DINAH MARIA MULOCK CRAIK
Author of John Halifax, Gentleman,
&c., &c., &c.
New York Harper & Brothers,
Publishers Franklin Square.
Inscribed affectionately to
John and Lucy
"So I will do my best a gude wife to be,
For Auld Robin Grey is vera kind to me."
"I think this will do, my dear; just listen;" and in a mysterious half
whisper, good Mrs. Ferguson, wife of James Ferguson, the well-to-do
silversmith and jeweler, of High Street, Avonsbridge, read aloud from
the sheet of paper in her hand:
"'On the 21st instant, at the University Church, Avonsbridge, by the
Reverend John Smith, the Reverend Arnold Grey, D.D., Master of
Saint Bede's College, Avonsbridge, to Christian, only child of the late
Edward Oakley, Esq., of that place.' Will it do? Because, if so, James
will send it to 'The Times' at once."
"Better ask Dr. Grey first," answered the bride.
As she spoke, Dr. Grey turned round from the window where he had
been conversing—that is, responding to conversation—with Mr.
Ferguson, chiefly on the weather; for it was a snowy December day.
This precise moment, half an hour after his marriage—his second
marriage—is hardly a fair time to describe Dr. Arnold Grey; suffice it to
say that he was a gentleman apparently about forty-five, rather low in
stature, and spare in figure, with hair already thin and iron-gray. The
twenty-five years between him and his newly-married wife showed
plainly—only too plainly—as she stood, in all her gracefulness of
girlhood, which even her extreme pallor and a certain sharp, worn,
unnaturally composed look could not destroy. He seemed struck by
this. His face clouded over for a minute, and he slightly sighed. But
the pain, whatever it was, was only momentary. He looked like a man
who was not in the habit of acting hastily or impulsively—who never
did any thing without having previously fully counted the cost.
"What were you saying, Mrs. Ferguson?" said he, addressing her with
the grave and somewhat formal politeness which was his natural
manner, but which always somewhat awed that rather vulgar, though
kind-hearted and well-meaning woman.
She put the paper into his hands. "It's the notice for 'The Times;' James
and I made it up last night. James thought it would save you trouble,
master—" Mrs. Ferguson always hesitated between this common
University custom of address and plain, "Dr. Grey."
"Thank you; Mr. Ferguson is always kind," returned the Master of Saint
"You see," continued Mrs. Ferguson, lowering her tone to a
confidential whisper, "I thought it was better only to put 'Edward
Oakley, Esq.,' and nothing more. Wouldn't you like it to be so, sir?"
"I should like it to be exactly as—" he paused, and the color rushed
violently over his thin, worn, and yet sensitive face, as sensitive as
if he had been a young man still—"exactly as Mrs. Grey pleases."
Mrs. Grey! At the sound of her new name Christian started, and she,
too, turned scarlet. Not the sweet, rosy blush of a bride, but the dark
red flush of sharp physical or mental pain, which all her self-control
could not hide.
"Poor dear! poor dear! this is a great change for her, and only a year
since her father died," said Mrs. Ferguson, still in that mysterious,
apologetic whisper. "But indeed, my love, you have done quite right in
marrying; and don't fret a bit about it. Never mind her, sir; she'll be
better by-and-by." This oppression of pity would have nerved any one
of reserved temperament to die rather than betray the least fragment of
emotion more. Christian gathered herself up; her face grew pale again,
and her voice steady. She looked, not at Mrs. Ferguson, but at the good
man who had just made her his wife—and any one looking at him must
have felt that he was a good man—then said, gently but determinedly,
"If Dr. Grey has no objection, I should like to have stated my father's
occupation or my own. I do not wish to hide or appear ashamed of
"Certainly not," replied Dr. Grey; and, taking up the pen, he added,
"Edward Oakley, Esq., late organist of Saint Bede's." It was the last
earthly memento of one who, born a gentleman and a genius, had so
lived, that, as all Avonsbridge well knew, the greatest blessing which
could have happened to his daughter was his death. But, as by some
strange and merciful law of compensation often occurs, Christian,
inheriting mind and person from him, had inherited temperament,
disposition, character from the lowly-born mother, who was every thing
that he was not, and who had lived just long enough to stamp on the
girl of thirteen a moral impress which could resist all contamination,
and leave behind a lovely dream of motherhood that might, perhaps—
God knows!—have been diviner than the reality.
These things Dr. Grey, brought accidentally into contact with Christian
Oakley on business matters after her father's lamentable death, speedily
discovered for himself; and the result was one of those sudden resolves
which in some men spring from mere passion, in others from an
instinct so deep and true that they are not to be judged by ordinary
rules. People call it "love at first sight," and sometimes tell wonderful
stories of how a man sees, quite unexpectedly, some sweet, strange, and
yet mysteriously familiar face, which takes possession of his fancy with
an almost supernatural force. He says to himself, "That woman shall be
my wife;" and some day, months or years after, he actually marries her;
even as, within a twelvemonth, having waited silently until she was
twenty-one, Dr. Grey married Christian Oakley.
But until within a few weeks ago she herself had had no idea of the
kind. She intensely respected him; her gratitude for his fatherly care
and kindness was almost boundless; but marrying him, or marrying at
all, was quite foreign to her thoughts. How things had come about even
yet she could hardly remember or comprehend. All was a perfect
dream. It seemed another person, and not she, who was suddenly
changed from Mrs. Ferguson's poor governess, without a friend or
relative in the wide world, to the wife of the Master of Saint Bede's.
That she could have married, or been thought to have married him, for
aught but his own good and generous self, or that the mastership of
Saint Bede's, his easy income, and his high reputation had any thing to
do with it, never once crossed her imagination. She was so simple; her
forlorn, shut-up, unhappy life had kept her, if wildly romantic, so
intensely, childishly true, that, whatever objections she had to Dr.
Grey's offer, the idea that this could form one of them—that any one
could suspect her—her, Christian Oakley—of marrying for money or for
a home, did not occur to her for an instant. He saw that, this lover,
who, from his many years of seniority, and the experience of a
somewhat hard life, looked right down into the depths of the girl's
perplexed, troubled, passionate, innocent heart, and he was not afraid.
Though she told him quite plainly that she felt for him not love, but
only affection and gratitude, he had simply said, with his own tender
smile, "Never mind—I love you;" and married her.
As she stood in her white dress, white shawl, white bonnet—all as plain
as possible, but still pure bridal white, contrasted strongly with the
glaring colors of that drawing-room over the shop, which Poor Mrs.
Ferguson had done her luckless best to make as fine as possible, her
tall, slender figure, harmonious movements and tones, being only more
noticeable by the presence of that stout, gaudily-dressed, and loud-
speaking woman, most people would have said that, though he had
married a governess, a solitary, unprotected woman, with neither kith
nor kin to give her dignity, earning her own bread by her own honest
labor, the master of Saint Bede's was not exactly a man to be pitied.
He rose, and having silently shown the paper to Christian, enclosed it in
an envelope, and gave it to Mr. Ferguson.
"Will you take the trouble of forwarding this to 'The Times,' the latest
of all your many kindnesses?" said he, with that manner, innately a
gentleman's, which makes the acknowledging of a favor appear like the
conferring of one.
Worthy James Ferguson took it as such; but he was a person of deeds,
not words; and he never could quite overcome the awe with which, as
an Avonsbridge person, he, the jeweler of High Street, regarded the
master of St. Bede's.
Meanwhile the snow, which had been falling all day, fell thicker and
thicker, so that the hazy light of the drawing-room darkened into
"Don't you think the children should be here?" said Mrs. Ferguson,
pausing in her assiduous administration of cake and wine. "That is—I'm
sure I beg your pardon, master—if they are really coming."
"I desired my sisters to send them without fail," quietly replied the
But another half hour dragged heavily on; the bridegroom's carriage,
which was to take them across country to a quiet railway station,
already stood at the door, when another carriage was heard to drive up
"There they are!" cried Mrs. Ferguson; and the bride, who had been
sitting beside her on the sofa, passive, silent, all but motionless,
started a little.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" she said, in the first natural tone that had been heard
in her voice all day. "I did so want to see the children."
Dr. Grey went out of the room at once, and Mrs. Ferguson had the good
sense to follow, taking her husband with her. "For," as she said
afterward, "the first sight of three stepchildren, and she, poor dear, such
a mere girl, must be a very unpleasant thing." For her part, she was
thankful that when she married James Ferguson he was a bachelor, with
not a soul belonging to him except an old aunt. She wouldn't like to be
in poor Mrs. Grey's shoes—"dear me, no!"—with those two old ladies
who have lived at the Lodge ever since the first Mrs. Grey died. She
wondered how on earth Miss Oakley would manage them. And upon
James Ferguson's suggesting "in the same way as she managed every
body," his wife soundly berated him for saying such a silly thing,
though he had, with the usual acuteness of silent people, said a wiser
thing than he was aware of.
Meantime Christian was left alone, for the first time that day, and many
days; for solitude was a blessing not easy to get in the Ferguson's large,
bustling family. Perhaps she did not seek it—perhaps she dared not.
Anyhow, during the month that had been occupied with her marriage
preparations, she had scarcely been ten minutes alone, not even at
night, for two children shared her room—the loving little things whom
she had taught for two years, first as daily, and then as resident
governess, and to whom she had persisted in giving lessons till the last.
She stood with the same fixed composedness—not composure—of
manner; the quietness of a person who, having certain things to go
through, goes through them in a sort of dream, almost without
recognizing her own identity. Women, more than men, are subject to
this strange, somnambulistic, mental condition, the result of strong
emotion, in which they both do and endure to an extent that men would
never think of or find possible.
After a minute she moved slightly, took up and laid down a book, but
still mechanically, as if she did not quite know what she was doing
until, suddenly, she caught sight of her wedding-ring. She regarded it
with something very like affright; tried convulsively to pull it off;
but it was rather tight; and before it had passed a finger-joint she
had recollected herself and pressed it down again.
"It is too late now. He is so good—every body says so—and he is so
very good to me."
She spoke aloud, though she was alone in the room, or rather because
she was alone, after a habit which, like all solitarily reared and dreamy
persons, Christian had had all her life—her young, short life—only
twenty-one years—and yet it seemed to her a whole, long, weary
"If I can but make him happy! If what is left to me is only enough to
make him happy!"
These broken sentences were repeated more than once, and then she
stood silent as though in a dream still.
When she heard the door open, she turned round with that still, gentle,
passive smile which had welcomed Dr. Grey on every day of his brief
"courting" days. It never altered, though he entered in a character not
the pleasantest for a bridegroom, with his three little children, one on
either side of him, and the youngest in his arms.
But there are some men, and mostly those grave, shy, and reserved
men, who have always the truest and tenderest hearts, whom nothing
transforms so much as to be with children, especially if the children are
their own. They are given to hiding a great deal, but the father in them
can not be hid. Why should it? Every man who has anything really
manly in his nature knows well that to be a truly good father, carrying
out by sober reason and conscience those duties which in the mother
spring from instinct, is the utmost dignity to which his human nature
Miss Oakley, like the rest of Avonsbridge, had long-known Dr. Grey's
history; how he had married early, or (ill-natured report said) been
married by, a widow lady, very handsome, and some years older than
himself. However, the sharpest insinuations ever made against their
domestic bliss were that she visited a good deal, while he was deeply
absorbed in his studies. And when, after a good many childless years,
she brought him a girl and boy, he became excessively fond of his
children. Whether this implied that he had been disappointed in his
wife, nobody could tell. He certainly did not publish his woes. Men
seldom do. At the birth of a third child Mrs. Grey died, and then the
widower's grief; though unobtrusive, was sufficiently obvious to make
Avonsbridge put all unkindly curiosity aside, and conclude that the
departed lady must have been the most exemplary and well-beloved of
wives and mothers.
All this, being town's talk, Christian already knew; more she had never
inquired, not even when she was engaged to him. Nor did Dr. Grey
volunteer any information. The strongest and most soothing part of his
influence over her was his exceeding silence. He had never troubled
her with any great demonstrations, nor frightened her with
questionings. From the time of their engagement he had seemed to take
every thing for granted, and to treat her tenderly, almost reverently,
without fuss or parade, yet with the consideration due from a man to his
future wife; so much so that she had hardly missed, what, indeed, in
her simplicity she hardly expected, the attention usually paid to an
affianced bride from the relatives of her intended. Dr. Grey had only
two, his own sister and his late wife's. These ladies, Miss Gascoigne
and Miss Grey, had neither called upon nor taken the least notice of
Miss Oakley. But Miss Oakley—if she thought about the matter at all—
ascribed it to a fact well recognized in Avonsbridge, as in most
University towns, that one might as soon expect the skies to fall as for a
college lady to cross, save for purely business purposes, the threshold
of a High Street tradesman. The same cause, she concluded, made
them absent from her wedding; and when Dr. Grey had said simply, "I
shall desire my sisters to send the children," Christian had inquired no
farther. Only for a second, hanging on the brink of this first meeting
with the children—her husband's children, hers that were to be—did her
heart fail her, and then she came forward to meet the little group.
Letitia and Arthur were thin, prim-looking, rather plain children; but
Oliver was the very picture of a father's darling, a boy that any
childless man would bitterly covet, any childless woman crave and
yearn for, with a longing that women alone can understand; a child
who, beautiful as most childhood is, had a beauty you rarely see—
bright, frank, merry, bold; half a Bacchus and half a Cupid, he was a
perfect image of the Golden Age. Though three years old, he was
evidently still "the baby," and rode on his father's shoulder with a
glorious tyranny charming to behold.
"Who's that?" said he, pointing his fat fingers and shaking his curls that
undulated like billows of gold.
"Papa, who's that?"
Hardly could there have been put by anyone a more difficult question.
Dr. Grey did not answer, but avoided it, taking the whole three to
Christian's side, and bidding them, in a rather nervous voice, to "kiss
But that ceremony the two elder obstinately declined.
"I am a big boy, and I don't like to be kissed," said Arthur.
"Nurse told us, since we had no mamma of our own, we were not to
kiss any body but our aunts," added Letitia.
Dr. Grey looked terribly annoyed, but Christian said calmly, "Very
well, then shake hands only. We shall be better friends by-and-by."
They suffered her to touch a little hand of each, passively rather than
unwillingly, and let it go. For a minute or so the boy and girl stood
opposite her, holding fast by one another, and staring with all their
eyes; but they said nothing more, being apparently very "good"
children, that is, children brought up under the old-fashioned rules,
which are indicated in the celebrated rhyme,
"Come when you're called,
Do as you're bid:
Shut the door after you,
And you'll never be chid."
Therefore, on being told to sit down, they gravely took their places on
the sofa, and continued to stare.
The father and bridegroom looked on, silent as they. What could he
say or do? It was the natural and necessary opening up of that vexed
question—second marriages, concerning which moralists,
sentimentalists, and practical people argue forever, and never come to
any conclusion. Of course not, because each separate case should
decide itself. The only universal rule or law, if there be one, is that
which applies equally to the love before marriage; that as to a complete,
mutual first love, any after love is neither likely, necessary, nor
desirable; so, to anyone who has known a perfect first marriage—the
whole satisfaction of every requirement of heart and soul and human
affection—unto such, a second marriage, like a second love, would be
neither right nor wrong, advisable nor unadvisable, but simply
What could he do—the father who had just given his children a new
mother, they being old enough not only to understand this, but
previously taught; as most people are so fatally ready to teach children,
the usual doctrine about step-mothers, and also quite ready to rebel
against the same?
The step-mother likewise, what could she do, even had she recognized
and felt all that the children's behavior implied?
Alas! (I say "alas!" for this was as sad a thing as the other) she did not
recognize it. She scarcely noticed it at all. In her countenance was no
annoyance—no sharp pain, that even in that first bridal hour she was not
first and sole, as every woman may righteously wish to be. There came
to her no sting of regret, scarcely unnatural, to watch another woman's
children already taking the first and best of that fatherly love which it
would be such exquisite joy to see lavished upon her own. Alas! poor
Christian! all these things passed over her as the wind passes over a
bare February tree, stirring no emotions, for there were none to stir.
Her predominating feeling was a vague sense of relief in the presence
of the children, and of delight in the exceeding beauty of the youngest.
"This is Oliver. I remember you told me his name. Will he come to
me? children generally do," said she in a shy sort of way, but still
holding out her arms. In her face and manner was that inexplicable
motherliness which some girls have even while nursing their dolls
—some never; ay, though they may boast of a houseful of children—
Master Oliver guessed this by instinct, as children always do. He
looked at her intently, a queer, mischievous, yet penetrating look; then
broke into a broad, genial laugh, quite Bacchic and succumbed.
Christian, the solitary governess, first the worse than orphan, and then
the real orphan, without a friend or relative in the world, felt a child
clinging round her neck—a child toward whom, by the laws of God and
man, she was bound to fulfill all the duties of a mother—duties which,
from the time when she insisted on having a "big doll," that she might
dress it, not like a fine lady, but "like a baby," had always seemed to
her the very sweetest in all the world. Her heart leaped with a sudden
ecstasy, involuntary and uncontrollable.
"My bonny boy!" she murmured, kissing the top of that billowy curl
which extended from brow to crown—"my curl"—for Oliver
immediately and proudly pointed it to her. "And to think that his
mother never saw him. Poor thing! poor thing!"
Dr. Grey turned away to the window. What remembrances, bitter or
sweet, came over the widower's heart, Heaven knows! But he kept
them between himself and Heaven, as he did all things that were
incommunicable and inevitable, and especially all things that could
have given pain to any human being. He only said on returning,
"I knew, Christian, from the first, that you would be a good mother to
She looked up at him, the tears in her eyes, but with a great light
shining in them too.
"I will try."
Poor Christian! If her hasty marriage, or any other mistake of her life,
needed pardon, surely it might be won for the earnest sincerity of this
vow, and for its self-forgetful, utter humility—"I will try."
For another half hour, at her entreaty, the children staid, though Letitia
and Arthur never relaxed from their dignified decorum farther than to
inform her that they were sometimes called "Titia" and "Atty;" that
their nurse was named Phillis; and that she had remained in the carriage
because "she said she would not come in." Still, having expected
nothing, the young step-mother was not disappointed. And when the
three left, Oliver having held up his rosy mouth voluntarily for "a good
large kiss," the sweetness of the caress lingered on her mouth like a
chrism of consecration, sanctifying her for these new duties which
seemed to have been sent to her without her choice, almost without her
volition; for she often felt, when she paused to thing at all, as if in the
successive links of circumstances which had brought about her
marriage, she had been a passive agent, led on step by step, like a
person half asleep. Would she ever awake?
When Mrs. Ferguson, re-entering, ready with any amount of sympathy,
found the young step-mother kissing her hand to the retreating carriage
with a composed smile, which asked no condolence, and offered no
confidences, the good lady was, to say the least, surprised. "But," as
she afterward confessed to at least two dozen of her most intimate
friends, "there always was something so odd, so different from most
young ladies about Miss. Oakley." However, to the young lady herself
she said nothing, except suggesting, rather meekly, that it was time to
change her dress.
"And just once more let me beg you to take my shawl—my very best—
instead of your own, which you have had a year and a half. Ah!"
sighing, "if you had only spent more money on your wedding clothes!"
"How could I?" said Christian, and stopped, seeing Dr. Grey enter.
This was the one point on which she had resisted him. She could not
accept her trousseau from her husband's generosity. It had been the last
struggle of that fierce, poverty-nurtured independence, which nothing
short of perfect love could have extinguished into happy humility, and
she had held to her point resolute and hard; so much so, that when, with
a quiet dignity peculiarly his own, Dr. Grey had yielded, she had
afterward almost felt ashamed. And even now a slight blush came in
her cheek when she heard him say cheerfully,
"Do not trouble her, Mrs. Ferguson, about her shawl. You know I have
taken her—that is, we have taken one another 'for better, for worse,' and
it is little matter what sort of clothes she wears."
Christian, as she passed him, gave her husband a grateful look.
Grateful, alas! Love does not understand, or even recognize, gratitude.
But when the door closed after her, Dr. Grey's eyes rested on it like
those of one who misses a light.
He sat down covering his mouth—his firmly-set but excessively
sensitive month with his hand, an attitude which was one of his
peculiarities; for he had many, which the world excused because of his
learning, and his friends—well, because of himself.
If ever there was a man who without the slightest obtrusiveness, or self-
assertion of any kind, had unlimited influence over those about him, it
was Arnold Grey. Throughout a life spent entirely within the college
walls, he had, from freshman to fellow, from thence to tutor, and so on
to the early dignity of mastership, the most extraordinary faculty of
making people do whatsoever he liked—-ay, and enjoy the doing of it.
Friends, acquaintances, undergraduates, even down to children and
servants, all did, more or less, sooner or later, the good pleasure of Dr.
Grey. Perhaps the secret of this was that his "pleasure" was never
merely his own. None wield such absolute power over others as those
who think little about themselves.
Had circumstance, or his own inclination, led him out farther into the
world, he might have been noticeable there, for he had very great and
varied acquirements—-more acquirements perhaps, than originalities.
He had never written a book, but he had read almost every book that
ever was written—or, at least, such was the belief current in
Avonsbridge. In his study he was literally entombed in books—-
volumes in all languages—and Avonsbridge supposed him able to read
them all. How far this was a popular superstition, and to what length
his learning went, it is impossible to say. But nobody ever came quite
to the end of it. He was a silent, modest man, who never spoke much
of what he knew, or of himself in any wise. His strongest outward
characteristic was quietness, both of manner, speech, motions,
springing, it appeared, out of a corresponding quietness of soul.
Whether it had been born with him, or through what storms of human
passion and suffering he had attained to this permanent central calm,
who could say? Certainly nobody knew or was likely to know; for the
Master of Saint Bede's was a person, the depth of whose nature could
not be fathomed easily with any line. Possibly because, old as he was,
it happened, as does happen in some lives, that the right plumb-line, by
the right hand, had never been dropped yet.
As he sat, his grave eyes fixed on the ground, and his mouth covered by
the long thin brown hand—the sort of hand you see in mediaeval
portraits of student-gentlemen—nothing of him was discernible except
the gentleman and the student. Not though he sat waiting for his "two-
hours' wife," whom undoubtedly he had married for love—pure love—
the only reason for which anyone, man or woman, old or young, ought
to dare to marry. That he could feel as very few have the power to feel,
no one who was any judge of physiognomy could doubt for a moment;
yet he sat perfectly quiet—the quietness of a man accustomed to
something safer and higher than self-suppression—self-control. When
Mr. Ferguson came in, he rose and began to speak about the weather
and local topics as men do speak to one another—and better that they
should!—even at such crises as weddings or funerals.
And Christian his wife?
She had run up stairs—ran almost with her former light step, for her
heart felt lightened with the childish smile of little Oliver—to the attic
which for the last nine months she had occupied—the nursery, now
made into a bedroom, and tenanted by herself and the two little
Fergusons. No special sanctity of appropriation had it; a large,
somewhat bare room, in which not a thing was her own, either to miss
or leave behind. For, in truth, she had nothing of her own; the small
personalities which she had contrived to drag about with her from
lodging to lodging having all gone to pay debts, which she had insisted
—and Dr. Grey agreed—ought to be paid before she was married. So he
had taken from her the desk, the work-table, and the other valueless yet
well-prized feminine trifles, and brought her, as their equivalent, a sum
large enough to pay both these debts and all her marriage expenses,
which sum she, ignorant and unsuspicious, took gratefully, merely
saying "he was very kind."
She now looked round on her sole worldly possessions—the large trunk
which contained her ordinary apparel, and the smaller one, in which
were packed all she needed for her fortnight's marriage tour. Her
traveling dress lay on the bed—a plain dark silk—her only silk gown
except the marriage one. She let Mrs. Ferguson array her in it, and
then, with her usual mechanical orderliness, began folding up the
shining white draperies and laying them in the larger trunk.
"Shall I send that direct to the Lodge, my dear?"
Christian looked up absently.
"To Saint Bede's Lodge—you know—that it may be ready
for you when you come home?"
Home—that blessed word which should send a thrill to the heart of any
bride. Alas! this bride heard it quite unheeding, saying only, "Do what
you think best, Mrs. Ferguson."
And then she proceeded to fasten her collar and complete the minutiae
of her dress with that careful neatness which was an instinct with
Christian, as it is with all womanly women, though how this poor
motherless girl had ever learned womanliness at all was a marvel. She
answered chiefly in soft monosyllables to the perpetual stream of Mrs.
Ferguson's talk, till at last the good soul could no longer restrain
"Oh, my dear, if you would only speak—only let out your feelings a
little; for you must feel this day so; I'm sure I do, just as if it were my
own wedding day, or Isabella's, or Sarah Jane's. And when they do
come to be married, poor lambs! I hope it will be as good a match as
you are making—only, perhaps, not a widower. But I beg your pardon.
Oh, Miss Oakley, my dear, we shall miss you so!"
And the good woman, who had a heart—and hearts are worth
something—clasped the orphan-bride to her broad bosom, and shed over
her a torrent of honest tears.
"Thank you," Christian said, and returned the kiss gently, but no tears
came to her eyes.
"And now," added Mrs. Ferguson, recovering herself, "I'll go and see
that every thing is right; and I'll get my warm tartan shawl for you to
travel in. It is a terrible snowy day still. You'll come down stairs
But the instant Mrs. Ferguson was gone Christian locked the door. The
same look, of more than pain—actual fear—crossed her face. She stood
motionless, as if trying to collect herself, and then, with her hands all
shaking, took from her traveling-trunk a sealed packet. For a second
she seemed irresolute, and only a second.
"It must be done—it is right. I ought to have done it before—Good-by
Good-by to what—or to whom?
All that the fire revealed, as she laid the packet on it, stirring it down
into a red hollow, so that not a flickering fragment should be left
unconsumed, were four letters—only four—written on dainty paper, in a
man's hand, sealed with a man's large heraldic seal. When they were
mere dust, Christian rose.
"It is over now—quite over. In the whole world there is nobody to
believe in—except him. He is very good, and he loves me. I was right
to marry him—yes, quite right."
She repeated this more than once, as if compelling herself to
acknowledge it, and then paused.
Christian was not exactly a religious woman—that is, she had lived
among such utterly irreligious people, that whatever she thought or felt
upon these subjects had to be kept entirely to herself—but she was of a
religious nature. She said her prayers duly, and she had one habit—or
superstition, some might sneeringly call it—that the last thing before she
went on a journey she always opened her Bible; read a verse or two,
and knelt down, if only to say, "God, take care of me, and bring me
safe back again;" petitions that in many a wretched compelled
wandering were not so uncalled for as some might suppose. Before this
momentous journey she did the same; but, instead of a Bible, it
happened to be the children's Prayer-Book which she took up; it opened
at the Marriage Service, which they had been inquisitively conning
over; and the first words which flashed upon Christian's eyes were
those which had two hours ago passed over her deaf ears, and dull,
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and be
joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh."
She started, as if only now she began to comprehend the full force of
that awful union—"one flesh" and "till death us do part."
Mrs. Ferguson tried the door, and knocked.
"Dr. Grey is waiting, my dear. You must not keep your husband waiting."
"My husband!" and again, came the wild look, as of a free
creature suddenly caught, tied, and bound. "What have I done? oh
what have I done? Is it too late?"
Ay, it was too late.
Many a woman has married with far less excuse that Christian did—
married for money or position, or in a cowardly yielding to family
persuasion, some one who she knew did not love her, or whom she did
not love, with the only sort of love which makes marriage sacred.
What agonies such women must have endured, if they had any spark of
feminine feeling left alive, they themselves know; and what Christian,
far more guiltless than they, also endured during the three minutes that
she kept Mrs. Ferguson waiting at the locked door, was a thing never to
be spoken of, but also never to be forgotten during the longest and
happiest lifetime. It was a warning that made her—even her—to the end
of her days, say to every young woman she knew, "Beware! Marry for
love, or never marry at all."
When she descended, every ray of color had gone out of her face—it
was white and passionless as stone; but she kissed the children all
around, gave a little present to Isabella, who had been her only
bridesmaid, shook hands and said a word or two of thanks to honest
James Ferguson, her "father" for the day, and then found herself driving
through the familiar streets—not alone. She never would be alone any
With a shudder, a sense of dread indescribable, she remembered this.
All her innocent, solitary, dreamy days quite over, her happiness.
vanished; her regrets become a crime. The responsibility of being no
longer her own, but another's—bound fixedly and irrevocably by the
most solemn vow that can be given or taken, subject to no limitations.
provisions, or exception while life remained. Oh. it was awful—awful!
She could have shrieked and leaped out of the carriage, to run wildly
anywhere—to the world's end—when she felt her hand taken, softly but
"My dear, how cold you are! Let me make you warm if I can."
And then, in his own quiet, tender way, Dr. Grey wrapped her up in her
shawl and rolled a rug about her feet. She took no notice, submitted
passively, and neither spoke a word more till they had driven on for
two or three miles, into a country road leading to a village where
Avonsbridge people sometimes went for summer lodgings.
Christian knew it well. There, just before her father's death, he and she
had lived, for four delicious, miserable, momentous weeks. She had
never seen the place since, but now she recognized it—every tree, every
field, the very farm-house garden, once so bright, now lying deep in
snow. She began tremble in every limb.
"Why are we here? This is not our right road. Where are we going?"
"I did not mean to come this way, but we missed the train, and cannot
reach London tonight; so I thought we would post across country to
E____," naming a quiet cathedral town, "where you can rest, and go on
when or where you please. Will that do?"
"You are not dissatisfied? We could not help missing the
Train, you see."
The quick, sharp, querulous answers—that last refuge of a fictitious
strength that was momentarily breaking down—he saw it all, this good
man, this generous, pitiful-hearted man, who knew what sorrow was,
and who for a whole year had watched her with the acuteness which
love alone teaches, especially the love which, coming late in life, had a
calmness and unselfishness which youthful love rarely possesses. The
sort of love which, as he had once quoted to her out of an American
book, could feel, deeply and solemnly, "that if a man really loves a
woman, he would not marry her for the world, were he not quite sure
he was the best person she could by any possibility marry"—that is, the
one who loved her so perfectly that he was prepared to take upon
himself all the burden of her future life, her happiness or sorrow, her
peculiarities, shortcomings, faults, and all.
This, though he did not speak a word, was written, plain as in a book,
on the face of Christian's husband, as he watched her, still silently, for
another mile, till the early winter sun-set, bursting through the
leaden-colored, snowy sky, threw a faint light in at the carriage
Christian looked up, and closed her eyes again in a passive
hopelessness sad to see.
Her husband watched her still. Once he sighed—a rather sad sigh for a
bridegroom, and then a light, better and holier than love, or rather the
essence of all love, self-denial and self-forgetfullness, brightened up his
"How very tired she is; but I shall take care of her, my poor child!"
The words were as gentle as if he had been speaking to one of his own
children, and he drew her to him with a tender, protecting fatherliness
which seemed the natural habit of his life, such as never, in her poor,
forlorn life, had any one shown to Christian Oakley. It took away all
her doubts, all her fears. For the moment she forgot she was married,
forgot everything but his goodness, his tenderness, his care over her,
and her great and sore need of the same. She turned and clung to him,
"I have nobody in the world but you. Oh, be kind to me!"
"I will," said Arnold Grey.
"You'll love me yet! And I can tarry
Your love's protracted growing:
June reaped that bunch of flowers you carry
From seeds of April's sowing."
Saint Bede's is one of the most ancient of the minor colleges of
Avonsbridge. Its foundress's sweet, pale, suffering face, clad in the
close coif of the time of the wars of the Roses, still smiles over the
fellow's table in hall, and adorns the walls of combination-room. The
building itself has no great architectural beauty except the beauty of
age. Its courts are gray and still, and its grounds small; in fact, it
possesses only the Lodge garden, and a walk between tall trees on the
other side of the Avon, which is crossed by a very curious bridge. The
Lodge itself is so close to the river, that from its windows you may
drop a stone into the dusky, slowly rippling, sluggish water, which
seems quieter and deeper there than at any other college past which it
Saint Bede's is, as I said, a minor college, rarely numbering more than
fifty gownsmen at a time, and maintaining, both as to sports and
honors, a mild mediocrity. For years it had not sent any first-rate man
either to boat-race, or cricket-ground, or senate-house. Lately,
however, it had boasted one, quite an Admirable Crichton in his way,
who, had his moral equaled his mental qualities, would have carried all
before him. As it was, being discovered in offenses not merely against
University authority, but obnoxious to society at large, he had been
rusticated. Though the matter was kept as private as possible, its
details being known only to the master, dean and tutor, still it made a
nine-day's talk, not only in the college, but in the town—until the
remorseless wave of daily life, which so quickly closes over the head of
either ill-doer or well-doer, closed completely over that of Edwin
Recovering from the shock of his turpitude, the college now reposed in
peace upon its slender list of well-conducted and harmless
undergraduates, its two or three tutors, and its dozen or so of gray old
fellows, who dozed away their evenings in combination-room. Even
such an event as the master's second marriage had scarcely power to
stir Saint Bede's from its sleepy equanimity.
It was, indeed, a peaceful place. It had no grand entrance, but in a
narrow back street you came suddenly upon its ancient gateway,
through which you passed into a mediaeval world. The clock tower
and clock, with an upright sundial affixed below it, marked the first
court, whence, through a passage which, as is usual in colleges, had the
hall on one hand and the buttery on the other, you entered the second
court, round three sides of which ran cloisters of very ugly, very plain,
but very ancient architecture. In a corner of these cloisters was the
door of the Lodge—the master's private dwelling.
Private it could hardly be called; for, like all these lodges of colleges,
it had an atmosphere most anti-home like, which at first struck you as
extremely painful. Its ancientness, both of rooms and furniture, added
to this feeling. When you passed through the small entrance hall, up
the stone staircase, and into a long, narrow, mysterious gallery, looking
as it must have looked for two centuries at least, you felt an involuntary
shiver, as of warm, human, daily life brought suddenly into contact
with the pale ghosts of the past. You could not escape the haunting
thought that these oaken tables were dined at, these high-backed chairs
sat upon, these black-framed, dirt-obscured portraits gazed at and
admired by people, once flesh and blood like yourself, who had become
skeletons—nay, mere dust, centuries before you were born. Also, that
other people would be dining, sitting, gazing, and talking in this very
same spot long after you yourself had become a skeleton in your turn.
This impression of the exceeding mutability of all things, common to
most very old houses, was stronger than ordinary in this house, whose
owners did not even hold it by ancestral right, so as to find and leave
behind some few ancestral ties and memories, but came and went, with
all that belonged to them; the only trace of their occupancy and
themselves being a name on the college books, or a solitary portrait on
the college wall. The old dervish's saying to the Eastern king, "Sire,
this is not a place, but a caravanserai," might have been applied here
only too truly. It was not a home, it was the lodge of a college.
Until eighteen months ago, the date of Dr. Grey's appointment, there
had not been a woman's face or a child's foot about it for a hundred and
fifty years. All the masters had been unmarried—grim, gray fellows—
advanced in years. Dr. Arnold Grey, whose fellowship had terminated
early, and who had afterward been tutor and dean, was the youngest
master that had ever been known at Saint Bede's; and his election might
consequently have been unpopular had he not been personally so much
liked, and had there not happened immediately afterward that scandal
about Edwin Uniacke. Therein he acted so promptly and wisely, that
the sleepy, timid old dons as well as the Uniacke family—for the lad
was highly connected—were thankful that this unlucky business had not
occurred in the time of the late master, who was both old and foolish,
and would have made it the talk of all England, instead of hushing it
up, with the prudent decision of Dr. Grey, so that now it was scarcely
spoken of beyond the college walls.
Solemn, quiet, and beautiful, as if they had never known a scandal or a
tragedy, slept those old walls in the moonlight, which streamed also in
long bars from window to window, across the ghostly gallery before
mentioned. Ghostly enough in all conscience; and yet two little figures
went trotting fearlessly down it, as they did every night at eight o'clock,
between the two ancient apartments now converted into dining-room
and nursery. The master's children were too familiar with these grim,
shadowy corners to feel the slightest dread besides, they were not
imaginative children. To Arthur, an "ally taw," that is, a real alabaster
marble, such as he now fumbled in his pocket, was an object of more
importance than all the defunct bishops, archbishops, kings, queens,
and benefactors of every sort, whose grim portraits stared at him by day
and night. And Letitia was far more anxious that the candle she carried
should not drop any of its grease upon her best silk frock, than alarmed
at the grotesque shadows it cast, making every portrait seem to follow
her with his eyes, as old portraits always do. Neither child was very
interesting. Letitia, with her angular figure and thin light hair, looked
not unlike a diminished spectral reflection of the foundress herself—that
pale, prim, pre-Raphaelitish dame who was represented all over the
college, in all sizes and varieties of the limner's art. Arthur, who hung
a little behind his sister, was different from her, being stout and square;
but he, too, was not an attractive child, and there was a dormant
sullenness in his under lip which showed he could be a very naughty
one if he chose.
"I told you so, Titia," said he, darting to an open door facing the
staircase at the gallery's end. "There's papa's study fire lit. I knew
he was coming home to-night, though aunts won't let us sit up, as he said
we should. But I will! I'll lie awake, if it's till twelve o'clock, and
call him as he passes the nursery door."
"You forget," said Titia, drawing herself up with a womanly air, "papa
will not be alone now. He may not care to come to you now he has got
"You know aunts told us always to call her so. I'm sure I don't want to
call her any thing. I hate her!"
"So do I," rejoined the boy, doubling up his fist with intense enjoyment.
"Wouldn't I like to pitch into her for marrying papa! But yet," with a
sudden compunction, "she gave us lots of cake. And she looked rather
"Jolly! You boys are so vulgar," said the little lady, contemptuously.
"But I dare say you'll like her, for aunts say she is quite a vulgar person.
As for me, I don't mean to take any notice of her at all."
"A deal she'll care for that! Who minds you? you're only a girl."
"I'm glad I'm not a big, ugly, dirty-handed, common boy." Arthur's
reply was short and summary, administered by one of those dirty hands,
as he was in the habit of administering what he doubtless considered
justice to his much cleverer, more precocious, and very sharp-tongued
sister, even though she was "a girl." It was the only advantage he had
over her and he used it, chivalry not being a thing which comes natural
to most boys, and it, as well as the root and core of it, loving-kindness,
not having been one of the things taught in these children's nursery.
Letitia set up an outcry of injured innocence, upon which nurse, who
waited at the foot of the stairs, seeing something was amiss, while not
stopping to discover what it was, did as she always did under similar
circumstances—she flew to the contending parties and soundly thumped
"Get to bed, you naughty children; you're always quarreling," rang the
sharp voice, rising above Letitia's wail, and Arthur's storm of furious
sobs. The girl yielded, but the boy hung back; and it was not until after
a regular stand-up fight between him and the woman—a big, sturdy
woman too—that he was carried off, still desperately resisting, and
shouting that he would have his revenge as soon as ever papa came
Letitia followed quietly enough, as if the scene were too common for
her to trouble herself much about it. The only other witness to it was
the portrait of the mild-faced foundress, which seemed through the
shadows of centuries to look down pitifully on these motherless
children, as if with a remembrance of her own two little sons, whose
sorrowful tale—is it not to be found in every English History, and why
repeat it here?
Motherless children indeed these were, and had been, pathetically, ever
since they were born. All the womanly bringing up they had had, even
in Mrs. Grey's lifetime, had come from that grim nurse, Phillis.
Phillis was not an ordinary woman. The elements of a tragedy where in
her low, broad, observant, and intelligent forehead, her keen black eyes,
and her full-lipped, under-hanging mouth. Though past thirty, she was
still comely, and when she looked pleasant, it was not an unpleasant
face. Yet there lurked in it possibilities of passion that made you
tremble, especially considering that she had the charge of growing
children. You did not wonder at her supremacy in the nursery, but you
wondered very much that any mother could have allowed her to acquire
For the rest, Phillis had entered the family as Letitia's wet-nurse, with
the sad story of most wet-nurses. Her own child having died, she took
to her foster-child with such intensity of devotedness as to save Mrs.
Grey all trouble of loving or looking after the little creature from
henceforward. And so she staid, through many storms and warnings to
leave, but she never did leave—she was too necessary. And, in one
sense, Phillis did her duty. Physically, no children could be better
cared for than the little Greys. They were always well washed, well
clad, and, in a certain external sense, well managed. The "rod in
pickle," which Phillis always kept in the nursery, maintained a form of
outward discipline and even manners, so far as Phillis knew what
manners meant; morals too, in Phillis's style of morality. Beyond that
Phillis's own will—strong and obstinate as it was—made laws for itself,
which the children were obliged to obey. They rebelled; sometimes
they actually hated her, and yet she had great influence over them—the
earliest and closest influence they had ever known. Besides, the
struggle had only begun when they were old enough to have some
sense of the difference between justice and injustice, submission
compelled and obedience lawfully won; to infants and little children
Phillis was always very tender—nay, passionately loving.
As she was to Oliver, who, wakening at the storm in the nursery, took
to sleepy crying, and was immediately lulled in her arms with the
fondest soothing; the fiercest threatenings between whiles being
directed to Letitia and Arthur, until they both slunk off to bed, sullen
and silent—at war with one another, with Phillis, and with the whole
But children's woes are transient. By-and-by Titia's fretful face settled
into sleepy peace; the angry flush melted from Arthur's hot cheeks;
Oliver had already been transferred to his crib; and Phillis settled
herself to her sewing, queen regnant of the silent nursery.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ghostly gallery, sat, over the dining-
room fire, the two other rulers, guardians, and guides of these three
children—"the aunts"—Miss Gascoigne and Miss Grey; for these ladies
still remained at the Lodge. Dr. Grey had asked Christian if she
wished them to leave, for they had a house of their own near
Avonsbridge, and she had answered indifferently, "Oh no; let them do
as they like." As she liked did not seem to enter into her thoughts.
Alas! that sacred dual solitude, which most young wives naturally and
rightfully desire, was no vital necessity to Christian Grey.
So the two ladies, who had come to the Lodge when their sister died,
had declared their intention of remaining there, at least for the present,
"for the sake of those poor, dear children." And, dressed in at their
best, they sat solemnly waiting the arrival of the children's father and
step-mother—"that young woman," as they always spoke of her in
What Dr. Grey had gone through in domestic opposition before he
married, he alone knew, and he never told. But he had said, as every
man under similar circumstances has a right to say, "I will marry,"
and had done it. Besides, he was a just man; he was fully aware that to
his sisters Christian was not—could not be as yet, any more than the
organist's daughter and the silversmith's governess, while they were
University ladies. But he knew them, and he knew her; he was not
They were a strong contrast, these two, the ladies at the Lodge. Miss
Grey, the elder, was a little roly-poly woman, with a meek, round, fair-
complexioned face, and pulpy soft-hands—one of those people who
irresistibly remind one of a white mouse. She was neither clever nor
wise, but she was very sweet-tempered. She had loved Dr. Grey all her
life. From the time that she, a big girl, had dandled him, a baby, in her
lap; throughout her brief youth, when she was engaged to young Mr.
Gascoigne, who died; up to her somewhat silly and helpless middle-
age, there never was anybody, to Miss Grey, like "my brother Arnold."
Faithfulness is a rare virtue; let us criticise her no more, but pass her
over, faults and all.
Miss Gascoigne was a lady who could not be passed over on any
account. Nothing would have so seriously offended her. From her
high nose to her high voice and her particularly high temper, every
thing about her was decidedly prononcé. There was no
extinguishing her or putting her into a corner. Rather than be
unnoticed—if such a thing she could ever believe possible—she would
make herself noticeable in any way, even in an ill way. She was a
good-looking woman, and a clever woman too, only not quite clever
enough to find out one slight fact—that there might be any body in the
world superior to herself.
"Set down your value at your own huge rate,
The world will pay it"
—for a time. And so the world had paid it pretty well to Miss
Gascoigne, but was beginning a little to weary of her; except fond Miss
Grey, who still thought that, as there never was a man like "dear
Arnold," so there was not a woman any where to compare with "dear
There is always something pathetic in this sort of alliance between two
single women unconnected by blood. It implies a substitution for better
things—marriage or kindred ties; and has in some cases a narrowing
tendency. No two people, not even married people, can live alone
together for a number of years without sinking into a sort of double
selfishness, ministering to one another's fancies, humors, and even
faults in a way that is not possible, or probable, in the wider or
wholesomer life of a family. And if, as is almost invariably the case—
indeed otherwise such a tie between women could not long exist—the
stronger governs the weaker, one domineers and the other obeys, the
result is bad for both. It might be seen in the fidgety restlessness of
Miss Gascoigne, whose eyes, still full of passionate fire, lent a painful
youthfulness to her faded face, and in the lazy supineness of Miss Grey,
who seemed never to have an opinion or a thought of her own. This
was the dark side of the picture; the bright side being that it is perfectly
impossible for two women, especially single women, to live together,
in friendship and harmony, for nearly twenty years, without a firm basis
of moral worth existing in their characters, producing a fidelity of
regard which is not only touching, but honorable to both.
They sat, one on either side the fire, in the long unbroken silence of
people who are so used to one another that they feel no necessity for
talking, until Miss Gascoigne spoke first, as she always did.
"I wonder what Dr. Grey meant by desiring the children to be kept out
of their beds till his return. As if I should allow it! And to order
a tea-dinner! No wonder Barker looked astonished! He never knew my poor
sister have anything but a proper dinner, at the proper hour; but it's
just that young woman's doing. In her position, of course she always
dined at one o'clock."
"Very likely," said Miss Grey, assentingly. Dissent she never did, in
any thing, from any body, least of all from Miss Gascoigne.
That lady fidgeted again, poked the fire, regarded herself in the mirror,
and settled her cap—no, her head-dress, for Miss Grey always insisted
that "dear Henrietta" was too young to wear caps, and admired
fervently the still black—too black hair, the mystery of which was only
known to Henrietta herself.
"What o'clock is it? half-past nine, I declare. Most annoying—most
impertinent—to keep us waiting for our tea in this way. Your brother
never did it before."
"I hope there is no accident," said Miss Grey, looking up alarmed.
"The snow might be dangerous on the railway."
"Maria, if you had any sense—but I think you have less and less every
day—you would remember that they are not coming by rail at all—of
course not. On the very first day of term, when Dr. Grey would meet
so many people he knew to have to introduce his wife! Why,
everybody would have laughed at him; and no wonder. Verily, there's
no fool like an old fool."
"Henrietta!" pitifully appealed the sister, "you know dear Arnold is not
a fool. He never did a foolish thing in his life, except, perhaps, in
making this unfortunate marriage. And she may improve. Any body
ought to improve who had the advantage of living constantly with dear
Miss Gascoigne, always on the watch for affronts, turning sharply
round, but there was not a shadow of satire in her friend's simplicity.
"My dear Maria, you are the greatest—"
But what Miss Grey was remained among the few bitter speeches that
Miss Gascoigne left unsaid, for at that moment the heavy oak door was
thrown wide open, and Barker, the butler (time-honored institution of
Saint Bede's, who thought himself one of its strongest pillars of
support), repeated, in his sonorous voice,
"The master and Mrs. Grey."
Thus announced—suddenly and formally, like a stranger, in her own
house—Christian came home.
The two maiden aunts rose ceremoniously. Either their politeness
sprang from their natural habit of good-breeding, or it was wrung from
them by extreme surprise. The apparition before them—tall, graceful,
and dignified—could by no means be mistaken for any thing but a
lady—such a lady as Avonsbridge, with all its aristocracy of birth and
condition, rarely produced. She would have been the same even if
attired in hodden gray, but now she was well-dressed in silks and furs.
Dr. Grey had smiled at the modest trousseau, and soon settled every
thing by saying, "My wife must wear so and so." In this rich clothing,
which set off her fair large Saxon beauty to the utmost advantage,
Christian quite dazzled the eyes of the two ladies who had so
persistently called her "that young woman." Any person with eyes at
all could see that, except for the difference in age, there was not the
slightest incongruity between (to follow Barker's pompous
announcement) "the master and Mrs. Grey."
Dr. Grey's personal introduction was brief enough: "Christian, these are
my sisters. This is Maria, and this is Henrietta—Miss Gascoigne."
Christian bowed—a little stately, perhaps—and then held out her hand,
which, after a hesitating glance at Miss Gascoigne, was accepted
timidly by Miss Grey. "I couldn't help it, my dear" she afterward
pleaded, in answer to a severe scolding; "she quite took me by
But in Miss Gascoigne's acuter and more worldly nature the surprise
soon wore off, leaving a sharp consciousness of the beauty, grace and
dignity—formidable weapons in the hands of any woman, and
especially of one so young as the master's wife. Not that her youth was
now very noticeable; to any one who had known Christian before her
marriage, she would have appeared greatly altered, as if some strange
mental convulsion had passed over her—passed, and been subdued. In
two weeks she had grown ten years older—was, a matron, not a girl.
Yet still she was herself. We often come to learn that change—which
includes growth—is one of the most blessed laws in existence; but it is
only weak natures who, in changing, lose their identity. If Dr. Grey
saw, what any one who loved Christian could not fail to have seen, this
remarkable change in her, he also saw deep enough into her nature
neither to dread it nor deplore it.
A few civil speeches having been interchanged about the weather, their
journey, and so forth, the master, suddenly looking round him,
inquired. "Maria, where are the children?"
"I sent them to bed," said Miss Gascoigne, with dignity. It was
impossible they could be kept up to this late hour. "My poor sister
would never allow it."
The color flashed violently over Dr. Grey's face. With the quick,
resolute movement of a master in his own house, he crossed the room
and rang the bell.
"Barker, inquire of nurse if the children are in bed. If not, say I wish
them sent down to me; otherwise I will come up to them immediately."
The answer to this message was awaited in most awkward silence.
Even Miss Gascoigne seemed to feel that she had gone a bit too far, and
busied herself over the tea equipage; while Miss Grey, after one or two
deprecating looks at dear Arnold, began knitting nervously at her
eternal socks—-the only aunt-like duty which, in her meek laziness, she
attempted to fulfill toward the children.
For Christian, she sat by the fire, where her husband had placed her,
absently taking in the externalities—warm, somber, luxurious—which, in
all human probability, was now her home for life. For life! Did that
overpowering sense of the inevitable—so maddening to some, so
quieting to others—cause all small things to sink to their natural
smallness, and all painful things to touch her less painfully than
otherwise they would have been felt? It might have been.
Barker returned with the information that all the children were fast
asleep, but nurse said, "Of course Dr. Grey could come up if he
"Let me go too," begged Christian. "Little Oliver will look so pretty in
Dr. Grey smiled. It was a rare thing to be a whole fortnight away from
his children, and all the father's heart was in his loving eyes. "Come
away, then," he said, all his cheerful looks returning. "Aunts, you will
give us our tea when we return."
"Well, she does make herself at home!" cried Miss Gascoigne,
indignantly, almost before the door had closed.
Miss Grey knitted half a row with a perplexed air, and then, as if she
had lighted upon a perfect solution of the difficulty, said lightly, "But
then, you see, dear Henrietta, she is at home."
Home! Through that chilly gallery, preceded by Barker and his wax-
lights; stared upon by those grim portraits, till more than once she
started as if she had seen a ghost; up narrow, steep stone stair-cases,
which might lead to a prison in a tower or a dormitory in a monastery—
any where except to ordinary, natural bedchambers. And when she
reached them, what gloomy rooms they were, leading one out of
another, up a step and down a step, with great beds that seemed only fit
to lie in state in, after having turned one's face to the wall and slipped
out of weary life into the imagined freedom of the life beyond. Home!
If that was home, Christian shivered.
"Are you cold? Barker, send Mrs. Grey's maid with her warm shawl.
Every body feels the Lodge cold at first, but you will get used to it.
Wait one minute," for she was pressing eagerly to the gleam of light
through the half-opened nursery door. "My wife!"
"Yes Dr. Grey."
As he put his hands on her shoulders, Christian looked into his eyes—
right into them, for she was as tall as he. There was a sad quietness in
her expression, but there was no shrinking from him, and no distrust.
"My wife need never be afraid of any thing or any body in this house."
"I know that."
"And by-and-by, many things here which feel strange now will cease to
feel so. Do you believe this?"
She smiled—a very feeble smile; but, at least, there was no pretense in
"One thing more. Whatever goes wrong, you will always come at once
and tell it to me—to nobody in the world but me. Remember."
Dr. Grey leaned forward and kissed his wife in his inexpressibly tender
way, and then they went in together.
Letitia and Arthur occupied two little closets leading out of the nursery,
which seemed spacious enough, and ancient enough, to have been the
dormitory of a score of monks, as very likely it was in the early days of
Saint Bede's. Phillis, sewing by her little table in the far corner, kept
guard over a large bed, where, curled up like a rose-bud, flushed and
warm, lay that beautiful child whom Christian had thought of twenty
times a day for the last fortnight.
"Well, Phillis, how are you and your little folk?" said the master, in a
pleasant whisper, as he crossed the nursery floor.
He trod lightly, but either his step was too welcome to remain
undiscovered, or the children's sleep had been "fox's sleep," for there
arose a great outcry of "Papa, papa!" Oliver leaped up, half laughing,
half screaming, and kicking his little bare legs with glee as his father
took him in his arms; Arthur came running in, clad in the very airiest
costume possible; and Letitia appeared sedately a minute or two
afterwards having stopped to put on her warm scarlet dressing-gown,
and to take off her nightcap—under the most exciting circumstances,
Titia was such an exceedingly "proper" child.
What would the Avonsbridge dons have said—the solitary old fellows in
combination-room—and, above all, what would the ghosts of the
gloomy old monks have said, could they have seen the Master of Saint
Bede's, with all his children round him, hugging him, kissing him,
chattering to him, while he hung over them in an absorption of
enjoyment so deep that, for a moment, Christian was unnoticed? But
only for a moment; and he turned to where she stood, a little aloof,
looking on, half sadly, and yet with beaming, kindly eyes. Her husband
caught her hand and drew her nearer.
"Children, you remember this lady. She was very good to you one day
lately. And now I want you to be very good to her."
"Oh yes," cried Oliver, putting up his mouth at once for a kiss. "I like
her very much. Who is she? What is her name?"
Children ask sometimes the simplest, yet the most terrible of questions.
This one seemed literally impossible to be answered. Dr. Grey tried,
and caught sight of his daughter's face—the mouth pursed into that hard.
line which made her so exactly like her mother. Arthur, too, looked
sullen and shy. Nobody spoke but little. Oliver, who, in his innocent,
childish way, pulling Christian's dress, repeated again, "What is your
name? What must Olly call you?"
Whatever she felt, her husband must have felt and known that this was
the critical moment which, once let slip, might take years afterward to
recall. He said, nervously enough, but with a firmness that showed he
must already have well considered the subject,
"Call her mamma."
There was no reply. Christian herself was somewhat startled, but
conscious of a pleasant thrill at the sound of the new name, coming
upon her so suddenly. Strange it was; and ah! how differently it came
to her from the way it comes upon most women—gradually, deliciously,
with long looking forward and tremulous hope and fear—still it was
pleasant. The maternal instinct was so strong that even imaginary
motherhood seemed sweet. She bent forward to embrace the children,
with tears in her eyes, when Letitia said, in a sharp, unchildlike voice,
"People can't have two mammas; and our mamma is buried in the New
Cemetery. Aunts took us there yesterday afternoon."
Had the little girl chosen the sharpest arrow in her aunts' quiver—nay,
bad she been Miss Gascoigne herself, she could not have shot more
keenly home. For the dart was barbed with truth—literal truth; which,
however, sore it be, people in many difficult circumstances of life are
obliged to face, to recognize, and abide by—to soften and subdue if they
can—but woe betide them if by any cowardly weakness or shortsighted
selfishness, they are tempted to deny it as truth, or to overlook and
make light of it.
Painful as the position was—so painful that Dr. Grey was quite
overcome by it, and maintained a total silence—Christian had yet the
sense to see that it was a position inevitable, because it was true.
Bitterly as the child had spoken—with the bitterness which she had been
taught—yet she had only uttered a fact. In one sense, nobody could
have two mothers; and Christian, almost with contrition, thought of the
poor dead woman whose children were now taught to call another
woman by that sacred name. But the pang passed. Had she known the
first Mrs. Grey, it might not have been so sharp; in any case, here was
she herself—Dr. Grey's wife and the natural guardian of his children.
Nothing could alter that fact. Her lot was cast; her duty was clear
before her; she must accept it and bear it, whatever it might be perhaps,
for some reasons, it was the better for her that it was rather hard.
She looked at her husband, saw how agitated he was, and there seemed
to come into her mind a sort of inspiration.
"My child," she said, trying to draw Letitia toward her, "you say truly.
I am not your own mamma; no one ever could be that to you again; but
I mean to be as like her as I can. I mean to love you and take care of
you; and you will love me too by-and-by. You can always talk to me
as much as ever you like about your own mamma."
"She doesn't remember her one bit," said Arthur, contemptuously.
"Oh, yes I do," cried Letitia. "She was very pretty, and always wore
such beautiful gowns."
Again there was a silence, and then Christian said,
"I think, if the children do not dislike it, that as they always called Mrs.
Grey 'mamma,' they had better call me 'mother.' It is a pleasanter word
than step-mother. And I hope to make myself a real mother to them
before very long."
"I know you will," answered Dr. Grey, in a smothered voice, as he set
down little Oliver, and, kissing the children all round, bade nurse carry
them off to bed once more—nurse, who, standing apart, with her great
black eyes had already taken the measure of the new wife, of the
children's future, and of the chances of her own authority. Not the
smallest portion of this decision originated in the fact that Christian,
wholly preoccupied as she was, quitted it without taking any notice of
Dr. Grey preceded his wife to a room, which, in the long labyrinth of
apartments, seemed almost a quarter of a mile away. A large fire burnt
on the old-fashioned hearth, and glimmered cheerily on the white toilet-
table, crimson sofa, and bed. It was a room comfortable, elegant,
pleasant, bright, thoroughly "my lady's chamber," and which seemed
from every nook to welcome its new owner with a smile.
"Oh, how pretty!" exclaimed Christian, involuntarily. She was not
luxurious, yet she dearly loved pretty things; the more so, because she
had never possessed them. Even now, though her heart was so moved
and full, she was not insensible to the warmth imparted to it by mere
external pleasantnesses like these.
"I had the room newly furnished. I thought you would like it," said Dr.
"I do like it. How very kind you are to me!"
She looked around the room, and there, in one corner, just as if she had
never parted from them, were all the old treasures of her maidenhood—
desk, work-table, chair. She guessed all the secret. Once, perhaps, she
might have burst into tears—heart-warm tears; now she only sighed.
"Oh, how good you are!"
Her husband kissed her. Passively she took the caress, and again she
sighed. Dr. Grey looked at her earnestly, then spoke in much
"Christian, tell me truly, were you hurt at what occurred just now? I
mean in the nursery."
"No, not in the least. It was inevitable."
"It was. Many things in life, quite inevitable, have yet to be met and
borne, conquered even, if we can."
"Ay, if we can!"
And Christian looked up wistfully, almost entreatingly, to her husband,
who, she now knew, and trembled at the knowledge, so solemn was the
responsibility it brought, had loved her, and did love her, with a depth
and passion such as a man like him never loves but one woman in all
"Christian," he began again, with an effort, "I want to say something to
you. Once in my life, when I was almost as young as you are, I made a
great mistake. Therefore I know that mistakes are not irretrievable.
God teaches us sometimes by our very errors, leading us through them
into light and truth. Only we must follow Him, and hold fast to the
right, however difficult it may be. We must not be disheartened: we
must leave the past where it is, and go on to the future; do what we
have to do, and suffer all we have to suffer. We must meet things as
they are, without perplexing ourselves about what they might have
been; for, if we believe in an overruling Providence at all, there can be
no such possibility as 'might have been.'"
"That is true," said Christian, musingly. She had never known Dr.
Grey to speak like this. She wondered a little why he should do it now;
and yet his words struck home. That great "mistake"—was it his first
marriage? which, perhaps, had not been a happy one. At least, he never
spoke of it, or of his children's mother. And besides, it was difficult to
believe that any man could have loved two women, as, Christian knew
and felt, Dr. Grey now loved herself.
But she asked hint no questions; she felt not the slightest curiosity
about that, or about any thing. She was like a person in a state of moral
catalepsy, to whom, for the time being, every feeling, pleasant or
painful, seems dulled and dead.
Dr. Grey said no more, and what he had said was evidently with great
effort. He appeared glad to go back into ordinary talk, showing her
what he had done in the room to make it pretty and pleasant for his
bride, and smiling over her childish delight to see again her maiden
treasures, with which she had parted so mournfully.
"You could not think I meant you really to part with them, Christian?"
said he. "I fancied you had found out my harmless deceit long ago.
But you are such an innocent baby, my child—as clear as crystal, and as
true as steel."
"Oh no, no!" she cried, as he went out of the room—a cry that was
almost a sob, and might have called him back again—but he was gone,
and the moment had passed by. With it passed the slight quivering and
softening which had been visible in her face, and she sunk again into
the impassive calm which made Christian Grey so totally different,
from Christian Oakley.
She rose up, took off her bonnet and shawl, and arranged her hair,
looking into the mirror with eyes that evidently saw nothing. Then she
knelt before the fire, warming her ice-cold hands on which the two-
weeks' familiar ring seemed to shine with a fatal glitter. She kept
moving it up and down with a nervous habit that she was trying vainly
"A mistake," she muttered, "Perhaps my marriage, too, was a mistake,
irretrievable, irremediable, as he may himself think now, only he was
too kind to let me see it. What am I to do? Nothing. I can do nothing.
'Until death us do part.' Do I wish for death—my death, of course—to
come and part us?"
She could not, even to herself, answer that question.
"What was he saying—that God teaches us by our very errors—that there
is no such thing as 'might have been?' He thinks so, and he is very
wise, far wiser and better than I am. I might have loved him. Oh that I
had only waited till I did really love him, instead of fancying it enough
that he loved me. But I must not think. I have done with thinking. It
would drive me out of my senses."
She started up, and stood gazing round the cheerful, bright, handsome
room, where every luxury that a comfortable income could give had
been provided for her comfort, every little fancy and taste she had been
remembered, with a tender mindfulness that would have made the heart
of any newly-married wife, married for love, leap for joy, and look
forward hopefully to that life which, with all its added cares, a good
man's affection can make so happy to the woman who is his chosen
delight. But in Christian's face was no happiness; only that white, wild,
frightened look, which had come on her marriage day, and then settled
down into what she now wore—the aspect of passive submission and
"But I will do my duty. And he will do his, no fear of that! He is so
good—far better than I. Yes, I shall do my duty?"
"Faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is
There is a deeper meaning in this text than we at first see. Of "these
three," two concern ourselves; the third concerns others. When faith
and hope fail, as they do sometimes, we must try charity, which is love
in action. We must speculate no more on our duty, but simply do it.
When we have done it, however blindly, perhaps Heaven will show us
the reason why.
Christian went down stairs slowly and sadly, but quite calmly, to
spend—and she did spend it, painlessly, if not pleasantly—the first
evening in her own home.
"When ye're my ain goodwife, lassie,
What'll ye bring to me?
A hantle o'siller, a stockin' o' gowd?
'I haena ae bawbee.'
"When ye are my ain goodwife, lassie,
And sit at my fireside,
Will the red and white meet in your face?
'Na! ye'll no get a bonnie bride.'
"But gin ye're my ain goodwife, lassie,
Mine for gude an' ill,
Will ye bring me three things lassie,
My empty hame to fill?"
"A temper sweet, a silent tongue,
A heart baith warm and free?
Then I'll marry ye the morn, lassie,
And loe ye till I dee."
Avonsbridge lay still deep in February snow, for it was the severest
winter which had been known there for many years. But any one who
is acquainted with the place must allow that it never looks better or
more beautiful than in a fierce winter frost—too fierce to melt the snow;
when, in early morning, you may pass from college to college, over
quadrangles, courts, and gardens, and your own footsteps will be the
only mark on the white untrodden carpet, which lies glittering and
dazzling before you, pure and beautiful as even country snow.
A little later in the morning you may meet a few gyps and bedmakers
coming round chance corners, or descending mysterious stairs; but if
you go beyond inhabited precincts, down to the river-side, you are
almost sure to be quite alone; you may stand, as Christian was
accustomed to do, on any one of the bridges which connect the college
buildings and college grounds, and see nothing but the little robin
hopping about and impressing tiny footprints after yours in the path,
then flying on to the branches of the nearest willow, which, heavy with
a weight that is not leaves, but snow, dips silently into the silenced
Or you may gaze, as Christian gazed every morning with continually
new wonder, at the colors of the dawn brightening into sunrise, such as
it looks on a winter's morning—so beautiful that it seems an almost
equal marvel that nobody should care to see it but yourself, except
perhaps a solitary gownsman, a reading man, taking his usual
constitutional just as a matter of duty, but apparently not enjoying it the
least in the world.
Not enjoying it—the sharp fresh air, which braces every nerve, and
invigorates every limb, causing all the senses to awake and share, as it
were, this daily waking up of Nature, fresh as a rose? For what
rosiness, in the brightest summer days, can compare with that kiss of
the winter's sun on the tree-tops, slowly creeping down their trunks and
branches? And what blueness, even of a June sky, can equal that sea of
space up aloft, across which, instead of shadows and stars, pink and
lilac morning clouds are beginning to sail, clearer and brighter every
minute? As they have sailed for the last four centuries over the
pinnacle of that wondrous chapel, which has been described in guide-
books, and pictured in engravings to an overwhelming extent, yet is
still a building of whose beauty, within and without, the eye never tires.
Christian stood watching it, for the hundredth time, with that vague
sensation of pleasure which she felt at sight of all lovely things,
whether of nature or art. That, at least, had never left her; she hoped it
never might. It was something to hold by, though all the world slid by
like a dream. Very dreamy her life felt still, though she had tried to
make it more real and natural by resuming some of her old ways, and
especially her morning walk, before the nine o'clock breakfast at the
She had made a faint protest in favor of an earlier hour than nine, and
begged that the children might come down to breakfast; she craved so
to have the little faces about the table. But Miss Gascoigne had said
solemnly that "my poor dear sister always breakfasted at nine, and
never allowed her children to breakfast any where but in the nursery."
And that reference, which was made many times a day, invariably
She had now been married exactly four weeks, but it seemed like four
years—four ages—as if she hardly remembered the time when she was
Christian Oakley. Yet now and then, in a dim sort of way, her old
identity returned to her, as it does to those who, after a great crisis and
uprooting of all life, submit, some in despair, some in humble, patience,
to the inevitable.
This good time, this lucid interval, so to speak, usually came to her in
the morning, when she took her early walk in the familiar places; for to
Christian familiarity only made things more dear. Already she was
beginning to find her own nooks, and to go about her own ways in
those grim college rooms, which grew less ghostly now that she knew
them better. Already she was getting a little used to her new home, her
formal dignities, and her handsome clothes. It was a small thing to
think of, perhaps, and yet, as she walked across the college
quadrangles, remembering how often she had shivered in her thin shawl
along these very paths, the rich fur cloak felt soft and warm, like her
husband's goodness and unfailing love.
As she stepped with her light, firm tread across the crinkling snow, she
was—not unhappy. In her still dwelt that wellspring of healthy vitality,
which always, under all circumstances, responds more or less to the
influence of the cheerful morning, the stainless childhood, of the day.
No wonder the "reading man" who had been so insensible to the
picturesque in nature, turned his weary eyes to look after her, or that a
bevy of freshmen, rushing wildly out of chapel, with their surplices
flying behind them like a flock of white—geese?—should have stopped
to stare, a little more persistently than gentlemen ought, at the solitary
lady, who was walking where she had a perfect right to walk, and at an
hour when she could scarcely be suspected of promenading either to
observe or to attract observation. But Christian went right on, with
perfect composure. She knew she was handsome, for she had been told
so once; but the knowledge had afterward become only pain. Now, she
was indifferent to her looks—at least as indifferent as any womanly
woman ever can be, or ought to be. Still, it vexed her a little that these
young men should presume to stare, and she was glad she was not
walking in Saint Bede's, and that they were not the men of her own
For already she began to appropriate "our college"—those old walls,
under the shadow of which all her future life must pass. As she entered
the narrow gateway of Saint Beck's, and walked round its chilly
cloisters, to the Lodge door, she tried not to remember that she had ever
thought of life as any thing different from this, or had ever planned an
existence of boundless enjoyment, freedom, and beauty, travel in
foreign countries, seeing of mountains, cities, pictures, palaces, hearing
of grand music, and mingling in brilliant society—a phantasmagoria of
delight which had visited her fancy once—was it only her fancy?—and
vanished in a moment, as completely as the shadows projected on the
wall. And here she was, the wife of the Master of Saint Bede's.
"I was right—I was right," she said to herself in the eagerness of a vain
assurance. "And whether I was right or wrong matters not now. I must
bear it—I must do my duty—and I will!"
She stood still a minute to calm herself, then knocked at the Lodge
gate. Barker opened it with that look of grieved superior surprise with
which he always obeyed any novel order, or watched the doing of any
deed which he considered lowered the dignity of himself and the
"A beautiful morning, Barker!"
"Is it, ma'am? So one of the bedmakers was a-saying;" as if to imply
that bedmakers were the only women whose business it was to
investigate the beauties of the morning.
Christian smiled; she knew she was not a favorite with him; indeed, no
women were. He declared that no petticoat ought ever to be seen
within college boundaries. But he was a decent man, with an
overwhelming reverence for Dr. Grey; and so, though he was never too
civil to herself, Christian felt a kindness for honest old Barker.
She was a minute or two late; the master had already left his study, and
was opening the large book of prayers. Nevertheless, he looked up
with a smile, as he always did the instant his wife's foot entered the
door. But his sister appeared very serious, and Miss Gascoigne's aspect
was a perfect thundercloud, which broke into lightning the instant
prayers were over.
"I must say, Mrs. Grey, you have a most extraordinary propensity for
morning walks. I never did such a thing in all my life, nor Maria
"Probably not," answered Christian, as she took her seat before the urn,
which gave her the one home-like feeling she had at the Lodge.
"Different people have different ways, and this has always been mine."
"Because it does me good, and harms nobody else," said Christian,
"I doubt that, anyhow; you never will make me believe it can be good
for you to do a thing that nobody else does—to go wandering about
streets and colleges when all respectable people are still in their beds.
To say the least of it, it is so very peculiar."
The tone, more even than the words, made Christian flush up, but she
did not reply. She had already learned not to reply to these sharp
speeches of Miss Gascoigne's, which, she noticed, fell on every body
alike. "What Miss Grey bears, I suppose I can," thought she to herself
when many times during the last two weeks she had been addressed in
a manner which somewhat surprised her, as being a mode of speech
more fitting from a school-mistress to a naughty school-girl than from a
sister to a young wife, or, indeed, from any lady to any other lady—at
least, according to her code of manners.
"You may talk as you like!" continued Miss Gascoigne, glancing at the
far end of the room, where the master was deeply busied in searching
for a book, "but I object to these morning walks; and I am certain Dr.
Grey also would object, if he knew of them."
"He does know."
"And does he approve? Impossible! Only think, Maria, if our poor
dear sister had done such a thing!"
"Oh, hush, Henrietta!" cried Maria, appealingly, as Dr. Grey came back
and sat himself placidly down at the breakfast-table, with his big book
beside him. He had apparently not heard a single word.
Yet he looked so good and sweet—yes, sweet is the only fitting word; a
gentle simplicity like a child's, which always seemed to hover round
this bookish learned man—that the womenkind were silenced—as, by a
most fortunate instinct, women generally are in presence of their
masculine relatives. They may quarrel enough among themselves, but
they seem to feel that men either will not understand it or not endure
it. That terrible habit of "talking over" by which most women "nurse
their wrath and keep it warm," is happily to men almost impossible.
Breakfast was never a lively meal at the Lodge. After the first few days
Dr. Grey took refuge in his big book, which for years Miss Gascoigne
averred he had always kept beside him at meal-times. Not good
behavior in a paterfamilias, but the habit told its own tale. Very soon
Christian neither marveled at nor blamed him.
Never in all her life, not even during the few months that she lived with
the Fergusons, had she sat at a family table; yet she had always had a
favorite ideal of what a family table ought to be—bright, cheerful, a sort
of domestic altar, before which every one cast down his or her offering,
great or small, of pleasantness and peace; where for at least a brief
space in the day all annoyances were laid aside, all stormy tempers
hushed, all quarrels healed; everyone being glad and content to sit
down at the same board, and eat the same bread and salt, making it,
whether it were a fatted calf or a dinner of herbs, equally a joyful,
almost sacramental meal.
This was her ideal, poor girl! Now she wondered as she had done
many times since her coming "home," if all family tables were like this
one—shadowed over with gloomy looks, frozen by silence, or broken
by sharp speeches, which darted about like little arrows pointed with
poison, or buzzed here and there like angry wasps, settling and stinging
unawares, and making every one uncomfortable, not knowing who
might be the next victim stung. True, there was but one person to sting,
for Miss Grey never said ill-natured things; but then she said ill-advised
and mal-apropos things, and she had such an air of frightened
dumbness, such a sad, deprecatory look, that she was sometimes quite
as trying as Miss Gascoigne, who spoke out. And oh, how she did
speak! Christian, who had never known many women, and had never
lived constantly with any, now for the first time learned what was
meant by "a woman's tongue."
At first it simply astonished her. How it was possible for one mortal
member to run on so long without a pause, and in such ugly and uneasy
paths—for the conversation was usually fault-finding of persons or
things—passed her comprehension. Then she felt a little weary, and
half wished that she, too, had a big book into which she could plunge
herself instead of having to sit there, politely smiling, saying "Yes,"
and "No," and "Certainly." At last she sank into a troubled silence tried
to listen as well as she could, and yet allow the other half of her mind to
wander away into some restful place, if any such place could be found.
The nearest approach to it was in that smooth, broad brow, and kindly
eyes, which were now and then lifted up from the foot of the table, out
of the mazes of the big book, at the secret of which Christian did not
And he had thus listened patiently to this mill-stream, or mill-clack, for
three weary years! Perhaps; for many another year before; but into that
Christian would not allow her lightest thoughts to penetrate: the sacred
veil of Death was over it all.
"If I can only make him happy!" This was already beginning to be her
prominent thought, and it warmed her heart that morning at this weary
breakfast table to hear him say,
"Christian, I don't know how you manage it, but I think I never had
such good tea in all my life as since you took it into your own hands
and out of Barker's."
"No doubt she makes tea very well," said Miss Gascoigne
condescendingly, "which is one good result of not having been used to
a servant to do it for her. And she must have had such excellent
practice at Mrs. Ferguson's. I believe those sort of people always feed
together—parents, children, apprentices and all."
"I assure you, not always," said Christian, quietly. "At least I dined
with the children alone,"
"Indeed! How very pleasant!"
"It was not unpleasant. They were good little things; and, as you know,
I always prefer having children about me at meal-times. I think it
makes them little gentlemen and gentlewomen in a manner that nothing
else will. If I had a house"—she stopped and blushed deeply for having
let old things—ah! they seemed so very old, and far back now—make
her forget the present. "I mean, I should wish in my house to have the
children always accustomed to come to the parents' table as soon as
they were old enough to handle a knife and fork."
"Should you?" said Dr. Grey, quite startling her, for she thought he had
not been attending to the conversation. "Then we will have Titia and
Atty to breakfast with us to-morrow."
Thus, without any fuss the great revolution was made; so quickly, so
completely, that even Miss Gascoigne was dumb-foundered. She set
down her teacup with a jerk; her handsome face grew red with anger,
but still she did not venture a word, she had not lived three years with
Dr. Grey without finding out that when the master of the house did
choose to exercise authority, he must be obeyed. He very seldom
interfered, especially as regarded the children; like most simple-minded
men, he was humble about himself, and left a great deal to his
womankind; but when he did interfere it was decisive. Even Miss
Gascoigne felt instinctively that she might have wrangled and jangled
for an hour and at the end of it he would have said, almost as gently as
he had said it now, "The children will breakfast with us to-morrow."
Christian, too, was surprised, and something more. She had thought
her husband so exceedingly quiet that sometimes her own high spirit
winced a little at his passiveness; that is, she knew it would have done
had she been her own natural self, and not in the strange, dreamy,
broken-down state, which seemed to take interest in nothing. Still, she
felt some interest in seeing Dr. Grey appear, though but in a trivial
thing, rather different from what she had at first supposed him. And
when, after an interval of awful silence, during which Miss Gascoigne
looked like a brooding hurricane, and Miss Grey frightened out of her
life at what was next to happen, he rose and said, "Now remember,
Aunt Henrietta, you or my wife are to give orders to Phillis that the
children come to us at lunchtime to-day," Christian was conscious of a
slight throb at heart. It was to see in her husband—the man to whom,
whatever he was, she was tied and bound for life—that something
without which no woman can wholly respect any man—the power of
asserting and of maintaining authority; not that arbitrary, domineering
rule which springs from the blind egotism of personal will, and which
every other conscientious will, be it of wife, child, servant, or friend,
instinctively resists, and, ought to resist, but calm, steadfast, just,
righteous authority. There is an old rhyme,
"A spaniel, a woman, and a walnut-tree,
the more ye thrash 'em, the better they be;"
which rhyme is not true. But there lies a foundation of truth under it,
that no woman ever perfectly loves a man who is not strong enough to
make her also obey.
As Dr. Grey went out of the room, and the minute following, as with an
after-thought, put in his head again, saying, "Christian, I want you!" she
followed him with a lighter heart than she had had for many weary
"The little griefs—the petty wounds—
The stabs of daily care—
'Crackling of thorns beneath the pot,'
As life's fire burns—now cold, now hot—
How hard they are to bear!
"But on the fire burns, clear and still;
The cankering sorrow dies;
The small wounds heal; the clouds are rent,
And through this shattered mortal tent
Shine down the eternal skies."
"Dr. Grey, as to-day is your 'at home'—at least, as much of an 'at home'
as is possible under the circumstances—I wished to inquire, once for all,
what is to be done about the Fergusons?"
"About whom? I beg pardon. Henrietta, but what were you talking
Which, as she had been talking "even on" all breakfast-time, either to
or at the little circle, including Letitia and Arthur, was not an
"I referred to your wife's friends and late employers, the Fergusons, of
High Street. As she was married from their house, and as, of course,
they will only be too glad to keep up her acquaintance, they will
doubtless appear to-day. In that case, much as we should regret it, your
sister and myself must decline being present. We can not possibly
admit such people into our society. Isn't it so—eh, Maria?"
Maria, thus sharply appealed to, answered with her usual monosyllable.
Dr. Grey looked at his wife in a puzzled, absent way. He was very
absent—there was no doubt of it—and sometimes, seemed as shut up in
himself as if he had lived a bachelor all his life. Besides, he did not
readily take in the small wrongs—petty offenses—which make half the
misery of domestic life, and are equally contemptible in the offender
and the offended. There was something pathetically innocent in the
way he said.
"I really do not quite understand. Christian, what does it all mean?"
"It means," said Christian, trying hard to restrain an indignant answer,
"that Miss Gascoigne is giving herself a great deal of needless trouble
about a thing which will never happen. My friends, the Fergusons, may
call to-day—I did not invite them, though I shall certainly not shut the
door upon them—but they have no intention whatever of being on
visiting terms at the Lodge, nor have I of asking them."
"I am glad to hear it," said Miss Gascoigne—"glad to see that you have
so much good taste and proper feeling, and that all my exertions in
bringing you—as I hope to do to-day—for the first time into our society
will not be thrown away."
Christian was not a very proud woman—that is, her pride lay too deep
below the surface to be easily ruffled, but she could not bear this.
"If by our 'society' you mean my husband's friends, to whom he is to
introduce me, I shall be most happy always to welcome them to his
house; but if you imply that I am to exclude my own—honest, worthy,
honorable people, uneducated though they may be—I must altogether
decline agreeing with you. I shall do no such thing."
"Shall you do, then?" said Miss Gascoigne, after a slight pause; for she
did not expect such resistance from the young, pale, passive creature,
about whom, for the last few days she had rather changed her mind, and
treated with a patronizing consideration, for Aunt Henrietta liked to
patronize; it pleased her egotism; besides, she was shrewd enough to
see that an elegant, handsome girl, married to the Master of Saint
Bede's, was sure soon to be taken up by somebody; better, perhaps; by
her own connections than by strangers. So—more blandly than might
have been expected—she asked, "What shall you do?"
"What seems to me—as I think it will to Dr. Grey"—with a timid glance
at him, and a wish she had found courage to speak to him first on
this matter, "the only right thing I can do. Not to drag my friends into
society where they would not feel at home, and which would only look
down upon them, but to make them understand clearly that I—and my
husband—do not look down upon them; that we respect them, and
remember their kindness. We may not ask Mr. Ferguson to dinner—he
would find little to say to University dons; and as for his wife"—she
could not forbear a secret smile at the thought of the poor dear woman,
with her voluble affectionateness and her gowns of all colors, beside
the stately, frigid, perfectly dressed, and unexceptionably—mannered
Miss Gascoigne—"whether or not Mrs. Ferguson is invited to the series
of parties that you are planning, I shall go and see her, and she shall
come to see me, as often as ever I please."
This speech, which began steadily enough, ended with a shaky voice
and flashing eye, which, the moment it met Dr. Grey's, gravely
watching her, sank immediately.
"That is," she added gently, "If my husband has no objection."
"None," he said, but drew ink and paper to him, and sat down to write a
note, which he afterward handed over to Christian, then addressing his
sister-in-law, "I have invited Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson to dine with us—
just ourselves, as you and Maria will be out—at six o'clock to-morrow.
And oh!"—with a weary look, as if he were not so insensible to this
petty domestic martyrdom as people imagined—"do, Henrietta, let us
have a little peace."
It was in vain. Even Dr. Grey's influence could not heal the wounded
egotism of this unfortunate lady.
"Peace! Do you mean to say that it is I who make dispeace! But if
you, having known what a good, obedient wife really is, can submit to
such unwarrantable dictation; and if I, or Maria, your own sister
(Maria, why don't you speak?), can not offer one word of advice to a
young person, who, as might be expected, is entirely ignorant of the
usages of society—is, in fact, a perfect child—"
"She is my wife!" said Dr. Grey, so suddenly and decisively that even
Christian, who had been reading the note with a grateful heart for
kindness shown for her sake, involuntarily started.
My wife. He said only those two words, yet somehow they brought a
tear in her eye. The sense of protection, so new and strange, was also
pleasant. She could have fought her own battles—at least she could
once—without bringing him into them; but when he stood there, with
his hand on her shoulder, simply saying those words, which implied, or
ought to imply, every thing that man is to woman, and every thing that
woman needs, she became no longer warlike and indignant, but
humble, passive, and content.
And long after Dr. Gray was gone away, with his big book under his
arm, and Miss Gascoigne, in unutterable wrath and scorn, had turned
from her and began talking volubly to poor Aunt Maria at the fireside,
the feeling of content remained.
There was a long pause, during which the two children, Letitia and
Arthur, who had listened with open eyes and ears to what was passing
among their elders, now, forgetting it all, crept away for their usual
half-hour of after-breakfast play in the end window of the dining-room.
Christian also took her work, and began thinking of other things. She
neither wished to fight or be fought for, particularly in such a petty
domestic war. One of the many advantages among the many
disadvantages of a girlhood almost entirely removed from the society
of women was that it had saved her from women's smallnesses.
Besides, her nature itself was large, like her person—large, and
bounteous, and sweet; it refused to take in those petty motives which
disturb petty minds. Life to her was a grand romantic drama,—perhaps,
alas! a tragedy—but it never could be made into a genteel comedy, with
childish intrigues, Liliputian battles, tempests in teapots, or thunders
made upon kettle-drums.
Thus, concluding the temporary storm was over, and almost forgetting
it at the half-hour's end, she called cheerfully to the children to get
ready for a walk with her this sunshiny morning.
Miss Gascoigne rose, her black eyes flashing: "Children, you will not
leave the house. You will walk with nobody but your own proper
nurse. It was your poor mamma's custom and, though she is dead, her
wishes shall be carried out, at least so long as I am alive."
Christian stood utterly amazed. Her intention had been so harmless;
she had thought the walk good for the children, and perhaps good for
herself to have their company. She had meant to take them out with her
the first available day, and begin a regular series of rambles, which
perhaps might win their little hearts toward her, for they still kept aloof
and shy; and now all her pleasant plans were set aside.
And there the children stood, half frightened, half amused, watching the
conflict of authority between their elders. One thing was clear. There
must be no bringing them into the contest. Christian saw that, and with
a strong effort of self-control she said to Miss Gascoigne,
"I think, before we discuss this matter, the children had better leave the
room. Go, Atty and Titia; your aunts and I will send word to the
The children went obediently, though Christian heard Arthur whisper to
his sister something about "such a jolly row?" But there was none.
Miss Gascoigne burst forth into a perfect torrent of words directed not
to Mrs. Grey, but at her, involving such insinuations, such accusations,
that Christian, who had never been used to this kind of things stood
She answered not a word; she could not trust herself to speak. She had
meant so kindly: was so innocent of any feeling save a wish to be good
and motherly to these motherless children. Besides, she had such an
intense craving for their affection, and even their companionship, for
there were times when her life felt withering up within her—chilled to
death by the gloom of the dull home, with its daily round of solemn
formalities. If she had spoken, she would have burst into tears. To
save herself from this, she rose and left the parlor.
It might have been weak, unworthy a woman of spirit; but Christian
was, in one sense—not Miss Gascoigne's—still a very child. And most
childlike in their passionate bitterness, their keen sense of injustice,
were the tears she shed in her own room, alone. For she did not go to
Dr. Grey: why should she? Her complaints could only wound him: and
somehow she scorned to complain. She had not been a governess for
two years without learning that authority propped up by extraneous
power is nearly useless, and that, between near connections, love
commanded, not won, generally results in something very like hatred.
Besides, was there not some truth in what the aunt said? Had she—the
second wife—authority over the first Mrs. Grey's children? Would it
not be better to let them alone, for good or for evil, and trouble herself
about their welfare no more? But just that minute Oliver's little feet
went pattering outside the door—Oliver, who, still a nursery pet, was
freer than the others, and who had already learned where to come of
forenoons for biscuits to eat or toys to be mended. There was now a
one-wheeled cart and a three-legged horse requiring Christian's
tenderest attention; and as she sat down on the crimson sofa, and busied
herself over them, with the little eager face creeping close to hers, and
the little fat arm steadying itself round her neck, her wet eyes soon
grew dry and bright, and her heart less sore, less hopeless. The small,
necessities of the present, which make children's company so soothing,
quieted her now; and by the time she had watched the little fellow run
away, dragging his cart and horse down the oak floor, shouting "Gee-
ho!" and turning round often to laugh at her, Christian felt that life
looked less blank and dreary than it had done an hour ago.
Still, when she had dressed herself in the violet silk and Honiton lace
which Miss Gascoigne had informed her were necessary—oh, how she
had been tormented about the etiquette of this "at home"—the cloud
darkened over her again. What should she do or say to these strange
people?—the worse, that they were not quite strangers—that she knew
them by report or by sight—and, alack! from her father's ill name they
knew her only too well. How they would talk her over and criticise
her, in that small way in which women do criticise one another, and
which she now, for the first time in her life, had experienced. Was it
the habit of all University ladies? If so, how would she endure a whole
lifetime of that trivial ceremoniousness in outside things, those small
back-bitings and fault-findings, such as the two aunts indulged in? It
was worse, far worse, than poor Mrs. Ferguson's stream of foolish
maternalities—vulgar, but warm and kindly, and never ill-natured; and
oh! ten times worse than anything Christian had known in her girlhood,
which had been forlorn indeed, but free; when she had followed
through necessity her nomadic father, who had at any rate, left her
alone, to form her own mind and character as she best could. Of man's
selfishness and badness she knew enough; but of women's small
sillinesses, narrow formalities, and petty unkindnesses, she was utterly
ignorant till now.
"How shall I bear them? Let Dr. Grey be ever so good to me, still, how
shall I bear them?" She sighed, she almost sobbed, and pressed her
cheek wearily against the frosty pane, for she was sitting in a window-
seat on the staircase, lingering till the last possible instant before the
hour when Miss Gascoigne had said she ought to be in her place in the
"My dear, are you not afraid of catching cold?" said the hesitating voice
of Miss Grey. "Besides, will not the servants think it rather odd, your
sitting here on the staircase? Bless me, my dear, were you crying?"
"No," answered Christian, energetically, "no!" and then belied her
truthfulness by bursting immediately into tears.
Miss Grey was melted at once. "There, now, my dear, take my
smelling-bottle; you will be better soon; it is only a little over-
excitement. But, indeed, you need not mind; our friends—that is,
Henrietta's—for you know I seldom visit—are all very nice people, and
they will pay every respect to my brother's wife. Do not be frightened
"I was not frightened," replied Mrs. Grey, more inclined to smile than
to be offended at this earnest condolence. "What troubled me was quite
"Henrietta. perhaps?" with an uneasy glance up the staircase. "But my
dear, you must not mind Henrietta; she means well. You don't know
how busy she has been all the morning, arranging every thing. 'For,'
says she to me, 'since your brother has married again, we must make
the best of it, and introduce his wife into society, and be very kind to
her.' And I am sure I hope we are,"
"Thank you," said Christian, somewhat haughtily, till touched by the
mild deprecation of that foolish, gentle face, so gentle as half to atone
for its foolishness.
"You see, my dear, your marriage was much worse to her than to me,
because Mrs. Grey was her own sister, while Arnold is my brother.
And all I want in the wide world is to see my brother happy. I hope it
isn't wrong of me, but I don't think quite as dear Henrietta does. I
always felt that dear Arnold might marry any body he pleased, and I
should be sure to love her if only she made him happy. But, hush! I
hear somebody coming."
And the poor little lady composed herself into some pretense of
indifference when Christian rose from the windowsill, and stood like a
queen—or rather like what she tried to say to herself, so as to keep up
her matronly dignity, whenever passionate, girlish grief or anger
threatened to break it down, "like Dr. Grey's wife."
Miss Gascoigne stopped benignly, much to Christian's surprise, for she
did not guess what a wonderful influence clothes have in calming down
ill tempers. And Miss Gascoigne was beautifully dressed—quite perfect
from top to toe; and she was such a handsome woman still, that it was
quite a pleasure to look at her, as she very well knew. She had come
direct from her mirror, and was complacent accordingly. Also, she felt
that domestic decorum must be preserved on the "at home" day.
"That is a very pretty dress you have on; I suppose Dr. Grey bought it
"Did he choose it likewise?"
"I believe so."
"My sister always chose her own dresses; but then she paid for them
too. She had a little income of her own, which is a very good thing for
a wife to have."
"A very good thing."
"Indeed, Mrs. Grey, I scarcely expected you to think so."
"I think," said Christian, firmly, though for the moment the silk gown
seemed to burn her arms, and the pearl brooch and lace collar to weigh
like lead on her bosom, "I think that in any true marriage it does not
signify one jot whether the husband or the wife has the money. Shall
we go down stairs?"
There was time for the hot cheek to cool and the angry heart to be
stilled a little before the visitors came.
Miss Gascoigne had truly remarked that the master's wife was
unaccustomed to society—that society which forms the staple of all
provincial towns, well dressed, well mannered, well informed. But it
seemed to Christian as if these ladies, though thoroughly ladylike in
manner, which was very grateful to her innate sense of refinement, all
dressed after one fashion, and talked mostly about the same things. To
her, ungifted with the blessed faculty of small talk, the conversation
appeared somewhat frivolous, unreal, and uninteresting. She hardly
knew what to say or how to say it, yet was painfully conscious that her
every word and every look were being sharply criticised, either in the
character of Edward Oakley's daughter or Dr. Grey's wife.
"At least he shall not be ashamed of me," was the thought that kept her
up through both weariness and resentment, and she found herself
involuntarily looking toward the door every time it opened. Would he
come in? At least his presence would bring her that sense of relief and
protection which she had never failed to feel from the first hour she
knew Dr. Arnold Grey.
He did come in, though not immediately, and passing her with a smile,
which doubtless furnished the text for a whole week's gossip in
Avonsbridge, went over to talk to a group of ladies belonging to Saint
And now for the first time Christian saw what her husband was "in
Next to a bad man or a fool, of all things most detestable is "a man of
society;" a brilliant, showy person, who gathers round him a knot of
listeners, to whom his one object is to exhibit himself. But it is no
small advantage for a man, even a clever or learned man, to feel and
appear at home in any company; to be neither eccentric, nor proud nor
shy; to have a pleasant word or smile for every body both; to seem and
to be occupied with other people instead of with himself, and with what
other people are thinking about him; in short, a frank, kindly, natural
gentleman, so sure both of his position and himself that he takes no
trouble in the assertion of either, but simply devotes himself to making
all about him as comfortable and happy as he can. And this was Dr.
He talked little and not brilliantly, but he knew how to make other
people talk. By some subtle, fine essence in his own nature, he seemed
to extract the best aroma from every other; and better than most
conversation was it to look at his kindly, earnest, listening face, as, in
the pauses of politeness, Christian did look more than once; and a thrill
shot through her, the consciousness, dear to every woman, of being
proud of her husband. Ay, whether she loved him, or not, she was
certainly proud of him.
In all good hearts, love's root is in goodness. Deeper than even love
itself is that ideal sense of being satisfied—satisfied in all one's moral
nature, in the craving of one's soul after what seems nearest perfection.
And though in many cases poor human hearts are so weak, or strong—
which is it?—that we cling to imperfectness, and love it simply because
we love it with a sort of passionate pity, ever hoping to have its longings
realized, still this kind of love is not the love which exalts,
strengthens, glorifies. Sooner or later it must die the death. It had no
root, and it withers away whereas, let there be a root and ever such a
small budding of leaves, sometimes merciful nature makes it grow.
Christian looked at her husband many times, stealthily, whenever he
did not notice her. She liked to look at him. She liked to judge his
face, not with the expression it wore toward herself; that she knew
well—alas! too well; but as it was when turned toward other people,
interested in them and in the ordinary duties of life, which sometimes,
when absorbed in a passionate love, a man lets slip for the time. Now
she saw him as he was in reality, the head of his family, the master of
his college, the center of a circle of friends; doing his work in the world
as a man ought to do it, and as a woman dearly loves to see him do it.
Christian's eye brightened, and a faint warmth seemed creeping into her
dull, deadened heart.
While she was thinking thus, and wondering if it were real, her heart
suddenly stopped still.
It was only at the sound of a name, repeated in idle conversation by two
ladies behind her.
"Edwin Uniacke! Yes, it is quite true. My husband was speaking of it
only this morning. He is Sir Edwin Uniacke now, with a large fortune
"He didn't deserve it. If ever there was an utter scapegrace, it was he.
He broke his poor mother's heart; she died during that affair. The dean
must have known all about it?"
"Yes, but he and the master kept it very much to themselves. My
husband hates talking; and as for Dr. Grey—"
"The dean paid me a long visit this morning, Mrs. Brereton," suddenly
interrupted Dr. Grey. "We were congratulating ourselves on our
prospects. We think there are one or two men who will do Saint Bede's
great credit next year."
"That is well. But my husband says it will be long before we get a man
like one whom I was just speaking of—Mr. Uniacke—Sir Edwin he is
now. He has succeeded to the baronetcy. Of course you have heard of
"I have," briefly answered Dr. Grey.
And the dean's wife, who had all the love of talking which the dean had
not, mingled with a little nettled sense of balked curiosity, then turned
to Mrs. Grey.
"You must have heard of that young man, and the scandal about him; it
was only a year ago that he was rusticated. Such a pity! He was a most
clever fellow—good at every thing. And quite a genius for music. To
hear him sing and play was delightful! And yet he was such a scamp—a
"My dear Mrs. Brereton," said Dr. Grey, "nobody is quite a villain at
twenty. And if he were, don't you think that the less we talk about
villains the better?"
So the conversation dropped—dropped as things do drop every day,
under the smooth surface of society, which handles so lightly edged
tools, and treads so gaily upon bomb-shells, with the fuses just taken
out in time.
"I am very tired," said Mrs. Grey, while Dr. Grey was seeing the last of
the visitors to their carriage. "I think I will go at once to my own
"Do so," replied Aunt Maria. "Indeed, it has been a very fatiguing day
for you, and for us all. Go, and I will tell Arnold you are dressing. It
only wants half an hour to dinner."
"I will be ready."
And so she was. But for twenty of the thirty minutes she had lain
motionless on her bed, almost like a dead figure, as passive and as
white. Then she rose, dressed herself, and went down to the formal
meal, and to the somber, safe routine of her present existence, as it
would flow on—and she prayed with all her heart it might—until she
"He stands a-sudden at the door,
And no one hears his soundless tread,
And no one sees his veiled head,
Or silent hand, put forth so sure,
"To grasp and snatch from mortal sight;
Or else benignly turn away,
And let us live our little day,
And tremble back into the light:
"But though thus awful to our eyes,
He is an angel in disguise."
Every human being, and certainly every woman, has, among the
various ideals of happiness, good to make, if never to enjoy, one special
ideal—-that great necessity of every tender heart—-Home.
Christian had made hers, built her castle in Spain, and furnished and
adorned it from basement to battlement, even when she was a girl of
fourteen. Sitting night after night alone, listening for the father's
footstep, and then trembling when she heard it, or hidden away up in
her own bedroom, her sole refuge from the orgies that took place
below, where the sound of music, exquisite music, went up like the cry
of an angel imprisoned in a den of brutes, the girl had imagined it all.
And through every vicissitude, hidden closer for its utter contrast to all
the associations and experience of her daily life, Christian Oakley had
kept in her heart its innocent, womanly ideal of home.
Now, she had the reality. And what was it?
Externally it looked very bright. Peeping into that warm, crimson-
tinted dining-room at the hour between dinner and tea, when the whole
family at the lodge were sure to be assembled there, any body would
say what a happy family it was, and what a pleasant picture it made.
Father and mother at either end of the table; children on both sides of it;
and the two elderly aunts seated comfortably in their two arm-chairs at
the fireside, one knitting—q. e. d.—, sleeping, the other—
No. Miss Gascoigne never slept. Her sharp,
"Flaw-seeking eyes, like needles' points,"
were always open, and more especially when the circle consisted, as
now, of her brother-in-law, his children, and his new wife. Doubtless
she considered watchfulness her duty. Indeed, as she explained over
and over again to Aunt Maria, the principal reason which made her
consent still to remain at the Lodge, instead of returning to her own
pretty cottage at Avonside, was to overlook and guard the interests of
"those poor motherless children."
Now it happened, unfortunately for Miss Gascoigne, that if Christian
had one bright spot in the future of her married life to which she had
looked forward earnestly, longingly, it was those children—how she
would take care of them; fill up her weary days with them; love them,
and be loved by them; in short, find in them the full satisfaction of her
motherly heart—that heart in which she then thought there was no
instincts or emotions left except the motherly. How she yearned and
craved for this, God and her own soul only knew.
Yet, how she hardly knew, but so it was, none of these hopes had been
fulfilled. She saw almost nothing of the children save during the one
hour after dinner, when she sat silently watching them, one on each
side of their father, and one on his knee, all so happy together. Dr.
Grey always looked happy when he was with his little folk. And they,
their very faults faded off into sweetnesses when they came within the
atmosphere of that good, loving, fatherly nature, for love makes love,
and goodness creates goodness. Titia lost her prim conceit, Atty his
selfish roughness, and Oliver became a perfect little angel of a child
for at least one hour a day—the hour they spent with their father.
It was a pretty picture. Christian, sitting apart, with the gulf of
shining mahogany between, bridged it often with her wistful eyes, but
she never said a word.
She was not jealous, not in the slightest degree; for hers was the large
nature which, deeply recognizing other's rights, and satisfied with its
own, is incapable of any of the lower forms of jealousy; but she was
sad. The luxurious aimlessness of her present life was a little heavy to
the once poor, active, hard-working young governess, who had never
known an idle or even a restful hour. The rest was sweet—oh! how
sweet! but the idleness was difficult to bear. She had tried sometimes
in the long mornings, when the master was shut up in his study, to get
the children with her, and teach them a little; but Miss Gascoigne had
replied that "my late sister" did not approve of any but paid
governesses, and that it was impossible the wife of the Master of St.
Bede's could go "trapesing about like a nursemaid," taking walks with
the children. Their own mamma never thought of doing such a thing.
And this reference to her predecessor, given about twenty times a day,
always effectually silenced Christian, though it did not silence—it could
not—the cry of her heart to be of some use to somebody; to have some
young, fresh, happy creatures to love and be loved by, even though they
were another woman's children.
So she sat this evening and many evenings, quiet but sad-eyed; and it
was a relief when Barker entered with the tea-tray, and three or four
letters for Mrs. Grey.
"How very odd! Who can be writing to me? I know nobody!"
At which simple speech Miss Gascoigne looked daggers, and, the
minute Barker was gone, spoke them too.
"I must beg you, Mrs. Grey, if only for our sakes, to be a little more
circumspect. How could you let out before Barker that you 'knew
"It is the truth—why should I not say it?" was all Christian answered,
as she opened the letters, almost the first which had come to her still
unfamiliar name. "They are all invitations. Oh dear! what shall I do?"
Dr. Grey looked up at the exclamation; he never seemed to hear much
of what passed around him except when his wife spoke, and then some
slight movement often showed that though, silent, he was not an
"Invitations!" cried Miss Gascoigne; "the very thing I was expecting.
And to the best houses in Avonsbridge, too. This is the result of your
At home. I feel quite pleased at having so successfully introduced you
into good society."
"Thank you," said Christian, half amused, half—well, it is not worth
while being annoyed at such a small thing. She only looked across at
her husband to see how he felt on the matter.
"I think," said the master with a comical twinkling in his eye, "that no
society is half so good or so pleasant as our own."
Christian looked puzzled a minute, but afterward smiled gratefully.
"We may decline it, then?"
"Should you like it best?"
"I should, indeed." For, somehow, though she did not shrink from her
new life—that strange, perplexing life for which her sense of duty was
making her every day more strong—she did shrink from the outward
shows of it. To be stared at by cold, sharp, Avonsbridge eyes, or
pointed at as "the governess" whom Dr. Grey had married—worse,
perhaps, as Edward Oakley's daughter, the Edward Oakley whose
failings every body knew—"Yes," she added, quickly, "I would much
"Decline! when I have taken so much trouble—bought a new dress
expressly for these parties! They are bridal parties, Mrs. Grey, given
for you, meant to welcome you into Society. Society always does it,
except when the marriage is one to be ashamed of?"
Christian started; the hot flush which now twenty times a day was
beginning to burn in her once pale cheek, burnt there now; but she
restrained herself, for the children sat there—Letitia, preternaturally
sharp, and noticing every thing; Arthur, who rarely spoke except to say
something rude; and also the children's father.
Christian sought his eyes; she was convinced he had heard and
understood every word. But still it had not affected him, except to a
wistful watchfulness of herself, so tender that her indignation sank
"Shall I wait till to-morrow before I write? Perhaps, Dr. Grey, after
all, it would be as well for us to accept these invitations?"
"Perhaps," said he, and said no more. There was no need. Whether or
not they loved, without doubt the husband and wife perfectly
understood one another. So next morning, after a brief consultation
with Dr. Grey, Christian sat down and wrote to these grand University
ladies, who, though not an atom better than herself, would, she knew
well—and smiled, half amused at the knowledge—a year ago have
scarcely recognized her existence, that Mrs. Grey "accepted with
pleasure" their kind invitations.
When the day came round she dressed herself, for the first time in her
whole life, in proper evening costume—white silk, white lace,
ornaments, and flowers. Not too youthful a toilet, for she had no wish
to appear young now, but still bridal—a "bride adorned with her
jewels," only these were but few. She was fastening her one opal
brooch, and looking into the mirror, half sad, half wondering to see
herself so fair, when Dr. Grey entered.
He had a jeweler's case in his hand. Awkwardly, even nervously, he
fastened a cross round her neck, and put a bracelet on her arm. Both
were simple enough, but, little as she knew about such things, Christian
could see they were made of very magnificent diamonds,
"Do you like them? They are for you."
"You have not bought them on purpose?"
"Oh no, that extravagance was quite beyond me; but I had them re-set.
They belonged to my mother, and have never been worn till now. Will
my wife wear them?"
Christian drooped her head. Great tears were gathering under her
"I am so foolish—so very foolish; and you are so good to me—so
unfailingly, unceasingly good. I try to be good too; I do indeed. Don't
be angry with me."
"Angry! My darling!"
People may write sentiment by the page, or talk it by the hour, but there
is something in real love which will neither be discussed nor described.
Let us draw over it the holy veil of silence: these things ought to belong
to two alone.
Dr. Grey's wife knew how he loved her. And when he quitted her to
order the carriage which was to take them to the grand dinner party, she
stood, all in her fine garments, a fair, white, bridal-like vision—stood
It is a law most absolute and inevitable that love, however great,
however small, never remains quite stationary; it must either diminish
or increase. When Christian awoke out of the stunned condition which
had been hers both before and after her marriage, she began to awake
also to the dawning consciousness of what real marriage ought to
be—the perfect, sacred union, so seldom realized or even sought for,
and yet none the less the right aim and just desire of every true man and
woman, which, when not attained, makes the life imperfect, and the
marriage, if not a sin, a terrible mistake.
"I have sinned! I have sinned!" was the perpetual cry of Christian's
heart, which she had thought was dead as a stone, and now discovered
to be a living, throbbing woman's heart, which needed its lord, was
ready to obey him, love and serve him, nay, fall down in the very dust
before him, if only he could be found! And she knew now—knew by
the agony of regret for all she had missed, that he never had been
found; that the slain love over which she had mourned had been a mere
fancy, not a vital human love at all.
Now her husband never kissed her that she would not have given
worlds to feel that his were the only lover's lips which had ever touched
hers; he never called her by one tender name that she did not shiver to
think she had ever heard it from any other man. There was coming into
her that sense of awed self-appropriation, that fierce revulsion from any
intrusion on the same, which comes into any woman's nature when
beginning to love as she is beloved. Christian did not as yet; but she
recognized her husband's love, and it penetrated with a strong
sweetness to her inmost soul. Mingled with it was an acute pain, a
profound regret, a sad humility. Not hers, alas! the joyful pride, the
full content, of a heart which is conscious in its sweetest depths that
it gives as much as it receives.
This was all. She had done nothing wrong, nothing unworthy of either
herself or Dr. Grey; nothing but what hundreds of women do every day,
and neither blame themselves nor are blamed by others. She had but
suffered a new footstep to enter her young life's garden, without having
had the courage to say of one little corner in it, "Do not tread there,
it is a grave." Only a grave; a very harmless grave now, tricked with
innocent, girlish flowers, but still containing the merest handful of dust.
It would never corrupt, and might even serve to fertilize that simple
heart, which, out of its very simplicity, had made for itself a passing
idol out of what was essentially fake and base, which would have
shortly crumbled to pieces out of its own baseness, had not Fate—or
Providence—with kindly cruel hand forever thrown it down. Still, this
was a grave, and her husband did not know it was there.
Nobody ever had known. The day of delusion had been so short, and
the only relics left of it were those four letters, burnt by herself on her
marriage morning. The whole story, occupying in all only four weeks,
had gone by exactly like a dream, and she had awakened—awakened to
find out what love really was, or what it might have been.
She wept, not loudly, but quietly, till she dared not weep any more. A
sudden thought made her struggle at once for composure, and try to
efface every external trace of tears.
"I am Dr. Grey's wife," she said to herself and resolved that the grand
University magnates should find out nothing in her unworthy of that
name—nothing that could make people say, even the most ill-natured of
them—and, alas! she had lately come to learn that the world is filled,
not, as she thought, with only bad and good, but with an intermediate
race, which is merely ill-natured—say, with a sneer, that Dr. Grey's
second marriage had been "a mistake."
Never before had Christian thought much of these outside things; but
she did now—at least she tried her best. There was not a lock
unsmoothed in her fair hair, not a fold awry in her silks or laces, and
not a trace of agitation visible in her manner or countenance when Mrs.
Grey opened her door to descend the stairs.
She was considering whether it would not be courteous to knock at
Miss Gascoigne's door, and ask if she too were ready, when she heard a
loud outcry in the nursery above. This, alas! was no novelty. More
than once Christian had rushed wildly up stairs, expecting some
dreadful catastrophe, but it was only the usual warfare between Phillis
and the children, especially Arthur, who was no longer a baby to be
petted and scolded, or a little girl to be cowed into obedience, but a big
boy to be ruled, if at all, vi et armis—as Mrs. Grey had more than
once suspected Phillis did rule.
"I wont! I won't! and you shan't make me!" was the fierce scream
which caught her ear before she entered the nursery door.
There stood Phillis, her face red with passion, grasping Arthur with one
hand, and beating him with the other, while the boy, holding on to her
with the tenacity of a young bull-dog, was, with all the might of his
little fists, returning blow for blow—in short, a regular stand-up fight,
in which the two faces, elder and younger, woman and child, were alike in
obstinacy and fury. No wonder at Titia's sullenness or Atty's storms of
rage. The children only learned what they were taught.
"Phillis, what is the matter? What has the boy done amiss?"
Phillis turned round with the defiant look which she assumed every
time Mrs. Grey entered the nursery, only a little harder, a little fiercer,
with the black brows bent, and the under-hung mouth almost savage in
"What has he done, ma'am? he has disobeyed me. I'll teach you to do it
again, you little villain you!"
Never before had Phillis's new mistress addressed her in that tone; it
made her pause a second, and then her blows fell with redoubled
strength on the shrinking shoulders, even the head, of the frantic,
Now there was one thing which in all her life Christian never could
stand, and that was, to see a child beaten, or in any way ill used. The
tyranny which calls itself authority, the personal revenge which hides
under the name of punishment, and both used, cowardly, by the
stronger against the weaker, were, to her keen sense of justice, so
obnoxious, so detestable that they always roused in her a something,
which is at the root of all the righteous rebellions in the world—a
something which God, who ordained righteous authority, implants in
every honest human heart as a safeguard against authority unrighteous
and therefore authority no longer. If Christian had been a mother, and
seen the father of her own children beating one of them in the way
Phillis beat Arthur, it would have made her, as she was wont to say,
with a curious flash of her usually quiet eyes, "dangerous."
She wasted no words. It was not her habit. She merely with her firm,
strong hand, wrenched the victim out of the oppressor's grasp.
"Arthur, go to my room. I will hear what you have done amiss. Phillis,
remember, henceforward no children in my house shall be struck or
punished except by their father or myself."
Clear and determined rang out the mistress's voice—mother and
mistress—in this, her first assertion of both her rights. Phillis
drew back astonished, and then, recovering herself, darted after the
retreating boy. But it was too late; he had already gained the
staircase. It was steep, dark, twisted, very unsafe for children;
still, in his fear, Arthur plunged down it. In a minute there was
heard a cry and a heavy fall.
Fierce-tempered woman as she was, Phillis had a heart. She rushed
down after the child, but he turned screaming from her, and it was his
stepmother who lifted him up and carried him into her own room.
Christian, young as she was, had had necessarily much experience with
children. She soothed the boy, and felt that no limbs were broken;
indeed, he complained of nothing, but he turned whiter and whiter, and
shrank from the slightest touch.
"Something is certainly wrong with him. We must send for the doctor.
Whom do you have ordinarily?"
The question was put to Phillis, who, her fury all gone, stood behind
the sofa almost as pale as the poor child. She answered humbly, and
named Dr. Anstruther, whom Christian well knew by report; an old
man, who for forty years had been the depository of the sicknesses and
the sorrows of half Avonsbridge.
"Go, then, tell your master I think Barker ought to be sent for him at
once; and say to Dr. Grey—only don't frighten him, for it may be a mere
trifle after all—that I am afraid he will have to dine out without me
today. Go quick, Phillis; there is no time to lose." For the little face
was sinking back paler and paler, and there was an occasional faint
Almost for the first time since her entrance into the Grey family,
Phillis, against her will, actually obeyed orders and slipped away so
hastily that she stumbled over Letitia, and gave her a good box on the
ear; however, the little girl did not cry, but gathered herself up, as if
quite used to such treatment, and crept over to the sofa.
"Will Atty die, do you think?" she whispered in much curiosity—only
curiosity there was not a tear in her eyes. "Because then he would
never thump me any more."
Christian's very soul recoiled, and then melted into the deepest pity.
What sort of bringing up could it have been which had resulted in
feelings like these?
She took no notice of what was said, but merely desired the little girl to
bring pillows and a footstool, so that she could hold Arthur as easily as
possible till the doctor came. And then she bade her take off the
diamond bracelets and the hanging lace, and told her where to put all
this finery away, which Letitia accomplished with aptitude and
"There, that will do. Thank you, my dear. You are a tidy little girl.
Will you come and give me a kiss."
Letitia obeyed, though with some hesitation, and then came and stood
by her step-mother, watching her intently. At last she said,
"You are crumpling your pretty white silk dress. Won't that vex you
"Not very much—if it can not be helped."
"That is odd. I thought you liked fine clothes, and married papa that he
might give you them: Phillis said so."
"Phillis was mistaken."
More than that Christian did not answer; indeed, she hardly took in
what the child said, being fully engrossed with her charge.
Letitia spoke again.
"Are you really sorry for Atty? Aunt Henrietta said you did not care
for any of us."
"Not care for any of you!" And almost as if it were a real mother's
heart, Christian felt hers yearn over the poor pale face, growing every
minute more ghastly.
"I wonder where papa can be! Letitia, go and look for him. Tell him to
send Barker for the doctor at once."
And then she gave her whole attention to Arthur, forgetting everything
except that she had taken upon herself toward these children all the
duties and anxieties of motherhood. How many—perhaps none—would
she ever win of its joys? But to women like her duty alone constitutes
She felt happier than she had done for very, very long, when at last
Arthur lay soothed and quieted in her arms, which clasped round him
close and warm, as finding in him something to comfort, something to
love. She had almost lost sigh of danger and fear, when the door
opened and Phillis entered, Dr. Grey following.
On Christian's first look at the latter, she found out one thing—which
hardly so much lessened her reverence as converted it into a strange
tenderness—that her husband was one of the many men who, brave
enough morally, are the most utter cowards at sight of physical
suffering. Completely unhinged, trembling all over, Dr. Grey knelt
down by his boy's side.
"What must we do, Christian? What must we do?"
She knew at once that whatever was done she must do it; but before she
had time to say a word there appeared Miss Gascoigne.
"What is wrong? Why is the doctor sent for? That child hurt?
Nonsense! Hurt seriously with just a mere slip down a few stairs! I
will never believe it. It is just making a fuss about nothing. Dr. Grey,
we must go to the dinner-party, or what would people say? Phillis, take
Arthur from Mrs. Grey and carry him up to the nursery."
But Arthur screamed, and clung with all his might to his step-mother's
"He is hurt," said Christian, firmly, "and I can not have him moved.
Hush, Atty! you grieve papa. Be quiet, and nobody shall touch you
but papa and me."
Miss Cascoigne stood mute—then again ordered Phillis to take the
"I won't go! She will beat me again. Please, please;" and he clung
again to his step-mother. "I'll be good—I'll be so good, if you will only
take care of me."
"I will," said Christian. And the desperate instinct of protection, which
some women have toward all helpless things, gleamed in her eyes as
she added, "Miss Gascoigne, you must leave this child to me. I know
what to do with him. Shall it be so, Dr. Grey?"
With one furious glance at her brother-in-law, Miss Gascoigne turned
and walked out of the room.
But there was no time to heed her, for that instant, bubbling over the
boy's white lips, Christian saw a red drop or two; they made her own
heart stand still.
It so happened that during her stay with the Fergusons one of the little
boys had broken his collar-bone; a slight accident in itself, had not the
bone pierced the lung, causing a long and severe illness. Quick as
lightning Christian recollected all that had not been done, and all that
the doctor said they ought to have done, in the case of little Jamie. It
was useless speaking out what she feared; indeed, one look at Dr.
Grey's terrified face showed her it was impossible; so she merely laid
Arthur down very gently from her arms, persuaded him to let her place
him on his back along the sofa, and wiped the few drops from his
"Do not be frightened, papa"—and she made an effort at a smile—"as I
said, I think I know what is amiss with him."
"I am used to children. The doctor will be here soon. Suppose you
were to go down stairs and see if he is coming,"
Dr. Grey obeyed mechanically. When he came back he found Letitia
and the nurse sent away. Christian hardly knew how she managed it,
but she did do it, for it was necessary; Arthur must be kept quiet. She
was now sitting in the silent, half-dark room, with the boy lying quite
still and patient now, his little hot hand clinging fast to hers.
"How content he seems with you! He does not want Phillis, I think."
"No! no! no!" cried Arthur, violently. "Phillis beats me; she always
does, every day of my life. I hate her! If I die, Phillis ought to be
hanged, for it was she that killed me."
"Hush! hush! no speaking," said Christian; and her soft compelling
hand pressed the boy down again. She was now almost certain that the
lung was injured, and her eyes were full of foreboding compassion as
they rested on the poor little fellow, so unused to suffering.
"Is this all true about Phillis?" whispered Dr. Grey.
"I fear it is; but we can not talk of that just now. Ah! here is the
It was an inexpressible relief to Christian when, after his first glance at
the patient, Dr. Anstruther said, in his quick, firm, cheery way,
"Now, Dr. Grey, we'll soon put your little man right. But we only want
women here. The best thing you can do is to walk out of the room.
This young lady?"
"Mrs. Grey—Dr. Anstruther."
"I see—I beg your pardon, madam;" and his keen eyes took in at a
glance the graceful figure, the brilliant evening dress. "I was to have
met you today at dinner at the vice chancellor's, but this prevented you,
"Yes," said Christian; and then, in a few whispered words, told about
the accident, and her suspicions of what it was. The freemasonry of
trust which springs up instantaneously between any honest doctor and
sensible nurse made them friends in five minutes.
Mrs. Grey's fears had been only too true. Many weeks of illness and of
anxious nursing lay before her and her poor boy. After all had been
done that could be done, Dr. Grey was recalled, and the facts explained
to him; though Dr. Anstruther, who seemed to understand him well,
dwelt as lightly upon them as possible, consistent with that strict truth
which was always spoken by the good doctor. Still, it was enough.
When Dr. Anstruther was gone, Dr. Grey caine and stood by the sofa,
in great distress.
"An illness of weeks—delicate for months—and perhaps weakly for life.
Oh, my poor boy!"
"Hush!" said Christian; "the child might hear. Go, and sit down for a
minute, and I will come to you."
She came, and, leaning over him, laid her hand tenderly on her
husband's shoulder. She could do no more, even though he was her
husband. She felt helpless to comfort him, for the key which unlocks
all consolation was in her heart not yet found. Only there came over
her, with a solemn presentiment which had its sweetness still, the
conviction that whatever happiness her lot might have missed, its duties
were very plain, very sure. All her life she would have, more or less, to
take care of, not only these her children, but their father.
She stood beside him, holding his shaking hands between her two firm
ones, till she heard Arthur call faintly.
"I must leave you now. You will go to bed; and oh, do try to sleep.
"I shall sit up, of course. Never mind me; I have done it many a time."
"Will you have nobody with you?"
"No. It would disturb Arthur, Hush! there is no time for speaking.
This once you must let me have my way. Good-night, papa."
But for all that, in the dead of the night, she heard the study-door open,
and saw Dr. Grey come stealing in to where she sat watching—as she
was to watch for many a weary day and night—beside his boy's pillow.
He saw her likewise—a figure, the like of which, husband and father as
he had been, he had never seen before. No household experience of his
had ever yet shown him a woman in that light—the dearest light in
which any man can behold her.
A figure, quite different from the stately lady in white splendors of six
hours before, sitting, dressed in a sober, soundless, dark-colored gown,
motionless by the dim lamplight, but with the soft eyes open and
watchful, and the tender hands ever ready for those endless wants of
sickness at night, especially sickness that may be tending unto death, or
unto the awful struggle between life and death, which most women
have at some time of their lives to keep ward over till danger has gone
by—just the sort of figure, in short, that every man is sure to need
beside him, once or more, in his journey between the cradle and the
grave. Happy he over whose cradle it has bent, and who, nearing the
grave, shalt have such a one upon whose bosom he may close his weary
When Christian saw her husband, she stirred, and put up a linger far
silence, Dr. Grey crossed the room, trying hard to make his step light
and noiseless, but piteously failing in the attempt. Still Arthur was not
"He sleeps sound, Christian. Does he suffer very much, do you think?"
"Will he ever recover?"
"I hope so. Oh, please God, I trust so! Dr. Anstruther said there was
no reason why he should not."
"And you—you think so too?" with a touching appeal.
"Yes, I do think so"
Dr. Grey seemed relieved. In a kind of helpless, childlike way, he
stood behind her and watched all she did for the child, who waked
thirsty, and cried and moaned, but by-and—by was soothed to sleep
His father shuddered as he gazed upon him.
"He looks as if he were dead—my poor boy!"
"You must not look at him, You must go to bed," said Christian, with a
"Presently. And you—are you not afraid to sit up here alone?"
"You never seem to be afraid of any thing."
"Not of much—I have gone through such a deal" said Christian, with a
faint smile. "But, papa, indeed you must go to bed."
Nevertheless, they stood a little longer looking down upon Arthur,
whose breathing grew softer into natural sleep. Then, with a mutual
impulse given by the unity of a common grief the husband and wife
turned and kissed one another.
"God bless you, my darling, my poor children's mother, the first they
He stopped, and never finished the sentence.
"Love that asketh love again,
Finds the barter naught but pain;
Love that giveth in full store,
Aye receives as much, and more.
"Love, exacting nothing back,
Never knoweth any lack;
Love, compelling love to pay,
Sees him bankrupt every day."
LIFE in the sick-room—most of us know what that is; how the whole
world narrows itself within four walls, and every fanciful grief and
morbid imagining slips off, pressed down into nothingness by the
weight of daily, hourly cares, and commonplace, yet all-engrossing
Christian was a born nurse—and nurses, like poets, are born, not made.
You may recognize the faculty in the little girl of ten years old, as she
steals into your room to bring you your breakfast, and takes the
opportunity to arrange your pillow, and put your drawers in order, and
do any other little helpful office which you may need; and you miss it
painfully in the matron of sixty, who, with perhaps the kindest
intentions, comes to nurse you, taking for granted that she is the best
person you could possibly have about you; and yet you would be
thankful to shut the door upon her, and struggle, suffer, die alone; as
Arthur, child as he was, would rather have died than suffer near his
sick-bed either of his two aunts.
Phillis too—he screamed whenever he saw her, and with a jealousy not
unnatural, and which Mrs. Grey was rather sorry for than annoyed at,
she came into the room continually. At last it became a question
almost of life and death, for the fever ran high; and even Dr.
Anstruther, cheery man as he was, began to look exceedingly grave.
The child must be kept quiet, and how to do it?
For in this crisis Christian found out, what every woman has to find out
soon or late, the weak points in her husband. She saw that, like many
another good and brave man, he was in this matter quite paralyzed; that
she could rely only upon herself, and act for herself, or else tell him
what he was to do, and help him to do it, just like a child. She did not
care for him the less for this—she sometimes felt she cared for him,
more; but she opened her eyes calmly to the facts of the case, and to her
own heavy responsibility.
She consulted with Dr. Anstruther, and left him to explain things to
whomsoever he would; then locked the door, and for eight days and
nights suffered no one to cross the threshold of Arthur's room except
It was a daring expedient, but the desperation of the time and Dr.
Anstruther's consent and co-operation, gave her courage; she was
neither timid nor ignorant; she knew exactly what to do, and she
believed, if it were God's will to save Arthur's life, He would give her
strength to do it.
"My boy's life—only his life!" she prayed, more earnestly than she had
ever prayed in her life before, and then prepared for the long solitary
vigil, of which it was impossible to foresee the end. In its terrible
suspense she forgot every thing except the present; day by day and hour
by hour, as they slipped heavily along. She ceased to think of herself at
all, scarcely even of her husband; her mind was wholly engrossed by
her poor sick boy.
Hers, though hitherto she had never loved him; for he was not lovable
at all, that rough, selfish, headstrong Arthur, the plague of his aunts,
and the terror of the nursery. But now, when he lay on his sick-bed,
lingering on from day to day, in total dependence on her care, with a
heavy future before him, poor child!—for he seemed seriously injured—
there came into his step-mother's weak, womanly heart a woman's
passionate tenderness over all helpless things. She did to him not only
her duty, but something more. She learned to love him.
Had any one told her a while ago that she should stand for hours
watching every change in that pale face, whose common, uncomely
features grew spiritualized with sickness, till she often trembled on
their unearthly sweetness; that twenty times in the night she would start
up from her uncomfortable sofa-bed, listening for the slightest sound;
that the sight of Arthur eating his dinner (often prepared by her own
hands, for the servants of the Lodge were strangely neglectful), or of
Arthur trying to play a game of draughts, and faintly smiling over it,
should cause her a perfect ecstasy of delight, Christian would have
replied "Impossible!" But heaven sometimes converts our impossibles
and inevitables into the very best blessings we have—most right, most
natural, and most dear.
As to Christian herself, she was, even externally, greatly changed. Pale
as she looked, and no wonder, there was a light in her eye and a
firmness in her step very different from those of the weary-looking
woman who used to roam listlessly about the gloomy galleries or sit
silently working in the equally gloomy drawing-room with Miss
Gascoigne and Miss Grey.
Poor Aunt Maria, in her regular daily visit—she dared venture no
more—to the sick-room door, would sometimes say hesitatingly, "My
dear, how well you look still? You are sure you are not breaking down?"
And Christian, grateful for the only kindly woman's face she ever saw
near her, would respond with a smile—sometimes with a kiss, which
always alarmed Aunt Maria exceedingly.
As for Aunt Henrietta, she never came at all. Since the evening when
she had marched out of the room in high dudgeon, she had taken not
the smallest notice of the sick boy. His life or death was apparently of
far less moment to her than her own offended dignity. Had he been left
in her sole charge, she would doubtless have done her duty to him but
to stand by and see another doing it? No! a thousand times no! That
part, insignificant in itself, and yet often one of the very sweetest and
most useful in life's harmonies, familiarly called "second fiddle," was a
part impossible to be played by Miss Gascoigne.
What she did or said—though probably the first was little and the other
a great deal—was happily unknown to Mrs. Grey. Her one duty lay
clear before her, to save her poor boy's life, if any human means could
do it. And sometimes, when she saw the agony and anxiety in his
father's face, Christian felt a wild joy in spending herself and being
spent, even to the last extremity, if by such means she could repay to
her most good and tender husband that never-counted, unaccountable
debt of love, which nothing ever does pay except return in kind.
Concerning Arthur himself, the matter was simple enough now. All his
fractiousness, restlessness, and innumerable wants were easy to put up
with; she loved the child. And he, who (except from his father) had
never known any love before, took it with a wondering complacency,
half funny, half pathetic. Sometimes he would say, looking at her
wistfully, "Oh, it's so nice to be ill!" And once, the first time she
untied his right arm, and allowed it to move freely, he slipped it
around her neck, whispering, "You are very good to me, mother."
Christian crept away. She dared not clasp him or cry over him, he
was so weak still; but she stole aside into the oriel window, her
heart full almost to bursting.
After that he always called her "mother."
The other two children she scarcely ever saw. The need for keeping
Arthur quiet was so vital, that of course they were not admitted to his
room, and she herself rarely left it. Dim and far away seemed all the
world, and especially her own poor life, whether happy or miserable,
compared with that frail existence, which hung almost upon a thread.
At last the medical opinion was given that little Arthur might, with
great care and incessant watching ("which it is plain he will have, Mrs.
Grey," added the old doctor, bowing and smiling), grow up to be a man
When Dr. Anstruther said this, Christian felt as if the whole world had
She had no one to tell her joy to, for Dr. Grey was out, but she stood in
her familiar retreat at the window—oh, what that window could have
revealed of the last few weeks!—and her tears, long dried up, poured
down like summer rain.
And then Dr. Grey came in, very much agitated; he had met the doctor
in the street and been told glad tidings. She had to compel herself into
sudden quietness, for her husband's sake, which, indeed, was a lesson
now daily being learned, and growing every day sweeter in the
"Christian," he said, when they had talked it all over, and settled when
and where Arthur was first to go out of doors, with various other matter
of fact things which she thought would soonest calm the father's
emotion—"Christian, Dr. Anstruther tells me my boy could not have
lived but for you and your care. I shall ever remember this—ever feel
A pang, the full meaning of which she then did not in the least
understand, shot through Christian's heart. "You should not feel
grateful to his mother."
"Do you mean, really, that you love him like—like a mother?"
"Of course I do."
Dr. Grey said nothing more, but his wife felt him put his arm round her.
She leaned her head against him and, though she still wept—for the
tears, once unsealed, seemed painfully quick to rise—still she was
contented and at rest. Worn and weary a little, now the suspense was
over the reaction came, but very peaceful. Unconsciously there ran
through her mind one of the foolish bits of poetry she had been fond of
when a girl:
"In the unruffled shelter of thy love,
My bark leaped homeward from a stormy sea,
And furled its sails, and, like a nested dove—"
"Mother!" called out Arthur's feeble, fretful voice, and in a minute the
poetry had all gone out of her head, and she was by her boy's side,
feeding him, jesting with him, and planning how the first day of his
convalescence should be celebrated by a grand festival, inviting the two
others to tea in his room. It was her own room, from which he had
never been moved since the first night. How familiar had grown the
crimson sofa, the tall mirror, the carved oaken wardrobe! The bride
had regarded these splendors with a wondering half-uneasy gratitude;
but now, to Arthur's nurse and "mother," they looked pleasant, home-
like, and dear.
"We will pull the sofa to the fire. Help, papa, please, and place the
little table before it. And we will send written invitations which papa
shall deliver, with a postman's knock, at the nursery door. We won't
send him one, I think?"
"Very well," said Dr. Grey, with a great pretense of wrath; "then papa
will have to invite himself, like the wicked old fairy at the christening
of—Who was it, Arthur?"
Arthur clapped his hands, which proceeding was instantly stopped by
Christian. "It was the Sleeping Beauty, which you don't know one bit
about, and I do, and ever so many more tales. She used to tell me them
in the middle of the night, when I couldn't sleep, and they were so nice
and so funny! She shall tell you some after tea. And we'll make her
sing too. Papa, did you ever hear her sing?"
"No," said Dr. Grey.
"Oh, but I have. She'll sing for me," returned Arthur, proudly. "She
said she would, though she had meant never to sing again."
Christian blushed violently, for the boy, in his unconscious way, had
referred to a little episode of his illness, when, having exhausted all
efforts to soothe him into drowsiness, she had tried her voice, silent for
many months—silent since before she had known Dr. Grey. She had
wished it so—wished to bury all relics of that time of her youth deep
down, so that no chance hand could ever dig them up again.
"Do you really sing?" asked Dr. Grey, a little surprised, and turning full
upon her those grave, gentle, tender eyes.
She blushed more painfully than ever, but she answered steadily, "Yes,
I was supposed to have a very fine voice. My father wished it
cultivated for the stage. It might have been so if things had been
"Would you have liked it?—the stage, I mean."
"Oh no, no!" with a visible, unmistakable shudder. "I would have
resisted to the last. I hated it."
"Was that why you left off singing?"
It would have been so easy to tell a lie—a little harmless white lie but
Christian could not do it. She could keep silence to any extent, but
falsehood was impossible to her. She dropped her eyes; but the color
once more overspread her whole face as she answered, distinctly and
It surprised her somewhat afterward, not then—her heart was beating
too violently for her to notice any thing much—that her husband asked
her no farther question, but immediately turned the conversation to
Arthur's tea-party, in the discussion of which both were so eager to
amuse the invalid that the other subject dropped—naturally, it appeared;
But when the two other children came in to see Arthur, he again
recurred to her singing, which had evidently taken a strong hold upon
"Papa, you must hear her. Mother, sing the song with pretty little
twiddle-twiddles in it—far prettier than Aunt Henrietta's things—
something about warbling in her breath."
"Oh no, not that," said Christian, shrinking involuntarily. What from?
Was it from a ghostly vision of the last time she had sung it—that is
properly, to a piano-forte accompaniment, played by fingers that had
afterward caught hold of her trembling fingers, and been a living
comment on the song? It was that exquisite one from Handel's "Acis
"Love in her eyes sits playing,
And sheds delicious death;
Love on her lips is straying,
And warbling in her breath."
Probably never was there a melody which more perfectly illustrated
that sort of love, the idealization of fancy and feeling, with just a
glimmer of real passion quivering through it—the light cast in advance
by the yet unrisen day.
"Not that song, Arthur. It is rather difficult besides, Papa might not
care to hear it."
"Papa might if he were tried," said Dr. Grey, smiling, "Why not do to
please me what you do to please the children?"
So Christian sang at once—ay, and that very song. She faced it. She
determined she would, with all the ghosts of the past that hovered
round it. And soon she found how, thus faced, as says that other lovely
song of Handel's, which she had learned at the same time:
"The wandering shadows, ghostly pale,
All troop to their infernal jail:
Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave."
Her ghosts slipped one by one into the grave of the past. She had
begun her song feebly and uncertainly; but when she really heard the
sound of her own voice echoing through the lofty room, with a gush of
melody that the old walls had not known for centuries, there came upon
her an intoxication of enjoyment. It was that pure enjoyment which all
true artists—be they singers, painters, poets—understand, and they only—
the delight in mere creation, quite distinct from any sympathy or
admiration of others; and oh how far removed from any mean vanity or
love of praise.
Christian was happy—happy as a lark in the air, just to hear—and make—
the sound of her own singing. Her face brightened; her figure, as she
stood leaning against the mantel-piece assumed a new grace and
dignity. She was beautiful—absolutely beautiful and her husband saw
Was it fancy if, glancing at her, Dr. Grey half sighed? Only for a
moment; then he said cheerily:
"Arthur was right. Children, tell your mother that she is the best singer
we ever heard in all our lives."
"That she is. She sings just like a bird in a tree. And, then, you see,
papa, she is our own bird."
Christian came down from the clouds at once, and laughed heartily at
the idea of being Arthur's own bird.
"Titia," said Dr. Grey, with sudden energy, as if the thought had been
brewing in his mind for many minutes, "is there not a piano in the
drawing-room? There used to be."
"Yes, and I practice upon it two hours every day," answered Letitia,
with dignity. "But afterward Aunt Henrietta locks it up and takes the
key. She says it is poor mamma's piano, and nobody is to play upon it
As the child said this in a tone so like Aunt Henrietta's, her father
looked—as Christian had only seen him look once or twice before, and
thought that there might be circumstances under which any body
displeasing him would be considerably afraid of Dr. Arnold Grey.
"Did you know of this, Christian?"
"Yes," she answered, very softly, with a glance, half warning, half
entreating, round upon the children. "But we will not say anything
about it I never did, and I had rather not do so now."
"I understand. We will speak of it another time?"
But he did not, neither that night, nor for several days and Christian felt
only too grateful for his silence.
Sometimes, when, after ringing at intervals of five minutes for some
trifling thing, Barker had sent up "Miss Gascoigne's compliments, and
the servants couldn't be spared to wait up stairs;" or the cook had
apologized for deficiencies in Arthur's dinner by "Miss Gascoigne
wanted it for lunch;" and especially when, to her various messages to
the nursery, no answer was ever returned—sometimes it had occurred to
Christian—gentle as she was, and too fully engrossed to notice small
things—that this was not exactly the position Dr. Grey's wife ought to
hold in his—and her—own house. Still she said nothing. She trusted to
time and patience. And she had such a dread of domestic war—of a
family divided against itself. Besides, some change must come, for in a
day or two she would have to resume her ordinary duties, to take her
place at the head of her husband's table, and once more endure the long
mornings, the weary evenings, to meet and pass over the sharp
speeches, the unloving looks, which made the continual atmosphere of
"Oh!" she thought to herself, glancing round upon those four walls of
the sick-chamber, which had seen, with much of anxiety, much also of
love that never failed, and patience that knew no end, "I could almost
say with Arthur, 'It is so nice to be ill!'"
He seemed to think the same for on the day he left it he grumbled
dreadfully at being carried in Phillis's strong arms—which he had
fiercely resisted at first—to the drawing-room, where he was to hold his
second tea-party—of aunts.
There they sat waiting, Aunt Maria fond and tearful, Aunt Henrietta
grim and severe. And shortly—nay, before Arthur was well settled on
the sofa, and lay pale and silent, still clinging to his step-mother's hand,
the cause of her severity came out.
"Dr. Grey, what have you been doing? Buying a new piano?"
Yes, there it was, a beautiful Erard; and Dr. Grey stood and smiled at it
with an almost childish delight, as if he had done something
exceedingly clever, which he certainly had.
"To buy a new piano—without consulting me! I never heard of such a
thing. Mrs. Grey, this is your doing!"
"She never saw it before, or knew I meant to buy it; but, now it is
bought, I hope she will like it. Try it, Christian."
His wife was deeply touched, so much so that she almost felt sorry for
Aunt Henrietta, she would have given much to bring a little brightness,
a little kindness, into that worn, restless, unhappy face, true reflection
of the nature which itself created its own unhappiness, as well as that of
all connected with it. She said, almost humbly,
"You are very good! I never had a piano of my own before. And I
hope Miss Gascoigne will enjoy it as much as I shall myself."
The soft, answer—never wasted upon fiercest wrath—threw a little oil
upon Miss Gascoigne's. She spoke no more, but she resolutely turned
her back upon the offending instrument. Christian struck a few chords,
just to please her husband, and came away.
It was an uncomfortable tea-party—not nearly so merry as Arthur's first.
After it, the boy wearily curled up on the sofa to sleep, and his father
glanced round in search of his best friend—the big book.
Stop a minute, Dr. Grey; before you retire to your study, as you always
seem to do whenever all your family happen to be met socially
together, I have to ask you about that invitation to St. Mary's Lodge
which came this morning.''
Dr. Grey paused, and listened to a long explanation, ending in the
decision (to which Christian passively submitted, for what must be
done had best be done quickly) that he and his bride should make their
long-delayed public appearance in Avonsbridge society at an evening
party shortly to be given by the Master of St. Mary's.
"It is a musical party," explained Miss Gascoigne, when, Dr. Grey
having quitted the room, Christian, for want of something to converse
about, began to make a few polite inquiries concerning it. "So you
have got your piano just in time, and may practice all day long, to be
ready for your performance. Of course you will be asked to perform,
since every body knows about your father and his musical genius. By-
the-by, I met lately a gentleman who said he knew Mr. Oakley, and was
exceedingly surprised—at which I must confess I scarcely wondered—
when he heard who it was that my brother-in-law had married."
"Oh, Henrietta!" pleaded poor Aunt Maria, with her most troubled look.
But it was too late. Even Christian—quiet as her temper was, and strong
her resolution to keep peace, at any price which cost nobody any thing
excepting herself—was roused at last.
"Miss Gascoigne," she said, and her eyes blazed and her whole figure
dilated, "when your brother married me, he did it of his own free
choice. He loved me. Whatever I was, he loved me. And whatever I
may be now, I at least know his dignity and my own too well to submit
to be spoken to, or spoken of, in this manner. It is not of the slightest
moment to me who among your acquaintances criticises myself or my
marriage, only I beg to be spared the information afterward. For my
father"—she gulped down a great agony, a sorrow darker than that of
death—"he was my father. You had better be silent concerning him."
Miss Gascoigne was silent—for a few minutes. Perhaps she was a little
startled, almost frightened—many a torturer is a great coward—by the
sight of that white face, its every feature trembling with righteous
indignation or, perhaps, some touch of nature in the hard woman's heart
pleaded against this unwomanly persecution of one who bad never
injured her. But she could not hold her peace for long.
"There is no need to be violent, Mrs. Grey. It would be a sad thing,
indeed, Maria, if your brother had married a violent-tempered woman."
"I am not that. Why do you make it seem so?" said Christian, still
trembling. And then, her courage breaking down under a cruel sense of
wrong. "Why can not you see that I am weak and worn out, longing for
a little peace, and I can not get it? I never did you any harm—it is not
my fault that you hate me. Why will you hunt me down and wear my
life out, while I hear it all alone, and have never told my husband one
single word? It is cruel of you—cruel."
She sobbed, till Arthur's sudden waking up—he had been fast asleep on
the sofa, or she might not have given way so much—compelled her to
Miss Gascoigne was moved—at least as much as was in her nature to
be. She said hastily, "There—there—we will say no more about it;" took
up her work, and busied herself therewith.
For Aunt Maria, she did as she had been doing throughout the contest—
the only thing Aunt Maria ever had strength to do—she remained
neutral and passive—cried and knitted—knitted and cried.
So sat together these three women—as good women in their way, who
meant well, and might have lived to be a comfort to one another. Yet,
as it was, they only seemed to live for one another's mutual annoyance,
irritation, and pain.
A thunder-storm sometimes clears the air; and the passion of resistance
into which Christian had been goaded apparently cooled the family
atmosphere for a few days. But she herself felt only a dead-weight—a
heavy chill—which lay on her heart long after the storm was spent.
For the "gentleman" and his rude remark—if indeed he had made it,
which she more than doubted, aware how Miss Gascoigne, like all
people who can only see things from the stand-point of their own
individuality, was somewhat given to exaggeration—Christian heeded
him not. The world might talk as it chose; she knew her husband loved
her, and that he had married her for love.
And her boy loved her too, and needed her sorely, as he would need for
many a long day yet. It would take a whole year, Dr. Anstruther said,
before the injury to the lung was quite recovered, and all fear of
Arthur's falling into continued ill health removed.
Thus duties, sweet as strong, kept continually weaving themselves
about her once forlorn life; binding her fast, it is true, but in such
pleasant bonds that she never wished them broken. Every day she grew
safer and happier and every day, as she looked on Dr. Grey's kind, good
face, which familiarity was making almost beautiful, she felt thankful
that—whether she loved it or only liked it—she should have it beside her
all her days.
"And do the hours slip fast or slow,
And are ye sad or gay?
And is your heart with your liege lord, lady,
Or is it far away?
"The lady raised her calm, proud head,
Though her tears fell one by one:
'Life counts not hours by joys or pangs,
But just by duties done.
"And when I lie in the green kirk-yard,
With the mould upon my breast,
Say not that "She did well or ill,"
Only, "She did her best."'"
A day or two after this, Christian, returning from her daily walk, which
was now brief enough, and never beyond the college precincts, met a
strange face at the Lodge door—that is, a face not exactly strange; she
seemed to have seen it before, but could not recollect how or where.
Then she recalled it as that of a young daily governess, her predecessor
at the Fergusons', who had left them "to better herself," as she said—and
decidedly to the bettering of her pupils.
Miss Susan Bennett—as Christian had soon discovered, both pupils and
parents being very loquacious on the subject—was one of those
governesses whom one meets in hopeless numbers among the middle-
class families—girls, daughters of clerks or petty shopkeepers, above
domestic service, and ashamed or afraid of any other occupation,
which, indeed, is only too difficult to be found, whereby half-educated
or not particularly clever young women may earn their bread. They
therefore take to teaching as "genteel," and as being rather an elevation
than not from the class in which they were born. Obliged to work,
though they would probably rather be idle, they consider governessing
the easiest kind of work, and use it only as a means to an end which, if
they have pretty faces and tolerable manners, is—human nature being
weak, and life only too hard, poor girls!—most probably matrimony.
But governesses, pursuing their calling on this principle, are the dead-
weight which drags down their whole class. Half educated, lazy,
unconscientious, with neither the working faculty of a common servant,
nor the tastes and feelings of a lady, they do harm wherever they go;
they neither win respect nor deserve it; and the best thing that could
befall them would be to be swept down, by hundreds, a step lower in
the scale of society—made to use their hands instead of their heads, or,
at any rate, to learn themselves instead of attempting to teach others.
Christian—who, though chiefly self-taught, except in music, was a well-
educated woman, and a most conscientious teacher—had been caused a
world of trouble in undoing what her predecessor had done; and in the
few times that the little Fergusons had met in the street their former
instructress, who was a very good-looking and showy girl, she had not
been too favorably impressed with Miss Bennett. But when she saw
her coming out of the Lodge door, rather shabbier than beforetime, the
March wind whistling through her thin, tawdry shawl, and making her
pretty face look pinched and blue, Mrs. Grey, contrasting the comforts
of her own life with that of the poor governess, felt compassionately
towards her so much so, that, though wondering what could possibly be
her business at the Lodge, she assumed the mistress's kindly part, and
bowed to her in passing which Miss Bennett was in too great a hurry
either to notice or return.
"Has that lady been calling here?" she asked of Phillis, whom she met
bringing in Oliver from his afternoon walk.
"Lady!" repeated Phillis, scornfully, "she's only the governess."
"Lor! didn't you know it, ma'am? And she coming to Miss Letitia
every day for this week past!" and Phillis gleamed all over with
malicious satisfaction that her mistress did not know it, and might
naturally feel annoyed and offended thereat.
Annoyed Mrs. Grey certainly was, but she was not readily offended.
Her feeling was more that of extreme vexation at the introduction here
of the very last person whom she would desire to see Letitia's
governess, and a vague wonder as to how much Dr. Grey knew about
the matter. Of course, engrossed as she was with the charge of Arthur,
it was quite possible that, to save her trouble, he and his sisters might
have arranged it all. Only she wished she had been told—merely told
Any little pain, however, died out when, on entering the drawing-room,
she caught the warm delight of Arthur's eyes, turning to her as eagerly
as if she had been absent from him a week instead of half an hour.
"Oh, mother, I am so tired! Here have I been lying on this sofa, and
Titia and somebody else—a great, big, red-checked woman—Titia says
she isn't a lady, and I must not call her so—have been strum-strumming
on your pretty piano, and laughing and whispering between whiles.
They bother me so. Please don't let them come again."
Christian promised to try and modify things a little.
But she must come and practice here, Arthur. She is Miss Bennett—
"Governess—a nice governess! Why, she hardly teaches her a bit.
They were chattering the whole time; and I heard them plan to meet in
Walnut-tree Court at five o'clock every evening, and go for a walk with
a gentleman—a kind gentleman, who would give Titia as many sweet
things as ever she could eat."
Mrs. Grey stood aghast. This was the sort of thing that had gone on—or
would have gone on if not discovered—with the little Fergusons.
"Are you sure of this, Arthur? If so, I must ring for Phillis at once."
"Oh don't—please don't. Phillis will on'y fly into a passion and beat
her—poor Titia! I'm very sorry I told of her. I wouldn't be a sneak if
I could help it."
"My dear boy!" said Christian, fondly. "Well, I will not speak about it
just yet, and certainly not to Phillis. Lie here till I see if Titia is
still in the nursery. It is just five o'clock."
Yes, there the little damsel was, sitting as prim as possible over a book,
looking the picture of industry and innocence.
"Miss Bennett has left for the day, has she not, Titia? You are not
going out with her, or going out again at all?"
"No," said Titia, with her head bent down.
It was always Christian's belief—and practice—that to accuse a child,
unproved, of telling a lie, was next to suggesting that lies should be
told. She always took truth for granted until she had unequivocal
evidence to the contrary.
"Very well," she said, kindly. "Is that a nice book you have? 'Arabian
Nights?' Then sit and read it quietly till you go to bed. Good-night, my
She kissed her, which was always a slight effort; it was hard work
loving Titia, who was so cold and prim, and unchildlike, with so little
responsiveness in her nature.
"I hope all is safe for today," thought Christian, anxiously, and
determined to speak to Titia's father the first opportunity. He was
dining in hall today, and afterward they were to go to the long-delayed
entertainment at the vice chancellor's, which was to inaugurate her
entrance into Avonsbridge society.
Miss Gascoigne was full of it; and during all the time that the three
ladies were dining together, she talked incessantly, so that, even had
she wished, Mrs. Grey could not have got in a single word of inquiry
concerning Miss Bennett. She however, judged it best to wait quietly
till the cloth was removed and Barker vanished.
Christian was not what is termed a "transparent" character; that is, she
could "keep herself to herself," as the phrase is, better than most
people. It was partly from habit, having lived so long in what was
worse than loneliness, under circumstances when she was obliged to
maintain the utmost and most cautious silence upon every thing, and
partly because her own strong nature prevented the necessity of letting
her mind and feelings bubble over on all occasions and to every body,
as is the manner of weaker but yet very amiable women. But, on the
other hand, though she could keep a secret sacredly, rigidly—so rigidly
as to prevent people's even guessing that there was a secret to be kept,
she disliked unnecessary mysteries and small deceptions exceedingly.
She saw no use and no good in them. They seemed to her only the
petty follies of petty minds. She had no patience with them, and would
take no trouble about them.
So, as soon as the ladies were alone, she said to Miss Gascoigne
outright, without showing either hesitation or annoyance.
"I met Miss Bennett in the hall to-day. Why did you not tell me that
you and Aunt Maria had chosen a governess for Letitia?"
Sometimes nothing puzzles very clever people so much as a piece of
direct simplicity. Aunt Henrietta actually blushed.
"Chosen a governess? Well, so we did! We were obliged to do it. And
you were so much occupied with Arthur. Indeed, I must say,"
recovering herself from the defensive into the offensive position, "that
the way you made yourself a perfect slave to that child, to the neglect
of all your other duties, was—"
"Never mind that now, please. Just tell me about Miss Bennett. When
did she come, and how did you hear of her?"
She spoke quite gently, in mere inquiry; she was so anxious neither to
give nor to take offense, if it could possibly be avoided. She bore
always in mind a sentence her husband had once quoted—and, though a
clergyman, he did not often quote the Bible, he only lived it: "As much
as in you lieth, live peaceably with all men." But she sometimes
wondered, with a kind of sad satire, whether the same could ever, under
any circumstances, be done with all women.
Alas! not with these, or rather this woman, Aunt Maria being merely
the adjective of that very determined substantive, Aunt Henrietta. She
braced herself to the battle immediately.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Grey; but I cannot see what right you have to
question me, or I to answer. Am I not capable of the management of
my own sister's children, who have been under my care ever since she
died, and in whom I never supposed you would take the slightest
This after her charge of Arthur—when she had nursed the child back to
life again, and knew that he still depended upon her for everything in
life! But, knowing it was so, the secret truth was enough to sustain her
under any heap of falsehoods—opposing falsehoods, too, directly
contradicting one another; but Miss Gascoigne never paused to
consider that. Lax-tongued people seldom do.
"I will not question the point of my interest in the children. If I can not
prove it in other ways than words, the latter would be very useless. All
I wish to say is, that I should like to have been consulted before any
thing was decided as to a governess, and I am afraid Miss Bennett is
not exactly the person I should have chosen."
"Indeed! And pray, why not, may I ask? She is a most respectable
person—a person who knows her place. I am sure the deference with
which she treats me, the attention with which she listens to all my
suggestions, have given me the utmost confidence in the young woman;
all the more, because, I repeat, she knows her place. She is content to
be a governess; she never pretends to be a lady."
The insult was so pointed, so plain, that it could not be passed over.
Christian rose from her seat. "Miss Gascoigne, seeing that I am here at
the head of my husband's table, I must request you to be a little more
guarded in your conversation. I, too, have been a governess, but it
never occurred to me that I was otherwise than a lady."
There was a dead silence, during which poor Aunt Maria cast imploring
looks at Aunt Henrietta, who perhaps felt that she had gone too far, for
she muttered some vague apology about "different people being
different in their ways."
"Exactly so and what I meant to observe was, that my chief reason for
doubting Miss Bennett's fitness to instruct Titia is what you yourself
allow. If she is 'not a lady,' how can you expect her to make a lady of
our little girl?"
"Our little girl?"
"Yes, our" the choking tears came as far as Christian's throat, and then
were swallowed down again. "My little girl, if you will; for she is
mine—my husband's daughter and I wish to see her grow up every thing
that his daughter ought to be. I say again, I ought to have been
consulted in the choice of her governess."
She stopped for, accidentally looking out of the window, where the
lengthened spring twilight still lingered in the cloisters, she fancied she
saw creeping from pillar to pillar a child's figure; could it possibly be
Titia's? Yes, it certainly was Titia herself, stealing through two sides of
the quad-rectangle and under the archway that led to Walnut-tree Court.
Without saying a word to the aunts—for she would not have accused
any body, a child, or even a servant, upon anything short of absolute
proof—Christian went up to her from the window of which she could
see into Walnut-tree Court. There, walking round and round, in the
solitude which at this hour was customary in most colleges, she
distinguished, dim as the light was, three figures—a man, a woman, and a
child; in all probability. Miss Bennett, her lover, and Titia, whom, with
a mixture of cunning and shortsightedness, she had induced to play
propriety, in case any discovery should be made.
Still, the light was too faint to make their identity sure; and to send a
servant after them on mere suspicion would only bring trouble upon
poor little Titia, besides disgracing, in the last manner in which any
generous woman would wish to disgrace another woman, the poor
friendless governess, who, after all, might only be taking an honest
evening walk with her own honest lover, as every young woman has a
perfect right to do.
"And love is so sweet, and life so bitter! I'll not be hard upon her, poor
girl!" thought Christian, with a faint sigh. "Whatever is done I will do
myself and then it can injure nobody."
So she put on shawl and bonnet, and was just slipping out at the hall
door, rather thankful that Barker was absent from his post, when she
met Titia creeping stealthily in, not at the front door, but at the glass
door, which led to the garden behind; to which garden there was only
one other entrance, a little door leading into Walnut-tree Court, and of
this door Barker usually kept the key. Now, however, it hung from the
little girl's hand, the poor frightened creature, who, the minute she saw
her step-mother, tried to run away up stairs.
"Titia, come back! Tell me where you have been, without Phillis or
any body, and when I desired you not to go out again."
"It was only to—to fetch a crocus for Atty."
"Where is the crocus?"
"And this key. What did you want with the key?"
"I—I don't know."
The lie failed, if they were lies; but perhaps they might have been
partly true; the child hung her head and began to whimper. She was not
quite hardened, then.
"Come here to me," said Christian, sadly and gravely, leading her to the
glass door, so that what light there was could shine upon her face; "let
me look if you have been telling me the truth. Don't be afraid; if you
have I will not punish you. I will not be hard upon you in any case, if
you will only speak the truth. Titia, a little girl like you has no business
to be creeping in and out of her papa's house like a thief. Tell at once
where have you been, and who was with you?"
The child burst out crying. "I daren't tell, or Phillis will beat me. She
said she would if I stirred an inch from the nursery, while she went
down to have tea with cook and Barker. And I thought I might just run
for ten minutes to see Miss Bennett, who wanted me so."
"You were with Miss Bennett, then? Any body else?"
"Only a gentleman," said Letitia, hanging her head and blushing with
that painful precocity of consciousness so sad to see in a little girl.
"What was his name?"
"I don't know. Miss Bennett didn't tell me. She only said he was a
friend of hers, who liked little girls, and that if I could come and have a
walk with them, without telling Phillis or any body, she would let me
off all the hardest of my French lessons. And so—and so—Oh, hide me,
there's papa at the hall door, and Aunt Henrietta coming out of the dining-
room. And Aunt Henrietta never believes what I say, even if I tell
her the truth. Oh, let me run—let me run."
The child's terror was so uncontrollable that there was nothing for it but
to yield; and she fled.
"Titia! Titia!" called out her father. "Christian, what is the matter?
What was my little girl crying for?"
There was no avoiding the domestic catastrophe, even had Christian
wished to avoid it, which she did not. She felt it was a case in which
concealment was impossible—wrong. Dr. Grey ought to be told, and
Miss Gascoigne likewise.
"Your little girl has been very naughty, papa; but others have been
more to blame than she. Come with me—will you come too, Aunt
Henrietta?—and I will tell you all about it."
She did so, as briefly as she could, and in telling it she discovered one
fact—which she passed over, and yet it made her glad—that Dr. Grey,
like herself, had been kept wholly in the dark about the engagement of
Miss Bennett as governess.
"I meant to have told you today, though, after I had given her sufficient
trial," said Miss Gascoigne, sullenly; "I had with her the best of
recommendations, and I do not believe one word of all this story—that
is," waking up to the full meaning of what she was saying, "not without
the most conclusive evidence."
"Evidence," repeated Dr. Grey. "You have my wife's word, and my
"Your daughter is the most arrant little liar I ever knew!"
The poor father shrank back. Perhaps he knew, by sad experience, that
Aunt Henrietta's condemnation was not altogether without foundation.
His look expressed such unutterable pain that Christian came forward
and spoke out strongly, almost angrily.
"It is fear that makes a liar, even as harshness and injustice create deceit
and underhandedness. Love a child and trust it, and if it does wrong,
punish it neither cruelly nor unfairly, and it will never tell falsehoods.
Titia will not—she shall not, as long as I am alive to keep her to the
Dr. Grey looked fondly at his wile's young, glowing face and even Miss
Gascoigne, the hard, worldly woman, viewing all things in her narrow,
worldly way, was silenced for the time. Then she began again, pouring
out a torrent of explanations and self-exculpations, which soon resolved
themselves into the simple question, What was to be done? There—she
"Don't ask me to do any thing. I will not. I wash my hands of the
whole matter. If the story be true, and Miss Bennett can be guilty of
conduct so indecorous, it would never do for me to be mixed up in such
an improper proceeding and if untrue, and I accused her of it, I should
find myself in a very unpleasant position. So, Mrs. Grey, since you
have interfered in this matter, you must carry it out on your own
responsibility. If you have taken a grudge against Miss Bennett—which
I did not expect, considering your own antecedents—you must just do as
you like concerning her. But, bless me! how the evening is slipping by.
Come, Maria, I shall hardly have time to dress for the vice
So saying, Miss Gascoigne swept away, her silk skirts flowing behind
her. Aunt Maria followed with one pathetic glance at "dear Arnold;"
and the husband and wife were left alone.
Dr. Grey threw himself into his arm-chair, and there came across his
face the weary look, which Christian had of late learned to notice,
indicating that he was no more a young man, and that his life had been
longer in trials than even in years.
"My dear, I wish you women-kind could settle these domestic troubles
among yourselves. We men have so many outside worries to contend
with. It is rather hard."
It was hard. Christian reproached herself almost as if she had been the
primary cause of this, the first complaint she had ever heard him make,
and which he seemed immediately to regret having allowed to escape
"I don't mean, my dear wife, that you should not have told me this;
indeed, it was impossible to keep it from me. It all springs from Aunt
Henrietta. I wish she—But she is Aunt Henrietta, and we must just
make the best of her, as I have done for nearly twenty years."
"And why did you?" rose irrepressibly to Christian's lips. The sense of
wild resistance to injustice and wrong, so strong in youth, was still not
beaten down. It roused in her something very like fierceness—these
gentle creatures can be fierce sometimes—to see a good man like Dr.
Grey trodden down and domineered over by this narrow-minded, bad-
tempered woman. "I often wonder at your patience, and at all you
"Seventy times seven," was the quick answer. And Christian became
silenced and grave. "Still," he added, smiling, "a sin against one's self
does not include a sin against another. The next time Henrietta speaks
as she spoke to you just now, she and I will have a very serious
"Oh no, no! Not for my sake. I had rather die than bring dissension
into this house."
"My poor child, people can not die so easily. They have to live on and
endure. But what were we talking about; for I forget: I believe I do
forget things sometimes;" and he passed his hand over his forehead. "I
am not so young as you, my dear; and, though my life has looked
smooth enough outside; there has been a good deal of trouble in it. In
truth,"—he added, "I have had some vexatious things perplexing me
today, which must excuse my being so dull and disagreeable."
"Disagreeable!" echoed Christian, with a little forced sort of laugh,
adding, in a strange, soft shyness, "I wish you would tell me what those
vexatious things were. I know I am young, and foolish enough too;
still, if I could help you—"
"Help me!" He looked at her eagerly, then shook his head and sighed.
"No, my child, you can not help me. It is other people's business,
which I am afraid I have no right to tell even to you. It is only that a
person has come back to Avonsbridge, who, if I could suppose I had an
enemy in the world—But here I am telling you."
"Never mind, you shall tell me no more," said Christian, cheerily,
"especially as I do not believe that in the wide world you could have an
enemy. And now give me your opinion as to this matter of Miss
"First, what is yours?"
Christian pondered a little. "It seems to me that the only thing is
for me to speak to her myself, quite openly and plainly, when she comes
"And then dismiss her?"
"I fear so."
"For having a lover?" said Dr. Grey, with an amused twinkle in his eye.
"Not exactly, but for telling Titia about it, and making use of the child
for her own selfish needs. Do you consider me hard? Well, it is
because I know what this ends in. Miss Gascoigne does not see it, but I
do. She only thinks of 'propriety.' I think of something far deeper—a
girl's first notions about those sort of things. It is cruel to meddle with
them before their time—to take the bloom off the peach and the scent
off the rose; to put worldliness instead of innocence, and conceited
folly instead of simple, solemn, awful love. I would rather die, even
now—you will think I am always ready for dying—but I would rather
die than live to think and feel about love like some women—ay, and not
bad women either, whom I have known."
Mrs. Grey had gone on, hardly considering what she was saying or to
what it referred, till she was startled to feel fixed upon her her
husband's earnest eyes.
"You need not be afraid," said he smiling. "Christian, shall I tell you a
little secret? Do you know why I loved you? Because you are unlike
all other women—because you bring hack to me the dreams of my
youth. And here," suddenly rising, as if he feared he had said too
much, "we must put dreams aside, and arguments likewise, for Aunt
Henrietta will never forgive us if we are late at this terrible evening
"Down, pale ghost!
What doest thou here?
The sky is cloudless overhead,
The stream runs clear.
"I drowned thee, ghost,
In a river of bitter brine:
With whatever face thou risest up,
Meet thou not mine!
"Back, poor ghost!
Dead of thy own decay
Let the dead bury their dead!
I go my way."
While she was dressing for it, the evening party ceased to be terrible
even in Christian's imagination. She kept thinking over and over the
talk she had had with Dr. Grey; what he had said, and what she had
said, of which she was a little ashamed that her impetuous impulse had
faded. Yet why? Why should she not speak out her heart to her own
husband? It began to be less difficult to do; for, though he did not
answer much, he never misunderstood her, never responded with those
sharp, cold, altogether wide-of-the-mark observations which, in talking
with Miss Gascoigne or Miss Grey, made her feel that they and she
looked at things from points of view as opposite as the poles.
"They can't help that; neither, I am sure, can I," she often thought.
And yet how, thus diverse, they should all live under the same roof
together for months and years to come, was more than Christian could
Besides, now, she had at times a new feeling—a wish to have her
husband all to herself. She ceased to need the "shadowy third"—the
invisible barricade against total dual solitude made by aunts or children.
She would have been glad sometimes to send them all away, and spend
a quiet evening hour, such as the last one, alone with Dr. Grey. It was
so pleasant to talk to him—so comfortable. The comfort of it lasted in
her heart all through her elaborate dressing, which was rather more
weariness to her than to most young women of her age.
Letitia assisted thereat—poor Titia who, being sent for, had crept down
to her step-mother's room, very humble and frightened, and received a
few tender, serious words—not many, for the white face was sodden
with crying, and there was a sullen look upon it which not all
Christian's gentleness could chase away. Phillis had discovered her
absence, and had punished her; not with whipping, that was forbidden,
but with some of the innumerable nursery tyrannies which Phillis called
government. And Titia evidently thought, with the suspiciousness of
all weak, cowed creatures, that Mrs. Grey must have had some hand in
it—that she had broken her promise, and betrayed her to this
She stood aloof, poor little girl, tacitly doing as she was bidden, and
acquiescing in every thing, with her thin lips pressed into that hopeless
line, or now and then opening to give vent to sharp, unchildlike
speeches, so exceedingly like Aunt Henrietta's.
"Those are very pretty bracelets, but yours are not nearly so big as poor
mamma's, and you don't wear half so many."
Was it that inherent feminine quality, tact or spite, according as it is
used, which teaches women to find out, and either avoid or wound one
another's sore places, which made the little girl so often refer to "poor
mamma?" Or had she been taught to do it?
Christian could not tell. But it had to be borne, and she was learning
how to bear it, she answered kindly.
"Probably I do wear fewer ornaments than your mamma did, for she
was rich, and I was poor. Indeed, I have no ornaments to wear except
what your papa has given me."
"He gives you lots of things, doesn't he? Every thing you have?"
"Do you like his doing it?"
"Very much indeed."
"Then was that the reason you married him? Aunt Henrietta said it
Christian's blood boiled. And yet Letitia only repeated what she had
"My child," she said, feeling that now was the time to speak, and that
the truth must be spoken even to a child, "your Aunt Henrietta makes a
great mistake. She says and believes what is not true. I married your
papa because I"—(oh that she could have said "loved him!")—"I thought
him the best man in the world. And so he is, as we all know well.
Don't we, Arthur?"
"Hurrah! Three cheers for papa! The jolliest papa that ever was!" cried
Arthur from the sofa, where, by his own special desire, he lay watching
the end of the toilet.
Letitia was too ladylike to commit herself to much enthusiasm, but she
smiled. If there was a warm place in that poor little frigid heart, papa
certainly had it, as in every heart belonging to him.
"You look quite pretty" said she, condescendingly. "Some day when
you go to parties you'll dress me and make me look pretty too, and take
me with you? You won't keep me shut up in the nursery till I am quite
old, as Phillis says you will?"
"Did Phillis say that?" Christian answered, with a sore sinking of the
heart at the utter impossibility that under such influences these children
should ever learn to love her.
"Phillis is a fool," cried Arthur, angrily. "When I get well again, if ever
she says one word to me of the things she used to say about mother,
won't I pitch into her, that's all!"
Christian smiled—a rather sad smile, but she thought it best to take no
notice, and soon Phillis came and fetched the two away.
After they were gone the young step-mother stood by her bedroom fire,
thinking anxiously of these her children, turning over in her mind plan
after plan as to how she should make them love her. But it seemed a
very hopeless task still.
She looked into the blazing coals, and then began playing with a little
chimney-piece ornament showing the day of the month—21st of March.
Could it be possible that she had been married three months? Three
months since that momentous day when her solitary, self-contained life
was swept out of the narrow boundaries of self forever—made full and
busy, ay, and bright too? For it was not a sad face, far from it, which
met her in the mirror above; it was a face radiant with youth and health,
and the soft peacefulness which alone gives a kind of beauty.
Well, so best! She had not expected this, but she did not wish it
The clock struck eight. She was, after all, ready too soon so she
wrapped her white opera cloak around her, and went down to the
drawing-room. To pass the time, she thought she would sing a little, as
indeed she now made a point of doing daily, and would have done,
whether she cared for it or not, if only out of gratitude to the love which
had delighted itself in giving her pleasure.
But she did care for it. Nothing, nobody, could quench the artist nature
which, the instant the heavy weight of sorrow was taken away, sprang
up like a living fountain in this girl's soul. She sang, quite alone in the
room, but with such a keen delight, such a perfect absorption of enjoyment,
that she never noticed her husband's entrance till he had stood for
some minutes behind her chair. When he touched her she started, then
"Oh, it is only you!"
"Only me. Did I trouble you?"
"Oh no; was I not troubling you?"
"How, my dear?"
Christian could not tell. Anyhow she found it impossible to explain,
except that she had fancied he did not care for music.
"Perhaps I do, perhaps I don't. But I care for you. Tell me," he sat
down and took her hand, "does not Arthur's 'bird' sometimes feel a little
like a bird in a cage? Do you not wish you lived in the world—in
London, where you could go to concerts and balls, instead of being shut
up in a dull college with an old bookworm like me?"
"Dr. Grey! Papa!"
"Don't look hurt, my darling. But confess; isn't it sometimes so?"
"No! a thousand times no! Who has been putting such things into your
head, for they never would come of themselves? It is wicked—wicked,
and you should not heed them."
The tears burst from her eyes, to her husband's undisguised
astonishment. He appeared so exceedingly grieved that she controlled
herself as soon as she could, for his sake.
"I did not mean to be naughty. But you should remember I am still
only a girl—a poor, helpless, half-formed girl, who never had any body
to teach her any thing, who is trying so hard to be good, only they will
not let me!"
"Who do you mean by they?"
No, he evidently had not the slightest idea how bitter was the daily
household struggle, the petty guerilla warfare which she had to bear.
And perhaps it was as well he should not. She would fight her own
battles; she was strong enough now. It was a step-by-step advance, and
all through an enemy's country. Still, she had advanced, and might go
on to the end, if she only had strength and patience.
"Hush! I hear Miss Gascoigne at the door. Please go and speak to her.
Don't let her see I have been crying."
Of this, happily, there was little fear, Miss Gascoigne being too much
absorbed in her own appearance, which really was very fine. Her black
satin rustled, her black lace fell airily, and her whole figure was that of
a handsome, well-preserved, middle-aged gentlewoman. So pleased
was she with herself that she was pleasant to every one else; and when,
half an hour after, Dr. Grey entered the reception-rooms of St. Mary's
Lodge with his wife on one arm and his sister on the other, any
spectator would have said, how very nice they all looked; what a
fortunate man he was, and what a happy family must be the family at
And, to her own surprise, when her first bewilderment was over,
Christian really did feel happy. Her artistic temperament rejoiced in
the mere beauty of the scene before her—a scene to be found nowhere
out of Avonsbridge—lofty, grand old rooms, resplendent with
innumerable wax-lights; filled, but not too full, with an ever-moving,
gorgeously-colored crowd. Quite different from that of ordinary
soirées, where the coup d'oeil is that of a bed of variegated flowers,
with a tribe of black emmets posed on their hind legs inserted between.
Here the gentlemen made as goodly a show as the ladies, or more so,
many of them being in such picturesque costumes that they might have
just stepped down from the old pictures which covered the walls. In-
numerable flowing gowns, of all shapes and colors, marked the college
dons; then there were the gayly-clad gentlemen commoners, and two or
three young noblemen, equally fine; while, painfully near the door, a
few meek-looking undergraduates struggled under the high honor of the
vice chancellor's hospitality.
As to the women, few were young, and none particularly lovely yet
Christian enjoyed looking at them. Actually, for the first time in her
life, did she behold "full dress"—the sparkle of diamonds, the delicate
beauty of old point lace, the rustle of gorgeous silks and satins. She
liked it—childishly liked it. It was a piece of art—a picture, in the
interest of which her own part therein was utterly and satisfactorily
forgotten. She was so amused with watching other people that she
never thought whether other people were watching her; and when, after
half an hour's disappearance among a crowd of gentlemen, her husband
came up and asked her if she were enjoying herself, she answered "Oh,
so much!" with an ardor that made him smile.
And she did enjoy herself, even though a good many people were
brought up to her and introduced, and by their not too brilliant remarks
on it somewhat tarnished the brilliancy of the scene. But also she had
some pleasant conversation with people far greater and grander and
cleverer than she had ever met in her life; who, nevertheless, did not
awe her at all, but led her on to talk, and to feel pleasure in talking; she
being utterly unaware that her simple unconsciousness was making her
ten times more charming, more beautiful than before, and that round
the room were passing and repassing innumerable flattering comments
on the young wife of the Master of Saint Bede's.
Only she thought once or twice, with an amused wonder, which had yet
some sadness in it, how little these people would have thought of her a
year before—how completely they would ignore her now if she were not
Dr. Grey's wife. And there came into her heart such a gush of—
gratitude was it?—to that good man who had loved her just as she was—
poor Christian Oakley, governess and orphan—in that saddest state of
orphanage which is conscious that all the world would say she had need
to be thankful for the same. She looked round for her husband several
times, but missing him—and it felt a want, among all those strange
faces—she sat down by Miss Gascoigne, who, taking the turn of the
tide, now patronized "my sister, Mrs. Grey," in the most overwhelming
It was after a whispered conference with Miss Gascoigne that the wife
of the vice chancellor, herself young and handsome, and lately married,
came up to ask Christian to sing.
Then, poor girl! all her fears and doubts returned. To sing to a whole
roomful of people—she had never done it in her life. It would be as bad
as that nightmare fancy which used to haunt her, of being dragged
forward to find the ten thousand eyes of a crowded theater all focused
upon her, a sensation almost as horrible as being under a burning-glass.
"Oh no! not tonight. I would much rather not. Indeed, I can not sing."
"May I beg to be allowed to deny that fact?" said the gentleman—a
young gentleman upon whose arm the hostess had crossed the room—of
whom she, a stranger in Avonsbridge, knew only that he was a baronet
and had fifteen thousand a year.
"Well, Sir Edwin, try if you can persuade her. Mrs. Grey, let me
present to you Sir Edwin Uniacke."
It was so sudden, and the compulsion of the moment so extreme, that
Christian stood calm as death—stood and bowed, and he bowed too, as
in response to an ordinary introduction to a perfect stranger. She was
quite certain afterward that she had not betrayed herself by any
emotion; that, as seemed her only course, she had risen and walked
straight to the piano, her fingers just touching Sir Edwin's offered arm;
that she had seated herself, and begun mechanically to take off her
gloves, without one single word having been exchanged between them.
The young man took his place behind her chair. She never looked
toward him—never paused to think how he had come there, or to
wonder over the easy conscience of the world, which had readmitted
him into the very society whence he had lately been ignominiously
expelled. Her sole thought was that there was a song to be sung and
she had to sing it, and go back as fast as she could into some safe
hiding-place. Having accomplished this, she rose.
"Not yet, pray; one more song. Surely you know it—'Love in thine
As the voice behind her—a voice so horribly familiar, said this,
Christian turned round. To ignore him was impossible; to betray, by
the slightest sign, the quiver of fear, of indignation, which ran through
all her frame, that, too, was equally impossible. One thing only
presented itself to her as to be done. She lifted up her cold, clear eyes,
fixed them on him, and equally cold and clear her few commonplace
"No, I thank you; I prefer not to sing any more to-night." What answer
was made, or how, still touching Sir Edwin's arm, she was piloted back
through the crowd to Miss Gascoigne's side, Christian had not the
slightest recollection either then afterward; she only knew that she did
it, and he did it, and that he then bowed politely and left her.
So it was all over. They had met, she and her sometime lover, her
preux chevalier of a month—met, and she did not love him any more.
Not an atom! All such feelings had been swept away, crushed out of
existence by the total crushing of that respect and esteem without which
no good woman can go on loving. At least no woman like Christian
Call her not fickle, nor deem it unnatural for love so to perish. After
learning what she had learned from absolute incontrovertible evidence
(it is useless to enter into the circumstances, for no one is benefited by
wallowing in unnecessary mire), that she, or any virtuous maiden,
should continue to love this man, would have been a thing still more
No, she did not love him any more, she was quite sure of that. She
watched his tall, elegant figure—-he was as beautiful as Lucifer—
moving about the rooms, and it seemed that his very face had grown
ugly to her sight. She shivered to think that once—thank God, only
once!—his lips had pressed hers; that she had let him say to her fond
words, and write to her fond letters, and had even written back to him
others, which, if not exactly love-letters, were of the sort that no girl
could write except to a man in whom she wholly believed—in his
goodness and in his love for herself.
What had become of those letters she had no idea; what was in them
she hardly remembered; but the thought of them made her grow pale
and terrible. In an agony of shame, as if all the world were pointing at
her—at Dr. Grey's wife—she hid herself in a corner, behind the
voluminous presence of Miss Gascoigne, and sat waiting, counting
minutes like hours till her husband should appear.
He came at last, his kind face all beaming.
"Christian I have been having a long talk with—But you are very tired."
His eye caught—she knew it would at once—the change in her face, "My
darling," he whispered, "would you not like to go home!"
"Oh yes, home! Take me home!" Christian replied almost with a sob.
She clung to his arm, and passed through the crowd with him. And
whether she fully loved him or not, from the very bottom of her soul
she thanked God for her husband.
"Teach me to feel for others' woes,
To hide the fault I see;
The mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me."
Breakfast was just over on the morning following the soirée at the vice
chancellor's. Christian sat with the two aunts, quietly sewing.
Ay, very quietly, even after last night. She had taken counsel with her
own heart, through many wakeful hours, and grown calm and still.
Neither her husband nor Miss Gascoigne had once named Sir Edwin.
Probably Aunt Henrietta did not know him, and in the crowded party
Dr. Grey might not have chanced to recognize him. Indeed, most likely
the young man would take every means of avoiding recognition from
the master of his own college, whence he had been ignominiously
dismissed. His appearance at St. Mary's Lodge was strange enough,
and only to be accounted for by his having been invited by the vice
chancellor's young wife, who knew him only as Sir Edwin Uniacke, the
rich young baronet.
But, under shadow of these advantages, no doubt he could easily get
into society again, even at Avonsbridge, and would soon be met every
where. She might have to meet him—she, who knew what she did
know about him, and who, though there had been no absolute
engagement between them, had suffered him to address her as a lover
for four bright April weeks, ending in that thunderbolt of horror and
pain, after which he never came again to the farm-house, and she never
heard from or of him one word more.
Ought she to have told all this to her husband—was it her duty to tell
him now? Again and again the question recurred to her, full of endless
perplexities. She and Dr. Grey were not like two young people of equal
years. Why trouble him, a man of middle age, with what he might
think a silly, girlish love-story? and, above all, why wound him by
what is the sharpest pain to a loving heart, the sudden discovery of
things hitherto concealed, but which ought to have been told long ago?
He might feel it thus—or thus—she could not tell; she did not, even yet,
know him well enough to be quite sure. The misfortune of all hasty
unions had been hers—she had to find out everything after marriage.
The sweet familiarity of long courtship, which makes peculiarities and
faults excusable, nay, dear, just because they are so familiar that the
individual would not be himself or herself without them—this sacred
guarantee for all wedded happiness had not been the lot of Christian
Even now, though it was the mere ghost of a dead love, or dead fancy,
which she had to confess to her husband, she shrank from confessing it.
She would rather let it slip to its natural Hades.
This was the conclusion she came to when cold, clear daylight put to
flight all the bewilderments and perplexities which had troubled her
through the dark hours; and she sat at the head of her breakfast-table
with her own little circle around her—the circle which, with all its cares,
became every day dearer and more satisfying, if only because it was her
And when she looked across to the husband and father, sitting so
content, with the morning sun lighting up his broad forehead—wrinkled,
it is true, but still open and clear, the honest brow of an honest man—it
was with a trembling gratitude that made religious every throb of
Christian's once half-heathen heart. The other man, with his bold eyes
that made her shiver, the grasp of his hand from which her very soul
recoiled—oh, thank God for having delivered her from him, and brought
her into this haven of purity, peace and love!
As she stopped her needlework to cross to Arthur's sofa—he insisted on
being carried every where beside her, her poor, spoiled, sickly boy—as
she arranged his pillows and playthings, and gave him a kiss or two,
taking about a dozen in return—she felt that the hardest duty, the most
unrequited toil, in this her home would be preferable to that dream of
Paradise in which she had once indulged, and out of which she must
inevitably have wakened to find it a living hell.
The thanksgiving was still in her heart when she heard a ring at the hall
bell, and remembered, with sudden compunction, that this was Miss
Bennett's hour, and that she had to speak to her about the very painful
matter which occurred yesterday.
She had quite forgotten it till this minute, as was not surprising. Now,
with an effort, she threw off all thoughts about herself; this business
was far more important, and might involve most serious consequences
to the young governess if obliged to be dismissed under circumstances
which, unless Miss Gascoigne's tongue could be stopped, would soon
be parroted about to every lady in Avonsbridge.
"Poor girl!" thought Christian, "she may never get another situation.
And yet perhaps she has done nothing actually wrong, no worse wrong
than many do—than I did!"—she sighed—"in letting myself be made love
to, and believing it all true, and sweet, and sacred, when it was all—But
that is over now. And perhaps she has no friends any more than I had—
no home to cling to, no mother to comfort her. Poor thing! I must be
very tender over her—very careful what I say to her."
And following this intention, instead of sending for Miss Bennett into
the dining-room, as Miss Gascoigne probably expected, for she sat in
great state, determined to "come to the root of the matter," as she
expressed it, Mrs. Grey went out and met her in the hall.
"You are the lady whom my sister-in-law engaged as governess?"
"Yes, ma'am. And you are Mrs. Grey?" peering at her with some
curiosity; for, as every body knew every thing in Avonsbridge, no
doubt Miss Bennett was perfectly well aware that Dr. Grey's young
wife was the ci-devant governess at Mr. Ferguson's.
"Will you walk up into my room? I wanted a word with you before
"Certainly, Mrs. Grey. I hope you are quite satisfied with my
instruction of Miss Grey. Indeed, my recommendations—as I told Miss
Gascoigne—include some of the very first families—"
"I have no doubt Miss Gascoigne was satisfied," interrupted Mrs. Grey,
not quite liking the flippant manner, the showy style of dress, and the
air, at once subservient and forward; in truth, something which, despite
her prettiness, stamped the governess as underbred, exactly what Aunt
Henrietta had said—"not a lady."
"Your qualifications for teaching I have no wish to investigate; what I
have to speak about is a totally different thing."
Miss Bennett looked uneasy for a minute, but Christian's manner was
so studiously polite, even kindly, that she seemed to think nothing
could be seriously wrong. She sat down composedly on the crimson
sofa, and began investigating, with admiring, curious, and rather
envious eyes, the handsome room, half boudoir, half bed-chamber.
"Oh, Mrs. Grey, what a nice room this is! How you must enjoy it! It's
a hard life, teaching children."
"It is a hard life, as I know, for I was once a governess myself."
This admission, given so frankly, without the least hesitation, evidently
quite surprised Miss Bennett. With still greater curiosity than the fine
room, she regarded the fine lady who had once been a governess, and
was not ashamed to own it.
"Well, all I can say is, you have been very lucky in your marriage, Mrs.
Grey; I only wish I might be the same."
"That is exactly—" said Christian, catching at any thing in her nervous
difficulty as to how she should open such an unpleasant subject—"no,
not exactly, but partly, what I wished to speak to you about. Excuse a
plain, almost rude question, which you can refuse to answer if you like;
but, Miss Bennett, I should be very glad to know if you are engaged?"
"Engaged by Miss Gascoigne?"
"No; engaged to be married."
Miss Bennett drew back, blushed a little, looked much annoyed, and
answered sharply, apparently involuntarily, "No!"
"Then—excuse me again—I would not ask if I did not feel it absolutely
my duty, in order that we may come to a right understanding—but the
gentleman you were walking with yesterday, when you asked Letitia to
meet you in Walnut-tree Court, was he a brother, or cousin, or what?"
Susan Bennett was altogether confounded. "How did you find it all
out? Did the child tell?—the horrid little—but of course she did. And
then you set on and watched me! That was a nice trick for one lady to
"You are mistaken," replied Christian, gravely; "I found this out by the
merest accident; and as I can not allow the child to do the same thing
again, I thought it the most honest course to tell you at once of the
discovery I made, and receive your explanations."
"You can't get them; I have a perfect right to walk with whom I
"Most certainly; but not to take Dr. Grey's little daughter with you as a
companion. Don't you see, Miss Bennett"—feeling sorry for the shame
and pain she fancied she must be inflicting—"how injurious these sort
of proceedings must be to a little girl, who ought to know nothing about
love at all—(pardon my concluding this is a love affair)—till she comes
to it seriously, earnestly, and at a fitting age? And then the deception,
underhandedness—can not you see how wrong it was to make secret
appointments with a child, and induce her to steal out of the house
unknown to both nurse and mother?"
"You are not her own mother, Mrs. Grey, it don't affect you."
"Pardon me," returned Christian very distantly, as she perceived her
delicacy was altogether wasted upon this impertinent young woman,
who appeared well able to hold her own under any circumstances, "it
does affect me so much that, deeply as I shall regret it, I must offer you
a check for your three months' salary. Your engagement, I believe, was
quarterly, and I must beg of you to consider it canceled."
Miss Bennett turned red and pale; the offensive tone sank into one
pitifully weak and cringing.
"Oh, Mrs. Grey! don't be hard upon me; I'm a poor governess, doing
my best, and father has a large family of us, and the shop isn't as
thriving as it was. Don't turn me away, and I'll never meet the young
There was a little natural feeling visible through the ultra-humility of
the girl's manner, and when she took out a coarse but elaborately laced
pocket-handkerchief, and wept upon it abundantly, Christian's heart
"I am very sorry for you—very sorry indeed; but what can I do? Will
you tell me candidly, are you engaged to this gentleman?"
"No, not exactly; but I am sure I shall be by-and-by."
"He is your lover, then? he ought to be, if, as Letitia says, you go
walking together every evening."
"Well, and if I do, it's nobody's business but my own, I suppose; and it's
very hard it should lose me my situation."
So it was. Mrs. Grey remembered her own "young days," as she now
called them—remembered them with pity rather than shame; for she had
done nothing wrong. She had deceived no one, only been herself
deceived—in a very harmless fashion, just because, in her foolish,
innocent heart, which knew nothing of the world and the world's wiles,
she thought no man would ever be so mean, so cowardly, as to tell a
girl he loved her unless he meant it in the true, noble, knightly
"Who loved one woman, and who clave to her"
—clave once and forever. A vague tenderness hung about those days
yet, enough to make her cast the halo of her sympathy over even
commonplace Susan Bennett.
"Will you give me your confidence? Who is this friend of yours, and
why does he not at once ask you for his wife? Perhaps he is poor and
can not afford to marry?"
"Oh. dear me! I'm not so stupid as to think of a poor man, Bless you!
he has a title and an estate too. If I get him I shall make a splendid
Christian recoiled. Her sympathy was altogether thrown away. There
evidently was not a point in common between foolish Christian Oakley,
taking dreamy twilight saunters under the apple-trees—not alone;
looking up to her companion as something between Sir Launcelot and
the Angel Gabriel—and this girl, carrying on a clandestine flirtation,
which she hoped would—and was determined to make—end in a
marriage, with a young man much above her own station, and just
because he was so. As for loving him in the sense that Christian had
understood love, Miss Bennett was utterly incapable of it. She never
thought of love at all—only of matrimony.
Still, the facts of the case boded ill. A wealthy young nobleman, and a
pretty, but coarse and half-educated shopkeeper's daughter—no good
could come of the acquaintance—perhaps fatal harm. Once more
Christian thought she would try to conquer her disgust, and win the girl
to better things.
"I do not wish to intrude—no third person has a right to intrude upon
these affairs; but I wish I could be of any service. You must perceive,
Miss Bennett, that your proceedings are not quite right—not quite safe.
Are you sure you know enough about this gentleman? How long have
you been acquainted with him? He probably belongs to the
Miss Bennnett laughed. "Not he—at least not now. He got into a scrape
and left it, and has only been back here a week; but I have found out
where his estate is, and all about him. He has the prettiest property, and
is perfectly independent, and a baronet likewise. Only think"—and the
girl, recovering her spirits, tossed her handsome head, and spread out
her showy, tawdry gown—"only think of being called 'Lady!'—Lady
Had Miss Bennett been less occupied in admiring herself in the mirrors
she must have seen the start Mrs. Grey gave—for the moment only,
however—and then she spoke.
"Sir Edwin Uniacke's character here is well known. He is a bad man.
For you to keep up any acquaintance with him is positive madness."
"Not in the least; I know perfectly what I am about, and can take care
of myself, thank you. He has sown his wild oats, and got a title and
estate, which makes a very great difference. Besides, I hope I'm as
sharp as he. I shall not let myself down, no fear. I'll make him make
me Lady Uniacke."
Christian's pity changed into something very like disgust. Many a poor,
seduced girl would have appeared to her less guilty, less degraded than
this girl, who, knowing all a man's antecedents, which she evidently
did—bad as he was, set herself deliberately to marry him—a
well-planned, mercenary marriage, by which she might raise herself out
of her low station into a higher, and escape from the drudgery of labor
into ease and splendor.
And yet is not the same thing done every day in society by charming
young ladies, aided and abetted by most prudent, respectable, and
decorous fathers and mothers? Let these, who think themselves so
sinless, cast the first stone at Susan Bennett.
But to Christian, who had never been in society, and did not know the
ways of it, the sensation conveyed was one of absolute repulsion. She
"I fear, Miss Bennett, that if we continued this conversation forever we
should never agree. It only proves to me more and more the
impossibility of your remaining my daughter's governess. Allow me to
pay you, and then let us part at once."
But the look of actual dismay which came over the girl's face once
more made her pause.
"You send me away with no recommendation—and I shall never get
another situation—and I have hardly a thing to put on—and I'm in debt
awfully. You are cruel to me, Mrs. Grey—you that have been a
governess yourself." And she burst into a passion of hysterical crying.
"What can I do?" said Christian sadly. "I can not keep you——I dare
not. And it is equally true that I dare not recommend you. If I could
find any thing else—not with children—something you really could do,
and which would take you away from this town—"
"I'd go any where——do any thing to get my bread, for it comes to that.
If I went home and told father this—if he found out why I had lost my
situation, he'd turn me out of doors. And except this check, which is
owed nearly all, I haven't one halfpenny—I really haven't. Mrs. Grey.
It's all very well for you to talk—you in your fine house and
comfortable clothes; but you don't know what it is to be shabby, cold,
miserable. You don't know what it is to be in dread of starving."
"I do," said Christian, solemnly. It was true.
The shudder which came over her at thought of these remembered days
obliterated every feeling about the girl except the desire to help her,
blameworthy though she was, in some way that could not possibly
injure any one else.
Suddenly she recollected that Mrs. Ferguson was in great need of some
one to take care of Mr. Ferguson's old blind mother, who lived forty
miles distant from Avonsbridge. If she spoke to her about Miss
Bennett, and explained, without any special particulars, that, though
unfit to be trusted with children, she might do well enough with an old
woman in a quiet village, Mrs. Ferguson, whose kind-heartedness was
endless, might send her there at once.
"Will you go? and I will tell nobody my reasons for dismissing you,"
said Christian, as earnestly as if she had been asking instead of
conferring a favor. Her kindness touched even that bold, hard nature.
"You are very good to me; and perhaps I don't deserve it."
"Try to deserve it. If I get this situation for you, will you make me one
"One is enough—that you will give up Sir Edwin Uniacke."
"How do you mean?"
"Don't meet him, don't write to him—don't hold any communication
with him for three months. If he wants you, let him come and ask you
like an honest man."
Miss Bennett shook her head. "He's a baronet, you know."
"No matter. An honest man and an honest woman are perfectly equal,
even though one is a baronet and the other a daily governess. And, if
love is worth any thing, it will last three months; if worth nothing, it
had better go."
But even while she was speaking—plain truths which she believed with
her whole heart—Christian felt, in this case, the bitter satire of her
Susan Bennett only smiled at them in a vague, uncomprehending way.
"Would you have trusted your lover—that means Dr. Grey, I suppose—
for three months?"
Mrs. Grey did not reply. But her heart leaped to think how well she
knew the answer. No need to speak of it, though. It would be almost
profanity to talk to this women, who knew about as much of it as an
African fetish-worshipper knows of the Eternal—of that love which
counts fidelity not by months and years; which, though it has its root in
mortal life, stretches out safely and fearlessly into the life everlasting.
"Well, I'll go, and perhaps my going away will bring him to the point,"
was the fond resolution of Miss Susan Bennett.
Mrs. Grey, infinitely relieved, wrote the requisite letters and dismissed
her, determined to call that day and explain as much of the matter to
honest Mrs. Ferguson as might put the girl in a safe position, where she
would have a chance of turning out well, or, at least, better than if she
had remained at Avonsbridge.
Then Christian had time to think of herself. Here was Sir Edwin
Uniacke—this daring, unscrupulous man, close at her very doors;
meeting her at evening parties; making acquaintance with her children,
for Titia had told her how kind the gentleman was, and how politely he
had inquired after her "new mamma."
Of vanity, either to be wounded or flattered, Christian had absolutely
none. And she had never read French novels. It no more occurred to
her that Sir Edwin would come and make love to her, now she was Dr.
Grey's wife, than that she herself should have any feeling—except pity—
in knowing of his love-affair with Miss Bennett. She was wholly and
absolutely indifferent with regard to him and all things concerning him.
Even the events of last night and this morning were powerless to cast
more than a momentary gravity over her countenance—gone the instant
she heard her husband calling her from his open study door.
"I wanted to hear how you managed Miss Bennett, you wise woman. Is
it a lover?"
"I fear so, and not a creditable one. But I am certain of one thing. She
does not love him—she only wants to marry him."
"A distinction with a difference," said Dr. Grey, smiling. "And you
don't agree with her, my dear?"
"I should think not!"
Again Dr. Grey smiled. "How fiercely she speaks! What a tiger this
little woman of mine could be if she chose. And so she absolutely
believes in the old superstition that love is an essential element of
"You are laughing at me."
"No, my darling, God forbid. I am only—happy."
"Are you really, really happy? Do you think I can make you so—I, with
all my unworthiness?"
"I am sure of it."
She looked up in his face from out of his close arms, and they talked no
_"Get thee behind me, Satan!
I know no other word:
There is a battle that must be fought,
And fought but with the sword—
"The clear, sharp, stainless, glittering sword
Of purity divine:
I'll hew my way through a host of fiends,
If that strong sword be mine."
"I wish Mrs. Grey, you would learn to hold yourself a little more
upright, and look a little more like the master's wife—a lady in as good
a position as any in Avonsbridge—and a little less like a Resignation or
a Patience on a monument."
"I am sure I beg your pardon," said Christian, laughing "I have not the
slightest feeling either of resignation or patience. I am afraid I was
thinking over something much more worldly—that plan about Miss
Bennett's new situation of which I have just been telling you"—told as
briefly as she could, for it was not very safe to trust Miss Gascoigne
with any thing. "Also of the people we met last night at the vice
"And that reminds me—why don't you go and change your dress? I hate
a morning-gown, as I wish you particularly to look as respectable as
you can. We are sure to have callers to-day."
"Are we? Why?"
"To inquire for our health after last night's entertainment. It is a
customary attention; but, of course, you can not be expected to be
acquainted with these sort of things. Besides, one gentleman especially
asked my permission to call today—a man of position and wealth,
"Oh, please tell me about him after I come back," said Christian,
hopelessly, "and I will go and dress at once."
"Take that boy with you. He never was allowed to be in the drawing-
room. Get up, Arthur," in the sharp tone in which the most trivial
commands were always conveyed to the children, which, no doubt,
Miss Gascoigne thought—as many well-meaning parents and guardians
do think—is the best and safest assertion of authority. But it had made
of Letitia a cringing slave, and of Arthur a confirmed rebel, as he now
showed himself to be.
"I won't go, Aunt Henrietta! I like this sofa. I'll not stir an inch!"
"I command you! Obey me, sir!"
Arthur pulled an insolent face, at which his aunt rose up and boxed his
This sort of scene had been familiar enough to Christian in the early
days of her marriage. It always made her unhappy, but she attempted
no resistance. Either she felt no right or she had no courage. Now,
things were different.
She caught Miss Gascoigne's uplifted hand, and Arthur's, already raised
to return the blow.
"Stop! you must not touch that child. And, Arthur, how can you be so
naughty! Beg your aunt's pardon, immediately!"
But Arthur began to sob and cough—that ominous cough which was
their dread and pain still. It did not touch the heart of Aunt Henrietta.
"We shall see who is mistress here. I will at once send for Dr. Grey.
Maria, ring the bell."
Poor Aunt Maria, the most subservient of women, was about to do it,
when fate interfered in the shape of Barker and a visiting card, which
changed the whole current of Miss Gascoigne's intentions.
"Sir Edwin Uniacke! the very gentleman I was speaking of. I shall be
delighted to see him. Show him up immediately."
Which was needless, for he had followed Barker to the door. There he
stood, a graceful, well-appointed, fashionable young man, with not a
hair awry in his black curls, not a shadow on his handsome face,
perfectly satisfied with himself and his fortunes—a little flushed,
perhaps, it might be, with what he would call the "pluckiness" of
coming thus to "beard the lion in his den," to visit the master of his late
college. All men have some good in them, and the good in this man
was, that, if a scapegrace, he was not a weak villain, not a coward.
"How kind of you! I am delighted to find a young gentleman so
punctual in his engagements with an old woman," said Miss Gascoigne,
with mingled dignity and empressement. "Sir Edwin Uniacke, my
sister, Miss Grey; Mrs. Grey, my sister-in-law."
Certainly Aunt Henrietta's "manners" were superb.
Arthur lay crying and coughing still, but his luckless condition before
visitors was covered over by these beautiful manners, and by the flow
of small-talk which at once began, and in which it was difficult to say
who carried off the position best, the young man or the elderly woman.
Both deserved equal credit from that "world" to which they both
Presently a diversion was created by Christian's rising to carry Arthur
"You need not go," said Miss Gascoigne. "Ring for Phillis. The child
has been ill, Sir Edwin, and Mrs. Grey has made herself a perfect slave
"How very—ahem!—charming!" said Sir Edwin Uniacke.
Phillis appeared, but Arthur clung tighter than ever to his step-mother's
neck. Nor did she wish to release him.
"I thank you, no. I can carry him quite easily," she replied to Sir
Edwin's politely offered help, which was, indeed, the only sentence she
had attempted to exchange with him. With her boy in her arms she
quitted the room, and did not return thither all the afternoon.
It was impossible she could. Without any prudishness, without the
slightest atom of self-distrust or fear to meet him, every womanly
feeling in her kept her out of his way. Here was a young man whom
she had once ignorantly suffered to make love to her, nay, loved in a
foolish, girlish way; a young man whom she now knew—and he must
know she knew it—no virtuous girl could or ought to have regarded
with a moment's tenderness. Here was he insulting her by coming to
her own house—her husband's house, without the permission of either.
Had he been humble or shamefaced, she might have pitied him, for all
pure hearts have such infinite pity for sinners. She would have wished
him repentance, peace, and prosperity, and gone on her way, as he on
his, each feeling very kindly to the other, but meeting, and desiring to
meet, no more. Now, when he obtruded himself so unhesitatingly, so
unblushingly, on the very scene of his misdoings and disgrace, pity was
dried up in her heart, and indignation took its place.
"How dare he?" she thought, and nothing else but that. There was not
one reviving touch of girlish admiration, not one thrill of
self-complacent emotion, to see, what she could not help seeing, under
his studiedly courteous manner, that he had forgotten, and meant her to
feel he had forgotten, not a jot of the past. Whatever the episode of
Susan Bennett might mean—if, indeed, such a man was not capable of
carrying on a dozen such little episodes—his manner to Christian
plainly showed that he admired her still; that he saw no difference
between the pretty maiden Christian Oakley and the matron Christian
Grey, and expressed this fact by tender tones and glances, alas! only
too familiarly known by her of old. "How dared he?"
Christian was a very simple woman. She knew nothing at all of that
fashionable world which, in its blasé craving for excitement,
delights, both in life and in books, to tread daintily on the very confines
of guilt. She was not ignorant. She knew what sin was, as set forth in
the Ten Commandments, but she understood absolutely nothing of that
strange leniency or laxity which now-a-days makes vice so interesting
as to look like virtue, or mixes vice and virtue together in a knot of
circumstances until it is difficult to distinguish right from wrong.
Christian Grey was a wife. Therefore, both as wife and as woman, it
never occurred to her as the remotest possibility that she could indulge
in one tender thought of any man not her husband, or allow any man to
lift up the least corner of that veil of matronly dignity with which every
married woman, under whatever circumstances she has married or
whatever may befall her afterward, ought to enwrap herself forever.
"When I am dead," says Shakspeare's Queen Katherine,
"Let me be used with honor. Strew me over
With maiden flowers, that all the world may know
I was a chaste wife to my grave."
But Christian thought of something beyond the world. The 'honor' lay
with herself alone; or, like her marriage vow, between herself, her
husband, and her God. She was conscious of no dramatic struggles of
conscience, no picturesque persistence in duty: she arrived at her end
without any ethical or metaphysical reasoning, and took her course just
because it seemed to her impossible there could be any other course to
It was a very simple one—total passiveness and silence. The young
man could not come to the Lodge very often, even if Miss Gascoigne
invited him ever so much, and was really as charmed with him as she
appeared to be. And no wonder. He was one of those men who charm
every body—perhaps because he was not deliberately bad, else how
could he have attracted Christian Oakley? He had that rare
combination of a brilliant intellect, an esthetic fancy, strong passions,
and a weak moral nature, which makes some of the most dangerous and
fatal characters the world ever sees.
But, be he what he might, he could not force his presence upon
Christian against her will. "No, I am not afraid," she said to herself;
"how could I be—with these?"
For, all the time she sat meditating Arthur lay half asleep, near her; and
little Oliver, who had returned to his old habit of creeping about her
room whenever he could, sat playing with his box of bricks on the
hearth-rug at her feet, every now and then lifting up eyes of such
heavenly depth of innocence that she felt almost a sort of compassion
for the erring man who had no such child-angels in his home—nothing
and no one to make him good, or to teach him, ere it was too late, that,
even in this world, the wages of sin is death, and that the only true life
is that of purity and holiness.
Christian spent the whole afternoon with her children. They tried her a
good deal, for Arthur was fractious, and Oliver went into one of his
storms of passion, which upon him, as once upon his elder brother,
were increasing day by day. It was impossible it should be otherwise
under the present nursery rule.
She sat and thought over plan after plan of getting Oliver more out of
Phillis's hands—not by any open revolution, for she was tender over
even the exaggerated rights of such a long-faithful servant, but by the
quiet influence which generally accomplishes much more than force.
Besides, time would do as much as she could, and a great deal more—it
Almost smiling at herself for the very practical turn which her
meditations were beginning invariably to take—such a contrast to the
dreamy musings of old—Christian sent the children away, and hastily
dressed for dinner.
It was the first time she had taken her place at the dinner-table since
Arthur's illness, and she felt glad to be there. She sat, with sweet, calm
brow, and lustrous, smiling eyes, a picture such as it does any man
good to gaze at from his table's foot, and know that it is his own wife,
the mistress of his household, the directress of his family, in whom her
husband's heart may safely trust forever.
Dr. Grey seemed to feel it, though he said no more than that "it was
good to have her back again." But his satisfaction did not extend itself
to the rest.
Miss Gascoigne was evidently greatly displeased at something. Angry
were the looks she cast around, and grim was the silence she
maintained until Barker had disappeared.
"Now." said Christian, "shall we send for the children?"
"No," said Miss Gascoigne; "at least not until I have said a word which
I should be sorry to say before young people. Dr. Grey, I wish that
you, who have some knowledge of the usages of society, would instruct
your wife in them a little more. I do not expect much from her, but
still, now that she is your wife, some knowledge of manners, or even
"What have I done?" exclaimed Christian, half alarmed and half
Miss Gascoigne took no notice, but continued addressing Dr. Grey:
"I ask you, as a gentleman, when other gentlemen come to this house to
pay their respects to me—that is, to the ladies generally, ought Mrs.
Grey to take the earliest opportunity of escaping from the drawing-
room, nor return to it the whole time the visitors stay? No doubt she is
unused to society, feels a little awkward in it, but still—"
"I understand now," interrupted Christian. "Yes, I did this afternoon
exactly as she says. I am fully aware of the fact."
"And, pray, who was the gentleman to whom you were so very rude?"
asked Dr. Grey, smiling.
Christian replied without any hesitation—and oh! how thankful that she
was able to do so— "It was Sir Edwin Uniacke."
But she was not prepared for the start and flash of sudden anger with
which her husband heard the name.
"What! has he called at my house? That is more effrontery than I gave
him credit for."
"Effrontery!" repeated Miss Gascoigne, indignantly. "It is no effrontery
in a gentleman of his rank and fortune, a visitor at Avonsbridge, to pay
a call at Saint Bede's Lodge. Besides, I gave him permission to do so.
He was exceedingly civil to me last night, and I must say he is one of
the pleasantest young men I have met for a long time. What do you
know against him?"
"What do I know?" echoed the master, and stopped. Then added, "Of
course you might not have heard; the dean and I keep these things
private as much as we can; but he was 'rusticated' a year and a half
Miss Gascoigne might have known this fact or not; anyhow, she was
determined not to yield her point.
"Well, and if he were, doubtless it was for some youthful folly—debt, or
the like. Now he has came into his property, he will sow his wild oats
and become perfectly respectable."
"I hope so—I sincerely hope so," said Dr. Grey, not without a trace of
agitation in his manner deeper than the occasion seemed to warrant.
"But, in the meantime, he is not the sort of person whom I should wish
the ladies of my family to have among their visiting acquaintance."
The argument had now waxed so warm that both parties forgot, or
appeared to forget Christian, who sat silent, listening to it all—listening
with a kind of wondering eagerness as to what her husband would say—
her husband, a man in every way the very opposite of this man—Sir
Edwin Uniacke. How would he feel about him? how judge him? Or
how much had he known him to judge him by?
On this last head Dr. Grey was impenetrable, he parried, Or gave vague
general replies to all Miss Gascoigne's questions. She gained nothing
except the firm, decided answer, "I will not have Sir Edwin Uniacke
visiting at the Lodge."
"But why not?" insisted Miss Gascoigne, roused by opposition into
greater obstinacy. "Did we not meet him at the vice chancellor's? And
he told me of two or three houses where we should be sure to meet him
again next week."
"I can not help that, but in my own house I choose my own society."
"Your reasons?" insisted Miss Gascoigne, now seriously angry. "It is
unfair to act so oddly—I must say so ridiculously, without giving a
Dr. Grey paused a moment, and seemed to ponder before he answered.
"My reason, so far as I can state it, is, that this young man holds, and
puts into open practice, opinions which I wholly condemn, and
consider unworthy of a Christian, an honest man, or even a decent
member of society."
"And, pray, what are they?"
"It is difficult to explain them to a woman. Do not think me hard," he
added, and his eyes wandered round to his wife, though he still
addressed only his sister. "A man may fail and rise again—and we
know Who pitied and helped to raise all fallen sinners. But sin itself
never ceases to be sin; and, while impenitent, can neither be forgiven
nor blotted out. If a man or a woman—there is no difference—came to
me and said, 'I have erred, but I mean to err no more,' I hope I would
never shut my door against either; I would help, and comfort, and save
both, in every possible way. But a man who continues in sin, hugs it,
loves it, calls it by all manner of fine names, and makes excuses for it
after the fashion of the world—the world may act as it chooses toward
him, but there is only one way in which I can act."
"And what is that?" asked Miss Gascoigne, in astonishing meekness.
"I shut my door against him. Not injuring him, nor pharisaically
condemning him, but merely showing to him, and to all others, that I
consider sin to be sin and call it so. Likewise, that I will have no
fellowship with it, whether it is perpetrated by the beggar in the streets
or the prince on the throne. That no consideration, either of worldly
advantage, or dread of what society may say, or do, or think, shall ever
induce me to let cross my threshold, or bring into personal association
with my family, any man who, to my knowledge, leads an unvirtuous
"Which most indecorous fact, as regards Sir Edwin, not only yourself,
but your wife apparently, was quite aware of. Very extraordinary!"
This Parthian thrust was sharp indeed, but Dr. Grey bore it.
"If she was aware of it—which is not at all extraordinary—my wife did
perfectly right in acting as she has done. It only shows, what I knew
well before, that she and her husband think alike on this, as on most
And he held out his hand to Christian. She could willingly have fallen
at his feet. Oh, how small seemed all dreams of fancy, or folly of
passionate youth, compared to the intense emotion—what was it,
reverence or love?—that was creeping slowly and surely into every fiber
of her being, for the man, her own wedded husband, who satisfied at
once her conscience, her judgment, and her heart.
While these two exchanged a hand-grasp and a look—no more; but that
was enough—Miss Cascoigne sat, routed, but unconquered still. She
might have made one more effort at warfare but that Barker
opportunely entered with the evening post-bag.
"Barker!" said Dr. Grey, as the man was closing the door.
The master paused a second before speaking. "You know Sir Edwin
"To be sure, sir," with a repressed twitch of the mouth, which showed
he knew only too much, as Barker was apt to do of all college affairs.
"If he should call again, say the ladies are engaged; but should he ask
for me, show him at once to my study."
"Very well, master."
And Barker, as he went out of the dining-room, broke into a broad grin;
but it was behind the back of the master.
"A warm hearth, and a bright hearth, and a hearth swept clean,
Where tongs don't raise a dust, and the broom isn't seen;
Where the coals never fly abroad, and the soot doesn't fall,
Oh, that's the fire for a man like me, in cottage or in hall.
"A light boat, and a tight boat, and a boat that rides well,
Though the waves leap around it and the winds blow snell:
A full boat, and a merry boat, we'll meet any weather,
With a long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull altogether."
Sir Edwin Uniacke did not appear again at the Ledge, or not farther
than the hall, where Christian, in passing, saw several of his cards lying
in the card-basket. And, two Sundays, in glancing casually down the
row of strangers who so often frequented the beautiful old chapel of St.
Bede's, she thought she caught sight of that dark, handsome face, which
had once seemed to her the embodiment of all manly beauty. But she
looked steadily forward, neither seeking nor shrinking from
recognition. There was no need. As she passed out of the chapel,
leaning on her husband's arm, the grave, graceful woman, composed
rather than proud, Sir Edwin Uniacke must have felt that Christian
Grey was as far removed from him and the like of him as if she dwelt
already in the world beyond the grave. But this, perhaps, only made
him the more determined to see her.
Now and then, in her walks with Phillis and the children—she now
never walked alone—she was certain she perceived him in the distance,
his slight, tan figure, and peculiar way of swinging his cane, as he
strolled down the long avenues, now glowing into the beauty of that
exquisite May time which Avonsbridge people never weary of praising.
But still, if it were he, and if they did meet, what harm could it do to
her? She could always guard herself by a lady's strongest armor—
perfect courtesy. Even should he recognize her, it was easy to bow and
pass on, as she made up her mind to do, should the occasion arrive.
It never did, though several times she had actually been in the same
drawing-room with him. But it was in a crowded company, and he
either did not see her, or had the good taste to assume that he had not
done so. And Miss Gascoigne, whose eye he caught, had only given
him a distant bow.
"I shall bow, in spite of Dr. Grey and his crotchets," said she. "But I
suppose you are too much afraid of your husband." Christian did not
reply, and the conversation dropped.
One good thing cheered her. Sir Edwin Uniacke remained in
Avonsbridge, and Miss Susan Bennett was still staying, and doing well
in the house of the blind old woman forty miles away.
Shortly her mind became full of far closer cares.
The domestic atmosphere of the Lodge was growing daily more
difficult to breathe in. What is it that constitutes an unhappy
household? Not necessarily a wicked or warring household but still not
happy; devoid of that sunniness which, be the home ever so poor,
makes it feel like "a little heaven below" to those who dwell in it, or
visit it, or even casually pass it by. "See how these Christians love one
another," used to be said by the old heathen world; and the world says
it still—nay, is compelled to say it, of any real Christian home. Alas it
could not always be said of Dr. Grey's.
Perhaps, in any case, this was unlikely. There were many conflicting
elements therein. Whatever may be preached, and even practiced
sometimes, satisfactorily, about the advantages of communism, the law
of nature is that a family be distinct within itself—should consist of
father, mother, and children, and them only. Any extraneous
relationships admitted therein are always difficult and generally
impossible. In this household, long ruled theoretically by Miss
Gascoigne, and practically by Phillis, who was the cleverest and most
determined woman in it, the elements of strife were always smoldering,
and frequently bursting out into a flame. The one bone of contention
was, as might be expected, the children—who should rule them, and
whether that rule was to be one of love or fear,
Christian, though young, was neither ignorant nor inexperienced; and
when, day by day and week by week, she had to sit still and see that
saddest of all sights to a tender heart, children slowly ruined,
exasperated by injustice, embittered by punishment, made deceitful or
cowardly by continual fear, her spirit wakened up to its full dignity of
womanhood and motherhood.
"They are my children, and I will not have things thus," was her
continual thought. But how to effect her end safely and unobnoxiously
was, as it always is, the great difficulty.
She took quiet methods at first—principally the very simple one of
loving the children till they began to love her. Oliver, and by-and-by
Letitia, seized every chance of escaping out of the noisy nursery, where
Phillis boxed, or beats or scolded all day long, to mother's quiet room,
where they always found a gentle word and a smile—a little rivulet from
"Constant stream of love which knew no fail"
which was Cowper's fondest memory of his mother, and which should
be perpetually flowing out from the hearts of all mothers toward all
children. These poor children had never known it till now.
Their little hearts opened to it, and bathed in it as in a fountain of joy.
It washed away all their small naughtinesses, made them strong and
brave, gradually lessened the underhandedness of the girl, the
roughness and selfishness of the boy, and turned the child Oliver into a
little angel—that is, if children ever are angels except in poetry; but
it is certain, and Christian often shuddered to see it, that mismanagement
and want of love can change them into little demons.
And at last there came a day when, passive resistance being useless, she
had to strike with strong hand; the resolute hand which, as before seen,
Christian, gentle as she was, could lift up against injustice, and
especially injustice shown to children.
It happened thus: One day Arthur had been very naughty, or so his
Aunt Henrietta declared, when Mrs. Grey, who heard the disturbance,
came to inquire into it. She thought it not such great wickedness—
rather a piece of boyish mischief than intentional "insult," as Miss
Gascoigne affirmed it was. The lady had lost her spectacles; Arthur
had pretended deeply to sympathize, had aided in the search; and
finally, after his aunt had spent several minutes of time and fuss, and
angry accusations against every body, he had led her up to the dining-
room mirror, where she saw the spectacles—calmly resting on her own
"But I only meant it as a joke, mother. And oh! it was so funny!" cried
Arthur, between laughing and sobbing; for his ears tingled still with the
sharp blow which had proved that the matter was no fun at all to Aunt
"It was a very rude joke, and you ought to beg your aunt's pardon
immediately," said Christian, gravely.
But begging pardon was not half enough salve to the wounded dignity
of Miss Gascoigne. She had been personally offended—that greatest of
all crimes in her eyes—and she demanded condign punishment.
Nothing short of that well-known instrument which, in compliment to
Arthur's riper years, Phillis had substituted for the tied up posy of twigs
chosen out of her birch broom—a little, slender yellow thing, which
black children might once upon a time have played with, and the use of
which towards white children inevitably teaches them a sense of
burning humiliation, rising into fierce indignation and desire for
revenge, not unlike the revenge of negro slaves. And naturally; for
while chastisement makes Christians, punishment only makes brutes.
Almost brutal grew the expression of Arthur's poor thin face when his
aunt insisted on a flogging with the old familiar cane, and after the old
custom, by Phillis's hands.
"Do it, and I'll kill Phillis!" was all he said, but he looked as if
he could, and would.
And when Phillis appeared, not unready or unwilling to execute the
sentence—for she had bitterly resented Arthur's secession from nursery
rule—the boy clung desperately with both his arms round his step-
mother's waist, and the shriek of "Mother mother!" half fury, half
despair, pierced Christian's very heart.
Now Mrs. Grey had a few rather strong opinions of her own on the
subject of punishment, especially corporal punishment. She thought it
degraded rather than reformed, in most cases; and wherever she herself
had seen it tried, it had always signally and fatally failed. At the
utmost, the doubtfulness of the experiment was so great that she felt it
ought never to be administered for any but grave moral offenses—theft,
lying, or the like. Not certainly in such a case as the present—a childish
fault, perhaps only a childish folly, where no moral harm was either
done or intended.
"I didn't mean it! I didn't, mother!" cried the boy, incessantly, as he
clung to her for protection. And Christian held him fast.
"Miss Gascoigne, if you will consider a little, I think you will see that
Arthur's punishment had better be of some other sort than flogging.
We will discuss it between ourselves. Phillis, you can go."
But Phillis did not offer to stir.
"Nurse, obey my orders," screamed Miss Gascoigne. "Take that
wicked boy and cane him soundly."
"Nurse," said Christian, turning very pale, and speaking in an unusually
suppressed voice, "if you lay one finger on my son you quit my service
The assumption of authority was so unexpected, so complete, and yet
not overstepping one inch the authority which Mrs. Grey really
possessed, that both sister-in-law and servant stood petrified, and
offered no resistance, until Miss Gascoigne said, quivering with passion.
"This can not go on. I will know at once my rights in this house, or
quit it. Phillis, knock at the study-door and say I wish to speak to Dr.
Grey—that is, if Mrs. Grey, your mistress, will allow you."
"Certainly," said Christian.
And then, drawing Arthur beside her, and sitting down, for she felt
shaking in every limb, she waited the event; for it was a struggle which
she had long felt must come, and the sooner it came the better. There
are crises when the "peace-at-any-price" doctrine becomes a weakness-
-more, an absolute wrong. Much as she would have suffered, and had
suffered, so long as all the suffering lay with herself alone, when it
came to involve another, she saw her course was clear. As Arthur
stood by her, convulsed with sobs crying at one minute, "Mother, it's
not fair, I meant no harm," and the next, clenching his little fist with,
"If Phillis touches me, I'll murder Phillis," she felt that it was no longer
a question of pleasantness or ease, or even of saving her husband from
pain. It became a matter or duty—her duty to act to the best of her
conscience and ability toward the children whom Providence had sent to
her. It was no kindness to her husband to allow these to be sacrificed,
as, if she did not stand firm, Arthur might be sacrificed for life.
So she sat still, uttering not a word except an occasional whisper of "Be
quiet, Arthur," until Dr. Grey entered the room. Even then, she
restrained herself so far as to let Miss Gascoigne tell the story. She
trusted—as she knew she could trust—to her husband's sense of justice
and quick-sightedness, even through any amount of cloudy
exaggeration. When the examination came to an end, and Dr. Grey,
sorely perplexed and troubled, looked toward his wife questioningly, all
she said was a suggestion that both the children—for Letitia had
watched the matter with eager curiosity from a corner—should be sent
out of the room.
"Yes, yes, certainly Arthur, let go your mother's hand, and run up to the
But Arthur's plaintive sobs began again. "I can't go, papa—I daren't;
Phillis will beat me!"
"Is this true, Christian?"
"I am afraid it is. Had not the children better wait in my room?"
This order given, and the door closed, Dr. Grey sat down with very
piteous countenance. He was such a lover of peace and quietness and
now to be brought from his study into the midst of this domestic
hurricane—it was rather hard. He looked from his wife to his sister, and
back again to his wife. There his eyes rested and brightened a little.
The contrast between the two faces was great—one so fierce and bitter,
the other sad indeed, but composed and strong. Nature herself, who, in
the long run, usually decides between false and true authority, showed
at once who possessed the latter—which of the two women was the
most fitted to govern children.
"Henrietta," said Dr. Grey, "what is it you wish me to do? if my boy
has offended you, of course he must be punished. Leave him to Mrs.
Grey; she will do what is right."
"Then I have no longer any authority in this house?"
"Authority in my wife's house my sister could hardly desire. Influence
she might always have; and respect and affection will, I trust, never be
Dr. Grey spoke very kindly, and held out his hand, but Miss Gascoigne
threw it angrily aside; and then, breaking through even the unconscious
restraint in which most women, even the most violent, are held by the
presence of a man, and especially such a man as the master, she burst
out—this poor passionate woman, cursed with that terrible pre-
dominance of self which in men is ugly enough, in women absolutely
"Never! Keep your hypocrisies to yourself, and your wife too—the
greatest hypocrite I know. But she can not deceive me. Maria"—and
she rushed at luckless Aunt Maria, who that instant, knitting in hand,
was quietly entering the room—"come here, Maria, and be a witness to
what your brother is doing. He is turning me out of his house—me,
who, since my poor sister died, have been like a mother to his children.
He is taking them from me, and giving them over to that woman—that
bad, low, cunning woman!"
"Stop!" cried Dr. Grey. "One word more like that, and I will turn
you out of my house—ay, this very night!"
There was a dead pause. Even Miss Gascoigne was frightened.
Christian, who had never in all her life witnessed such a scene, wished
she had done any thing—borne any thing, rather than have given cause
for it. And yet the children! Looking at that furious woman, she felt—
any observer would have felt—that to leave children in Miss
Gascoigne's power was to ruin them for life. No; what must be done
had better be done now than when too late. Yet her heart failed her at
sight of poor Aunt Maria's sobs.
"Oh, dear Arnold, what is the matter? You haven't been vexing
Henrietta? But you never vex any body, you are so good. Dear
Henrietta, are we really to go back to our own house at Avonside?
Well, I don't mind. It is a pretty house, far more cheerful than the
Lodge; and our tenants are just leaving, and they have kept the furniture
in the best of order—the nice furniture that dear Arnold gave us, you
know. Even if he does want us to leave the Lodge, it is quite natural. I
always said so. And we shall only be a mile away, and can have the
children to spend long days with us, and—"
Simple Aunt Maria, in her hasty jumping at conclusions, had effected
more than she thought of—more harm and more good.
"I assure you, Maria," said Dr. Grey with a look of sudden relief, which
he tried hard—good man!—to conceal, "it never was my intention to
suggest your leaving but since you have suggested it—"
"I will go," interrupted Miss Gascoigne. "Say not another word; we
will go. I will not stay to be insulted here; I will return to my own
house—my own poor humble cottage, where at least I can live
independent and at peace—yes, Dr. Grey, I will, however you may try
to prevent me."
"I do not prevent you. On the contrary, I consider it would be an
excellent plan, and you have my full consent to execute it whenever
This quiet taking of her at her word—this brief, determined, and
masculine manner of settling what she had no intention of doing unless
driven to it through a series of feminine arguments, contentions, and
storms, was quite too much for Miss Gascoigne.
"Go back to Avonside Cottage! Shut myself up in that poor miserable
"Oh, Henrietta!" expostulated Aunt Maria, "when it is so nicely
furnished—with the pretty little green-house that dear Arnold built for
"Don't tell me of green-houses! I say it is only a hole. And I to settle
down in it—to exile myself from Avonsbridge society, that Mrs. Grey
may rule here, and boast that she has driven me out of the field—me, the
last living relative of your dear lost wife, to say nothing of poor Maria,
your excellent sister to whom you owe so much—"
"Oh, Henrietta!" pleaded Miss Grey once more. "Never mind her, dear,
Dr. Grey looked terribly hurt, but he and Aunt Maria exchanged one
glance and one long hand-clasp. Whatever debt there was between the
brother and sister, love had long since canceled it all.
"Pacify her, Maria—you know you can. Make her think better of all
this nonsense. My wife and my sisters could never be rivals; it is
ridiculous to suppose such a thing. But, indeed, I believe we should all
be much better friends if you were in your own house at Avonside."
"I think so, too," whispered Aunt Maria. "I have thought so ever so
"Then it is settled," replied Dr. Grey, in the mild way in which he did
sometimes settle things, and after which you might just as well attempt
to move him as to move the foundations of St. Bede's.
It was all so sudden, this total domestic revolution, which yet every
body inwardly recognized as a great relief, that for a minute or two
nobody found a word more to say, until Miss Gascoigne, who generally
had both the first word and the last, broke out again.
"Yes, you have done it, and it shall never be undone, however you may
live to repent it. Dr. Grey, I quit your house, shaking the dust off my
feet: see that it does not rise up in judgment against you. Maria—my
poor Maria—your own brother may forsake you, but I never will. We
go away together—tomorrow."
"Not tomorrow," said Dr. Grey. "Your tenants have only just left, and
we must have the cottage made comfortable for you. Let me see, this is
the 8th; suppose we settle that you leave on the 20th of June. Will that
As he spoke he took her little fat hand, patted it lovingly, and then
"You'll not be unhappy, sister? You know it is only going back to the
old ways, and to the old country life, which you always liked much
better than this."
"Much—much better. You are quite right, as you always are, dear
This was said in a whisper, but Miss Gascoigne caught it.
"Ah! yes, I see what you are doing—stealing from me the only heart that
loves me—persuading her to stay behind. Very well. Do it, Maria.
Remain with your brother and your brother's wife. Forget me, who am
nothing to any body—of no use to one creature living."
Poor woman without meaning it, she had hit upon something very near
the truth. It always is so—always must be. People win what they earn;
those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind. Handsome, clever, showy,
and admired, as she had been in her day, probably not one living soul
did now care for Henrietta Gascoigne except foolish, faithful Aunt
And yet there must have been some good in her, something worth
caring for, even to retain that affection, weak and submissive as it may
have been. Christian's heart smote her as if she herself had been guilty
of injustice toward Miss Gascoigne when she saw Miss Grey creep up
to her old friend, the tears flowing like a mill-stream.
"No, dear, I shall not stay behind. Arnold doesn't want me. And I have
always put up with you somehow—I mean, you have put with me—we
shall manage to do it still. We'll live together again, as we did for so
many years, in our pretty cottage and garden that dear Arnold gave us,
and I will look after my poultry, and you shall do your visiting. Yes,
dear Henrietta, it will be all for the best. We shall be so independent,
Happy! It was not a word in Miss Gascoigne's dictionary. But she
looked with a certain tenderness at the fond little woman who had
loved her, borne with her, never in the smallest degree resisted her
since they were girls together. It was a strange tie, perhaps finding its
origin in something deeper than itself—in that dead captain, whose old-
fashioned miniature still lay in poor Maria's drawer—the fierce,
handsome face, proving that, had he lived, he might have been as great
a tyrant over her as his sister Henrietta. Still, however it arose, the
bond was there, and nothing but death could ever break it between
these two lonely women.
"Come, then, Maria, we shall share our last crust together. You, at least,
have never wronged me. Come away."
Gathering her dress about her with a tragical air, and plucking it, as she
passed Mrs. Grey, as though the possible touch were pollution, Aunt
Henrietta swept from the room; Aunt Maria, after one deprecatory look
behind, as if to say, "You see I can't do otherwise," slowly following.
And so it was all over—safely over—this great change, which, however
longed for, had not been contemplated as a possibility one hour before.
It had arranged itself out of the most trivial elements, as great events
often do. There could be no question that every body felt it to be the
best thing, and every body was thankful; and yet Christian watched her
husband with a little uncertainty until she heard him heave a sigh of
"Yes, I am sure it was right to be done, and I am glad it is done. Are
not you, Christian?"
"Oh, so glad! I hope it is not wicked in me, but I am so glad!"
"Why—to have me all to yourself?" said he, smiling at her energy.
A strange, unwonted thrill ran through Christian's heart as she
recognized, beyond possibility of doubt, that this was the secret source
of her delight—of the feeling as if a new existence were opening before
her—as if the heavy weight which had oppressed her were taken off,
and she could move through those old gloomy rooms, which had once
struck a chill through her whole being, with a sense as if she were as
light as air, and as merry as a bird in the spring.
To have the Lodge made into a real home—a home altogether her own—
and emptied of all but those who were really her own, with a glad
welcome for any visitors, but still only as visitors, coming and going,
and never permanently interfering with the sweet, narrow circle of the
family fireside; to be really mistress in her own house; to have her time
to herself; to spend long mornings with the children; long evenings
alone with her husband, even if he sat for hours poring over his big
books and did not speak a word—oh, how delicious it would be!
"Yes, all to myself—I'll have you all to myself," she murmured, as she
put her arms round his neck, and looked right up into his eyes. For the
first time she was sure—quite sure that she loved him. And as she stood
embraced, encircled and protected by his love, and thought of her
peaceful life now and to come, full of duties, blessings, and delights,
ay, though it had also no lack of cares. Christian felt sorry—oh, so
infinitely sorry for poor Aunt Henrietta.
"Weave, weave, weave,
The tiniest thread will do;
The filmiest thread from a spider's bed
Is stout enough for you.
"Twist, twist, twist,
With fingers dainty and small;
Let the wily net be quietly set,
That the innocent may fall."
Arthur never got his thrashing. The serious results, of which he had
been the primary cause, for a while put his naughtiness out of every
body's head; and when, after an hour or more, Christian went up stairs,
and found the poor little fellow waiting patiently and obediently in
mother's bedroom, it seemed rather hard to punish him.
She went down again into the study, and had a long talk with her
husband, in which she spoke her mind very freely—more freely than she
had ever done before, and told him things which had come to her
knowledge concerning the children of which he, poor man! had hitherto
been kept in total ignorance.
Thus taking counsel together, the father and mother decided that,
except in very rare instances, corporal punishment should be entirely
abolished, and never, under any circumstances, should be administered
by Phillis. That Phillis's sway was to be narrowed as much as possible,
without any absolute laws being made that would wound her feelings,
or show indifference to her long fidelity.
"For," said Dr. Grey, "we must not forget, Christian, that she loved the
children when they had not quite so much love as they have now."
No, Arthur was not thrashed—was promised faithfully that Phillis
should never be allowed to thrash him any more; but his step-mother
made him write the meekest, humblest letter of apology to his Aunt
Henrietta, which that lady returned unanswered. This, however, as
Christian took some pains to explain to him, was a matter of secondary
consequence. Whatever she did, he had done only what was his duty.
And he was enjoined, when they did meet, to address her politely and
respectfully, as a nephew and a gentleman should—as his father always
addressed her, even in answer to those sharp speeches which, though in
his children's presence, Miss Gascoigne continually let fall.
Nevertheless, Dr. Grey bore them, and so did his wife, which was
harder. She did not mind rudeness to herself, but to hear her husband
thus spoken to and spoken of was a sufficient trial to make her long for
the time of release. And yet through it all came the deep sense of pity
that any woman who could show herself in so pleasant a light abroad—
for many of the morning visitors quite condoled with Mrs. Grey on the
impending change at the Lodge, and of the great loss she would have in
her sister-in-law—should be so obnoxious at home that her nearest
relatives counted the days until her shadow should cease to darken their
And so, gradually and often painfully, but still with a firm conviction
on every body's mind that the plan so suddenly decided on had been the
best for all parties, came round the time of the aunts' departure.
Christian had spent all the previous day at Avonside, which she found a
very pretty cottage, all woodbine and roses, with nothing at all
poverty-stricken about it, either within or without. She had gone over it
from garret to basement, making every thing as comfortable as
possible, as she had carte blanche from her husband to do, and gladly
did; for on her tender conscience rankled every bitter word of Miss
Gascoigne's as though it were real truth; and sometimes, in spite of
herself, she could not suppress an uneasy feeling as if the aunts were
being "turned out." The last day of their stay at the Lodge was so
exceedingly painful, that, having done all she could, she at length
rushed out of the house with Arthur for a breath of fresh air and a quiet
half hour before dinner, if such were possible.
She did not go far, only just crossing the bridge to the cottage grounds
opposite where, in sight of the Lodge windows, she could walk up and
down the beautiful avenue, which still bears the name of the old
philosopher who loved it. If his wise, gentle ghost still haunted the
place, it might well have watched with pleasure this fair, grave, sweet-
looking young woman sauntering up and down with the boy in her
hand, listening vaguely to his chatter, and now and then putting in a
smiling answer. She had a smiling, peaceful face, and her thoughts
were peaceful too. She was thinking to herself how pretty Avonsbridge
was in its June dress of freshest green, how quietly and innocently life
passed under shadow of these college walls, and how could any one
have the heart to make it otherwise?
She would not after today. She would cease to vex herself, or let her
husband vex himself about Miss Gascoigne. With a mile and a half
between them, the Lodge would certainly feel safe from her. And oh!
what a wonderful peace would come into the house when she left it!
How good the children would be! How happy their father!—yes, he
could be made happy, Christian knew that, and it was she who could
make him so. The consciousness of power in this sweet sense, and the
delight of exercising it was becoming the most exquisite happiness
Christian had ever known. She sat dreaming over it almost like a girl in
her first love-dream—only this dream was deeper and calmer, with all
the strength of daily duty added to the joy of loving and being loved.
Not that she reasoned much—she was not given to much analyzing of
herself—she only knew that she was content, and found content in every
thing—in the ripple of the river at her feet, the flutter of the leaves
over her head, the soft blue sky above the colleges, and the green grass
gemmed with daisies, where an old man was mowing on the one side,
and a large thrush, grown silent with summer, was hopping about on
the other. Every thing seemed beautiful, for the beauty began in her
"Good-morning, Mrs. Grey."
People talk about "looking as if they had seen a ghost"—and perhaps
that look was not unlike Christian's as she started at this salutation
behind her. He must have come stealthily across the grass, for she had
heard nothing, did not even know that any body was near, till she
looked up and saw Sir Edwin Uniacke.
The surprise was so great that it brought (oh, what shame to feel it, and
feel sure that he saw it!) the blood up to her face—to her very forehead.
She half rose, and then sat down again, with a blind instinct that any
thing was better than either to be or to appear afraid.
Without waiting for either a reply or a recognition—which indeed came
not, nothing but that miserable blush—the young man seated himself on
the bench and began to make acquaintance with Arthur.
"I believe I have seen you before, my little friend. You are Dr. Grey's
son, and I once offered to carry you, but was refused. Are you quite
well now, Master Albert? Isn't that your name?"
"No; Arthur," said the boy, rather flattered at being noticed. "Are you
one of the men at our college? You haven't your gown on."
"Not now," with a queer look, half amusement, half irritation. "I don't
belong to Avonsbridge. I have a house of my own in the country—such
a pretty place, with a park, and deer, and a lake, and a boat to row on it.
Wouldn't you like to see it?"
"Yes." said Arthur, all eyes and ears.
"I live there, but I am always coming over to Avonsbridge. Do what I
will, I can not keep away."
The tone, the glance across the child, were unmistakable. Christian
rose, her momentary stupefaction gone.
"Come, Arthur, papa will be waiting dinner. We never keep papa
waiting, you know."
Simple as the words were, they expressed volumes.
For an instant her composed matronly grace—her perfect indifference,
silenced, nay, almost awed the young man, and then irritated him into
resistance. He caught hold of Arthur in passing.
"You need not go yet. It is only just five, and your papa does not dine
"How do you know?" asked the child.
"Oh. I know every thing. I watch you in and out of the Lodge, and am
aware of all you do. But about the boat I promised you. It is at my
place, Lake Hall, near—"
"Arthur. we must go."
Arthur jumped up at once. Gentle as it was, he had learned that that
voice must never be disobeyed.
"I can't stay, sir; mother calls me. But I'll tell papa we met you, and ask
him to let me come and see you, if you will tell me your name."
Sir Edwin hesitated.
"There is no necessity," said Mrs. Grey. "Arthur, I know this
gentleman. I myself shall tell your papa that we have met him here.
Good-morning, Sir Edwin Uniacke."
She bowed with that perfect, repellant courtesy against which there is
no appeal, and passed on; had she seen—she did not, for she looked
straight on and saw nothing—but had she seen the look of mingled hate
and love which darkened over Sir Edwin's face, it might have terrified
her. But no, she was too courageous a woman to fear anything save
After a minute's angry beating of his boot with his stick, the young man
rose and followed them down the avenue, contriving, by dint of
occasional conversation with Arthur, to keep along side of them the
whole way as far as the bridge which connected the college grounds
with the college buildings, and which was overlooked by the whole
frontage of the Lodge.
With a vague sense of relief and protection, Christian glanced to the
windows of her home, and there, at the open nursery casement, she saw
a group, Phillis, Oliver, Letitia, and behind Letitia another person—Miss
Susan Bennett, who had come with a message from old Mrs. Ferguson,
and whom, in her kindness, Mrs. Grey had sent to have a cup of tea in
the nursery before returning to the village, where the girl said she was
"quite comfortable." There she stood, she and Phillis, watching, as they
doubtless had watched the whole interview, from the time Sir Edwin
sat down, on the bench till his parting shake of the hand to Arthur, and
farewell bow to herself, which bow was rather easy and familiar than
Had he done it on purpose? Had he too seen the group at the window,
and, moved by a contemptible vanity, or worse, behaved so that these
others ought notice his manner to Mrs. Grey, and put upon it any
construction they pleased?
Yet what possible construction could be put upon it, even by the most
ill-natured and malicious witnesses? The college grounds were free to
all; this meeting was evidently accidental and all that had passed thereat
was a few words with the boy, which Arthur would be sure to repent at
once; nor did Christian desire to prevent him.
It was a hard position. She had done no wrong—not the shadow of
wrong—and yet here was she, Christian Grey, discovered meeting and
walking with a man whom her husband had distinctly forbidden the
house—discovered both by her servant, who, having an old servant's
love of prying into family affairs, no doubt knew of this prohibition,
and by Miss Bennett, to whom she herself had said that Sir Edwin was
a man unfit for any respectable woman's acquaintance.
"What would they both think? And, moreover, when she heard of it—as
assuredly she would—what would Miss Gascoigne think and say?"
That overpowering dread, "What will people say?" for the first time in
her life began to creep over Christian's fearless heart. Such an innocent
heart it was, and oh, such a contented one only half an hour ago.
"How dare he?" she said, fiercely, as she found herself alone in her own
room, with but just time enough to dress and take her place as the fair,
stately, high-thoughted, pure-hearted mistress of her husband's table.
"How dare he?" and, standing at the glass, she looked almost with
disgust into the beautiful face that burnt, hotly still only at the
remembrance of the last ten minutes. "But he must see—he must surely
understand how utterly I despise him. He will not presume again. Oh,
if I had only told my husband! It was a terrible mistake?"
What was—her secret or her marriage? or both?
Christian did not stop to think. Whatever it was, she knew that, like
most of the mistakes and miseries of this world, it was made to be
remedied—made possible of remedy. At all events, the pain must be
endured, fought through, struggled with, any thing but succumbed to.
In the five minutes that, after all, she found she had to wait in the
drawing-room before the aunts or her husband appeared. Christian
took herself seriously to task for this overwhelming, cowardly fear.
What had she really to dread? What harm could he do her—the bad
man of whom she had so ignorantly made a girl's ideal? The only
testimony thereof was her letters, if he still had them in his possession—
her poor, innocent, girlish letters—very few—just two or three. Foolish
they might have been, sentimental and ridiculous, but she could not
remember any thing wrong in them—any thing that a girl in her teens
need blush to have written, either to friend or lover, save for the one
fact that, a girl is wiser to have no friend at all among men—except her
lover. And, whatever they were, most likely he had destroyed them
"No, no," she thought, "he can not do me any harm; he dare not!"
It was difficult to say what Sir Edwin Uniacke would not dare; for,
going back to her room for some trifle forgotten, she discovered that he
was still lounging, cigar in mouth, up and down the river-side avenue
opposite, where he could plainly see and be seen from almost every
window in the Lodge.
And there, hurrying to meet him, she saw Susan Bennett. But the
meeting appeared not satisfactory, and after a few minutes the girl had
left him and he was again seen walking up and down alone.
A vain woman might have been flattered, perhaps allured, by this
persistence. In Christian it produced only repulsion, actual hatred, if so
gentle a spirit could hate. An honest love from the very humblest man
alive, she would have been tender over; but this, which to her, a wife,
was necessarily utter insult and wickedness, awoke in her nothing but
abhorrence—the same sort of righteous abhorrence that she would have
felt—she knew she would—toward any woman who had tried to win her
husband from herself. Win her husband? The fancy almost made her
smile, and then filled her with a brimming sense of joy that he was—
what he was, a man to whom the bare idea of loving any woman but his
own wife was so impossible that it became actually ludicrous.
She smiled, she even laughed, with an ever-growing sense of all he was
to her and she to him, when she heard him open his study-door and call
She went quickly, to explain in a word or two, before they went down
to dinner, her rencontre with Sir Edwin Uniacke. Afterward, in their
long, quiet evenings, to which she so looked forward, she would tell her
husband the whole story, and give herself the comfort of feeling that
now at last he was fully acquainted with her whole outer life and
inmost soul, as a husband ought to be.
But there stood the two aunts, one stately and grim, the other silent and
tearful; and it took all Dr. Grey's winning ways to smooth matters so as
to make their last meal together before the separation any thing like a
He seemed so anxious for this—nervously anxious—that his wife forgot
every thing in helping him to put a cheerful face on every thing. And
when she watched him, finding a pleasant word for every one, and
patient even with Miss Gascoigne, who today seemed in her sharpest
mood, gray-haired, quaint, and bookish-looking as he was, it appeared
to Christian that not a young man living could bear a moment's
comparison with Dr. Arnold Grey.
He tried his best, and she tried her best but it was rather a dull dinner,
and she found no opportunity to say, as at last she had decided to say
publicly, just as a piece of news, no more, that she had today met Sir
Edwin Uniacke. And so it befell that the first who told the fact was
Arthur, blurting out between his strawberries, "Oh, papa I want you to
let me go to a place called Lake Hall."
"Yes; the owner of it invited me there; he did, indeed. He is the
kindest, pleasantest gentleman I ever met. A 'Sir,' too. His name is Sir
"My boy, where did you meet Sir Edwin Uniacke?"
So the whole story came out. Dr. Grey listened in grave silence—even a
little displeasure, or something less like displeasure than pain. At
length, he said,
"I think you must have made some mistake, Arthur. Your mother could
never have allowed—"
"She did not say she would allow me to go. She looked rather vexed; I
don't think she liked Sir Edwin Uniacke. And if she is very much
against my going—well, I won't go," said Arthur, heroically.
"You are a good boy; but I think this gentleman ought to have hesitated
a little before he thus intruded himself upon my wife and my son."
"I think so, too," said Christian, the first words she had spoken.
Dr. Grey glanced at her sharply, but the most suspicious husband could
have read nothing in her face beyond what she said.
"And I think," burst in Miss Gascoigne, who had listened to it all, her
large eyes growing every minute larger and larger, "that it must be
somehow a lady's own fault when a gentleman is intrusive, I never
believed—I never could have believed—after all Dr. Grey has said about
Sir Edwin, that the three figures—a lady, and gentleman, and a child,
whom I saw this afternoon sitting so comfortably together on the
bench—as comfortably, I vow and declare, as if they had been sitting
there an hour, which perhaps they had—"
"Not more than two minutes," interrupted Christian, speaking very
quietly, but conscious of a wild desire to fly at Miss Gascoigne and
shake her as she stood, putting forward, in her customary way, those
mangled fragments of truth which are more irritating than absolute lies.
"Indeed, it was only two minutes. I did not choose, even if I had no
other reason, that a man of whom Dr. Grey did not approve should hold
any communication with Arthur?"
"Thank you, that was right," said Dr. Greg.
"Yet you let him walk with you—I know you did, up to the very Lodge
"To the bridge, Miss Gascoigne."
"Well, it's all the same. And I must confess it is most extraordinary
conduct. To refuse a gentleman's visits—his open visits here—on the
pretext that he is not good enough for your society, and then to meet
him, sit with him, walk with him in the college grounds. What will
Christian turned like a hunted creature at bay, "I do not care—not a jot,
what people say."
"I thought not. People like you never do care. They fly in the face of
"Husband!" with a sort of wild appeal, the first she had ever made for
protection—for at least justice.
Dr. Grey looked up, started out of a long fit of thoughtfulness—sadness
it might be, during which he had let the conversation pass him by.
"The only thing I care for is what my husband thinks. If he blames
"For what, my dear?"
"Because, when I was walking in the college grounds, as any lady may
walk, that man, Sir Edwin Uniacke, whose acquaintance I desire as
little as you do, came up and spoke to me, or rather to Arthur. I could
not help it, could I?"
"No, my child," with a slight emphasis on the words "my child," that
went to Christian's heart. Yes, surely, if she had only had courage to
tell him, in his large tenderness he could have understood that childish
folly, the dream of a day, and the long misery it had brought her. She
would tell him all the very first opportunity; however much it pained
and humiliated her, she would tell her good husband all.
"And, papa, have I been naughty too?" said Arthur? "I am sure I did
not see any thing so very dreadful in Sir Edwin. He came up and spoke
to mother as if he knew her quite well, and then he talked ever so much
to me, and said if I would visit him he would give me a boat to row,
and a horse to ride. And I'm sure he seemed the very kindest,
"So he is; and nothing shall ever make me believe he isn't." cried Miss
Gascoigne, always delighted to pull against the tide. "And I must say,
Dr. Grey, the way you and your wife set up your opinion against that of
really good society is perfect nonsense. For my part, when I have a
house of my own once more, and can invite whomsoever I please—"
"I would nevertheless advise, so far as a brother may," interrupted Dr.
Grey, very seriously, "that you do not invite Sir Edwin Uniacke. And
now, aunts both," with that sun-shiny smile which could disperse
almost any domestic cloud, "as this conversation is not particularly
interesting to the children, suppose we end it. When do you intend to
have us all to tea at Avonside?"
"Forgive us each his daily sins,
If few or many, great or small;
And those that sin against us, Lord,
Good Lord! Forgive them all.
"Judge us not as we others judge;
Condemn us not as we condemn;
They who are merciless to us,
Be merciful to them.
"And if the cruel storm should pass,
And let Thy heaven of peace appear,
Make not our right the right—or might,
But make the right shine clear."
"Well, the least I can say of it is that it is very extraordinary!"
"What is extraordinary?" asked Miss Grey, looking up placidly from
her knitting, which did not get on very fast now. For Aunt Maria was
exceedingly busy and exceedingly happy. If ever her brother or his
wife had the least qualms of conscience about her removal from the
Lodge to Avonside, they would have been dispelled by the sight of the
dear little fat woman trotting about, the picture of content, full of
housekeeping plans, and schemes for her poultry-yard, her pigeon-
house, and her green-house. As for her garden, it was a source of
perpetual pride, wonder, and delight. The three years which she had
spent at the Lodge—which, in her secret heart, she owned were rather
dull and trying years—were ended.
She herself, and, indeed, the whole establishment, resumed again
exactly the place they had filled in the lifetime of the first Mrs. Grey.
Avonside became once more a regular aunts' house—devoted to
children, who now, at the distance of a mile and a half, thought nothing
so delightful as to spend long days there, and be petted by Aunt Maria.
The sudden revolution had succeeded—as honest revolutions usually do.
when any one has the courage to attempt them—to break through a false
domestic position, and supply it with a true one. Even Miss Gascoigne
was the happier for it; less worried in her mind, having no feeling of
domestic responsibility, and being no longer haunted by the children.
The poor little souls! she could get on well enough with them for an
hour or two at Avonside, but they had been a sore affliction to her at
the Lodge. Any woman who can not wholly set aside self is sure to be
tormented by, and be a still worse torment to, children.
No; much as she pitied herself, and condoled with Aunt Maria every
hour in the day, Aunt Henrietta was a great deal better in every way
since she came to Avonside—less cross, less ill-natured; even her
perpetual mill-stream of talk flowed on without such violent outbreaks
of wrath against the whole as had embittered the atmosphere of the
Lodge. Now, though her answer was sharp, it was not so sharp as it
might have been—would certainly have been—a few weeks before.
"Maria, I don't think you ever do listen to me when I'm talking. I am
afraid all I say goes in at one ear and out at the other," which was not
impossible, perhaps not unfortunate otherwise, since Miss Gascoigne
talked pretty nearly all day long, Miss Grey's whole life might have
been spent in listening. She replied, with a meek smile, "Oh no, dear
"Then you surely would have made some observation on what I have
been telling you—this very extraordinary thing which Miss Smiles told
me last night at the Lodge, while Mrs. Grey was singing—as I
forewarned you, Mrs. Grey sings every where now—and her husband
lets her do it—likes it, too—he actually told me it was a pleasure to him
that his wife should make herself agreeable to other people. They mean
to give tea-parties once a week to the undergraduates at Saint Bede's,
because she says the master ought to be like a father over them, invite
them and make his house pleasant to them. Such a thing was never
heard of in our days."
"No; but I dare say dear Arnold knows best. And what about Miss
"I've told you twenty times already, Maria, how Miss Smiles said that
Mrs. Brereton said—you know Mrs. Brereton, who has so many
children, and never can keep a governess long—that her new governess,
who happens to be Miss Susan Bennett, whom, you may remember, I
once got for Letitia—told her a long story about Mrs. Grey and Sir
Edwin Uniacke—how he was an old acquaintance of hers before she
"Of Christian's? She never said so. Oh no! it can't be, or she would
have said so."
"Don't be too sure of that," said Aunt Henrietta, mysteriously.
"Besides, she dislikes him. You know, Henrietta, that when he called
here last week, and she happened to be with us, she put on her bonnet
and went home immediately, without seeing him!"
"And a very rude thing, too, on her part. Any visitors whom I choose
to invite to my house—"
"But he invited himself."
"No matter, he came, and I certainly had no reason to turn him out. I
consider Dr. Grey's objections to him perfectly ridiculous. Why, one
meets the young man every where, in the very best society, and his
manners are charming. But that is not the question. The question is
just this: Was he, or was he not, an acquaintance of Mrs. Grey's before
her marriage? and if he were, why did she not say so?"
"Perhaps she did."
"Not to me; when he called at the Lodge and I introduced them, they
bowed as if they were just ordinary strangers. Now that was a rather
odd thing, and a very disrespectful thing to myself, not to tell me they
had met before, I certainly have a right to be displeased. Don't you feel
it so, Maria?"
Whether she did or not, Maria only answered with her usual
"There is another curious circumstance, now I recall it. Sir Edwin
showed great surprise, which, indeed, I could scarcely wonder at, when
I told him—(I forget how it happened, but I know I was somehow
obliged to tell him)—who it was your brother had married—Miss
Oakley, the organist's daughter."
"Don't you think," said Aunt Maria, with a sudden sparkle of
intelligence, "it might have been her father he was acquainted with?
Sir Edwin is so very musical himself that it is not unlikely he should
seek the company of musicians. As for Christian "—simple as she was,
Aunt Maria had not lived fifty years in the world, and twenty with Miss
Gascoigne, without some small acuteness—"I can see, of course, how
very bad it would have been for poor Christian to have any
acquaintance among young gownsmen, and especially with a person
like Sir Edwin Uniacke."
"He is no worse than his neighbors, and I beg you will make no
remarks upon him," said Miss Gascoigne, with dignity. "As to Mrs.
"Perhaps," again suggested Aunt Maria, appealingly, "perhaps it isn't
true. People do say such untrue things. Mrs. Brereton may have
imagined it all."
"It was no imagination. Haven't I told you that Miss Bennett gave the
whole story, with full particulars, exactly as she had learned it lately
from the servant at the farm where Mr. Oakley and his daughter once
lodged and where Mr. Uniacke used to come regularly? Not one day
did he miss during a whole month. Now, Maria, I should be sorry to
think ill of her for your brother's sake but you must allow, when a
young person in her station receives constant visits from young
gentlemen—gentlemen so much above her as Sir Edwin is—it looks very
"Oh, Henrietta," cried Miss Grey, the womanly feeling within her
forcing its way, even through her placid non-resistance, "do stop! you
surely don't consider what you are saying?"
"I am not in the habit of speaking without consideration, and I am, I
assure you, perfectly aware of what I am saying. I say again, that such
conduct was not creditable to Miss Oakley. Of course, one could not
expect from a person like her the same decorum that was natural to you
and me in our girlhood. I do not believe you and William ever so much
as looked at one another before you were engaged."
A faint light, half tearful, half tender, gleamed in those poor, faded blue
eyes. "Never mind that now Henrietta. Consider Christian. It will be a
terrible thing if any ill-natured stories go about concerning poor dear
"It will, and therefore I am determined, for your brother's sake, to sift
the story to the very bottom. In fact, I think—to end all doubt—I shall
put the direct question myself to Sir Edwin Uniacke."
Speak of the—But it would not be fair to quote the familiar proverb
against the young man who appeared that instant standing at the
"Well, I never knew such a coincidence," cried Miss Grey.
"Such a providence rather," cried Miss Gascoigne. And perhaps, in her
strange obliquity of vision, or, rather, in that sad preponderance of self
which darkened all her vision, like a moral cataract in the eye of her
soul, this woman did actually think Providence was leading her toward
a solemn duty in the investigating of the past history of the forlorn girl
whom Dr. Grey had taken as his wife.
"Speak of an angel and you see his wings," said she, with exceeding
politeness. "We were just talking about you, Sir Edwin."
"Thank you; and for your charming parody on the old proverb likewise,
I hope I am not the angel of darkness anyhow."
He did not look it—this graceful, handsome young man, gifted with that
peculiar sort of beauty which you see in Goethe's face, in Byron's,
indicating what may be called the Greek temperament—the nature of
the old Attic race—sensuous, not sensual; pleasure-loving, passionate,
and changeable; not intentionally vicious, but reveling in a sort of
glorious enjoyment, intellectual and corporeal, to which every thing
else is sacrificed—in short, the heathen as opposed to the Christian type
of manhood—a type, the fascination of which lasts as long as the body
lasts, and the intellect; when these both fail, and there is left to the
man only that something which we call the soul, the immortal essence, one
with Divinity, and satisfied with nothing less than the divine—alas for
A keen observer, who had lived twenty years longer in the world than
he, might, regarding him in all his beauty and youth, feel a sentiment
not unlike compassion for Edwin Uniacke.
He sat down, making himself quite at home, though this was only his
second visit to Avonside Cottage. But Miss Gascoigne, if only from
love of opposition, had made it pretty clear to him that he was welcome
there, and that she liked him. He enjoyed being liked, and had the easy
confidence of one who is well used to it.
"Yes, I am ready to avouch, this is the prettiest little paradise within
miles of Avonsbridge. No wonder you should have plenty of visitors, I
met a tribe coming here—your sister-in-law (charming person is Mrs.
Grey!) your nephews and niece, and that gipsy-looking, rather
handsome nurse, who is a little like the head of Clytie, only for her
sullen, underlying mouth and projecting chin."
"How you notice faces, Sir Edwin!"
"Of course. I am a little bit of an artist."
"And a great piece of a musician, as I understand. Which reminds me,"
added Miss Gascoigne, eager to plunge into her mission, which, in her
strange delusion, she earnestly believed was a worthy and righteous
one, in which she had embarked for the family benefit—"I wanted to
ask whether you did not know Mrs. Grey's father, the organist? And
herself too, when she was Miss Oakley?"
"Every body knew Mr. Oakley," was the evasive answer. "He was a
remarkable man—quite a genius, with all the faults of a genius. He
drank, he ate opium, he—"
"Nay, he is dead," faintly said Aunt Maria.
"Which, you mean, is a good reason why I should speak no more about
him. I obey you, Miss Grey."
"But his daughter? Did you say you knew his daughter?" pursued Miss
"Oh yes, casually. A charming girl she was! very pretty, though
immature. Those large, fair women sometimes do not look their best
until near thirty. And she had a glorious voice. She and I used to sing
He might not have thought what he was doing—it is but charity to
suppose so; that he spoke only after his usual careless and somewhat
presumptuous style of speaking about all women, but he must have
been struck by the horrified expression of Miss Gascoigne's face.
"Sing duets together! a young man in your position, and a young
woman in hers! Without a mother, too!"
"Oh, her father was generally present, if you think of propriety. But I
do assure you, Miss Gascoigne, there was not the slightest want of
propriety. She was a very pretty girl, and I was a young fellow, rather
soft, perhaps, and so we had a—well, you might call it a trifling
flirtation. But nothing of any consequence—nothing. I do assure you."
"Of course it was of no consequence," said Aunt Maria, again breaking
in with a desperate courage. And still more desperate were the nods
and winks with which she at last aroused even Aunt Henrietta to a
sense of the position into which the conversation was bringing them
both, so that she, too, had the good feeling to add,
"Certainly it is not of the slightest consequence. Dr. Grey is probably
aware of it all?"
"Which may be the reason I am never invited to the Lodge," laughed
the young man, so pleasantly that one would hardly have paused to
consider what he laughed at or what it implied. "By-the-by, I hear they
had such a pleasant gathering there last night—a musical evening, where
every body sang a great deal, and Mrs. Grey only once, but then, of
course, divinely. I should like to hear her again. But look, there are
the children. Shall I take the liberty of unfastening for them the latch
of your garden gate?"
He sprang out of the low window, and came back heading the small
battalion of visitors—Phillis, Arthur, Letitia, and Oliver. But Mrs. Grey
was not there. She had come half way, and returned home alone.
"Well, I must say that is very odd, considering I invited her to spend the
day, and, I think, rather disrespectful of me—to us both, Maria."
"She might have been tired after the party last night," put in Aunt
"No, she wasn't tired, for she never told me so." said Arthur. "She told
me to say—not you, Phillis, mother always trusts me with her messages—
that she had gone back on account of papa's wanting her, and that if he
came to fetch us, she would come here with him in the evening."
"Very devoted! 'An old man's darling and a young man's slave,' runs
the proverb; but Mrs. Grey seems to reverse it. She will soon never stir
out an inch without your brother, Maria."
"And I am sure my brother never looks so happy as when she is beside
him," said Aunt Maria. "We shall quite enjoy seeing them both
"And I only wish it had been my good fortune to join such a pleasant
family party," observed Sir Edwin Uniacke.
It was rather too broad a hint, presuming even upon Miss Gascoigne's
large courtesy. In dignified silence she passed it over, sending the
children and Phillis away to their early dinner, and after an interval of
that lively conversation, in which, under no circumstances, did Sir
Edwin ever fail, allowing him also to depart.
As he went down the garden, Miss Grey, with great dismay, watched
him stop at her beautiful jessamine bower, pull half a dozen of the
white stars, smell at them, and throw them away. He would have done
the same—perhaps had done it—with far diviner things than jessamine
"Yes," said Miss Gascoigne, looking after him, and then sitting down
opposite Miss Grey, spreading out her wide silk skirts, and preparing
herself solemnly for a wordy war—that is, if it could be called a war
which was all on one side—"yes, I have come to the bottom of it all. I
knew I should. Nothing ever escapes me. And pray, Maria, what do
you think of her now."
"Think of whom?"
"You are so dull when you won't hear. Of your sister-in-law, Christian
Poor Aunt Maria looked up with a helpless pretense of ignorance.
"What about her. Henrietta, dear?"
"Pshaw! You know as well as I do, only you are so obtuse, or so
meek," (A mercy she was, or she would never have lived a week, not to
say twenty years, with Henrietta Gascoigne.) "Once for all, tell me
what you propose doing?"
"Yes, you. Can't you see, my dear Maria, that it is your business to
inform your brother what you have discovered concerning his wife?"
"Certainly; it is a discovery, since she has never told it—never told her
husband that before her marriage she had been in the habit of singing
duets (love-songs, no doubt, most improper for any young woman)
with a young gentleman of Sir Edwin's birth and position, who, of
course, never thought of marrying her—(your brother, I do believe, is
the only man in Avonsbridge who would have so committed himself)—
and who, by the light way he speaks of her, evidently shows how little
respect he had for her."
"Perhaps," mildly suggested Aunt Maria, "perhaps she really has told
"Then why did he not tell us—tell me? Why did he place me in the very
awkward position of not knowing of this previous acquaintance of his
wife's? Why, in that very unpleasant conversation we had one day at
the Lodge, was I the only person to be kept in ignorance of his reasons—
and very good reasons I now see they were—for forbidding Sir Edwin's
visits? Singing duets together! Who knows but that they may meet
and sing them still? That new piano! and we turned out of the house
directly afterward—literally turned out! But perhaps that was the very
reason she did it—that she might meet him the more freely. Oh, Maria!
your poor deluded brother!"
It is strange the way some women have—men too, but especially
women—of rolling and rolling their small snowball of wrath until it
grows to an actual mountain, which has had dragged into it all sorts of
heterogeneous wrongs, and has grown harder and blacker day by day,
till no sun of loving-kindness will ever thaw it more. In vain did poor
Maria ejaculate her pathetic "Oh, Henrietta!" and try, in her feeble way,
to put in a kindly word or two; nothing availed. Miss Gascoigne had
lashed herself up into believing firmly every thing she had imagined
and it was with an honest expression of real grief and pain that she
repeated over and over again, "What ought we to do? Your poor, dear
For, with all her faults, Miss Gascoigne was a conscientious woman;
one who, so far as she saw her duty, tried to fulfill it, and as strongly,
perhaps a little more so, insisted on other people's fulfilling theirs.
She stood aghast at the picture, her own self-painted picture, of the kind
brother-in-law, of whom in her heart she was really fond, married to a
false, wicked woman, more than twenty years his junior, who mocked
at his age and peculiarities, and flirted behind his back with any body
and every body. To do Aunt Henrietta justice, however, of more than
flirtation she did not suspect—no person with common sense and
ordinary observation could suspect—Christian Grey.
"I must speak to her myself, poor thing! I must open her eyes to the
danger she is running. Only consider, Maria, if that story did go about
Avonsbridge, she would never be thought well of in society again. I
must speak to her. If she will only confide in me implicitly, so that I
can take her part, and assure every body I meet that, however bad
appearances may be as regards this unlucky story, there is really no-
thing in it—nothing at all—don't you see, Maria?"
Alas! Maria had been so long accustomed to look at every thing
through the vision of dear Henrietta, that she had no clear sight of her
own whatever. She only found courage to say, in a feeble way,
"Take care, oh, do take care! I know you are much cleverer than I am,
and can manage things far better; but oh please take care?"
And when, some hours after, Dr. and Mrs. Grey not appearing, she was
called into Miss Gascoigne's room, where that lady stood tying her
bonnet-strings with a determined air, and expressing her intention of
going at once to the Lodge, however inconvenient, still, all that Aunt
Maria ventured to plead was that melancholy warning, generally
unheeded by those who delight in playing with hot coals and edged
tools, as Aunt Henrietta had done all her life, "Take care!"
In her walk to the Lodge, through the still, sweet autumn evening, with
a fairy-like wreath of mist rising up above the low-lying meadows of
the Avon, and climbing slowly up to the college towers, and the far-off
sunset clouds, whose beauty she never noticed, Miss Gascoigne
condescended to some passing conversation with Phillis, and elicited
from her, without betraying any thing, as she thought, a good deal—
namely, that Sir Edwin Uniacke was often seen walking up and down
the avenue facing the Lodge, and that once or twice he had met and
spoken to the children.
"But Mrs. Grey doesn't like it, I think she wants to drop his
acquaintance," said the sharp Phillis, who was gaining quite as much
information as she bestowed.
"Why, did they ever—did she ever"—and then some lingering spark of
womanly feeling, womanly prudence, made Miss Gascoigne hesitate,
and add with dignity. "Yes, very likely Mrs. Grey may not choose his
acquaintance. He is not approved of by every body."
"I know that." said Phillis, meaningly.
The two women, the lady and the servant, exchanged looks. Both were
acute persons, and the judgment either passed on the other was keen
and accurate. Probably neither judged herself, or recognized the true
root of her judgment upon the third person, unfortunate Christian. "She
has interfered with my management, and stolen the hearts of my
children;" "she has annoyed me and resisted my authority?" would
never have been given by either nurse or aunt as a reason for either
their feelings or their actions; yet so it was.
Nevertheless, when in the hall of the Lodge they came suddenly face to
face with Mrs. Grey, entering, hat in hand, from the door of the private
garden, the only place where she ever walked alone now, they both
started as if they had been detected in something wrong. She looked so
quiet and gentle, grave and sweet, modest as a girl and dignified as a
young matron—so perfectly unconscious of all that was being said or
planned against her, that if these two malicious women had a
conscience—and they had, both of them—they must have felt it smite
"Miss Gascoigne, how kind of you to walk home with the children!
Papa and I would have come, but he was obliged to dine in Hall. He
will soon be free now, and will walk back with you. Pray come in and
rest; you look tired."
Mrs. Grey's words and manner, so perfectly guileless and natural, for
the moment quite confounded her enemy—her enemy, and yet an honest
enemy. Of the number of cruel things that are done in this world, how
many are done absolutely for conscience sake by people who deceive
themselves that they are acting from the noblest, purest motives—
carrying out all the Christian virtues, in short, only they do so, not in
themselves, but against other people. And from their list of
commandments they obliterate one—"Judge not, that ye be not judged
condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned."
But, for the time being, Miss Gascoigne was puzzled. Her stern
reproof, her patronizing pity, were alike disarmed. Her mountain
seemed crumbling to its original mole-hill. The heap of accusing
evidence which she had accumulated dwindled into the most ordinary
and commonplace facts at sight of Christian's innocent face and placid
mien. Nothing could be more unlike a woman who had ever
contemplated the ordinary "flirting" of society. As for any thing worse,
the idea was impossible to be entertained for a moment. It was simply
Aunt Henrietta sat a good while talking, quite mildly for her, of
ordinary topics, before she attempted to broach the real object of her
visit. It was only as the hour neared for Dr. Grey's coming in that she
nerved herself to her mission. She had an uneasy sense that it would be
carried out better in his absence than in his presence.
Without glancing often at Christian, who sat so peaceful, looking out
into the fading twilight, she launched her thunderbolt at once.
"We had a visit today from Sir Edwin Uniacke."
"So I supposed, since I and the children met him on the way to
In this world, so full of shams, bow utterly bewildering sometimes is
the direct innocent truth! At this answer of Christian's Miss Gascoigne
looked more amazed than if she had been told a dozen lies.
"Was that the reason you turned back and went home?"
"Partly; I really had forgotten something which Dr. Grey wanted, but I
also wished to avoid meeting your visitor."
"Surely you must guess. How can I voluntarily meet any one who is
not a friend of my husband's?"
"Not though he may have been a friend of your own? For, as I
understand, you once had a very close acquaintance with Sir Edwin
The thrust was so unexpected, unmistakable in its meaning, that
Christian, in her startled surprise, said the very worst thing she could
have said to the malicious ears which were held open to every thing and
eager to misconstrue every thing, "Who told you that?"
"Told me! Why all Avonsbridge is talking about it, and about you."
This was a lie—a little white lie; one of those small exaggerations of
which people make no account; but Christian believed it, and it seemed
to wrap her round as with a cold mist of fear. All Avonsbridge talking
of her—her, Dr. Grey's wife, who had his honor as well as her own in
her keeping—talking about herself and Sir Edwin Uniacke! What? how
much? how had the tale come about? how could it be met?
With a sudden instinct of self-preservation, she forcibly summoned
back her composure. She knew with whom she had to deal. She must
guard every look, every word.
"Will you tell me. Miss Gascoigne, exactly who is talking about me,
and what they say? I am sure I have never given occasion for it."
"Never? Are you quite certain of that?"
"Quite certain. Who said I had 'a very close acquaintance'—were not
these your words—with Sir Edwin Uniacke?"
Then Christian recognized the whole amount of her difficulty—nay, her
danger; for she was in the power, not of a gentleman, but of a villain.
Any man must have been such who, under the circumstances, could
have boasted of their former acquaintance, or even referred to it at all.
"Kiss and tell?" runs the disdainful proverb. And even the worldliest of
men, in their low code of honor, count the thing base and ignoble.
Alas! all women do not.
In the strangely mistaken code of feminine "honorable-ness," it is
deemed no disgrace for a woman to chatter and boast of a man's love,
but the utmost disgrace for her to own or feel on her side any love at
all. But Christian was unlike her sex in some things. To her, with her
creed of love, it would have appeared far less mean, less cowardly, less
dishonorable, openly to confess, "I loved this man," than to betray
"This man loved me." And it was with almost contemptuous
indignation that she repeated, "What! he told it himself?"
"He did. I first heard it through Miss Bennett, your protégée, who
has come back, and is now a governess at Mrs. Brereton's. But when I
questioned Sir Edwin himself, he did not deny it."
"You questioned him?"
"Certainly. I felt it to be my duty. He says that he knew you in your
father's lifetime; that he was intimate with you both: that you and he
used to sing duets together; in short, that—"
"Go on. I wish to hear it all."
"That is all. And I am sure, Mrs. Grey, it is enough."
"It is enough. And he has been saying this, and you have been listening
to it, perhaps repeating it to all Avonsbridge. What a wicked woman
you must be!"
The words were said, not fiercely or resentfully, but in a sort of
meditative, passive despair. A sense of the wickedness, the cruelty
there was in the world, the hopelessness of struggling against it, of
disentangling fact from falsehood, of silencing malice and disarming
envy, came upon Christian in a fit of bitterness uncontrollable. She felt
as if she could cry out, like David, "The waters have overwhelmed me,
the deep waters have gone over my soul."
Even if she were not blameless—who is blameless in this mortal Life?—
even if she had made a mistake—a great mistake—her punishment was
sharp. Just now, when happiness was dawning upon her, when the
remorse for her hasty marriage and lack of love toward her husband
had died away, when her heart was beginning to leap at the sound of his
step, and her whole soul to sun itself in the tender light of his loving
eyes, it was very, very hard!
"Well, Mrs. Grey, and what have you to say for yourself?"
Christian looked up instinctively—lifted her passive hands, and folded
them on her lap, but answered nothing.
"You must see," continued Miss Gascoigne, "what an exceedingly
unpleasant story it is, and how necessary it was for me to speak about
it. Such a matter easily might become the whole town's talk. An
acquaintance before your marriage, which you kept so scrupulously
concealed that your nearest connections—I myself even—had not the
slightest idea of it. You must perceive, Mrs. Grey, what conclusions
people will draw—indeed, can not help drawing. Not that I believe—I
assure you I don't—one word against you. Only confide in me, and I
will make the matter clear to all Avonsbridge. You hear me?"
"And now, my dear"—the energy of her protection making Aunt
Henrietta actually affectionate—"do speak out. Tell me all you have to
say for yourself."
"Nothing? What do you mean?"
It may seem an odd thing to assert, and a more difficult thing still to
prove, but Miss Gascoigne was not at heart a bad woman. She had a
fierce temper and an enormous egotism, yet these two qualities, in the
strangely composite characters that one meets with in life, are not
incompatible with many good qualities.
Pain, most sincere and undisguised, not unmingled with actual pity,
was visible in Miss Gascoigne's countenance as she looked on the
young creature before her, to whom her words had caused such violent
emotion. For this emotion her narrow nature—always so ready to look
on human nature in its worst side, and to suspect wherever suspicion
could alight—found but one interpretation—guilt.
She drew back, terrified at what her interference had done. What if the
story should prove to be, not mere idle gossip, but actual scandal—the
sort of scandal which would cast a slur forever on the whole Grey
family, herself included?
There, above all, the fear struck home. Suppose she had meddled in a
matter which no lady could touch without indecorum, perhaps actual
defilement? Suppose, in answer to her entreaty, Christian should
confide to her something which no lady ought to hear? What a fearful
position for her—Miss Gascoigne—to be placed in! What should she
say to Dr. Grey?
Hard as her heart might be, this thought touched the one soft place in it.
Her voice actually trembled as she said,
"Your poor husband! what would become of him?"
Christian sprang up with a shrill cry. "Yes, yes I know what I will do, I
will go and tell my husband." Miss Gascoigne thought she was mad.
And, indeed, there was something almost frenzied in the way her victim
rushed from the room, like a creature driven desperate by misery.
Aunt Henrietta did not know how to act. To follow Christian was quite
beneath her dignity; to go home, with her mission unfulfilled, her duty
undone, that too was impossible. She determined to wait a few
minutes, and let things take their chance.
Miss Gascoigne was not a bad woman, only an utterly mistaken and
misguided one. She meant no harm—very few people do deliberately
mean harm—they only do it. She had set herself against her brother-in-
law's marriage—not in the abstract, she was scarcely so wicked and
foolish as that; but against his marrying this particular woman, partly
because Christian was only a governess, with somewhat painful
antecedents—one who could neither bring money, rank, nor position to
Dr. Grey and his family, but chiefly because it had wounded her self-
love that she, Miss Gascoigne, had not been consulted, and had had no
hand in bringing about the marriage.
Therefore she had determined to see it, and all concerning it, in the very
worst light to modify nothing, to excuse nothing. She had made up her
mind that things were to be so and so, and so and so they must of
necessity turn out. Audi alteram partem was an idea that never
occurred, never had occurred, in all her life to Henrietta Gascoigne. In
fact, she would never have believed there could be "another side," since
she herself was not able to behold it.
Yet she had not a cruel nature, and the misery she endured during the
few minutes that she sat thinking of the blow that was about to fall on
Dr. Grey and his family, heaping on the picture every exaggerated
imagination of a mind always prone to paint things in violent colors,
was enough to atone for half the wrong she had done.
She started up like a guilty creature when the door opened, and Phillis
entered with a letter in her hand.
"Beg pardon, ma'am, I thought you were Mrs. Grey."
"She is just gone up stairs—will be back directly," said Miss Gascoigne,
anxious to keep up appearances to the last available moment. "Is that
letter for her? Shall I give it to her?"
"No, thank you, I'll give it myself; and it'll be the last that ever I will
give, for it isn't my business," added Phillis, flustered and indignant, so
much so that she dropped the letter on the floor.
By the light of the small taper there was a mutual search for it—why
mutual Miss Gascoigne best knew. It was she who picked it up, and
before she had delivered it back she had clearly seen it all—
handwriting, seal and tinted envelope, with the initials "E. U." on the
Some hidden feeling in both of them, the lady and the servant, some
last remnant of pity and charity, prevented their confiding openly in
one another, even if Miss Gascoigne could have condescended so far.
But she knew as well as if Phillis had told, and Phillis likewise was
perfectly aware she knew, that the note came from Sir Edwin Uniacke.
Poor Aunt Henrietta! She was so horrified—literally horrified, that she
could bear no more. She left no message—waited for nobody—but
hurried back as fast as she could walk, through twilight, to her own
cottage at Avonside.
"Peace on Earth, and mercy mild,
Sing the angels, reconciled;
Over each sad warfare done,
Each soul-battle lost and won.
"He that has a victory lost
May discomfit yet a host;
And, it often doth befall,
He who conquers loses all."
Christian, after sitting waiting in the study for a long hour, received a
message from her husband that he would not be home that night. He
had to take a sudden journey of twenty miles on some urgent affairs.
This was not unusual. Dr. Grey was one of those people whom all their
friends come to in any emergency, and the amount of other people's
business, especially painful business, which he was expected to
transact, and did transact, out of pure benevolence, was incalculable.
So his wife had to wait still. She submitted as to fatality, laid her head
on her pillow, and fell at once into that dull, stupid sleep which
mercifully comes to some people, and always came to her, in heavy
trouble. She did not wake from it till late in the following morning.
A great dread, like a great joy, always lies in ambush, ready to leap
upon us the instant we open our eyes. Had Miss Gascoigne known
what a horrible monster it was, like a tiger at her throat, which sprang
upon Christian when she waked that morning, she, even she, might
have felt remorseful for the pain she had caused. Yet perhaps she
would not. In this weary life of ours,
"With darkness and the death-hour rounding it,"
It is strange how many people seem actually to enjoy making other
Christian rose and dressed; for her household ways must go on as
usual; she must take her place at the breakfast-table, and make it
cheerful and pleasant, so that the children might not find out any thing
wrong with mother. She did so, and sent them away to their morning
play—happy little souls! Then she sat down to think for a little, all
Not what to do—that was already decided; but how to do it—how to tell
Dr. Grey in the least painful way that his love had not been the first
love she had received—and given; that she had had this secret, and kept
it from him, though he was her husband, for six whole months.
Oh, had she but told him before her marriage, long, long ago! Now, he
might think she only did it out of fear, dread of public opinion, or
seeking protection from the public scandal that might overtake her,
however innocent. For was she not in the hands of an unscrupulous
man and a malicious woman? It was hopeless to defend herself. Why
should she attempt it? Had she not better let herself be killed—she
sometimes thought she should be killed, to so great a height of morbid
dread had risen her secret agony—and die, quietly, silently, thus
escaping out of the hands of her enemies, who pursued her with this
Dying might have felt easier to her but for one fact—she loved her
husband—loved him, as she now knew, so passionately, so
engrossingly, that all this misery converged in one single fear—the fear
that she might lose his love. What the world thought of her—what Miss
Gascoigne thought of her, became of little account. All she dreaded
was what Dr. Grey would think. Would he, in his large, tender,
compassionate heart, on hearing her confession, say only "Poor thing!
she could not help it; she was foolish and young," or would he feel she
had deceived him, and cast her off from his trust, his respect, his love
In either case she hesitated not for a moment. Love, bought by a
deception, she knew to be absolutely worthless. Knowing now what
love was, she knew this truth also. Had no discovery been made, she
knew that she must have told all to Dr. Grey. She hated, despised
herself for having already suffered day after day to pass by without
telling him, though she had continually intended to do it. All this was a
just punishment for her cowardice; for she saw now, as she had never
seen before, that every husband, every wife, before entering into the
solemn bond of marriage, has a right to be made acquainted with every
secret of the other's heart, every event of the other's life that such
confidence, then and afterward, should know no reservations, save and
except trusts reposed in both before marriage by other people, which
marriage itself is not justified in considering annulled.
But, the final moment being come, when a day—half a day—would
decide it all—decide the whole future of herself and her husband,
Christian's courage seemed to return.
She sat trembling, yet not altogether hopeless; very humble and yet
strong, with the strength that the inward consciousness of deeply
loving—not of being loved, but of loving—always gives to a woman,
and waited till Dr. Grey came home.
When the parlor door opened she rushed forward, thinking it was he,
but it was only Phillis—Phillis, looking insolent, self-important,
contemptuous, as she held out to her mistress a letter.
"There! I've took it in for once, and given it to you, by yourself, as he
bade me, but I'll never take in another. I'm an honest woman, and my
master has been a good master to me."
"Phillis!" cried Mrs. Grey, astonished. But when she saw the letter she
was astonished no more.
The tinted perfumed paper, the large seal, the dainty handwriting, all
were familiar of old.
Fierce indignation, unutterable contempt, and then a writhing sense of
personal shame, as if she were somehow accountable for this insult,
swept by turns over Christian's soul, until she recollected that she must
betray nothing; for more than her own sake—her husband's—she must
not put herself in her servant's power.
So she did not throw the letter in the fire, or stamp upon it, or do any of
the frantic things she was tempted to do; she held it in her hand like a
common note, and said calmly.
"Who brought this? and when did, it come?"
"Last night, only I couldn't find you. It was nigh dropping into Miss
Gascoigne's hands, and a pretty mess that would have been. And I
warn you—you had better mind what you are about—Miss Susan
Bennett told me all about it; and a nice little story it is, too, for a
married lady. And Miss Gascoigne has scented it out, I'll be bound and
if Dr. Grey once gets hold of it—"
"Stop!" said Christian, firmly, though she felt her very lips turning
white. "You are under some extraordinary delusion. There is nothing
to be got hold of. Take this letter to my husband's study—it is his
affair. I have no communications whatever with Sir Edwin Uniacke."
Phillis looked utterly amazed. Though her mistress did not speak
another word, there was something in her manner—her perfect, quiet
conviction of innocence, self-asserted, though without any open self-
defense, which struck the woman more than any amount of anger
would have done.
"If I've made a mistake, I'm sure I beg your pardon, ma'am," began she
"What for? Except for receiving and bringing to me privately a letter
which should have been left with Barker at the door, it being Barker's
business, and not yours. Remember that another time. Now take the
letter to the study, and go."
Phillis hesitated. She looked again and again at that calm, proud,
innocent lady, whom she had so wickedly misjudged and maligned,
how far and how fatally her own conscience alone could tell. And
Phillis knew what innocence was, for, poor woman, she had known
what it was not. Malice also she knew; and judging her mistress by
herself, she trembled.
"If you're going to bear spite against me for this, I'd best give warning
at once, Mrs. Grey—only it would nigh break my heart to leave the
"I have no wish for you to leave the children, and I never bear spite
against anybody. Life is not long enough for it," added Mrs. Grey,
sighing. Then, with a sudden impulse, if by any means she could
smooth matters and win a little household peace, "I desire to be a good
mistress to you, Phillis; why should you not be a good servant to me?
You love the children; you are to them a most faithful nurse; why can
not you believe that I shall be a faithful mother? Let us turn over a new
leaf, and begin again."
She held out her hand, and Phillis took it; looked hard in her mistress's
face—the kind, friendly face, that was not ashamed to be a friend even
to a poor servant; then, with something very like a sob, she turned and
ran out of the room.
But when she was gone, Christian sat down exhausted. With a
desperate self-control she had wrenched herself out of Phillis's power,
she had saved herself and her husband from the suspicion that it was
possible Dr. Grey's wife could receive, or give occasion to receive, a
secret letter, a love-letter, from any man; but when the effort was over
she broke down. Convulsive sobs, one after the other, shook her, until
she felt as if her very life were departing. And in the midst of this
agony appeared—Miss Gascoigne.
Aunt Henrietta had spent the whole night, except a brief space for
sleeping, in thinking over and talking over her duties and her wrongs,
the two being mixed up together in inextinguishable confusion. Almost
any subject, after being churned up in such a nature as hers for twelve
mortal hours, would at the end look quite different from what it did at
first, or what it really was. And so, with all honesty of purpose, and
with the firmest conviction that it was the only means of saving her
brother-in-law and his family from irretrievable misery and disgrace,
poor Miss Gascoigne had broken through all her habits, risen, dressed,
and breakfasted at an unearthly hour, and there she stood at the Lodge
door at nine in the morning, determined to "do her duty," as she
expressed it, but looking miserably pale, and vainly restraining her
agitation so as to keep up a good appearance "before the servants."
"That will do, Barker. You need not disturb the master; I came at this
early hour just for a little chat with your mistress and the children."
And then entering the parlor, she sat down opposite to Christian to take
Miss Gascoigne was really to be pitied. Mere gossip she enjoyed; it
was her native element, and she had plunged into this matter of Sir
Edwin Uniacke with undeniable eagerness. But now, when it might be
not gossip, but disgrace, her terror overpowered her. For disgrace,
discredit in the world's eye, was the only form the matter took to this
worldly woman, who rarely looked on things except on the outside.
Guilt, misery, and their opposites, which alone give strength to battle
with them, were things too deep to be fathomed in the slightest degree
by Miss Gascoigne.
Therefore, as her looks showed, she was not so much shocked as
simply frightened, and had come to the Lodge with a frantic notion of
hushing up the matter somehow, whatever it was. Her principal terror
was, not so much the sin itself, but that the world might hear of it.
"You see, Mrs. Grey, I am come again," said she, very earnestly. "In
spite of every thing, I have come back to advise with you. I am ready
to overlook everything, to try and conceal everything. Maria and I
have been turning over in our minds all sorts of plans to get you away
till this has blown over—call it going to the seaside, to the country with
Arthur—any thing, in short, just that you may leave Avonsbridge."
"I leave Avonsbridge? Why?"
"Yon know why. When you had a lover before your marriage, of
whom you did not tell your husband or his friends—when this
gentleman afterward meets you, writes to you—I saw the letter—"
"You saw the letter!"
There was no hope. She was hunted down, as many an innocent person
has been before now, by a combination of evidence, half truths, half
lies, or truths so twisted that they assume the aspect of lies, and lies so
exceedingly probable that they are by even keen observers mistaken for
truth. Passive and powerless Christian sat. Miss Gascoigne might say
what she would—all Avonsbridge might say what it would—she would
never open her lips more.
At that moment, to preserve her from going mad—(she felt as if she
were—as if the whole world were whirling round, and God had
forgotten her)—Dr. Grey walked in.
"Oh, husband! save me from her—save me—save me!" she shrieked
again and again. And without one thought except that he was there—
her one protector, defender, and stay—she sprang to him, and clung
desperately to his breast.
And so, in this unforeseen and unpremeditated manner, told, how or in
whom, herself or Miss Gascoigne, or both together, Christian never
clearly remembered—her one secret, the one error of her sad girlhood,
was communicated to her husband.
He took the revelation calmly enough, as he did everything; Dr. Grey
was not the man for tragic scenes. The utmost he seemed to think of in
this one was calming and soothing his wife as much as possible,
carrying her to the sofa making her lie down, and leaning over her with
a sort of pitying tenderness, of which the only audible expression was,
"Poor child, poor child!"
Christian tried to see his face, but could not. She sought feebly for his
hand—his warm, firm, protecting hand—and let him take hers in it.
Then she knew that she was safe.
No, he never would forsake her, he had loved her—once and for
always—with the love that has strength to hold its own through every
thing and in spite of every thing. Whatever she was, whatever the
world might think her, she was his wife, and he loved her. She crept
into her husband's bosom, knowing that it was her sure refuge, never to
be closed against her until she died.
The next thing she remembered was his speaking to Miss Gascoigne—
not harshly, or as if in great mental suffering, but in his natural voice.
"And now! Henrietta, just tell me the utmost you have to allege against
my wife. That Sir Edwin was known to her father and herself, of which
acquaintance she never told her husband; that she has accidently met
him since a few times; and that he has been rude enough to address a
letter to her—where is it?"
It was lying on the table, for Phillis, in her precipitate disappearance,
had forgotten it. Dr. Grey put it into his pocket unopened.
"Well, Aunt Henrietta, is that all? Have you any more to say, any thing
else of which to accuse my wife? Say it all out, only remember one
thing, that you are saying it to a man, and about his wife."
Brief as the words were, they implied volumes—all that Dr. Grey was,
and every honest man should be, toward his wife, whom he has taken to
himself, to cherish and protect, if necessary, against the whole world—
everything for which the bond of marriage was ordained, to be
maintained unannulled by time, or change, or faultiness, perhaps even
actual sin. One has heard of such guardianship—of a husband pitying
and protecting till death a wife who had sinned against him; and if
possible to any man, this would have been possible to one like Arnold
But in his manner was not only protection, there was also love—the sort
of' love which passionate youth can seldom understand; but Paul the
apostle did, unmarried though he was, when he spoke in such mystical
language of a husband's "nourishing and cherishing" his wife "as the
Lord the Church." And now Christian seemed to comprehend this,
when, looking up to her husband, she felt that he was also her "lord,''
ruling and guiding her less by harsh authority than by the perfect law of
"Nay," she said, faintly, "don't blame your sister: she meant no harm,
nor did I. I only—"
"Hush!" Dr. Grey replied, laying his hand upon her mouth; "that is a
matter solely between you and your husband."
But whether, thus met at all points, Miss Gascoigne began to doubt
whether her mountain were not a mere molehill after all, or whether she
involuntarily succumbed to the influence of such honest love, such
unbounded trust, and felt that to interfere farther between this husband
and wife would be not only hopeless, but wicked, it is impossible to
say. Perhaps—let us give her the credit of a good motive rather than a
bad one—she really felt she had been wrong, was moved and softened,
and brought to a better mind.
In any case, that happened which had never been known to happen
before in Miss Gascoigne's existence—when asked to speak she had
literally nothing to say!
"Then," continued Dr. Grey, good-humouredly, still holding his wife's
hand, and sitting beside her on the sofa, "this mighty matter may come
to an end, which is, indeed, the best thing for it. Since I am quite
satisfied concerning my wife, I conclude my sister may be. We will
consider the subject closed. Make friends, you two. Christian, will you
Christian rose. She had never kissed Miss Gascoigne in her life, had
had no encouragement to do it, and it would have seemed a piece of
actual hypocrisy. Now it was not. The kiss of affection it could hardly
be, but there is such a thing as the kiss of peace.
She rose and went, white and tottering as she was, across the room to
where Miss Gascoigne sat, hard, bitter, and silent, determined that not a
step should be taken on her side—she would not be the first to "make
"Forgive me, Aunt Henrietta, if I ever offended you. I did not mean it.
Let us try to get on better for the future. We ought, for we are both so
fond of the children and of Arnold."
Such simple words, such a natural feeling! if that hard heart were only
natural and soft enough to take it in. And it was—for once.
Miss Gascoigne looked incredulously up, then down again, in a
shamefaced, uncomfortable way, then held out her hand, and kissed
Christian, while two tears—only two—gathered and dropped from her
But the worst was over. The ice was broken and the stream ran clear.
How long it would run good angels only could tell. But they sang, and
kept on singing, all that day, in Christian's heart, the song of peace—
"peace on earth"—for the battle was over and the foes were reconciled.
_"It may be under palace roof,
Princely and wide;
No pomp foregone, no pleasure lost,
No wish denied;
But if beneath the diamonds' flash
Sweet, kind eyes hide,
A pleasant place, a happy place,
Is our fireside.
"It may be 'twixt four lowly walls,
No show, no pride;
Where sorrows oftimes enter in,
But never abide.
Yet, if she sits beside the hearth,
Help, comfort, guide,
A blessed place, a heavenly place,
Is our fireside."
The very instant Miss Gascoigne was gone, Christian, throwing herself
on her husband's neck, clasping him, clinging to him, ready almost to
fling herself at his knees in her passion of humility and love, told him
without reserve, without one pang of hesitation or shame—perhaps,
indeed, there was little or nothing to be ashamed of—every thing
concerning herself and Edwin Uniacke.
He listened, not making any answer, but only holding her fast in his
arms, till at length she took courage to look up in his face.
"What! you are not angry or grieved? Nay, I could fancy you were
"Yes, my child! Because, to tell you the plain truth, I knew all this
"Knew it before!" cried Christian, in the utmost astonishment.
"I really did. Nobody told me. I found it out—found it out even before
I knew you. It was the strangest thing, and yet quite natural."
And then he explained to her that, after the disgraceful circumstance
occurred which caused Mr. Uniacke's rustication, he had fled, from
justice it might be, or, in any case, from the dread of it, leaving all his
papers open, and his rooms at the mercy of all comers. But, of course,
the master and dean of his college had taken immediate possession
there; and Dr. Grey, being known to the young man's widowed mother,
from whom he had received much kindness in his youth, was deputed
by her to overlook every thing, and investigate every thing, if by any
means his relatives might arrive at the real truth of that shameful story
which, now as heretofore, Dr. Grey passed over unexplained.
"It would serve no purpose to tell it," he said, "and it is all safely
How far his own strong, clear common sense and just judgment had
succeeded in hushing it up, and saving the young man from a ruined
life, and his family from intolerable disgrace, Dr. Grey was not likely to
say. But his wife guessed all, then and afterward.
He proceeded to tell her how, in searching these papers, among a heap
of discreditable letters he had lighted upon two or three, pure as white
lilies found lying upon a refuse heap, signed "Christian Oakley."
"I read them—I was obliged to read them—but I did so privately, and I
put them in my pocket before the dean saw them. No one ever cast
eyes upon them except myself. I took them home with me and kept
them, And I keep them now, for they first taught me what she was—this
chosen wife of mine. They let me into the secret of that simple, gentle.
innocent, girlish heart; they made me feel the worth of it, even though it
was being thrown away on a worthless man. And I suspect, from that
time I wanted it for my own."
He went on to say how he had first made acquaintance with her—on
business grounds partly, connected with her father's sudden death, but
also intending, as soon as he felt himself warranted in taking such a
liberty, to return these letters, and tell her in a plain, honest, fatherly
manner what a risk she had run, and what a merciful escape she had
made from this young man, who, Dr. Grey then felt certain, would
never again dare to appear at Avonsbridge.
But the opportunity never came. The "fatherly" feeling was swallowed
up in another, which effectually sealed the good man's tongue. He
determined to make her his wife, and then the letters, the whole story,
in which he had read her heart as clear as a book, and was afraid of
nothing, concerned himself alone. He felt at liberty to tell her how or
when he chose. At least so he persuaded himself.
"But perhaps I, too, was a little bit of a coward, my child. I, too, might
have avoided much misery if I had had the strength to speak out. But
we all make mistakes sometimes, as I told you once. The great thing is
not to leave them as mistakes, not to sink under them, but to recognize
them for what they are, and try to remedy them if possible. Even if we
married too hastily—I, because it was the only way in which I could
shelter and protect my darling, and you—well, perhaps because I over-
persuaded you, still, we are happy now."
Happy? It was a word too small—any word would be. The only
expression for such happiness was silence.
"And what are we to do about him?"
Christian said it quite naturally for, woman-like, in that rapture of
content, the whole world dwindled down into but two beings, herself
and her husband.
Dr. Grey smiled—not dissatisfied. "I meant Sir Edwin Uniacke. May I
read his letter?"
She turned her face away, blushing in bitter shame. But there was no
need. Either "the de'il is not so black as he's painted," or, what was
more probable, that personage himself, incarnate in man's evil nature,
shrinks from intruding his worst blackness upon the white purity of a
good woman. Probably never was an illicit or disgraceful love-letter
written to any woman for which she herself was quite blameless.
Dr. Grey perused very composedly Sir Edwin's epistle to his wife,
saying at the end of it, "Shall I read this aloud? There is no reason
why I should not."
And he read:
"My dear Christian,
"If you have forgotten me, I have not forgotten you. A man does not
generally meet with a girl like you twice in his lifetime. If, pressed by
circumstances, I let you slip through my fingers, it was the worse for
me, and, perhaps, the better for you. I bear no grudge against that
worthy don and most respectable old fogie, your husband!"
Christian recoiled with indignation, but Dr. Grey laughed—actually
laughed in the content of his heart, and, putting his arm round his wife's
waist, made her read the remainder of the letter with him.
"I have followed you pretty closely for some weeks. I can not tell why,
except that once I was madly in love with you, and perhaps I am still—I
hardly know. But I am a gentleman, and not a fool either. And when a
man sees a woman cares no more for him than she does for the dust
under her feet, why, if he keeps on caring for her, he's a fool.
"The purport of this letter is, therefore, nothing to which you can have
the slightest objection, it being merely a warning. There is a young
woman in Avonsbridge, Susan Bennett by name, who, from an
unfortunate slip of the tongue of mine, hates you, as all women do hate
one another (except one woman, whom I once had the honor of meeting
every day for four weeks, which fact may have made me a less bad
fellow than I used to be, God knows—if there is a God, and if He does
know any thing). Well, what I had to say is, beware of Susan Bennett,
and beware of another person, who thinks herself much superior to
Bennett, and yet they are as like as two peas—Miss Gascoigne. Defend
yourself; you may need it. And as the best way to defend you, I mean
immediately to leave Avonsbridge—perhaps for personal reasons also,
discretion being the better part of valor, and you being so confoundedly
like an angel still. Good-by. Yours truly,"
A strange "love-letter" certainly, yet not an ill one, and one which it
was better to have received than not. Better than any uncomfortable
mystery to have had this clearing up of the doings and intentions of that
strange, brilliant, erratic spirit which had flashed across the quiet
atmosphere of Saint Bede's and then vanished away in darkness—
darkness not hopelessly dark. No one could believe so—at least no
good Christian soul could, after reading that letter.
The husband and wife sat silent for a little, and then Dr. Grey said, "I
always thought he was not altogether bad—there was some good in him,
and he may be the better, poor fellow, all his life for having once had a
month's acquaintance with Christian Oakley."
Christian pressed her husband's hand gratefully. That little word or two
carried in it a world of healing. But she was not able to say much; her
heart was too full.
"And now what is to be done?" said Dr. Grey, meditatively. "He must
have had some motive in writing this letter—a not unkindly motive
either. He must be aware of some strong reason for it when he tells you
to 'defend yourself.' He forgets." added Christian's husband, tenderly,
"that now there is some body else to do it for you."
Christian burst into tears. All her forlorn, unprotected youth, the more
forlorn that in her father's lifetime it was under a certain hollow sham
of protection; the total desolation afterward, exposed to every insult of
the bitter world, or at least that bitter portion of it which is always
ready to trample down a woman if she is helpless, and to hunt her down
if she is strong enough to help herself—all this was gone by forever.
She was afraid of nothing any more. She did not need to defend herself
again. She had been taken out of all her misery, and placed in the safe
shelter of a good man's love. What had she done to deserve such
blessedness? What could she do to show her recognition of the same?
She could only weep, poor child! and feel like a child, whom the Great
Father has ceased to punish—forgiven, and taken back to peace.
"I think," she said, looking up from her hiding-place, "I am so happy, I
should almost like to die."
"No, no. Not just yet, my foolish little woman," said Dr. Grey. "We
have, I trust, a long lifetime before us. Mine seems only just
Strange, but true. He was forty-five and she twenty-one and yet to both
this was the real spring-time of their lives.
After a pause, during which he sat thinking rather deeply, the master
rose and rang the bell.
"Barker, do you know whether Sir Edwin Uniacke is still in
Barker had seen him not an hour ago, near the senate-house.
"Will you go to his lodgings?—let me see; can you make out this
address, my dear?" and Dr. Grey pointedly handed over the letter—the
fatal letter, which had doubtless been discussed by every servant in the
house—to his wife. "Yes, that is it. Go, Barker, present my
compliments, and say that Mrs. Grey and myself shall be happy to see
Sir Edwin at the Lodge this morning."
"Very well, master," said Barker, opening his round eyes to their
roundest as he disappeared from the room.
"What shall you say to him?" asked Christian.
"The plain truth," answered Dr. Grey, smiling. "It is the only weapon,
offensive or defensive, that an honest man need ever use."
But there was no likelihood of using it against Sir Edwin, for Barker
brought word that he was absent from his lodgings, and his return was
quite indefinite. So in some other way must be inquired into and met
this cruel gossip which had been set afloat, and doubtless was now
swimming about every where on the slow current of Avonsbridge
"But perhaps it may be needless, alter all," said Dr. Grey, cheerfully.
"We give ourselves a good deal of trouble by fancying our affairs are as
important to the world as they are to ourselves. Whether or not, be
content, my darling. One and one makes two. I think we two can face
Long after her husband had gone to his study, and Christian had
returned to her routine of household duties, one of which was teaching
Arthur and Letitia—not the pleasantest of tasks—the peace of his words
remained in her heart, comforting her throughout the day. She ceased
to trouble or perplex herself about what was to come; it seemed,
indeed, as if nothing would ever trouble her any more. She rested in a
deep dream of tranquility, so perfect that it beautified and glorified her
whole appearance. Arthur more than once stopped in his lessons to
say, in his fondling way, in which to the clinging love of the child was
added a little of the chivalrous admiration of the boy,
"Mother, how very pretty you do look!"
"Do I? I am so glad!"
At which answer Letitia, who was still prim and precise, though a little
less so than she used to be, looked perfectly petrified with
astonishment. And her step-mother could not possibly explain to the
child why she was "so glad." Glad, for the only reason which makes a
real woman care to be lovely, because she loves and is beloved.
The day wore by; the days at the Lodge went swiftly enough now, even
under the haunting eyes of the pale foundress, and the grim, defunct
masters, which Christian used to fancy pursued her, and glared at her
from morning till night. Now the sad queen seemed to gaze at her with
a pensive envy, and the dark-visaged mediaeval doctors to look after
her with a good-natured smile. They had alike become part and
portions of her home—the dear home in which her life was to pass—and
she dreaded neither them nor it any more.
In the evening the family were all gathered together in their accustomed
place, round Christian's new piano in the drawing-room; for, since Miss
Gascoigne's departure, she had earned out her own pleasure in a long
contested domestic feud, and persisted in using the drawing-room every
night. She did not see why its pleasant splendors should gratify the
public and not the family; so she let Arthur and Letitia, and even
Oliver, enjoy the sight of the beautiful room, and learn to behave
themselves in it accordingly even toward her lovely piano which was
kept open for a full hour every evening, for a sort of family concert.
She had taken much pains, at what personal cost keen lovers of music
will understand, to teach her little folk to sing. It was possible, for
they had all voices, but it had its difficulties, especially when Oliver
insisted on joining the concert, as he did now, tossing his curls, and
opening his rosy mouth like a great round O, but, nevertheless, looking
so exceeding like a singing cherub that Christian caught him up and
kissed him with a passionate delight.
And then she proceeded gravely with the song, words and music of
which she had to compose and to arrange, as she best could, so as to
suit the capacity of her performers. And this was what her musical
genius had come to—singing and making baby-songs for little children,
to which the only chorus of applause was a faint "Bravo!" and a
clapping of hands from the distant fireside.
"Papa, we never thought you heard us. We thought when you were
deep in that big book you heard nothing."
"Indeed? Very well" said papa, and disappeared below the surface
again, until he revived to take out his watch and observe that it was
nearly time for little people to be safe asleep in their little beds.
Papa was always unquestioningly and instantaneously obeyed, so the
young trio ceased their laughing over their funny songs, and prepared
for one—a serious one—which always formed the conclusion of the
Every body knows it; most people have been taught it, the first song
they were ever taught, from their mother's lips. Christian had learned it
from her mother, and it was the first thing she taught to these her
children—the Evening Hymn—"Glory to Thee, my God, this night."
She had explained its meaning to them, and made them sing it
seriously—not carelessly. As they stood round the piano, Titia and Atty
one at each side, and Oliver creeping in to lean upon his step-mothers
knee, there was a sweet grave look on all their faces, which made even
the two eldest not unpretty children; for their hearts were in their
faces—their once frightened, frozen, or bad and bitter hearts. They
had no need to hide any thing, or be afraid of any thing. They were loved.
The sunshine of that sweet nature, which had warmed their father's
heart, and made it blossom out, when past life's summer, with all the
freshness of spring, had shined down upon these poor little desolate,
motherless children, and made them good and happy—good, perhaps,
because they were happy, and most certainly happy because they were
For that mother—their real mother, who, living, had been to them—what
Christian never allowed herself to inquire or even to speculate—she was
gone now. And being no longer an imperfect woman, but a
disembodied spirit—perhaps—who knows?—she might be looking down
on them all, purified from every feeling but gladness; content that her
children were taken care of and led so tenderly into the right way.
Clear and sweet rose up their voices in the familiar words, over which
their step-mother's voice, keeping them all steady with its soft
undertone, faltered more than once, especially when she thought of all
the "blessings" which had to come to herself since the dawning "light:"
"Glory to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light.
Keep me, oh keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings!"
The strain had just ended—as if he had waited for its ending—when the
drawing-room door opened, and there entered for the second time into
the family circle at the Lodge—Sir Edwin Uniacke.
Certainly the young man was no coward, or he never would have
entered there. When he did so, bold as he looked, with his easy "fast"
air, his handsome face flushed, as if with just a little too long lingering
over wine, he involuntarily drew back a step, apparently feeling that the
atmosphere of this peaceful home was not fitted for him, or that he
himself was not fitted to be present there.
"I fear that I may be intruding, but I have only just received a message
you sent me; I had been out all day, and I leave Avonsbridge early
tomorrow," he began to say, hesitatingly, apologetically.
"I am glad to see you," said the master. "Christian, will you send the
children away? or rather, Sir Edwin, will you come to my study?"
"With pleasure," was the answer, as with an altogether perplexed air,
and vainly striving to keep up his usual exceeding courtesy of manner,
the young man bowed to Mrs. Grey and passed out.
"How funny! That's Sir Edwin Uniacke, Titia—the gentleman that met
"And that you were always talking about, till Phillis told us we mustn't
speak of him any more. And I think I know why, mother." hanging
down her head with rosy blushes that made the thin face almost pretty.
"Mother, I think I ought to tell you—I always do tell you every thing
now—that that was the gentleman who met me and Miss Bennett. But I
will never do any thing, or meet any body you don't like again."
"And, mother," said Arthur, sliding up to her, "don't you think, if you
were to say something yourself about it, Sir Edwin would ask me again
to go and see him, and let me row on the lake at Lake Hall."
"I don't know, my boy but I can not speak to Sir Edwin. We must leave
every thing to papa—he always knows best."
And in that firm faith, almost as simple and unreasoning as that of the
child, and which it sometimes seemed, God had specially sent this good
man to teach her—her, who had hitherto had so little cause to trust or to
reverence any body—Christian rested as completely and contentedly as
Arthur. Happy son and happy wife, who could so rest upon father and
For nearly an hour Dr. Grey and Sir Edwin remained in the study
together. What passed between them the former never told, even to his
wife, and she did not inquire. She was quite certain in this, as in all
other matters, that "papa knew best."
When he did come in he found her sitting quietly sewing. She looked
up hastily, but saw that he was alone, and smiled.
Dr. Grey smiled too—at least not exactly, but there was a brightness in
his face such as—not to liken it profanely—might have been seen in the
one Divine face after saying to any sinner "Go, and sin no more."
"My dearest," said Dr. Grey, sitting down beside his wife and taking
her hand, "you maybe quite content; all is well."
"I am very glad."
"We have talked over every thing, and come to a right understanding.
But it is necessary to bring our neighbors to a right understanding also,
and to stop people's mouths if we can. To-morrow is Sunday. I have
arranged with Sir Edwin that he shall meet me in chapel, and sit with
me, in face of all the world, in the master's pew. Do you dislike this,
"We have likewise settled that he shall start off for a long tour in
Greece and Egypt with an old friend of mine, who will be none the
worse for the companionship of such a brilliant young fellow. Besides,
it will break off all bad associations, and give him a chance of 'turning
over a new leaf,' as people say. Somehow I feel persuaded that he
"I too say thank God; for his mother was a good friend to me when I
was his age. He is only just one-and-twenty. There may be a long
successful life before him yet."
"I hope so," said Christian, earnestly. "And perhaps a happy one too.
But it could never be half so happy as mine."
Thus did these two, secure and content, rejoice over the "lost piece of
silver," believing, with a pertinacity that some may smile at, that it was
silver after all.
"One thing more. He will be at least three years away; and no one
knows what may happen to him in the mean time, he says. He would
like to shake hands with you before he goes. Have you any objection to
"Come then with me into the study."
They found Sir Edwin leaning against the mantelpiece, with his head
resting on his arms. When he raised it, it was the same dashing,
handsome head, which a painter might have painted for an angel or an
evil spirit, according as the mood seized him. But now it was the
former face, with the mouth quivering with emotion, and something not
unlike tears in the brilliant eyes.
"Sir Edwin, according to your desire, my wife has come to wish you
good-by and good speed."
Christian held out her hand gently and gravely:
"I do wish it you—good speed wherever you go."
"Thank you, Mrs. Grey, Good-by."
And so they parted—these two, whose fates had so strangely met and
mingled for a little while—parted kindly, but, totally without one desire
on either side that it should be otherwise. They never have met,
probably never will meet again in this world.
And what became of every body—the every body of this simple record
of six months' household history, such as might have happened in any
life? For it includes no extraordinary events, and is the history of mere
ordinary people, neither better nor worse than their neighbors, making
mistakes, suffering for them, retrieving them, and then struggling on,
perhaps to err again. Is not this the chronicle of all existence? For we
are none of us either bad or good, all perfect or wholly depraved, and
our merits go as often unrewarded as our sins.
Whether the future career of Sir Edwin Uniacke be fair or foul, time
alone can prove. At present the chances seem in favor of the former,
especially as he has done the best thing a man of fortune, or any man
who earns an honest livelihood, can do—he has married early, and
report says, married well. She is an earl's daughter, not beautiful,
and rather poor, but gentle, simple-minded, and good, as many a
nobleman's daughter is, more so than girls of lesser degree and greater
Except sending marriage-cards, Sir Edwin has attempted no
communication with Dr. and Mrs. Grey. Nor do they wish it. The
difference between themselves and him, in wealth, rank, habits, tastes,
would always make such association undesirable, even had they
expected it renewed. But they did not. In their complete and contented
life they had—until the marriage-cards came—almost forgotten the
young man's existence.
The aunts still live at Avonside Cottage, one cultivating flowers and the
other society with equal assiduity. It is to be hoped both find an equal
reward. As Aunt Henrietta grows to be no longer a middle-aged, but an
elderly lady, less active, less clever, and more dependent upon other
people's kindness and especially upon that of the Lodge—which never
fails her—she sometimes is thought to be growing a little gentler in her
manner and ways, a little less suspicious, less ill-natured, less ready to
see always the black and hard side of things instead of the sunny and
At any rate, there is never now the shadow of dispute between herself
and her brother-in-law's family! and she always talks a great deal
"about about dear Mrs. Grey," her elegant looks and manners (which
are certainly patent to all), what a very good wife she has settled down
into, and how much attached she is to the master. Even darkly hinting—
in moments confidential—that "to my certain knowledge" Mrs. Grey
had, as Christian Oakley, the opportunity of making an excellent
marriage with a gentleman of family and position, who was devotedly
in love with her, but whom she refused for the love of Dr. Arnold Grey.
Which statement, when she came to hear it—which of course she did:
every body hears every thing in Avonsbridge—only made Christian
smile, half amused, half sad, to think how strangely truth can be twisted
sometimes, even by well-meaning people, who are perfectly convinced
in their own minds and consciences that they never tell a lie, and
wouldn't do such a thing for the world.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Grey sighed, and wondered if there was any
absolute truth and absolute goodness to be found any where except in
her own husband—her well-beloved and honored husband.
He is "turnin' auld" now, like John Anderson in the song, and the great
difference in age between himself and his wife is beginning to tell
every year more plainly, so that she thinks sometimes, with a sharp
pain and dread, of her own still remaining youth, fearing lest it may not
be the will of God that they two should "totter down" the hill of life
together. But she knows that all things—death and life included—are in
His safe hands, and that sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
It has pleased Him to drop one other bitter drop into what would
otherwise have been the entire sweetness of Christian's overflowing
cup. She has no children—that is, no children of her very own. Year by
year, that hope of motherhood, in all its exquisite bliss, slipped away.
At last it had quite to be let go, and its substitute accepted—as we most
of us have, more or less, to accept the will of Heaven instead of our
will, and go on our way resignedly, nay, cheerfully, knowing that,
whether we see it or not, all is well.
Christian Grey had to learn this lesson, and she did learn it, not at first,
but gradually. She smothered up all regrets in her silent heart, and took
to her bosom those children which Providence had sent her. She
devoted herself entirely to them, brought them up wisely and well, and
in their love and their father's she was wholly satisfied.