FAR ABOVE RUBIES
BY GEORGE MACDONALD
Hector Macintosh was a young man about five-and-twenty, who,
with the proclivities of the Celt, inherited also some of the
consequent disabilities, as well as some that were
accidental. Among the rest was a strong tendency to regard
only the ideal, and turn away from any authority derived from
an inferior source. His chief delight lay in the attempt to
embody, in what seemed to him the natural form of verse, the
thoughts in him constantly moving at least in the direction
of the ideal, even when he was most conscious of his
inability to attain to the utterance of them. But it was only
in the retirement of his own chamber that he attempted their
embodiment; of all things, he shrank from any communion
whatever concerning these cherished matters. Nor, indeed, had
he any friends who could tempt him to share with them what
seemed to him his best; so that, in truth, he was intimate
with none. His mind would dwell much upon love and friendship
in the imaginary abstract, but of neither had he had the
smallest immediate experience. He had cherished only the
ideals of the purest and highest sort of either passion, and
seemed to find satisfaction enough in the endeavor to embody
such in his verse, without even imagining himself in
communication with any visionary public. The era had not yet
dawned when every scribbler is consumed with the vain
ambition of being recognized, not, indeed, as what he is, but
as what he pictures himself in his secret sessions of
thought. That disease could hardly attack him while yet his
very imaginations recoiled from the thought of the inimical
presence of a stranger consciousness. Whether this was
modesty, or had its hidden base in conceit, I am, with the
few insights I have had into his mind, unable to determine.
That he had leisure for the indulgence of his bent was the
result of his peculiar position. He lived in the house of his
father, and was in his father's employment, so that he was
able both to accommodate himself to his father's requirements
and at the same time fully indulge his own especial taste.
The elder Macintosh was a banker in one of the larger county
towns of Scotland—at least, such is the profession and
position there accorded by popular consent to one who is, in
fact, only a bank-agent, for it is a post involving a good
deal of influence and a yet greater responsibility. Of this
responsibility, however, he had allowed his son to feel
nothing, merely using him as a clerk, and leaving him, as
soon as the stated hour for his office-work expired, free in
mind as well as body, until the new day should make a fresh
claim upon his time and attention. His mother seldom saw him
except at meals, and, indeed, although he always behaved
dutifully to her, there was literally no intercommunion of
thought or feeling between them—a fact which probably
had a good deal to do with the undeveloped condition in which
Hector found, or rather, did not find himself. Occasionally
his mother wanted him to accompany her for a call, but he
avoided yielding as much as possible, and generally with
success; for this was one of the claims of social convention
against which he steadily rebelled—the more
determinedly that in none of his mother's friends could he
take the smallest interest; for she was essentially a
commonplace because ambitious woman, without a spark of
aspiration, and her friends were of the same sort, without
regard for anything but what was—or, at least, they
supposed to be—the fashion. Indeed, it was hard to
understand how Hector came ever to be born of such a woman,
although in truth she was of as pure Celtic origin as her
husband—only blood is not spirit, and that is often
clearly manifest. His father, on the other hand, was not
without some signs of an imagination—quite undeveloped,
indeed, and, I believe, suppressed by the requirements of his
business relations. At the same time, Hector knew that he
cherished not a little indignation against the insolence of
the good Dr. Johnson in regard to both Ossian and his humble
translator, Macpherson, upholding the genuineness of both,
although unable to enter into and set forth the points of the
argument on either side. As to Hector, he reveled in the
ancient traditions of his family, and not unfrequently in his
earlier youth had made an attempt to re-embody some of its
legends into English, vain as regarded the retention of the
special airiness and suggestiveness of their vaguely showing
symbolism, for often he dropped his pen with a sigh of
despair at the illusiveness of the special aroma of the
Celtic imagination. For the rest, he had had as good an
education as Scotland could in those days afford him, one of
whose best features was the negative one that it did not at
all interfere with the natural course of his inborn
tendencies, and merely developed the power of expressing
himself in what manner he might think fit. Let me add that he
had a good conscience—I mean, a conscience ready to
give him warning of the least tendency to overstep any line
of prohibition; and that, as yet, he had never consciously
refused to attend to such warning.
Another thing I must mention is that, although his mind was
constantly haunted by imaginary forms of loveliness, he had
never yet been what is called in love. For he had
never yet seen anyone who even approached his idea of
spiritual at once and physical attraction. He was content to
live and wait, without even the notion that he was waiting
for anything. He went on writing his verses, and receiving
the reward, such as it was, of having placed on record the
thoughts which had come to him, so that he might at will
recall them. Neither had he any thought of the mental soil
which was thus slowly gathering for the possible growth of an
unknown seed, fit for growing and developing in that same
One day there arrived in that cold Northern city a certain
cold, sunshiny morning, gay and sparkling, and with it the
beginning of what, for want of a better word, we may call his
fate. He knew nothing of its approach, had not the slightest
prevision that the divinity had that moment put his hand to
the shaping of his rough-hewn ends. It was early October by
the calendar, but leaves brown and spotted and dry lay
already in little heaps on the pavement—heaps made and
unmade continually, as if for the sport of the keen wind that
now scattered them with a rush, and again, extemporizing a
little evanescent whirlpool, gathered a fresh heap upon the
flags, again to rush asunder, as in direst terror of the
fresh-invading wind, determined yet again to scatter them, a
broken rout of escaping fugitives. Along the pavement,
seemingly in furtherance of the careless design of the wind,
a girl went heedlessly scushling along among the unresting
and unresisting leaves, making with her rather short skirt a
mimic whirlwind of her own. Her eyes were fixed on the
ground, and she seemed absorbed in anxious thought, which
thought had its origin in one of the commonest causes of
human perplexity—the need of money, and the
impossibility of devising a scheme by which to procure any.
It was but a few weeks since her father had died, leaving
behind him such a scanty provision for his widow and child
that only by the utmost care and coaxing were they able from
the first to make it meet their necessities. Nor, indeed,
would it have been possible for them to subsist had not a
brother of the widow supplemented their poor resources with
an uncertain contingent, whose continuance he was not able to
secure, or even dared to promise.
At the present moment, however, it was not anxiety as to
their own affairs that occupied the mind of Annie Melville,
near enough as that might have lain; it was the unhappy
condition in which the imprudence of a
school-friend—almost her only friend—had involved
herself by her hasty marriage with a man who, up to the
present moment, had shown no faculty for helping himself or
the wife he had involved in his fate, and who did not know
where or by what means to procure even the bread of which
they were in immediate want.
Now Annie had never had to suffer hunger, and the idea that
her companion from childhood should be exposed to such a fate
was what she could not bear. Yet, for any way out of it she
could see, it would have to be borne. She might possibly, by
herself going without, have given her a good piece of bread;
but then she would certainly share it with her foolish
husband, and there would be little satisfaction in that! They
had already arrived at a stage in their downward progress
when not gold, or even silver, but bare copper, was lacking
as the equivalent for the bread that could but keep them
alive until the next rousing of the hunger that even now lay
across their threshold. And how could she, in her all but
absolute poverty, do anything? Her mother was but one pace or
so from the same goal, and would, as a mother must, interfere
to prevent her useless postponement of the inevitable. It was
clear she could do nothing—and yet she could ill
consent that it should be so.
When her father almost suddenly left them alone, Annie was
already acting as assistant in the Girls' High
School—but, alas! without any recognition of her
services by even a promise of coming payment. She lived only
in the hope of a small salary, dependent on her definite
appointment to the office. To attempt to draw upon this hope
would be to imperil the appointment itself. She could not,
even for her friend, risk her mother's prospects, already
poor enough; and she could not help perceiving the
hopelessness of her friend's case, because of the utter
characterlessness of the husband to whom she was enslaved.
Why interfere with the hunger he would do nothing to
forestall? How could she even give such a man the sixpence
which had been her father's last gift to her?
But Annie was one to whom, in the course of her life,
something strange had not unfrequently happened, chiefly in
the shape of what the common mind would set aside as mere
coincidence. I do not say many such things had
occurred in her life; but, together, their strangeness and
their recurrence had caused her to remember every one of
them, so that, when she reviewed them, they seemed to her
many. And now, with a shadowy prevision, as it seemed, that
something was going to happen, and with a shadowy
recollection that she had known beforehand it was coming,
something strange did take place. Of such things she used, in
after days, always to employ the old, stately Bible-phrase,
"It came to pass"; she never said, "It happened."
As she walked along with her eyes on the ground, the withered
leaves caught up every now and then in a wild dance by the
frolicsome wind, she was suddenly aware of something among
them which she could not identify, whirling in the aerial
vortex about her feet. Scarcely caring what it was, she yet,
all but mechanically, looked at it a little closer, lost it
from sight, caught it again, as a fresh blast sent it once
more gyrating about her feet, and now regarded it more
steadfastly. Even then it looked like nothing but another
withered leaf, brown and wrinkled, given over to the wind,
and rustling along at its mercy. Yet it made an impression
upon her so far unlike that of a leaf that for a moment more
she fixed on it a still keener look of unconsciously
expectant eyes, and saw only that it looked—perhaps a
little larger than most of the other leaves, but as brown and
dead as they. Almost the same instant, however, she turned
and pounced upon it, and, the moment she handled it, became
aware that it felt less crumbly and brittle than the others
looked, and then saw clearly that it was not a leaf, but
perhaps a rag, or possibly a piece of soiled and rumpled
paper. With a curiosity growing to expectation, and in a
moment to wondering recognition, she proceeded to uncrumple
it carefully and smooth it out tenderly; nor was the process
quite completed when she fell upon her knees on the cold
flags, her little cloak flowing wide from the clasp at her
neck in a yet wilder puff of the bitter wind; but suddenly
remembering that she must not be praying in the sight of men,
started again to her feet, and, wrapping her closed hand
tight in the scanty border of her cloak, hurried, with the
pound-note she had rescued, to the friend whose need was
sorer than her own—not without an undefined anxiety in
her heart whether she was doing right. How much good the note
did, or whether it merely fell into the bottomless gulf of
irremediable loss, I cannot tell. Annie's friend and her
shiftless mate at once changed their dirty piece of paper for
silver, bought food and railway tickets, left the town, and
disappeared entirely from her horizon.
But consequences were not over with Annie; and the next day
she became acquainted with the fact that proved of great
significance to her, namely, that the same evening she found
the money, Mr. Macintosh's kitchen-chimney had been on fire;
and it wanted but the knowledge of how this had taken place
to change the girl's consciousness from that of one specially
aided by the ministry of an angel to that of a young woman,
honest hitherto, suddenly changed into a thief!
For, in the course of a certain friendly gossip's narrative,
it came out that that night the banker had been using the
kitchen fire for the destruction of an accumulation of
bank-notes, the common currency of Scotland, which had been
judged altogether too dirty, or too much dilapidated, to be
reissued. The knowledge of this fact was the slam of the
closing door, whereby Annie found her soul shut out to wander
in a night of dismay. The woman who told the fact saw nothing
of consequence in it; Mrs. Melville, to whom she was telling
it, saw nothing but perhaps a lesson on the duty of having
chimneys regularly swept, because of the danger to
neighboring thatch. But had not Annie been seated in the
shadow, her ghastly countenance would, even to the most
casual glance, have betrayed a certain guilty horror, for now
she knew that she had found and given away what she
ought at once to have handed back to its rightful owner. It
was true he did not even know that he had lost it, and could
have no suspicion that she had found it; but what difference
did or could that make? It was true also that she had neither
taken nor bestowed it to her own advantage; but again, what
difference could that make in her duty to restore it? Did she
not well remember how eloquently and precisely Mr. Kennedy
had, the very last Sunday, expounded the passage, "Thou shalt
not respect the person of the poor." Right was right,
whatever soft-hearted people might say or think. Anyone might
give what was his own, but who could be right in giving away
what was another's? It was time she had done it without
thinking; but she had known, or might have known, well enough
that to whomsoever it might belong, it was not hers. And now
what possibility was there of setting right what she had set
wrong? It was just possible a day might come when she should
be able to restore what she had unjustly taken, but at the
present moment it was as impossible for her to lay her hand
upon a pound-note as upon a million. And, terrible
thought!—she might have to enter the presence of her
father—dead, men called him, but alive she knew
him—with the consciousness that she had not brought him
back the honor he had left with her.
It will, of course, suggest itself to every reader that
herein she was driving her sense of obligation to the verge
of foolishness; and, indeed, the thought did not fail to
occur even to herself; but the answer of the self-accusing
spirit was that had she been thoroughly upright in heart, she
would at once have gone to the nearest house and made such
inquiry as must instantly have resulted in the discovery of
what had happened. This she had omitted—without
thought, it is true, but not, therefore, without blame; and
now, so far as she could tell, she would never be able to
make restitution! Had she even told her mother what befallen
her, her mother might have thought of the way in which it had
come to pass, and set her feet in the path of her duty! But
she had made evil haste, and had compassed too much.
She found herself, in truth, in a sore predicament, and was
on the point of starting to her feet to run and confess to
Mr. Macintosh what she had done, that he might at once
pronounce the penalty on what she never doubted he must
regard as a case of simple theft; but she bethought herself
that she would remain incapable of offering the least
satisfaction, and must therefore be regarded merely as one
who sought by confession to secure forgiveness and remission.
What proof had she to offer even that she had given the money
away? To mention the name of her friend would be to bring her
into discredit, and transfer to her the blame of her own act.
There was nothing she could do—and yet, however was she
to go about with such a load upon her conscience? Confessing,
she might at least be regarded as one who desired and meant
to be honest. Confession would, anyhow, ease the weight of
her load. Passively at last, from very weariness of thought,
her mind was but going backward and forward over its own
traces, heedlessly obliterating them, when suddenly a new and
horrid consciousness emerged from the trodden slime—that
she was glad that at least Sophy had the money!
For one passing moment she was glad with the joy of Lady
Macbeth, that what was done was done, and could not be
altered. Then once more the storm within her awoke and would
not again be stilled.
But now a third something happened which brought with it
hope, for it suggested a way of deliverance. Impelled by the
same power that causes a murderer to haunt the scene of his
violence, she left the house, and was unaware whither she was
directing her steps until she found herself again passing the
door of the banker's house; there, in that same
kitchen-window, on a level with the pavement, she espied, in
large pen-drawn print, the production apparently of the cook
or another of the servants, the announcement that a
parlor-maid was wanted immediately. Again without waiting to
think, and only afterwards waking up to the fact and meaning
of what she had done, she turned, went back to the
entry-door, and knocked. It was almost suddenly opened by the
cook, and at once the storm of her misery was assuaged in a
rising moon of hope, and the night became light about her.
Ah, through what miseries are not even frail hopes our best
and safest, our only true guides indeed, into other
and yet fairer hopes!
"Did you want to see the mistress?" asked the jolly-faced
cook, where she stood on the other side of the threshold;
and, without waiting an answer, she turned and led the way to
the parlor. Annie followed, as if across the foundation of
the fallen wall of Jericho; and found, to her surprise, that
Mrs. Macintosh, knowing her by sight, received her with
condescension, and Annie, grateful for the good-humor which
she took for kindness, told her simply that she had come to
see whether she would accept her services as parlor-maid.
Mrs. Macintosh seemed surprised at the proposal, and asked
her the natural question whether she had ever occupied a
Annie answered she had not, but that at home, while her
father was alive, she had done so much of the same sort that
she believed she could speedily learn all that was necessary.
"I thought someone told me," said the lady, who was one of
the greatest gossips in the town, "that you were one of the
teachers in the High School?"
"That is true," answered Annie; "I was doing so upon
probation; but I had not yet begun to receive any salary for
it. I was only a sort of apprentice to the work, and under no
Mrs. Macintosh, after regarding Annie for some time, and
taking silent observation of her modesty and good-breeding,
said at last:
"I like the look of you, Miss—, Miss——"
"My name is Annie Melville."
"Well, Annie, I confess I do not indeed see anything
particularly unsuitable in you, but at the same time I cannot
help fearing you may be—or, I should say rather, may
imagine yourself—superior to what may be required of
"Oh, no, ma'am!" answered Annie; "I assure you I am too poor
to think of any such thing! Indeed, I am so anxious to make
money at once that, if you would consent to give me a trial,
I should be ready to come to you this very evening."
"You will have no wages before the end of your six months."
"I understand, ma'am."
"It is a risk to take you without a character."
"I am very sorry, ma'am; but I have no one that can vouch for
me—except, indeed, Mrs. Slater, of the High School,
would say a word in my favor."
"Well, well!" answered Mrs. Macintosh, "I am so far pleased
with you that I do not think I can be making a
mistake if I merely give you a trial. You may come to-night,
if you like—that is, with your mother's permission."
Annie ran home greatly relieved, and told her mother what a
piece of good-fortune she had had. Mrs. Melville did not at
all take to the idea at first, for she cherished undefined
expections for Annie, and knew that her father had done so
also, for the girl was always reading, and had been for years
in the habit of reading aloud to him, making now and then a
remark that showed she understood well what she read. So the
mother took comfort in her disappointment that her child had,
solely for her sake, she supposed, betaken herself to such
service as would at once secure her livelihood and bring her
in a little money, for, with the shadow of coming want
growing black above them, even her first half-year's wages
was a point of hope and expectation.
"Well, Annie," she answered, after a few moments'
consideration, "it is but for a time; and you will be able to
give up the place as soon as you please, and the easier that
she only takes you on trial; that will hold for you as well
as for her."
But nothing was farther from Annie's intention than finding
the place would not suit her: no change could she dream of
before at least she had a pound-note in her hand, when at
once she would make it clear to her mother what a terrible
scare had driven her to the sudden step she had taken. Until
then she must go about with her whole head sick and her whole
heart faint; neither could she for many weeks rid herself of
the haunting notion that the banker, who was chiefly affected
by her crime,—for as such she fully believed and
regarded her deed,—was fully aware of her guilt. It
seemed to her, when at any moment he happened to look at her,
that now at last he must be on the point of letting her know
that he had read the truth in her guilty looks, and she
constantly fancied him saying to himself, "That is the girl
who stole my money; she feels my eyes upon her." Every time
she came home from an errand she would imagine her master
looking from the window of his private room on the first
floor, in readiness to cast aside forbearance and denounce
her: he was only waiting to make himself one shade surer! Ah,
how long was the time she had to await her cleansing, the
moment when she could go to him and say, "I have wronged, I
have robbed you; here is all I can do to show my repentance.
All this time I have been but waiting for my wages, to repay
what I had taken from you." And, oddly enough, she was always
mixing herself up with the man in the parable, who had
received from his master a pound to trade with and make more;
from her dreams she would wake in terror at the sound of that
master's voice, ordering the pound to be taken from her and
given to the school-fellow whom, at the cost of her own
honesty, she had befriended. Oh, joyous day when the doom
should be lifted from her, and she set free, to dream no
more! For surely, when at length her master knew all, with
the depth of her sorrow and repentance, he could not refuse
his forgiveness! Would he not even, she dared to hope, remit
the interest due on his money?—of which she
entertained, in her ignorance, a usurious and preposterous
The days went on, and the hour of her deliverance drew nigh.
But, long before it came, two other processes had been slowly
arriving at maturity. She had been gaining the confidence of
her mistress, so that, ere three months were over, the
arrangement of all minor matters of housekeeping was entirely
in her hands. It may be that Mrs. Macintosh was not a little
lazy, nor sorry to leave aside whatever did not positively
demand her personal attention; one thing I am sure of, that
Annie never made the smallest attempt to gain this favor, if
such it was. Her mistress would, for instance, keep losing
the keys of the cellaret, until in despair she at last
yielded them entirely to the care of Annie, who thereafter
carried them in her pocket, where they were always at hand
The other result was equally natural, but of greater
importance; Hector, the only child of the house, was
gradually and, for a long time, unconsciously falling in love
with Annie. Those friends of the family who liked Annie, and
felt the charm of her manners and simplicity, said only that
his mother had herself to blame, for what else could she
expect? Others of them, regarding her from the same point of
view as her mistress, repudiated the notion as absurd, saying
Hector was not the man to degrade himself! He was incapable
of such a misalliance.
But, as I have said already, Hector, although he had never
yet been in love, was yet more than usually ready to fall in
love, as belongs to the poetic temperament, when the fit
person should appear. As to what sort she might prove
depended on two facts in Hector—one, that he was
fastidious in the best meaning of the word, and the other
that he was dominated by sound good sense; a fact which even
his father allowed, although with a grudge, seeing he had
hitherto manifested no devotion to business, but spent his
free time in literary pursuits. Of the special nature of
those pursuits his father knew, or cared to know, nothing;
and as to his mother, she had not even a favorite hymn.
I may say, then, that the love of womankind, which in
solution, so to speak, pervaded every atomic interstice of
the nature of Hector, had gradually, indeed, but yet rapidly,
concentrated and crystallized around the idea of
Annie—the more homogeneously and absorbingly that she
was the first who had so moved him. It was, indeed, in the
case of each a first love, although in the case of neither
love at first sight.
Almost from the hour when first Annie entered the family,
Hector had looked on her with eyes of interest; but, for a
time, she had gone about the house with a sense almost of
being there upon false pretenses, for she knew that she was
doing what she did from no regard to any of its members, but
only to gain the money whose payment would relieve her from
an ever-present consciousness of guilt; and for this cause,
if for no other, she was not in danger of falling in love
with Hector. She was, indeed, too full of veneration for her
master and mistress, and for their son so immeasurably above
her, to let her thoughts rest upon him in any but a distantly
But it was part of her duty, which was not over well-defined
in the house, to see that her young master's room was kept
tidy and properly dusted; and in attending to this it was
unavoidable that she should come upon indications of the way
in which he spent his leisure hours. Never dreaming, indeed,
that a servant might recognize at a glance what his father
and mother did not care to know, Hector was never at any
pains to conceal, or even to lay aside the lines yet wet from
his pen when he left the room; and Annie could not help
seeing them, or knowing what they were. Like many another
Scotch lassie, she was fonder of reading than of anything
else; and in her father's house she had had the free use of
what books were in it; nor is it, then, to be wondered at
that she was far more familiar with certain great books than
was ever many an Oxford man. Some never read what they have
no desire to assimilate; and some read what no expenditure of
reading could ever make them able to appropriate; but Annie
read, understood, and re-read the "Paradise Lost"; knew
intimately "Comus" as well; delighted in "Lycidas," and had
some of Milton's sonnets by heart; while for the Hymn on the
Nativity, she knew every line, had studied every turn and
phrase in it. It is sometimes a great advantage not to have
many books, and so never outgrow the sense of mystery that
hovers about even an open book-case; it was with awe and
reverence that Annie, looking around Hector's room, saw in
it, not daring to touch them, books she had heard of, but
never seen—among others a Shakspere in one thick volume
lay open on his table; nor is it, then, surprising that, when
putting his papers straight, she could not help seeing from
the different lengths of the lines upon them that they were
verse. She trembled and glowed at the very sight of them, for
she had in herself the instinct of sacred numbers, and in her
soul felt a vague hunger after what might be contained in
those loose papers—into which she did not even peep,
instinctively knowing it dishonorable. She trembled yet more
at recognizing the beautiful youth in the same house with
her, to whom she did service, as himself one of those gifted
creatures whom most she revered—a poet, perhaps another
such as Milton! Neither are all ladies, nor all servants of
ladies, honorable like Annie, or fit as she to be left alone
with a man's papers.
Hector knew very well how his mother would regard such an
alliance as had now begun to absorb every desire and thought
of his heart, and was the more careful to watch and repress
every sign of the same, foreseeing that, at the least
suspicion of the fact, she would lay all the blame upon
Annie, at once dismiss her from the house, and remain forever
convinced that she had entered it with the design in her
heart to make him fall in love with her. He therefore avoided
ever addressing her, except with a distant civility, the
easier to him that his mind was known only to himself, while
all the time the consciousness of her presence in it
enveloped the house in a rosy cloud. For a long time he did
not even dream of attempting a word with her alone, fondly
imagining that thus he gave his mother time to know and love
Annie before discovering anything between them to which she
might object. But he did not yet know how incapable that
mother was of any simple affection, being, indeed, one of the
commonest-minded of women. He believed also that the least
attempt to attract Annie's attention would but scare her, and
make her incapable of listening to what he might try to say.
In the meantime, Annie, under the influence of more and
better food, and that freedom from care which came of the
consciousness that she was doing her best both for her mother
and for her own moral emancipation, looked sweeter and grew
happier every day; no cloudy sense, no doubt of approaching
danger had yet begun to heave an ugly shoulder above her
horizon, neither had Hector begun to fret against the feeling
that he must not speak to her; in such a silence and in such
a presence he felt he could live happy for ages; he moved in
a lovely dream of still content.
And it was natural also that he should begin to burgeon
spiritually and mentally, to grow and flourish beyond any
experience in the past. Within a few such days of hidden
happiness, the power of verse, and of thoughts worthy of
verse, came upon him with as sure an inspiration of the
Almighty as can ever descend upon a man, accompanied by a
deeper sense of the being and the presence of God, and a
stronger desire to do the will of the Father, which is surely
the best thing God himself can kindle in the heart of any
man. For what good is there in creation but the possibility
of being yet further created? And what else is growth but
more of the will of God?
Something fresh began to stir in his mind; even as in the
spring, away in far depths of beginning, the sap gives its
first upward throb in the tree, and the first bud, as yet
invisible, begins to jerk itself forward to break from the
cerements of ante-natal quiescence, and become a growing
leaf, so a something in Hector that was his very life and
soul began to yield to unseen creative impulse, and throb
with a dim, divine consciousness. The second evening after
thus recognizing its presence he hurried up the stair from
the office to his own room, and there, sitting down, began to
write—not a sonnet to his charmer, neither any dream
about her, not even some sweet song of the waking spring
which he felt moving within him, but the first speech of a
dramatic poem. It was a bold beginning, but all beginners are
daring, if not presumptuous. Hector's aim was to embody an
ideal of check, of rousing, of revival, of new energy and
fresh start. All that evening he wrote with running pen,
forgot the dinner-bell after its first summons, and went on
until Annie knocked at his door, dispatched to summon him to
the meal. There was in Hector, indeed, as a small part of the
world came by-and-by to know, the making of a real poet, for
such there are in the world at all times—yea, even
now—although they may not be recognized, or even
intended to ripen in the course of one human season. I think
Annie herself was one of such—so full was she of
receptive and responsive faculty in the same kind, and I
remain in doubt whether the genuine enjoyment of verse be not
a fuller sign of the presence of what is most valuable in it
than even some power of producing it. For Hector, I imagine,
it gave strong proof of his being a poet indeed that, when he
opened the door to her knock, the appearance of Annie
herself, instead of giving him a thrill of pleasure,
occasioned him a little annoyance by the evanishment of a
just culminating train of thought into the vast and seething
void, into which he gazed after it in vain. And Annie
herself, although all the time in Hector's thought, revealed
herself only, after the custom of celestials, at the very
moment of her disappearance; her message delivered, she went
back to her duties at the table; and then first Hector woke
to the knowledge that she had been at his door, and was there
no more. During the last few days he had been gradually
approaching the resolve to keep silence no longer, but be
bold and tell Annie how full his heart was of her. One moment
he might have done so; one moment more, and he could not!
He followed close upon her steps, but not a word with her was
possible, and it seemed to Hector that she sped from him like
a very wraith to avoid his addressing her. Had she, then, he
asked himself, some dim suspicion of his feelings toward her,
or was she but making haste from a sense of propriety?
Now that very morning Mrs. Macintosh had been talking kindly
to Annie—as kindly, that is, as her abominable
condescension would permit—and, what to Annie was of
far greater consequence, had paid her her wages, rather more
than she had expected, so that nothing now lay between her
and the fall of her burden from her heavy-laden conscience,
except, indeed, her preliminary confession. Dinner,
therefore, being over, her mistress gone to the drawing room
to prepare the coffee, and her master to his room to write a
letter suddenly remembered, Hector was left alone with Annie.
Whereupon followed an amusing succession of disconnected
attempt and frustration. For no sooner had Mr. Macintosh left
the room than Annie darted from it after him, and Hector
darted after Annie, determined at length to speak to her.
When Annie, however, reached the foot of the stair, her
master was already up the first flight, and Annie's courage
failing her, she, turning sharply round, almost ran against
Hector, who was close behind her. The look of disappointment
on her face, to the meaning of which he had no clew,
quenching his courage next, he returned in silence to the
dining room, where Annie was now hovering aimlessly about the
table, until, upon his re-entrance, she settled herself
behind Hector's chair. He turned half-round, and would have
said something to her, but, seeing her pale and troubled, he
lapsed into a fit of brooding, and no longer dared speak to
her. Besides, his mother might come to the dining room at any
Then Annie, thinking she heard her master's re-descending
step, hurried again from the room; but only at once to return
afresh, which set Hector wondering yet more. Why on earth
should she be lying in ambush for his father? He did not know
that she was equally anxious to avoid the eyes of her
mistress. And while Annie was anxious to keep her secret from
the tongue of Mrs. Macintosh, Hector was as anxious to keep
his from the eyes of his mother until a fit moment should
arrive for its disclosure. But he imagined, I believe, that
Annie saw he wanted to speak to her, and thought she was
doing what she could to balk his intention.
But the necessity for disclosure was strongest in Annie, and
drove her to encounter what risk might be involved. So when
at last she heard a certain step of the stair creak, she
darted to the door, and left the room even while the hand of
her mistress, coming to say the coffee was ready, was on that
which communicated with the drawing room.
"I thought I heard Annie at the sideboard: is she gone?" she
"She left the room this moment, I believe," answered Hector.
"What is she gone for?"
"I cannot say, mother," replied Hector indifferently, in the
act himself of leaving the room also, determined on yet
another attempt to speak to Annie. In the meantime, however,
Annie had found her opportunity. She had met Mr. Macintosh
halfway down the last flight of stairs, and had lifted to him
such a face of entreaty that he listened at once to her
prayer for a private interview, and, turning, led the way up
again to the room he had just left. There he shut the door,
and said to her pleasantly:
"Well, Annie, what is it?"
I am afraid his man-imagination had led him to anticipate
some complaint against Hector: he certainly was nowise
prepared for what the poor self-accusing girl had to say.
For one moment she stood unable to begin; the next she had
recovered her resolution: her face filled with a sudden glow;
and ere her master had time to feel shocked, she was on her
knees at his feet, holding up to him a new pound-note, one of
those her mistress had just given her. Familiar, however, as
her master was with the mean-looking things in which lay
almost all his dealings, he did not at first recognize the
object she offered him; while what connection with his wife's
parlor-maid it could represent was naturally inconceivable to
him. He stood for a moment staring at the note, and then
dropped a pair of dull, questioning eyes on the face of the
kneeling girl. He was not a man of quick apprehension, and
the situation was appallingly void of helpful suggestion. To
make things yet more perplexing, Annie sobbed as if her heart
would break, and was unable to utter a word. "What must a
stranger imagine," the poor man thought, "to come upon such a
tableau?" Her irrepressible emotion lasted so long that he
lost his patience and turned upon her, saying:
"I must call your mistress; she will know what to do with
you!" Instantly she sprang to her feet, and broke into
"Oh, please, please, sir, have a minute's patience
with me," she cried; "you never saw me behave so badly
"Certainly not, Annie; I never did. And I hope you will never
do so again," answered her master, with reviving good-nature,
and was back in his first notion, that Hector had said
something to her which she thought rude and did not like to
repeat. He had never had a daughter, and perhaps all the more
felt pitiful over the troubled woman-child at his feet.
But, having once spoken out and conquered the spell upon her,
Annie was able to go on. She became suddenly quiet, and,
interrupted only by an occasional sob, poured out her whole
story, if not quite unbrokenly, at least without actual
intermission, while her master stood and listened without a
break in his fixed attention. By-and-by, however, a slow
smile began to dawn on his countenance, which spread and
spread until at length he burst into a laugh, none the less
merry that it was low and evidently restrained lest it should
be overheard. Like one suddenly made ashamed, Annie rose to
her feet, but still held out the note to her master.
How was it possible that her evil deed should provoke her
master to a fit of laughter? It might be easy for him in his
goodness to pardon her, but how could he treat her offense as
a thing of no consequence? Was it not a sin, which, like
every other sin, could nowise at all be cleansed? For even
God himself could not blot out the fact that she had done the
deed! And yet, there stood her master laughing! And, what was
more dreadful still, despite the resentment of her
conscience, her master's merriment so far affected herself
that she could not repress a responsive smile! It was no less
than indecent, and yet, even in that answering smile, her
misery of six months' duration passed totally away, melted
from her like a mist of the morning, so that she could not
even recall the feeling of her lost unhappiness. But, might
not her conscience be going to sleep? Was it not possible she
might be growing indifferent to right and wrong? Was she not
aware in herself that there were powers of evil about her,
seeking to lead her astray, and putting strange and horrid
things in her mind?
But, although he laughed, her master uttered no articulate
sound until she had ended her statement, by which time his
amusement had changed to admiration. Another minute still
passed, however, before he knew what answer to make.
"But, my good girl," he began, "I do not see that you have
anything to blame yourself for—at least, not anything
worth blaming yourself about. After so long a time,
the money found was certainly your own, and you could do what
you pleased with it."
"But, sir, I did not wait at all to see how it had happened,
or whether it might not be claimed. I believe, indeed, that I
hurried away at once, lest anyone should know I had it. I ran
to spend it at once, so for whatever happened afterward I was
to blame. Then, when it was too late, I learned that the
money was yours!"
"What did you do with it, if I may ask?" said the master.
"I gave it to a school-fellow of mine who had married a
helpless sort of husband and was in want of food."
"I am afraid you did not help them much by that," murmured
"Please, sir, I knew no other way to help them; and the money
seemed to have been given me for them. I soon came to know
better, and have been sorry ever since. I knew that I had no
right to give it away as soon as I knew whose it was."
She ceased, but still held out the note to him.
Mr. Macintosh stood again silent, and made no movement toward
"Please, sir, take the money, and forgive me," pleaded Annie.
"And please, sir, please do not say anything about it
to anybody. Even my mother does not know."
"Now there you did wrong. You ought to have told your
"I see that now, sir; but I was so glad to be able to help
the poor creatures that I did not think of it till
"I dare say your mother would have been glad of the money
herself; I understand she was not left very well off."
"At that time I did not know she was so poor. But now that my
mistress has paid me such good wages, I am going to take her
every penny of them this very afternoon."
"And then you will tell her, will you not?"
"I shall not mind telling her when you have taken it back. I
was afraid to tell her before! It was to pay you back that I
asked Mrs. Macintosh to take me for parlor-maid."
"Then you were not in service before?"
"No, sir. You see, my mother thought I could earn my bread in
a way we should both like better."
"So now you will give up service and go back to her?"
"I am not sure, sir. It would be long, I fear, before the
school would pay me as well. You see, I have my food here
too. And everything tells. Please, sir, take the pound."
"My dear girl," said her master, "I could not think of
depriving you of what you have so well earned. It is more
than enough to me that you want to repay it. I positively
cannot take it."
"Indeed, I do want to repay it, sir," rejoined Annie. "It's
anything but willing I shall be not to repay it.
Indeed, there is no other way to get my soul free."
Here it seems time I should mention that Hector, weary of
waiting Annie's return, had left the dining room to look for
her; and running up the stair, not without the dread of
hearing his mother's foot behind him, had slid softly into
his father's room, to find Annie on her knees before him, and
hear enough to understand her story before either his father
or she was aware of his presence.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but indeed you must take it," urged
Annie. "Surely you would not be so cruel to a poor girl who
prays you to take the guilt off her back. Don't you see, sir,
I never can look my father in the face till I have paid the
Here his father caught sight of Hector, and, perceiving that
Annie had not yet seen him, and possibly glad of a witness,
put up his hand to him to keep still. "Where is your father,
then?" he asked Annie.
"In heaven somewhere," she answered, "waiting for my mother
and me. Oh, father!" she broke out, "if only you had been
alive you would soon have got me out of my shame and misery!
But, thank God! it will soon be over now; my master cannot
refuse to set me free."
"Certainly I will set you free," said Mr. Macintosh, a good
deal touched. "With all my heart I forgive you
the—the—the debt, and I thank you for bringing me
to know the honestest girl—I mean, the most honorable
girl I have ever yet had the pleasure to meet."
Hector had been listening, hardly able to contain his
delight, and at these last words of his father, like the
blundering idiot he was, he rushed forward, and, clasping
Annie to his heart, cried out:
"Thank God, Annie, my father at least knows what you are!"
He met with a rough and astounding check. Far too startled to
see who it was that thus embraced her, and unprepared to
receive such a salutation, least of all from one she had
hitherto regarded as the very prince of gentleness and
courtesy, she met it with a sound, ringing box on the ear,
which literally staggered Hector, and sent his father into a
second peal of laughter, this time as loud as it was merry,
and the next moment swelled in volume by that of Hector
"Thank you, Annie!" he cried. "I never should have thought
you could hit so hard. But, indeed, I beg your pardon. I
forgot myself and you too when I behaved so badly. But I'm
not sorry, father, after all, for that box on the ear has got
me over a difficult task, and compelled me to speak out at
once what has been long in my mind, but which I had not the
courage to say. Annie," he went on, turning to her, and
standing humbly before her, "I have long loved you; if you
will do me the honor to marry me, I am yours the moment you
But Annie's surprise and the hasty act she had committed in
the first impulse of defense had so reacted upon her in a
white dismay that she stood before him speechless and almost
ready to drop. Awakening from what was fast growing a mere
dream of offense to the assured consciousness of another
offense almost as flagrant, she stared as if she had suddenly
opened her eyes on a whole Walpurgisnacht of demons and
witches, while Hector, recovering from his astonishment to
the lively delight of having something to pretend at least to
forgive Annie, and yielding to sudden Celtic impulse, knelt
at her feet, seized her hand, which she had no power to
withdraw from him, covered it with eager kisses and placed it
on his head. Little more would have made him cast himself
prone before her, lift her foot, and place it on his neck.
But his father brought a little of his common sense to the
"Tut, Hector!" he said; "give the lass time to come to her
senses. Would you woo her like a raving maniac? I don't,
indeed, wonder, after what you heard her tell me, that you
should have taken such a sudden fancy to her; but—"
"Father," interrupted Hector, "it is no fancy—least of
all a sudden one! I fell in love with Annie the very first
time I saw her waiting at table. It is true I did not
understand what had befallen me for some time; but I do, and
I did from the first, and now forever I shall both love and
"Mr. Hector," said Annie, "it was too bad of you to listen. I
did not know anyone was there but your father. You were never
intended to hear; and I did not think you would have done
such a dishonorable thing. It was not like you, Mr. Hector!"
"How was I to know you had secrets with my father, Annie?
Dishonorable or not, the thing is done, and I am glad of
it—especially to have heard what you had no intention
of telling me."
"I could not have believed it of you, Mr. Hector!" persisted
"But, now that I think of it," suggested Mr. Macintosh, "may
not your mother think she has something to say in the matter
This was a thought already dawning upon her that terrified
Annie; she knew, indeed, perfectly how his mother would
regard Hector's proposal, and she dared not refer the matter
to her decision.
"I must be out of the house first, Mr. Hector," she
said—and I think she meant—"before I confess my
The impression Annie had made upon her master may be judged
from the fact that he rose and went, leaving his son and the
What then passed between them I cannot narrate precisely.
Overwhelmed by Hector's avowal, and quite unprepared as she
had been for it, it was yet no unwelcome news to Annie.
Indeed, the moment he addressed her, she knew in her heart
that she had been loving him for a long time, though never
acknowledging to herself the fact. Such must often be the
case between two whom God has made for each other. And
although he were a bold man who said that marriages were made
in heaven, he were a bolder who denied that love at first
sight was never there decreed. For where God has fitted
persons for each other, what can they do but fall mutually in
love? Who will then dare to say he did not decree that
result? As to what may follow after from their own behavior,
I would be as far from saying that was not decreed as
from saying the conduct itself was decreed. Surely
there shall be room left, even in the counsels of God, for as
much liberty as belongs to our being made in his
image—free like him to choose the good and refuse the
evil! He who has chosen the good remains in the law of
liberty, free to choose right again. He who always chooses
the right, will at length be free to choose like God himself,
for then shall his will itself be free. Freedom to choose and
freedom of the will are two different conditions.
Before the lovers, which it wanted no moment to make them,
left the room, they had agreed that Annie must at once leave
the house. Hector took her to her mother's door, and when he
returned he found that his father and mother had retired. But
it may be well that I should tell a little more of what had
passed between the lovers before they parted.
Annie's first thought when they were left together was,
"Alas! what will my mistress say? She must think the worst
possible of me!"
"Oh, Hector!" she broke out, "whatever will your mother think
"No good, I'm afraid," answered Hector honestly. "But that is
hardly what we have to think of at this precise moment."
"Take back what you said!" cried Annie; "I will promise you
never to think of it again—at least, I will
never once to do so. It must have been all my
fault—though I do not know how, and never dreamed it
was coming. Perhaps I shall find out, when I think over it,
where I was to blame."
"I have no doubt you are capable of inventing a hundred
reasons—after hearing your awful guilty confession to
my father, you little innocent!" answered Hector.
And the ice thus broken, things went on a good deal better,
and they came to talk freely.
"Of course," said Hector, "I am not so silly or so wicked as
to try to persuade you that my mother will open her arms to
you. She knows neither you nor herself."
"Will she be terribly angry?" said Annie, with a foreboding
quaver in her voice.
"Rather, I am afraid," allowed Hector.
"Then don't you think we had better give it up at once?"
"Never forever!" cried Hector. "That is not what I fell in
love with you for! I will not give you up even for Death
himself! He is not the ruler of our world. No lover is worthy
of the name who does not defy Death and all his works!"
"I am not afraid of him, Hector. I, too, am ready to defy
him. But is it right to defy your mother?"
"It is, when she wants one to be false and dishonorable. For
herself, I will try to honor her as much as she leaves
possible to me. But my mother is not my parents."
"Oh, please, Hector, don't quibble. You would make me doubt
"Well, we won't argue about it. Let us wait to hear what
your mother will say to it to-morrow, when I come to
"You really will come? How pleased my mother will be!"
"Why, what else should I do? I thought you were just talking
of the honor we owe to our parents! Your mother is mine too."
"I was thinking of yours then."
"Well, I dare say I shall have a talk with my mother
first, but what your mother will think is of far more
consequence to me. I know only too well what my mother will
say; but you must not take that too much to heart. She has
always had some girl or other in her mind for me; but if a
man has any rights, surely the strongest of all is the right
to choose for himself the girl to marry—if she will let
"Perhaps his mother would choose better."
"Perhaps you do not know, Annie, that I am five-and-twenty
years of age: if I have no right yet to judge for myself,
pray when do you suppose I shall?"
"It's not the right I'm thinking of, but the experience."
"Ah, I see! You want me to fall in love with a score of women
first, so that I may have a chance of choosing. Really,
Annie, I had not thought you would count that a great
advantage. For my part, I have never once been in love but
with you, and I confess to a fancy that that might almost
prove a recommendation to you. But I suppose you will at
least allow it desirable that a man should love the girl he
marries? If my preference for you be a mere boyish fancy, as
probably my mother is at this moment trying to persuade my
father, at what age do you suppose it will please God to give
me the heart of a man? My mother is sure to prefer somebody
not fit to stand in your dingiest cotton frock. Anybody but
you for my wife is a thing unthinkable. God would never
degrade me to any choice of my mother's! He knows you for the
very best woman I shall ever have the chance of marrying.
Shall I tell you the sort of woman my mother would like me to
marry? Oh, I know the sort! First, she must be tall and
handsome, with red, fashionable hair, and cool, offhand
manners. She must never look shy or put out, or as if she did
not know what to say. On the contrary, she must know who's
who, and what's what, and never wear a dowdy bonnet, but
always a stunning hat. And she must have a father who can
give her something handsome when she is married. That's my
mother's girl for me. I can't bear to look such a girl in the
face! She makes me ashamed of myself and of her. The sort I
want is one that grows prettier and prettier the more you
love and trust her, and always looks best when she is busiest
doing something for somebody. Yes, she has black hair, black
as the night; and you see the whiteness of her face in the
darkest night. And her eyes, they are blue, oh, as blue as
bits of the very sky at midnight! and they shine and flash
so—just like yours, and nobody else's, my darling."
But here they heard footsteps on the stair—those of
Mrs. Macintosh, hurrying up to surprise them. They guessed
that her husband had just left her, and that she was in a
wild fury; simultaneously they rose and fled. Hector would
have led the way quietly out by the front door; but Annie
turning the other way to pass through the kitchen, Hector at
once turned and followed her. But he had hardly got up with
her before she was safe in her mother's house, and the door
shut behind them. There Hector bade her goodnight, and,
hastening home, found all the lights out, and heard his
father and mother talking in their own room; but what they
said he never knew.
The next morning Annie had hardly done dressing when she
heard a knock at the street-door.
"That'll be Hector, mother," she said. "I'm thinking he'll be
come to have a word with you."
"Annie!" exclaimed her mother, in rebuke of the liberty she
took. "But if you mean young Mr. Macintosh, what on earth can
he want with me?"
"Bide a minute, mother," answered Annie, "and he'll tell you
So Mrs. Melville went to the door and opened it to the young
man, who stood there shy and expectant.
"Mrs. Melville," he said, "I have come to tell you that I
love your Annie, and want to make her my Annie as
well. I am more sorry than I can tell you to confess that I
am not able to marry at once, but please wait a little while
for me. I shall do my best to take you both home with me as
soon as possible."
She looked for a moment silently in his face, then, throwing
her arms round his neck, answered:
"And I wonder who wouldn't be glad to wait for your sweet
face to the very Day of Judgment, sir, when all must have
their own at last."
Therewith she burst into tears, and, turning, led the way to
"Here's your Hector, Annie," she said as she opened the door.
"Take him, and make much of him, for I'm sure he deserves
Then she drew him hastily into the room, and closed the door.
"You see," Hector went on, "I must let you both know that my
mother is dead against my having Annie. She thinks, of
course, that I might do better; but I know she is only far
too good for me, and that I shall be a fortunate as well as
happy man the day we come together. She has already proved
herself as true a woman as ever God made."
"She is that, sir, as I know and can testify, who have known
her longer than anybody else. But sit you down and love each
other, and never mind me; I'll not be a burden to you as long
as I can lift a hand to earn my own bread. And when I'm old
and past work, I'll not be too proud to take whatever you can
spare me, and eat it with thankfulness."
So they sat down, and were soon making merry together.
But nothing could reconcile Mrs. Macintosh to the thought of
Annie for her daughter-in-law; her pride, indignation, and
disappointment were much too great, and they showed
themselves the worse that her husband would not say a word
against either Annie or Hector, who, he insisted, had behaved
very well. He would not go a step beyond confessing that the
thing was not altogether as he could have wished, but upheld
that it contained ground for satisfaction. In vain he called
to his wife's mind the fact that neither she nor he were by
birth or early position so immeasurably above Annie. Nothing
was of any use to calm her; nothing would persuade her that
Annie had not sought their service with the express purpose
of carrying away her son. Her behavior proved, indeed, that
Annie had done prudently in going at once home to her mother,
where presently her late mistress sought and found her;
acting royally the part of one righteously outraged in her
dearest dignity. Her worst enemy could have desired for her
nothing more degrading than to see and hear her. She insisted
that Hector should abjure Annie, or leave the house. Hector
laid the matter before his father. He encouraged him to humor
his mother as much as he could, and linger on, not going
every night to see the girl, in the hope that time might work
some change. But the time passed in bitter reproaches on the
part of the mother, and expostulations on the part of the
son, and there appeared no sign of the amelioration the
father had hoped for. The fact was that Mrs. Macintosh's
natural vulgarity had been so pampered by what she regarded
as wealth, and she had grown so puffed up, that her very
person seemed to hold the door wide for the devil. For
self-importance is perhaps a yet deeper root of all evil than
even the love of money. Any deep, honest affection might have
made it too hot for the devil, but in her heart there was
little room for such a love. She seemed to believe in nothing
but mode and fashion, to care for nothing but what she called
"the thing." She grew in self-bulk, and gathered more and
more weight in her own esteem: she wore yet showier and more
vulgar clothes, and actually cultivated a slang that soon
bade farewell to delicacy, so that she sank and she sank, and
she ate and she drank, until at last she impressed her
good-natured clergyman himself as one but a very little above
the beasts that perish—if, indeed, she was in any
respect equal to a good, conscientious dog! She retained,
however, this much respect for her son, for which that son
gave her little thanks, that by-and-by she limited herself to
ex-pending all her contempt upon Annie, and toward Hector
settled into a dogged silence, where upon he, finding it
impossible to make any progress toward an understanding where
he could not even get a reply, at last gave up the attempt
and became as silent as she.
To poor Annie it was a terrible thought that she should thus
have come between mother and son; but she remembered that she
had read of mothers who without cause had even hated their
own flesh, and how much the more might not she who knew her
ambitions and designs so utterly opposed to the desires of
And thereupon all at once awoke in Annie the motherhood that
lies deepest of all in the heart of every good woman, making
her know in herself that, his mother having forsaken him, she
had no choice but take him up and be to him henceforward both
wife and mother. What remains of my story will perhaps serve
to show how far she succeeded in fulfilling this her vow.
At last Mr. Macintosh saw that things could not thus
continue, and that he had better accept an offer made him
some time before by a London correspondent—to take
Hector into his banking-house and give him the opportunity of
widening his experience and knowledge of business; and
Hector, on his part, was eager to accept the proposal. The
salary offered for his services was certainly not a very
liberal one, but the chief attraction was that the hours were
even shorter than they had been with his father, and would
yet enlarge his liberty of an evening. Hector's delights, as
we have seen, had always lain in literature, and in that
direction the labor in him naturally sought an outlet. Now
there seemed a promise of his being able to pursue it yet
more devotedly than before: who could tell but he might ere
long produce something that people might care to read? Some
publisher might even care to put it in print, and people
might care to buy it! That would start him in a more genuine
way of living, and he might the sooner be able to marry
Annie—an aspiration surely legitimate and not too
ambitious. He had had a good education, and considered
himself to be ably equipped. It was true he had not been to
either Oxford or Cambridge, but he had enjoyed the advantages
possessed by a Scotch university even over an English one,
consisting mainly in the freedom of an unhampered
development. Since then he had read largely, and had
cultivated naturally wide sympathies. As his vehicle for
utterance, we have already seen that he had a great
attraction to verse, and had long held and argued that the
best training for effective prose was exercise in the fetters
of verse—a conviction in which he had lived long enough
to confirm himself, and perhaps one or two besides.
His relations with his mother, and consequent impediments to
seeing Annie, took away the sting of having to part with her
for awhile; and, when he finally closed with the offer, she
at once resumed her application for a place in the High
School, and was soon accepted, for there were not a few in
the town capable of doing justice to her fitness for the
office; so that now she had the joy not merely of being able
to live with her mother as before, and of contributing to her
income, but of knowing at the same time that she lived in a
like atmosphere with Hector, where her growth in the
knowledge of literature, and her experience in the world of
thought, would be gradually fitting her for a companion to
him whom she continued to regard as so much above her. Her
marked receptivity in the matter of verse, and her intrinsic
discrimination of nature and character in it, became in her,
at length, as they grew, sustaining forces, enlarging her
powers both of sympathy and judgment, so that soon she came
to feel, in reading certain of the best writers, as if she
and Hector were looking over the same book together, reading
and pondering it as one, simultaneously seeing what the
writer meant and felt and would have them see and feel. So
that, by the new intervention of space, they were in no sense
or degree separated, but rather brought by it actually, that
is, spiritually, nearer to each other. Also Hector wrote to
her regularly on a certain day of every week, and very rarely
disappointed her of her expected letter, in which he uttered
his thoughts and feelings more freely than he had ever been
able to do in conversation. This also was a gain to her, for
thus she went on to know him better and better, rising
rapidly nearer to his level of intellectual development,
while already she was more than his equal in the moral
development which lies at the root of all capacity for
intellectual growth. So Annie grew, as surely—without
irreverence I may say—in favor both with God and man;
for at the same time she grew constantly in that loveliest of
Nor was Hector left without similar consolation in his life,
although passed apart from Annie. For, not to mention the
growing pleasure that he derived from poring over Annie's
childlike letters—and here I would beg my reader to
note the essential distinction betwixt childish and
childlike—full of the keenest perceptions and the
happiest phrases, he had soon come to make the acquaintance
of a kindred spirit, a man whom, indeed, it took a long time
really to know, but who, being from the first attracted to
him, was soon running down the inclined plane of
acquaintanceship with rapidly increasing velocity toward
something far better than mere acquaintance: nor was there
any check in their steady approach to a thorough knowledge of
each other. He was a slightly older man, with a greater
experience of men, and a good deal wider range of interests,
as could hardly fail to be the case with a Londoner. But the
surprising thing to both of them was that they had so many
feelings in common, giving rise to many judgments and
preferences also in common; so that Hector had now a
companion in whom to find the sympathy necessary to the
ripening of his taste in such a delicate pursuit as that of
verse; and their proclivities being alike, they ran together
like two drops on a pane of glass; whence it came that at
length, in the confident expectation of understanding and
sympathy, Hector found himself submitting to his friend's
judgment the poem he had produced when first grown aware that
he was in love with Annie Melville; although such was his
sensitiveness in the matter of his own productions that
hitherto he had not yet ventured on the experiment with Annie
His new friend read, was delighted; read again, and spoke out
his pleasure; and then first Hector knew the power of
sympathy to double the consciousness of one's own faculty. He
took up again the work he had looked upon as finished, and
went over it afresh with wider eyes, keener judgment, and
clearer purpose; when the result was that, through the
criticisms passed upon it by his friend, and the reflection
of the poem afresh in his own questioning mind, he found many
things that had to be reconsidered; after which he committed
the manuscript, carefully and very legibly re-written, once
more to his friend, who, having read it yet again, was more
thoroughly pleased with it than before, and proposed to
Hector to show it to another friend to whom the ear of a
certain publisher lay open. The favorable judgment of this
second friend was patiently listened to by the publisher, and
his promise given that the manuscript should receive all
On this part of my story there is no occasion to linger; for,
strange thing to tell,—strange, I mean, from the
unlikelihood of its happening,—the poem found the
sympathetic spot in the heart of the publisher, who had
happily not delegated the task to his reader, but read it
himself; and he made Hector the liberal offer to undertake
all the necessary expenses, giving him a fair share of
Stranger yet, the poem was so far a success that the whole
edition, not a large one, was sold, with a result in money
necessarily small but far from unsatisfactory to Hector. At
the publisher's suggestion, this first volume was soon
followed by another; and thus was Hector fairly launched on
the uncertain sea of a literary life; happy in this, that he
was not entirely dependent on literature for his bodily
sustenance, but was in a position otherwise to earn at least
his bread and cheese. For some time longer he continued to
have no experience of the killing necessity of writing for
his daily bread, beneath which so many aspiring spirits sink
prematurely exhausted and withered; this was happily
postponed, for there are as much Providence and mercy in the
orderly arrangement of our trials as in their inevitable
His reception by what is called the public was by no means so
remarkable or triumphant as to give his well-wishers any
ground for anxiety as to its possible moral effect upon him;
but it was a great joy to him that his father was much
interested and delighted in the reception of the poem by the
Reviews in general. He was so much gratified, indeed, that he
immediately wrote to him stating his intention of
supplementing his income by half as much more.
This reflected opinion of others wrought also to the
mollifying of his mother's feelings toward him; but those
with which she regarded Annie they only served to indurate,
as the more revealing the girl's unworthiness of him. And
although at first she regarded with favor her husband's kind
intention toward Hector, she faced entirely round when he
showed her a letter he had from his son thanking him for his
generosity, and communicating his intention of begging Annie
to come to him and be married at once.
Annie was living at home, feeding on Hector's letters, and
strengthened by her mother's sympathy. She was teaching
regularly at the High School, and adding a little to their
common income by giving a few music lessons, as well as
employing her needle in a certain kind of embroidery a good
deal sought after, in which she excelled. She had heard
nothing of his having begun to distinguish himself, neither
had yet seen one of the reviews of his book, for no one had
taken the trouble to show her any of them.
One day, however, as she stood waiting a moment for something
she wanted in the principal bookshop of the town, a little
old lady, rather shabbily dressed, came in, whom she heard
say to the shopman, in a gentle voice, and with the loveliest
"Have you another copy of this new poem by your townsman,
"I am sorry I have not, ma'am," answered the shopman; "but I
can get you one by return of post."
"Do, if you please, and send it me at once. I am very glad to
hear it promises to be a great success. I am sure it quite
deserves it. I have already read it through twice. You may
remember you got me a copy the other day. I cannot help
thinking it an altogether remarkable production, especially
for so young a man. He is quite young, I believe?"
"Yes, ma'am—to have already published a book. But as to
any wonderful success, there is so little sale for poetry
nowadays. I believe the one you had yourself, my lady, is the
only one we have been asked for."
"Much will depend," said the lady, "on whether it finds a
channel of its own soon enough. But get me another copy,
anyhow—and as soon as you can, please. I want to send
it to my daughter. There is matter between those Quaker-like
boards that I have found nowhere else. I want my daughter to
have it, and I cannot part with my own copy," concluded the
old lady, and with the words she walked out of the shop,
leaving Annie bewildered, and with the strange feeling of a
surprise, which yet she had been expecting. For what else but
such success could come to Hector? Had it not been drawing
nearer and nearer all the time? And for a moment she seemed
again to stand, a much younger child than now, amid the gusty
whirling of the dead leaves about her feet, once more on the
point of stooping to pick up what might prove a withered
leaf, but was in reality a pound-note, the thing which had
wrought her so much misery, and was now filling her cup of
joy to the very brim. The book the old lady had talked of
could be no other than Hector's book. No other than Hector
could have written it. What a treasure there was in the world
that she had never seen! How big was it? what was it like?
She was sure to know it the moment her eyes fell upon it. But
why had he never told her about it? He might have wanted to
surprise her, but she was not the least surprised. She had
known it all the time! He had never talked about what he was
writing, and still less would he talk of what he was going to
write. Intentions were not worthy of his beautiful mouth!
Perhaps he did not want her to read it yet. When he did, he
would send her a copy. And, oh! when would her mother be able
to read it? Was it a very dear book? There could be no
thought of their buying it! Between them, she and her mother
could not have shillings enough for that. When the right time
came, he would send it. Then it would be twice as much hers
as if she had bought it for herself.
The next day she met Mr. and Mrs. Macintosh, and the former
actually congratulated her on what Hector had done and what
people thought of him for it; but the latter only gave a
sniff. And the next post brought the book itself, and with it
a petition from Hector that she would fix the day to join him
Annie made haste, therefore, to get ready the dress of white
linen in which she meant to be married, and a lady, the
sister of Hector's friend, meeting her in London, they were
married the next day, and went together to Hector's humble
lodgings in a northern suburb.
Hector's new volume, larger somewhat, but made up of smaller
poems, did not attract the same amount of attention as the
former, and the result gave no encouragement to the publisher
to make a third venture. One reason possibly was that the
subjects of most of the poems, even the gayest of them, were
serious, and another may have been that the common tribe of
reviewers, searching like other parasites, discovered in them
material for ridicule—which to them meant food, and as
such they made use of it. At the same time he was not left
without friends: certain of his readers, who saw what he
meant and cared to understand it, continued his readers; and
his influence on such was slowly growing, while those that
admired, feeling the power of his work, held by him the more
when the scoffers at him grew insolent. Still, few copies
were sold, and Hector found it well that he had other work
and was not altogether dependent on his pen, which would have
been simple starvation. And, from the first, Annie was most
careful in her expenditure.
Among the simple people whom husband brought her to know, she
speedily became a great favorite, and this circle widened
more rapidly after she joined it. For her simple truth, which
even to Hector had occasionally seemed some what overdriven,
now revealed itself as the ground of her growing popularity.
She welcomed all, was faithful to all, and sympathetic with
all. Nor was it longer before her husband began to study her
in order to understand her—and that the more that he
could find in her neither plan nor system, nothing but
straightforward, foldless simplicity. Nor did she ever come
to believe less in the foreseeing care of God. She ceased
perhaps to attribute so much to the ministry of the angels as
when she took the fiercer blast that rescued from the flames
the greasy note and blew it uncharred up the roaring chimney
for the sudden waft of an angel's wing; but she came to meet
them oftener in daily life, clothed in human form, though
still they were rare indeed, and often, like the angel that
revealed himself to Manoah, disappeared upon recognition.
By-and-by it seemed certain that, if ever Hector had had
anything of what the world counts success, it had now come to
a pause. For a long time he wrote nothing that, had it been
published, could have produced any impression like that of
his first book; it seemed as if the first had forestalled the
success of those that should follow. That had been of a new
sort, and the so-called Public, innocent little
personification, was not yet grown ready for anything more of
a similar kind, which, indeed, seemed to lack elements of
attraction and interest; and the readers to whom the same man
will tell even new things are apt to grow weary of his mode
of saying, even though that mode have improved in directness
and force; the tide of his small repute had already begun to
take the other direction. Those who understood and prized his
work, still holding by him, and declaring that they found in
him what they found in no other writer, remained stanch in
their friendship, and among them the little old lady who had
at once welcomed his first poem to her heart and whose name
and position were now well known to Hector. But the
reviewers, seeming to have forgotten their first favorable
reception of him, now began to find nothing but faults in his
work, pointing out only what they judged ill contrived and
worse executed in his conceptions, and that in a tone to
convey the impression that he had somehow wheedled certain of
them into their former friendly utterances concerning him.
And about the same time it so happened that business began to
fall away rapidly from the bank of which his father held the
chief country agency, so that he was no longer able to
continue to Hector his former subsidy, the announcement of
which discouraging fact was accompanied by a lecture on the
desirableness of a change in his choice of subject as well as
in his style; if he continued to write as he had been doing
of late, no one would be left, his father said, to read what
And now it began to be evident what a happy thing it was for
Hector that Annie was now at his side to help him. For, as
his courage sank, and he saw Annie began to feel straitened
in her housekeeping, he saw also how her courage arose and
shone. But he grew more and more discouraged, until it was
all that Annie could do to hold him back from despair. At
length, however, she began to feel that possibly there might
be some truth in what his father had written to him, and a
new departure ought to be attempted. She could not herself
believe that her husband was limited to any style or subject
for the embodiment of his thoughts; he who had written so
well in one fashion might write at least well, if not as
well, in another! Had she not heard him say that verse was
the best practice for writing prose?
Gently, therefore, and cautiously she approached the matter
with him, only to find at first, as she had expected, that he
but recoiled from the suggestion with increase of
discouragement. Still, taking no delight in obstinacy, and
feeling the necessity of some fresh attempt grow daily more
pressing, he turned his brains about, and sending them
foraging, at length bethought him of a certain old Highland
legend with which at one time he had been a good deal taken,
from the discovery in it of certain symbolical possibilities.
This legend he proceeded to rewrite and remodel, doing his
best endeavor to preserve in it the old Celtic aroma and
aerial suggestion, while taking care neither to lose nor
reproduce too manifestly its half-apparent, still evanishing
symbolism. Urged by fear and enfeebled by doubt, he wrote
feverously, and, after three days of laborious and unnatural
toil, submitted the result to Annie, who was now his only
representative of the outer world, and the only person for
whose criticism he seemed now to care. She, greatly in doubt
of her own judgment, submitted it to his friend; and together
they agreed on this verdict: That, while it certainly proved
he could write as well in prose as in verse, people would not
be attracted by it, and that it would be found lacking in
human interest. His friend saw in it also too much of the
Celtic tendency to the mystical and allegorical, as
distinguished from the factual and storial.
Upon learning this their decision, poor Hector fell once more
into a state of great discouragement, not feeling in him the
least power of adopting another way; there seemed to him but
one mode, the way things came to him. And in this surely he
was right—only might not things come, or be sent to him
in some other way? His friend suggested that he might,
changing the outward occurrences, and the description of the
persons to whom they happened, in such fashion that there
could be no identification of them, tell the very tale of how
Annie and he came to know and love each other, taking
especial care to muffle up to shapelessness, or at least
featurelessness, the part his mother had taken in their
story. This seeming to Hector a thing possible, he took
courage, and set about it at once, gathering interest as he
proceeded, and writing faster and faster as he grew in hope
of success. At the same time it was not favorable to the
result that he felt constantly behind him, the darkly
lowering necessity that, urging him on, yet debilitated every
motion of the generating spirit.
It took him a long time to get the story into a condition
that he dared to consider even passable; and the longer that
he had not the delight that verse would have brought with it
in the process of its production. Nevertheless he would now
and then come to a passage in writing which the old emotion
would seem to revive; but in reading these, Annie, modest and
doubtful as she always was of her own judgment, especially
where her husband's work was concerned, seemed to recognize a
certain element of excitement that gave it a glow, or rather,
glamour of unreality, or rather, unnaturalness, which
affected her as inharmonious, therefore unfit, or out of
place. She thought it better, however, to say little or
nothing of any such paragraph, and tried to regard it as of
small significance, and probably carrying little influence in
respect of the final judgment.
The narrative, such as it might prove, was at length
finished, and had been read, at least with pleasure and hope,
by his friend, who was still the only critic on whose
judgment he dared depend, for he could not help regarding
Annie as prejudiced in his favor, although her approval
continued for him absolutely essential. The sole portions to
which his friend took any exception were the same concerning
which Annie had already doubted, and which he found too
poetical in their tone—not, he took care to say, in
their meaning, for that could not be too poetical, but in
their expression, which must impinge too sharply upon prosaic
ears that cared only for the narrative, and would recoil from
any reflection, however just in itself, that might be woven
But, alas, now came what Hector felt the last and final blow
to the possibility of farther endeavor in the way of
The bank to which Hector had been introduced by his father,
and in which he had been employed ever since, had of late
found it necessary to look more closely to its outlay and
reduce its expenses; therefore, believing that Hector had
abundance of other resources, its managers decided on giving
him notice first of all that they must in future deprive
themselves of the pleasure of his services. And this
announcement came at a time when Annie was already in no
small difficulty to make the ends of her expenditure meet
those of her income. In fact, she had no longer any income.
For a considerable time she had, by the stinting of what had
before that seemed necessities, been making a shilling do the
work of eighteenpence, and now she knew nothing beyond,
except to go without. But how allow Hector to go without? He
must die if she did! Already he had begun to shrink in his
clothes from lack of proper nourishment.
A rumor reaching him of a certain post as librarian, in the
gift of an old corporation, being vacant, Hector at once made
application for it, but only to receive the answer that
Pegasus must not be put in harness: poor Pegasus, on a false
pretense of respect, must be kept out of the shafts! His fat
friends would not permit him to degrade himself earning his
bread by work he could have done very well; he must rather
starve! He tried for many posts, one after the other. Heavier
and heavier fell upon him each following disappointment.
Annie had in her heart been greatly disappointed that no
prospect appeared of a child to sanctify their union; but for
that she had learned more than to console herself with the
reflection that at least there was no such heavenly visitor
for whose earthly sojourn to provide; and now how gladly
would she have labored for the child in the hope that such a
joy and companionship might lift him up out of his
despondency! Then he would be able to enjoy and assimilate
the poor food she was able to get for him. It is true he
always seemed quite content; but, then, he would often, she
believed, pretend not to be hungry, and certainly ate less
and less. Hitherto she had fought with all her might against
running in debt to the tradespeople, for, more than all else,
she feared debt. Now, at last, however, her resolution was in
danger of giving way, when, happily, Hector bethought himself
of his precious books; to what better use could he put them
than sell them to buy food—wherein the books he had
written had failed him? Parcel by parcel in a leather strap,
he carried them to the nearest secondhand bookseller, where
he had so often bought; now he wanted to sell, but,
unhappily, he soon found that books, like many other things,
are worth much less to the seller than to the buyer, and
where Hector had calculated on pounds, only shillings were
forthcoming. Yet by their sale, notwithstanding, they managed
to keep a little longer out of debt.
And in these days Annie had at length finished her fair copy
of Hector's last book, writing it out in her own lovelily
legible hand—not such as ladies in general count
legible, because they can easily read it themselves; she
could do better than that, she could write so that others
could not fail to read. For Hector had always believed that
the acceptance of his first volume had been owing not a
little to the fact that he had written it out most legibly,
and he held that what reveals itself at once and without
possibility of mistake may justly hope for a better reception
than what from the first moment annoys the reader with a
sense of ill-treatment. It is no wonder, he said, if such a
manuscript be at once tossed aside with an imprecation.
Legibility is the first and intelligibility the only other
thing rendered due by the submission of a manuscript to any
Hector spent a day or two in remodeling and modifying the
passages remarked upon by his wife and his friend, and then,
with hope reviving in both their hearts, the manuscript was
sent in, acknowledged, and the day appointed when an answer
would be ready.
Upon a certain dark morning, therefore, in November, having
nothing else whatever to do, Hector set out in his much-worn
Inverness cape to call upon his former publisher in the City,
with whom of late he had had no communication. The weather
was cold and damp, threatening rain. But Hector was too much
of a Scotchman to care about weather, and too full of anxiety
to mind either cold or wet. He had, indeed, almost always
felt gloomy weather exciting rather than depressing. For one
thing, it seemed, when he was indoors, to close him about
with protection from uncongenial interruption, leaving the
freer his inventive faculty; and now that he was abroad in
it, and no inventive faculty left awake, it seemed to clothe
him with congenial sympathy, for the weather was just the
same inside him. And now, as he strode along with his eyes on
the ground, he scarcely saw any of the objects about him, but
sought only the heart of the City, where he hoped to find the
publisher in his office, ready to print his manuscript, and
advance him a small sum in anticipation of possible profit.
So absorbed was he in thought undefined, and so sunk in
anxiety as to the answer he was about to receive, that more
than once he was nearly run over by the cart of some reckless
tradesman—seeming to him, in its over-taking
suddenness, the type of prophetic fate already at his heels.
At length, however, he arrived safe in the outer shop, where
the books of the firm were exposed to sight, in process of
being subscribed for by the trade. There a pert young man
asked him to take a seat, while he carried his name to the
publisher, and there for some time he waited, reading titles
he found himself unable to lay hold of; and there, while he
waited, the threatened rain began, and, ere he was admitted
to the inner premises, such a black deluge came pouring down
as, for blackness at least, comes down nowhere save in
London. With this accompaniment, he was ushered at length
into a dingy office, deep in the recesses of the house, where
a young man whom he saw for the first time had evidently,
while Hector waited in the shop, been glancing at the
manuscript he had left. Little as he could have read,
however, it had been enough, aided perhaps by the weather, to
bring him to an unfavorable decision; his rejection was
precise and definite, leaving no room for Hector to say
anything, for he did not seem ever to have heard of him
before. Hector rose at once, gathered up his papers from the
table where they lay scattered, said "Good-morning," and went
out into the sooty rain.
Not knowing whitherward to point his foot, he stopped at the
corner of King William Street, close to the money-shops of
the old Lombards, and there stood still, in vain endeavor to
realize the blow that had stunned him. There he stood and
stood, with bowed head, like an outcast beggar, watching the
rain that dropped black from the rim of his saturated hat.
Becoming suddenly conscious, however, that the few wayfarers
glanced somewhat curiously at him as they passed, he started
to walk on, not knowing whither, but trying to look as if he
had a purpose somewhere inside him, whereas he had still a
question to settle—whether to buy a bun, and, on the
strength of that, walk home, or spend his few remaining pence
on an omnibus, as far as it would take him for the money, and
walk the rest of the way.
Then, suddenly, as if out of the depths of despair, arose in
him an assurance of help on the way to him, and with it a
strength to look in the face the worst that could befall him;
he might at least starve in patience. Therewith he drew
himself up, crossed the street to the corner of the Mansion
House, and got into an omnibus waiting there.
If only he could creep into his grave and have done! Why
should that hostelry of refuge stand always shut? Surely he
was but walking in his own funeral! Were not the mourners
already going about the street before ever the silver cord
was loosed or the golden bowl broken? Might he not now at
length feel at liberty to end the life he had ceased to
value? But there was Annie! He would go home to her; she
would comfort him—yes, she would die with him! There
was no other escape; there was no sign of coming deliverance.
All was black within and around them. That was the rain on
the gravestones. He was in a hearse, on his way to the
churchyard. There the mourners were already gathered. They
were before him, waiting his arrival. No! He would go home to
Annie! He would not be a coward soldier! He would not kill
himself to escape the enemy! He would stand up to the Evil
One, and take his blows without flinching. He and his Annie
would take them together, and fight to the last. Then, if
they must die, it was well, and would be better.
But alas! what if the obligation of a live soul went farther
than this life? What if a man was bound, by the fact that he
lived, to live on, and do everything possible to keep the
life alive in him? There his heart sank, and the depths of
the sea covered it! Did God require of him that, sooner than
die, he should beg the food to keep him alive? Would he be
guilty of forsaking his post, if he but refused to ask, and
waited for Death? Was he bound to beg? If he was, he must
begin at once by refusing to accept the smallest credit! To
all they must tell the truth of their circumstances, and
refuse aught but charity. But was there not something yet he
could try before begging? He had had a good education, had
both knowledge and the power of imparting it; this was still
worth money in the world's market. And doubtless therein his
friend could do something for him.
Therewithal his new dread was gone; one possibility was yet
left him in store! To his wife he must go, and talk the thing
over with her. He had still, he believed, threepence in his
pocket to pay for the omnibus.
It began to move; and then first, waking up, he saw that he
had seated himself between a poor woman and a little girl,
evidently her daughter.
"I am very sorry to incommode you, ma'am," he said
apologetically to the white-faced woman, whose little tartan
shawl scarcely covered her shoulders, painfully conscious of
his dripping condition, as he took off his hat, and laid it
on the floor between his equally soaking feet. But, instead
of moving away from him to a drier position beyond, the
woman, with a feeble smile, moved closer up to him, saying to
her daughter on his other side:
"Sit closer to the gentleman, Jessie, and help to keep him
warm. She's quite clean, sir," she added. "We have plenty of
water in our place, and I gave her a bath myself this
morning, because we were going to the hospital to see my
husband. He had a bad accident yesterday, but thank God! not
so bad as it might have been. I'm afraid you're feeling very
cold, sir," she added, for Hector had just given an
"My husband he's a bricklayer," she went on; "he has been in
good work, and I have a few shillings in hand, thank God!
Times are sure to mend, for they seldom turns out so bad as
Involuntarily Hector's hand moved to his trouser pocket, but
dropped by his side as he remembered the fare. She saw his
movement, and broke into a sad little laugh.
"Don't mistake me, sir," she resumed. "I told you true when I
said I wasn't without money; and, before the pinch comes,
wages, I dare say, will show their color again. Besides, our
week's rent is paid. And he's in good quarters, poor fellow,
though with a bad pain to keep him company, I'm afraid."
"Where do you live?" asked Hector "But," he went on, "why
should I ask? I am as poor as you—poorer, perhaps, for
I have no trade to fall back upon. But I have a good wife
like you, and I don't doubt she'll think of something."
"Trust to that, sir! A good woman like I'm sure she is 'll be
sure to think of many a thing before she'll give in. My
husband, he was brought up to religion, and he always says
there's one as know's and don't forget." But now the omnibus
had reached the spot where Hector must leave it. He got up,
fumbling for his threepenny-piece, but failed to find it.
"Don't forget your hat, sir; it'll come all right when it's
dry," said the woman, as she handed it to him. But he stood,
the conductor waiting, and seemed unable to take it from her:
he could not find the little coin!
"There, there, sir!" interposed the woman, as she made haste
and handed him three coppers; "I have plenty for both of us,
and wish for your sake it was a hundred times as much. Take
it, sir," she insisted, while Hector yet hesitated and
fumbled; "you won't refuse such a small service from another
of God's creatures! I mean it well."
But the conductor, apparently affected with the same
generosity, pushed back the woman's hand, saying, "No, no,
ma'am, thank you! The gentleman 'll pay me another day."
Hector pulled out an old silver watch, and offered it.
"I cannot be so sure about that," he said. "Better take this:
it's of little use to me now."
"I'll be damned if I do!" cried the conductor fiercely, and
down he jumped and stood ready to help Hector from the
But his kindness was more than Hector could stand; he walked
away, unable to thank him.
"I wonder now," muttered the conductor to himself when Hector
was gone, "if that was a put-up job between him and the
woman? I don't think so. Anyhow, it's no great loss to
anybody. I won't put it down; the company 'll have to cover
Hector turned down a street that led westward, drying his
eyes, and winking hard to make them swallow the tears which
sought to hide from him a spectacle that was calling aloud to
be seen. For lo! the street-end was filled with the glory of
a magnificent rainbow. All across its opening stretched and
stood the wide arch of a wonderful rainbow. Hector could not
see the sun; he saw only what it was making; and the old
story came back to him, how the men of ancient time took the
heavenly bow for a promise that there should no more be such
a flood as again to destroy the world. And therefore even now
the poets called the rainbow the bow of hope.
Nor, even in these days of question and unbelief, is it
matter of wonder that, at sight of the harmony of blended and
mingling, yet always individual, and never confused colors,
and notwithstanding his knowledge of optics, and of how the
supreme unity of the light was secerned into its decreed
chord, the imaginative faith of the troubled poet should so
work in him as to lift his head for a moment above the waters
of that other flood that threatened to overwhelm his
microcosm, and the bow should seem to him a new promise,
given to him then and individually, of the faithfulness of an
unseen Power of whom he had been assured, by one whom he
dared not doubt, that He numbered the very hairs of his head.
Once more his spirit rose upon the wave of a hope which he
could neither logically justify nor dare to refuse; for hope
is hope whencesoever it spring, and needs no justification of
its self-existence or of its sudden marvelous birth. The very
hope was in itself enough for itself. And now he was near his
home; his Annie was waiting for him; and in another instant
his misery would be shared and comforted by her! He was
walking toward the wonder-sign in the heavens. But even as he
walked with it full in view, he saw it gradually fade and
dissolve into the sky, until not a thread of its loveliness
remained to show where it had spanned the infinite with its
promise of good. And yet, was not the sky itself a better
thing, and the promise of a yet greater good? He must walk
onward yet, in tireless hope! And the resolve itself
endured—or fading, revived, and came again, and ever
For ere he had passed the few yards that lay between him and
Annie yet another wonder befell: as if the rainbow had
condensed, and taken shape as it melted away, there on the
pathway, in the thickening twilight of the swift-descending
November night, stood a creature, surely not of the night,
but rather of the early morn, a lovely little
child—whether wandered from the open door of some
neighboring house, or left by the vanished rainbow, how was
he to tell? Endeavoring afterward to recall every point of
her appearance, he could remember nothing of her feet, or
even of the frock she wore. Only her face remained to him,
with its cerulean eyes—the eyes of Annie, looking up
from under the cloud of her dark hair, which also was
Annie's. She looked then as she stood, in his memory of her,
as if she were saying, "I trust in you; will you not trust in
Him who made the rainbow?" For a moment he seemed to stand
regarding her, but even while he looked he must have
forgotten that she was there before him, for when again he
knew that he saw her, though he did not seem ever to have
looked away from her, she had changed in the gathering
darkness to the phantasm of a daisy, which still gazed up in
his face trustingly, and, indeed, went with him to his own
door, seeming all the time to say, "It was no child; it was
me you saw, and nothing but me; only I saw the sun—I
mean, the man that was making the rainbow." And never more
could he in his mind separate the child, whom I cannot but
think he had verily seen, from the daisy which certainly he
had not seen, except in the atmosphere of his troubled and
It may help my reader to understand its confusion if I recall
to him the fact that Hector had that day eaten nothing. Nor
must my wife reader think hardly of Annie for having let him
leave the house without any food, for he had stolen softly
away, and closed the door as softly behind him, thinking how
merrily they would eat together when he came back with his
good news. And now he was bringing nothing to her but the
story of a poor woman and her child who had warmed him, and
of an omnibus-conductor who had trusted him for his fare, and
of a rainbow and a child and a daisy.
"Oh, you naughty, naughty dear!" cried Annie, as she threw
herself into his arms, rejoicing. But at sight of his worn
and pallid face the smile faded from hers, and she thought,
"What can have befallen him?"
His lip quivered, and, seeking with a watery smile to
reassure her, he gave way and burst into tears. Unmanly of
him, no doubt, but what is a man to do when he cannot help
it? And where is a man to weep if not on his wife's bosom?
Call this behavior un-English, if you will; for, indeed,
Hector was in many ways other than English, and, I protest,
English ways are not all human. But I will not allow that it
manifested any weakness, or necessarily involved shame to
him; the best of men, and the strongest—yea, the one
Man whose soul harbored not an atom of self-pity—upon
one occasion wept, I think because he could not persuade the
women whom he loved and would fain console to take comfort in
his Father. Annie, for one reverent moment, turned her head
aside, then threw her arms about him, and hid her glowing
face in his bosom.
"There's only me in the house, dear," she said, and led the
way to their room.
When they reached it, she closed the door, and turned to him.
"So they won't take your story?" she said, assuming the fact,
with a sad, sunny smile.
"They refused it absolutely."
"Well, never mind! I shall go out charing to-morrow. You have
no notion how strong I am. It is well for you I have never
wanted to beat you. Seriously, I believe I am much stronger
than you have the least notion of. There! Feel that
arm—I should let you feel it another way, only I am
afraid of hurting you."
She had turned up the sleeve of her dress, and uncovered a
grandly developed arm, white as milk, and blossoming in a
large, splendidly formed hand. Then playfully, but oh! so
tenderly, with the under and softest part of her arm she
fondled his face, rubbing it over first one, then the other
cheek, and ended with both arms round his neck, her hands
folding his head to her bosom.
"Wife! wife!" faltered Hector, with difficulty controlling
himself; "my strong, beautiful wife! To think of your
marrying me for this!"
"Hector," answered Annie, drawing herself back with dignity,
"do you dare to pity me? That would be to insult me! As if I
was not fit to be your wife when doing everything for
my mother! There are thousands of Scotch girls that would
only be proud to take my place, poor as you are—and you
couldn't be much poorer—and serve you, without being
your wife, as I have the honor and pride to be! But, my
blessed man, I do believe you have eaten nothing to-day; and
here am I fancying myself your wife, and letting you stand
there empty, instead of bestirring myself to get you some
supper! What a shame! Why, you are actually dying with
hunger!" she cried, searching his face with pitiful eyes.
"On the contrary, I am not in the least hungry," protested
"Then you must be hungry at once, sir. I will go and bring
you something the very sight of which will make you hungry."
"But you have no money, Annie; and, not being able to pay, we
must go without. Come, we will go to bed." "Yes, I am ready;
I had a good breakfast. But you have had nothing all day. And
for money, do you know Miss Hamper, the dressmaker, actually
offered to lend me a shilling, and I took it. Here it is. You
see, I was so sure you would bring money home that I thought
we might run that much farther into debt. So I got you
two fresh eggs and such a lovely little white loaf. Besides,
I have just thought of something else we could get a little
money for—that dainty chemise my mother made for me
with her own hands when we were going to be married. I will
take it to the pawnbroker to-morrow."
"I was never in a pawnshop, Annie. I don't think I should
know how to set about it."
"You!" cried Annie, with a touch of scorn. "Do you
think I would trust a man with it? No; that's a woman's work.
Why, you would let the fellow offer you half it was
worth—and you would take it too. I shall show it to
Mrs. Whitmore: she will know what I ought to get for
it. She's had to do the thing herself—too often, poor
"It would be like tearing my heart out."
"What! to part with my pretty chemise. Hector, dear, you must
not be foolish! What does it matter, so long as we are not
cheating anybody? The pawnshop is a most honorable and useful
institution. No one is the worse for it, and many a one the
better. Even the tradespeople will be a trifle the better. I
shall be quite proud to know that I have a pawn-ticket in my
pocket to fall back upon. Oh, there's that old silk dress
your mother sent me—I do believe that would bring more.
It is in good condition, and looks quite respectable. If Eve
had got into a scrape like ours, she would have been
helpless, poor thing, not having anything to put
away—that is the right word, I believe. There is
really nothing disgraceful about it. Come now, dear, and eat
your eggs—I'm afraid you must do without butter. I
always preferred a piece of dry bread with an egg—you
get the true taste of the egg so much better. One day or
another we must part with everything. It is sure to come.
Sooner or later, what does that matter? 'The readiness is
all,' as Hamlet says. Death, or the pawnshop, signifies
nothing. 'Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is
it to leave betimes?' We do but forestall the grave for one
brief hour with the pawnshop."
"You deserve to have married Epictetus, Annie, you brave
woman, instead of Xantippe!"
"I prefer you, Hector."
"But what might you have said if he had asked you, and you
had heard me bemoaning the pawnshop?"
"Ah, then, indeed! But, in the meantime, we will go to bed
and wait there for to-morrow. Is it not a lovely thing to
know that God is thinking about you? He will bring us to
our desired haven, Hector, dearest!"
So in their sadness they laid them down. Annie opened her
arms and took Hector to her bosom. There he sighed himself to
sleep; and God put His arms about them both, and kept them
asleep until the morning.
And in this love, more than in bed, I rest.
Annie was the first to spring up and begin to dress herself,
pondering in her mind as she did so whether to go first to
the pawnbroker's or to the baker, to ask him to recommend her
as a charwoman. She would tell him just the truth—that
she must in future work for her daily bread. Then Hector rose
and dressed himself.
"Oh, Annie!" he said, as he did so, "is it gone, that awful
misery of last night in the omnibus? It seemed, as I jolted
along, as if God had forgotten one of the creatures he had
made, and that one was me; or, worse, that he thought of me,
and would not move to help me! And why do I feel now as if He
had help for me somewhere near waiting for me? I think I will
go and see a man who lives somewhere close by, and find out
if he is the same I used to know at St. Andrews; if he be the
same, he may know of something I could try for."
"Do," replied Annie. "I will go with you, and on the way call
at the grocer's—I think he will be the best to ask if
he knows of any family that wants a charwoman or could give
me any sort of work. There's more than one kind of thing I
could turn my hand to—needle-work, for instance. I
could make a child's frock as well, I believe, as a
second-rate dressmaker. Can you tell me who was the first
tailor, Hector? It was God himself. He made coats of skins
for Adam and his wife."
"Quite right, dear. You may well try your hand—as I
know you have done many a time already. And, if I can get
hold of ever so young a pupil, I shall be glad even to teach
him his letters. We must try anything and everything. We are
long past being fastidious, I hope."
He turned and went on with his toilet.
"Oh, Hector," said Annie suddenly, and walked to the
mantelpiece, "I am so sorry! Here is a letter that came for
you yesterday. I did not care to open it, though you have
often told me to open any letters I pleased. The fact is, I
forgot all about it; I believe, because I was so unhappy at
your going away without breakfast. Or perhaps it was that I
was frightened at its black border. I really can't tell now
why I did not open it."
With little interest and less hope, Hector took the
letter,—black-bordered and black-sealed,—opened
it, and glanced carelessly at the signature, while Annie
stood looking at him, in the hope merely that he would find
in it no fresh trouble—some forgotten bill perhaps!
She saw his face change, and his eyes grow fixed. A moment
more and the letter dropped in the fender. He stood an
instant, then fell on his knees, and threw up his hands.
"What is it, darling?" she cried, beginning to tremble.
"Only five hundred pounds!" he answered, and burst into an
"Impossible!" cried Annie.
"Who can have played us such a cruel trick?" said
"It's no trick, Hector!" exclaimed Annie. "There's nobody
would have the heart to do it. Let me see the letter."
She almost caught it from his hands as he picked it from the
fender, and looked at the signature.
"Hale & Hale?" she read. "I never heard of them!"
"No, nor anyone else, I dare say," answered Hector.
"Let us see the address at the top," said Annie.
"There it is—Philpot Lane."
"Where is that? I don't believe there is such a place!"
"Oh, yes, there is; I've seen it—somewhere in the City,
I believe. But let us read the letter. I saw only the
figures. I confess I was foolish enough at first to fancy
somebody had sent us five hundred pounds!"
"And why not?" cried Annie. "I am sure there's no one more in
want of it."
"That's just why not," answered Hector. "Did you ever know a
rich man leave his money to a poor relation? Oh, I hope it
does not mean that my father is gone. He may have left us a
trifle. Only he could not have had so much to leave to
anybody. I know he loved you, Annie."
In the meantime Annie had been doing the one sensible
thing—reading the letter, and now she stood pondering
"I have it, Hector. He always uses good people to do his
kindnesses. Don't you remember me telling you about the
little old lady in Graham's shop the time your book came
"Yes, Annie; I wasn't likely to forget that; it was my love
for you that made me able to write the poem. Ah, but how soon
was the twenty pounds I got for it spent, though I thought it
"So it was—and so it is!" cried Annie, half laughing,
but crying outright. "It's just that same little old lady.
She was so delighted with the book, and with you for writing
it, that she put you down at once in her will for five
hundred pounds, believing it would help people to trust in
"And here was I distrusting so much that I was nearly ready
to kill myself. Only I thought it would be such a terrible
shock to you, my precious! It would have been to tell God to
his face that I knew he would not help me. I am sure now that
he is never forgetting, though he seems to have forgotten.
There was that letter lying in the dark through all the hours
of the long night, while we slept in the weariness of sorrow
and fear, not knowing what the light was bringing us. God is
"Let us go and see these people and make sure," said Annie.
"'Hale and Hearty,' do they call themselves? But I'm going
with you myself this time! I'm not going to have such another
day as I had yesterday—waiting for you till the sun was
down, and all was dark, you bad man!—and fancying all
manner of terrible things! I wonder—I wonder,
"Well, what do you wonder, Annie?"
"Only whether, if now we were to find out it was indeed all a
mistake, I should yet be able to hope on through all the
rest. I doubt it; I doubt it! Oh, Hector, you have taught me
"More, it seems, than I have myself learned. Your mother had
already taught you far more than ever I had to give you!"
"But it is much too early yet, I fear, to call in the City,"
said Annie. "Don't you think we should have time first to
find out whether the gentleman we were thinking of inquiring
after to-day be your old college friend or not? And I will
call at the grocer's, and tell him we hope to settle his bill
in a few days. Then you can come to me, and I will go to you,
and we shall meet somewhere between."
They did as Annie propose; and before they met, Hector had
found his friend, and been heartily received both by him and
by his young wife.
When at length they reached Philpot Lane, and were seated in
an outer room waiting for admission, Annie said: "Surely, if
rich people knew how some they do not know need their help,
they would be a little more eager to feather their wings ere
they fly aloft by making friends with the Mammon of
unrighteousness. Don't you think it may be sometimes that
they are afraid of doing harm with their money?"
"I'm afraid it is more that they never think what our Lord
meant when he said the words. But oh, Annie! is it a bad sign
of me that the very possibility of this money could make me
They were admitted at length, and kindly received by a
gray-haired old man, who warned them not to fancy so much
money would last them very long.
"Indeed, sir," answered Annie, "the best thing we expect from
it is that it will put my husband in good heart to begin
"Oh! your husband writes books, does he? Then I begin to
understand my late client's will. It is just like her," said
the old gentleman. "Had you known her long?"
"I never once saw her," said Hector.
"But I did," said Annie, "and I heard her say how delighted
she was with his first book. Please, sir," she added, "will
it be long before you can let us have the money?"
"You shall have it by-and-by," answered the lawyer; "all in
And now first they learned that not a penny of the money
would they receive before the end of a twelvemonth.
"Well, that will give us plenty of time to die first,"
thought Hector, "which I am sure the kind lady did not intend
when she left us the money."
Another thing they learned was that, even then, they would
not receive the whole of the money left them, for seeing they
could claim no relation to the legator, ten per cent must be
deducted from their legacy. If they came to him in a year
from the date of her death, he told them he would have much
pleasure in handing them the sum of four hundred and fifty
So they left the office—not very exultant, for they
were both rather hungry, and had to go at once in search of
work—with but a poor chance of borrowing upon it.
Nevertheless, Hector broke the silence by saying:
"I declare, Annie, I feel so light and free already that I
could invent anything, even a fairy tale, and I feel as if it
would be a lovely one. I hope you have a penny left to buy a
new bottle of ink. The ink at home is so thick it takes three
strokes to one mark."
"Yes, dear, I have a penny; I have two, indeed—just
twopence left. We shall buy a bottle of ink with one,
and—shall it be a bun with the other? I think one penny
bun will divide better than two halfpenny ones."
"Very well. Only, mind, I'm to divide it. But, do you
know, I've been thinking," said Hector, "whether we might not
take a holiday on the strength of our expectations, for we
shall have so long to wait for the money that I think we may
truly say we have great expectations."
"I think we should do better," answered Annie, "to go back to
your old friend, Mr. Gillespie, and tell him of our
good-fortune, and see whether he can suggest anything for us
to do in the meantime."
Hector agreed, and together they sought the terrace where Mr.
and Mrs. Gillespie lived, who were much interested in their
story; and then first they learned that the lady was at least
well enough off to be able to help them, and, when they left,
she would have Annie take with her a dozen of her
handkerchiefs, to embroider with her initials and crest; but
Annie begged to be allowed to take only one, that Mrs.
Gillespie might first see how she liked her work.
"For, then, you see," she said to her husband, as they went
home, "I shall be able to take it back to her this very
evening and ask her for the half-crown she offered me for
doing it, which I should not have had the face to do with
eleven more of them still in my possession. I have no doubt
of her being satisfied with my work; and in a week I shall
have finished the half of them, and we shall be getting on
Throughout the winter Hector wrote steadily every night, and
every night Annie sat by his side and
embroidered—though her embroidery was not
for other people. Many a time in after years did their
thoughts go back to that period as the type of the happy life
they were having together.
The next time Hector went to see Mr. Gillespie, that
gentleman suggested that he should give a course of lectures
to ladies upon English Poetry, beginning with the Anglo-Saxon
poets, of whom Gillespie said he knew nothing, but would be
glad to learn a great deal. He knew also, he said, some
ladies in the neighborhood willing to pay a guinea each for a
course of, say, half-a-dozen such lectures. They would not
cost Hector much time to prepare, and would at once bring in
a little money. Coleridge himself, he suggested, had done
that kind of thing.
"Yes," said Hector, "but he was Coleridge. I have nothing to
say worth saying."
"Leave your hearers to judge of that," returned Gillespie.
"Do your best, and take your chance. I promise you two pupils
at least not over-critical—my wife and myself. It is
amazing how little those even who imagine they love it know
about English poetry."
"But where should I find a room?" Hector still objected.
"Would not this drawing room do?" asked his friend.
"Splendidly!" answered Hector. "But what will Mrs. Gillespie
say to it?"
"She and I are generally of one mind—about people, at
"Then I will go home at once and set about finding what to
"And I will go out at once and begin hunting you up an
Gillespie succeeded even better than he had anticipated; and
there was at the first lecture a very fair gathering indeed.
When it was over, the one that knew most of the subject was
the young lecturer's wife. The first course was followed by
two more, the third at the request of almost all his hearers.
And the result; was that, before the legacy fell due, Annie
had paid all their debts and had not contracted a single new
But when the happy day dawned Annie was not able to go with
her husband to receive the money; neither did Hector wish
that she had been able, for he was glad to go alone. By her
side lay a lovely woman-child peacefully asleep. Hector
declared her the very image of the child the rainbow left
behind as it vanished.
One day, when the mother was a little stronger, she called
Hector to her bedside, and playfully claimed the right to be
the child's godmother, and to give it her name.
"And who else can have so good a right?" answered Hector. Yet
he wondered just a little that Annie should want the child
named after herself, and not after her mother.
But when the time for the child's baptism came, Annie, who
would hold the little one herself, whispered in the ear of
"The child's name is Iris."
I have told my little story. But perhaps my readers will have
patience with me while I add just one little inch to the tail
of the mouse my mountain has borne.
Hector's next book, although never so popular as in any
outward sense to be called a success, yet was not quite a
failure even in regard to the money it brought him, and even
at the present day has not ceased to bring in something.
Doubtless it has faults not a few, but, happily, the man who
knows them best is he who wrote it, and he has never had to
repent that he did write it. And now he has an audience on
which he can depend to welcome whatever he writes. That he
has enemies as well goes without saying, but they are rather
scorners than revilers, and they have not yet caused him to
retaliate once by criticising any work of theirs. Neither, I
believe, has he ever failed to recognize what of genuine and
good work most of them have produced. One of the best results
to himself of his constant endeavor to avoid jealousy is that
he is still able to write verse, and continues to take more
pleasure in it than in telling his tales. And still his own
test of the success of any of his books is the degree to
which he enjoyed it himself while writing it.
His legacy has long been spent, and he has often been in
straits since; but he has always gathered good from those
straits, and has never again felt as if slow walls were
closing in upon him to crush him. And he has hopes by God's
help, and with Annie's, of getting through at last, without
ever having dishonored his high calling.
The last time I saw him, he introduced his wife to
me—having just been telling me his and her
story—with the rather enigmatical words:
"This is my wife. You cannot see her very well, for, like
Hamlet, I wear her 'in my heart's core, aye, in my heart of