THE LAUREL BUSH
An Old-Fashioned Love Story
DINAH MARIA MULOCK CRAIK
Author of John Halifax, Gentleman,
&c., &c., &c.
It was a very ugly bush indeed; that is, so far as any thing in nature
can be really ugly. It was lopsided—having on the one hand a stunted
stump or two, while on the other a huge heavy branch swept down to the
gravel-walk. It had a crooked gnarled trunk or stem, hollow enough to
entice any weak-minded bird to build a nest there—only it was so near
to the ground, and also to the garden gate. Besides, the owners of
the garden, evidently of practical mind, had made use of it to place
between a fork in its branches a sort of letter-box—not the government
regulation one, for twenty years ago this had not been thought of; but a
rough receptacle, where, the house being a good way off, letters might be
deposited, instead of; as hitherto, in a hole in the trunk—near the foot
of the tree, and under shelter of its mass of evergreen leaves.
This letter-box; made by the boys of the family at the instigation and
with the assistance of their tutor, had proved so attractive to some
exceedingly incautious sparrow that during the intervals of the post she
had begun a nest there, which was found by the boys. Exceedingly wild
boys they were, and a great trouble to their old grandmother, with whom
they were staying the summer, and their young governess—"Misfortune,"
as they called her, her real name being Miss Williams—Fortune Williams.
The nickname was a little too near the truth, as a keener observer than
mischievous boys would have read in her quiet, sometimes sad, face; and
it had been stopped rather severely by the tutor of the elder boys, a
young man whom the grandmother had been forced to get, to "keep them in
order!" He was a Mr. Robert Roy, once a student, now a teacher of the
"humanities," from the neighboring town—I beg its pardon—city; and a
lovely old city it is!—of St. Andrews. Thence he was in the habit of
coming to them three and often four days in the week, teaching of
mornings and walking of afternoons. They had expected him this
afternoon, but their grandmother had carried them off on some pleasure
excursion; and being a lady of inexact habits—one, too, to whom tutors
were tutors and nothing more—she had merely said to Miss Williams, as
the carriage drove away, "When Mr. Roy comes, tell him he is not wanted
And so Miss Williams had waited at the gate, not wishing him to have the
additional trouble of walking up to the house, for she knew every minute
of his time was precious. The poor and the hard-working can understand
and sympathize with one another. Only a tutor and only a governess: Mrs.
Dalziel drove away and never thought of them again. They were mere
machines—servants to whom she paid their wages, and so that they did
sufficient service to deserve these wages, she never interfered with
them, nor, indeed, wasted a moment's consideration upon them or their
Consequently they were in the somewhat rare and peculiar position of
a young man and young woman (perhaps Mrs. Dalziel would have taken
exception to the words "young lady and young gentleman") thrown together
day after day, week after week—nay, it had now become month after
month—to all intents and purposes quite alone, except for the children.
They taught together, there being but one school-room; walked out
together, for the two younger boys refused to be separated from their
older brothers; and, in short, spent two-thirds of their existence
together, without let or hindrance, comment or observation, from any
I do not wish to make any mystery in this story. A young woman of
twenty-five and a young man of thirty, both perfectly alone in the
world—orphans, without brother or sister—having to earn their own
bread, and earn it hardly, and being placed in circumstances where they
had every opportunity of intimate friendship, sympathy, whatever you like
to call it: who could doubt what would happen? The more so, as there was
no one to suggest that it might happen; no one to watch them or warn
them, or waken them with worldly-minded hints; or else to rise up, after
the fashion of so many wise parents and guardians and well-intentioned
friends, and indignantly shut the stable door after the steed is
No. That something which was so sure to happen had happened; you might
have seen it in their eyes, have heard it in the very tone of their
voices, though they still talked in a very commonplace way, and still
called each other "Miss Williams" and "Mr. Roy." In fact, their whole
demeanor to one another was characterized by the grave and even formal
decorum which was natural to very reserved people, just trembling on the
verge of that discovery which will unlock the heart of each to the other,
and annihilate reserve forever between the two whom Heaven has designed
and meant to become one; a completed existence. If by any mischance this
does not come about, each may lead a very creditable and not unhappy
life; but it will be a locked-up life, one to which no third person is
ever likely to find the key.
Whether such natures are to envied or pitied is more than I can say; but
at least they are more to be respected than the people who wear their
hearts upon their sleeves for daws to peck at, and very often are all the
prouder the more they are pecked at, and the more elegantly they bleed;
which was not likely to be the case with either of these young folks,
young as they were.
They were young, and youth is always interesting and even comely; but
beyond that there was nothing remarkable about either. He was Scotch;
she English, or rather Welsh. She had the clear blue Welsh eye, the
funny retrousee Welsh nose; but with the prettiest little mouth
underneath it—firm, close, and sweet; full of sensitiveness, but a
sensitiveness that was controlled and guided by that best possession to
either man or woman, a good strong will. No one could doubt that the
young governess had, what was a very useful thing to a governess, "a will
of her own;" but not a domineering or obnoxious will, which indeed is
seldom will at all, but merely obstinacy.
For the rest, Miss Williams was a little woman, or gave the impression of
being so, from her slight figure and delicate hands and feet. I doubt if
any one would have called her pretty, until he or she had learned to love
her. For there are two distinct kinds of love, one in which the eye
instructs the heart, and the other in which the heart informs and guides
the eye. There have been men who, seeing an unknown beautiful face, have
felt sure it implied the most beautiful soul in the world, pursued it,
worshiped it, wooed and won it, found the fancy true, and loved the woman
forever. Other men there are who would simply say, "I don't know if such
a one is handsome or not; I only know she is herself—and mine." Both
loves are good; nay, it is difficult to say which is best. But the
latter would be the most likely to any one who became attached to Fortune
Also, perhaps to Robert Roy, though no one expects good looks in his sex;
indeed, they are mostly rather objectionable. Women do not usually care
for a very handsome man; and men are prone to set him down as conceited.
No one could lay either charge to Mr. Roy. He was only an honest-looking
Scotchman, tall and strong and manly. Not "red," in spite of his name,
but dark-skinned and dark-haired; in no way resembling his great
namesake, Rob Roy Macgregor, as the boys sometimes called him behind
his back—never to his face. Gentle as the young man was, there was
something about him which effectually prevented any one's taking the
smallest liberty with him. Though he had been a teacher of boys ever
since he was seventeen—and I have heard one of the fraternity confess
that it is almost impossible to be a school-master for ten years without
becoming a tyrant—still it was a pleasant and sweet-tempered face. Very
far from a weak face, though; when Mr. Roy said a thing must be done,
every one of his boys knew it must be done, and there was no use saying
any more about it.
He had unquestionably that rare gift, the power of authority; though this
did not necessarily imply self-control; for some people can rule every
body except themselves. But Robert Roy's clear, calm, rather sad eye,
and a certain patient expression about the mouth, implied that he too had
enough of the hard training of life to be able to govern himself. And
that is more difficult to a man than to a woman.
"all thy passions, matched with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight,
and as water unto wine."
A truth which even Fortune's tender heart did not fully take in, deep as
was her sympathy for him; for his toilsome, lonely life, lived more in
shadow than in sunshine, and with every temptation to the selfishness
which is so apt to follow self-dependence, and the bitterness that to a
proud spirit so often makes the sting of poverty. Yet he was neither
selfish nor bitter; only a little reserved, silent, and—except with
She stood watching him now, for she could see him a long way off across
the level Links, and noticed that he stopped more than once to look at
the golf-players. He was a capital golfer himself, but had never any
time to play. Between his own studies and the teaching by which he
earned the money to prosecute them, every hour was filled up. So he
turned his back on the pleasant pastime, which seems to have such an
extraordinary fascination for those who pursue it, and came on to his
daily work, with that resolute deliberate step, bent on going direct to
his point and turning aside for nothing.
Fortune knew it well by this time; had learned to distinguish it from all
others in the world. There are some footsteps which, by a pardonable
poetical license, we say "we should hear in our graves," and though this
girl did not think of that, for death looked far off, and she was
scarcely a poetical person, still, many a morning, when, sitting at
her school-room window, she heard Mr. Roy coming steadily down the
gravel-walk, she was conscious of—something that people can not feel
twice in a life-time.
And now, when he approached with that kind smile of his, which brightened
into double pleasure when he saw who was waiting for him, she was aware
of a wild heartbeat, a sense of exceeding joy, and then of relief and
rest. He was "comfortable" to her. She could express it in no other
way. At sight of his face and at sound of his voice all worldly cares
and troubles, of which she had a good many, seemed to fall off. To be
with him was like having an arm to lean on, a light to walk by; and she
had walked alone so long.
"Good-afternoon, Miss Williams."
"Good-afternoon, Mr. Roy."
They said no more than that, but the stupidest person in the world might
have seen that they were glad to meet, glad to be together. Though
neither they nor any one else could have explained the mysterious fact,
the foundation of all love stories in books or in life—and which the
present author owns, after having written many books and seen a great
deal of life, is to her also as great a mystery as ever—Why do certain
people like to be together? What is the inexplicable attraction which
makes them seek one another, suit one another, put up with one another's
weaknesses, condone one another's faults (when neither are too great to
lessen love), and to the last day of life find a charm in one another's
society which extends to no other human being. Happy love or lost love,
a full world or an empty world, life with joy or life without it—that is
all the difference. Which some people think very small, and that does
not matter; and perhaps it does not—to many people. But it does to
some, and I incline to put in that category Miss Williams and Mr. Roy.
They stood by the laurel bush, having just shaken hands more hastily than
they usually did; but the absence of the children, and the very unusual
fact of their being quite alone, gave to both a certain shyness, and she
had drawn her hand away, saying, with a slight blush:
"Mrs. Dalziel desired me to meet you and tell you that you might have a
holiday today. She has taken her boys with her to Elie. I dare say you
will not be sorry to gain an hour or two for yourself; though I am sorry
you should have the trouble of the walk for nothing."
"For nothing?"—with the least shadow of a smile, not of annoyance,
"Indeed, I would have let you know if I could, but she decided at the
very last minute; and if I had proposed that a messenger should have been
sent to stop you, I am afraid—it would not have been answered."
"Of course not;" and they interchanged an amused look—these
fellow-victims to the well-known ways of the household—which, however,
neither grumbled at; it was merely an outside thing, this treatment of
both as mere tutor and governess. After all (as he sometimes said, when
some special rudeness—not himself, but to her—vexed him), they were
tutor and governess; but they were something else besides; something
which, the instant their chains were lifted off, made them feel free and
young and strong, and comforted them with comfort unspeakable.
"She bade me apologize. No, I am afraid, if I tell the absolute truth,
she did not bid me, but I do apologize."
"What for, Miss Williams?"
"For your having been brought out all this way just to go back again."
"I do not mind it, I assure you."
"And as for the lost lesson—"
"The boys will not mourn over it, I dare say. In fact, their term with
me is so soon coming to an end that it does not signify much. They told
me they are going back to England to school next week. Do you go back
"Not just yet—not till next Christmas. Mrs. Dalziel talks of wintering
in London; but she is so vague in her plans that I am never sure from one
week to another what she will do."
"And what are your plans? You always know what you intend to do."
"Yes, I think so," answered Miss Williams, smiling. "One of the few
things I remember of my mother was hearing her say of me, that 'her
little girl was a little girl who always knew her own mind.' I think I
do. I may not be always able to carry it out, but I think I know it."
"Of course," said Mr. Roy, absently and somewhat vaguely, as he stood
beside the laurel bush, pulling one of its shiny leaves to pieces, and
looking right ahead, across the sunshiny Links, the long shore of
yellow sands, where the mermaids might well delight to come and "take
hands"—to the smooth, dazzling, far-away sea. No sea is more beautiful
than that at St. Andrews.
Its sleepy glitter seemed to have lulled Robert Roy into a sudden
meditation, of which no word of his companion came to rouse him. In
truth, she, never given much to talking, simply stood, as she often did,
silently beside him, quite satisfied with the mere comfort of his
I am afraid that this Fortune Williams will be considered a very
weak-minded young woman. She was not a bit a coquette, she had not the
slightest wish to flirt with any man. Nor was she a proud beauty
desirous to subjugate the other sex; and drag them triumphantly at her
chariot wheels. She did not see the credit, or the use, or the pleasure
of any such proceeding. She was a self-contained, self-dependent woman.
Thoroughly a woman; not indifferent at all to womanhood's best blessing;
still she could live without it if necessary, as she could have lived
without anything which it had pleased God to deny her. She was not a
creature likely to die for love, or do wrong for love, which some people
think the only test of love's strength, instead of its utmost weakness;
but that she was capable of love, for all her composure and quietness,
capable of it, and ready for it, in its intensest, most passionate, and
most enduring form, the God who made her knew, if no one else did.
Her time would come; indeed, had come already. She had too much
self-respect to let him guess it, but I am afraid she was very fond
of—or, if that is a foolish phrase, deeply attached to—Robert Roy.
He had been so good to her, at once strong and tender, chivalrous,
respectful, and kind; and she had no father, no brother, no other man
at all to judge him by, except the accidental men whom she had met in
society, creatures on two legs who wore coats and trousers, who had been
civil to her, as she to them, but who had never interested her in the
smallest degree, perhaps because she knew so little of them. But no; it
would have been just the same had she known them a thousand years. She
was not "a man's woman," that is, one of those women who feel interested
in any thing in the shape of a man, and make men interested in them
accordingly, for the root of much masculine affection is pure vanity.
That celebrated Scottish song,
"Come deaf, or come blind, or come cripple,
O come, ony ane o' them a'!
Far better be married to something,
Than no to be married ava,"
was a rhyme that would never have touched the stony heart of Fortune
Williams. And yet, let me own it once more, she was very, very fond of
Robert Roy. He had never spoken to her one word of love, actual love, no
more than he spoke now, as they stood side by side, looking with the same
eyes on the same scene. I say the same eyes, for they were exceedingly
alike in their tastes. There was no need ever to go into long
explanations about this or that; a glance sufficed, or a word, to show
each what the other enjoyed; and both had the quiet conviction that they
were enjoying it together. Now as that sweet, still, sunshiny view met
their mutual gaze, they fell into no poetical raptures, but just stood
and looked, taking it all in with exceeding pleasure, as they had done
many and many a time, but never, it seemed, so perfectly as now.
"What a lovely afternoon!" she said at last.
"Yes. It is a pity to waste it. Have you any thing special to do? What
did you mean to employ yourself with, now your birds are flown?"
"Oh, I can always find something to do."
"But need you find it? We both work so hard. If we could only now and
then have a little bit of pleasure!"
He put it so simply, yet almost with a sigh. This poor girl's heart
responded to it suddenly, wildly. She was only twenty-five, yet
sometimes she felt quite old, or rather as if she had never been young.
The constant teaching, teaching of rough boys too—for she had had the
whole four till Mr. Roy took the two elder off her hands—the necessity
of grinding hard out of school hours to keep herself up in Latin, Euclid,
and other branches which do not usually form a part of a feminine
education, only having a great natural love of work, she had taught
herself—all these things combined to make her life a dull life, a hard
life, till Robert Roy came into it. And sometimes even now the desperate
craving to enjoy—not only to endure, but to enjoy—to take a little of
the natural pleasures of her age—came to the poor governess very sorely,
especially on days such as this, when all the outward world looked so
gay, so idle, and she worked so hard.
So did Robert Roy. Life was not easier to him than to herself; she knew
that; and when he said, half joking, as if he wanted to feel his way,
"Let us imitate our boys, and take a half holiday," she only laughed, but
did not refuse.
How could she refuse? There were the long smooth sands on either side
the Eden, stretching away into indefinite distance, with not a human
being upon them to break their loneliness, or, if there was, he or she
looked a mere dot, not human at all. Even if these two had been afraid
of being seen walking together—which they hardly were, being too
unimportant for any one to care whether they were friends or lovers, or
what not—there was nobody to see them, except in the character of two
black dots on the yellow sands.
"It is low water; suppose we go and look for sea-anemones. One of my
pupils wants some, and I promised to try and find one the first spare
hour I had."
"But we shall not find anemones on the sands."
"Shells, then, you practical woman! We'll gather shells. It will be
all the same to that poor invalid boy—and to me," added he, with that
involuntary sigh which she had noticed more than once, and which had
begun to strike on her ears not quite painfully. Sighs, when we are
young, mean differently to what they do in after-years. "I don't care
very much where I go, or what I do; I only want—well, to be happy for
an hour, if Providence will let me."
"Why should not Providence let you?" said Fortune, gently. "Few people
deserve it more."
"You are kind to think so; but you are always kind to every body."
By this time they had left their position by the laurel bush, and were
walking along side by side, according as he had suggested. This silent,
instinctive acquiescence in what he wished done—it had happened once or
twice before, startling her a little at herself; for, as I have said,
Miss Williams was not at all the kind of person to do every thing that
every body asked her, without considering whether it was right or wrong.
She could obey, but it would depend entirely upon whom she had to obey,
which, indeed, makes the sole difference between loving disciples and
It was a lovely day, one of those serene autumn days peculiar to
Scotland—I was going to say Saint Andrews; and any one who knows the
ancient city will know exactly how it looks in the still, strongly
spiritualized light of such an afternoon, with the ruins, the castle,
cathedral, and St. Regulus's tower standing out sharply against the
intensely blue sky, and on the other side—on both sides—the yellow
sweep of sand curving away into the distance, and melting into the
Many a time, in their prescribed walks with their young tribe, Miss
Williams and Mr. Roy had taken this stroll across the Links and round by
the sands to the mouth of the Eden, leaving behind them a long and
sinuous track of many footsteps, little and large, but now there were
only two lines—"foot-prints on the sands of Time," as he jestingly
called them, turning round and pointing to the marks of the dainty feet
that walked so steadily and straightly beside his own.
"They seem made to go together, those two tracks," said he.
Why did he say it? Was he the kind of man to talk thus without meaning
it? If so, alas! she was not exactly the woman to be thus talked to.
Nothing fell on her lightly. Perhaps it was her misfortune, perhaps even
her fault, but so it was.
Robert Roy did not "make love;" not at all. Possibly he never could
have done it in the ordinary way. Sweet things, polite things were very
difficult to him either to do or to say. Even the tenderness that was in
him came out as if by accident; but, oh! how infinitely tender he could
be! Enough to make any one who loved him die easily, quietly, if only
just holding his hand.
There is an incident in Dickens's touching Tale of two Cities, where a
young man going innocent to the guillotine, and riding on the death-cart
with a young girl whom he had never before seen, is able to sustain and
comfort her, even to the last awful moment, by the look of his face and
the clasp of his hand. That man, I have often thought, must have been
something not unlike Robert Roy.
Such men are rare, but they do exist; and it was Fortune's lot, or she
believed it was, to have found one. That was enough. She went along
the shining sands in a dream of perfect content, perfect happiness,
thinking—and was it strange or wrong that she should so think?—that if
it were God's will she should thus walk through life, the thorniest path
would seem smooth, the hardest road easy. She had no fear of life, if
lived beside him; or of death—love is stronger than death; at least this
sort of love, of which only strong natures are capable, and out of which
are made, not the lyrics, perhaps, but the epics, the psalms, or the
tragedies of our mortal existence.
I have explained thus much about these two friends—lovers that may be,
or might have been—because they never would have done it themselves.
Neither was given to much speaking. Indeed, I fear their conversation
this day, if recorded, would have been of the most feeble kind—brief,
fragmentary, mere comments on the things about them, or abstract remarks
not particularly clever or brilliant. They were neither of them what you
would call brilliant people; yet they were happy, and the hours flew by
like a few minutes, until they found themselves back again beside the
laurel bush at the gate, when Mr. Roy suddenly said:
"Do not go in yet. I mean, need you go in? It is scarcely past sunset;
the boys will not be home for an hour yet; they don't want you, and I—I
want you so. In your English sense," he added, with a laugh, referring
to one of their many arguments, scholastic or otherwise, wherein she had
insisted that to want meant Anglice, to wish or to crave, whereas in
Scotland it was always used like the French manquer, to miss or to
"Shall we begin that fight over again?" asked she, smiling; for every
thing, even fighting, seemed pleasant today.
"No, I have no wish to fight; I want to consult you seriously on a purely
personal matter, if you would not mind taking that trouble."
Fortune looked sorry. That was one of the bad things in him (the best
man alive have their bad things), the pride which apes humility, the
self-distrust which often wounds another so keenly. Her answer was given
with a grave and simple sincerity that ought to have been reproach
"Mr. Roy, I would not mind any amount of trouble if I could be of use to
you; you know that."
"Forgive me! Yes, I do know it. I believe in you and your goodness to
the very bottom of my heart."
She tried to say "Thank you," but her lips refused to utter a word. It
was so difficult to go on talking like ordinary friends, when she knew,
and he must know she knew, that one more word would make them—not
friends at all—something infinitely better, closer, dearer; but that
word was his to speak, not hers. There are women who will "help a man
on"—propose to him, marry him indeed—while he is under the pleasing
delusion that he does it all himself; but Fortune Williams was not one of
these. She remained silent and passive, waiting for the next thing he
should say. It came: something the shock of which she never forgot as
long as she lived; and he said it with his eyes on her face, so that, if
it killed her, she must keep quiet and composed, as she did.
"You know the boys' lessons end next week. The week after I go—that is,
I have almost decided to go—to India."
"Yes, For which, no doubt, you think me very changeable, having said so
often that I meant to keep to a scholar's life, and be a professor one
day, perhaps, if by any means I could get salt to my porridge. Well, now
I am not satisfied with salt to my porridge; I wish to get rich."
She did not say, "Why?" She thought she had not looked it; but he
answered: "Never mind why. I do wish it, and I will be rich yet, if I
can. Are you very much surprised?"
Surprised she certainly was; but she answered, honestly, "Indeed, you are
the last person I should suspect of being worldly-minded."
"Thank you; that is kind. No, just; merely just. One ought to have
faith in people; I am afraid my own deficiency is want of faith. It
takes so much to make me believe for a moment that any one cares for me."
How hard it was to be silent—harder still to speak! But she did not
"I can understand that; I have often felt the same. It is the natural
consequence of a very lonely life. If you and I had had fathers and
mothers and brothers and sisters, we might have been different."
"Perhaps so. But about India. For a long time—that is, for many
weeks—I have been casting about in my mind how to change my way of life,
to look out for something that would help me to earn money, and quickly,
but there seemed no chance whatever. Until suddenly one has opened."
And then he explained how the father of one of one of his pupils,
grateful for certain benefits, which Mr. Roy did not specify, and
noticing certain business qualities in him—"which I suppose I have,
though I didn't know it," added he, with a smile—had offered him a
situation in a merchant's office at Calcutta: a position of great trust
and responsibility, for three years certain, with the option of then
giving it up or continuing it.
"And continuing means making a fortune. Even three years means making
something, with my 'stingy' habits. Only I must go at once. Nor is
there any time left me for my decision; it must be yes or no. Which
shall it be?"
The sudden appeal—made, too, as if though it was nothing—that terrible
yes or no, which to her made all the difference of living or only half
living, of feeling the sun in or out of the world. What could she
answer? What could she answer? Trembling violently, she yet answered,
in a steady voice, "You must decide for yourself. A woman can not
understand a man."
"Nor a man a woman, thoroughly. There is only one thing which helps both
to comprehend one another."
One thing! she knew what it was. Surely so did he. But that strange
distrustfulness of which he had spoken, or the hesitation which the
strongest and bravest men have at times, came between.
"Oh, the little more, and how much it is!
Oh, the little less, and what worlds away!"
If, instead of looking vaguely out upon the sea, he had looked into this
poor girl's face; if, instead of keeping silence, he had only spoken one
word! But he neither looked nor spoke, and the moment passed by. And
there are some moments which people would sometimes give a whole lifetime
to recall and use differently; but in vain.
"My engagement is only for three years," he resumed; "and, if alive, I
mean to come back. Dead or alive, I was going to say, but you would not
care to see my ghost, I presume? I beg your pardon: I ought not to make
a joke of such serious things."
"No, you ought not."
She felt herself almost speechless, that in another minute she might
burst into sobs. He saw it—at least he saw a very little of it, and
misinterpreted the rest.
"I have tired you. Take my arm. You will soon be at home now." Then,
after a pause, "You will not be displeased at any thing I have said? We
part friends? No, we do not part; I shall see you every day for a week,
and be able to tell you all particulars of my journey, if you care to
"Thank you, yes—I do care."
They stood together, arm in arm. The dews were falling; a sweet, soft
lilac haze had begun to creep over the sea—the solemn; far-away sea that
he was so soon to cross. Involuntarily she clung to his arm. So near,
yet so apart! Why must it be? She could have borne his going away, if
it was for his good, if he wished it; and something whispered to her that
this sudden desire to get rich was not for himself alone. But, oh! If he
would only speak! One word—one little word! After that, any thing
might come—the separation of life, the bitterness of death. To the two
hearts that had once opened each to each, in the full recognition of
mutual love, there could never more be any real parting.
But that one word he did not say. He only took the little hand that lay
on his arm and pressed it, and held it—years after, the feeling of that
clasp was as fresh on her fingers as yesterday—the hearing the foot of
some accidental passer-by, he let it go, and did not take it again.
Just at this moment the sound of distant carriage wheels was heard.
"That must be Mrs. Dalziel and the boys."
"Then I had better go. Good-by"
The daydream was over. It had all come back again—the forlorn, dreary,
"Good-by, Mr. Roy." And they shook hands.
"One word," he said hastily. "I shall write to you—you will allow
me?—and I shall see you several times, a good many times before I go?"
"I hope so."
"Then, for the present, good-by. That means," he added, earnestly,
"'God be with you!' And I know he always will."
In another minute Fortune found herself standing beside the laurel
bush, alone, listening to the sound of Mr. Roy's footsteps down the
road—listening, listening, as if, with the exceeding tension, her
brain would burst.
The carriage came, passed by; it was not Mrs. Dalziel's after all. She
thought he might discover this, and come back again; so she waited a
little—five minutes, ten—beside the laurel bush. But he did not come.
No footstep, no voice; nothing but the faint, far-away sound of the long
waves washing in upon the sands.
It was not the brain that felt like to burst now, but the heart. She
clasped her hands above her head. It did not matter; there was no
creature to see or hear that appeal—was it to man or God?—that wild,
broken sob, so contrary to her usual self-controlled and self-contained
nature. And then she learned her forehead against the gate, just where
Robert Roy had accidentally laid his hand in opening it, and wept
The "every day" on which Mr. Roy had reckoned for seeing his friend, or
whatsoever else he considered Miss Williams to be, proved a failure. Her
youngest pupil fell ill, and she was kept beside him, and away from the
school-room, until the doctor could decide whether the illness was
infectious or not. It turned out to be very trifling—a most trivial
thing altogether, yet weighted with a pain most difficult to bear, a
sense of fatality that almost overwhelmed one person at least. What the
other felt she did not know. He came daily as usual; she watched him
come and go, and sometimes he turned and they exchanged a greeting from
the window. But beyond that, she had to take all passively. What could
she, only a woman, do or say or plan? Nothing. Women's business is to
sit down and endure.
She had counted these days—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,
Saturday—as if they had been years. And now they were all gone, had
fled like minutes, fled emptily away. A few fragmentary facts she had
had to feed on, communicated by the boys in their rough talk.
"Mr. Roy was rather cross today."
"Not cross, Dick—only dull."
"Mr. Roy asked why David did not come in to lessons, and said he hoped he
would be better by Saturday."
"Mr. Roy said good-by to us all, and gave us each something to remember
him by when he was out in India. Did Miss Williams know he was going out
to India? Oh, how jolly!"
"Yes, and he sails next week, and the name of his ship is the Queen of
the South, and he goes by Liverpool instead of Southampton, because it
costs less; and he leaves St. Andrews on Monday morning."
"Are you sure he said Monday morning?" For that was Saturday night.
"Certain, because he has to get his outfit still. Oh, what fun it must
And the boys went on, greatly excited, and repeating everything Mr. Roy
had told them—for he had made them fond of him, even in those few
months—expatiating with delight on his future career, as a merchant or
something, they did not quite know what; but no doubt it would be far
nicer and more amusing than stopping at home and grinding forever on
horrid books. Didn't Miss Williams think so?
Miss Williams only smiled. She knew how all his life he had loved "those
horrid books," preferring them to pleasure, recreation, almost to daily
bread; how he had lived on the hope that one day he—born only a farmer's
son—might do something, write something. "I also am of Arcadia." He
might have done it or not—the genius may or may not have been there; but
the ambition certainly was. Could he have thrown it all aside? And Why?
Not for mere love of money; she knew him too well for that. He was a
thorough book-worm, simple in all his tastes and habits—simple almost to
penuriousness; but it was a penuriousness born of hard fortunes, and he
never allowed it to affect any body but himself. Still, there was no
doubt he did not care for money, or luxury, or worldly position—any of
the things that lesser men count large enough to work and struggle and
die for. To give up the pursuits he loved, deliberately to choose
others, to change his whole life thus, and expatriate himself, as it
were, for years—perhaps for always—why did he do it, or for whom?
Was it for a woman? Was it for her? If ever, in those long empty days
and wakeful nights, this last thought entered Fortune's mind, she stifled
it as something which, once to have fully believed and then disbelieved
would have killed her.
That she should have done the like for him—that or any thing else
involving any amount of heroism or self-sacrifice—well, it was natural,
right; but that he should do it for her? That he should change his whole
purpose of life that he might be able to marry quickly, to shelter in his
bosom a poor girl who was not able to fight the world as a man could,
the thing—not so very impossible, after all—seemed to her almost
incredible! And yet (I am telling a mere love story, remember—a
foolish, innocent love story, without apologizing for either the folly or
the innocence) sometimes she was so far "left to herself," as the Scotch
say, that she did believe it: in the still twilights, in the wakeful
nights, in the one solitary half hour of intense relief, when, all her
boys being safe in bed, she rushed out into the garden under the silent
stars to sob, to moan, to speak out loud words which nobody could
"He is going away, and I shall never see him again. And I love him
better than any thing in all this world. I couldn't help it—he couldn't
help it. But, oh! It's hard—hard!"
And then, altogether breaking down, she would begin to cry like a child.
She missed him so, even this week, after having for weeks and months been
with him every day; but it was less like a girl missing her lover—who
was, after all, not her lover—than a child mourning helplessly for
the familiar voice, the guiding, helpful hand. With all the rest of
the world Fortune Williams was an independent, energetic woman,
self-contained, brave, and strong, as a solitary governess had need to
be; but beside Robert Roy she felt like a child, and she cried for him
like a child,
"And with no language but a cry."
So the week ended and Sunday came, kept at Mrs. Dalziel's like the Scotch
Sundays of twenty years ago. No visitor ever entered the house, wherein
all the meals were cold and the blinds drawn down, as if for a funeral.
The family went to church for the entire day, St. Andrews being too far
off for any return home "between sermons." Usually one servant was left
in charge, turn and turn about; but this Sunday Mrs. Dalziel, having put
the governess in the nurse's place beside the ailing child, thought
shrewdly she might as well put her in the servant's place too, and let
her take charge of the kitchen fire as well as of little David. Being
English, Miss Williams was not so exact about "ordinances" as a Scotch
woman would have been; so Mrs. Dalziel had no hesitation in asking her to
remain at home alone the whole day in charge of her pupil.
Thus faded, Fortune thought, her last hope of seeing Robert Roy again,
either at church—where he usually sat in the Dalziel pew, by the old
lady's request, to make the boys "behave"—or walking down the street,
where he sometimes took the two eldest to eat their "piece" at his
lodgings. All was now ended; yet on the hope—or dread—of this last
Sunday she had hung, she now felt with what intensity, till it was gone.
Fortune was the kind of woman who, were it given her to fight, could
fight to the death, against fate or circumstances; but when her part was
simply passive, she could also endure. Not, as some do, with angry grief
or futile resistance, but with a quiet patience so complete that only a
very quick eye would have found out she was suffering at all.
Little David did not, certainly. When hour after hour, she sat by his
sofa, interesting him as best she could in the dull "good" books which
alone were allowed of Sundays, and then passing into word-of-mouth
stories—the beautiful Bible stories over which her own voice trembled
while she told them—Ruth, with her piteous cry, "Whither thou goest, I
will go; where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried;"
Jonathan, whose soul "clave to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him
as his own soul"—all these histories of passionate fidelity and agonized
parting—for every sort of love is essentially the same—how they went to
Oh, the awful quietness of that Sunday, that Sabbath which was not rest,
in which the hours crawled on in sunshiny stillness, neither voices nor
steps nor sounds of any kind breaking the death-like hush of everything.
At length the boy fell asleep; and then Fortune seemed to wake up for the
first time to the full consciousness of what was and what was about to
All of a sudden she heard steps on the gravel below; then the hall bell
rang through the silent house. She knew who it was even before she
opened the door and saw him standing there.
"May I come in? They told me you were keeping house alone, and I said I
should just walk over to bid you and Davie good-by."
Roy's manner was grave and matter-of-fact—a little constrained, perhaps,
but not much—and he looked so exceedingly pale and tired that; without
any hesitation, she took him into the school-room, where they were
sitting, and gave him the arm-chair by Davie's sofa.
"Yes, I own to being rather overdone; I have had so much to arrange, for
I must leave here tomorrow, as I think you know."
"The boys told me."
"I thought they would. I should have done it myself, but every day I
hoped to see you. It was this fellow's fault, I suppose," patting
Davie's head. "He seems quite well now, and as jolly as possible. You
don't know what it is to say 'Good-by,' David, my son." Mr. Roy, who
always got on well with children, had a trick of calling his younger
pupils "My Son."
"Why do you say 'good-by' at all, then!" asked the child, a mischievous
but winning young scamp of six or seven, who had as many tricks as a
monkey or a magpie. In fact, in chattering and hiding things he was
nearly as bad as a magpie, and the torment of his governess's life; yet
she was fond of him. "Why do you bid us good-by, Mr. Roy? Why don't you
stay always with Miss Williams and me?"
"I wish to God I could."
She heard that, heard it distinctly, though it was spoken beneath his
breath; and she felt the look, turned for one moment upon her as she
stood by the window. She never forgot either—never, as long as she
lived. Some words, some looks, can deceive, perhaps quite unconsciously,
by being either more demonstrative than was meant, or the exaggeration of
coldness to hide its opposite; but sometimes a glance, a tone, betrays,
or rather reveals, the real truth in a manner that nothing afterward can
ever falsify. For one instant, one instant only, Fortune felt sure,
quite sure, that in some way or other she was very dear to Robert Roy.
If the next minute he had taken her into his arms, and said or looked the
words which, to an earnest-minded, sincere man like him, constitute a
pledge for life, never to be disannulled or denied, she could have hardly
have felt more completely his own.
But he did not say them; he said nothing at all; sat leaning his head on
his hand, with an expression so weary, so sad, that all the coaxing ways
of little Davie could hardly win from him more than a faint smile. He
looked so old, too, and he was but just thirty. Only thirty—only
twenty-five; and yet these two were bearing, seemed to have borne for
years, the burden of life, feeling all its hardships and none of its
sweetnesses. Would things ever change? Would he have the courage (it was
his part, not hers) to make them change, at least in one way, by bringing
about that heart-union which to all pure and true natures is consolation
for every human woe?
"I wonder," he said, sitting down and taking David on his knee—"I
wonder if it is best to bear things one's self, or to let another share
Easily—oh, how easily!—could Fortune have answered this—have told him
that, whether he wished it or not, two did really bear his burdens, and
perhaps the one who bore it secretly and silently had not the lightest
share. But she did not speak: it was not possible.
"How shall I hear of you Miss Williams?" he said, after a long silence.
"You are not likely to leave the Dalziel family?"
"No," she answered; "and if I did, I could always be heard of, the
Dalziels are so well known hereabouts. Still, a poor wandering governess
easily drops out of people's memory."
"And a poor wandering tutor too. But I am not a tutor any more, and I
hope I shall not be poor long. Friends can not lose one another; such
friends as you and I have been. I will take care we shall not do it,
that is, if—but never mind that. You have been very good to me, and I
have often bothered you very much, I fear. You will be almost glad to
get rid of me."
She might have turned upon him eyes swimming with tears—woman's
tears—that engine of power which they say no man can ever resist; but I
think, if so, a woman like Fortune would have scorned to use it. Those
poor weary eyes, which could weep oceans alone under the stars, were
perfectly dry now—dry and fastened on the ground, as she replied, in a
grave steady voice,
"You do not believe that, else you would never have said it."
Her composure must have surprised him, for he looked suddenly up, then
begged her pardon. "I did not hurt you, surely? We must not part with
the least shadow of unkindness between us."
"No." She offered her hand, and he took it—gently, affectionately, but
only affectionately. The one step beyond affection, which leads into
another world, another life, he seemed determined not to pass.
For at least half an hour he sat there with David on his knee, or rising
up restlessly to pace the room with David on his shoulder; but apparently
not desiring the child's absence, rather wishing to keep him as a sort of
barrier. Against what?—himself? And so minute after minute slipped by;
and Miss Williams, sitting in her place by the window, already saw,
dotting the Links, group after group of the afternoon church-goers
wandering quietly home—so quietly, so happily, fathers and mothers and
children, companions and friends—for whom was no parting and no pain.
Mr. Roy suddenly took out his watch. "I must go now; I see I have spent
all but my last five minutes. Good-by, David, my lad; you'll be a big
man, maybe, when I see you again. Miss Williams" (standing before her
with an expression on his face such as she had never seen before),
"before I go there was a question I had determined to ask you—a purely
ethical question which a friend of mine has been putting to me, and I
could not answer; that is, I could from the man's side, the worldly side.
A woman might think differently."
"What is it?"
"Simply this. If a man has not a half-penny, ought he to ask a woman to
share it? Rather an Irish way of putting the matter," with a laugh, not
without bitterness, "but you understand. Ought he not to wait till he
has at least something to offer besides himself: Is it not mean,
selfish, cowardly, to bind a woman to all the chances or mischances of
his lot, instead of fighting it out alone like a man: My friend thinks
so, and I—I agree with him."
"Then why did you ask me."
The words, though low and clear, were cold and sharp—sharp with almost
unbearable pain. Every atom of pride in her was roused. Whether he loved
her and would not tell her so, or loved some other woman and wished her
know it, it was all the same. He was evidently determined to go away
free and leave her free; and perhaps many sensible men or women would say
he was right in so doing.
"I beg your pardon," he said, almost humbly. "I ought not to have spoken
of this at all. I ought just to have said 'Good-by,' and nothing more."
And he took her hand.
There was on it one ring, not very valuable, but she always liked to wear
it, as it had belonged to her mother. Robert Roy drew it off, and put it
deliberately into his pocket.
"Give me this; you shall have it back again when I am dead, or you are
married, whichever happens first. Do you understand?"
Putting David aside (indeed, he seemed for the first time to forget the
boy's presence), he took her by the two hands and looked down into her
face. Apparently he read something there, something which startled him,
almost shocked him.
Irresolute, alas! Too late; for just then all the three Dalziel boys
rushed into the house and the school-room, followed by their grandmother.
The old lady looked a good deal surprised, perhaps a little displeased,
fro on to the other.
Mr. Roy perceived it, and recovered himself in an instant, letting go
Fortune's hands and placing himself in front of her, between her and Mrs.
Dalziel. Long afterward she remembered that trivial act—remembered it
with the tender gratitude of the protected toward the protector, if
"You see, I came, as I told you I should, if possible, to bid Miss
Williams good-by, and wee Davie. They both kindly admitted me, and we
have had half an hour's merry chat, have we not Davie? Now, my man,
good-by." He took up the little fellow and kissed him, and then
extended his hand. "Good-by, Miss Williams. I hope your little pupils
will value you as you deserve."
Then, with a courteous and formal farewell to the old lady, and a most
uproarious one from the boys, he went to the door, but turned round,
saying to the eldest boy, distinctly and clearly—though she was at the
farther end of the room, she heard, and was sure he meant her to hear
"By-the-by, Archy, there is something I was about to explain to Miss
Williams. Tell her I will write it. She is quite sure to have a letter
from me tomorrow—no, on Tuesday morning."
And so he went away, bravely and cheerily, the boys accompanying him to
the gate, and shouting and waving their hats to him as he crossed the
Links, until their grandmother reprovingly suggested that it was Sunday.
"But Mr. Roy does not go off to India every Sunday. Hurrah! I wish we
were all going too. Three cheers for Mr. Roy." "Mr. Roy is a very fine
fellow, and I hope he will do well," said Mrs. Dalziel, touched by their
enthusiasm; also by some old memories, for, like many St. Andrews folk,
she was strongly linked with India, and had sent off one-half of her
numerous family to live or die there. There was something like a tear in
her old eyes, though not for the young tutor; but it effectually kept her
from either looking at or thinking of the governess. And she forgot them
both immediately. They were merely the tutor and the governess.
As for the boys, they chattered vehemently all tea-time about Mr. Roy,
and their envy of the "jolly" life he was going to; then their minds
turned to their own affairs, and there was silence.
The kind of silence, most of us know it, when any one belonging to a
household, or very familiar there, goes away on a long indefinite
absence. At first there is little consciousness of absence at all; we
are so constantly expecting the door to be opened for the customary
presence that we scarcely even miss the known voice, or face, or hand.
By-and-by, however, we do miss it, and there comes a general, loud,
shallow lamentation which soon cures itself, and implies an easy and
comfortable forgetfulness before long. Except with some, or possibly
only one, who is, most likely the one who has never been heard to utter a
word of regret, or seen to shed a single tear.
Miss Williams, now left sole mistress in the school room, gave her
lessons as usual there that Monday morning, and walked with all four boys
on the Links all afternoon. It was a very bright day, as beautiful as
Sunday had been, and they communicated to her the interesting facts,
learned at golfing that morning, that Mr. Roy and his portmanteau had
been seen at Leuchars on the way to Burntisland, and he would likely have
a good crossing, as the sea was very calm. There had lately been some
equinoctial gales, which had interested the boys amazingly, and they
calculated with ingenious pertinacity whether such gales were likely to
occur again when Mr. Roy was in the Bay of Biscay, and, if his ship were
wrecked, what he would be supposed to do. They were quite sure that he
would conduct himself with great heroism, perhaps escape on a single
plank, or a raft made by his own hands, and they consulted Miss Williams,
who of course was peripatetic cyclopedia of all scholastic information,
as to which port in France of Spain he was likely to be drifted to,
supposing this exciting event did happen.
She answered their questions with her usual ready kindliness. She felt
like a person in a dream, yet a not unhappy dream, for she still heard
the voice, still felt the clasp of the strong, tender, sustaining hands.
And tomorrow would be Tuesday.
Tuesday was a wet morning. The bright days were done. Soon after dawn
Fortune had woke up and watched the sunrise, till a chill fog crept over
the sea and blotted it out; then gradually blotted out the land also, the
Links, the town, every thing. A regular St. Andrews "haar;" and St.
Andrews people know what that is. Miss Williams had seen it once or
twice before, but never so bad as this—blighting, penetrating, and so
dense that you could hardly see your hand before you.
But Fortune scarcely felt it. She said to herself, "Today is Tuesday,"
which meant nothing to any one else, every thing to her. For she knew
the absolute faithfulness, the careful accuracy, in great things and
small, with which she had to do. If Robert Roy said, "I will write on
such a day," he was as sure to write as that the day would dawn; that is,
so far as his own will went; and will, not circumstance, is the strongest
agent in this world.
Therefore she waited quietly for the postman's horn. It sounded at last.
"I'll go," cried Archy. "Just look at the haar! I shall have to grope
my way to the gate."
He came back, after what seemed an almost endless time, rubbing his head
and declaring he had nearly blinded himself by running right into the
"I couldn't see for the fog. I only hope I've left none of the letters
behind. No, no; all right. Such a lot! It's the Indian mail. There's
for you, and you, boys." He dealt them out with a merry, careless hand.
There was no letter for Miss Williams—a circumstance so usual that
nobody noticed it or her, as she sat silent in her corner, while the
children read noisily and gaily the letters from their far-away parents.
Her letter—what had befallen it? Had he forgotten to write? But
Robert Roy never forgot any thing. Nor did he delay any thing that he
could possibly do at the time he promised. He was one of the very few
people in this world who in small things as in great are absolutely
reliable. It seemed so impossible to believe he had not written, when he
said he would, that as a last hope, she stole out with a plaid over her
head and crept through the sidewalks of the garden, almost groping her
way through the fog, and, like Archy, stumbling over the low boughs of
the laurel bush to the letter-box it held. Her trembling hands felt in
every corner, but no letter was there.
She went wearily back; weary at heart, but patient still. A love like
hers, self-existent and sufficient to itself, is very patient, quite
unlike the other and more common form of the passion; not love, but a
diseased craving to be loved, which causes a thousand imaginary miseries
and wrongs. Sharp was her pain, poor girl; but she was not angry, and
after her first stab of disappointment her courage rose. All was well
with him; he had been seen cheerily starting for Edinburgh; and her own
temporary suffering was a comparatively a small thing. It could not
last: the letter would come tomorrow.
But it did not, nor the next day, nor the next. On the fourth day her
heart felt like to break.
I think, of all pains not mortal, few are worse than this small silent
agony of waiting for the post; letting all the day's hope climax upon a
single minute, which passes by, and the hope with it, and then comes
another day of dumb endurance, if not despair. This even with ordinary
letters upon which any thing of moment depends. With others, such as
this letter of Robert Roy's—let us not speak of it. Some may imagine,
others may have known, a similar suspense. They will understand why,
long years afterward, Fortune Williams was heard to say, with a quiver of
the lip that could have told its bitter tale, "No; when I have a letter
to write, I never put off writing it for single day."
As these days wore on—these cruel days, never remembered without a
shiver of pain, and of wonder that she could have lived through them at
all—the whole fabric of reasons, arguments, excuses, that she had built
up, for him and herself, gradually crumbled away. Had she altogether
misapprehended the purport of his promised letter? Was it just some
ordinary note, about her boys and their studies perhaps, which, after
all, he had not thought it worthwhile to write? Yet surely it was worth
while, if only to send a kindly and courteous farewell to a friend, after
so close an intimacy and in face of so indefinite a separation.
A friend? Only a friend? Words may deceive, eyes seldom can. And there
had been love in his eyes. Not mere liking, but actual love. She had
seen it, felt it, with that almost unerring instinct that women have,
whether they return the love or not. In the latter case, they seldom
doubt it; in the former, they often do.
"Could I have been mistaken?" she thought, with a burning pang of shame.
"Oh, why did he not speak—just one word? After that, I could have borne
But he had not spoken, had not written. He had let himself drop out of
her life as completely as a falling star drops out of the sky, a ship
sinks down in mid-ocean, or—any other poetical simile, used under such
circumstances by romantic people.
Fortune Williams was not romantic; at least, what romance was in her lay
deep down, and came out in act rather than word. She neither wept nor
raved nor cultivated any external signs of a breaking heart. A little
paler she grew, a little quieter, but nobody observed this: indeed, it
came to be one of her deepest causes of thankfulness that there was
nobody to observe any thing—that she had no living soul belonging to
her, neither father, mother, brother, nor sister, to pity her or to blame
him; since to think him either blamable or blamed would have been the
sharpest torture she could have known.
She was saved that and some few other things by being only a governess,
instead of one of Fate's cherished darlings, nestled in a family home.
She had no time to grieve, except in the dead of night, when "the rain
was on the roof." It so happened that, after the haar, there set in a
season of continuous, sullen, depressing rain. But at night-time, and
for the ten minutes between post hour and lesson hour—which she
generally passed in her own room—if her mother, who died when she was
ten-years old, could have seen her, she would have said, "My poor child."
Robert Roy had once involuntarily called her so, when by accident one of
her rough boys hurt her hand, and he himself bound it up, with the
indescribable tenderness which the strong only know how to show or feel.
Well she remembered this; indeed, almost every thing he had said or done
came back upon her now—vividly, as we recall the words and looks of the
dead—mingled with such a hungering pain, such a cruel "miss" of him,
daily and hourly, his companionship, help, counsel, every thing she had
lacked all her life, and never found but with him and from him. And he
was gone, had broken his promise, had left her without a single farewell
That he had cared for her, in some sort of way, she was certain; for he
was one of those who never say a word too large—nay, he usually said
much less than he felt. Whatever he had felt for her—whether
friendship, affection, love—must have been true. There was in his
nature intense reserve, but no falseness, no insincerity, not an atom of
pretense of any kind.
If he did not love her, why not tell her so? What was there to hinder
him? Nothing, except that strange notion of the "dishonorableness" of
asking a woman's love when one has nothing but love to give her in
return. This, even, he had seemed at the last to have set aside, as if
he could not go away without speaking. And yet he did it.
Perhaps he thought she did not care for him? He had once said a man
ought to feel quite sure of a woman before he asked her. Also, that he
should never ask twice, since, if she did not know her own mind then, she
never would know it, and such a woman was the worst possible bargain a
man could make in marriage.
Not know her own mind! Alas, poor soul, Fortune knew it only too well.
In that dreadful fortnight it was "borne in upon her," as pious people
say, that though she felt kindly to all human beings, the one human being
who was necessary to her—without whom her life might be busy, indeed,
and useful, but never perfect, an endurance instead of joy—was this
young man, as solitary as herself, as poor, as hard-working; good,
gentle, brave Robert Roy.
Oh why had they not come together, heart to heart—just they two, so
alone in the world—and ever after belonged to one another, even though
it had been years and years before they were married?
"If only he had love me, and told me so!" was her bitter cry. "I could
have waited ever so hardly, and quite alone, if only I might have had a
right to him, and been his comfort, as he was mine. But now—now—"
Yet still she waited, looking forward daily to that dreadful post hour;
and when it had gone by, nerving herself to endure until tomorrow. At
last hope, slowly dying, was killed outright.
One day at tea-time the boys blurted out, with happy carelessness, their
short-lived regrets for him being quite over, the news that Mr. Roy had
"Not for Calcutta, but Shanghai, a much longer voyage. He can't be heard
of for a year at least, and it will be many years before he comes back.
I wonder if he will come back rich. They say he will: quite a nabob,
perhaps, and take a place in the Highlands, and invite us all—you too,
Miss Williams. I once asked him, and he said, 'Of course.' Stop, you
are pouring my tea over into the saucer."
This was the only error she made, but went on filling the cups with a
steady hand, smiling and speaking mechanically, as people can sometimes.
When the tea was quite over, she slipped away into her room, and was
missing for a long time.
So all was over. No more waiting for that vague "something to happen."
Nothing could happen now. He was far away across the seas, and she must
just go back to her old monotonous life, as if it had never been any
different—as if she had never seen his face nor heard his voice, never
known the blessing of his companionship, friendship, love, whatever it
was, or whatever he had meant it to be. No, he could not have loved her;
or to have gone away would have been—she did not realize whether right
or wrong—but simply impossible.
Once, wearying herself with helpless conjectures, a thought, sudden and
sharp as steel, went through her heart. He was nearly thirty; few lives
are thus long without some sort of love in them. Perhaps he was already
bound to some other woman, and finding himself drifting into too pleasant
intimacy with herself, wished to draw back in time. Such things had
happened, sometimes almost blamelessly, though most miserably to all
parties. But with him it was not likely to happen. He was too clear
sighted, strong, and honest. He would never "drift" into anything. What
he did would be done with a calm deliberate will, incapable of the
slightest deception either toward others or himself. Besides, he had at
different times told her the whole story of his life, and there was no
love in it; only work, hard work, poverty, courage, and endurance, like
"No, he could never have deceived me, neither me nor any one else," she
often said to herself, almost joyfully, though the tears were running
down. "What ever it was, it was not that. I am glad—glad. I had far
rather believe he never loved me than that he had been false to another
woman for my sake. And I believe in him still; I shall always believe in
him. He is perfectly good, perfectly true. And so it does not much
matter about me."
I am afraid those young ladies who like plenty of lovers, who expect to
be adored, and are vexed when they are not adored, and most nobly
indignant when forsaken, will think very meanly of my poor Fortune
Williams. They may console themselves by thinking she was not a young
lady at all—only a woman. Such women are not too common, but they exist
occasionally. And they bear their cross and dree their weird (i.e.,
endure); but their lot, at any rate, only concerns themselves, and has
one advantage, that it in no way injures the happiness of other people.
Humble as she was, she had her pride. If she wept, it was out of sight.
If she wished herself dead, and a happy ghost, that by any means she
might get near him, know where he was, and what he was doing, these
dreams came only when her work was done, her boys asleep. Day never
betrayed the secrets of the night. She set to work every morning at her
daily labors with a dogged persistence, never allowing herself a minute's
idleness wherein to sit down and mourn. And when, despite her will, she
could not conquer the fits of nervous irritability that came over her at
times—when the children's innocent voices used to pierce her like
needles, and their incessant questions and perpetual company were almost
more than she could bear—still, even then, all she did was to run away
and hide herself for a little, coming back with a pleasant face and a
smooth temper. Why should she scold them, poor lambs? They were all she
had to love, or that loved her. And they did love her, with all their
One day, however—the day before they all left St. Andrews for England,
the two elder to go to school, and the younger ones to return with her to
their maternal grand-mother in London—David said something which wounded
her, vexed her, made her almost thankful to be going away.
She was standing by the laurel bush, which somehow had for her a strange
fascination, and her hand was on the letter-box which the boys and Mr.
Roy had made. There was a childish pleasure in touching it or any thing
he had touched.
"I hope grandmamma won't take away that box," said Archy. "She ought to
keep it in memory of us and Mr. Roy. How cleverly he made it! Wasn't he
clever now, Miss Williams?"
"Yes," she answered and no more.
"I've got a better letter-box than yours," said little Davie,
mysteriously. "Shall I show it to you, Miss Williams? And perhaps,"
with a knowing look—the mischievous lad! and yet he was more loving and
lovable than all the rest, Mr. Roy's favorite, and hers—"perhaps you
might even find a letter in it. Cook says she has seen you many a time
watching for a letter from your sweetheart. Who is he?"
"I have none. Tell cook she should not talk such nonsense to little
boys," said the governess, gravely. But she felt hot from head to foot,
and turning, walked slowly in-doors. She did not go near the laurel bush
After that, she was almost glad to get away, among strange people and
strange places, where Robert Roy's name had never been heard. The
familiar places—hallowed as no other spot in this world, could ever
be—passed out of sight, and in another week her six months' happy life
at St. Andrews had vanished, "like a dream when one awaketh."
Had she awaked? Or was her daily, outside life to be henceforth the
dream, and this the reality?
What is a "wrecked" life? One which the waves of inexorable fate have
beaten to pieces, or one that, like an unseaworthy ship, is ready to go
down in any waters? What most destroy us? the things we might well blame
ourselves for, only we seldom do, our follies, blunders, errors, not
counting actual sins? or the things for which we can blame nobody but
Providence—if we dared—such as our losses and griefs, our sicknesses of
body and mind, all those afflictions which we call "the visitation of
God?" Ay, and so they are, but not sent in wrath, or for ultimate evil.
No amount of sorrow need make any human life harmful to man or unholy
before God, as a discontented, unhappy life must needs be unholy in the
sight of Him who in the mysterious economy of the universe seems to have
one absolute law—He wastes nothing. He modifies, transmutes,
substitutes, re-applies material to new uses; but apparently by Him
nothing is ever really lost, nothing thrown away.
Therefore, I incline to believe, when I hear people talking of a
"wrecked" existence, that whosoever is to blame, it is not Providence.
Nobody could have applied the term to Fortune Williams, looking at
her as she sat in the drawing-room window of a house at Brighton, just
where the gray of the Esplanade meets the green of the Downs—a ladies'
boarding-school, where she had in her charge two pupils, left behind
for the holidays, while the mistress took a few weeks' repose. She sat
watching the sea, which was very beautiful, as even the Brighton sea can
be sometimes. Her eyes were soft and calm; her hands were folded on her
black silk dress, her pretty little tender-looking hands, unringed, for
she was still Miss Williams, still a governess.
But even at thirty-five—she had now reached that age, nay, passed
it—she was not what you would call "old-maidish." Perhaps because the
motherly instinct, naturally very strong in her, had developed more and
more. She was one of those governesses—the only sort who ought ever to
attempt to be governesses—who really love children, ay, despite their
naughtinesses and mischievousnesses and worrying ways; who feel that,
after all, these little ones are "of the kingdom of heaven," and that the
task of educating them for that kingdom somehow often brings us nearer to
Her heart, always tender to children, had gone out to them more and more
every year, especially after that fatal year when a man took it and broke
it. No, not broke it, but threw it carelessly away, wounding it so
sorely that it never could be quite itself again. But it was a true and
warm and womanly heart still.
She had never heard of him—Robert Roy—never once, in any way, since
that Sunday afternoon when he said, "I will write tomorrow," and did not
write, but let her drop from him altogether like a worthless thing.
Cruel, somewhat, even to a mere acquaintance—but to her?
Well, all was past and gone, and the tide of years had flowed over it.
Whatever it was, a mistake, a misfortune, or a wrong, nobody knew any
thing about it. And the wound even was healed, in a sort of a way, and
chiefly by the unconscious hands of these little "ministering angels,"
who were angels that never hurt her, except by blotting their copy-books
or not learning their lessons.
I know it may sound a ridiculous thing that a forlorn governess should
be comforted for a lost love by the love of children; but it is true to
nature. Women's lives have successive phases, each following the other in
natural gradation—maidenhood, wifehood, motherhood: in not one of which,
ordinarily, we regret the one before it, to which it is nevertheless
impossible to go back. But Fortune's life had had none of these,
excepting, perhaps, her one six months' dream of love and spring. That
being over, she fell back upon autumn days and autumn pleasures—which
are very real pleasures, after all.
As she sat with the two little girls leaning against her lap—they were
Indian children, unaccustomed to tenderness, and had already grown very
fond of her—there was a look in her face, not at all like an ancient
maiden or a governess, but almost motherly. You see the like in the
faces of the Virgin Mary, as the old monks used to paint her, quaint, and
not always lovely, but never common or coarse, and spiritualized by a
look of mingled tenderness and sorrow into something beyond all beauty.
This woman's face had it, so that people who had known Miss Williams as
a girl were astonished to find her, as a middle-aged woman, grown "so
good-looking." To which one of her pupils once answered, naively, "It
is because she looks so good."
But this was after ten years and more. Of the first half of those years
the less that is said, the better. She did not live; she merely endured
life. Monotony without, a constant aching within—a restless gnawing
want, a perpetual expectation, half hope, half fear; no human being could
bear all this without being the worse for it, or the better. But the
betterness came afterward, not first.
Sometimes her cravings to hear the smallest tidings of him, only if he
were alive or dead, grew into such an agony that, had it not been for
her entire helplessness in the matter, she might have tried some means
of gaining information. But from his sudden change of plans, she was
ignorant even of the name of the ship he had sailed by, the firm he had
gone to. She could do absolutely nothing, and learn nothing. Here was
something like the "Affliction of Margaret," that poem of Wordsworth's
which, when her little pupils recited it—as they often did—made her
ready to sob out loud from the pang of its piteous reality:
"I look for ghosts, but none will force
Their way to me: 'tis falsely said
That there was ever intercourse
Betwixt the living and the dead:
For surely then I should have sight
Of him I wait for day and night
With love and longings infinite."
Still, in the depth of her heart she did not believe Robert Roy was dead;
for her finger was still empty of that ring—her mother's ring—which he
had drawn off, promising its return "when he was dead or she was
married." This implied that he never meant to lose sight of her. Nor,
indeed, had he wished it, would it have been very difficult to find her,
these ten years having been spent entirely in one place, an obscure
village in the south of England, where she had lived as governess—first
in the squire's family, then the rector's.
From the Dalziel family, where, as she had said to Mr. Roy, she hoped to
remain for years, she had drifted away almost immediately; within a few
months. At Christmas old Mrs. Dalziel had suddenly died; her son had
returned home, sent his four boys to school in Germany, and gone back
again to India. There was now, for the first time for half a century,
not a single Dalziel left in St. Andrews.
But though all ties were broken connecting her with the dear old city,
her boys still wrote to her now and then, and she to them, with a
persistency for which her conscience smote her sometimes, knowing it was
not wholly for their sakes. But they had never been near her, and she
had little expectation of seeing any of them ever again, since by this
time she had lived long enough to find out how easily people do drift
asunder, and lose all clue to one another, unless some strong firm will
or unconquerable habit of fidelity exists on one side or the other.
Since the Dalziels she had only lived in the two families before named,
and had been lately driven from the last one by a catastrophe, if it may
be called so, which had been the bitterest drop in her cup since the time
she left St. Andrews.
The rector—a widower, and a feeble, gentle invalid, to whom naturally
she had been kind and tender, regarding him with much the same sort of
motherly feeling as she had regarded his children—suddenly asked her to
become their mother in reality.
It was a great shock and a pang: almost a temptation; for they all loved
her, and wished to keep her. She would have been such a blessing, such
a brightness, in that dreary home. And to a woman no longer young, who
had seen her youth pass without any brightness in it, God knows what
an allurement it is to feel she has still the power of brightening
other lives. If Fortune had yielded—if she had said yes, and married
the rector—it would have been hardly wonderful, scarcely blamable.
Nor would it have been the first time that a good, conscientious,
tender-hearted woman has married a man for pure tenderness.
But she did not do it; not even when they clung around her—those
forlorn, half-educated, but affectionate girls—entreating her to "marry
papa, and make us all happy." She could not—how could she? She felt
very kindly to him. He had her sincere respect, almost affection; but
when she looked into her own heart, she found there was not in it one
atom of love, never had been, for any man alive except Robert Roy. While
he was unmarried, for her to marry would be impossible.
And so she had the wisdom and courage to say to herself, and to them all,
"This can not be;" to put aside the cup of attainable happiness, which
might never have proved real happiness, because founded on an
But the pain this cost was so great, the wrench of parting from her poor
girls so cruel, that after it Miss Williams had a sharp illness, the
first serious illness of her life. She struggled through it, quietly and
alone, in one of those excellent "Governesses' Homes," where every body
was very kind to her—some more than kind, affectionate. It was strange,
she often thought, what an endless amount of affection followed her
wherever she went. She was by no means one of those women who go about
the world moaning that nobody loves them. Every body loved her, and she
knew it—every body whose love was worth having—except Robert Roy.
Still her mind never changed; not even when, in the weakness of illness,
there would come vague dreams of that peaceful rectory, with its quiet
rooms and green garden; of the gentle, kindly hearted father, and the two
loving girls whom she could have made so happy, and perhaps won happiness
herself in the doing of it.
"I am a great fool, some people would say," thought she, with a sad
smile; "perhaps rather worse. Perhaps I am acting absolutely wrong in
throwing away my chance of doing good. But I can not help it—I can not
So she kept to her resolution, writing the occasional notes she had
promised to write to her poor forsaken girls, without saying a word of
her illness; and when she grew better, though not strong enough to
undertake a new situation, finding her money slipping away—though, with
her good salaries and small wants, she was not poor, and had already
begun to lay up for a lonely old age—she accepted this temporary
home at Miss Maclachlan's, at Brighton. Was it—so strange are the
under-currents which guide one's outward life—was it because she had
found a curious charm in the old lady's Scotch tongue, unheard for years?
That the two little pupils were Indian children, and that the house was
at the seaside?—and she had never seen the sea since she left St.
It was going back to the days of her youth to sit, as now, watching the
sunshine glitter on the far-away ocean. The very smell of the sea-weed,
the lap-lap of the little waves, brought back old recollections so
vividly—old thoughts, some bitter, some sweet, but the sweetness
generally over-coming the bitterness.
"I have had all the joy that the world could bestow;
I have lived—I have loved."
So sings the poet, and truly. Though to this woman love had brought not
joy, but sorrow, still she had loved, and it had been the main-stay and
stronghold of her life, even though to outsiders it might have appeared
little better than a delusion, a dream. Once, and by one only, her whole
nature had been drawn out, her ideal of moral right entirely satisfied.
And nothing had ever shattered this ideal. She clung to it, as we cling
to the memory of our dead children, who are children forever.
With a passionate fidelity she remembered all Robert Roy's goodness, his
rare and noble qualities, resolutely shutting her eyes to what she might
have judged severely, had it happened to another person—his total,
unexplained, and inexplicable desertion of herself. It was utterly
irreconcilable with all she had ever known of him; and being powerless to
unravel it, she left it, just as we have to leave many a mystery in
heaven and earth, with the humble cry, "I can not understand—I love."
She loved him, that was all; and sometimes even yet, across that desert
of despair, stretching before and behind her, came a wild hope, almost a
conviction, that she would meet him again, somewhere, somehow. This day,
even, when, after an hour's delicious idleness, she roused herself to
take her little girls down to the beach, and sat on the shingle while
they played, the sound and sights of the sea brought old times so vividly
back that she could almost have fancied coming behind her the familiar
step, the pleasant voice, as when Mr. Roy and his boys used to overtake
her on the St. Andrews shore—Robert Roy, a young man, with his life all
before him, as was hers. Now she was middle-aged, and he—he must be
over forty by this time. How strange!
Stranger still that there had never occurred to her one possibility—that
he "was not," that God had taken him. But this her heart absolutely
refused to accept. So long as he was in it, the world would never be
quite empty to her. Afterward—But, as I said, there are some things
which can not be faced and this was one of them.
All else she had faced long ago. She did not grieve now. As she walked
with her children, listening to their endless talk with that patient
sympathy which made all children love her, and which she often found was
a better help to their education than dozens of lessons, there was on her
face that peaceful expression which is the greatest preservative of
youth, the greatest antidote to change. And so it was no wonder that a
tall lad, passing and re-passing on the Esplanade with another youth,
looked at her more than once with great curiosity, and advanced with
"I beg your pardon, ma'am, if I mistake; but you are so like a lady I
once knew, and am now looking for. Are you Miss Williams?"
"My name is Williams, certainly; and you"—something in the curly light
hair, the mischievous twinkle of the eye, struck her—"you can not be,
it is scarcely possible—David Dalziel?"
"But, I am, though," cried the lad, shaking her hand as if he would shake
it off. "And I call myself very clever to have remembered you, though I
was such a little fellow when you left us, and I have only seen your
photograph since. But you are not a bit altered—not one bit. And as I
knew by your last letter to Archy that you were at Brighton, I thought
I'd risk it and speak. Hurra! How very jolly!"
He had grown a handsome lad, the pretty wee Davie, an honest-looking lad
too, apparently, and she was glad to see him. From the dignity of his
eighteen years and five feet ten of height, he looked down upon the
governess, and patronized her quite tenderly—dismissing his friend and
walking home with her, telling her on the way all his affairs and that of
his family with the volubility of little David Dalziel at St. Andrews.
"No, I've not forgotten St. Andrews one bit, though I was so small. I
remember poor old grannie, and her cottage, and the garden, and the
Links, and the golfing, and Mr. Roy. By-the-by, what has become of Mr.
The suddenness of the question, nay, the very sound of a name totally
silent for so many years, made Fortune's heart throb till its beating
was actual pain. Then came a sudden desperate hope, as she answered:
"I can not tell. I have never heard any thing of him. Have you?"
"No—yet, let me see. I think Archy once got a letter from him, a year
or so after he went away; but we lost it somehow, and never answered it.
We have never heard any thing since."
Miss Williams sat down on one of the benches facing the sea, with a
murmured excuse of being "tired." One of her little girls crept beside
her, stealing a hand in hers. She held it fast, her own shook so; but
gradually she grew quite herself again. "I have been ill," she
explained, "and can not walk far. Let us sit down here a little. You
were speaking about Mr. Roy, David?"
"Yes. What a good fellow he was! We called him Rob Roy, I remember, but
only behind his back. He was strict, but he was a jolly old soul for all
that. I believe I should know him again any day, as I did you. But
perhaps he is dead; people die pretty fast abroad, and ten years is a
long time, isn't it?"
"A long time. And you never got any more letters?"
"No; or if they did come, they were lost, being directed probably to the
care of poor old grannie, as ours was. We thought it so odd, after she
was dead, you know."
Thus the boy chattered on—his tongue had not shortened with his
increasing inches—and every idle word sank down deep in his old
Then it was only her whom Robert Roy had forsaken. He had written to his
boys, probably would have gone on writing had they answered his letter.
He was neither faithless nor forgetful. With an ingenuity that might
have brought to any listener a smile or a tear, Miss Williams led the
conversation round again till she could easily ask more concerning that
one letter; but David, remembered little or nothing, except that it was
dated from Shanghai, for his brothers had had a discussion whether
Shanghai was in China or Japan. Then, boy-like, they had forgotten the
"Yes, by this time every body had forgotten him," thought Fortune to
herself, when having bidden David good-by at her door and arranged to
meet him again—he was on a visit at Brighton before matriculating at
Oxford next term—she sat down in own room, with a strangely bewildered
feeling. "Mine, all mine," she said, and her heart closed itself over
him, her old friend at least, if nothing more, with a tenacity of
tenderness as silent as it was strong.
From that day, though she saw, and was determined henceforward to see, as
much as she could of young David Dalziel, she never once spoke to him of
Still, to have the lad coming about her was a pleasure, a fond link with
the past, and to talk to him about his future was a pleasure too. He was
the one of all the four—Mr. Roy always said so—who had "brains" enough
to become a real student; and instead of following the others to India,
he was to go to Oxford, and do his best there. His German education had
left him few English friends. He was an affectionate, simple-hearted
lad, and now that his mischievous days were done, was taking to thorough
hard work. He attached himself to his old governess with an enthusiasm
that a lad in his teens often conceives for a woman still young enough to
be sympathetic, and intelligent enough to guide without ruling the errant
fancy of that age. She, too, soon grew very fond of him. It made her
strangely happy, this sudden rift of sunshine out of the never-forgotten
heaven of her youth, now almost as far off as heaven itself.
I have said she never spoke to David about Mr. Roy, nor did she; but
sometimes he spoke, and then she listened. It seemed to cheer her for
hours, only to hear that name. She grew stronger, gayer, younger. Every
body said how much good the sea was doing her, and so it was; but not
exactly in the way people thought. The spell of silence upon her life
had been broken, and though she knew all sensible persons would esteem
her in this, as in that other matter, a great "fool," still she could not
stifle a vague hope that some time or other her blank life might change.
Every little wave that swept in from the mysterious ocean, the ocean that
lay between them two, seemed to carry a whispering message and lay it at
her feet, "Wait and be patient, wait and be patient."
She did wait, and the message came at last.
One day David Dalziel called, on one of his favorite daily rides, and
threw a newspaper down at her door, where she was standing.
"An Indian paper my mother has just sent. There's something in it that
will interest you, and—"
His horse galloped off with the unfinished sentence; and supposing it was
something concerning his family, she put the paper in her pocket to read
at leisure while she sat on the beach. She had almost forgotten it, as
she watched the waves, full of that pleasant idleness and dreamy peace so
new in her life, and which the sound of the sea so often brings to
peaceful hearts, who have no dislike to its monotony, no dread of those
solemn thoughts of infinitude, time and eternity, God and death and love,
which it unconsciously gives, and which I think is the secret why some
people say they have "such a horror of the sea-side."
She had none; she loved it, for its sights and sounds were mixed up with
all the happiness of her young days. She could have sat all this
sunshiny morning on the beach doing absolutely nothing, had she not
remembered David's newspaper; which, just to please him, she must look
through. She did so, and in the corner, among the brief list of names in
the obituary, she saw that of "Roy." Not himself, as she soon found, as
soon as she could see to read, in the sudden blindness that came over
her. Not himself. Only his child.
"On Christmas-day, at Shanghai, aged three and a half years, Isabella,
the only and beloved daughter of Robert and Isabella Roy."
He was alive, then. That was her first thought, almost a joyful one,
showing how deep had been her secret dread of the contrary. And he was
married. His "only and beloved daughter?" Oh! how beloved she could
well understand. Married, and a father; and his child was dead.
Many would think it strange (it would be in most women, but it was not in
this woman) that the torrent of tears which burst forth, after her first
few minutes of dry-eyed anguish, was less for herself, because he was
married and he had lost him, than for him, because he had had a child and
lost it—he who was so tender of heart, so fond of children. The thought
of his grief brought such a consecration with it, that her grief—the
grief most women might be expected to feel on reading suddenly in a
newspaper that the man they loved was married to another—did not come.
At least not at once. It did not burst upon her, as sorrow does
sometimes, like a wild beast out of a jungle, slaying and devouring. She
was not slain, not even stunned. After a few minutes it seemed to her as
if it had happened long ago—as if she had always known it must happen,
and was not astonished.
His "only and beloved daughter!" The words sung themselves in and out of
her brain, to the murmur of the sea. How he must have loved the child!
She could almost see him with the little one in his arms, or watching
over her bed, or standing beside her small coffin. Three years and a
half old! Then he must have been married a good while—long and long
after she had gone on thinking of him as no righteous woman ever can go
on thinking of another woman's husband.
One burning blush, one shiver from head to foot, one cry of piteous
despair, which nobody heard but God—and she was not afraid of His
hearing—and the struggle was over. She saw Robert Roy, with his child
in his arms with his wife by his side, the same and yet a totally
She, too, when she rose up, and tried to walk, tried to feel that it was
the same sea, the same shore, the same earth and sky, was a totally
different woman. Something was lost, something never to be retrieved on
this side the grave, but also something was found.
"He is alive," she said to herself, with the same strange joy; for now
she knew where he was, and what had happened to him. The silence of all
these years was broken, the dead had come to life again, and the lost, in
a sense, was found.
Fortune Williams rose up and walked, in more senses than one; went round
to fetch her little girls, as she had promised, from that newly opened
delight of children, the Brighton Aquarium; staid a little with them,
admiring the fishes; and when she reached home, and found David Dalziel
in the drawing-room, met him and thanked him for bringing her the
newspaper. "I suppose it was on account of that obituary notice of Mr.
Roy's child," said she, calmly naming the name now. "What a sad thing!
But still I am glad to know he is alive and well. So will you be. Shall
you write to him?"
"Well, I don't know," answered the lad, carelessly crumpling up the
newspaper and throwing it on the fire. Miss Williams made a faint
movement to snatch it out, then disguised the gesture in some way, and
silently watched it burn. "I don't quite see the use of writing. He's a
family man now, and must have forgotten all about his old friends. Don't
you think so?"
"Perhaps; only he was not the sort of person easily to forget."
She could defend him now; she could speak of him, and did speak more than
once afterward, when David referred to the matter. And then the lad
quitted Brighton for Oxford, and she was left in her old loneliness.
A loneliness which I will not speak of. She herself never referred to
that time. After it, she roused herself to begin her life anew in a
fresh home, to work hard, not only for daily bread but for that humble
independence which she was determined to win before the dark hour when
the most helpful become helpless, and the most independent are driven
to fall a piteous burden into the charitable hands of friends or
strangers—a thing to her so terrible that to save herself from the
possibility of it, she who had never leaned upon any body, never had any
body to lean on, became her one almost morbid desire.
She had no dread of a solitary old age but an old age beholden to either
public or private charity was to her intolerable; and she had now few
years left her to work in—a governess's life wears women out very fast.
She determined to begin to work again immediately, laying by as much as
possible yearly against the days when she could work no more; consulted
Miss Maclachlan, who was most kind; and then sought and was just about
going to another situation, with the highest salary she had yet earned,
when an utterly unexpected change altered every thing.
The fly was already at the door, and Miss Williams, with her small
luggage, would in five minutes have departed, followed by the good wishes
of all the household, from Miss Maclachlan's school to her new situation,
when the postman passed and left a letter for her.
"I will put it in my pocket and read it in the train," she said, with a
slight change of color. For she recognized the handwriting of that good
man who had loved her, and whom she could not love.
"Better read it now. No time like the present," observed Miss
Miss Williams did so. As soon as she was fairly started and alone in the
fly, she opened it, with hands slightly trembling, for she was touched by
the persistence of the good rector, and his faithfulness to her, a poor
governess, when he might have married, as they said in his neighborhood,
"anybody." He would never marry any body now—he was dying.
"I have come to feel how wrong I was," he wrote, "in ever trying to
change our happy relations together. I have suffered for this—so have
we all. But it is now too late for regret. My time has come. Do not
grieve yourself by imagining it has come the faster through any decision
of yours, but by slow, inevitable disease, which the doctors have only
lately discovered. Nothing could have saved me. Be satisfied that there
is no cause for you to give yourself one moment's pain." (How she sobbed
over those shaky lines, more even than over the newspaper lines which she
had read that sun-shiny morning on the shore!) "Remember only that you
made me very happy—me and all mine—for years; that I loved you, as even
at my age a man can love; as I shall love you to the end, which can not
be very far off now. Would you dislike coming to see me just once again?
My girls will so very glad, and nobody knows any thing. Besides, what
matter? I am dying. Come, if you can within a week or so; they tell me
I may last thus long. And I want to consult with you about my children.
Therefore I will not say good-by now, only good-night, and God bless
But it was good-by, after all. Though she did not wait the week; indeed,
she waited for nothing, considered nothing, except her gratitude to this
good man—the only man who had loved her—and her affection for the two
girls, who would soon be fatherless; though she sent a telegram from
Brighton to say she was coming, and arrived within twenty-four hours,
still—she came too late.
When she reached the village she heard that his sufferings were all over;
and a few yards from his garden wall, in the shade of the church-yard
lime-tree, the old sexton was busy re-opening, after fourteen years, the
family grave, where he was to be laid beside his wife the day after
to-morrow. His two daughters, sitting alone together in the melancholy
house, heard Miss Williams enter, and ran to meet her. With a feeling of
nearness and tenderness such as she had scarcely ever felt for any human
being, she clasped them close, and let them weep their hearts out in her
Thus the current of her whole life was changed; for when Mr. Moseley's
will was opened, it was found that, besides leaving Miss Williams a
handsome legacy, carefully explained as being given "in gratitude for her
care of his children," he had chosen her as their guardian, until they
came of age or married, entreating her to reside with them, and desiring
them to pay her all the respect due to "a near and dear relative." The
tenderness with which he had arranged every thing, down to the minutest
points, for them and herself, even amidst all his bodily sufferings, and
in face of the supreme hour—which he had met, his daughters said, with a
marvelous calmness, even joy—touched Fortune as perhaps nothing had ever
touched her in all her life before. When she stood with her two poor
orphans beside their father's grave, and returned with them to the
desolate house, vowing within herself to be too them, all but in name,
the mother he had wished her to be, this sense of duty—the strange new
duty which had suddenly come to fill her empty life—was so strong, that
she forgot every thing else—even Robert Roy.
And for months afterward—months of anxious business, involving the
leaving of the Rectory, and the taking of a temporary house in the
village, until they could decide where finally to settle—Miss Williams
had scarcely a moment or a thought to spare for any beyond the vivid
present. Past and future faded away together, except so far as concerned
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," were words
which had helped her through many a dark time. Now, with all her might,
she did her motherly duty to the orphan girls; and as she did so,
by-and-by she began strangely to enjoy it, and to find also not a little
of motherly pride and pleasure in them. She had not time to think of
herself at all, or of the great blow which had fallen, the great change
which had come, rendering it impossible for her to let herself feel as
she had used to feel, dream as she used to dream, for years and years
past. That one pathetic line
"I darena think o' Jamie, for that wad be a sin," burned itself into
her heart, and needed nothing more.
"My children! I must only love my children now," was her continual
thought, and she believed she did so.
It was not until spring came, healing the girls' grief as naturally as it
covered their father's grave with violets and primroses, and making them
cling a little less to home and her, a little more to the returning
pleasures of their youth, for they were two pretty girls, well-born, with
tolerable fortunes, and likely to be much sought after—not until the
spring days left her much alone, did Fortune's mind recur to an idea
which had struck her once, and then been set aside—to write to Robert
Roy. Why should she not? Just a few friendly lines, telling him how,
after long years, she had seen his name in the papers; how sorry she was,
and yet glad—glad to think he was alive and well, and married; how she
sent all kindly wishes to his wife and himself, and so on. In short the
sort of letter that any body might write or receive, whatever had been
the previous link between them. And she wrote it on an April day, one of
those first days of spring which make young hearts throb with a vague
delight, a nameless hope; and older ones—but is there any age when hope
is quite dead? I think not, even to those who know that the only spring
that will ever come to them will dawn in the world everlasting.
When her girls, entering, offered to post her letter, and Miss Williams
answered gently that she would rather post it herself, as it required a
foreign stamp, how little they guessed all that lay underneath, and how,
over the first few lines, her hand had shaken so that she had to copy it
three times. But the address, "Robert Roy, Shanghai"—all she could put,
but she had little doubt it would find him—was written with that firm,
clear hand which he had so often admired, saying he wished she could
teach his boys to write as well. Would he recognize it? Would he be
glad or sorry, or only indifferent? Had the world changed him? or, if
she could look at him now, would he be the same Robert Roy—simple, true,
sincere, and brave—every inch a man and a gentleman?
For the instant the old misery came back; the sharp, sharp pain; but
she smothered it down. His dead child, his living, unknown wife, came
between, with their soft ghostly hands. He was still himself; she
hoped absolutely unchanged; but he was hers no more. Yet that strange
yearning, the same which had impelled Mr. Moseley to write and say, "Come
and see me before I die," seemed impelling her to stretch a hand out
across the seas—"Have you forgotten me: I have never forgotten you."
As she passed through the church-yard on her way to the village, and saw
the rector's grave lie smiling in the evening sunshine, Fortune thought
what a strange lot hers had been. The man who had loved her, the man
whom she had loved, were equally lost to her; equally dead and buried.
And yet she lived still—her busy, active, and not unhappy life. It was
God's will, all; and it was best.
Another six months went by, and she still remained in the same place,
though talking daily of leaving. They began to go into society again,
she and her girls, and to receive visitors now and then: among the rest,
David Dalziel, who had preserved his affectionate fidelity even when he
went back to college, and had begun to discover somehow that the direct
road from Oxford to every where was through this secluded village. I am
afraid Miss Williams was not as alive as she ought to have been to this
fact, and to the other fact that Helen and Janetta were not quite
children now, but she let the young people be happy, and was happy with
them, after her fashion. Still, hers was less happiness than peace; the
deep peace which a storm-tossed vessel finds when kindly fate has towed
it into harbor; with torn sails and broken masts, maybe, but still safe,
never needing to go to sea any more.
She had come to that point in life when we cease to be "afraid of evil
tidings," since nothing is likely to happen to us beyond what has
happened. She told herself that she did not look forward to the answer
from Shanghai, if indeed any came; nevertheless, she had ascertained what
time the return mail would be likely to bring it. And, almost punctual
to the day, a letter arrived with the postmark, "Shanghai." Not his
letter, nor his handwriting at all. And, besides, it was addressed to
A shudder of fear, the only fear which could strike her now—that he
might be dead—made Fortune stand irresolute a moment, then go up to her
own room before she opened it.
"Madam,—I beg to apologize for having read nearly through your letter
before comprehending that it was not meant for me, but probably for
another Mr. Robert Roy, who left this place not long after I came here,
and between whom and myself some confusion arose, till we became
intimate, and discovered that we were most likely distant, very distant
cousins. He came from St. Andrews, and was head clerk in a firm here,
doing a very good business in tea and silk, until they mixed themselves
up in the opium trade, which Mr. Roy, with one or two more of our
community here, thought so objectionable that at last he threw up his
situation and determined to seek his fortunes in Australia. It was a
pity, for he was in a good way to get on rapidly, but everybody who knew
him agreed it was just the sort of thing he was sure to do, and some
respected him highly for doing it. He was indeed what we Scotch call
'weel respeckit' wherever he went. But he was a reserved man; made few
intimate friends, though those he did make were warmly attached to him.
My family were; and though it is now five years since we have heard
anything of or from him, we remember him still."
Five years! The letter dropped from her hands. Lost and found, yet
found and lost. What might not have happened to him in five years? But
she read on, dry-eyed: women do not weep very much or very easily at her
"I will do my utmost, madam, that your letter shall reach the hands for
which I am sure it was intended; but that may take some time, my only
clue to Mr. Roy's whereabouts being the branch house at Melbourne. I can
not think he is dead, because such tidings pass rapidly from one to
another in our colonial communities, and he was too much beloved for his
death to excite no concern.
"I make this long explanation because it strikes me you may be a lady, a
friend or relative of Mr. Roy's, concerning whom he employed me to make
some inquiries, only you say so very little—absolutely nothing—of
yourself in your letter, that I can not be at all certain if you are the
same person. She was a governess in a family named Dalziel, living at
St. Andrews. He said he had written to that family repeatedly, but got
no answer, and then asked me, if any thing resulted from my inquiries, to
write to him to the care of our Melbourne house. But no news ever came,
and I never wrote to him, for which my wife still blames me exceedingly.
She thanks you, dear madam, for the kind things you say about our poor
child, though meant for another person. We have seven boys, but little
Bell was our youngest, and our hearts' delight. She died after six
"Again begging you to pardon my unconscious offense in reading a
stranger's letter, and the length of this one, I remain your very
obedient servant, R. Roy
"P.S.—I ought to say that this Mr. Robert Roy seemed between thirty-five
and forty, tall, dark-haired, walked with a slight stoop. He had, I
believe, no near relatives whatever, and I never heard of his having been
Unquestionably Miss Williams did well in retiring to her chamber and
locking the door before she opened the letter. It is a mistake to
suppose that at thirty-five or forty—or what age?—women cease to feel.
I once was walking with an old maiden lady, talking of a character in a
book. "He reminded me," she said, "of the very best man I ever knew, whom
I saw a good deal of when I was a girl." And to the natural question,
was he alive, she answered, "No; he died while he was still young." Her
voice kept its ordinary tone, but there came a slight flush on the cheek,
a sudden quiver over the whole withered face—she was some years past
seventy—and I felt I could not say another word.
Nor shall I say a word now of Fortune Williams, when she had read through
and wholly taken in the contents of this letter.
Life began for her again—life on a new and yet on the old basis; for it
was still waiting, waiting—she seemed to be among those whose lot it is
to "stand and wait" all their days. But it was not now in the absolute
darkness and silence which it used to be. She knew that in all human
probability Robert Roy was alive still some where, and hope never could
wholly die out of the world so long as he was in it. His career, too, if
not prosperous in worldly things, had been one to make any heart that
loved him content—content and proud. For if he had failed in his
fortunes, was it not from doing what she would most have wished him to
do—the right, at all costs? Nor had he quite forgotten her, since even
so late as five years back he had been making inquiries about her. Also,
he was then unmarried.
But human nature is weak, and human hearts are so hungry sometimes.
"Oh, if he had only loved me, and told me so!" she said, sometimes, as
piteously as fifteen years ago. But the tears which followed were not,
as then, a storm of passionate despair—only a quiet sorrowful rain.
For what could she do? Nothing. Now as ever, her part seemed just to
fold her hands and endure. If alive, he might be found some day; but now
she could not find him—oh, if she could! Had she been the man and he
the woman—nay, had she been still herself, a poor lonely governess,
having to earn every crumb of her own bitter bread, yet knowing that he
loved her, might not things have been different? Had she belonged to
him, they would never have lost one another. She would have sought him,
as Evangeline sought Gabriel, half the world over.
And little did her two girls imagine, as they called her down stairs that
night, secretly wondering what important business could make "Auntie"
keep tea waiting fully five minutes, and set her after tea to read some
"pretty poetry," especially Longfellow's, which they had a fancy
for—little did they think, those two happy creatures, listening to their
middle-aged governess, who read so well that sometimes her voice actually
faltered over the line, how there was being transacted under their very
eyes a story which in its "constant anguish of patience" was scarcely
less pathetic than that of Acadia.
For nearly a year after that letter came the little family of which Miss
Williams was the head went on in its innocent quiet way, always planning,
yet never making a change, until at last fate drove them to it.
Neither Helen nor Janetta were very healthy girls, and at last a London
doctor gave as his absolute fiat that they must cease to live in their
warm inland village, and migrate, for some years at any rate, to a
bracing sea-side place.
Whereupon David Dalziel, who had somehow established himself as the one
masculine adviser of the family, suggested St. Andrews. Bracing enough
it was, at any rate: he remembered the winds used almost cut his nose
off. And it was such a nice place too, so pretty, with such excellent
society. He was sure the young ladies would find it delightful. Did
Miss Williams remember the walk by the shore, and the golfing across the
"Quite as well as you could have done, at the early age of seven," she
suggested, smiling. "Why are you so very anxious we should go to live at
The young fellow blushed all over his kindly eager face, and then frankly
owned he had a motive. His grandmother's cottage, which she had left
him, the youngest and her pet always, was now unlet. He meant, perhaps,
to go and live at it himself when—he was of age and could afford it; but
in the mean time he was a poor solitary bachelor, and—and—
"And you would like me to keep your nest warm for you till you can claim
it? You want us for your tenants, eh, Davie?"
"Just that. You've hit it. Couldn't wish better. In fact, I have
already written to my trustees to drive the hardest bargain possible."
Which was an ingenious modification of the truth, as she afterward found;
but evidently the lad had set his heart upon the thing. And she?
At first she shrank back from the plan with a shiver almost of fear. It
was like having to meet face to face something—some one—long dead. To
walk among the old familiar places, to see the old familiar sea and
shore, nay, to live in the very same house, haunted, as houses are
sometimes, every room and every nook, with ghosts—yet with such innocent
ghosts—Could she bear it?
There are some people who have an actual terror of the past—who the
moment a thing ceases to be pleasurable fly from it, would willingly bury
it out of sight forever. But others have no fear of their harmless
dead—dead hopes, memories, loves—can sit by a grave-side, or look
behind them at a dim spectral shape, without grief, without dread, only
with tenderness. This woman could.
After a long wakeful night, spent in very serious thought for every one's
good, not excluding her own—since there is a certain point beyond which
one has no right to forget one's self, and perpetual martyrs rarely make
very pleasant heads of families—she said to her girls next morning that
she thought David Dalziel's brilliant idea had a great deal of sense in
it; St. Andrews was a very nice place, and the cottage there would
exactly suit their finances, while the tenure upon which he proposed they
should hold it (from term to term) would also fit in with their undecided
future; because, as all knew, wherever Helen or Janetta married, each
would take her fortune and go, leaving Miss Williams with her little
legacy, above want certainly, but not exactly a millionaire.
These and other points she set before them in her practical fashion, just
as if her heart did not leap—sometimes with pleasure, sometimes with
pain—at the very thought of St. Andrews, and as if to see herself sit
daily and hourly face to face with her old self, the ghost of her own
youth, would be a quite easy thing.
The girls were delighted. They left all to Auntie, as was their habit to
do. Burdens naturally fall upon the shoulders fitted for them, and which
seem even to have a faculty for drawing them down there. Miss Williams's
new duties had developed in her a whole range of new qualities, dormant
during her governess life. Nobody knew better than she how to manage a
house and guide a family. The girls soon felt that Auntie might have
been a mother all her days, she was so thoroughly motherly and they gave
up every thing into her hands.
So the whole matter was settled, David rejoicing exceedingly, and
considering it "jolly fun," and quite like a bit out of a play, that his
former governess should come back as his tenant, and inhabit the old
"And I'll take a run over to see you as soon as the long vacation begins,
just to teach the young ladies golfing. Mr. Roy taught all us boys, you
know; and we'll take that very walk he used to take us, across the Links
and along the sands to the Eden. Wasn't it the river Eden, Miss
Williams? I am sure I remember it. I think I am very good at
Other people were also "good at remembering." During the first few
weeks after they settled down at St. Andrews the girls noticed that
Auntie became excessively pale, and was sometimes quite "distrait" and
bewildered-looking, which was little wonder, considering all she had to
do and arrange. But she got better in time. The cottage was so sweet,
the sea so fresh, the whole place so charming. Slowly, Miss Williams's
ordinary looks returned—the "good" looks which her girls so
energetically protested she had now, if never before. They never allowed
her to confess herself old by caps or shawls, or any of those pretty
temporary hindrances to the march of Time. She resisted not; she let
them dress her as they please, in a reasonable way, for she felt they
loved her; and as to her age, why, she knew it, and knew that nothing
could alter it, so what did it matter? She smiled, and tried to look as
nice and as young as she could for her girls' sake.
I suppose there are such things as broken or breaking hearts, even at St.
Andrews, but it is certainly not a likely place for them. They have
little chance against the fresh, exhilarating air, strong as new wine;
the wild sea waves, the soothing sands, giving with health of body
wholesomeness of mind. By-and-by the busy world recovered its old face
to Fortune Williams—not the world as she once dreamed of it, but the
real world, as she had fought it through it all these years.
"I was ever a fighter, so one fight more!" as she read sometimes in the
"pretty" poetry her girls were always asking for—read steadily, even
when she came to the last verse in that passionate "Prospice:"
"Till, sudden, the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end:
And the elements rage, the fiend voices that rave
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace, then a joy,
Then a light—then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!"
To that life to come, during all the burden and heat of the day (no, the
afternoon, a time, faded, yet hot and busy still, which is often a very
trying bit of woman's life) she now began yearningly to look. To meet
him again, even in old age, or with death between, was her only desire.
Yet she did her duty still, and enjoyed all she could, knowing that one
by one the years were hurrying onward, and the night coming, "in which no
man can work."
Faithful to his promise, about the middle of July David Dalziel appeared,
in overflowing spirits, having done very well at college. He was such a
boy still, in character and behavior; though—as he carefully informed
the family—now twenty-one and a man, expecting to be treated as such.
He was their landlord too, and drew up the agreement in his own name,
meaning to be a lawyer, and having enough to live on—something better
than bread and salt—"till I can earn a fortune, as I certainly mean to
do some day."
And he looked at Janetta, who looked down on the parlor carpet—as young
people will. Alas! I fear that the eyes of her anxious friend and
governess were not half wide enough open to the fact that these young
folk were no longer boy and girls, and that things might happen—in fact,
were almost certain to happen—which had happened to herself in her
youth—making life not quite easy to her, as it seemed to be to these two
Yet they were so bright, and their relations with David Dalziel were so
frank and free—in fact, the young fellow himself was such a thoroughly
good fellow, so very difficult to shut her door against, even if she had
thought of so doing. But she did not. She let him come and go,
"miserable bachelor" as he proclaimed himself, with all his kith and kin
across the seas, and cast not a thought to the future, or to the sad
necessity which sometimes occurs to parents and guardians—of shutting
the stable door after the steed is stolen.
Especially, as not long after David appeared, there happened a certain
thing to all but her, and yet to her it was, for the time being, utterly
overwhelming. It absorbed all her thoughts into one maddened channel,
where they writhed and raved and dashed themselves blindly against
inevitable fate. For the first time in her life this patient woman felt
as if endurance were not the right thing; as if wild shrieks of pain,
bitter outcries against Providence, would be somehow easier, better:
might reach His throne, so that even now He might listen and hear.
The thing was this. One day, waiting for some one beside the laurel bush
at her gate—the old familiar bush, though it had grown and grown till
its branches, which used to drag on the gravel, now covered the path
entirely—she overheard David explaining to Janetta how he and his
brothers and Mr. Roy had made the wooden letter-box, which actually
existed still, though in very ruinous condition.
"And no wonder, after fifteen years and more. It is fully that old,
isn't it Miss Williams? You will have to superannuate it shortly, and
return to the old original letter-box—my letter-box, which I remember so
well. I do believe I could find it still."
Kneeling down, he thrust his hand through the thick barricade of leaves
into the very heart of the tree.
"I've found it; I declare I've found it; the identical hole in the trunk
where I used to put all my treasures—my 'magpie's nest,' as they called
it, where I hid every thing I could find. What a mischievous young scamp
"Very," said Miss Williams, affectionately, laying a gentle hand on his
curls—"pretty" still, though cropped down to the frightful modern
fashion. Secretly she was rather proud of him, this tall young fellow,
whom she had had on her lap many a time.
"Curious! It all comes back to me—even to the very last thing I hid
here, the day before we left, which was a letter."
"A letter!"—Miss Williams slightly started—"what letter?"
"One I found lying under the laurel bush, quite hidden by its leaves. It
was all soaked with rain. I dried it in the sun, and then put it in my
letter-box, telling nobody, for I meant to deliver it myself at the hall
door with a loud ring—an English postman's ring. Our Scotch one used to
blow his horn, you remember?"
"Yes," said Miss Williams. She was leaning against the fatal bush, pale
to the very lips, but her veil was down—nobody saw. "What sort of a
letter was it, David? Who was it to? Did you notice the handwriting?"
"Why, I was such a little fellow," and he looked up in wonder and
slight concern, "how could I remember? Some letter that somebody had
dropped, perhaps, in taking the rest out of the box. It could not
matter—certainly not now. You would not bring my youthful misdeeds up
against me, would you?" And he turned up a half-comical, half-pitiful
Fortune's first impulse—what was it? She hardly knew. But her second
was that safest, easiest thing—now grown into the habit and refuge of
her whole life—silence. "No, it certainly does not matter now."
A deadly sickness came over her. What if this letter were Robert Roy's,
asking her that question which he said no man ought ever to ask a woman
twice? And she had never seen it—never answered it. So, of course, he
went away. Her whole life—nay, two whole lives—had been destroyed, and
by a mere accident, the aimless mischief of a child's innocent hand. She
could never prove it, but it might have been so. And, alas! alas! God,
the merciful God, had allowed it to be so.
Which is the worst, to wake up suddenly and find that our life has been
wrecked by our own folly, mistake, or sin, or that it has been done for
us either directly by the hand of Providence, or indirectly through some
innocent—nay, possibly not innocent, but intentional—hand? In both
cases the agony is equally sharp—the sharper because irremediable.
All these thoughts, vivid as lightning, and as rapid, darted through poor
Fortune's brain during the few moments that she stood with her hand on
David's shoulder, while he drew from his magpie's nest a heterogeneous
mass of rubbish—pebbles, snail shells, bits of glass and china,
fragments even of broken toys.
"Just look there. What ghosts of my childhood, as people would say! Dead
and buried, though." And he laughed merrily—he in the full tide and
glory of his youth.
Fortune Williams looked down on his happy face. This lad that really
loved her would not have hurt her for the world, and her determination
was made. He should never know any thing. Nobody should ever know any
thing. The "dead and buried" of fifteen years ago must be dead and
"David," she said, "just out of curiosity, put your hand down to the very
bottom of that hole, and see if you can fish up the mysterious letter."
Then she waited, just as one would wait at the edge of some long-closed
grave to see if the dead could possibly be claimed as our dead, even if
but a handful of unhonored bones.
No, it was not possible. Nobody could expect it after such a lapse of
time. Something David pulled out—it might be paper, it might be rags.
It was too dry to be moss or earth, but no one could have recognized it
as a letter.
"Give it me," said Miss Williams, holding out her hand.
David put the little heap of "rubbish" therein. She regarded it a
moment, and then scattered it on the gravel—"dust to dust," as we say in
our funeral service. But she said nothing.
At the moment the young people they were waiting for came, to the other
side of the gate, clubs in hand. David and the two Miss Moseleys had by
this time become perfectly mad for golf, as is the fashion of the place.
The proceeded across the Links, Miss Williams accompanying them, as in
duty bound. But she said she was "rather tired," and leaving them in
charge of another chaperon—if chaperons are ever wanted or needed in
those merry Links of St. Andrews—came home alone.
"Shall sharpest pathos blight us, doing no wrong?"
So writes our greatest living poet, in one of the noblest poems he ever
penned. And he speaks truth. The real canker of human existence is not
misery, but sin.
After the first cruel pang, the bitter wail; after her lost life—and we
have here but one life to lose!—her lost happiness, for she knew now
that though she might be very peaceful, very content, no real happiness
ever had come, ever could come to her in this world, except Robert Roy's
love—after this, Fortune sat down, folded her hands, and bowed her head
to the waves of sorrow that kept sweeping over her, not for one day or
two days, but for many days and weeks—the anguish, not of patience, but
regret—sharp, stinging, helpless regret. They came rolling in, those
remorseless billows, just like the long breakers on the sands of St.
Andrews. Hopeless to resist, she could only crouch down and let them
pass. "All Thy waves have gone over me."
Of course this is spoken metaphorically. Outwardly, Miss Williams
neither sat still nor folded her hands. She was seen every where as
usual, her own proper self, as the world knew it; but underneath all that
was the self that she knew, and God knew. No one else. No one ever
could have known, except Robert Roy, had things been different from what
they were—from what God had apparently willed them to be.
A sense of inevitable fate came over her. It was now nearly two years
since that letter from Mr. Roy of Shanghai, and no more tidings had
reached her. She began to think none ever would reach her now. She
ceased to hope or to fear, but let herself drift on, accepting the small
pale pleasures of every day, and never omitting one of its duties. One
only thought remained; which, contrasted with the darkness of all else,
often gleamed out as an actual joy.
If the lost letter really was Robert Roy's—and though she had no
positive proof, she had the strongest conviction, remembering the thick
fog of that Tuesday morning, how easily Archy might have dropped it out
of his hand, and how, during those days of soaking rain, it might have
lain, unobserved by any one, under the laurel branches, till the child
picked it up and hid it as he said—if Robert Roy lad written to her,
written in any way, he was at least not faithless. And he might have
loved her then. Afterward, he might have married, or died; she might
never find him again in this world, or if she found him, he might be
totally changed: still, whatever happened, he had loved her. The fact
remained. No power in earth or heaven could alter it.
And sometimes, even yet, a half-superstitious feeling came over her that
all this was not for nothing—the impulse which had impelled her to write
to Shanghai, the other impulse, or concatenation of circumstances, which
had floated her, after so many changes, back to the old place, the old
life. It looked like chance, but was it? Is any thing chance? Does not
our own will, soon or late, accomplish for us what we desire? That is,
when we try to reconcile it to the will of God.
She had accepted His will all these years, seeing no reason for it; often
feeling it very hard and cruel, but still accepting it. And now?
I am writing no sensational story. In it are no grand dramatic points;
no Deus ex machina appears to make all smooth; every event—if it can
boast of aught so large as an event—follows the other in perfectly
natural succession. For I have always noticed that in life there are
rarely any startling "effects," but gradual evolutions. Nothing happens
by accident; and, the premises once granted, nothing happens but what was
quite sure to happen, following those premises. We novelists do not
"make up" our stories; they make themselves. Nor do human beings invent
their own lives; they do but use up the materials given to them—some
well, some ill; some wisely, some foolishly; but, in the main, the dictum
of the Preacher is not far from the truth, "All things come alike to
A whole winter had passed by, and the spring twilights were beginning to
lengthen, tempting Miss Williams and her girls to linger another half
hour before they lit the lamp for the evening. They were doing so,
cozily chatting over the fire, after the fashion of a purely feminine
household, when there was a sudden announcement that a gentleman, with
two little boys, wanted to see Miss Williams. He declined to give his
name, and said he would not detain her more than a few minutes.
"Let him come in here," Fortune was just about to say, when she reflected
that it might be some law business which concerned her girls, whom she
had grown so tenderly anxious to save from any trouble and protect from
every care. "No, I will go and speak to him myself."
She rose and walked quietly into the parlor, already shadowed into
twilight: a neat, compact little person, dressed in soft gray homespun,
with a pale pink bow on her throat, and another in her cap—a pretty
little fabric of lace and cambric, which, being now the fashion, her
girls had at last condescended to let her wear. She had on a black silk
apron, with pockets, into one of which she had hastily thrust her work,
and her thimble was yet on her finger. This was the figure on which the
eyes of the gentleman rested as he turned around.
Miss Williams lifted her eyes inquiringly to his face—a bearded face,
thin and dark.
"I beg your pardon, I have not the pleasure of knowing you; I—"
She suddenly stopped. Something in the height, the turn of the head, the
crisp dark hair, in which were not more than a few threads of gray, while
hers had so many now, reminded her of—someone, the bare thought of whom
made her feel dizzy and blind.
"No," he said, "I did not expect you would know me; and indeed, until I
saw you, I was not sure you were the right Miss Williams. Possibly you
may remember my name—Roy, Robert Roy."
Faces alter, manners, gestures; but the one thing which never changes is
a voice. Had Fortune heard this one—ay, at her last dying hour, when
all worldly sounds were fading away—she would have recognized it at
The room being full of shadow, no one could see any thing distinctly; and
it was as well.
In another minute, she had risen, and held out her hand.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Roy. How long have you been in England?
Are these your little boys?"
Without answering, he took her hand—a quiet friendly grasp, just as it
used to be. And so, without another word, the gulf of fifteen—seventeen
years was overleaped, and Robert Roy and Fortune Williams had met once
If anybody had told her when she rose that morning what would happen
before night, and happen so naturally, too, she would have said it was
impossible. That, after a very few minutes, she could have sat there,
talking to him as to any ordinary acquaintance, seemed incredible, yet it
was truly so.
"I was in great doubts whether the Miss Williams who, they told me, lived
here was yourself or some other lady; but I thought I would take the
chance. Because, were it yourself, I thought, for the sake of old times,
you might be willing to advise me concerning my two little boys, whom I
have brought to St. Andrews for their education."
"Your sons, are they?"
"No. I am not married."
There was a pause, and then he told the little fellows to go and look out
of the window, while he talked with Miss Williams. He spoke to them in a
fatherly tone; there was nothing whatever of the young man left in him
now. His voice was sweet, his manner grave, his whole appearance
"They are orphans. Their name is Roy, though they are not my relatives,
or so distant that it matters nothing. But their father was a very good
friend of mine, which matters a great deal. He died suddenly, and his
wife soon after, leaving their affairs in great confusion. Hearing this,
far up in the Australian bush, where I have been a sheep-farmer for some
years, I came round by Shanghai, but too late to do more than take these
younger boys and bring them home. The rest of the family are disposed
of. These two will be henceforward mine. That is all."
A very little "all", and wholly about other people; scarcely a word about
himself. Yet he seemed to think it sufficient, and as if she had no
possible interest in hearing more.
Cursorily he mentioned having received her letter, which was "friendly
and kind;" that it had followed him to Australia, and then back to
Shanghai. But his return home seemed to have been entirely without
reference to it—or to her.
So she let all pass, and accepted things as they were. It was enough.
When a ship-wrecked man sees land—ever so barren a land, ever so
desolate a shore—he does not argue within himself, "Is this my haven?"
he simply puts into it, and lets himself be drifted ashore.
It took but a few minutes more to explain further what Mr. Roy wanted—a
home for his two "poor little fellows."
"They are so young still—and they have lost their mother. They would do
very well in their classes here, if some kind woman would take them and
look after them. I felt, if the Miss Williams I heard of were really the
Miss Williams I used to know, I could trust them to her, more than to any
woman I ever knew."
"Thank you." And then she explained that she had already two girls in
charge. She could say nothing till she had consulted them. In the mean
Just then the bell sounded. The world was going on just as usual—this
strange, commonplace, busy, regardless world!
"I beg your pardon for intruding on your time so long," said Mr. Roy,
rising. "I will leave you to consider the question, and you will let me
know as soon as you can. I am staying at the hotel here, and shall
remain until I can leave my boys settled. Good evening."
Again she felt the grasp of the hand: that ghostly touch, so vivid in
dreams for these years, and now a warm living reality. It was too much.
She could not bear it.
"If you would care to stay," she said—and though it was too dark to see
her, he must have heard the faint tremble in her voice—"our tea is
ready. Let me introduce you to my girls, and they can make friends with
your little boys."
The matter was soon settled, and the little party ushered into the
bright warm parlor, glittering with all the appendages of that pleasant
meal—essentially feminine—a "hungry" tea. Robert Roy put his hand over
his eyes as if the light dazzled him, and then sat down in the arm-chair
which Miss Williams brought forward, turning as he did so to look up at
her—right in her face—with his grave, soft, earnest eyes.
"Thank you. How like that was to your old ways! How very little you are
This was the only reference he made, in the slightest degree, to former
She went out of the room, ostensibly to get a pot of guava jelly for the
boys—found it after some search, and then sat down.
Only in her store closet, with her house-keeping things all about her.
But it was a quiet place, and the door was shut.
There is, in one of those infinitely pathetic Old Testament stories, a
sentence—"And he sought where to weep: and he entered into his chamber
and wept there."
She did not weep, this woman, not a young woman now: she only tried
during her few minutes of solitude to gather up her thoughts, to realize
what had happened to her, and who it was that sat in the next room—under
her roof—at her very fireside. Then she clasped her hands with a sudden
sob, wild as any of the emotions of her girlhood.
"Oh, my love, my love, the love of all my life! Thank God!"
The evening passed, not very merrily, but peacefully; the girls, who had
heard a good deal of Mr. Roy from David Dalziel, doing their best to be
courteous to him, and to amuse his shy little boys. He did not stay
long, evidently having a morbid dread of "intruding," and his manner was
exceedingly reserved, almost awkward sometimes, of which he seemed
painfully conscious, apologizing for being "unaccustomed to civilization
and to ladies' society," having during his life in the bush sometimes
passed months at a time without ever seeing a woman's face.
"And women are your only civilizers," said he. "That is why I wish my
motherless lads to be taken into this household of yours, Miss Williams,
which looks so—so comfortable," and he glanced round the pretty parlor
with something very like a sigh. "I hope you will consider the matter,
and let me know as soon as you have made up your mind."
"Which I will do very soon," she answered.
"Yes, I know you will. And your decision once made, you never change."
"Very seldom. I am not one of those who are 'given to change.'"
He stood a moment, lingering in the pleasant, lightsome warmth, as if
loath to quit it, then took his little boys in either hand and went away.
There was a grand consultation that night, for Miss Williams never did
any thing without speaking to her girls; but still it was merely nominal.
They always left the decision to her. And her heart yearned over the two
little Roys, orphans, yet children still; while Helen and Janetta were
growing up and needing very little from her except a general motherly
supervision. Besides, he asked it. He had said distinctly that she was
the only woman to whom he could thoroughly trust his boys. So—she took
After a few days the new state of things grew so familiar that it seemed
as if it had lasted for months, the young Roys going to and fro to their
classes and their golf-playing, just as the young Dalziels had done; and
Mr. Roy coming about the house, almost daily, exactly as Robert Roy had
used to do of old. Sometimes it was to Fortune Williams the strangest
reflex of former times; only—with a difference.
Unquestionably he was very much changed. In outward appearance more even
than the time accounted for. No man can knock about the world, in
different lands and climates, for seventeen years, without bearing
the marks of it. Though still under fifty, he had all the air of an
"elderly" man, and had grown a little "peculiar" in his ways, his modes
of thought and speech—except that he spoke so very little. He
accounted for this by his long lonely life in Australia, which had
produced, he said, an almost unconquerable habit of silence. Altogether,
he was far more of an old bachelor than she was of an old maid, and
Fortune felt this: felt, too, that in spite of her gray hairs she was in
reality quite as young as he—nay, sometimes younger; for her innocent,
simple, shut-up life had kept her young.
And he, what had his life been, in so far as he gradually betrayed it?
Restless, struggling; a perpetual battle with the world; having to hold
his own, and fight his way inch by inch—he who was naturally a born
student, to whom the whirl of a business career was especially obnoxious.
What had made him choose it? Once chosen, probably he could not help
himself; besides, he was not one to put his shoulder to the wheel and
then draw back. Evidently, with the grain or against the grain, he had
gone on with it; this sad, strange, wandering life, until he had "made
his fortune," for he told her so. But he said no more; whether he meant
to stay at home and spend it, or go out again to the antipodes (and he
spoke of those far lands without any distaste, even with a lingering
kindliness, for indeed he seemed to have no unkindly thought of any place
or person in all the world), his friend did not know.
His friend. That was the word. No other. After her first outburst of
uncontrollable emotion, to call Robert Roy her "love," even in fancy, or
to expect that he would deport himself in any lover-like way, became
ridiculous, pathetically ridiculous. She was sure of that. Evidently no
idea of the kind entered his mind. She was Miss Williams, and he was Mr.
Roy—two middle-aged people, each with their different responsibilities,
their altogether separate lives; and, hard as her own had been, it seemed
as if his had been the harder of the two—ay, though he was now a rich
man, and she still little better than a poor governess.
She did not think very much of worldly things, but still she was aware of
this fact—that he was rich and she was poor. She did not suffer herself
to dwell upon it, but the consciousness was there, sustained with a
certain feeling called "proper pride." The conviction was forced upon
her in the very first days of Mr. Roy's return—that to go back to the
days of their youth was as impossible as to find primroses in September.
If, indeed, there were any thing to go back to. Sometimes she felt, if
she could only have found out that, all the rest would be easy, painless.
If she could only have said to him, "Did you write me the letter you
promised? Did you ever love me"? But that one question was, of course,
utterly impossible. He made no reference whatever to old things, but
seemed resolved to take up the present a very peaceful and happy present
it soon grew to be—just as if there were no past at all. So perforce
But, as I think I have said once before, human nature is weak, and there
were days when the leaves were budding, and the birds singing in the
trees, when the sun was shining and the waves rolling in upon the sands,
just as they rolled in that morning over those two lines of foot-marks,
which might have walked together through life; and who knows what mutual
strength, help, and comfort this might have proved to both?—then it was,
for one at least, rather hard.
Especially when, bit by bit, strange ghostly fragments of his old self
began to re-appear in Robert Roy: his keen delight in nature, his love
of botanical or geological excursions. Often he would go wandering down
the familiar shore for hours in search of marine animals for the girls'
aquarium, and then would come and sit down at their tea-table, reading or
talking, so like the Robert Roy of old that one of the little group, who
always crept in the background, felt dizzy and strange, as if all her
later years had been a dream, and she were living her youth over again,
only with the difference aforesaid: a difference sharp as that between
death and life—yet with something of the peace of death in it.
Sometimes, when they met at the innocent little tea parties which St.
Andrews began to give—for of course in that small community every body
knew every body, and all their affairs to boot, often a good deal better
than they did themselves, so that there was great excitement and no end
of speculation over Mr. Roy—sometimes meeting, as they were sure to do,
and walking home together, with the moonlight shining down the empty
streets, and the stars out by myriads over the silent distant sea, while
the nearer tide came washing in upon the sands—all was so like, so
frightfully like, old times that it was very sore to bear.
But, as I have said, Miss Williams was Miss Williams, and Mr. Roy Mr.
Roy, and there were her two girls always besides them; also his two boys,
who soon took to "Auntie" as naturally as if they were really hers, or
"I think they had better call you so, as the others do," said Mr. Roy one
day. "Are these young ladies really related to you?"
"No; but I promised their father on his death-bed to take charge of them.
That is all."
"He is dead, then. Was he a great friend of yours?"
She felt the blood flashing all over her face, but she answered,
steadily: "Not a very intimate friend, but I respected him exceedingly.
He was a good man. His daughters had a heavy loss when he died, and I
am glad to be a comfort to them so long as they need me."
"I have no doubt of it."
This was the only question he ever asked her concerning her past life,
though, by slow degrees, he told her a good deal of his own. Enough to
make her quite certain, even if her keen feminine instinct had not
already divined the fact, that whatever there might have been in it of
suffering, there was nothing in the smallest degree either to be ashamed
of or to hide. What Robert Roy of Shanghai had written about him had
continued true. As he said one day to her, "We never stand still. We
either grow better or worse. You have not grown worse."
Nor had he. All that was good in him had developed, all his little
faults had toned down. The Robert Roy of today was slightly different
from, but in no wise inferior to, the Robert Roy of her youth. She saw
it, and rejoiced in the seeing.
What he saw in her she could not tell. He seemed determined to rest
wholly in the present, and take out of it all the peace and pleasantness
that he could. In the old days, when the Dalziel boys were naughty, and
Mrs. Dalziel tiresome; and work was hard, and holidays were few, and life
was altogether the rough road that it often seems to the young, he had
once called her "Pleasantness and Peace." He never said so now; but
sometimes he looked it.
Many an evening he came and sat by her fireside, in the arm-chair, which
seemed by right to have devolved upon him; never staying very long, for
he was still nervously sensitive about being "in the way," but making
himself and them all very cheerful and happy while he did stay. Only
sometimes, when Fortune's eyes stole to his face—not a young man's
face now—she fancied she could trace, besides the wrinkles, a sadness,
approaching to hardness, that never used to be. But again, when
interested in some book or other (he said it was delicious to take to
reading again, after the long fast of years), he would look around to her
for sympathy, or utter one of his dry drolleries, the old likeness, the
old manner and tone would come back so vividly that she started, hardly
knowing whether the feeling it gave her was pleasure or pain.
But beneath both, lying so deep down that neither he nor any one could
ever suspect its presence, was something else. Can many waters quench
love? Can the deep sea drown it? What years of silence can wither it?
What frost of age can freeze it down? God only knows.
Hers was not like a girl's love. Those two girls sitting by her day
after day would have smiled at it, and at its object. Between themselves
they considered Mr. Roy somewhat of an "old fogy;" were very glad to make
use of him now and then, in the great dearth of gentlemen at St. Andrews,
and equally glad afterward to turn him over to Auntie, who was always
kind to him. Auntie was so kind to every body.
Kind? Of course she was, and above all when he looked worn and tired.
He did so sometimes: as if life had ceased to be all pleasure, and the
constant mirth of these young folks was just a little too much for him.
Then she ingeniously used to save him from it and them for a while. They
never knew—there was no need for them to know—how tenfold deeper than
all the passion of youth is the tenderness with which a woman cleaves to
the man she loves when she sees him growing old.
Thus the days went by till Easter came, announced by the sudden
apparition, one evening, of David Dalziel.
That young man, when, the very first day of his holidays, he walked in
upon his friends at St. Andrews, and found sitting at their tea-table a
strange gentleman, did not like it at all—scarcely even when he found
out that the intruder was his old friend, Mr. Roy.
"And you never told me a word about this," said he, reproachfully, to
Miss Williams. "Indeed, you have not written to me for weeks; you have
forgotten all about me."
She winced at the accusation, for it was true. Beyond her daily domestic
life, which she still carefully fulfilled, she had in truth forgotten
every thing. Outside people were ceasing to affect her at all. What he
liked, what he wanted to do, day by day—whether he looked ill or well,
happy or unhappy, only he rarely looked either—this was slowly growing
to be once more her whole world. With a sting of compunction, and
another, half of fear, save that there was nothing to dread, nothing that
could affect any body beyond herself—Miss Williams roused herself to
give young Dalziel an especially hearty welcome, and to make his little
visit as happy as possible.
Small need of that; he was bent on taking all things pleasantly. Coming
now near the end of a very creditable college career, being of age and
independent, with the cozy little fortune that his old grandmother had
left him, the young fellow was disposed to see every thing couleur de
rose, and this feeling communicated itself to all his friends.
It was a pleasant time. Often in years to come did that little knot of
friends, old and young, look back upon it as upon one of those rare
bright bits in life when the outside current of things moves smoothly on,
while underneath it there may or may not be, but generally there is, a
secret or two which turns the most trivial events into sweet and dear
David's days being few enough, they took pains not to lose one, but
planned excursions here, there, and every where—to Dundee, to Perth, to
Elie, to Balcarras—all together, children, young folks, and elders: that
admirable melange which generally makes such expeditions "go off" well.
Theirs did, especially the last one, to the old house of Balcarras, where
they got admission to the lovely quaint garden, and Janetta sang "Auld
Robin Gray" on the spot where it was written.
She had a sweet voice, and there seemed to have come into it a pathos
which Fortune had never remarked before. The touching, ever old, ever
new story made the young people quite quiet for a few minutes; and then
they all wandered away together, Helen promising to look after the
two wild young Roys, to see that they did not kill themselves in some
unforeseen way, as, aided and abetted by David and Janetta, they went on
a scramble up Balcarras Hill.
"Will you go too?" said Fortune to Robert Roy. "I have the provisions to
see to; besides, I can not scramble as well as the rest. I am not quite
so young as I used to be."
"Nor I," he answered, as, taking her basket, he walked silently on beside
It was a curious feeling, and all to come out of a foolish song; but if
ever she felt thankful to God from the bottom of her heart that she had
said "No," at once and decisively, to the good man who slept at peace
beneath the church-yard elms, it was at that moment. But the feeling
and the moment passed by immediately. Mr. Roy took up the thread of
conversation where he had left it off—it was some bookish or ethical
argument, such as he would go on with for hours; so she listened to him
in silence. They walked on, the larks singing and the primroses blowing.
All the world was saying to itself, "I am young; I am happy;" but she
said nothing at all.
People grow used to pain; it dies down at intervals, and becomes quite
bearable, especially when no one see it or guesses at it.
They had a very merry picnic on the hilltop, enjoying those mundane
consolations of food and drink which Auntie was expected always to have
forth-coming, and which those young people did by no means despise, nor
Mr. Roy neither. He made himself so very pleasant with them all, looking
thoroughly happy, and baring his head to the spring breeze with the
eagerness of a boy.
"Oh, this is delicious! It makes me feel young again. There's nothing
like home. One thing I am determined upon: I will never quit bonnie
It was the first clear intimation he had given of his intentions
regarding the future, but it thrilled her with measureless content. If
only he would not go abroad again, if she might have him within reach for
the rest of her days—able to see him, to talk to him, to know where he
was and what he was doing, instead of being cut off from him by those
terrible dividing seas—it was enough! Nothing could be so bitter as
what had been; and whatever was the mystery of their youth, which it was
impossible to unravel now—whether he had ever loved, or loved her and
crushed it down and forgotten it, or only felt very kindly and cordially
to her, as he did now, the past was—well, only the past!—and the
future lay still before her, not unsweet. When we are young, we insist
on having every thing or nothing; when we are older, we learn that "every
thing" is an impossible and "nothing" a somewhat bitter word. We are
able to stoop meekly and pick up the fragments of the children's bread,
without feeling ourselves to be altogether "dogs".
Fortune went home that night with a not unhappy, almost a satisfied,
heart. She sat back in the carriage, close beside that other heart which
she believed to be the truest in all the world, though it had never been
hers. There was a tremendous clatter of talking and laughing and fun of
all sorts, between David Dalziel and the little Roys on the box, and the
Misses Moseley sitting just below them, as they had insisted doing, no
doubt finding the other two members of the party a little "slow."
Nevertheless Mr. Roy and Miss Williams took their part in laughing with
their young people, and trying to keep them in order; though after a
while both relapsed into silence. One did at least, for it had been a
long day and she was tired, being, as she had said, "not so young as she
had been." But if any of these lively young people had asked her the
question whether she was happy, or at least contented, she would have
never hesitated about her reply. Young, gay, and prosperous as they
were, I doubt if Fortune Williams would have changed lots with any one of
As it befell, that day at Balcarras was the last of the bright days, in
every sense, for the time being. Wet weather set in, as even the most
partial witness must allow does occasionally happen in Scotland, and the
domestic barometer seemed to go down accordingly. The girls grumbled at
being kept in-doors, and would willingly have gone out golfing under
umbrellas, but Auntie was remorseless. They were delicate girls at best,
so that her watch over them was never-ceasing, and her patience
David Dalziel also was in a very trouble-some mood, quite unusual for
him. He came and went, complained bitterly that the girls were not
allowed to go out with him; abused the place, the climate, and did all
those sort of bearish things which young gentlemen are sometimes in the
habit of doing, when—when that wicked little boy whom they read about at
school and college makes himself known to them as a pleasant, or
Miss Williams, whom, I am afraid, was far too simple a woman for the new
generation, which has become so extraordinarily wise and wide-awake,
opened her eyes and wondered why David was so unlike his usual self. Mr.
Roy, too, to whom he behaved worse than to any one else, only the elder
man quietly ignored it all, and was very patient and gentle with the
restless, ill-tempered boy—Mr. Roy even remarked that he thought David
would be happier at his work again; idling was a bad thing for young
fellows at his age, or any age.
At last it came out, the bitterness which rankled in the poor lad's
breast; with another secret, which, foolish woman that she was, Miss
Williams had never in the smallest degree suspected. Very odd that she
had not, but so it was. We all find it difficult to realize the moment
when our children cease to be children. Still more difficult is it for
very serious and earnest natures to recognize that there are other
natures who take things in a totally different way, and yet it may be the
right and natural way for them. Such is the fact; we must learn it, and
the sooner we learn it, the better.
One day, when the rain had a little abated, David appeared, greatly
disappointed to find the girls had gone out, down to the West Sands with
"Always Mr. Roy! I am sick of his very name," muttered David, and then
caught Miss Williams by the dress as she was rising. She had a gentle
but rather dignified way with her of repressing bad manners in young
people, either by perfect silence, or by putting the door between her
and them. "Don't go! One never can get a quiet word with you, you are
always so preternaturally busy."
It was true. To be always busy was her only shield against—certain
things which the young man was never likely to know, and would not
understand if he did know.
"Do sit down, if you ever can sit down, for a minute," said he,
imploringly; "I want to speak to you seriously, very seriously."
She sat down, a little uneasy. The young fellow was such a good fellow;
and yet he might have got into a scrape of some sort. Debt, perhaps,
for he was a trifle extravagant; but then life had been all roses to
him. He had never known a want since he was born.
"Speak, then, David; I am listening. Nothing very wrong, I hope!" said
she, with a smile.
"Nothing at all wrong, only—When is Mr. Roy going away"?
The question was so unexpected that she felt her color changing a little;
not much, she was too old for that.
"Mr. Roy leaving St. Andrews, you mean? How can I tell? He has never
told me. Why do you ask?"
"Because until he gone, I stay," said the young man, doggedly. "I'm not
going back to Oxford leaving him master of the field. I have stood him
as long as I possibly can, and I'll not stand him any longer."
"David! you forget yourself."
"There—now you are offended; I know you are, when you draw yourself up
in that way, my dear little auntie. But just hear me. You are such an
innocent woman, you don't know the world as men do. Can't you see—no,
of course you can't—that very soon all St. Andrews will be talking about
"Not about you exactly, but about the family. A single man—a marrying
man, as all the world says he is, or ought to be, with his money—can not
go in and out, like a tame cat, in a household of women, without having,
or being supposed to have—ahem!—intentions. I assure you"—and he
swung himself on the arm of her chair, and looked into her face with an
angry earnestness quite unmistakable—"I assure you, I never go into the
club without being asked, twenty times a day, which of the Miss Moseleys
Mr. Roy is going to marry."
"Which of the Miss Moseleys Mr. Roy is going to marry!"
She repeated the words, as if to gain time and to be certain she heard
them rightly. No fear of her blushing now; every pulse in her heart
stood dead still; and then she nerved herself to meet the necessity of
"David, you surely do not consider what you are saying. This is a most
"It is a most extraordinary idea; in fact, I call it ridiculous,
monstrous: an old battered fellow like him, who has knocked about the
world, Heaven knows where, all these years, to come home, and, because he
has got a lot of money, think to go and marry one of these nice, pretty
girls. They wouldn't have him, I believe that; but nobody else believes
it; and every body seems to think it the most natural thing possible.
What do you say?"
"Surely you don't think it right, or even possible? But, Auntie, it
might turn out a rather awkward affair, and you ought to take my advice,
and stop it in time."
"Why, by stepping him out of the house. You and he are great friends: if
he had any notion of marrying, I suppose he would mention it to you—he
ought. It would be a cowardly trick to come and steal one of your
chickens from under your wing. Wouldn't it? Do say something, instead
of merely echoing what I say. It really is a serious matter, though you
don't think so."
"Yes, I do think so," said Miss Williams, at last; "and I would stop it
if I thought I had any right. But Mr. Roy is quite able to manage his
own affairs; and he is not so very old—not more than five-and-twenty
years older than—Helen."
"Bother Helen! I beg her pardon, she is a dear good girl. But do you
think any man would look at Helen when there was Janetta?"
It was out now, out with a burning blush over all the lad's honest
face, and the sudden crick-crack of a pretty Indian paper-cutter he
unfortunately was twiddling in his fingers. Miss Williams must have been
blind indeed not to have guessed the state of the case.
"What! Janetta? Oh, David!" was all she said.
He nodded. "Yes, that's it, just it. I thought you must have found it
out long ago: though I kept myself to myself pretty close, still you
might have guessed."
"I never did. I had not the remotest idea. Oh, how remiss I have been!
It is all my fault."
"Excuse me, I can not see that it is any body's fault, or any body's
misfortune, either," said the young fellow, with a not unbecoming pride.
"I hope I should not be a bad husband to any girl, when it comes to that.
But it has not come; I have never said a single word to her. I wanted to
be quite clear of Oxford, and in a way to win my own position first. And
really we are so very jolly together as it is. What are you smiling
She could not help it. There was something so funny in the whole affair.
They seemed such babies, playing at love; and their love-making, if such
it was, had been carried on in such an exceedingly open and lively way,
not a bit of tragedy about it, rather genteel comedy, bordering on farce.
It was such a contrast to—certain other love stories that she had known,
quite buried out of sight now.
Gentle "Auntie"—the grave maiden lady, the old hen with all these young
ducklings who would take to the water so soon—held out her hand to the
"I don't know what to say to you, my boy: you really are little more than
a boy, and to be taking upon yourself the responsibilities of life so
soon! Still, I am glad you have said nothing to her about it yet. She is
a mere child, only eighteen."
"Quite old enough to marry, and to marry Mr. Roy even, the St. Andrews
folks think. But I won't stand it. I won't tamely sit by and see her
sacrificed. He might persuade her; he has a very winning way with him
sometimes. Auntie, I have not spoken, but I won't promise not to speak.
It is all very well for you; you are old, and your blood runs cold, as
you said to us one day—no, I don't mean that; you are a real brick
still, and you'll never be old to us, but you are not in love, and you
can't understand what it is to be a young fellow like me to see an old
fellow like Roy coming in and just walking over the course. But he
sha'nt do it! Long ago, when I was quite a lad, I made up my mind to
get her; and get her I will, spite of Mr. Roy or any body."
Fortune was touched. That strong will which she too had had, able, like
faith, to "remove mountains," sympathized involuntarily with the lad. It
was just what she would have said and done, had she been a man and loved
a woman. She gave David's hand a warm clasp, which he returned.
"Forgive me," said he, affectionately. "I did not mean to bother you;
but as things stand, the matter is better out than in. I hate
underhandedness. I may have made an awful fool of myself, but at least I
have not made a fool of her. I have been as careful as possible not to
compromise her in any way; for I know how people do talk, and a man has
no right to let the girl he loves be talked about. The more he loves
her, the more he ought to take care of her. Don't you think so?"
"I'd cut myself up into little pieces for Janetta's sake," he went on,
"and I'd do a deal for Helen too, the sisters are so fond of one another.
She shall always have a home with us, when we are married."
"Then," said Miss Williams, hardly able again to resist a smile, "you are
quite certain you will be married? You have no doubt about her caring
David pulled his whiskers, not very voluminous yet, looked conscious, and
"Well, I don't exactly say that. I know I'm not half good enough for
her. Still, I thought, when I had taken my degree and fairly settled
myself at the bar, I'd try. I have a tolerably good income of my own
too, though of course I am not as well off as that confounded Roy. There
he is at this minute meandering up and down the West Sands with those two
girls, setting every body's tongue going! I can't stand it. I declare
to you I won't stand it another day."
"Stop a moment," and she caught hold of David as he started up. "What
are you going to do?"
"I don't know and I don't care, only I won't have my girl talked
about—my pretty, merry, innocent girl. He ought to know better, a
shrewd old fellow like him. It is silly, selfish, mean."
This was more than Miss Williams could bear. She stood up, pale to the
lips, but speaking strongly, almost fiercely:
"You ought to know better, David Dalziel. You ought to know that Mr. Roy
had not an atom of selfishness or meanness in him—that he would be the
last man in the world to compromise any girl. If he chooses to marry
Janetta, or any one else, he has a perfect right to do it, and I for one
will not try to hinder him."
"Then you will not stand by me any more?"
"Not if you are blind and unfair. You may die of love, though I don't
think you will; people don't do it nowadays" (there was a slightly bitter
jar in the voice): "but love ought to make you all the more honorable,
clear-sighted, and just. And as to Mr. Roy—"
She might have talked to the winds, for David was not listening. He had
heard the click of the garden gate, and turned round with blazing eyes.
"There he is again! I can't stand it, Miss Williams. I give you fair
warning I can't stand it. He has walked home with them, and is waiting
about at the laurel bush, mooning after them. Oh, hang him!"
Before she had time to speak the young man was gone. But she had no fear
of any very tragic consequences when she saw the whole party standing
together—David talking to Janetta, Mr. Roy to Helen, who looked so
fresh, so young, so pretty, almost as pretty as Janetta. Nor did Mr.
Roy, pleased and animated, look so very old.
That strange clear-sightedness, that absolute justice, of which Fortune
had just spoken, were qualities she herself possessed to a remarkable,
almost a painful, degree. She could not deceive herself, even if she
tried. The more cruel the sight, the clearer she saw it; even as now she
perceived a certain naturalness in the fact that a middle-aged man so
often chooses a young girl in preference to those of his own generation,
for she brings him that which he has not; she reminds him of what he used
to have; she is to him like the freshness of spring, the warmth of
summer, in his cheerless autumn days. Sometimes these marriages are not
unhappy—far from it; and Robert Roy might ere long make such a marriage.
Despite poor David's jealous contempt, he was neither old nor ugly, and
then he was rich.
The thing, either as regarded Helen, or some other girl of Helen's
standing, appeared more than possible—probable; and if so, what then?
Fortune looked out once, and saw that the little group at the laurel bush
were still talking; then she slipped up stairs into her own room and
bolted the door.
The first thing that she did was to go straight up and look at her own
face in the glass—her poor old face, which had never been beautiful,
which she had never wished beautiful, except that it might be pleasant
in one man's eyes. Sweet it was still, but the sweetness lay in its
expression, pure and placid, and innocent as a young girl's. But she saw
not that; she saw only its lost youth, its faded bloom. She covered it
over with both her hands, as if she would fain bury it out of sight;
knelt down by her bedside, and prayed.
"Mr. Roy is waiting below ma'am—has been waiting some time; but he says
if you are busy he will not disturb you; he will come to-morrow instead."
"Tell him I shall be very glad to see him to-morrow."
She spoke through the locked door, too feeble to rise and open it; and
then lying down on her bed and turning her face to the wall, from sheer
exhaustion fell fast asleep.
People dream strangely sometimes. The dream she dreamt was so
inexpressibly soothing and peaceful, so entirely out of keeping with the
reality of things, that it almost seemed to have been what in ancient
times would be called a vision.
First, she thought that she and Robert Roy were little children—mere
girl and boy together, as they might have been from the few years'
difference in their ages—running hand in hand about the sands of St.
Andrews, and so fond of one another—so very fond! With that innocent
love a big boy often has for a little girl, and a little girl returns
with the tenderest fidelity. So she did; and she was so happy—they were
both so happy. In the second part of the dream she was happy still, but
somehow she knew she was dead—had been dead and in paradise for a long
time, and was waiting for him to come there. He was coming now; she felt
him coming, and held out her hands, but he took and clasped her in his
arms; and she heard a voice saying those mysterious words: "In heaven
they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of
It was very strange, all was very strange, but it comforted her. She
rose up, and in the twilight of the soft spring evening she washed her
face and combed her hair, and went down, like King David after his child
was dead, to "eat bread."
Her young people were not there. They had gone out again; she heard,
with Mr. Dalziel, not Mr. Roy, who had sat reading in the parlor alone
for upward of an hour. They were supposed to be golfing, but they staid
out till long after it was possible to see balls or holes; and Miss
Williams was beginning to be a little uneasy, when they all three walked
in, David and Janetta with a rather sheepish air, and Helen beaming all
over with mysterious delight.
How the young man had managed it—to propose to two sisters at once, at
any rate to make love to one sister while the other was by—remained
among the wonderful feats which David Dalziel, who had not too small an
opinion of himself, was always ready for, and generally succeeded in; and
if he did wear his heart somewhat "on his sleeve," why, it was a very
honest heart, and they must have been ill-natured "daws" indeed who took
pleasure in "pecking at it."
"Wish me joy, Auntie!" he cried, coming forward, beaming all over, the
instant the girls had disappeared to take their hats off. "I've been and
gone and done it, and it's all right. I didn't intend it just yet, but
he drove me to it, for which I'm rather obliged to him. He can't get her
now. Janetta's mine!"
There was a boyish triumph in his air; in fact, his whole conduct was
exceedingly juvenile, but so simple, frank, and sincere as to be quite
I fear Miss Williams was a very weak-minded woman, or would be so
considered by a great part of the world—the exceedingly wise and prudent
and worldly-minded "world." Here were two young people, one twenty-two,
the other eighteen, with—it could hardly be said "not a half-penny,"
but still a very small quantity of half-pennies, between them—and they
had not only fallen in love, but engaged themselves to married! She ought
to have been horrified, to have severely reproached them for their
imprudence, used all her influence and, if needs be, her authority, to
stop the whole thing; advising David not to bind himself to any girl till
he was much older, and his prospects secured; and reasoning with Janetta
on the extreme folly of a long engagement, and how very much better it
would be for her to pause, and make some "good" marriage with a man of
wealth and position, who could keep her comfortably.
All this, no doubt, was what a prudent and far-seeing mother or friend
ought to have said and done. Miss Williams did no such thing, and said
not a single word. She only kissed her "children"—Helen too, whose
innocent delight was the prettiest thing to behold—then sat down and
made tea for them all, as if nothing had happened.
But such events do not happen without making a slight stir in a family,
especially such a quiet family as that at the cottage. Besides, the
lovers were too childishly happy to be at all reticent over their
felicity. Before David was turned away that night to the hotel which he
and Mr. Roy both inhabited, every body in the house knew quite well that
Mr. Dalziel and Miss Janetta were to be married.
And every body had of course suspected it long ago, and was not in the
least surprised, so that the mistress of the household herself was half
ashamed to confess how very much surprised she had been. However, as
every body seemed delighted, for most people have a "sneaking kindness"
toward young lovers, she kept her own counsel; smiled blandly over her
old cook's half-pathetic congratulations to the young couple, who were
"like the young bears, with all their troubles before them," and laughed
at the sympathetic forebodings of the girls' faithful maid, a rather
elderly person, who was supposed to have been once "disappointed," and
who "hoped Mr. Dalziel was not too young to know his own mind." Still,
in spite of all, the family were very much delighted, and not a little
David walked in, master of the position now, directly after breakfast,
and took the sisters out for a walk, both of them, declaring he was as
much encumbered as if he were going to marry two young ladies at once,
but bearing his lot with great equanimity. His love-making indeed was so
extraordinarily open and undisguised that it did not much matter who was
by. And Helen was of that sweet negative nature that seemed made for the
express purpose of playing "gooseberry."
Directly they had departed, Mr. Roy came in.
He might have been a far less acute observer than he was not to detect at
once that "something had happened" in the little family. Miss Williams
kept him waiting several minutes, and when she did come in her manner
was nervous and agitated. They spoke about the weather and one or two
trivial things, but more than once Fortune felt him looking at her with
that keen, kindly observation which had been sometimes, during all these
weeks now running into months, of almost daily meeting, and of the
closest intimacy—a very difficult thing to bear.
He was exceedingly kind to her always; there was no question of that.
Without making any show of it, he seemed always to know where she was
and what she was doing. Nothing ever lessened his silent care of her.
If ever she wanted help, there he was to give it. And in all their
excursions she had a quiet conviction that whoever forgot her or her
comfort, he never would. But then it was his way. Some men have eyes
and ears for only one woman, and that merely while they happen to be in
love with her; whereas Robert Roy was courteous and considerate to every
woman, even as he was kind to every weak or helpless creature that
crossed his path.
Evidently he perceived that all was not right; and, though he said
nothing, there was a tenderness in his manner which went to her heart.
"You are not looking well to-day; should you not go out?" he said. "I
met all your young people walking off to the sands: they seemed
Fortune was much perplexed. She did not like not to tell him the
news—him, who had so completely established himself as a friend of the
family. And yet to tell him was not exactly her place; besides, he might
not care to hear. Old maid as she was, or thought herself, Miss Williams
knew enough of men not to fall into the feminine error of fancying they
feel as we do—that their world is our world, and their interest our
interest. To most men, a leader in the Times, an article in the
Quarterly, or a fall in the money market is of far more importance than
any love affair in the world, unless it happens to be their own.
Why should I tell him? she thought, convinced that he noticed the anxiety
in her eyes, the weariness at her heart. She had passed an almost
sleepless night, pondering over the affairs of these young people, who
never thought of any thing beyond their own new-born happiness. And
she had perplexed herself with wondering whether in consenting to this
engagement she was really doing her duty by her girls, who had no one but
her, and whom she was so tender of, for their dead father's sake. But
what good was it to say any thing? She must bear her own burden. And
Robert Roy looked at her with his kind, half-amused smile.
"You had better tell me all about it; for, indeed, I know already."
"What! did you guess it?"
"Perhaps. But Dalziel came to my room last night and poured out
everything. He is a candid youth. Well, and am I to congratulate?"
Greatly relieved, Fortune looked up.
"That's right," he said; "I like to see you smile. A minute or two ago
you seemed as if you had the cares of all the world on your shoulders.
No, that is not exactly the truth. Always meet the truth face to face,
and don't be frightened by it."
Ah, no. If she had had that strong heart to lean on, that tender hand to
help her through the world, she never would have been "frightened" at any
"I know I am very foolish," she said; "but there are many things which
these children of mine don't see, and I can't help seeing."
"Certainly; they are young, and we are—well, never mind. Sit down here,
and let you and me talk the matter quietly over. On the whole, are you
glad or sorry?"
"Both, I think. David is able to take care of himself; but poor little
Janetta—my Janetta—what if he should bring her to poverty? He is a
little reckless about money, and has only a very small certain income.
Worse; suppose being so young, he should by-and-by get tired of her, and
neglect her, and break her heart?"
"Or twenty other things which may happen, or may not, and of which they
must take the chance, like their neighbors. You do not believe very much
in men, I see, and perhaps you are right. We are a bad lot—a bad lot.
But David Dalziel is as good as most of us, that I can assure you."
She could hardly tell whether he was in jest or earnest; but this was
certain, he meant to cheer and comfort her, and she took the comfort,
and was thankful.
"Now to the point," continued Mr. Roy. "You feel that, in a worldly
point of view, these two have done a very foolish thing, and you have
aided and abetted them in doing it?"
"Not so," she cried, laughing; "I had no idea of such a thing till David
told me yesterday morning of his intentions."
"Yes, and he explained to me why he told you, and why he dared not wait
any longer. He blurts out every thing, the foolish boy! But he has made
friends with me now. They do seem such children, do they not, compared
with old folks like you and me?"
What was it in the tone or the words which made her feel not in the least
vexed, nor once attempt to rebut the charge of being "old?"
"I'll tell you what it is," said Robert Roy, with one of his sage smiles,
"you must not go and vex yourself needlessly about trifles. We should
not judge other people by ourselves. Every body is so different.
Dalziel may make his way all the better for having that pretty creature
for a wife, not but what some other pretty creature might soon have done
just as well. Very few men have tenacity of nature enough, if they can
not get the one woman they love, to do without any other to the end of
their days. But don't be disappointed yourself about your girl. David
will make her a very good husband. They will be happy enough, even
though not very rich."
"Does that matter much?"
"I used to think so. I had so sore a lesson of poverty in my youth, that
it gave me an almost morbid terror of it, not for myself, but for any
woman I cared for. Once I would not have done as Dalziel has for the
world. Now I have changed my mind. At any rate, David will not have one
misfortune to contend with. He has a thoroughly good opinion of himself,
poor fellow! He will not suffer from that horrible self-distrust which
makes some men let themselves drift on and on with the tide, instead of
taking the rudder into their own hands and steering straight on—direct
for the haven where they would be. Oh, that I had done it."
He spoke passionately, and then sat silent. At last, muttering something
about "begging her pardon," and "taking a liberty," he changed the
conversation into another channel, by asking whether this marriage, when
it happened—which, of course could not be just immediately—would make
any difference to her circumstances.
Some difference, she explained, because the girls would receive their
little fortunes whenever they came of age or married, and the sisters
would not like to be parted; besides, Helen's money would help the
establishment. Probably, whenever David married, he would take them
both away; indeed, he had said as much.
"And then shall you stay on here?"
"I may, for I have a small income of my own; besides, there are your two
little boys, and I might find two or three more. But I do not trouble
myself much about the future. One thing is certain, I need never work
as hard as I have done all my life."
"Have you worked so very hard, then, my poor—"
He left the sentence unfinished; his hand, half extended, was drawn back,
for the three young people were seen coming down the garden, followed by
the two boys, returning from their classes. It was nearly dinner-time,
and people must dine, even though in love; and boys must be kept to
their school work, and all the daily duties of life must be done. Well,
perhaps, for many of us, that such should be! I think it was as well for
poor Fortune Williams.
The girls had come in wet through, with one of those sudden "haars" which
are not uncommon at St. Andrews in spring, and it seemed likely to last
all day. Mr. Roy looked out of the window at it with a slightly dolorous
"I suppose I am rather de trop here, but really I wish you would not
turn me out. In weather like this our hotel coffee-room is just a trifle
dull, isn't it, Dalziel? And, Miss Williams, your parlor looks so
comfortable. Will you let me stay?"
He made the request with a simplicity quite pathetic. One of the most
lovable things about this man—is it not in all men?—was, that with all
his shrewdness and cleverness, and his having been knocked up and down
the world for so many years, he still kept a directness and simpleness of
character almost child-like.
To refuse would have been unkind, impossible; so Miss Williams told him
he should certainly stay if he could make himself comfortable. And to
that end she soon succeeded in turning off her two turtle-doves into a
room by themselves, for the use of which they had already bargained,
in order to "read together, and improve their minds." Meanwhile she
and Helen tried to help the two little boys to spend a dull holiday
indoors—if they were ever dull beside Uncle Robert, who had not lost
his old influence with boys, and to those boys was already a father in
all but the name.
Often Fortune watched them, sitting upon his chair, hanging about him as
he walked, coming to him for sympathy in every thing. Yes, every body
loved him, for there was such an amount of love in him toward every
mortal creature, except—
She looked at him and his boys, then turned away. What was to be had
been, and always would be. That which we fight against in our youth as
being human will, human error, in our age we take humbly, knowing it to
be the will of God.
By-and-by in the little household the gas was lighted, the curtains
drawn, and the two lovers fetched in for tea, to behave themselves as
much as they could like ordinary mortals, in general society, for the
rest of the evening. A very pleasant evening it was, spite of this new
element; which was got rid of as much as possible by means of the window
recess, where Janetta and David encamped composedly, a little aloof from
"I hope they don't mind me," said Mr. Roy, casting an amused glance in
their direction, and then adroitly maneuvering with the back of his chair
so as to interfere as little as possible with the young couple's
"Oh no, they don't mind you at all," answered Helen, always affectionate,
if not always wise. "Besides, I dare say you yourself were young once,
Evidently Helen had no idea of the plans for her future which were being
talked about in St. Andrews. Had he? No one could even speculate with
such an exceedingly reserved person. He retired behind his newspaper,
and said not a single word.
Nevertheless, there was no cloud in the atmosphere. Every body was used
to Mr. Roy's silence in company. And he never troubled any body, not
even the children, with either a gloomy look or a harsh word. He was so
comfortable to live with, so unfailingly sweet and kind.
Although there was a strange atmosphere of peace in the cottage that
evening, though nobody seemed to do any thing or say very much. Now and
then Mr. Roy read aloud bits out of his endless newspapers—he had a
truly masculine mania for newspapers, and used to draw one after another
out of his pockets, as endless as a conjurer's pocket-handkerchiefs. And
he liked to share their contents with any body that would listen; though
I am afraid nobody did listen much to-night except Miss Williams, who sat
beside him at her sewing, in order to get the benefit of the same lamp.
And between his readings he often turned and looked at her, her bent
head, her smooth soft hair, her busy hands.
Especially after one sentence, out of the "Varieties" of some Fife
newspaper. He had begun to read it, then stopped suddenly, but finished
it. It consisted only of a few words: "'Young love is passionate, old
love is faithful; but the very tenderest thing in all this world is a
love revived.' That is true."
He said only those three words, in a very low, quiet voice, but Fortune
heard. His look she did not see, but she felt it—even as a person long
kept in darkness might feel a sunbeam strike along the wall, making it
seem possible that there might be somewhere in the earth such a thing as
About nine P.M. the lovers in the window recess discovered that the haar
was all gone, and that it was a most beautiful moonlight night; full
moon, the very night they had planned to go in a body to the top of St.
"I suppose they must," said Mr. Roy to Miss Williams; adding, "Let the
young folks make the most of their youth; it never will come again."
"And you and I must go too. It will be more comme il faut, as people
So, with a half-regretful look at the cozy fire, Mr. Roy marshaled the
lively party, Janetta and David, Helen and the two boys; engaging to get
them the key of that silent garden of graves over which St. Regulus tower
keeps stately watch. How beautiful it looked, with the clear sky shining
through its open arch, and the brilliant moonlight, bright as day almost,
but softer, flooding every alley of that peaceful spot! It quieted even
the noisy party who were bent on climbing the tower, to catch a view,
such as is rarely equaled, of the picturesque old city and its beautiful
"A 'comfortable place to sleep in,' as some one once said to me in a
Melbourne church-yard. But 'east or west, home is best.—I think, Bob,
I shall leave it in my will that you are to bury me at St. Andrews.'"
"Nonsense, Uncle Robert! You are not to talk of dying. And you are to
come with us up to the top of the tower. Miss Williams, will you come
"No, I think she had better not," said Uncle Robert, decisively. "She
will stay here, and I will keep her company."
So the young people all vanished up the tower, and the two elders walked
silently side by side the quiet graves—by the hearts which had ceased
beating, the hands which, however close they lay, would never clasp one
another any more.
"Yes, St. Andrews is a pleasant place," said Robert Roy at last. "I
spoke in jest, but I meant in earnest; I have no wish to leave it again.
And you," he added, seeing that she answered nothing—"what plans have
you? Shall you stay on at the cottage till these young people are
"Most likely. We are all fond of the little house."
"No wonder. They say a wandering life after a certain number of years
unsettles a man forever; he rests nowhere, but goes on wandering to the
end. But I feel just the contrary. I think I shall stay permanently at
St. Andrews. You will let me come about your cottage, 'like a tame cat,'
as that foolish fellow owned he had called me—will you not?"
But at the same time she felt there was a strain beyond which she could
not bear. To be so near, yet so far; so much to him, and yet so little.
She was conscious of a wild desire to run away somewhere—run away and
escape it all; of a longing to be dead and buried, deep in the sea, up
away among the stars.
"Will those young people be very long, do you think?"
At the sound of her voice he turned to look at her, and saw that she was
deadly pale, and shivering from head to foot.
"This will never do. You must 'come under my plaidie,' as the children
say, and I will take you home at once. Boys!" he called out to the
figures now appearing like jackdaws at the top of the tower, "we are
going straight home. Follow us as soon as you like. Yes, it must be
so," he answered to the slight resistance she made. "They must all take
care of themselves. I mean to take care of you."
Which he did, wrapping her well in the half of his plaid, drawing her
hand under his arm and holding it there—holding it close and warm at
his heart all the way along the Scores and across the Links, scarcely
speaking a single word until they reached the garden gate. Even there
he held it still.
"I see your girls coming, so I shall leave you. You are warm now, are
"Good-night, then. Stay. Tell me"—he spoke rapidly, and with much
agitation—"tell me just one thing, and I will never trouble you again.
Why did you not answer a letter I wrote to you seventeen years ago?"
"I never got any letter. I never had one word from you after the Sunday
you bade me good-by, promising to write."
"And I did write," cried he, passionately. "I posted it with my own
hands. You should have got it on the Tuesday morning."
She leaned against the laurel bush, that fatal laurel bush, and in a few
breathless words told him what David had said about the hidden letter.
"It must have been my letter. Why did you not tell me this before?"
"How could I? I never knew you had written. You never said a word. In
all these years you have never said a single word."
Bitterly, bitterly he turned away. The groan that escaped him—a man's
groan over his lost life—lost, not wholly through fate alone—was such
as she, the woman whose portion had been sorrow, passive sorrow only,
never forgot in all her days.
"Don't mind it," she whispered—"don't mind it. It is so long past now."
He made no immediate answer, then said,
"Have you no idea what was in the letter?"
"It was to ask you a question, which I had determined not to ask just
then, but I changed my mind. The answer, I told you, I should wait for
in Edinburgh seven days; after that, I should conclude you meant No, and
sail. No answer came, and I sailed."
He was silent. So was she. A sense of cruel fatality came over her.
Alas! those lost years, that might have been such happy years! At length
she said, faintly, "Forget it. It was not your fault."
"It was my fault. If not mine, you were still yourself—I ought never to
have let you go. I ought to have asked again; to have sought through the
whole world till I found you again. And now that I have found you—"
"Hush! The girls are here."
They came along laughing, that merry group—with whom life was at its
spring—who had lost nothing, knew not what it was to lose!
"Good-night," said Mr. Roy, hastily. "But—to-morrow morning?"
"There never is night to which comes no morn," says the proverb. Which
is not always true, at least as to this world; but it is true sometimes.
That April morning Fortune Williams rose with a sense of strange
solemnity—neither sorrow nor joy. Both had gone by; but they had left
behind them a deep peace.
After her young people had walked themselves off, which they did
immediately after breakfast, she attended to all her household duties,
neither few nor small, and then sat down with her needle-work beside the
open window. It was a lovely day; the birds were singing, the leaves
budding, a few early flowers making all the air to smell like spring.
And she—with her it was autumn now. She knew it, but still she did not
Presently, walking down the garden walk, almost with the same firm step
of years ago—how well she remembered it!—Robert Roy came; but it was
still a few minutes before she could go into the little parlor to meet
him. At last she did, entering softly, her hand extended as usual. He
took it, also as usual, and then looked down into her face, as he had
done that Sunday. "Do you remember this? I have kept it for seventeen
It was her mother's ring. She looked up with a dumb inquiry.
"My love, did you think I did not love you?—you always, and only you?"
So saying, he opened his arms; she felt them close round her, just as in
her dream. Only they were warm, living arms; and it was this world, not
the next. All those seventeen bitter years seemed swept away,
annihilated in a moment; she laid her head on his shoulder and wept out
her happy heart there.
* * * * * *
The little world of St. Andrews was very much astonished when it
learned that Mr. Roy was going to marry, not one of the pretty Miss
Moseleys, but their friend and former governess, a lady, not by any
means young, and remarkable for nothing except great sweetness and
good sense, which made every body respect and like her; though nobody
was much excited concerning her. Now people had been excited about
Mr. Roy, and some were rather sorry for him; thought perhaps he had
been taken in, till some story got wind of its having been an "old
attachment," which interested them of course; still, the good folks were
half angry with him. To go and marry an old maid when he might have
had his choice of half a dozen young ones! when, with his fortune and
character, he might, as people say—as they had said of that other good
man, Mr. Moseley—"have married any body!"
They forgot that Mr. Roy happened to be one of those men who have no
particular desire to marry "any body;" to whom the woman, whether
found early or late—alas! in this case found early and won late—is the
one woman in the world forever. Poor Fortune—rich Fortune! she need not
be afraid of her fading cheek, her silvering hair; he would never see
either. The things he loved her for were quite apart from any thing that
youth could either give or take away. As he said one, when she lamented
hers, "Never mind, let it go. You will always be yourself—and mine."
This was enough. He loved her. He had always loved her: she had no
fear but that he would love her faithfully to the end.
Theirs was a very quiet wedding, and a speedy one. "Why should they
wait? they had waited too long already," he said, with some bitterness.
But she felt none. With her all was peace.
Mr. Roy did another very foolish thing which I can not conscientiously
recommend to any middle-aged bachelor. Besides marrying his wife, he
married her whole family. There was no other way out of the difficulty,
and neither of them was inclined to be content with happiness, leaving
duty unfulfilled. So he took the largest house in St. Andrews, and
brought to it Janetta and Helen, till David Dalziel could claim them;
likewise his own two orphan boys, until they went to Oxford; for he
meant to send them there, and bring them up in every way like his own
Meantime, it was rather a heterogeneous family; but the two heads of it
bore their burden with great equanimity, nay, cheerfulness; saying
sometimes, with a smile which had the faintest shadow of pathos in it,
"that they liked to have young life about them."
And by degrees they grew younger themselves; less of the old bachelor
and old maid, and more of the happy middle-aged couple to whom
Heaven gave, in their decline, a St. Martin's summer almost as sweet as
spring. They were both too wise to poison the present by regretting the
past—a past which, if not wholly, was partly, at least, owing to that
strange fatality which governs so many lives, only some have the will to
conquer it, others not. And there are two sides to every thing: Robert
Roy, who alone knew how hard his own life had been, sometimes felt a
stern joy in thinking no one had shared it.
Still, for a long time there lay at the bottom of that strong, gentle
heart of his a kind of remorseful tenderness, which showed itself in
heaping his wife with every luxury that his wealth could bring; better
than all, in surrounding her with that unceasing care which love alone
teaches, never allowing the wind to blow on her too roughly—his "poor
lamb," as he sometime called her, who had suffered so much.
They are sure, humanly speaking, to "live very happy to the end of their
days." And I almost fancy sometimes, if I were to go to St. Andrews, as
I hope to do many a time, for I am as fond of the Aged City as they are,
that I should see those two, made one at last after all those cruel
divided years, wandering together along the sunshiny sands, or standing
to watch the gay golfing parties; nay, I am not sure that Robert Roy
would not be visible sometimes in his red coat, club in hand, crossing
the Links, a victim to the universal insanity of St. Andrews, yet
enjoying himself, as golfers always seem to do, with the enjoyment of a
She is not a girl, far from it; but there will always be a girlish
sweetness in her faded face till its last smile. And to see her sitting
beside her husband on the green slopes of the pretty garden—knitting,
perhaps while he reads his eternal newspapers—is a perfect picture.
They do not talk very much; indeed, they were neither of them ever great
talkers. But each knows the other is close at hand, ready for any
needful word, and always ready with that silent sympathy which is so
mysterious a thing, the rarest thing to find in all human lives. These
have found it, and are satisfied. And day by day truer grows the truth
of that sentence which Mrs. Roy once discovered in her husband's
pocket-book, cut out of a newspaper—she read and replaced it without a
word, but with something between a smile and tear—"Young love is
passionate, old love is faithful; but the very tenderest thing in all
this world is a love revived."