rose up, stately and fair, to receive him. Miss
Ridley! was that the little Mary who had been so kind to him in the
Vicarage at the nursery tea? He faltered, he felt, as he spoke to her,
and made her the same kind of lumpish bow as little Abel made when they
all laughed at him, all except Mary. But even in those days, when
everything in the new life was strange to him, Abel had not been so
dazzled by the little lady as he was now. Then she took his part; now
she beamed down serenely upon him, like the moon out of the sky. Perhaps
it was Miss Ridley's fault to be too stately; but when a girl is five
feet ten in height, how can she help being stately?—it is so much the
worse for her if she is not so. She had beautiful hair in great
quantity, blue eyes, a Saxon beauty, in all the milk and roses peculiar
to that complexion. Her features, perhaps, would not bear so close an
inspection; but her smile was as bright as a sunny morning, and warmed
and lighted up everything. "A daughter of the gods divinely tall, and
most divinely fair." It was his arm she took to go down-stairs. He was
the stranger, and a stranger of distinction, much more important than
young Charley Landale, whom they had all known from his cradle. And John
standing by said nothing. John did not interfere. He did not break in
upon the talk of the gentlefolks, to say, in his gruff voice, "Please,
squire, that's little Abel Murray down from the fells. I know him well.
He's as stubborn as a brute beast, but his mother's a decent woman."
None of these things happened or were said. Abel was permitted, on the
contrary, to walk majestically down-stairs, as if he had been the best
man in the county, with Mary Ridley's white hand upon his coat sleeve.
"I hope you have not been tired out with papa's treasures," she said.
"You must forgive him, it is not often he has such a chance. We are one
more ignorant that the other, my brother and I."
"That I cannot give my faith to as I should to anything else you might
say," said Abel, with a little warmth which went beyond the calm of
good-breeding. He had got his conversation chiefly from books, and was a
little more formal in his talk than is common in this free and easy
period. Miss Ridley was greatly surprised, but half amused too.
"And stupid as well as ignorant," she said. "Do you think it would be
wrong to pretend to be interested? I was brought up in the way of deadly
sincerity; but I sometimes think now that it is hard upon papa."
"You must have learned to pretend very skilfully, if you pretend to
be—what you said," said Abel, venturing at the same time to look the
compliment, which he thus dared to utter. Miss Ridley was more and more
amused; but he added, "To me it is all enjoyment. This beautiful old
house, and Mr Ridley's kindness, and——"
What had he been about to say? Mary decided that this young man, who was
so grateful for her father's kindness, and so delighted with everything,
including herself, was the Oxford recluse in person, who is to be heard
of now and then—that grave young owl, whose perch among the cloisters
has kept him unacquainted with ordinary mortals and affairs. And there
was a certain truth in this supposition. Abel, even in places where he
was at ease, never had the ease common to his generation. He was
constantly conscious that there was no real affinity between him and
those about him; and though he might perhaps hardly have recognised his
family had he seen them, they were perpetually apparent to him when he
was in "society," pursuing him with thoughts of the effect which would
be produced by their sudden appearance anywhere. He had a kind of
inkling all the time that, if he had the courage to acknowledge and
speak of them, this painful consciousness would disappear; but he knew
he had not the courage. He talked to Mary all the time of luncheon in
the same exalted tone, she replying little, but by degrees finding that
air of deference not disagreeable. Miss Ridley was not clever, and her
betrothed husband was aware of the fact, and did not perhaps conceal it
so carefully as he might have done. But there is nobody who is not
pleased, in the long run, by having great qualities imputed to him. It
is the finest form of flattery. Abel took it for granted that this
country lady in her remote corner of the world knew everything that was
moving the general mind of the country, and spoke to her of books, and
pictures, and society, and politics. A member of a special society, even
if he is less distinguished than Abel was, has means of glimpsing
general society of a much higher order than his own. He had met all
kinds of people, whose names are spread to all the winds. Miss Ridley
felt as if she had made an excursion into the world, while she sat at
the head of the table and ate her chicken. It pleased her to hear of
statesmen and poets, and so many notable persons. She asked about their
looks, and their ways of living; and she thought Mr Murray very
interesting, though his manners were perhaps, a little, those of the old
After lunch the squire himself exhibited the chapel, which was falling
somewhat out of repair and the younger people went out to see that part
of the Castle that was in ruins. The ruined front included a tower,
which Abel remembered well it had been one of the feats of his boyhood
to climb. But the Ridleys shook their heads when he asked if they could
"Not for the world," said Mary, turning pale; but though Roger agreed
with her at first, he changed his mind the next moment.
"I don't see why we should not," he said. "All the little ragamuffins in
the neighbourhood used to do it when I was a boy. Have you a steady
head, Murray? Are you used to climbing?"
"Don't, Roger!" said his sister; "papa will not like it. Oh, don't!"
"Why shouldn't I? Charley can stay and take care of you."
"That I will," said young Landale; "while you break your necks we will
run on to the village, and see that the doctor is handy. That will be
the most friendly thing to do."
"Mr Murray, pray don't go," said Mary. "I am so much afraid it is
dangerous; and Roger is so venturesome."
"Be sure you groan as loud as ever you can," said flippant Charley, "so
that we may know where to find you when you fall."
"Come along," said Roger. As for Abel, he had no sort of nervous
feeling; he knew exactly how to climb, and which were the dangerous
places. When they came to one of these, Roger, who preceded him, called
him to follow upon an arch of crumbling masonry, which looked sure
enough from below. "When we get over this we are in safety," he said;
"so take care, cross it gingerly, as I am responsible for you."
"Not that way," cried Abel. "Stop, stop, not there! That will not bear
your weight. Ridley!" he shouted in growing excitement, "stop! I tell
you this is the way."
"Come on!" cried Roger, gaily. Then there was a sound of sliding, and a
cloud of dust and a cry. The cry was from Mary outside, looking on with
fear and trembling, and seeing her brother disappear. She gave a wild
shriek, such as half enervated and half inspired Abel, who had sprung
with the instinct of the moment to the spot which he knew to be
trustworthy, and standing there, supported by an angle of the wall, had
already caught Roger before he could fall far. But the crushing impetus
with which Roger fell against him, and the fright and the excitement
together, were too much for Abel, already suffering from the long strain
of suppressed feeling. He laughed loud and wildly,—a laugh that seemed
to the terrified spectators below to have the scream of madness in it.
"I told you this was the way," he cried, laughing, but panting for
Mary Ridley ran screaming towards the house, then came back again as
John and the other servants rushed out. She ran back to the half-ruined
staircase by which the path began, wringing her hands in despair. Abel's
laughter was still pealing out unrestrained, making the whole incident
"Oh, make him stop! make him stop!" she cried, putting her hands to her
ears. "Roger is killed, and the other has gone mad! Oh, make him stop,
make him stop!"
"What is the matter?" said calmly a smooth and even voice. Mary was
almost beside herself. The servants had all gone into the ruins with
Charley Landale at their head to help, and she stood outside in an
anguish of despair and horror, calling out unconsciously to stop him, to
stop him! It seemed almost a secondary thing to her that Roger was
killed—if there could be but silence again, if they could but be free
of that horrible laugh. The voice which now addressed her ought to have
been the dearest voice in the world to Mary, but its calm and even tone
seemed, on the contrary, an aggravation, only a little less horrible
than the sound of that laughter, which she could neither bear nor
tolerate. What was the matter? She clasped her hands wildly together and
pointed to the ruins. She could not say anything. Could not he have
seen, if he had felt for her as he ought—if he had cared about her and
her surroundings—could not he have seen at once without asking what was
the matter? She had no leisure to look at, or speak to,
Featherstonhaugh. Presently the mangled body of her only brother would
be carried out in her sight; but, oh! if that horrible laugh could but
be made an end of—that was the worst to bear.
"Some one must have gone mad, surely," said Sir Richard. "Had you not
better go in, Mary? This cannot be a scene for you. Go in, and I will
come and tell you what has happened. Hallo! is this Roger? Then what is
the matter?" he said in his surprise. Mary shut her eyes with a sinking
of horror not to see the terrible sight she looked for, but at the same
moment felt a sudden lull and ease steal over her—the scream of wild
laughter had ceased.
"Roger, what have you been about? Are you hurt?" Sir Richard said.
Hurt! was that all? She ventured to open her eyes, and saw Roger limping
towards them, covered with dust and lime, but smiling through the
incrustation. She rushed forward and took hold of his arm with both her
"Roger! Then nothing has happened?"
"I am not a ghost," he said, half laughing, "and I'll give you my word
if you like never to try that confounded place again. You must speak to
Murray—he is more shaken than I am. Didn't you think he was mad, with
that horrible laugh?"
"What were you doing?" said Sir Richard. "Surely not the incredible
folly of climbing that wall! What good could it do you? I don't wonder
Mary is upset. Pray go in now; pray go in. You see he is not hurt."
"But Mr Murray! Oh, Roger, how did it all happen? How did you escape?
What made him laugh so?" said Miss Ridley, shuddering. "I thought you
were killed, and that he had lost his senses. Oh, Roger, what a laugh!"
"Pooh! Some fellows have that fiendish way of laughing, and he got
nervous. Don't you see it's all right now? You'll have to thank him,
though," Roger added, hastily; "but for him I should have been carried
down feet foremost, as the people say. I don't know what we can say to
him—he has saved my life!"
"Oh, God bless him! God bless him!" cried Mary. She made a step forward,
then turned again, with a visible tremor.
"But are you sure he is—quite—quite——Mr Murray," she added, growing
very pale, and putting out her hands to him as he approached from under
the old doorway, "oh, how can I thank you? You have saved Roger's life!"
Abel was paler than she was, and his face looked like that of a man
absolutely worn out and exhausted. "It was nothing," he said. "I knew
one way was safe, but not the other. The upper arch always crumbled at a
touch—but I frightened you, I know I must have frightened you. It is a
foolish weakness I have. I laugh when I am agitated."
"Oh, never mind that. You limp, too; we are a nice pair of cripples.
Come along," said Roger, "let us lean upon each other. I must have come
down upon you with all my weight."
"I knew that arch would go. I was prepared for it. I am only limping out
of sympathy," said Murray, with again a harsh, though momentary, laugh.
Mary ran in before them, still with a little shiver, and met the squire
coming out, dignified, to know what was the matter? "I don't know who
was laughing like that, but it was very vulgar and very objectionable,"
he said. A few hurried words, however, allayed Mr Ridley's displeasure.
"God bless me!" he said, devoutly, and hurried out to thank the stranger
who had saved his son's life. "Though Roger ought to have known better
than to have run such a risk," he said, seriously, as the agitated group
came back to the house. All were in commotion, the servants fluttering
to and fro, the very cook, her hands covered with flour, coming out to
gaze. "I'll bet that gentleman's been here before," John said,
privately. "Bless you, he knows all the ways of th' ould place as well
as I do that was born and bred on the Waterside;" and Sir Richard, the
only spectator who was quite unmoved, recollected, and had observed as
none of the rest did, what Murray said. They made much of him when they
got indoors, paying a great deal more attention to his nerves than to
Roger's foot, which was bruised though not seriously hurt. Roger,
however, declared himself quite able to walk as far as the village with
them, when at last the young men took their leave. They all set out
together—Sir Richard going the same way as the others as far as the
head of the lake. Roger was jealously on the watch as they passed
through the village, lest by any chance they should meet Lily; but they
had got past all danger, as he thought, and were once more on the open
road by the waterside, when, with a sudden leap of his jealous heart, he
saw her approaching. They all perceived her at the same moment. It is
not necessary, in those simple regions, that a young woman should put on
a hat or bonnet every time she goes out. Lily's beautiful head was
uncovered. The wind playing with the locks about her forehead brought
out tiny curls from the neatly braided hair, and freshened the colour in
her cheeks. She was not made of roses and lilies, like Miss Ridley, but
her dark hair had gleams of colour in it, and her eyes were like the
dark brown mountain streams, dancing, glancing, yet profound as the
depths into which they plunged. Lily was not at all unaware of the
admiration with which she was regarded, and she felt before she came
near them the little thrill of interest that ran through the group of
young men whom she approached. She did not at first perceive that Roger
was among them, but his absence did not make her indifferent to the
other spectators. She came with a little stumble of embarrassment, more
apparent to herself than the lookers-on, feeling their scrutiny, and
feeling, as is common enough, her ankles twisting, her dress blown
about. Much abashed was Lily, but yet she had no particular wish to
escape from the eager lookers-on, who were watching for her as if she
had been the queen. This was how the foolish girl felt it—as if she had
been the queen! just as she herself would advance, her eyes as wide open
as ever they could be, to watch the queen passing, and devour every look
of her and every line of her dress. This was just how the silly young
men would stare at herself. "Gooses!" thought Lily. She had never learnt
grammar, but she understood the minds of men.
"This is the girl who is said to be the prettiest girl in the whole
dale, up the water and down the water," said Featherstonhaugh, with a
little conscious impropriety, feeling that the interest he felt in her
was excessive. As for Murray, his heart began to beat again wildly in
his ears. This time he must confront his sister face to face. Would she,
could she, recognise him? The idea was enough to set all the blood astir
in his veins. And Roger awaited her coming with a tumult in his, that
could scarcely be kept from making itself visible: his heart began to
thump against his breast, his throat grew dry, his colour went and came.
She was his Lily, whatever happened. No one had any right so much as to
look at her but he; and yet they were all staring, and he could say
nothing. A wild fury seemed to glide like fire through his blood,
kindling him as it ran along—fury that would burst out uncontrollable,
like fire, if any door should be opened for it, any occasion given.
Charley Landale was the only innocent person of all the four, who had no
further thought than to take "a good look" at her, and make up his mind
whether she were really as pretty as every one said.
Thus she came on, feeling awkward under their gaze, yet not particularly
desirous of avoiding their gaze, with, indeed, a kind of pleased
consciousness of it, which added to the blush that wavered upon her
face. Her lips were parted with a half smile. She took them all in with
her eyes, which looked steadily in front of her without dwelling on any
one. As she came nearer she distinguished Sir Richard, that great
potentate, who was in the front; but, notwithstanding that he was much
in her thoughts, she did not distinguish Roger. It was almost like
acting the spy upon her to see her advance thus in her soft vanity, with
the smile on her lips, not knowing he was there. "Good evening to you,"
she said, as rural politeness made proper, and passed on, as it was
right for a girl to do. The sound of her voice startled two of them, as
if a gun had been fired by their ears. Murray could not tell what
revelation might follow—and Roger grew sick and faint to see her go by
him without so much as a suspicion that he was there. He would have felt
her vicinity, he thought, if she had passed him in the dark.
After all, it was not much to excite them so: for they were all excited,
except placid Charley; a country lass, bashful, yet with a pretty
vanity, smiling and walking past a group of young men who admired her,
but whom, except the one whom she did not perceive, she did not know.
There was not much in this for such expenditure of feeling. And they
said nothing when she had passed: even Charley, with a "By Jove!" of
admiration on his lips, saw that it was more expedient to say nothing.
He did not understand the paleness and quick breathing of Ridley by his
side, nor the silence of the two before them. They had all made a kind
of pause when Lily passed. They went on with quickened paces after, and
soon they came to the point where their paths separated, and Roger
turned back. All the glare of sunset was upon the lake as they parted
near the waterside.
"I don't pretend to be a talker," said Ridley, grasping Abel's hand,
"but I shall never forget that I owed my life to you to-day."
"It was nothing," said Abel, off his guard. "I should have stopped
sooner than I did. I knew your way was insecure."
"However it was, I owe you my life, and I shan't forget it," said
Roger. "If ever you want a good turn that I can do——"
"Good night; you must not think it was anything," Murray said returning
the pressure of his hand. He, too, was agitated by all that had
happened, and by the last incident as much as any. He watched Ridley
making his way backward, still slightly lame, with all the benevolence a
man feels for one whom he has served. "Mrs Landale said well he was
friendly. It is the best name for him," he said.
"He has occasion to be friendly to you, and so has all his family," said
Featherstonhaugh. "But—you knew the old tower before?"
"I!" The blood rushed to Abel's face. "What makes you think so? I—have
had no opportunity of knowing it before."
"I thought you were quite familiar with the place. You said something—I
beg your pardon—perhaps I misunderstood."
"I said I knew his way was unsafe; any one could have seen that at a
The eyes of the two met. Murray thought there was suspicion in the looks
of Featherstonhaugh, and this not only filled him with alarm, but with
irritation too. Sir Richard, however, repeated his excuse. "I
misunderstood you. I thought you spoke of it with previous knowledge.
You will bring Mr Murray to Featherstonhaugh, Charley, to see me. I fear
there is nothing to show him much worth the trouble. A few
pictures—that is all."
"Only the best collection in the north country," said Landale; and with
a slight complacent smile and nod, half acquiescent, half deprecating,
Featherstonhaugh went on upon his separate way. "He is a prig," said
Charley, when he was out of hearing; "but all the same, he has some fine
pictures, and understands them too."
"Being a prig does not prevent a man from having fine pictures, nor,
unfortunately, even from understanding them," said Murray, with a sigh.
"There are no such compensations as one used to believe in. The poor man
is not always the cleverest, nor the lord of many acres always a fool."
"I should hope not," said Charley, roused; for though his acres were
limited in extent, it was his class which was thus by implication
attacked. "And what did you think of the little dressmaker?" said the
unsuspecting youth. "I say, both those fellows are in for it. Ridley,
you know, we saw with her; and as for Featherstonhaugh, did you see how
he stared at her? I admire a pretty girl, but I would not look as if I
could eat her up. It's to be hoped there will be no mischief between
"I thought Sir Richard was engaged to Miss Ridley?"
"And so he is; but that does not make it better, but worse," said
Charley, with much discrimination. "And they are two determined fellows.
If it came to a scrimmage I should like to be there."
"I don't think, in such a case," said Abel, trying to subdue his own
excitement, "that Sir Richard would have much chance."
"Oh, I should not like to say that. Featherstonhaugh's very quiet, but
he's deep. I've observed," said Charley, producing his innocent aphorism
with much gravity, "that the more quiet men are, the deeper they are. I
don't know if you've noticed that."
Murray's mind was not sufficiently at ease to remark this simple wisdom.
He said with a kind of bitterness, "What she feels on the subject has
not much to do with it, I suppose."
"What, the girl? Oh, yes, if she happens to be of the sort that have a
will of their own. A girl like that can make herself very disagreeable,
I've heard. I suppose on the whole, anyhow, it can't mean much good to
her," said Charley, taking a sudden thought. "It would be better for her
on the whole if she wasn't so pretty. Don't you think so? Though Roger
Ridley is as obstinate as a pony, and if he once took a thing into his
head—but, after all, I don't suppose he could be quite such a fool,"
Charley said, with a pause of consideration. Abel looked at him keenly
with a suppressed glare in his eyes.
"Such a fool as to think of making the dressmaker his wife?"
"Oh, come!" cried Charley; "when you put it in words—and in cold
blood—no one surely would be quite such a fool as that."
There was a singing in Abel's ears, a convulsive tremor ran through him.
It was his sister of whom this innocent babbler was speaking; but who
could suspect anything of the kind?
Roger strolled back by the waterside; but then he recollected that he
had something to do, which made it necessary for him to pass again
through the village—indeed, that he was compelled to go, though he did
not wish it, by business, that infallible force which every one must
obey. And when he had taken that turn he went on with more alacrity.
Quite necessary! It was the blacksmith he thought he wanted to see, for
servants never give your orders correctly. He went on—but not directly
towards the blacksmith's. A green lane is more pleasant than a hard
high-road. He would go that way for the sake of his foot, which
certainly hurt him a good deal. He could not help wondering what that
little flirt would say if she knew that this very afternoon he had been
in danger of his life. Would she mind? Would it have made any difference
to her one way or another if he had come down headlong from off that
archway and broken his neck, and never spoken again? She would perhaps
have met Featherstonhaugh in the lane, and heard all about it from him.
Heaven and earth! Though Roger had not died, and had no intention of
doing so, the idea of Featherstonhaugh reporting to Lily all the details
of his dying, and making use of the incident as a means of approaching
her, made him frantic.
He went very slowly through the lane. The light was beginning to wane,
for it had been already late when they left the Castle. He looked up to
the back window of Miss Prentice's house, and thought he saw some one
there. Here was a chance at least of knowing whether she had got his
letter. He made a gesture of appeal, beckoning to her, though he could
not even be sure that it was Lily—a dangerous experiment. Of course, he
said to himself, he had never thought of this when he came through the
lane for the sake of his bad foot. Neither had Lily ever thought of it
when she went by chance to the staircase window. But the result was that
she did stroll out, and that he did meet her, at Miss Prentice's
"What is it?" she said. "Oh, I mustn't stay; you mustn't keep me. I only
came because I was so frightened; she might see you making signs. I
wish you wouldn't make signs like that. If any one saw you, oh, what
would become of me?"
"It would not do you any harm," said Roger, "for I know what you would
do, Lily. You would simply cast me off and pretend to know nothing about
me. You know that is what you would do."
"Oh, but it would be quite true. What do I know about you? I know you
are young Mr Ridley, a gentleman, far, oh, far above me. All the world
knows that; and I don't know what I know more."
"You know I love you, Lily, which is what no one knows but you."
"Oh," she said, with a toss of her head, "I am not so sure about that.
I know what you say; but what young men say and what they feel is very
"Who taught you that, Lily? Can you look at me, and then tell me that
you think I don't feel what I say?"
"Oh, as for that—but every book you ever open says so, and all the old
people say so; they ought to know. Never believe a lad, Miss Prentice
says—and far more when it's a gentleman."
"Did you get my letter, Lily?"
"Oh, yes, I got your letter; I couldn't quite read it all. Did you ever
learn to write, Mr Ridley? or is it taught in the grand schools? For a
long time I couldn't tell who sent it," said Lily, telling her little
fib with a steady look at him, and all the innocence in the world.
"Then I suppose heaps of other people write you letters like that?"
Lily laughed with malice and enjoyment of the fun. "Did you think that
you were the only one that ever said he cared for me?" she said, with
merry scorn. As for Roger, he was quite desperate, and did not know how
to meet this levity, which broke his heart.
"You should not take it so easily," he said, "for Lily, but
for—Providence—it would have been the last letter I ever wrote to you
or any one. I was as nearly as possible killed to-day."
She gave a little cry, her face paled and reddened, and she clasped her
hands together. This encouraged him to go on, which he did in that
tearful solemn tone with which a man represents himself as an object of
sympathy when he is very anxious to make a tender impression and very
doubtful of his success.
"I was climbing the old tower to show a stranger the way, and put my
foot by accident upon a bit of the wall that would not bear me; and
there would have been an end of me, Lily, and of all my love and all our
meetings. I don't think you would have minded a bit: you would have gone
on with some one else, and thought nothing more of Roger Ridley. You
"Oh, never mind what I would have done!" she said, stamping her foot;
"that's best known to me. What happened then? what happened then? that's
what I want to know."
"You see, I was saved! What with the other man, and what with throwing
myself into the corner as I fell——"
(He had thrown himself upon Murray, whose arms were out to catch him:
but he did not think it needful to inform her of that.)
"Who was the other man?" she asked, drawing her breath hurriedly.
"It was—a man who is on a visit to Landale—a man that you met this
afternoon walking with—never mind the man. I was behind him, but you
never saw me. You were willing to let them stare at you, though you
never saw I was there."
"Could I stop them from staring at me? But I mind the man. He was a
handsome gentleman. I will always look at him again when I see him. He
must have a good courage, and a good heart of his own, too."
"Shall you look at him for my sake or for his? You might say at least
that you are glad that I was saved."
She gave another toss of her pretty head, and laughed. She was not so
simple as not to know the advantage of a question in suspense like this.
"Everybody is glad when somebody else is not killed," she said; "but,
good-night, I must run in. Oh, yes, I must run in. Miss Prentice will be
looking out as she goes down, and if she should find me here——That is
her step, I do believe!" And with extreme consistency Lily came out,
quite outside the door of which she had been making a fortress, and
closed it softly that she might not be seen from the house. Roger took
this opportunity to seize her hand, but Lily was farouche, and shook
herself free from the touch. She looked at him seriously as they stood
there under the shadow of the wall. "Yes, I am glad that—nobody is
killed," she said.
"Nobody—anybody! that it was I, don't matter much?"
"Perhaps," she said, with a laugh. This was not much comfort; but Roger,
drawing as near as was permitted, looked at her tenderly, gratefully,
thinking of what he should say next that would most thoroughly reveal
his feelings. What could he say? She knew very well all that he meant,
though she pretended to take everything so calmly. She stood with the
most innocent air in the world, waiting till he should speak. Then, with
some of the flippancy of her class, Lily cried, "And did you hurt your
tongue, Mr Ridley, when you fell?"
"You are very cruel. You ought to pretend to be sorry at least; and you
might give me an answer to my letter. Did you like what I sent you? I
thought you—you might have something to say to a poor man who was
nearly killed to-day——"
This pathetic speech, given with all the tender reproach possible, would
have been too much for the gravity of any looker-on. And Lily burst out
laughing, with seeming disregard for his feelings.
"You are not much the worse," she said.
"I shall be a great deal the worse if you laugh at me. Lily, why are you
so unkind? You know there is nothing in the world I would not do——"
"Were you really with the other gentlemen?" she said. "I didn't see you.
There was Sir Richard. Oh, I saw Sir Richard, and young Mr Landale, and
a strange gentleman—but I have seen him before—I know I have seen him
before; and you were there? I am glad I did not see you. I should have
laughed or something. Perhaps I did not see you because I was looking at
"Then you have seen him before?" said Roger, setting his teeth.
"Seen him before? Oh, hundreds and hundreds of times! I see him most
days, going or coming, almost as often as I see you——"
"He is a villain, then!" cried Roger, hotly. "He is engaged to—a lady."
"I know; he is engaged to Miss Mary. What does that matter? I'm not
keeping company with him," said Lily. "If you think I would take another
girl's leavings—if she was a princess!—I would scorn it. And I don't
think of the like of him. They come and they go, it don't matter to me.
What have I got to do with the gentlemen? A nod or a smile out of
civility, but no more."
"That is quite right, Lily," cried Roger, radiant. He came a step nearer
and took her hand softly. "But you don't mean that for me?"
"Why shouldn't I mean it for you?" she cried, throwing off his hand.
"But there's some one coming," she added, with a little shriek, and fled
within the shelter of the door.
Roger, after lingering for a minute in hope of her return, was about to
turn disconsolately away, when she suddenly appeared again, between the
half-opened door and the wall, and pulling out with one finger a piece
of velvet round her neck, showed him his little locket suspended to it.
"There!" she cried, and suddenly shut in his face and bolted the garden
From which he limped home, tantalised yet happy, thinking of his
possible rivals no more.
Elizabeth Murray was very busy about her poultry all the height of the
summer. She had so many broods of chickens to look after that she
scarcely knew how to turn. With all her ordinary work to do, these extra
cares filled up her time so that the day was not long enough for its
occupations. Dick was very helpful and handy, and they laboured together
without grudging, with that unfailing and unvarying industry which those
exercise who know that all the fruit of their labours will be their own.
No other man or woman drudges with such patience as the little
landholders, who have no master over them, and nobody to share their
gains; and in many cases no other class live so sordid and miserable a
life. Elizabeth and her boy laboured day and night, and never found it
too much. She went to the market Saturday after Saturday, and worked all
the week through among the chickens and the cows. It never occurred to
her even to think that she was getting near the end of that platform of
middle age on which most of the more serious work of life is done, or
that by-and-by rest might be a necessity; nor did she think her life so
hard, as many a poor worker, not doing half so much, has done. She was
busy in the poultry-yard in the evening of one of those long summer
days, which her eldest son, though she did not know it, was spending so
near. At that season there are always chickens in a delicate state of
health to be looked after. Two were lying already in a warm basket close
to the fire, which was warm enough to singe their down off—and the
hospital was likely to be larger before night. The sky was all ablaze
with the sunset, if she had ever thought of the sunset. Sometimes,
indeed, she would raise her head, and look round her for a moment,
seeing all the glories that filled the silent sky and air, but taking no
special notice, except to say to herself that this splendid weather was
going to last. "Good for the chickens and a' living things," Elizabeth
said to herself. But she heard her boy's step coming sturdily up the
hill (for Dick had been absent since the morning) long before he was in
sight. This was of more interest to her than all the sunsets; and yet,
when she paused and looked down for him, what a sight was spread before
her! all coolness and greenness and shadow above, the light fading out,
the colour departing from the green turf and tiny fields, from
everything except the beck with its chain of little pools, which
reflected heaven in all its glory. Overhead the rosy clouds were
hanging still, brilliant with every tint that reflection can give; while
spread out before her lay a wonderful panorama—the broken ground of the
braes, close at hand, for a foreground, and beyond them, between the
openings of the hills, whose great shoulders shut in the view on either
side—far beyond them, yet claiming the attention by its blaze of
radiance—the water, far away shining like a sheet of gold in the sun.
To look down from this shadowy, cloudy place, already almost dark in the
early failing shadows, and see that burnished shield throwing back the
light, and all the canopy overhead brilliant with crimson and purple,
was a wonderful sight.
Dick came up with a sturdy resounding step, but not quickly. Sometimes
he would become inaudible, as he crossed "a boggy bit," or took a
devious way, crushing the fragrant bog-myrtles beneath his feet. When he
arrived at last, he found Elizabeth, with a clean apron on, waiting his
arrival for supper. Everything was ready for him. The chickens in their
flannel infirmary chirped feebly now and then by the fire. The cat,
curious, with a growing interest in the chirpings, purred about, knowing
she dared not approach. The old collie, not interested at all, but
tolerant, lay, though it was hot, and he felt it so, in front of the
fire, which threw a reflected tinge of redness upon his shabby black
"I have brought you a letter," Dick said; he did not add who was the
writer, but handed it over quickly. It had been lying in the window of
the toll-house for two long days, and Elizabeth gave a little cry when
she saw the writing. She forgot the supper and Dick's fatigue, and
everything but her eldest son, who wrote so seldom. A letter from Abel!
there had not been one for—Elizabeth well knew how long. Had not she
counted the months and the days? But even to herself she pretended not
to know; and the sight of it thrilled her through and through; a flush
of sudden colour came to her face, and the water to her eyes. When such
an unusual thing as a letter came to Overbeck, it was common that he or
she who received it should run it over first, thus getting the cream of
novelty and sweetness—then read it aloud. Elizabeth did the first—she
read it, devouring the lines: but her countenance changed as she went
on, and when she had ended she put it down with some irritation upon the
table, and proceeded at once to give Dick his supper. "If it's needful
that he should write seldom, he might be pleasant when he writes," she
said, with a spasm of disappointment and offence choking her voice.
"Is it Abel, mother; and what does he say?"
Dick began his supper calmly. He was not so much excited about Abel as
to neglect his meal. But Elizabeth was roused out of the common routine
altogether. The first morsel she tried to swallow choked her. "I cannot
eat," she said, pushing her plate away. "Oh, Dick, one thing I've asked
from the Lord; it is, that my bairns should thrive and do well. Me—what
do I care for me? I'm willing to work, and if I have daily bread I want
no more; but my lads and my lass—my lass, my Lily, the only one I
"What is wrong with Lily?" Dick said, looking up with interest. "And
what has Abel to do with that?"
"Ay, you may just ask; never to have taken any notice, never asked where
she was, or any single thing about her, and then, all in a moment—oh,
you're not to think I'm blaming your brother," said Elizabeth, with a
sudden compunction; "if he never showed an interest before, reason good
he should show it now."
"Is there anything wrong with Lily? Give me the letter, and I'll see for
"Ay, lad, there it is; it's gone to my heart, and I cannot read the
words out loud. It would be like believing, it would be like taking all
for gospel that was said again' my bairn."
Dick prepared himself for this pause in his meal by two or three large
mouthfuls to begin with, and by cutting and preparing a few more, to be
eaten as he went on. He was concerned, having a sturdy and honest
affection for his sister; but he was hungry as well. He had to spell
over the letter, not being great in "written hand," but this was what he
made out at last:—
"Dear Mother,—You will think it long since I have written, and so
it is—but I will not take up your time and mine by excusing
myself. I have a great deal to do, and that I know you will
understand; and then my life has got to be very different from
yours. I get into a kind of despair when I think of it. How could I
make you understand my life? Yours is all fresh air and nature;
mine is all artificial—close rooms and talk and books. Sometimes I
think it would have been better if I had never left you, then we
should have understood each other. God knows if we ever can now.
"I am writing to you, however, not merely to give you news of me,
or to ask how you are, but to put you on your guard about a danger
which, perhaps, you know nothing of. A friend of mine has been in
your neighbourhood, living at one of the gentlemen's houses" (Abel
had smiled to himself when he used this expression, so familiar in
the days of old), "and I have heard from him of a girl in the
village, a very pretty girl, who is with the dressmaker, and whom a
great many young men admire. I cannot doubt by the description that
it is my sister Lily. She has the young squire, Roger Ridley, going
after her, and I don't know how many more. You know that this is
not a safe thing for a young girl. It might come to no harm with
her, and I hope would come to no harm; but it is a thing her mother
ought to know, and her friends should keep an eye on her. Of course
my friend did not know it was my sister, so I heard everything, and
there is nothing wrong; but you know well that a girl's name should
not be bandied about, and should not be talked of in connection
with a gentleman's name who could not marry her, who is far above
her. Do not be affronted that I speak so plainly. I am sure when
you know, by all I remember of you, that you will take care of Lily
and set everything right.—Your affectionate son,
"Well," said Dick, with his mouth full, "I see nothing to vex you in
this, mother; he speaks very sensible. I meant to tell you the same
thing. It is what you ought to know. I was meaning to say to you, 'Bring
Lily home,' this very night."
"Oh!" said Elizabeth, wringing her hands. "I knew you would be both in
one story; it only wanted that. And what could I expect from two lads,
that can no more see into the mind of a simple lass! That's what you do,
all you men folk—put your own ill thoughts upon her that is as innocent
of harm—oh, that's what you do! In the course of Providence, or maybe
it's nature—the Lord deliver me from knowing which—you learn what an
innocent lass need never know; and then all you've learned from ill
folks, and all you've read from ill books, you think my bairn knows it
as well as you!"
To this most unprovoked and undeserved attack Dick made no reply. He
held his tongue, being partially compelled by circumstances to that wise
reticence, and occupied himself with his supper. It was the wisest way.
After a while Elizabeth, who was influenced in a way she could have
hardly believed, by her clumsy Dick's support and approval of what his
brother said, calmed down out of her own offence and indignation, and
began to consider the question too.
"If you've heard that, and he's heard that, there may be something at
the bottom of it: is that what you mean to tell me?"
"Nothing against Lily," said Dick, "and he says nothing against Lily;
but she's young" (he was two years younger himself), "and if a gentleman
says to her she's bonnier than all the rest put together, how is she to
know it's not true?"
"And so she is," said Elizabeth, with a gleam of pride; "there's no one
o' them, no one o' them you could name the same day!"
"Well, mother, well; that makes Abel all the more right in what he says,
and me the less wrong. You wouldn't expect Mr Roger, the Squire of
Waterdale, that will be member of Parliament and the Queen's counsellor,
to marry Lily Murray, the cotter's daughter at Overbeck?"
"He might search far and wide o'er the world to get one like her," said
the mother. "And wherefore no'? her brother is as good a gentleman, and
has as much chance to be the Queen's counsellor, as himself."
"And that is all you know," said Dick, with a groan; "when her brother
hears all that's said about Lily, and never has the heart to say, 'Hold
your peace, lad, it's my sister.' Much good it will do her to have a
brother that is like that."
"What would you have him say?" said Elizabeth, with a shrill note of
pain in her voice. "When he's living among gentlemen, would you have him
publish to all the lords and ladies that make much of him that he's a
"That would I, mother; it would be better for himself," said Dick, with
composure. "It may be grand to be a gentleman, when you have a right to
it, but pretending—what good can that do? and when there's something to
be found out, it's aye found out soon or late. I would rather be known
for what I am, and nothing to find out all my days."
"You?" said Elizabeth, with a certain contempt; "it's no' you that
anybody's thinking of"—and with this expression of impatience, which
sensible Dick took for what it meant and no more, she fell into silence;
and then was it not time to supper the cow?
After this there was nothing said all the rest of the evening. Both had
their work to do, and they went early to bed when that work was done,
for why should time be wasted and candles lighted for nothing? But when
the two separated for the night Elizabeth said, "It's a good thing
to-morrow is Saturday," and Dick replied, "That's true, mother." It was
all that was said.
Very early on Saturday morning, as was her wont, Elizabeth Murray took
her way down the long winding road with her heavy basket. Dick came with
her as far as the toll, where the cart passed that carried the heavier
part of her produce, and he said, "I wish ye speed," as he left her.
"Speed" might mean anything—success in her sale, as much as success
with more important matters. It was unnecessary for him to
particularise. She nodded her head solemnly in reply. By this time
Lily's danger had become the first thing in her mother's thoughts, and
the kindness and goodness of her brother in sending that warning. He
that had so many things to think of—he that was not like just a country
lad—even he, that had lost sight of his home, and was a gentleman, and
could not be expected to mind upon everything, as if he had never
stirred from Overbeck. So much had his mother's mind changed that this
was how it struck her now. Her heart swelled with pride and gratitude to
her boy. He was out of reach of their ordinary commonplace interests,
but yet he could bestir himself to save Lily, to serve herself. She was
nothing but grateful to Abel now—but Lily lay heavy on her mother's
heart. Elizabeth knew the ways of girls. There would be no harm in
Lily's thoughts, no meaning, no understanding of harm: but at the same
time nothing but harm could come from the gentleman lover. The young
squire, who was so much her superior, had perhaps caught Lily's heart.
Was her child to bear that burden of love impossible—love that could
never know an earthly close? Elizabeth sighed; she knew what it was. Had
not she been a rustic beauty, too, in days of which her children knew
nothing? and it might be, was followed and wooed like her child, before
good Abel came and stuck to her through thick and thin, and was married
for gratitude. Even at forty-five women have not forgotten such
incidents; and was it to happen over again to her child? "Oh, to have a
bonnie face, it's more a curse than a blessing!" Elizabeth said to
herself, as she went down the hill,—"at least for a poor lass." This
thought carried her far afield, far back into the past. She had been
happy enough as Abel Murray's wife, and very happy with his children.
Now was it all to begin again? and Lily, her one Lily, was she to bear
the burden too? But though her mind was heavy with this thought,
Elizabeth had to take her place in the market all the same, and get
through as usual the selling of her butter and her eggs. When that was
over she went to Miss Prentice's. She took with her a little offering—a
pound of her sweet fresh butter, and a pair of young chickens—and
before she could see Lily, which was her chief object, she had to
interview Miss Prentice, who was busy, as it was Saturday. "Good morning
to you, 'Lizabeth," she said; "I hope I see you in health. I am sure I
am much obliged to you for the chickens. I wish, though, it was not
Saturday, when we are all so busy, for I would have liked a word with
you about Lily."
"I hope she's giving satisfaction, and doing as you bid her," Elizabeth
said, forcing a smile, but with a very wistful, watchful look that
almost betrayed her anxiety. ("She has heard something," said Miss
Prentice to herself.)
"It's not exactly to find fault. Oh, yes, she gives me satisfaction.
There's not a word to say against her work. She's improving fast. I can
trust her to cut out a body and put it together; and she has what you
might call a real fine feeling for the trimmings," said Miss Prentice.
"But just you look here, 'Lizabeth Murray. What is a young woman to do
in the face o' that?"
"O' what?" said Elizabeth, growing pale. They were in Miss Prentice's
own room up-stairs, and the dressmaker had taken Lily's mother by the
shoulders, and pushing her towards the window, was pointing with her
finger at the other side of the village street. "Look for yourself," she
cried, excited. But all that Elizabeth saw when she looked out was a few
ordinary passengers going by from the market: to be sure, there was also
visible a gentleman riding slowly along the middle of the road. She
gazed at the foot-passengers first, and saw no harm in them,—they were
all very decent folk; but by-and-by Elizabeth saw that the gentleman
turned his horse, and came back riding very slowly, and looking down
from the elevation of his saddle to the window of Miss Prentice's
workroom, which was below.
"That what's happening 'most every day," said the dressmaker with
excitement; "it's no fault of hers. Whiles it's one and whiles it's
another. It's enough to turn anybody's head—me myself, that am an
elderly woman. They're all givin' each other the word, you would think,
to see them. I was thinking of sending for you, 'Lizabeth Murray, to
say, for no fault of hers, but just to keep her out of mischief, you
would do well to take your Lily away."
"But—you're sure it's a' for her?" said the mother, with flaming
cheeks. She was red, but not with shame—a little with pride, a little
with recollection. She could not be so angry as she ought. Poor lads!
was it not natural they should try their best to get a look at so bonny
a face? She had just seen her daughter on her way to Miss Prentice, and
Lily, all blushing and bright with the pleasure of seeing her, seemed to
the mother to be so well worth looking at; and then Elizabeth, too, had
been worth looking at, and knew what trouble it brought.
"There's not much doubt about that," said Miss Prentice. "You see they
think they're free to stare at her when they would not stare at a
lady. It's not a very nice way to show that you're a gentleman, that;
but it's very common. I would not mind if it was just the strangers that
passed; but there's some that come often, too often. Some would say they
would never come without being encouraged; but I'm fond of Lily, and
she's a good girl, and I would not say that."
"She must not encourage them. Oh, that must never be—that can never
"Here she is, coming to speak for herself. Lily, you can take your
mother to your room and speak to her there; but, mind, young Mrs Weston
must have the children's frocks to-night; and I've given my word. Nay,
dinna scold her," said Miss Prentice, whispering in Elizabeth's ear;
"but give her a word of good advice. I'm aye at her, but she'll pay more
attention to you."
"Oh, Lily! what is all this I hear?" said the mother, when they were
up-stairs, another story farther up. Miss Prentice's was the highest
house in the village. This was an attic room with a sloping roof and a
skylight window, on each side of which was a bed. Here Lily had lain in
the early morning, when the occupant of the other bed was fast asleep,
and had looked at her locket in the dawning. She sat down upon her bed
now, having placed for her mother the only chair in the room; and when
she heard this question she first looked Elizabeth in the face with
audacious innocence, and then she slightly tossed her saucy head.
"I've done nothing wrong," she said, and then added after a moment, "If
there's anything wrong it's no' my fault."
"But there is something wrong. Oh, Lily! trust your mother. Who would
you tell if you did not tell me? My lass," said Elizabeth, passionately,
"you're like myself over again; and I know what it is. Oh, Lily! trust
to your mother. Nobody's angry at you; nobody says a word against you,
To this Lily for some time would answer nothing. She hung her beautiful
head; she folded hems in her apron; but she would not speak. By-and-by,
however, by judicious abandonment of the solemnity of her first address,
Elizabeth obtained a response. "It's nothing wrong at all," Lily said,
pouting; "it's—it's the lads—and the gentlemen——"
"The lads—I'm not afraid for the lads, Lily."
"I daresay no'," said Lily, with another toss of her head.
"But the gentlemen—that's another story. What have they to do with the
like of you? They have ladies of their own kind to spend their time
with. What business have they to come and vex and trouble a simple lass
"Oh, they do no harm," said Lily, with a conscious smile upon her face.
"They canna but do harm," said her mother. "Oh, Lily! if I could but
tell you! Their ways are not like common folks' ways. You'll never bide
an honest lad coming courting to you—a good lad that will work for you
and give you a house of your own."
"That's what our forewoman says; as if I wanted a man and a house, and
all that! I'm young yet, and why should I not have my freedom like the
In Lily's sphere it was thought quite innocent and natural that a girl
should have her freedom, and see the world, as well as a young man,
before she settled down. The wander-year was a sacred right to all.
"I'm saying nothing against that. Have I ever tried to stop your
freedom? I know my Lily, and I dinna fear. But hear what I was going to
tell you. The gentlefolk have winning ways. They take their hats off to
you, and they speak soft to you, and they make you think you're a queen;
but, Lily, that a' comes to an end, and how are you to bide a common
man, and a rough courting, and all our country ways after that?"
"I want no man nor courting either—if you would only let me be."
"But I cannot let you be. Who have I but you, Lily. There's Dick, a good
lad, more able to look after me than I'm able to look after him; and
Abel," said Elizabeth, lingering on the name, "Abel—he's a grand
gentleman, and wants nothing of his mother. But, Lily, a woman's glory
is her daughter. My lass, I've none but you. It's you that's my crown
and my credit. And will you no' be a honour to me, Lily? Will you let
men and lads, even if they be gentlemen, make free with your bonnie
"Who's done that? There's none I know that would do that," cried Lily,
sharply, with a movement of anger and pain; and then she fell a-crying
and betrayed the existence of something more than the mere gazing and
admiration Miss Prentice was aware of. Elizabeth discovered with dismay
that the young squire had gone further than vague adoration of her
child's lovely looks, and that there had even been talk of marriage
between them. "He said it," Lily avowed—"not me. I did not promise, and
I would not promise. I thought you would say—what you've been saying,
mother; and me—do I want that? I was only joking; I was never
thinking. He said it; but I said nothing—neither one thing nor another.
I just laughed."
"But you'll have to give an answer; you'll have to say one thing or
another, Lily." Elizabeth was much alarmed, not believing in the young
squire; but she was somewhat impressed and solemnised too, for it was an
honour. Nobody could say but it was that.
"Not me!" said Lily, with a toss of her head.
And there was a pause, for so serious a position of affairs had not been
contemplated, and Elizabeth felt the necessity of thinking it over
before she could settle what to do.
"It was him then that passed the window, riding so slow, on a big black
"That passed the window? There's always some one passing the window,"
said Lily, in a careless tone.
"And turning back to pass again, and staring in?"
"Oh, that's their ill-bred way; they're very ill-bred. But I know who
you mean, mother: that's somebody else. That's Sir Richard
Featherstonhaugh, from the other side of the water."
"Lily, Lily! Is this what it's come to? And you let them both speak, and
never trouble your head? Oh, Lily lass! do you see the way you're going?
You must come back with me; you must come home. There's no gentlemen
there to turn your head. Oh, he did well—he did well to give me
warning. He is the one of us all that knows the best!"
"Who has been telling upon me?" cried Lily, growing pale. As usual, she
was full of resentment against the betrayer, but thought little of those
evils of her own which were thus found out.
"One that thinks of what's best for you," said her mother, slowly; "one
that's far above both you and me. A gentleman, and more than a
Lily had grown slightly pale, and her lips parted with wonder. Who could
this be? She became doubly alarmed at the thought of some one watching
her who was worthy of so many praises. "I don't know who you can mean,"
"Who should I mean but your own brother? though I fear—I fear you're
no' worthy a thought of him——"
"Abel!" said Lily, under her breath. It gave her a shock, as if Abel had
been a spirit and could see her, while himself unseen. "How does Abel
know? Was Abel here?"
"He sent me a letter. He has a friend that has seen you, Lily. Think how
it must be when young lads, strangers, gentlemen, can make so free
with your name."
"I know, then, who it is!" cried Lily. "I never thought much of him—and
to spy upon a girl! He's the gentleman that is staying with Mr Landale,
and that looks so grave and never says a word."
"Oh, I would like to know that gentleman, Lily! I would like to ask him
about my boy." Elizabeth for the moment forgot one interest in another.
Lily was so far safe that her mother was by her side, and had warned her
at least of the danger. But Abel, where was he? And she had not seen him
for so many years!
That afternoon she passed him without knowing, without one thought. She
had left Miss Prentice's house full of difficulty and doubt. To take
Lily away instantly seemed out of the question. The dressmaker was very
busy, and frowned at the idea of losing a "hand," and Lily's fair face
clouded at the very thought. What could Elizabeth do? She asked Miss
Prentice to be careful, and entreated Lily, with her heart in her mouth,
as she said, "Oh, to mind what she was doing, and to let nobody make
free with her bonny name!" And then she went away sadly, her mind full
of thought, her heart full of care, and brushed against her son Abel in
the village street and never knew him. He recognised her in a moment,
and very strangely the young man looked to his friends, who thought he
had been taken ill. His countenance fell, and took upon it a ghastly
hue; large drops of perspiration hung on his forehead. He stumbled as he
crossed the street, and was like to fall. "It is a faintness," he said,
with a dismal smile. But Elizabeth went on her way straight, and with
her heart sore and full of thought. She was too full of care to see him,
though he was in her way.
Lily was very penitent while her mother talked to her, but after
Elizabeth went away her seriousness relaxed. What harm had she done,
after all? She had not encouraged any one, or beguiled any one. When she
was spoken to, she replied civilly again. When a gentleman took off his
hat to her what could she do but give him a smile and say "Good-day to
you, sir"? Was that a sin? When they talked nonsense what did she ever
do but laugh? They got nothing from her. If they fell in love with her
it was at their own peril,—it was no fault of hers. Thus her
compunction melted away, for what harm had she done? All that day she
worked patiently and closely at the children's frocks for young Mrs
Weston at the Vicarage. She never so much as put her head out of the
window or thought of breathing the fresh air. Nothing could be more
industrious; and prettier little frocks or neater were never
manufactured. Miss Prentice had felt that it was a great compliment paid
to her by Mrs Walter Weston, who lived in London, though she was now on
a visit to her husband's father, to entrust her and not a London
workwoman with the children's frocks; and that the work should be so
satisfactory pleased her mightily. "You must mind what your mother told
you," Miss Prentice said, next morning, "but I'll not keep you from your
Sunday walk. Take your walk, but take some one with you, and mind who
you speak to, Lily." Lily promised "faithfully," solemnly. She tripped
out, looking up the street and down the street, and saw no one. Who was
likely to be in the High Street in the middle of a summer Sunday? To be
sure, there were the village people at their doors, and lads and lasses
setting out, like Lily, for their walk. She thought she would go down to
the waterside and pay a visit of benevolence and kindness to old Bess,
the wife of the old boatman who looked after the boats at the Castle.
That would be a nice walk, and yet it would be out of everybody's way.
Quite out of the way, for it was not one of her haunts, nor was "any
person" likely to look for her there. And yet such an unlikely thing
might be as that "somebody" might have something to say to old Simon
about the boats, even though it was Sunday. Thus both conscience and
fancy were satisfied—conscience, for most likely "they" would be
looking for her in an entirely different quarter; and fancy, because
there was still a possibility, a far-off unlikely chance, that
Providence might somehow bring "them" there, without intention. And when
all was done, it was a bonnie walk,—the water softly lapping on the
shore, the sunshine twinkling in all the wavelets, the green banks warm
in the afternoon light, the trees softly shading over her, covering her
path with scattered shadows. All this made the beginning of the walk
very pleasant to Lily. She had been so good that she had a secret,
half-drowsy consciousness that events would turn out to her advantage
and bring her pleasant harm—that the temptation from which she had fled
would be brought to her, without any fault of hers—perhaps no very
unusual state of mind.
This, we must pause to say, was at a period considerably later than
that treated of in the beginning of this history. Abel Murray had been
for several weeks at Landale, had been on the eve of departure, and had
stayed, doubling the originally proposed length of his visit before he
made up his mind to write to his mother, which he had done with great
precaution, sending his letter to Oxford first, that the postmark might
not betray him. In the meantime he had made himself popular in the three
great houses of the neighbourhood. Old Squire Ridley, in particular, had
adopted him among the number of his closest friends, and because of the
accident from which he had saved Roger he had been made free of the
house, and had grown into the most intimate relations with the family
generally, so that Mrs Landale playfully complained that though her
guest, it was the Ridleys who had the most of him—playfully: yet the
Landales, perhaps, were not quite so pleased as they still professed to
be. They had remonstrated when he talked of going away, and insisted on
the prolonging of his visit, but still there was a little soreness in
their minds as to his constant coming and going to the Castle. If it was
Roger that was the attraction, they all thought that certainly their
Charley was worth as much as Roger; and if it was Mary—oh, if it was
Mary, then it was most foolish, and more to be deplored than any other
folly could be. For what could come of that but disappointment and
trouble? Mary was engaged, and even if she had not been engaged, she
never would have had anything to say to a man who, whatever he might be
in the way of family, &c. (and nobody really knew what his family was,
whether he belonged to the Atholes or not), was certainly not a rich
man. It was madness, they all thought; but no one had a chance of saying
so or warning him against it, and day by day he spent at the Castle,
often, indeed, in company with some member of the Landale family (asked
there much oftener on his account, which was something in his favour),
but also often without. Mary was very kind to him. He had saved her
brother's life, and he pleased and amused her father, and he was very
much devoted, simply and reverentially, to herself. Mary was beginning
to perceive that she was not likely to have very much devotion from her
husband. Sir Richard was not an impassioned lover. He had taken his
wooing very easily from the first; it was more like the settlement of an
alliance between two princely families than honest loving. She was the
only person for him to marry, his fit mate; the one lady in the district
who could add something—a bluer blood, a more distinguished lineage—to
him who had so much. Therefore Sir Richard Featherstonhaugh had proposed
to Miss Ridley, and, with faint reluctance, had been accepted. There
was no passion in the business, and when Mary saw this new-comer,
silent, reverential, and devoted, with a veiled light of passion in his
eyes, she—liked it. It is a sad confession to be obliged to make. She
was like Lily, though she was so much above Lily. She was flattered—and
it softened and warmed her heart, a little chilled with the indifference
of others and with the absence of emotion in herself, to see the light
in this young man's eyes. She would not for the world have done him any
harm. If she had been able to accuse herself of having done anything to
cause this, she would never have forgiven herself for doing it; but the
mischief was done before she found out, and she felt he was happy when
he was by her side, when she spoke to him, when he had little services
to do for her. Poor fellow! and she had so much cause to be grateful to
him. Why should she not give him, it being so little, as much pleasure
as she could?
Sir Richard, too, as in duty bound, had invited Abel to
Featherstonhaugh, and there he had found among the visitors people whom
he knew. Nowhere in all the neighbourhood was there so much society, and
so good. The great house was full of guests, and Sir Richard was not
indifferent to any one whose presence in his house was pleasant to his
visitors. But though he received him and was civil to him, he did not
like Murray. A certain suspicion in respect to him was always in his
mind. He had seen his admiration for Miss Ridley, which was a distinct
offence to the man who was going to marry her, but did not much admire
her; and he had perceived that Murray, with a similarly jealous and
displeased feeling, had seen his own eyes straying after Lily. These
were very good reasons why he should dislike him, and be on the watch
for something against him. He had made all sorts of covert inquiries
into his origin—asking if he were connected with various Murrays whom
he professed himself to know; and these inquiries had become very
unpleasant, very disagreeable to Abel, so that he felt the existence of
a sourd suspicion, which, had it shown itself at first, would have
made him end his visit abruptly. But other reasons, now far more strong,
had come in, inducing him to stay. He could not tear himself away. While
he was there was he not a kind of protection to his sister? though it
seemed to him that he would rather die than acknowledge the village Lily
for his sister; and how could he banish himself for ever from the place
which held Mary Ridley? Once gone, it must be for ever—that he
knew—and thus lived on the edge of the precipice, daring the danger
which seemed to him so terrible, but with which, when his feelings were
excited, he could yet play. He had, indeed, it seemed to himself,
surmounted for the moment all the most evident dangers. No one had
recognised him, and yet he had seen many people whom he recognised; and
he had never betrayed himself, though it had been sometimes difficult
enough to keep on his guard. Was he not safe on the whole? and for
another week or two—a few precious days or moments stolen from
fate—surely there would be no risk if he should stay.
This, however, has but little to do with Lily, straying along the side
of the water, with a smile on her face, and confused happiness in her
heart. It was not happiness, it was expectation, a sense of all joyful
things that might be coming, a confusion of hope and pleasure. She
walked on with a half smile, with the shadows and sunshine flickering
over her, and the wind busy about her, blowing her ribbons here and
there, ruffling out the short locks that lurked under the braided hair
on her forehead. Lily thought this was dreadfully untidy, and gave
herself a good deal of trouble to smooth them down again, altogether
unwitting of the time when "a fringe" should be counted a beauty. The
cottage of Bess and Simon, to which she was going, lay in a little
circle, half hidden by the woods before you reached the Castle. It was a
very solitary little place, open to the lake, but shut in on three sides
by the trees, which there were low down, almost to the water's edge.
Now it was not the custom in the district to go on the water on Sundays;
but Roger was restless, and beyond rule: he had gone to church in the
morning, as in duty bound, but he had not known what to do with himself
afterwards. His mind was in a ferment and agitation about Lily, to whom
he had said everything a man can say, without eliciting any
response,—she had laughed, and she had eluded all his entreaties. No
lady would have treated him, he said to himself indignantly, as the
little village coquette had done. He was out of patience, and out of
heart—exasperated, yet ever more and more bound to her, and feeling it
impossible to break his chain. What was he to do? He had strolled down
to the beach, and thrown himself into a skiff in the restlessness of his
mind, and there he lay, swaying with the swaying of the water, floating
where it liked to take him, his oars shipped, himself lying moodily in
the boat, thinking—wondering what was to become of him, what she would
do, whether he could tear himself away and try to forget her. That
perhaps would be the best thing; but could he do it? The future was dark
enough to him, even happiness being full of pain. Happiness would be to
marry Lily—but if he married Lily, what should he do with her? how
present her to his father? how get his marriage acknowledged and
approved of? To lose her was despair; but to gain her—would that be so
very much better? Poor Roger! he knew very well that Lily had not, could
not have, any such love for him as filled his bosom for her. If she
loved him at all, it must be in so much lighter, slighter a way, no more
than liking, perhaps no more than vanity. This he knew very well by
moments—and at this moment felt it to the bottom of his heart.
When all at once he saw a white dress fluttering, lingering along under
the flecked shadows and sunshine. And it seemed to Roger that he knew
the turn of the pretty figure, the swift yet lingering pace. He raised
himself up in a moment and seized his oars; but even while he was in the
act of moving, stopped suddenly, and, with those oars touching the
water, stayed and gazed at what was going on before his eyes. He was not
near enough to see the blue spots on the white cotton which he would
have known for Lily's Sunday gown, but he had no doubt that it was Lily;
but then, springing suddenly through the trees, came another figure, a
man, throwing a dark shadow, by Lily's side. He could hear, or thought
he could hear, her little start and scream, and saw in a moment, lighted
by jealousy and a kind of hatred which he had begun to entertain for
this inappropriate rival, that it was Featherstonhaugh. Roger set his
teeth. If it had been any other man, any man who had a right to address
her, who was free as he himself was—but Featherstonhaugh! Mary's
accepted and betrothed lover! Roger's brain and his heart seemed to take
fire. Lily gave a little scream, but she was not afraid, and Roger
looking grimly on from his boat saw her stand listening and answering
with the same half invitation, half repulsion, with which she had so
often treated himself. They stood and talked, and Roger looked on. He
could not hear what they were saying, but what he saw drove him frantic.
It made him wild even that she should stop to parley at all. Not a look,
not a gesture escaped him. He saw Featherstonhaugh put his hand on her
arm, and though Lily tossed it off with a quick movement of her elbow,
she was not angry. Then he seized her hand—but Roger could bear no
more. He swept towards them with a few hasty strokes, and dashed his
boat up upon the beach with a jar and scatter of the pebbles, springing
on to the path beside the two, almost before Featherstonhaugh had
dropped in amazement the hand which upon a second attempt he seemed to
have been allowed to take.
"I beg your pardon," said Roger, quivering with passion. "I fear I am
interrupting a tête-à-tête." And he glanced at the intruder who was to
be his sister's husband with suppressed fury.
A man caught in such a position cannot well look anything but foolish.
Featherstonhaugh was taken entirely by surprise. It is bad enough, in
any case, to be found in intimate discourse with a village girl; but to
be found by his rival, and his future brother-in-law, could anything be
more uncomfortable? He flushed with angry impatience and discomfiture.
"I suppose, Ridley, a man may speak, without offence to you, to any one
"Certainly," said Roger, taking off his hat. "I did not know that you
enjoyed this lady's acquaintance to such an extent; but, certainly, I at
least have no right to interfere."
"Oh," cried Lily, frightened, "you are angry! Why are you angry? It is
not my fault."
"It is no fault at all, I presume," said Roger, "but an agreeable
meeting, which I can only apologise for interrupting."
"You need not speak so fine for me," said Lily, rousing herself. "I was
but going to see old Bess in the cottage. I was not thinking upon
gentlemen, neither him nor another—least of all upon him," she added in
a low tone, with an accent of contempt in her voice. This tone made
Featherstonhaugh unreasonably angry, and in an equally unreasonable way
mollified Roger. She stood between them, two dark and clouded faces, her
own somewhat anxious and frightened. But Lily was no coward. "I cannot
hold you from quarrelling, if you will quarrel," she said, "but it shall
not be about me. I'm wanting none of you; but I'll speak when I'm spoken
to, whoever it is, and answer to no person for it, but my mother," said
Lily, after a pause,—"the only one in the world that has a right to
find fault with me. Good-day to you. I'm going on, as was my meaning, to
see old Bess."
And with this she swept away, simple Lily in her cotton gown, bearing
the part and aspect of a princess to the two astonished young men. They
stood as she left them staring at each other, mutually discomfited.
Roger, who had confronted his rival in all the rigour of righteous wrath
a minute before, feeling himself so ridiculously in the wrong that he
did not know what to say. Featherstonhaugh took advantage of his sudden
"I hope you see the mistake of a too hasty judgment?" he said.
"Mistake!" cried Roger, roused. "Mistake about her, if you like, who
shames us with her innocence; but none about you. Have a care,
Featherstonhaugh! If you think I will stand by and see one woman duped,
and another played with——"
"You do me immense credit," said the other, with a pale smile. "I never
knew I was such a Lothario."
"By heaven I will teach you then," cried Roger, setting his teeth, "if
you put yourself in my way."
"And what is that royal road?" Featherstonhaugh asked, controlling
himself and driving the other to fury. Roger had advanced a step, his
eyes glaring, his throat dry with excitement—when an unthought-of
interruption came. A trim figure of an old man, bowed but precise,
moving slowly along the upper path beneath the trees, came suddenly in
sight. It was the old vicar, Mr Weston, who had christened both of them
and all the parish beside. The sound of his steady, measured old
footstep rang against their excited ears like the very steps of Time
himself. They fell apart by instinct, they composed their looks and
banished from their voices all sign of the enmity with which they had
turned on each other. Mr Weston was not deceived. He had heard high
words as he came up, and had even seen the threatening looks of the two
young men, and divined that they were on the edge of a quarrel, though
he did not know what kind it was. The very sight of him stopped
everything. Ridley was already conscious that to quarrel with his future
brother-in-law about Lily was not a thing that was possible. Passion is
a fine thing, and all-prevailing, people think; but when it can bring
nothing but ridicule and social ignominy, men very rarely indulge their
passion. His hand, which had been raised to emphasise his words, if
nothing more, fell by his side, his angry countenance cleared. "What,
Roger!" said the old man, "and you, Sir Richard! then I shall have
company for the rest of the way. But you must come to me, for I cannot
go to you."
The vicar had not been out for weeks before. He had been ill, and had
been shut up in his own room during all the course of summer. This was
the first day he had been able to go out. He was walking slowly, with
evident weakness, enjoying the air and the landscape, but making slow
progress. "I shall be glad of an arm from one of you," he said, as the
young men obeyed him and scrambled up the bank from the beach. How could
they disobey such a call? He had all the authority of tradition, of
natural respect, and conventional propriety in his favour. They would
each have made a considerable sacrifice rather than allow him to
perceive any struggle. His calm assumption of friendship between them
subdued them more than any remonstrance. "You have been on the water, I
see?" he said. "Think you it is a good example for you to set, the two
chief men in the county?"
"You must blame me only; Featherstonhaugh is perfectly innocent," said
"Only because it did not occur to me," said Featherstonhaugh. "I cannot
pretend to have been better employed."
"Ah, lads, lads," said the old man. "I will take your arm, Roger, if you
please. You will be foolish, whatever we elder folks may say. We learn
to give ourselves no needless trouble as we grow old. And to wear
yourselves out rowing on a warm day like this, instead of creeping
quietly along a sunny bank as I do—but I don't suppose you are likely
to mind me."
And he went on talking quietly, leaning heavily on Roger's arm, talking
meaningly, though he veiled his meaning, taking it for granted that they
were two friends, two brothers, as they ought to have been. Thus he led
them with him to the Castle, neither of them venturing upon a word which
was in opposition to the rôle he assigned them. Once, indeed, it
occurred to Featherstonhaugh to take advantage of the interruption and
to go home; for it was not particularly agreeable to him to visit his
betrothed wife, under the risk of being exposed by her brother. But
unfortunately this blessed fancy, which might have been the saving of
all of them, though thus suggested by some good angel, was never carried
out. He went on, unconscious that he was going to his fate.
The meeting with the squire and Mary was cordial and friendly. They were
both anxious to show their pleasure at the sight of the vicar, and Mary
gave her brother to understand that she would be personally offended
should he steal away, as he had been too much in the habit of doing.
Mistaken precaution; he would have taken the first opportunity to get
away, and go back to the beach and waylay Lily on her return, had it not
been for this warning and for that attraction of hostility which kept
him fascinated to the place in which his adversary was. But Mary's
senses were too fine not to perceive that there was storm in the air,
that her brother and her lover were on anything but friendly terms—that
they never addressed each other, never even looked at each other, and
showed every symptom of a recent quarrel. The relations between them had
been sufficiently strained and difficult before, and she was anxious and
watchful. To keep them together, to beguile them into talk, to interest
one in the other, was her womanish way of mending matters. Even in
ordinary cases of incompatibility of temper it is better to leave things
alone; but an anxious woman is slow to think so. She was glad and
relieved when more visitors arrived, being Charley Landale and Murray,
who now haunted the house at all times and seasons. Abel had never met
old Mr Weston before. The vicar had been ill, as we have said, and the
meeting now was quite unexpected. Murray had become foolhardy,—he had
ceased to take his usual precautions. A man who has passed his own
mother unrecognised on Saturday, how is he likely to fear a stranger on
Sunday? He came in quite fearlessly, giving himself up to the pleasure
of Mary Ridley's presence. She welcomed him as a most happy diversion in
the smouldering discord of the moment, and eagerly introduced him to the
vicar. "This is Mr Murray, whom I am sure you have heard of," she said.
"Yes, I have heard of him: Mr Murray, the great Oxford scholar you have
all been talking of. I'm a little blind, and a little deaf, and you must
forgive an old man. There is a youth at one of your colleges I would
like to ask you about. By the way, he's of your own name; I forget what
his college is. Abel Murray, a young man from this parish. God bless
us!" cried the vicar, with a sudden start.
"What is the matter, sir?" cried Mary; "you are over-tired; you are
"No, no, nothing of the kind. It was just a sudden fancy. Perhaps you
may know the young man I am asking about, Mr Murray? It's your own
There was a distinct pause in Abel's mind. The others were not conscious
of it; but to him it seemed as distinct a pause as that which falls upon
a criminal when he has to say Guilty or Not guilty. A choice seemed to
be thrust upon him—truth or falsehood, good or evil. And yet the blood
had begun to hurry so wildly through his veins, the mad heart-piston to
thump so loudly, that nothing but a confusion and giddy darkness was
round him, through which his voice came not like his own voice, as if
some one else spoke. "There are many of the name," he said; "it is not
an unusual one. You don't remember his college? Had you done so all
would have been easy enough."
"No, I don't remember the college," said the vicar, gravely. He sat
staring at the young man with his dim eyes, studying him in every
feature. "He was a handsome lad, dark and handsome like the rest of his
family. I saw his mother selling her butter the last Saturday I was
about before my illness, and I told her how satisfied we were. He is a
credit to the parish. We have never had a prodigy before that I'm aware
of. And son of a poor woman, that sells her butter (and very good butter
it is) in the market at Waterside, it's a great credit to him to have
done so well. Strange, now, when I think of it, in this light, there's a
Mechanically Abel turned his head to the light, but there was nothing
but giddy darkness in his own eyes. The room swam round him, a pale mist
full of inquisitive faces. "By Jove! that will be the brother of the
pretty girl in the village—the Lily of Waterside, as they call her. I
had forgotten her brother. I wonder what was his college?" said Charley,
carelessly. He spoke lightly, meaning little as he was in the habit of
speaking—when all at once his eyes caught his friend's agitated
colourless face. In a moment Charley stopped short; his countenance
changed, his under lip dropped, he stared at Murray with a face of blank
They were all looking at him now, every eye fixed upon him—the vicar
peering with contracted eyelids, for he was short-sighted. Abel's lips
were so dry that he could scarcely speak. The harsh laugh, which he
could not restrain when he was excited, broke from him in spite of
himself—"The college! yes, that seems the essential point," he said.
How they all stared. God help him! unhappy wretch! He stood up unawares,
feeling as if he hung suspended by some waving thread of chance over an
abyss. Now he was falling in wild vertigo, misery, and shame. "My lad,"
said the vicar, very pitifully, yet authoritatively, in the way in which
it was natural to address Elizabeth Murray's son, "I hope there's no
intention to deceive in what you've done. Why should you try to conceal
what all can see—that you are Abel Murray yourself?"
He gave one wild glance round him. They were all staring at him, the
room turning round, the light changed to darkness, nothing but a mist of
terrible, upbraiding, wondering faces. Then he became sensible of one
which was an embodied insult, a sneer, a smile, a look which spoke
enjoyment of his misery. That drove him out of himself: he struck a
blind blow towards the insulting face, and with a cry, half moan, half
yell, half laugh of despair and madness, turned and dashed through the
circle. Who might be in his way he knew not, and how he got out of the
room he knew not. He turned his back upon them all, and dashed wildly
out of the house.
Abel fled from the presence of those who seemed to him his enemies and
persecutors in a state of mind impossible to describe. The excitement in
him had risen beyond the bounds of endurance. All power of resistance
was over, along with all possibility of making a stand against evil
fortune. He was not bad enough for his rôle. He could lie by
concealment, and by inference, but not directly and in so many words;
and the utter self-abandonment and unspeakable humiliation of his flight
meant more than mere discovery: it meant complete moral ruin and
downfall. Nothing but the entire giving in and relinquishment of every
hope, the sense that he had no further step to take, no expedient, no
way of escape, could have overwhelmed all his powers so dismally and so
completely. For one moment only he had stood at bay, seeing as through a
mist the sudden lightening and darkening of the faces round
him—lightening of understanding, darkening of disapproval: he felt both
to his very heart with a horrible anguish beyond all experience. He had
been ashamed of his low condition, of his peasant birth, of his homely
family, and this shame had made him do ignoble things; but he was not
all ignoble. A strong perception, when too late, of the simple truth
which might have saved him, contended in his mind with the bitterness of
his shame and the rage of his despair. No possibility of anything which
could be done to sot him right suggested itself to his frantic soul. It
was all over: there was no longer any way of repentance, any
rehabilitation for him. The weakness of his nature had found him out.
Farewell everything—love, friendship, honour, credit! He would live no
longer among the people who had found him out; he would not look them in
the face again. He darted into the woods, running at full speed, not
knowing where he went; anywhere, only to escape from them, only to avoid
the look of them. Oh, cruel judges! oh, terrible tribunal! could he ever
flee far enough to escape from it, to forget the look in their cruel
These harsh judges from whom Abel fled had let him go in the first
shock, obeying that impulse of indignation which is so natural at the
moment of a discovery, but so often repented of afterwards. Mary had
stood aghast in her surprise, incapable of a word, and it was only when
he was gone that compunctions woke in her.
"Oh, Roger! go after him," she cried, "go after him. Do you remember
that he saved your life?"
Featherstonhaugh laughed out. He, too, was excited and uncomfortable
after the other event of the afternoon, and this was a way of relieving
"His knowledge of the place stood the fellow in stead. I thought so at
the time," he cried. "To think he should have taken us in for all this
Mary turned upon him with a keen glance of indignation. His laugh jarred
upon her nerves. "Go, Roger, go," she cried; "if you do not go I will.
Don't let him fall into despair: he saved your life."
"Whoever goes it must certainly not be you," said Featherstonhaugh in a
low tone, catching at her sleeve.
Mary had no thought of going. She put up her hands to her eyes, crying
in spite of herself.
"I think I hear him laugh as he did then," she said. "Oh, poor wretch!
will no one go after him? will no one have pity on him? Oh, Mr Weston, I
hope we may not all repent this day's work."
The vicar himself was very much discomposed.
"I did it for the best," he said—"I did it for the best."
The only person who kept his composure was Featherstonhaugh, whose ill
angel evidently had the upper hand for that unhappy day.
"Here is a great piece of work," he said, "for the unmasking of a
wretched impostor. For my part, I suspected him from the first. As for
saving Roger's life, it was not much after all—any child could have
done it who knew which were the safe places. But he may have other
claims upon your brother," he added—"claims you would scarcely
"Do you mean to insult me before my father and sister?" cried Roger,
making a stride forward, crimson with rage and indignation.
His opponent looked at him with exasperating calm.
"Is there any need for heroics?" he said. "I have no intention of
insulting you; but it might be well to explain——"
"Oh, lads, lads," cried old Mr Weston; "what is this quarrelling
about?—you that ought to be brothers. Hold your hands, and hold your
tongues, you foolish——"
"I think there is some mistake," said the old squire. "Sir Richard
forgets himself, and so do you, Roger. Go after that unhappy young man.
Let him go to his family—that is the best place for him; but tell him
that if he likes to come to me in the library at any time, I will be
glad to see a man of his information. Learning is of no family," said Mr
Ridley, with a wave of his hand. He was the greatest aristocrat of them
all, but he had a sense of the fitness of things.
"If you have such an impostor back in the house, sir, I shall desire
that Mary at least may not be exposed to the chance of meeting him,"
"Oh, come, after all," cried Charley Landale, "Murray's no impostor. He
said nothing about his people—heaps of fellows say nothing about their
people. His people don't matter to us; but he's no impostor, no more
than I am, or you, Featherstonhaugh. We would both sing small enough in
Oxford when Murray's there."
"And Sir Richard will excuse me," said the squire, with a stiff bow, "if
I say that I can take care of my daughter. Mary, it will be best for you
to retire; and, Roger, I have asked you to do something for me."
"I am going, sir," said his son, gloomily; but he went with reluctance,
looking back when he reached the door. "You know where to find me,
And Featherstonhaugh laughed. The whole party instinctively threw
themselves between the two young men—the one red with fury, the other
cool, with all the exasperation of which scorn and insult are capable.
"I will go with you, Roger," said the old vicar, hastily. "Perhaps I
have sinned against my brother. But no—no, I would but hamper you. Be
you the messenger of mercy, and God bless you, my boy! Go! go! before it
is too late."
Thus he was pushed out of the room, Charley Landale going after him.
"I'll not leave him," the good-natured fellow said quickly in Mary's ear
as he passed.
Featherstonhaugh made no attempt to follow. He waited almost
ostentatiously to give the other full time to be out of the way, and
then he went home.
But neither Roger nor his companion could find any trace of Murray. No
one had seen him or could discover where he had gone. Charley Landale
went home, disconsolate and feeling half-guilty, to watch and wait for
his friend's return, and to give what account of it he could to his
family, such as would least prejudice them against their visitor, though
even the little he said threw the house into confusion and agitation
indescribable. The girls cried over poor Mr Murray; the kind mother,
half-horrified at the risk her daughters had run of perhaps falling in
love with a nobody, and half-sorry for the nobody himself, whose
"feelings" must have been terribly "hurt," sat and talked it over,
neglecting the dressing-bell, and scarcely conscious even of dinner.
Dinner! ought they to wait for their guest, who had never come back?
Charley went out wandering about the grounds, looking for him; and even
old Mr Landale himself, though indignant with "the fellow" at first, had
come to be anxious too, and stared from the only window that commanded
the road. But Murray never came. They ate their dinner at last when it
was cold, and everything was wretched, listening to every sound outside,
and starting at every footstep as if it was one of themselves who was in
deadly peril and trouble. When night came, Charley, good fellow, would
not go to bed, but sat and dozed, keeping a light burning in the window
which was visible from the road. But, notwithstanding all their cares
for him, and all the sympathy and kindness that dictated them, Murray
never appeared; His things lay about his room as he had left them when
he went out, light of heart, expecting to return for dinner; but he
himself entered these hospitable doors no more.
The object of all these anxieties lurked somewhere among the woods in
one of the shady nooks he had known when he was a boy, and which
probably no one but himself and his old rustic companions knew, in the
very madness of misery, while the daylight lasted. He hid himself like
the first sinners—he could not bear the calm eye of the day, the cold
unpitying light, that would show him and point him out to the scrutiny
of men. He lay thus panting on the earth, hidden by the bushes, his mind
and all his being in so wild a turmoil that, after a while, the very
cause of it got obscure in his mind, and he knew only that he was a
fugitive, heart-broken, ruined, and disgraced, without knowing why. He
had no sooner reached a covert in the copse than there seemed to gleam
before him another, better hiding-place, a cool nook by a little stream,
where nobody could ever find him, where he could have a draught of water
when he pleased, and the trickle of the brook to bear him company. As
soon as it was dark he made his way out of the chase, and fled along the
most unfrequented paths, under hedgerows and across fields, to reach
this place. The country was very still, Sunday night, no one about, no
one stirring anywhere. Here and there he made a detour to escape the
lighted windows of a roadside cottage, whence some one might look out
and see him: sometimes shrank aside into a ditch or under a tree when he
saw some solitary passenger in the distance—but met no one, saw no one,
and at last came to the shelter he had thought of. It was deep down
among thick brushwood, heather, and whins, and young birch-trees, by the
side of a little stream which flowed from the hills to the lake. The
ground was damp, but he did not care. He dipped his burning brow in the
stream, and drank long draughts of it. This gave him a little relief, a
little physical ease; and the walk had been long, and he was unused to
so much exertion. Finally, he fell asleep, with his head, like Jacob's,
on a stone. The shock he had sustained seemed to take from Abel all
consciousness of any claims upon him or duties to the outside world. He
remembered nothing about the Landales, thought nothing of where he was
to go when the morning should come, again betraying him. He thought
indeed of no morning, only of safety from some immediate danger, though
he could not tell what that was.
It was a very lonely place, but abounding with wild creatures—rabbits
and squirrels, every kind of grasshopper and harmless insect,
water-rats, moorfowl, and myriads of existences too small for names. He
was woke by them as he lay, early—very early, before any human thing
was stirring. He had slept feverishly, by intervals, through the night,
and he woke up to a less confused sense of his misery in the morning.
Gradually it broke upon him as the light came disclosing the landscape,
creeping on and on. Oh, the horror of the remembering, the misery of
shame, the intolerable sense of weakness, wrong, resentment, and
impotence! Why was it so? Why was he born a cotter's son? Why was it a
disgrace to him? How horrible! that he should be banished from the
company of men, driven out into the wilds, aching every nerve of him,
body and soul, miserable, abandoned, troubled, all because he was a
cotter's son! Oh, wrong at which earth and heaven should cry out! Abel
was not capable of realising that nothing but his own falsehood, his own
cowardice, could have made his birth a shame to him—he was far beyond
such an exercise of reason. He looked down from among his ferns and
bushes to where the peaceful house of the Landales, where he should have
been sleeping now in safety but for this, lay among the trees, and
beyond it, on the banks of the shining water, saw the old Castle, whence
he had been driven out, "to eat grass with the beasts of the field."
That was what the old Eastern potentate had been sentenced to: was it to
be his fate too? Somehow it gave the poor fugitive, half-distraught, a
kind of forlorn comfort to remember that old story. His thoughts went
back to the old Bible lessons he remembered long ago. What had the king
done to have such a fate? and what had he done? But it gave him a
little ease to realise that this had happened to some one else before.
And where was he to go? He could not show his face in this familiar
place, which had again grown so dear. He would go back—back to his
lonely rooms in Oxford, where he ought to be safe, he thought. But how
to get there, how to stir in that garish, lavish day, which flooded
every dark corner with light, so that the water-newts and earth insects
had much ado to get themselves into some covert place, and how was he to
walk unseen, a man? He was faint for want of food, aching with the
unusual exposure, his clothes wet and torn, his hat he did not know
where, his head throbbing and buzzing and all confused. But yet he might
have come round out of the painful bewilderment he was in; his thoughts
began to take a little shape, his mind began to occupy itself with a
practical question—how to get home unseen, how to get to the road and
the railway, and go back whence he had come. All might have come again
to something like nature—nature sore and bleeding and wounded to the
heart, but yet able to command herself, able to be restored.
But just as he had worked to this hopeful point, a jar and rustling in
the branches woke every pulse in his frame again. Who was it? He peered
through his covert with his bloodshot eyes, and at first saw nothing.
Then gradually he distinguished something moving among the copsewood and
tall bushes of heather. Who was it? What was it? A man, coming towards
his hiding-place, pushing his way through the trees, leaping across the
rivulets in the bog, here sinking in the marshy places, then
reappearing, coming ever nearer and nearer. Abel stretched up across his
little stream to watch this advancing figure, fascinated. Was it some
one in search of him? Then he sat down, pulling the heather and
brushwood over him to escape detection. The sounds came on, then
stopped, quite close,—so close that Abel felt his very breathing would
betray him. "Are you there, Ridley?" said a voice close to his ear. "So
you have kept tryst. I scarcely expected you would. Get up, wherever you
are, and come out." Then, after a pause, in an angry tone he added, "Is
this a time for fooling? Come out, wherever you are. I can't wait here."
Abel was like one of the branches quivering over him, one moment blown
this way, another that way, as different impulses swept across him. He
had covered himself with the bushes, shrinking into the very earth for
safety. Now, with a sudden change of idea, he sprang out from his lair,
suddenly confronting Featherstonhaugh with his wild looks and haggard
face. "My God!" cried the new-comer, springing backward in
consternation and alarm. He did not recognise at first the extraordinary
figure. Abel was very pale, his head was uncovered, his eyelids red as
blood, his clothes all wet and soiled and torn. With a sudden fierceness
he pursued after the other, keeping his wild eyes fixed upon him with a
glare of passion and madness in them. No wonder Featherstonhaugh was
afraid. "Is it you, Murray?" he said, faltering. "I—beg your pardon. I
thought it was Ridley; he was to meet me here, this morning, about the
boundary line. The two estates—march. We had—words yesterday, and I
scarcely expected him. I am afraid you have not spent a—comfortable
"Yes, I have," said Abel, hoarsely; "better than among men—better than
with the false and cruel——"
"You take it too seriously, I am sure," said the other. "What does it
matter who is a man's father I We are the child of our own actions,
nowadays; only, if you will do me a favour, don't go any more to the
Castle. It would do you no good, and it might—do harm."
"Are you my master?" said Abel.
"No, no. Don't be excited. I ask it as a favour. Don't go. I am not
taking ground as your superior, Murray."
"Are you—my superior?"
"Well, yes," said the other, with a careless laugh, growing less afraid,
and feeling that in his coolness he had the upper hand; "we need not
inquire into that, need we? Go home, like a good fellow, and get some
breakfast. You must be cramped, lying out all night—have you been there
"Who are you that speak to me as if I were your slave? Do you think
I—will do what you tell me—You! Who are you that give me orders?"
"Come," said the other; "Murray, you know this will never do. You've
been drinking. Go home."
"I have been—what?" shrieked the unhappy young man.
"Don't make it more evident than it is. I said drinking," said
Featherstonhaugh. "Now go home."
But Abel sprang at his throat before he was aware. It was an impulse,
like the other. A sudden flash and tingle of passion, and then a spring.
Featherstonhaugh fell like a stone among the brushwood and broken stones
of the hillside, with the grip of the madman on his neck. He was a
madman now. The wavering of the mental balance, which might have been
restored an hour ago, was over for ever. This second assault concluded
the struggle. With no enforcement of artificial restraint, nothing but
the two, in face of each other, on the lonely hillside, passion leaped
into frenzy in a moment. He gripped his victim by the throat and there
was a long and horrible struggle; then, when the other lay still and
ceased to resist, Abel, laughing wildly, got upon his knees and struck
at the helpless, prostrate figure, beating him into the bog, cruelly
repeating blow on blow, blow on blow—long after all blows were
needless. He kept on with a convulsive motion, rising with every stroke,
like a child when it imitates the action of riding, showering down his
blows, with a stick which he had picked up—with a stone, with his
hands—in a fury which by-and-by degenerated into horrible, senseless
play, and monotonous repetition of an act which no longer meant
anything; not homicidal passion—not mad rage, but only the horrible
play of a distracted brain.
But by-and-by another sound roused him—the sound of a step crashing
among the branches once more. With a vague recollection in his madness
that some one else was coming, he rose, all bloody and horrible, and
looked about him. Some man or other stood within a few feet of him on
the other side of the little stream. Some one who called to him, who
hurried forward, jumping the brook. The madman knew nothing, who it was,
or what he wanted; but frenzy and fear are ever akin. He turned round
wildly, faced to the hills, and fled like an arrow from the bow.
It was morning, and all the usual business was well begun; the cows were
out in their pasture on the hillside; the chickens about the close
vicinity of the house; nothing was audible except their busy cackle and
the hum of the bees, which Elizabeth Murray kept, and which were one of
her sources of income—and her own steps coming and going in her house.
Before you came in sight of the house you could hear those brisk steps,
stately and harmonious, giving a sign of life in the pleasant stillness.
Dick was in the potato-field close by; there had been a fine crop, and
he was digging them up for the market at Waterside. He was whistling as
he worked, but Elizabeth, whose mind was full of many cares, did not
sing snatches now of one song, now of another, as was her wont. How
seldom it is that the mother of children has not occasion for anxiety
about one or another! and it seemed to her that she had so much. Lily;
what should she do with Lily if the girl grumbled at the loneliness, as
she was likely to do, or pined for her friends, and for the admiration
she had called forth? All that would be natural—quite natural. After
half consenting to leave her daughter and to trust to her prudence,
Elizabeth had been seized with a panic on her return home, and had sent
instructions that Lily should return on Monday morning; and now again
she was doubtful, as was also so natural, of the wisdom of the step she
had taken. How would Lily bear the solitude? Up here among the hills,
nothing except the household work and the mild vicissitudes of the
chickens and the cows ever happened. Elizabeth herself did not mind,
because, as she said to herself, she was old, and all that was likely to
happen to her in this world had happened and was done with; and Dick did
not mind, for he had not begun yet to think of anything beyond his work,
and life was all before him, and he had been accustomed to the
tranquillity all his days—but Lily!
And on the other hand, there was Abel to think of—the lost boy—who yet
was so much greater and happier and better off than ever Elizabeth could
have made him. She sighed, but took herself to task for it, declaring to
herself with tears in her eyes that she did not grudge his
grandeur—that it was for his happiness she cared, not for her happiness
through him. "But oh, it cannot come to good that he should think shame
of his own folks," she sighed in the depths of her heart. Yet it was so
pleasant to think of him as "a gentleman." It seemed to Elizabeth that
if she could but see him enjoying that high estate, courted and made
much of by the great folks of the land, she would not want to speak to
him or betray him. Oh, far from that! She would live in the house with
him and never betray him.
Thus she was going on peacefully about her domestic work: the chickens
cackling outside, Dick whistling in the fields, the brook trickling over
the stones, the bees humming, everything full of the warmth and softness
of the summer day. The air was such that unless you were ill or in
trouble you gave God thanks, unenvious of other blessings, for nothing
but the day; and Elizabeth was a woman subject to such influences, and,
in spite of her cares, a softening of happiness stole into her mind.
After all, was not everything well? However anxious she might be, there
was no trouble in her family. Lily was not disobedient, and Abel, though
he did not come to see his family, yet "took an interest" in them. There
was no reason why she should not let the sunshine and the sweetness
steal into her heart, and allow herself to acknowledge that all was
"Dick," she cried from the window, "lad, do you no hear a sound of
somebody coming? I think I hear a step by times, and surely somebody
cried to us, coming up the hill. Did you not hear?"
Dick stuck his spade into the soil, and, listening, said, "Mother, I
heard nothing. But now I'm quiet, ay, that was a sound."
"It's maybe Lily," said the mother.
"Lily's foot's too light to sound so far. But we'll see soon enough when
they come," said Dick, resuming his digging. He resumed his whistle too.
He was not curious. Whoever it was, would not they show themselves soon
enough? And in the meantime he had his work. Elizabeth, too, went in,
and went to her dairy, accepting Dick's philosophy. To be sure! there
was nothing so much to be expected but that when it appeared would be
time enough. Time enough! And so their life went on tranquil for ten
long sunny minutes more.
About that time both of them held their breath and stopped their work.
Dick stuck his spade again in the half-dug row of potatoes. Elizabeth
came out to the door. A hurrying, headlong step, coming on in mad haste,
now ceasing for a moment as it reached the bog, coming nearer, rushing
on—with other sounds, broken cries, gaspings and pantings, as of
somebody hunted, came to their ears. While the mother and son listened
in growing alarm, old Watch, the dog—most steady of dogs—suddenly
raised his old black muzzle and gave vent to a long wailing bark of
alarm, which echoed through the hills. Terror fell upon the minds of the
mother and son. What was it? The light seemed to go out of the sky, the
echoes to tingle all about them. These wild hurrying sounds did not come
even by the usual path, but, as Dick perceived sooner than his mother,
descended from the higher way, a way no one ever came. This was how it
was that when the new-comer reached the place at last, Elizabeth did not
see him. She knew nothing till he was close upon her. A terrible figure,
bare-headed, bloody, his clothes hanging torn about him, his face
ghastly and distorted, strange, harsh, broken sounds coming from his
lips. She turned round only when he was within a few steps of her, when
she saw him, and with a shriek of terror threw up her arms and started
out of his way. Dick came rushing to her help; but the stranger heeded
neither of them. He burst into the house, and threw himself, all
convulsed and shivering, before the kitchen fire.
"God help us, Dick—it's a madman!" cried Elizabeth. "What will we do?"
They both stood in terror at the door. There was a moment's pause of
horror and dismay. Dick was pale, but he was brave. "Go you and shut
yourself in the byre, mother, and I will see——"
"Nay, nay, my lad; your mother's life is less worth than yours. But look
at Watch!" she said, with a strange thrill at her heart.
Watch had been taken by surprise, and struck with terror as well as
themselves. He had run terrified out of the way with another howl when
the man rushed past. But now he had followed into the kitchen, without
either fear or anger apparently. "He never can bide a tramp," Elizabeth
said, with a strange aching wonder in her heart. They could see the
huddled mass of shivering limbs before the fire. Watch went in,
cautiously snuffed all round the prostrate figure, and then began slowly
to wag his tail—slowly at first, and then with an appearance of wild
joy, and yelps and barks of welcome. Elizabeth Murray's heart seemed to
stand still. She gave Dick a look of horrible suspicion and misery. Then
she made a gesture to him to keep behind her, and went in with the
silence and swiftness of a ghost.
The terrible being who had thus arrived upon them had fallen down on the
floor, apparently in a fit. He was lying writhing and struggling before
the fire, his face distorted, his eyes glaring, foam and blood on his
mouth. She went in and bent over him, then knelt down by him. She had
not seen him since he was a boy. He had been twelve years old when he
had gone away. She looked at him now, knowing before she looked who it
was. Heaven help her! had she ever been light of heart, peaceful, happy,
though this was coming? Was it years ago since she stood at her door and
heard Dick whistling and the bees humming? She knew who it was even
before she looked. She knew him for all his convulsed face, his terrible
struggles and contortions. Abel! her son—who was a gentleman, who was
too grand for his own people. The dog, faithful brute, with a truer
memory than even the mother's, was licking the terrible face. She gave a
great outcry, words and sobs together. "It's Watch that knows him, and
not me, first!" she said.
Then she got water and dashed in his face, and rubbed his stiffened
hands. She did not even know what to do for him. She knelt by his side,
her face too as pale as death, unconscious cries coming from her—"Oh my
lad! Oh be still! Oh let him be, good Lord, let him be!" She did not
know what she said. And Dick, with a face blanched to the colour of his
linen, kept plucking at her sleeve and calling softly, "Mother?" She
took no notice for a long time, then irritated by the repetition turned
upon him sharply, "What is it, lad?" Dick could not get any question out
of his parched lips, he only looked at her and then at the writhing
figure on the floor, "Can you not see for yourself?" she cried, with a
groan in which there was a kind of wild incredulous laugh. "Can you not
tell without asking? It's my boy Abel, him that's a gentleman; our pride
and our joy!"
How the rest of the horrible morning went they never knew. Their
peaceful occupations were all abandoned. In the midst of their cares for
Abel—whom after a while they managed to get transferred to a bed, when
the fit going off left him half unconscious and entirely
prostrate—arrived Lily, all unaware of any new event at home, but with
the news that a horrible murder had been discovered—Sir Richard
Featherstonhaugh lying dead on the hillside, all beaten and battered.
This did not seem to Elizabeth, for the moment at least, any concern of
theirs; but when Lily, very frightened and half reluctant, was taken
up-stairs to see her brother in his raving sleep, a gleam of painful
light, a dawning of some horror seemed to gleam among them, though they
could not perceive what it revealed. Lily turned from the room where lay
the stranger whom they called her brother Abel, with a suppressed
shriek. "It's the gentleman!" she cried; and when she had told all her
story the little awe-stricken party looked each other in the face, each
paler than the other, not knowing what to think. "Was he—friends—with
the lad that's killed?" Elizabeth asked, turning away her face. She
could not allow her children to perceive the dawn of meaning in it. When
Lily replied by a tremulous account of how and when she had seen them
together, Elizabeth made no comment, but by-and-by she went up-stairs
and returned with the clothes Abel had worn, made up into a bundle.
Lily, whose attention was still unaroused, did not notice what her
mother did. But Dick, who had watched her closely, went out after her,
and found her burying her bundle deep in the potato-field where he had
been digging. With tremulous energy she threw up the easily dug soil,
making a deep hole in a corner. She said nothing in explanation of what
she did, even to him, nor did he ask—but she took hold of his arm to
help her to the higher level on which he stood, and gripped it with a
convulsive strain. "God grant I'm a' wrong," she said, looking as if she
had been turned to stone. "Ay, mother," said Dick. It would have been
more comforting to her if he had not understood her so well.
But the events of the day were not yet over; enough, indeed, had passed
already to make it terrible. All this peaceful life, which had been so
quiet this morning, had disappeared from them, and in its place had come
a mystery and horror such as surely never before had come upon decent
folk. Who thought of the mild beasts in the field, the cows grazing, the
bees keeping up that busy hum of undisturbed labour, the milk that was
setting in the dairy, the eggs to be gathered, all the soft growth and
production of nature that was going on for their benefit? The whole had
been swept away from their thoughts by this sudden wreck, this falling
among them of a ruined being, a distracted life. How many anguishes had
come with him! terror, suspicion, crime! and yet it was all guess-work,
and there might be nothing after all but madness in poor Abel's misery.
Nothing but madness! which would have seemed the most horrible of
miseries yesterday, but now would be a relief from other fears. There
was only Lily in the house who did not entertain these fears. She had
not seen him come flying like a hunted creature to the one place that
could shelter him. She had not associated him with the murder of which,
on the other hand, her mind was full. Only yesterday Featherstonhaugh
had spoken to her, had tried to "court" her; had made an effort to take
her hand and draw her to him; and now he was murdered—murdered! lying
in his blood, scarcely recognisable! The story had been brought to the
village with all its terrible details before Lily started, and she could
not but go over them in her mind. So living, such power in him, such a
grand gentleman! and now with the life beaten out of him, a piece of
dishonoured clay! She sat down and cried, sitting by the door, while her
mother watched the other gentleman, who was her brother she could not
tell how. Lily sat alone in the solitude, and wept, partly for the
murdered man, partly out of vague agitation and excitement, partly for
herself, who had lost all pleasant things and pleasant prospects. What
was there for her now but solitude and forgetfulness, all the delights
of her youth over and done? She put up her hand to the little ribbon
with its hidden locket round her neck. Oh how sweet it had been to
receive that secret treasure! and now it was all that was left to her.
In all likelihood she would never, never see the giver more.
"Lily!" said a voice near to her. She gave a great start and cry and
rose to her feet. Had he come after her—and so soon? Notwithstanding
the sense of trouble about her, Lily's heart rose; but there was nothing
encouraging in the face of the lover whom she supposed to have come
after her. He was pale and haggard, his eyes bloodshot, his frame
trembling. "Where is he? Has he come here?" he cried. Of her, in the
old tender winning way, he took no notice at all; if it had been Dick,
Roger Ridley could not have been more indifferent. "Has he come here?"
he repeated, almost with impatience. Lily was wounded in her foolish
expectations. "How am I to tell who you mean?" she said. She stood in
the door barring his passage. The attitude meant a great deal more than
was in Lily's mind. She looked like the guardian and defender of the
secret that had come into the house.
Elizabeth, who was above, heard the voices and came to the window, which
she opened softly, looking out with anxious eyes. "I will not betray
him," she heard Roger say. Then he looked up and saw her, and beckoned
to her to come down. Elizabeth hesitated only for a moment. She must
hear sooner or later all there was to say. She must find out how to
defend her boy, and what he might be accused of. She locked the door
upon him as he lay there moaning in a stupor which was scarcely sleep,
and came down. She was but a common woman, with nothing to distinguish
her from the other cotters in the dale; but as she went slowly to the
door to hear her son's sentence, so to speak, she marched unconsciously
as a martyr might to his death. What would death have been in comparison
of this which she had to face?
"I have not come here to betray him," said Roger, "but neither need you
try to hide it from me. I saw him—God help me! shall I ever get it out
of my eyes? I saw him, but I was too late to save. I saw him kneeling,
striking at him, striking at him! God! I think I see it now."
He leant against the wall looking as if he would faint; but Elizabeth
did not faint. She stood, the colour of death, with her arms crossed
upon her bosom. If there had been any possibility of denial or
resistance she would have resisted and denied; but there was none, and
she needed no explanation. "He is mad," she said, "mad—he's no
responsible—mad! Do you hear what I say?"
"I've tracked him all the way," said Roger. "I know he must have been
here hours ago; more than one met me, but no one had seen him. God
knows what people may think of the trouble I was in. I thought after a
time it might put them on the scent, and then I asked no further
questions; but no one had seen him. They will not think of looking for
him here, if you are prudent; but you must keep him still, and not let
him move. Give me a draught of milk and I will go home and watch over
everything. If it is suspected where he is I will send you word."
"Mr Ridley, I will pray for you night and day on my bended knees," said
Elizabeth. "Oh, he's mad, my lad! he's no responsible. And oh, you, a
stranger, to take this burden upon you! What can I say? what can I say?"
"I saw him by accident," said Roger. "God help us. I am perhaps to
blame; he got insult through me, and he saved my life; and Lily," said
the young man, turning for a moment to look at her—"but all that's over
now," he added, with a sigh.
Lily had sat down on the step by the house door. She had hidden her face
in her hands and was weeping quietly, overpowered by the despair about
her. He was near enough to be within reach of her, and he put his hand
on her head. "Yes, it's over," he said, "it's all over," with a sudden
break of sobs in his voice. Who could think of happiness, or love, or
anything sweet in life now? His heart was sick with wretchedness and
horror. Roger did not know how he was ever to take up the common things
of existence again, how to get that spectacle out of his eyes.
It was Elizabeth herself who brought him out and served to him,
solemnly, as if it had been a sacrament, those simplest elements of
food, the common oaten cake and bowl of milk which was their ordinary
cottage fare. Lily sat and wept—her heart was broken—but the mother,
with her heavier burden, did everything. The two young creatures thrown
down there in moaning and despair—she leaning her head against the
cottage wall, he lying on the turf with his face buried in his hands,
were lightly weighted in comparison; but Elizabeth's heart yearned over
them, sorry for the trouble they were so much less capable of bearing.
"You must not stay here," she said to Roger, softly. "Oh, God bless you,
my young gentleman, and put me and mine out of your head, and all that's
happened this dreadful day! But you're rested now, and you mustna bide
Roger rose reluctantly from the grass; the moment of rest had softened
his heart. He stood, looking disconsolately, wistfully, at the girl whom
he had so foolishly loved. He knew how foolish it had always been, and
it had fled from him like a shadow in presence of all the terrible
events of the morning. But when he looked back upon her now, seated
there in all the abandonment of the catastrophe, her pale face lying
back against the grey wall, her pretty hair falling from the comb, her
eyes shut, and two great tears stealing down her cheeks, a great pang
went through Roger's heart. Love and honour and pain strove in him.
Could he take her to him under this shadow of madness and ruin? Could
he leave her without a word? He stood for a moment irresolute—then made
a hasty step towards her, and stooping down, kissed her forehead.
"Farewell, my Lily! Farewell, my Lily!" he said, then turned, and went
quickly away. Lily uttered a low moaning cry—she made no other
response. It was all over, all over! There was nothing more to say.
Then the silence of the hills fell around the little house, folded up
with its secret in it, among the great slopes of the mountains. The
first night fell upon them, half a benediction in its darkness and
quiet, half an aggravation of the unseen dangers that now seemed to hem
them in. Dick sat up and watched all night, while his mother sat by the
bedside of the fugitive, who lay between stupor and raving, and had
recognised none of them, though they thought he was soothed by his
mother's presence and touch. Long were the hours of darkness, though so
few in the soft summer weather, which was then exceptionally soft for
the north. As for Lily, she was made to go to bed, with kind tyranny, by
both mother and brother, and slept, and was ashamed of herself for
sleeping. And then came the dawn again, tranquil and awful, the first
morning after the calamity,—the revelation of that changed world in
which no longer all was well. But the cows and the chickens had to be
looked to all the more that they had been neglected the night before,
and that was a consolation so far as it went. The day went on quietly
enough. They were on the alert for every sound, and Watch was posted out
on the hillside at a little distance to give an alarm if any one should
come; but no one came. And whatever might be doing down in the low
country, whatsoever course suspicion might be taking, whether Abel was
thought of at all in connection with the murder, or who was thought of
instead of him, here none could tell. Lily, heartsick, did her share of
the work, casting wistful looks down the road, and letting her heart and
her eyes roam downwards upon the water far in the distance, radiant with
sunshine, or dim with shadow, where all the business of life was being
enacted, though she knew not how. The others were glad (if that could be
called gladness) when the day was over without any incident; but oh how
long was the day to Lily, with her heart fluttering away upon the far
horizon, and this killing silence round her! And it was all over, the
other life, all over! Was this henceforward to be the tenor of her days:
this and the madman up-stairs who was said to be her brother? Had ever
any one before so hard a lot to bear? Lily repeated to herself that her
mother was old, and "wrapt-up" in "the boys," and Dick "did not mind;"
but she who had no boys, and was not old, and whose life was over, all
over! What was there so forlorn and terrible as this fate which had
fallen upon her?
It had come to be dark again; night falling, the time of terror, and
great stars coming out into the sky, peering over the shoulders of the
hills, and leaning out of the blue to see all that could be seen. The
family had come in and shut their door; never on a summer night had that
door been shut before; but it was always a bulwark the more in defence
of the wretched one within. Elizabeth came and went between the room
where he lay and the kitchen, where Lily sat by the smouldering fire,
crying in the darkness. There was no light in the room; they wanted no
light to be wretched by, and even the glimmer of the little lamp on the
high mantelpiece might betray them. The fire smouldered, a red speck and
no more in the darkness, and the low, square windows hung like faint
pictures on the wall. Dick was outside. It was not possible for him to
be confined in a room with closed doors. The night was thus darkening
over them, and dreariness and stillness falling like a pall, when all
the echoes were suddenly roused by the harsh, hoarse bark of Watch
baying, with his head up and wide throat extended. Elizabeth, who was
standing by Lily, took hold of her suddenly, grasping her trembling
frame with two passionate hands. This filled the girl with additional
terror; but it was her mother's silent way of strengthening herself, and
bracing herself for what was to come. Then Dick appeared, the defender
of the house. They could see him take his stand in front of the door, to
protect the entrance. Then there came a sound of voices, and Lily sprang
to her feet. "He's come back again, mother!" she said.
"There may be more with him," said Elizabeth; but she opened the door,
with jealous care, showing half of herself only, to parley. Was it
Roger, that dark figure against the light outside? He came pushing in
with a kind of rude imperativeness. "Do you try to keep me out?" he
said. "No, we are all in the same ship now. Let me in. I have nowhere
else to go."
"Is there more ill news to hear?" said Elizabeth.
"More ill news? No, not for you. Listen; but first light a lamp or
something, that I may see who I'm talking to. That's better. Yesterday,"
said Roger, with a curious laugh, "I could speak freely what I wanted to
say without thinking of the dark or the light."
"What is it, tell me what it is?—I must go to my lad that is alone."
"Alone! is he worse than others?" said Roger, fiercely; and then he
added, laughing again, "they say it was I—I—that did it! I have fled
from my father's house not to be taken up for murder. Oh, God!" he
cried, with a tone of agony. They all echoed it with one impulse. "You?"
they said, and Lily broke out wildly crying, half hysterical with the
misery which seemed to have its crown of anguish now.
"But no, no, it canna be! you have proofs to the contrary," cried
Elizabeth, upon whom this seemed an appeal against herself.
"They can prove everything," he said, with the calm of one who knew the
worst. "I had an appointment with him there for that morning. I was seen
going away, looking like a man that had killed another. I had quarrelled
with him (oh, poor Dick, poor Dick! I knew him all my life!) the day
before. There is no one but believes it. We are all in the same box,"
said Roger, sitting down, miserable but defiant; "there was nowhere I
could come but to you."
"Oh, sir," said Elizabeth, "no harm shall happen to you, not a hair
shall fall from your head—but spare him, spare him now."
"Spare him! am I harming him? I am giving my life for his," said Roger,
with a groan. "I wish he had let me break my neck from the old tower; it
would have been soon over. Spare him! I'm on my way now I know not
where. Whatever happens to him I am lost, Mrs Murray; my life, my good
name, everything. Look here, there is but one thing you can do for me;
give me Lily and let me go."
Lily had heard all from her stool by the fire, where she had sat in a
dull suspension of feeling, listening vaguely, too much crushed to care
for anything. At these words she rose up to her feet, and stood still,
rigid, waiting for what was next to be said.
"No," said Dick. "Mother, you could not be so cruel; let him bear his
just burden that did it. One should not perish for another. Mother, you
would not wish a sacrifice like that?"
"Oh, Dick!" she moaned, wringing her hands, "no harm shall happen to
him, not a hair shall fall from his head."
"But that's not all," said Dick, "that's but a little—honour is more
than life. Would you let him give up everything because Abel caught him
when he was falling? I would do that for any tramp. Mother, you will
never be so cruel."
"Look here," said Roger, "I've taken all the money I could lay my hands
on; that ought to keep us from starving. Tell Lily to come with me.
I've nothing else left in the world. Give me Lily and I will go."
"Lad!" cried Elizabeth, turning to her son with vehement self-defence,
"if I give him my Lily—my Lily, as he says——"
"That will not be to give him justice," cried Dick. "Mother, think
before you do it—it will never come to good."
"They would murder my lad," said Elizabeth, shivering; "they would take
no excuse, they would give no mercy. But when he's better he'll know
what to say for himself. They would put the stain of blood on your
father's house. We could never be clear of it to the third and fourth
generations. But him there, there's no trouble in his soul; he will not
suffer like the one who did it. If he was in danger of his life it would
be different. I tell you, not a hair of him should be touched; but
there's no danger of his life. And if I give him my Lily, as he
This controversy went on swift and low-toned, while the others stood
scarcely listening. Roger was full of the excitement of despair; he had
been warned that the warrant was out to arrest him and the officers on
their way. What could he say against it? There was every proof that he
was the man. He had been traced to the fatal spot, he had been seen
speeding like a ghost up the hillside afterwards; he had given no alarm;
and there had been that fatal quarrel the day before. Every fact was
against him, even to a blood-stain on his dress, which he had got
unawares as he pushed through the brushwood to see what it was the
madman had done. By no way but by giving the madman up could he clear
himself. And there was no time to think; all through that day he had
fancied that every one shrank from him and avoided him. When the old
village constable, whom he had known all his life, ventured to hint at
his danger, it seemed to Roger, impetuous and wretched as he was, that
there was but one thing for him to do. And he had plunged away through
the woods in the twilight as Abel Murray had done before him. He would
go if Lily would go with him. To this he made up his mind with the
obstinate simplicity of his nature. What was there at home to make him
desire to stay? He could neither marry as he liked nor live as he liked.
His sister, the only bright thing in the house, was plunged into
trouble. There was no comfort wherever he looked. If he had Lily to go
with him, he would go.
As for Lily, she stood in a wilder excitement, still feeling her fate in
the balance. She did not think of herself as having any choice. She
seemed to be suspended between a wild agony of happiness and a dreary
abyss of evil. To be raised, giddy, to the height she did not realise,
or dropped horribly into the pit below, was an affair of a minute or
two. She stood breathless, waiting—with her eyes wavering between her
mother and her lover, not knowing what was to be.
"Sir," said Elizabeth, breaking from her son's detaining hold, "you're
doing a great thing for me, and I'll do a great thing for you. You'll
promise me to wed my Lily? You'll vow to me afore God that she shall be
"I promise you before God," said Roger, taking the passive girl by the
"Then take her—take her—before I repent. Oh, go, my lass! go with him
and be a good wife to him, and make it up to him, if woman can. Go!
afore I repent. I'm buying one child with another," said Elizabeth,
lifting up her hands, wild tears bursting from her eyes. "I'm giving a
life for a life. Oh, Lord! forgive a poor woman driven out of her
senses, for I'm doing a base action. Go, go! afore I repent!"
Roger and Lily left the cottage almost immediately on their
extraordinary journey. All that they had was the money which he had got
before he started, a considerable sum which happened to be in the house.
Elizabeth, on her side, gave Lily everything (it was not much) which was
in the cottage, and with a little bundle on her arm the girl went out
into the darkness with her new companion. Not even her husband! Lily was
dazed, and did not know what she was doing. She scarcely felt the hasty
embrace with which her mother put her from the door. In a curious
suppressed delirium of excitement and wonder she floated out into the
night without any independent action of hers—or at least this was how
she felt. Was it her life that she was beginning as she set out over the
turf and tremulous bog under that wistful clearness of the sky over
which heavy clouds were rolling? Everything was darkness before her
eyes, and fear in her heart. They were both young, they had done no
evil, they were strong and well and cared nothing for the long walk, and
the strange excitement of the moment was indescribable. They said
nothing to each other as they walked steadily over the hills, Dick going
with them to show them the way. They had nothing but their money, a
poor provision, and their youth, and some love for each other, which was
altogether in the background now. Had they been married in the natural
way, this passion, now but secondary on Roger's part, on hers vague as
could be, would have been the chief thing present to their thoughts. As
it was they thought nothing of it. Other subjects than this were
foremost in their minds. They said nothing to each other, did not even
take each other's hands, but with excitement so wild and strange that
everything else was dissolved in it, went away together, fugitives,
victims—yet also something more.
Dick put them on their way across the hill by a wild mountain path
difficult to find for any one who did not know as he did every nook and
crevice of the hills. Lily, too, had some knowledge of them, and of the
tricks of the atmosphere and elements in these lofty regions. Her
brother left them only when the early dawn was breaking over the
mountains, and they could see how they were going. There were few words
at the leave-taking. Lily let fall a few tears at the renewed farewell,
and they parted and went upon their several ways without looking back.
She was started now, pushed off dangerously, risking everything, into
the surf of the sea of life.
And it is more than words can do to tell the state of mind in which
Elizabeth Murray lived for days after; her daughter gone—perhaps for
ever—perhaps, for who could trust any man? to sorrow and shame; her son
lying, rolling his head from side to side, sometimes violent, and
requiring restraint which it was so difficult to know how to use;
sometimes lying like a log, in a stupor which nothing could break. She
lived on, nevertheless, saying little even to her companion Dick, and
went down to the market on Saturday as usual with a brave front, and
sold her butter and bore her burden. She stood in the market as she
always stood, and asked everything about the murder, and made her
criticisms and observations. "It would be some tramp," she said, looking
them all in the face. For the young squire, even if it had been in him
to strike a sudden blow and kill his adversary, he could never have
beaten and crushed him savagely as had been done. She said all this
without a change of countenance, for she was a brave woman, and felt
that she must not save herself a single detail. She went to Miss
Prentice even, and there talked it over again, though the chief end of
her visit was to say that she had sent Lily to a cousin's far south, and
did not fear but what the change would put her all right. Everybody
accepted her explanations with straightforward simplicity as they seemed
to be given, for nothing had directed suspicion to her; and nobody
supposed it possible that she could have anything to do with it. The
old vicar, indeed, looking very old and very anxious, hovered about
Elizabeth's place, wistfully looking at her, talking to her, trying to
lead her to the subject of her son. But she had never been much disposed
to talk commonly of Abel, at least for many years, and fortunately she
remembered this, and would not be drawn into conversation about him now.
The old vicar was very unhappy. He had repented his disclosure when he
saw the unhappy young man rush out disgraced and stung to the heart, and
though it never occurred to him nor to any one to connect Murray's
disappearance, for which there was such good reason, with the horrible
event which had occurred next morning, yet the idea that the unfortunate
young fellow had felt the exposure so deeply, gave the old man a
grievous pang. Even in the midst of the excitement caused by the murder,
he had gone daily to Landale to inquire if any news of their visitor had
reached them. What could have happened to him? It might be suicide, for
anything they could tell, and in that case, Mr Weston felt he too would
be a murderer. "But his mother knows nothing about it," he said to
himself, with a sigh of relief. Was it possible that anything of that
dreadful kind could have happened and the mother not know?
Meanwhile the Landales had mourned very sincerely over the disappearance
of their guest. They packed up the things he had left, his money, his
little personal possessions, in a portmanteau, mournfully, as if they
had been relics of the dead. He had not been heard of at Oxford. Was it
from the depths of the lake that they would have the first news of him?
Mrs Landale would not see the vicar when he came. "He has killed him,"
she said, "as sure as ever poor Roger Ridley killed Richard
Featherstonhaugh." And as the months went on and there was nowhere any
news of Abel this came to be the general conclusion. What a tragic
summer it had been! Old Mr Weston failed visibly Sunday by Sunday after
all these events, and died of it also before the winter came.
As to the other tragedy, there were investigations without number. Roger
was traced to the place where it was proved he was to have met
Featherstonhaugh, and where it was supposed some sequel to the quarrel
of the previous night, of which there had been various witnesses, had
taken place. He was traced away from the fatal spot, having been met
wildly wandering about the hills, haggard and agitated, asking the
people he met if they had seen some one running that way. But no one had
been seen running that way, and the hypothesis was that this was the
explanation he had intended to give had not his courage failed him. But
even if this defence had been true, he must have at least seen that a
murder had been done: yet gave no alarm. And last of all, and most
damning proof of guilt, he had fled. This convicted him with every one.
His father, with a groan that rent every heart, after denying the
possibility of Roger's flight as long as he could, retired to his
library when there was no longer any doubt of it, and shut the door, and
was seen by no one, even in his own house, for days. But there was Mary
left, whose situation was more pitiful still. No one dared to intrude
upon her in her first hours of grief. But she did not attempt to shut
herself up. She put on her mourning-dress, as heavy as a widow's, as was
due to poor Featherstonhaugh, but never forsook her brother's cause,
protesting passionately that he had not done it. The vicar, who would
have been a witness on the trial, and who was, indeed, called before the
coroner's jury to tell of the quarrel which he had seen, did what he
could to bring her, as people said, to see the truth. But Mr Weston
could not shake her conviction. "You will all acknowledge it one day,"
she said, in her passion. "I do not know how, or when, but I am sure he
will be cleared." The populace round shook their heads, but were very
respectful to Mary, very tender of her in her great misfortune. And
another line of Featherstonhaughs, distant cousins, came in, and
dispersed Sir Richard's collections, and changed everything he had cared
for. Thus one great house was entirely altered, and another made
desolate, and the whole face of society changed in Waterdale. And after
this great convulsion there was a long silence, and the new things grew
natural and became old, as is the law of human affairs.
When years had passed, however, there arose one morning a strange rumour
in Waterdale. Some time before it had crept into the knowledge of the
country that some madman had escaped from an asylum, no one knew where,
and was at large about the neighbourhood. People in lonely places had
seen a wild figure passing by, and some had heard strange sounds, peals
of horrible laughter, and inarticulate cries. On one occasion Mary
Ridley even heard this sound of laughter, and had alarmed the
neighbourhood, and sent out all the men in the village to beat the
woods, declaring that she knew the sound, and who it was. And next
morning a strange story ran like fire over the whole district. It was
that a man had been found lying dead in that same tragic spot, which had
become memorable far and near, where Sir Richard Featherstonhaugh got
his death. The news of this came on a Saturday morning, when Elizabeth
Murray was in her place in the market with all her merchandise,
carefully arranged as always. She had been looking ill, everybody
remarked. When the story came down from the head of the water by one
envoy after another, Elizabeth left her stand unprotected and uncared
for, and went away. She had lost all her fine colour, and had grown
old—older than her years—but nevertheless, she marched steadily up the
lakeside till she came to the place where they had carried the vagrant
who was dead. Such an event had made a great commotion about, and there
was much discussion among the men who clustered round the empty cottage
in which the body had been placed. It filled them all with wonder to see
Elizabeth come, slowly and silent, but with a death-like countenance,
through the midst of them. She went into the room where the dead man
lay. Those who had seen him had said that he was "a fine figure of a
man," though wasted and savage with exposure, his hands and feet torn
with the rough places he had been wandering through, and a long wild
beard grown over half his face. She went into the room, shutting out the
curious gossips about who came to peep and shrink with curiosity and
horror. When she came out she locked the door. "The man who is lying
there," she said, giving the key into the hands of the village
constable, the same man who had (against his duty—but that was easily
condoned in such a place) warned Roger Ridley to flee, "is my lad Abel,
my eldest son, that has lost his reason for many a year. The Lord has
delivered him at last; but he's not to be made a common show, my lad.
I'll come and see to him, and that all's done for him that should be
"Your lad?" The wondering little crowd came closer and stared at her,
whispering and pointing. "Lord bless us! Lizabeth Murray, your lad?"
"Ay. Is it such a merry sight, the face o' a woman that has lost her
firstborn, and that thanks the Lord? Go away to your bairns, you silly
women, and let me and him be."
"But, 'Lizabeth, there will be an inquest—there must be an inquest."
"That's true," she said. She was quite calm, and made no show of her
feelings, whatever they were. "But, John Johnston, you'll keep them off
that come from curiosity, to glower and girn at my lad," she said, with
a sudden burst of passion. Then subduing herself in a moment, "Good
morning to you all; I've much to do this day," she said.
Old Mr Landale was the nearest magistrate, and to him she went direct,
without pause or delay. She was a long time with him, and came out
exhausted and pale, but rejecting all the anxious offers of help he made
her. "We were all attached to him—all of us," the old gentleman said,
attending the peasant woman to the door with still more agitation than
Elizabeth showed; and after that Mr Landale convulsed his own household
with the strangest news—news that threw the whole valley into such
excitement as had never swept over it in the memory of man before.
Six months after, Roger Ridley came home with his wife and children—two
of them—one a boy, who was heir to all the family honours, such as they
were. But though Mr Ridley forgave and acknowledged his son's family
with something like joy, and relief that the honour of his name was
restored, there was not much cordiality, as long as he lived, between
the old squire and the young squire. The little heir pleased the old
man, and recommended the pretty young mother to him; but he never
forgave his son the wild generosity which plunged all his family into
such grievous trouble. If it was generosity or if it was cowardice, or a
false sense of honour, or mere panic in face of a horrible accusation
and the network of circumstantial evidence in which he was trapped, no
one could decide. But when Roger came home everybody condemned him. It
was said on all sides that he would have been acquitted if he had had
the strength of mind to stand his trial. "I never believed it for a
moment," every one said; and all kinds of imputations of weakness and
cowardice were made against him. From these accusations it is not our
place to defend Roger. Who does not feel, looking back upon a great
emergency, that he ought to have done differently, and that another time
would find him in a very different mind? He had thought so himself a
hundred times, after that wonderful night of excitement when he and his
bride went over the hills, like Abraham, not knowing where they went. No
other lord or squire in all the north country had an experience to fall
back upon such as Roger Ridley had. He had lived the strangest life for
these years, and he had not approved of himself any more than his father
and his neighbours had approved; but to be faithful to the consequences
of a false step, even when you perceive it to be false, is something. He
came back a sadder if not a wiser man; no longer the gay hero of the
countryside, but very serious, taking almost a gloomy view of
everything. His old friends said that his wife did not understand
him—could not enter into his ways of thinking—and perhaps this was
true enough; but the fact was that he had gone beyond himself as much as
beyond Lily. And by-and-by he got into parliament as member for the
county, which was a great honour, and did his duty perhaps all the
better for having been transplanted for a time out of the higher places
and the sunshine into the darker shades of life.
As for Lily, she came home a beautiful woman, of so unusual a style of
beauty that she reigned henceforward undisputed over the water, no
pretty girl of the moment being able to stand before her matured
splendour. She had developed other qualities as well—a talent for dress
which no one had suspected, and for hospitality and society and lavish
expenditure, which took the world by surprise. She behaved quite as she
ought to her mother, everybody said, sending the children to see her,
and visiting her periodically with much attention. But when Elizabeth
died, a year or two after Mr Ridley's return, and Dick, left alone,
emigrated, shutting up the little cottage at Overbeck, it was said that
Lily showed every symptom of relief. They said she was glad to be
relieved from her family in these legitimate and natural ways, and it
was only then that she blossomed out into full splendour. If she was
perhaps always a little rustic in manner, that was thought to be piquant
when she became the leading lady of the county; and by the time her
children grew up nobody recollected any longer that once upon a time she
had been the village Lily, the daughter of a woman who sold butter in
the market. All that is over so long ago.
And Elizabeth Murray sleeps by the side of her son Abel, in the
churchyard, as quietly as if he had lived and died among the fells like
herself. The anguish and the struggles are only for a time. Peace is the
end of all, for all men. And what does it matter now in the silence,
that a little while ago there were madness and raving, and such pangs as
overpowered nature, in these two mouldering forms? Time and Death