Charlotte Brontë

Shirley (1849)

PART TWO







CHAPTER X

OLD MAIDS

  1. Time wore on, and spring matured. The surface of England began to look pleasant: her fields grew green, her hills fresh, her gardens blooming; but at heart she was no better. Still her poor were wretched, still their employers were harassed. Commerce, in some of its branches, seemed threatened with paralysis, for the war continued; England's blood was shed and her wealth lavished: all, it seemed, to attain most inadequate ends. Some tidings there were indeed occasionally of successes in the Peninsula, but these came in slowly; long intervals occurred between, in which no note was heard but the insolent self-felicitations of Bonaparte on his continued triumphs. Those who suffered from the results of the war felt this tedious, and - as they thought - hopeless, struggle against what their fears or their interests taught them to regard as an invincible power, most insufferable: they demanded peace on any terms: men like Yorke and Moore - and there were thousands whom the war placed where it placed them, shuddering on the verge of bankruptcy - insisted on peace with the energy of desperation.
  2. They held meetings; they made speeches; they got up petitions to extort this boon: on what terms it was made they cared not.
  3. All men, taken singly, are more or less selfish; and taken in bodies they are intensely so. The British merchant is no exception to this rule: the mercantile classes illustrate it strikingly. These classes certainly think too exclusively of making money: they are too oblivious of every national consideration but that of extending England's (i.e., their own) commerce. Chivalrous feeling, disinterestedness, pride in honour, is too dead in their hearts. A land ruled by them alone would too often make ignominious submission - not at all from the motives Christ teaches, but rather from those Mammon instils. During the late war, the tradesmen of England would have endured buffets from the French on the right cheek and on the left; their cloak they would have given to Napoleon, and then have politely offered him their coat also, nor would they have withheld their waistcoat if urged: they would have prayed permission only to retain their one other garment, for the sake of the purse in its pocket. Not one spark of spirit, not one symptom of resistance would they have shown till the hand of the Corsican bandit had grasped that beloved purse: then, perhaps, transfigured at once into British bull-dogs, they would have sprung at the robber's throat, and there they would have fastened, and there hung - inveterate, insatiable, till the treasure had been restored. Tradesmen, when they speak against war, always profess to hate it because it is a bloody and barbarous proceeding: you would think, to hear them talk, that they are peculiarly civilised - especially gentle and kindly of disposition to their fellow-men. This is not the case. Many of them are extremely narrow and cold-hearted, have no good feeling for any class but their own, are distant - even hostile to all others; call them useless; seem to question their right to exist; seem to grudge them the very air they breathe, and to think the circumstance of their eating, drinking, and living in decent houses, quite unjustifiable. They do not know what others do in the way of helping, pleasing, or teaching their race; they will not trouble themselves to inquire; whoever is not in trade is accused of eating the bread of idleness, of passing a useless existence. Long may it be ere England really becomes a nation of shopkeepers!
  4. We have already said that Moore was no self-sacrificing patriot, and we have also explained what circumstances rendered him specially prone to confine his attention and efforts to the furtherance of his individual interest; accordingly, when he felt himself urged a second time to the brink of ruin, none struggled harder than he against the influences which would have thrust him over. What he could do towards stirring agitation in the North against the war, he did, and he instigated others whose money and connections gave them more power than he possessed. Sometimes, by flashes, he felt there was little reason in the demands his party made on Government: when he heard of all Europe threatened by Bonaparte, and of all Europe arming to resist him; when he saw Russia menaced, and beheld Russia rising, incensed and stern, to defend her frozen soil, her wild provinces of serfs, her dark native despotism, from the tread, the yoke, the tyranny of a foreign victor, he knew that England, a free realm, could not then depute her sons to make concessions and propose terms to the unjust, grasping French leader. When news came from time to time of the movements of that MAN then representing England in the Peninsula; of his advance from success to success - that advance so deliberate but so unswerving, so circumspect but so certain, so 'unhasting' but so 'unresting'; when he read Lord Wellington's own despatches in the columns of the newspapers, documents written by Modesty to the dictation of Truth - Moore confessed at heart that a power was with the troops of Britain, of that vigilant, enduring, genuine, unostentatious sort, which must win victory to the side it led, in the end. In the end! but that end, he thought, was yet far off; and meantime he, Moore, as an individual, would be crushed, his hopes ground to dust: it was himself be had to care for, his hopes he had to pursue, and he would fulfil his destiny.
  5. He fulfiled it so vigorously, that ere long he came to a decisive rupture with his old Tory friend the Rector. They quarrelled at a public meeting, and afterwards exchanged some pungent letters in the newspapers. Mr. Helstone denounced Moore as a Jacobin, ceased to see him, would not even speak to him when they met: he intimated also to his niece, very distinctly, that her communications with Hollow's Cottage must for the present cease; she must give up taking French lessons. The language, he observed, was a bad and frivolous one at the best, and most of the works it boasted were bad and frivolous, highly injurious in their tendency to weak female minds. He wondered (he remarked parenthetically) what noodle first made it the fashion to teach women French: nothing was more improper for them; it was like feeding a rickety child on chalk and water-gruel; Caroline must give it up, and give up her cousins too: they were dangerous people.
  6. Mr. Helstone quite expected opposition to this order; he expected tears. Seldom did he trouble himself about Caroline s movements, but a vague idea possessed him that she was fond of going to Hollow's Cottage: also he suspected that she liked Robert Moore's occasional presence at the Rectory. The Cossack had perceived that whereas if Malone stepped in of an evening to make himself sociable and charming, by pinching the ears of an aged black cat, which usually shared with Miss Helstone's feet the accommodation of her footstool, or by borrowing a fowling-piece, and banging away at a tool-shed door in the garden while enough of daylight remained to show that conspicuous mark - keeping the passage and sitting-room doors meantime uncomfortably open for the convenience of running in and out to announce his failures and successes with noisy brusquerie - he had observed that under such entertaining circumstances Caroline had a trick of disappearing, tripping noiselessly upstairs, and remaining invisible till called down to supper. On the other hand, when Robert Moore was the guest, though he elicited no vivacities from the cat, did nothing to it, indeed, beyond occasionally coaxing it from the stool to his knee, and there letting it purr, climb to his shoulder, and rub its head against his cheek; though there was no ear-splitting cracking off of firearms, no diffusion of sulphurous gunpowder perfume, no noise, no boasting during his stay, that still Caroline sat in the room, and seemed to find wondrous content in the stitching of Jew-basket pin-cushions, and the knitting of Missionary-basket socks.
  7. She was very quiet, and Robert paid her little attention, scarcely ever addressing his discourse to her; but Mr. Helstone, not being one of those elderly gentlemen who are easily blinded, on the contrary, finding himself on all occasions extremely wide-awake, had watched them when they bade each other good-night: he had just seen their eyes meet once - only once. Some natures would have taken pleasure in the glance then surprised, because there was no harm and some delight in it. It was by no means a glance of mutual intelligence, for mutual love-secrets existed not between them: there was nothing then of craft and concealment to offend; only Mr. Moore's eyes, looking into Caroline's, felt they were clear and gentle, and Caroline's eyes encountering Mr. Moore's confessed they were manly and searching: each acknowledged the charm in his or her own way. Moore smiled slightly, and Caroline coloured as slightly. Mr. Helstone could, on the spot, have rated them both: they annoyed him; why? - impossible to say. If you had asked him what Moore merited at that moment, he would have said 'a horsewhip'; if you had inquired into Caroline's deserts, he would have adjudged her a box on the ear; if you had further demanded the reason of such chastisements, he would have stormed against flirtation and love-making, and vowed he would have no such folly going on under his roof.
  8. These private considerations, combined with political reasons, fixed his resolution of separating the cousins. He announced his will to Caroline one evening, as she was sitting at work near the drawing-room window: her face was turned towards him, and the light fell full upon it. It had struck him a few minutes before that she was looking paler and quieter than she used to look; it had not escaped him either that Robert Moore's name had never, for some three weeks past, dropped from her lips; nor during the same space of time had that personage made his appearance at the Rectory. Some suspicion of clandestine meetings haunted him; having but an indifferent opinion of women, he always suspected them: he thought they needed constant watching. It was in a tone drily significant he desired her to cease her daily visits to the Hollow; he expected a start, a look of deprecation: the start he saw but it was a very slight one; no look whatever was directed to him.
  9. 'Do you hear me?' he asked.
  10. 'Yes, uncle.'
  11. 'Of course you mean to attend to what I say?'
  12. 'Yes, certainly.'
  13. 'And there must be no letter-scribbling to your cousin Hortense: no intercourse whatever. I do not approve of the principles of the family: they are Jacobinical.'
  14. 'Very well,' said Caroline quietly. She acquiesced then: there was no vexed flushing of the face, no gathering tears: the shadowy thoughtfulness which had covered her features ere Mr. Helstone spoke remained undisturbed: she was obedient.
  15. Yes, perfectly; because the mandate coincided with her own previous judgment; because it was now become pain to her to go to Hollow's Cottage; nothing met her there but disappointment: hope and love had quitted that little tenement, for Robert seemed to have deserted its precincts. Whenever she asked after him - which she very seldom did, since the mere utterance of his name made her face grow hot - the answer was, be was from home, or he was quite taken up with business: Hortense feared he was killing himself by application: he scarcely ever took a meal in the house; he lived in the counting house.
  16. At church only Caroline had the chance of seeing him, and there she rarely looked at him: it was both too much pain and too much pleasure to look: it excited too much emotion; and that it was all wasted emotion, she had learned well to comprehend.
  17. Once, on a dark, wet Sunday, when there were few people at church, and when especially certain ladies were absent, of whose observant faculties and tomahawk tongues Caroline stood in awe, she had allowed her eye to seek Robert's pew, and to rest a while on its occupant. He was there alone: Hortense had been kept at home by prudent considerations relative to the rain and a new spring 'chapeau.' During the sermon, he sat with folded arms and eyes cast down, looking very sad and abstracted. When depressed, the very hue of his face seemed more dusk than when he smiled, and to-day cheek and forehead wore their most tintless and sober olive. By instinct Caroline knew, as she examined that clouded countenance, that his thoughts were running in no familiar or kindly channel; that they were far away, not merely from her, but from all which she could comprehend, or in which she could sympathise. Nothing that they had ever talked of together was now in his mind: he was wrapped from her by interests and responsibilities in which it was deemed such as she could have no part.
  18. Caroline meditated in her own way on the subject; speculated on his feelings, on his life, on his fears, on his fate; mused over the mystery of 'business,' tried to comprehend more about it than had ever been told her - to understand its perplexities, liabilities, duties, exactions; endeavoured to realise the state of mind of man of a 'man of business,' to enter into it, feel what he would feel, aspire to what he would aspire. Her earnest wish was to see things as they were, and not to be romantic. By dint of effort she contrived to get a glimpse of the light of truth here and there, and hoped that scant ray might suffice to guide her.
  19. 'Different, indeed,' she concluded, 'is Robert's mental condition to mine: I think only of him; he has no room, no leisure to think of me. The feeling called love is and has been for two years the predominant emotion of my heart: always there, always awake, always astir: quite other feelings absorb his reflections, and govern his faculties. He is rising now, going to leave the church, for service is over. Will he turn his head towards this pew? - no - not once - he has not one look for me: that is hard: a kind glance would have made me happy till to-morrow. I have not got it; he would not give it; he is gone. Strange that grief should now almost choke me, because another human being's eye has failed to greet mine.'
  20. That Sunday evening, Mr. Malone coming, as usual, to pass it with his Rector, Caroline withdrew after tea to her chamber. Fanny, knowing her habits, had lit her a cheerful little fire, as the weather was so gusty and chill. Closeted there, silent and solitary, what could she do but think? She noiselessly paced to and fro the carpeted floor, her head drooped, her hands folded: it was irksome to sit: the current of reflection ran rapidly through her mind: to-night she was mutely excited.
  21. Mute was the room, - mute the house. The double door of the study muffled the voices of the gentlemen: the servants were quiet in the kitchen, engaged with books their young mistress had lent them; books which she had told them were 'fit for Sunday reading.' And she herself had another of the same sort open on the table, but she could not read it: its theology was incomprehensible to her, and her own mind was too busy, teeming, wandering, to listen to the language of another mind.
  22. Then, too, her imagination was full of pictures; images of Moore; scenes where he and she had been together; winter fireside sketches; a glowing landscape of a hot summer afternoon passed with him in the bosom of Nunnely Wood: divine vignettes of mild spring or mellow autumn moments, when she had sat at his side in Hollow's Copse, listening to the call of the May cuckoo, or sharing the September treasure of nuts and ripe blackberries - a wild dessert which it was her morning's pleasure to collect in a little basket, and cover with green leaves and fresh blossoms, and her afternoon's delight to administer to Moore, berry by berry, and nut by nut, like a bird feeding its fledgling.
  23. Robert's features and form were with her; the sound of his voice was quite distinct in her ear; his few caresses seemed renewed. But these joys being hollow, were, ere long, crushed in: the pictures faded, the voice failed, the visionary clasp melted chill from her hand, and where the warm seal of lips had made impress on her forehead, it felt now as if a sleety raindrop had fallen. She returned from an enchanted region to the real world for Nunnely Wood in June, she saw her narrow chamber; for the songs of birds in alleys, she heard the rain on her casement; for the sigh of the south wind, came the sob of the mournful east; and for Moore's manly companionship, she had the thin illusion of her own dim shadow on the wall. Turning from the pale phantom which reflected herself in its outline, and her reverie in the drooped attitude of its dim head and colourless tresses, she sat down - inaction would suit the frame of mind into which she was now declining - she said to herself - 'I have to live, perhaps, till seventy years. As far as I know, I have good health: half a century of existence may lie before me. How am I to occupy it? What am I to do to fill the interval of time which spreads between me and the grave?'
  24. She reflected.
  25. 'I shall not be married, it appears,' she continued. 'I suppose, as Robert does not care for me, I shall never have a husband to love, nor little children to take care of. Till lately I had reckoned securely on the duties and affections of wife and mother to occupy my existence. I considered, somehow, as a matter of course, that I was growing up to the ordinary destiny, and never troubled myself to seek any other; but now, I perceive plainly, I may have been mistaken. Probably I shall be an old maid. I shall live to see Robert married to some one else, some rich lady: I shall never marry. What was I created for, I wonder? Where is my place in the world?'
  26. She mused again.
  27. 'Ah! I see,' she pursued presently: 'that is the question which most old maids are puzzled to solve; other people solve it for them by saying, 'Your place is to do good to others, to be helpful whenever help is wanted.' That is right in some measure, and a very convenient doctrine for the people who hold it; but I perceive that certain sets of human beings are very apt to maintain that other sets should give up their lives to them and their service, and then they requite them by praise: they call them devoted and virtuous. Is this enough? Is it to live? Is there not a terrible hollowness, mockery, want, craving, in that existence which is given away to others, for want of something of your own to bestow it on? I suspect there is. Does virtue lie in abnegation of self? I do not believe it. Undue humility makes tyranny; weak concession creates selfishness. The Romish religion especially teaches renunciation of self, submission to others, and nowhere are found so many grasping tyrants as in the ranks of the Romish priesthood. Each human being has his share of rights. I suspect it would conduce to the happiness and welfare of all, if each knew his allotment, and held to it as tenaciously as the martyr to his creed. Queer thoughts these, that surge in my mind: are they right thoughts? I am not certain.
  28. 'Well, life is short at the best: seventy years, they say, pass like a vapour, like a dream when one awaketh; and every path trod by human feet terminates in one bourne - the grave: the little chink in the surface of this great globe - the furrow where the mighty husbandman with the scythe deposits the seed he has shaken from the ripe stem; and there it falls, decays, and thence it springs again, when the world has rolled round a few times more. So much for the body: the soul meantime wings its long flight upward, folds its wings on the brink of the sea of fire and glass, and gazing down through the burning clearness, finds there mirrored the vision of the Christian's triple Godhead: the Sovereign Father; the mediating Son; the Creator Spirit. Such words, at least, have been chosen to express what is inexpressible, to describe what baffles description. The soul's real hereafter, who shall guess?'
  29. Her fire was decayed to its last cinder; Malone had departed; and now the study bell rang for prayers.
  30. The next day Caroline had to spend altogether alone, her uncle being gone to dine with his friend Dr. Boultby, vicar of Whinbury. The whole time she was talking inwardly in the same strain; looking forwards, asking what she was to do with life. Fanny, as she passed in and out of the room occasionally, intent on housemaid errands, perceived that her young mistress sat very still. She was always in the same place, always bent industriously over a piece of work: she did not lift her head to speak to Fanny, as her custom was; and when the latter remarked that the day was fine, and she ought to take a walk, she only said - 'It is cold.'
  31. You are very diligent at that sewing, Miss Caroline,' continued the girl, approaching her little table.
  32. 'I am tired of it, Fanny.'
  33. 'Then why do you go on with it? Put it down: read, or do something to amuse you.'
  34. 'It is solitary in this house, Fanny: don't you think so?'
  35. 'I don't find it so, miss. Me and Eliza are company for one another; but you are quite too still - you should visit more. Now, be persuaded; go upstairs and dress yourself smart, and go and take tea, in a friendly way, with Miss Mann or Miss Ainley: I am certain either of those ladies would be delighted to see you.'
  36. 'But their houses are dismal: they are both old maids. I am certain old maids are a very unhappy race.'
  37. 'Not they, miss: they can't be unhappy; they take such care of themselves. They are all selfish.'
  38. 'Miss Ainley is not selfish, Fanny: she is always doing good. How devotedly kind she was to her stepmother, as long as the old lady lived; and now when she is quite alone in the world, without brother or sister, or any one to care for her, how charitable she is to the poor, as far as her means permit! Still nobody thinks much of her, or has pleasure in going to see her: and how gentlemen always sneer at her!'
  39. 'They shouldn't, miss; I believe she is a good woman: but gentlemen think only of ladies' looks.'
  40. 'I'll go and see her,' exclaimed Caroline, starting up: 'and if she asks me to stay to tea, I'll stay. How wrong it is to neglect people because they are not pretty, and young, and merry! And I will certainly call to see Miss Mann, too: she may not be amiable; but what has made her unamiable? What has life been to her?'
  41. Fanny helped Miss Helstone to put away her work, and afterwards assisted her to dress.
  42. 'You'll not be an old maid, Miss Caroline,' she said, as she tied the sash of her brown-silk frock, having previously smoothed her soft, full, and shining curls; 'there are no signs of an old maid about you.'
  43. Caroline looked at the little mirror before her, and she thought there were some signs. She could see that she was altered within the last month; that the hues of her complexion were paler, her eyes changed - a wan shade seemed to circle them, her countenance was dejected: she was not, in short, so pretty or so fresh as she used to be. She distantly hinted this to Fanny, from whom she got no direct answer, only a remark that people did vary in their looks; but that at her age a little falling away signified nothing, - she would soon come round again, and be plumper and rosier than ever. Having given this assurance, Fanny showed singular zeal in wrapping her up in warm shawls and handkerchiefs, till Caroline, nearly smothered with the weight, was fain to resist further additions.
  44. She paid her visits: first to Miss Mann, for this was the most difficult point: Miss Mann was certainly not quite a lovable person. Till now, Caroline had always unhesitatingly declared she disliked her, and more than once she had joined her cousin Robert in laughing at some of her peculiarities. Moore was not habitually given to sarcasm, especially on anything humbler or weaker than himself; but he had once or twice happened to be in the room when Miss Mann had made a call on his sister, and after listening to her conversation and viewing her features for a time, he had gone out into the garden where his little cousin was tending some of his favourite flowers, and while standing near and watching her, he had amused himself with comparing fair youth - delicate and attractive - with shrivelled eld, livid and loveless, and in jestingly repeating to a smiling girl the vinegar discourse of a cankered old maid. Once on such an occasion, Caroline had said to him, looking up from the luxuriant creeper she was binding to its frame, 'Ah! Robert, you do not like old maids. I, too, should come under the lash of your sarcasm, if I were an old maid.'
  45. 'You an old maid!' he had replied. 'A piquant notion suggested by lips of that tint and form. I can fancy you, though, at forty, quietly dressed, pale and sunk, but still with that straight nose, white forehead, and those soft eyes. I suppose, too, you will keep your voice, which has another 'timbre' than that hard, deep organ of Miss Mann's. Courage, Cary! - even at fifty you will not be repulsive.'
  46. 'Miss Mann did not make herself, or tune her voice, Robert.'
  47. 'Nature made her in the mood in which she makes her briars and thorns; whereas for the creation of some women, she reserves the May morning hours, when with light and dew she woos the primrose from the turf, and the lily from the wood-moss.'

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  48. Ushered into Miss Mann's little parlour, Caroline found her, as she always found her, surrounded by perfect neatness, cleanliness, and comfort (after all, is it not a virtue in old maids that solitude rarely makes them negligent or disorderly?); no dust on her polished furniture, none on her carpet, fresh flowers in the vase on her table, a bright fire in the grate. She herself sat primly and somewhat grimly-tidy in a cushioned rocking-chair, her hands busied with some knitting: this was her favourite work, as it required the least exertion. She scarcely rose as Caroline entered; to avoid excitement was one of Miss Mann's aims in life: she had been composing herself ever since she came down in the morning, and had just attained a certain lethargic state of tranquillity when the visitor's knock at the door startled her, and undid her day's work. She was scarcely pleased, therefore, to see Miss Helstone: she received her with reserve, bade her be seated with austerity, and when she got her placed opposite, she fixed her with her eye.
  49. This was no ordinary doom - to be fixed with Miss Mann's eye. Robert Moore had undergone it once, and had never forgotten the circumstance.
  50. He considered it quite equal to anything Medusa could do: he professed to doubt whether, since that infliction, his flesh had been quite what it was before - whether there was not something stony in its texture. The gaze had had such an effect on him as to drive him promptly from the apartment and house; it had even sent him straightway up to the Rectory, where he had appeared in Caroline's presence with a very queer face, and amazed her by demanding a cousinly salute on the spot, to rectify a damage that had been done him.
  51. Certainly Miss Mann had a formidable eye for one of the softer sex: it was prominent, and showed a great deal of the white, and looked as steadily, as unwinkingly, at you as if it were a steel ball soldered in her head; and when, while looking, she began to talk in an indescribably dry monotonous tone - a tone without vibration or inflection - you felt as if a graven image of some bad spirit were addressing you. But it was all a figment of fancy, a matter of surface. Miss Mann's goblin-grimness scarcely went deeper than the angel-sweetness of hundreds of beauties. She was a perfectly honest, conscientious woman, who had performed duties in her day from whose severe anguish many a human Peri, gazelle-eyed, silken-tressed, and silver-tongued, would have shrunk appalled: she had passed alone through protracted scenes of suffering, exercised rigid self-denial, made large sacrifices of time, money, health, for those who had repaid her only by ingratitude, and now her main - almost her sole - fault was, that she was censorious.
  52. Censorious she certainly was. Caroline had not sat five minutes ere her hostess, still keeping her under the spell of that dread and Gorgon gaze, began flaying alive certain of the families in the neighbourhood. She went to work at this business in a singularly cool, deliberate manner, like some surgeon practising with his scalpel on a lifeless subject: she made few distinctions; she allowed scarcely any one to be good; she dissected impartially almost all her acquaintance. If her auditress ventured now and then to put in a palliative word, she set it aside with a certain disdain. Still, though thus pitiless in moral anatomy, she was no scandal-monger: she never disseminated really malignant or dangerous reports: it was not her heart so much as her temper that was wrong.
  53. Caroline made this discovery for the first time to-day; and moved thereby to regret divers unjust judgments she had more than once passed on the crabbed old maid, she began to talk to her softly, not in sympathising words, but with a sympathising voice. The loneliness of her condition struck her visitor in a new light; as did also the character of her ugliness - a bloodless pallor of complexion, and deeply worn lines of feature. The girl pitied the solitary and afflicted woman; her looks told what she felt: a sweet countenance is never so sweet as when the moved heart animates it with compassionate tenderness. Miss Mann, seeing such a countenance raised to her, was touched in her turn: she acknowledged her sense of the interest thus unexpectedly shown in her, who usually met with only coldness and ridicule, by replying to her candidly. Communicative on her own affairs she usually was not, because no one cared to listen to her; but to-day she became so, and her confidant shed tears as she heard her speak: for she told of cruel, slow-wasting, obstinate sufferings. Well might she be corpse-like; well might she look grim, and never smile; well might she wish to avoid excitement, to gain and retain composure! Caroline, when she knew all, acknowledged that Miss Mann was rather to be admired for fortitude than blamed for moroseness. Reader! when you behold an aspect for whose constant gloom and frown you cannot account, whose unvarying cloud exasperates you by its apparent causelessness, be sure that there is a canker somewhere, and a canker not the less deeply corroding because concealed.
  54. Miss Mann felt that she was understood partly, and wished to be understood further; for however old, plain, humble, desolate, afflicted we may be, so long as our hearts preserve the feeblest spark of life, they preserve also, shivering near that pale ember, a starved, ghostly longing for appreciation and affection. To this extenuated spectre, perhaps, a crumb is not thrown once a year; but when ahungered and athirst to famine - when all humanity has forgotten the dying tenant of a decaying house - Divine Mercy remembers the mourner, and a shower of manna falls for lips that earthly nutriment is to pass no more. Biblical promises, heard first in health, but then unheeded, come whispering to the couch of sickness: it is felt that a pitying God watches what all mankind have forsaken; the tender compassion of Jesus is recalled and relied on: the faded eye, gazing beyond Time, sees a Home, a Friend, a Refuge in Eternity.
  55. Miss Mann, drawn on by the still attention of her listener, proceeded to allude to circumstances in her past life. She spoke like one who tells the truth - simply, and with a certain reserve: she did not boast, nor did she exaggerate. Caroline found that the old maid had been a most devoted daughter and sister, an unwearied watcher by lingering deathbeds; that to prolonged and unrelaxing attendance on the sick, the malady that now poisoned her own life owed its origin; that to one wretched relative she had been a support and succour in the depths of self-earned degradation, and that it was still her hand which kept him from utter destitution. Miss Helstone stayed the whole evening, omitting to pay her other intended visit; and when she left Miss Mann, it was with the determination to try in future to excuse her faults, never again to make light of her peculiarities or to laugh at her plainness; and, above all things, not to neglect her, but to come once a week, and to offer her from one human heart at least, the homage of affection and respect: she felt she could now sincerely give her a small tribute of each feeling.
  56. Caroline, on her return, told Fanny she was very glad she had gone out, as she felt much better for the visit. The next day she failed not to seek Miss Ainley. This lady was in narrower circumstances than Miss Mann, and her dwelling was more humble: it was, however, if possible, yet more exquisitely clean; though the decayed gentlewoman could not afford to keep a servant, but waited on herself, and had only the occasional assistance of a little girl who lived in a cottage near.
  57. Not only was Miss Ainley poorer, but she was even plainer than the other old maid. In her first youth she must have been ugly; now, at the age of fifty, she was very ugly. At first sight, all but peculiarly well-disciplined minds were apt to turn from her with annoyance: to conceive against her a prejudice, simply on the ground of her unattractive look. Then she was prim in dress and manner: she looked, spoke, and moved the complete old maid.
  58. Her welcome to Caroline was formal, even in its kindness - for it was kind; but Miss Helstone excused this. She knew something of the benevolence of the heart which beat under that starched kerchief; all the neighbourhood - at least all the female neighbourhood - knew something of it: no one spoke against Miss Ainley except lively young gentlemen, and inconsiderate old ones, who declared her hideous.
  59. Caroline was soon at home in that tiny parlour; a kind hand took from her her shawl and bonnet, and installed her in the most comfortable seat near the fire. The young and the antiquated woman were presently deep in kindly conversation, and soon Caroline became aware of the power a most serene, unselfish, and benignant mind could exercise over those to whom it was developed. She talked never of herself - always of others. Their faults she passed over; her theme was their wants, which she sought to supply; their sufferings, which she longed to alleviate. She was religious - a professor of religion - what some would call 'a saint,' and she referred to religion often in sanctioned phrase - in phrase which those who possess a perception of the ridiculous, without owning the power of exactly testing and truly judging character, would certainly have esteemed a proper subject for satire - a matter for mimicry and laughter. They would have been hugely mistaken for their pains. Sincerity is never ludicrous; it is always respectable. Whether truth - be it religious or moral truth - speak eloquently and in well-chosen language or not, its voice should be heard with reverence. Let those who cannot nicely, and with certainty, discern the difference between the tones of hypocrisy and those of sincerity, never presume to laugh at all, lest they should have the miserable misfortune to laugh in the wrong place, and commit impiety when they think they are achieving wit.
  60. Not from Miss Ainley's own lips did Caroline hear of her good works; but she knew much of them nevertheless; her beneficence was the familiar topic of the poor in Briarfield. They were not works of almsgiving: the old maid was too poor to give much, though she straitened herself to privation that she might contribute her mite when needful: they were the works of a Sister of Charity, far more difficult to perform than those of a Lady Bountiful. She would watch by any sick-bed: she seemed to fear no disease; she would nurse the poorest whom none else would nurse: she was serene, humble, kind, and equable through everything.
  61. For this goodness she got but little reward in this life. Many of the poor became so accustomed to her services that they hardly thanked her for them: the rich heard them mentioned with wonder, but were silent, from a sense of shame at the difference between her sacrifices and their own. Many ladies, however, respected her deeply: they could not help it; one gentleman - one only - gave her his friendship and perfect confidence: this was Mr. Hall, the vicar of Nunnely. He said, and said truly, that her life came nearer the life of Christ than that of any other human being he had ever met with. You must not think, reader, that in sketching Miss Ainley's character, I depict a figment of imagination - no - we seek the originals of such portraits in real life only.
  62. Miss Helstone studied well the mind and heart now revealed to her. She found no high intellect to admire: the old maid was merely sensible, but she discovered so much goodness, so much usefulness, so much mildness, patience, truth, that she bent her own mind before Miss Ainley's in reverence. What was her love of nature, what was her sense of beauty, what were her more varied and fervent emotions, what was her deeper power of thought, what her wider capacity to comprehend, compared to the practical excellence of this good woman? Momently, they seemed only beautiful forms of selfish delight; mentally, she trod them under foot.
  63. It is true, she still felt with pain that the life which made Miss Ainley happy could not make her happy: pure and active as it was, in her heart she deemed it deeply dreary because it was so loveless - to her ideas, so forlorn. Yet, doubtless, she reflected, it needed only habit to make it practicable and agreeable to any one: it was despicable, she felt, to pine sentimentally, to cherish secret griefs, vain memories; to be inert, to waste youth in aching languor, to grow old doing nothing.
  64. 'I will bestir myself,' was her resolution, 'and try to be wise if I cannot be good.'
  65. She proceeded to make inquiry of Miss Ainley if she could help her in anything. Miss Ainley, glad of an assistant, told her that she could, and indicated some poor families in Briarfield that it was desirable she should visit; giving her likewise, at her further request, some work to do for certain poor women who had many children, and who were unskilled in using the needle for themselves.
  66. Caroline went home, laid her plans, and took a resolve not to swerve from them. She allotted a certain portion of her time for her various studies, and a certain portion for doing anything Miss Ainley might direct her to do; the remainder was to be spent in exercise; not a moment was to be left for the indulgence of such fevered thoughts as had poisoned last Sunday evening.
  67. To do her justice, she executed her plans conscientiously, perseveringly. It was very hard work at first - it was even hard work to the end, but it helped her to stem and keep down anguish: it forced her to be employed; it forbade her to brood; and gleams of satisfaction chequered her grey life here and there when she found she had done good, imparted pleasure, or allayed suffering.
  68. Yet I must speak truth; these efforts brought her neither health of body nor continued peace of mind: with them all, she wasted, grew more joyless and more wan; with them all, her memory kept harping on the name of Robert Moore; an elegy over the past still rung constantly in her ear; a funereal inward cry haunted and harassed her: the heaviness of a broken spirit, and of pining and palsying faculties, settled slow on her buoyant youth. Winter seemed conquering her spring: the mind's soil and its treasures were freezing gradually to barren stagnation.




CHAPTER XI

FIELDHEAD

  1. Yet Caroline refused tamely to succumb: she had native strength in her girl's heart, and she used it. Men and women never struggle so hard as when they struggle alone, without witness, counsellor, or confidant; unencouraged, unadvised, and unpitied.
  2. Miss Helstone was in this position. Her sufferings were her only spur; and being very real and sharp, they roused her spirit keenly. Bent on victory over a mortal pain, she did her best to quell it. Never had she been seen so busy, so studious, and, above all, so active. She took walks in all weathers - long walks in solitary directions. Day by day she came back in the evening, pale and wearied-looking, yet seemingly not fatigued; for still, as soon as she had thrown off her bonnet and shawl, she would, instead of resting, begin to pace her apartment: sometimes she would not sit down till she was literally faint. She said she did this to tire herself well, that she might sleep soundly at night. But if that was her aim it was unattained, for at night, when others slumbered, she was tossing on her pillow, or sitting at the foot of her couch in the darkness, forgetful, apparently, of the necessity of seeking repose. Often, unhappy girl! she was crying - crying in a sort of intolerable despair; which, when it rushed over her, smote down her strength, and reduced her to childlike helplessness.
  3. When thus prostrate, temptations besieged her: weak suggestions whispered in her weary heart to write to Robert, and say that she was unhappy because she was forbidden to see him and Hortense, and that she feared he would withdraw his friendship (not love) from her, and forget her entirely, and begging him to remember her, and sometimes to write to her. One or two such letters she actually indited, but she never sent them: shame and good sense forbade.
  4. At last the life she led reached the point when it seemed she could bear it no longer; that she must seek and find a change somehow, or her heart and head would fail under the pressure which strained them. She longed to leave Briarfield, to go to some very distant place. She longed for something else: the deep, secret, anxious yearning to discover and know her mother strengthened daily; but with the desire was coupled a doubt, a dread - if she knew her, could she love her? There was cause for hesitation, for apprehension on this point: never in her life had she heard that mother praised: whoever mentioned her, mentioned her coolly. Her uncle seemed to regard his sister-in-law with a sort of tacit antipathy; an old servant, who had lived with Mrs. James Helstone for a short time after her marriage, whenever she referred to her former mistress, spoke with chilling reserve: sometimes she called her 'queer,' sometimes she said she did not understand her. These expressions were ice to the daughter's heart; they suggested the conclusions that it was perhaps better never to know her parent, than to know her and not like her.
  5. But one project could she frame whose execution seemed likely to bring her a hope of relief; it was to take a situation, to be a governess - she could do nothing else. A little incident brought her to the point when she found courage to break her design to her uncle.
  6. Her long and late walks lay always, as has been said, on lonely roads; but in whatever direction she had rambled, whether along the drear skirts of Stilbro' Moor, or over the sunny stretch of Nunnely Common, her homeward path was still so contrived as to lead her near the Hollow. She rarely descended the den, but she visited its brink at twilight almost as regularly as the stars rose over the hill-crests. Her resting-place was at a certain stile under a certain old thorn: thence she could look down on the cottage, the mill, the dewy garden-ground, the still, deep dam; thence was visible the well-known counting-house window, from whose panes at a fixed hour shot, suddenly bright, the ray of the well-known lamp. Her errand was to watch for this ray: her reward to catch it, sometimes sparkling bright in clear air, sometimes shimmering dim through mist, and anon flashing broken between slant lines of rain - for she came in all weathers.
  7. There were nights when it failed to appear: she knew then that Robert was from home, and went away doubly sad; whereas its kindling rendered her elate, as though she saw in it the promise of some indefinite hope. If, while she gazed, a shadow bent between the light and lattice, her heart leaped - that eclipse was Robert: she had seen him. She would return home comforted, carrying in her mind a clearer vision of his aspect, a distincter recollection of his voice, his smile, his hearing; and, blent with these impressions, was often a sweet persuasion that, if she could get near him, his heart might welcome her presence yet: that at this moment he might be willing to extend his hand and draw her to him, and shelter her at his side as he used to do. That night, though she might weep as usual, she would fancy her tears less scalding; the pillow they watered seemed a little softer; the temples pressed to that pillow ached less.
  8. The shortest path from the Hollow to the Rectory wound near a certain mansion, the same under whose lone walls Malone passed on that night-journey mentioned in an early chapter of this work - the old and tenantless dwelling yclept Fieldhead. Tenantless by the proprietor it had been for ten years, but it was no ruin: Mr. Yorke had seen it kept in good repair, and an old gardener and his wife had lived in it, cultivated the grounds, and maintained the house in habitable condition.
  9. If Fieldhead had few other merits as a building, it might at least be termed picturesque: its irregular architecture, and the grey and mossy colouring communicated by time, gave it a just claim to this epithet. The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney-stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades. The trees behind were fine, bold, and spreading; the cedar on the lawn in front was grand, and the granite urns on the garden wall, the fretted arch of the gateway, were, for an artist, as the very desire of the eye.
  10. One mild May evening, Caroline passing near about moonrise, and feeling, though weary, unwilling yet to go home, where there was only the bed of thorns and the night of grief to anticipate, sat down on the mossy ground near the gate, and gazed through towards cedar and mansion. It was a still night - calm, dewy, cloudless: the gables, turned to the west, reflected the clear amber of the horizon they faced; the oaks behind were black; the cedar was blacker; under its dense, raven boughs a glimpse of sky opened gravely blue: it was full of the moon, which looked solemnly and mildly down on Caroline from beneath that sombre canopy.
  11. She felt this night and prospect mournfully lovely. She wished she could he happy: she wished she could know inward peace: she wondered Providence had no pity on her, and would not help or console her. Recollections of happy trysts of lovers commemorated in old ballads returned on his mind: she thought such tryst in such scene would be blissful. Where now was Robert? she asked: not at the Hollow: she had watched for his lamp long, and had not seen it. She questioned within herself whether she and Moore were ever destined to meet and speak again. Suddenly the door within the stone porch of the hall opened, and two men came out: one elderly and white-headed, the other young, dark-haired, and tall. They passed across the lawn, out through a portal in the garden wall: Caroline saw them cross the road, pass the stile, descend the fields; she saw them disappear. Robert Moore had passed before her with his friend Mr. Yorke: neither had seen her.
  12. The apparition had been transient - scarce seen ere gone; but its electric passage left her veins kindled, her soul insurgent. It found her despairing: it left her desperate - two different states.
  13. 'Oh! had he but been alone! Had he but seen me!' was her cry, 'he would have said something; he would have given me his hand. He does, he must love me a little: he would have shown some token of affection: in his eye, on his lips, I should have read comfort: but the chance is lost. The wind - the cloud's shadow does not pass more silently, more emptily than he. I have been mocked, and Heaven is cruel!'
  14. Thus, in the utter sickness of longing and disappointment, she went home.
  15. The next morning at breakfast, when she appeared white-cheeked and miserable-looking as one who had seen a ghost, she inquired of Mr. Helstone - 'Have you any objection, uncle, to my inquiring for a situation in a family?'
  16. Her uncle, ignorant as the table supporting his coffee-cup of all his niece had undergone and was undergoing, scarcely believed his ears.
  17. 'What whim now?' he asked. 'Are you bewitched? What can you mean?'
  18. 'I am not well, and need a change,' she said.
  19. He examined her. He discovered she had experienced a change, at any rate. Without his being aware of it, the rose had dwindled and faded to a mere snowdrop: bloom had vanished, flesh wasted; she sat before him drooping, colourless, and thin. But for the soft expression of her brown eyes, the delicate lines of her features, and the flowing abundance of her hair, she would no longer have possessed a claim to the epithet - pretty.
  20. 'What on earth is the matter with you?' he asked. 'What is wrong? How are you ailing?'
  21. No answer, only the brown eyes filled, the faintly-tinted lips trembled.
  22. 'Look out for a situation, indeed! For what situation are you fit? What have you been doing with yourself? You are not well.'
  23. 'I should be well if I went from home.'
  24. 'These women are incomprehensible. They have the strangest knack of startling you with unpleasant surprises. To-day you see them bouncing, buxom, red as cherries, and round as apples; to-morrow they exhibit themselves effete as dead weeds, blanched and broken down. And the reason of it all? that's the puzzle. She has her meals, her liberty, a good house to live in, and good clothes to wear, as usual: a while since that sufficed to keep her handsome and cheery, and there she sits now, a poor little, pale, puling chit enough. Provoking! Then comes the question, what is to be done? I suppose I must send for advice. Will you have a doctor, child?'
  25. 'No, uncle: I don't want one: a doctor could do me no good. I merely want change of air and scene.'
  26. 'Well, if that be the caprice, it shall be gratified. You shall go to a watering-place I don't mind the expense: Fanny shall accompany you.'
  27. 'But, uncle, some day I must do something for myself; I have no fortune. I had better begin now.'
  28. 'While I live, you shall not turn out as a governess, Caroline. I will not have it said that my niece is a governess.'
  29. 'But the later in life one makes a change of that sort, uncle, the more difficult and painful it is. I should wish to get accustomed to the yoke before any habits of ease and independence are formed.'
  30. 'I beg you will not harass me, Caroline. I mean to provide for you. I have always meant to provide for you: I will purchase an annuity. Bless me; I am but fifty-five; my health and constitution are excellent: there is plenty of time to save and take measures. Don't make yourself anxious respecting the future: is that what frets you?'
  31. 'No, uncle; but I long for a change.'
  32. He laughed. 'There speaks the woman!' cried he, 'the very woman! A change! a change! Always fantastical and whimsical? Well, it's in her sex.'
  33. 'But it is not fantasy and whim, uncle,'
  34. 'What is it, then?'
  35. 'Necessity, I think. I feel weaker than formerly; I believe I should have more to do.'
  36. 'Admirable! She feels weak, and therefore she should be set to hard labour - "clair comme le jour" - as Moore - confound Moore! You shall go to Cliff Bridge; and there are two guineas to buy a new frock. Come, Cary, never fear: we'll find balm in Gilead.'
  37. 'Uncle, I wish you were less generous, and more' ----
  38. 'More what?'
  39. Sympathising was the word on Caroline's lips, but it was not uttered: she checked herself in time: her uncle would indeed have laughed if that namby-pamby word had escaped her. Finding her silent, he said - 'The fact is, you don't know precisely what you want.'
  40. 'Only to be a governess.'
  41. 'Pooh! mere nonsense! I'll not hear of governessing. Don't mention it again. It is rather too feminine a fancy. I have finished breakfast, ring the bell: put all crotchets out of your head, and run away and amuse yourself.'
  42. 'What with? My doll?' asked Caroline to herself as she quitted the room.
  43. A week or two passed; her bodily and mental health neither grew worse nor better. She was now precisely in that state, when, if her constitution had contained the seeds of consumption, decline, or slow fever, those diseases would have been rapidly developed, and would soon have carried her quietly from the world. People never die of love or grief alone; though some die of inherent maladies, which the tortures of those passions prematurely force into destructive action. The sound by nature undergo these tortures, and are racked, shaken, shattered: their beauty and bloom perish, but life remains untouched. They are brought to a certain point of dilapidation; they are reduced to pallor, debility, and emaciation. People think, as they see them gliding languidly about, that they will soon withdraw to sick-beds, perish there, and cease from among the healthy and happy. This does not happen: they live on; and though they cannot regain youth and gaiety, they may regain strength and serenity. The blossom which the March wind nips, but fails to sweep away, may survive to hang a withered apple on the tree late into autumn: having braved the last frosts of spring, it may also brave the first of winter.
  44. Every one noticed the change in Miss Helstone's appearance, and most people said she was going to die. She never thought so herself: she felt in no dying case; she had neither pain nor sickness. Her appetite was diminished; she knew the reason: it was because she wept so much at night. Her strength was lessened; she could account for it; sleep was coy and hard to be won; dreams were distressing and baleful. In the far future she still seemed to anticipate a time when this passage of misery should be got over, and when she should once more be calm, though perhaps never again happy.
  45. Meanwhile her uncle urged her to visit; to comply with the frequent invitations of their acquaintance: this she evaded doing; she could not be cheerful in company: she felt she was observed there with more curiosity than sympathy. Old ladies were always offering her their advice, recommending this or that nostrum; young ladies looked at her in a way she understood, and from which she shrank. Their eyes said they knew she had been 'disappointed,' as custom phrases it: by whom, they were not certain.
  46. Commonplace young ladies can be quite as hard as commonplace young gentlemen - quite as worldly and selfish. Those who suffer should always avoid them; grief and calamity they despise: they seem to regard them as the judgments of God on the lowly. With them, to 'love' is merely to contrive a scheme for achieving a good match: to be 'disappointed' is to have their scheme seen through and frustrated. They think the feelings and projects of others on the subject of love similar to their own, and judge them accordingly.
  47. All this Caroline knew, partly by instinct, partly by observation: she regulated her conduct by her knowledge, keeping her pale face and wasted figure as much out of sight as she could. Living thus in complete seclusion, she ceased to receive intelligence of the little transactions of the neighbourhood.
  48. One morning her uncle came into the parlour, where she sat endeavouring to find some pleasure in painting a little group of wild flowers, gathered under a hedge at the top of the Hollow fields, and said to her in his abrupt manner - 'Come, child, you are always stooping over palette, or book, or sampler: leave that tinting work. By-the-bye, do you put your pencil to your lips when you paint?'
  49. 'Sometimes, uncle, when I forget.'
  50. 'Then it is that which is poisoning you. The paints are deleterious, child: there is white lead and red lead, and verdigris, and gamboge, and twenty other poisons in those colour cakes. Lock them up! lock them up! Get your bonnet on. I want you to make a call with me.'
  51. 'With you, uncle?
  52. This question was asked in a tone of surprise. She was not accustomed to make calls with her uncle: she never rode or walked out with him on any occasion.
  53. 'Quick! quick! I am always busy, you know: I have no time to lose.'
  54. She hurriedly gathered up her materials, asking, meantime, where they were going.
  55. 'To Fieldhead.'
  56. 'Fieldhead! What, to see old James Booth, the gardener? Is he ill?'
  57. 'We are going to see Miss Shirley Keeldar.'
  58. 'Miss Keeldar! Is she come to Yorkshire? Is she at Fieldhead?'
  59. 'She is. She has been there a week. I met her at a party last night; - that party to which you would not go. I was pleased with her: I choose that you shall make her acquaintance: it will do you good.'
  60. 'She is now come of age, I suppose?'
  61. 'She is come of age, and will reside for a time on her property. I lectured her on the subject: I showed her her duty: she is not intractable; she is rather a fine girl; she will teach you what it is to have a sprightly spirit: nothing lackadaisical about her.'
  62. 'I don't think she will want to see me, or to have me introduced to her. What good can I do her? How can I amuse her?'
  63. 'Pshaw! Put your bonnet on,'
  64. 'Is she proud, uncle?'
  65. 'Don't know. You hardly imagine she would show her pride to me, I suppose? A chit like that would scarcely presume to give herself airs with the Rector of her parish, however rich she might be.'
  66. 'No - but how did she behave to other people?'
  67. 'Didn't observe. She holds her head high, and probably can be saucy enough where she dare - she wouldn't be a woman otherwise. There, - away now for your bonnet at once!'
  68. Not naturally very confident, a failure of physical strength and a depression of spirits had not tended to increase Caroline's presence of mind and ease of manner, or to give her additional courage to face strangers, and she quailed, in spite of self-remonstrance, as she and her uncle walked up the broad, paved approach leading from the gateway of Fieldhead to its porch. She followed Mr. Helstone reluctantly through that porch into the sombre old vestibule beyond.
  69. Very sombre it was; long, vast, and dark: one latticed window lit it but dimly; the wide old chimney contained now no fire, for the present warm weather needed it not; it was filled instead with willow-boughs. The gallery on high, opposite the entrance, was seen but in outline, so shadowy became this hall towards its ceiling; carved stags' heads, with real antlers, looked down grotesquely from the walls, This was neither a grand nor a comfortable house: within as without it was antique, rambling, and incommodious. A property of a thousand a year belonged to it; which property had descended, for lack of male heirs, on a female. There were mercantile families in the district boasting twice the income, but the Keeldars, by virtue of their antiquity, and their distinction of lords of the manor, took the precedence of all.
  70. Mr. and Miss Helstone were ushered into a parlour: of course, as was to be expected in such a Gothic old barrack, this parlour was lined with oak: fine dark, glossy panels compassed the walls gloomily and grandly. Very handsome, reader, these shining brown panels are: very mellow in colouring and tasteful in effect, but - if you know what a 'Spring-clean' is - very execrable and inhuman. Whoever, having the bowels of humanity, has seen servants scrubbing at these polished wooden walls with bees-waxed cloths on a warm May day, must allow that they are 'intolerable and not to be endured'; and I cannot but secretly applaud the benevolent barbarian who had painted another and larger apartment of Fieldhead - the drawing-room to wit, formerly also an oak-room - of a delicate pinky white; thereby earning for himself the character of a Hun, but mightily enhancing the cheerfulness of that portion of his abode, and saving future housemaids a world of toil.
  71. The brown-panelled parlour was furnished all in old style, and with real old furniture. On each side of the high mantelpiece stood two antique chairs of oak, solid as sylvan thrones, and in one of these sat a lady. But if this were Miss Keeldar, she must have come of age at least some twenty years ago: she was of matronly form, and though she wore no cap, and possessed hair of quite an undimmed auburn, shading small and naturally young-looking features, she had no youthful aspect, nor apparently the wish to assume it. You could have wished her attire of a newer fashion: in a well-cut, well-made gown, hers would have been no uncomely presence. It puzzled you to guess why a garment of handsome materials should be arranged in such scanty folds, and devised after such an obsolete mode: you felt disposed to set down the wearer as somewhat eccentric at once.
  72. This lady received the visitors with a mixture of ceremony and diffidence quite English: no middle-aged matron who was not an Englishwoman could evince precisely the same manner; a manner so uncertain of herself, of her own merits, of her power to please; and yet so anxious to be proper, and if possible, rather agreeable than otherwise. In the present instance, however, more embarrassment was shown than is usual even with diffident Englishwomen: Miss Helstone felt this, sympathised with the stranger, and knowing by experience what was good for the timid, took a seat quietly near her, and began to talk to her with a gentle ease, communicated for the moment by the presence of one less self-possessed than herself.
  73. She and this lady would, if alone, have at once got on extremely well together. The lady had the clearest voice imaginable: infinitely softer and more tuneful than could have been reasonably expected from forty years, and a form decidedly inclined to embonpoint. This voice Caroline liked: it atoned for the formal, if correct, accent and language: the lady would soon have discovered she liked it and her, and in ten minutes they would have been friends. But Mr. Helstone stood on the rug looking at them both; looking especially at the strange lady with his sarcastic, keen eye, that clearly expressed impatience of her chilly ceremony, and annoyance at her want of aplomb. His hard gaze and rasping voice discomfited the lady more and more; she tried, however, to get up little speeches about the weather, the aspect of the country, etc., but the impracticable Mr. Helstone presently found himself somewhat deaf: whatever she said, he affected not to hear distinctly, and she was obliged to go over each elaborately constructed nothing twice. The effort soon became too much for her; she was just rising in a perplexed flutter, nervously murmuring that she knew not what detained Miss Keeldar - that she would go and look for her, when Miss Keeldar saved her the trouble by appearing: it was to be presumed at least that she who now came in through a glass-door from the garden owned that name.
  74. There is real grace in ease of manner, and so old Helstone her left when an erect, slight girl walked up to him, retaining with her left hand her little silk apron full of flowers, and giving him her right hand said pleasantly: 'I knew you would come to see me, though you do think Mr. Yorke has made me a Jacobin. Good-morning.'
  75. 'But we'll not have you a Jacobin,' returned he. 'No, Miss Shirley, they shall not steal the flower of my parish from me: now that you are amongst us, you shall be my pupil in politics and religion: I'll teach you sound doctrine on both points.'
  76. 'Mrs. Pryor has anticipated you,' she replied, turning to the elder lady. 'Mrs. Pryor, you know, was my governess, and is still my friend; and of all the high and rigid Tories, she is queen; of all the stanch churchwomen, she is chief. I have been well drilled both in theology and history, I assure you, Mr. Helstone.'
  77. The Rector immediately bowed very low to Mrs. Pryor, and expressed himself obliged to her.
  78. The ex-governess disclaimed skill either in political or religious controversy, explained that she thought such matters little adapted for female minds, but avowed herself in general terms the advocate of order and loyalty, and, of course, truly attached to the Establishment. She added, she was ever averse to change under any circumstances; and something scarcely audible about the extreme danger of being too ready to take up new ideas, closed her sentence.
  79. 'Miss Keeldar thinks as you think, I hope, madam.'
  80. 'Difference of age and difference of temperament occasion difference of sentiment,' was the reply. 'It can scarcely he expected that the eager and young should hold the opinions of the cool and middle-aged.'
  81. 'Oh! oh! we are independent: we think for ourselves!' cried Mr. Helstone. 'We are a little Jacobin, for anything I know: a little free-thinker, in good earnest. Let us have a confession of faith on the spot.'
  82. And he took the heiress's two hands - causing her to let fall her whole cargo of flowers - and seated her by him on the sofa.
  83. 'Say your creed,' he ordered.
  84. 'The Apostles' creed?'
  85. 'Yes.'
  86. She said it like a child.
  87. 'Now for St. Athanasius's: that's the test!'
  88. 'Let me gather up my flowers: here is Tartar coming, he will tread upon them.'
  89. Tartar was a rather large, strong, and fierce-looking dog, very ugly, being of a breed between mastiff and bull-dog, who at this moment entered through the glass-door, and posting directly to the rug, snuffed the fresh flowers scattered there. He seemed to scorn them as food; but probably thinking their velvety petals might be convenient as litter, he was turning round preparatory to depositing his tawny bulk upon them, when Miss Helstone and Miss Keeldar simultaneously stooped to the rescue.
  90. 'Thank you,' said the heiress, as she again held out her little apron for Caroline to heap the blossoms into it, 'Is this your daughter, Mr. Helstone? ' she asked.
  91. 'My niece, Caroline.'
  92. Miss Keeldar shook hands with her, and then looked at her. Caroline also looked at her hostess.
  93. Shirley Keeldar (she had no Christian name but Shirley: her parents, who had wished to have a son, finding that, after eight years of marriage, Providence had granted them only a daughter, bestowed on her the same masculine family cognomen they would have bestowed on a boy, if with a boy they had been blessed) - Shirley Keeldar was no ugly heiress: she was agreeable to the eye. Her height and shape were not unlike Miss Helstone's: perhaps in stature she might have the advantage by an inch or two; she was gracefully made, and her face, too, possessed a charm as well described by the word grace as any other. It was pale naturally, but intelligent, and of varied expression. She was not a blonde, like Caroline: clear and dark were the characteristics of her aspect as to colour: her face and brow were clear, her eyes of the darkest grey: no green lights in them, - transparent, pure, neutral grey: and her hair of the darkest brown. Her features were distinguished: by which I do not mean that they were high, bony, and Roman, being indeed rather small and slightly marked than otherwise; but only that they were, to use a few French words, 'fins, gracieux, spirituels': mobile they were and speaking; but their changes were not to be understood, nor their language interpreted all at once. She examined Caroline seriously, inclining her head a little to one side, with a thoughtful air.
  94. 'You see she is only a feeble chick,' observed Mr. Helstone.
  95. 'She looks young - younger than I. How old are you?' she inquired, in a manner that would have been patronising if it had not been extremely solemn and simple.
  96. 'Eighteen years and six months.'
  97. 'And I am twenty-one.'
  98. She said no more; she had now placed her flowers on the table, and was busied in arranging them.
  99. 'And St. Athanasius's creed?' urged the Rector; 'you believe it all - don't you?'
  100. 'I can't remember it quite all. I will give you a nosegay, Mr. Helstone, when I have given your niece one.'
  101. She had selected a little bouquet of one brilliant and two or three delicate flowers, relieved by a spray of dark verdure: she tied it with silk from her work-box, and placed it on Caroline's lap; and then she put her hands behind her, and stood bending slightly towards her guest, still regarding her, in the attitude and with something of the aspect of a grave but gallant little cavalier. This temporary expression of face was aided by the style in which she wore her hair, parted on one temple, and brushed in a glossy sweep above the forehead, whence it fell in curls that looked natural, so free were their wavy undulations.
  102. 'Are you tired with your walk?' she inquired.
  103. 'No - not in the least; it is but a short distance - but a mile.'
  104. 'You look pale. Is she always so pale?' she asked, turning to the Rector.
  105. 'She used to be as rosy as the reddest of your flowers.
  106. 'Why is she altered? What has made her pale? Has she been ill?'
  107. 'She tells me she wants a change.'
  108. 'She ought to have one: you ought to give her one: you should send her to the sea-coast.'
  109. 'I will, ere summer is over. Meantime, I intend her to make acquaintance with you, if you have no objection.'
  110. 'I am sure Miss Keeldar will have no objection,' here observed Mrs. Pryor. 'I think I may take it upon me to say that Miss Helstone's frequent presence at Fieldhead will be esteemed a favour.'
  111. 'You speak my sentiments precisely, ma'am,' said Shirley, 'and I thank you for anticipating me. Let me tell you,' she continued, turning again to Caroline, 'that you also ought to thank my governess; it is not every one she would welcome as she has welcomed you: you are distinguished more than you think. This morning, as soon as you are gone, I shall ask Mrs. Pryor's opinion of you. I am apt to rely on her judgment of character, for hitherto I have found it wondrous accurate. Already I foresee a favourable answer to my inquiries: do I not guess rightly, Mrs. Pryor?'
  112. 'My dear - you said but now you would ask my opinion when Miss Helstone was gone; I am scarcely likely to give it in her presence.'
  113. 'No - and perhaps it will be long enough before I obtain it. I am sometimes sadly tantalised, Mr. Helstone, by Mrs. Pryor's extreme caution: her judgments ought to be correct when they come, for they are often as tardy of delivery as a Lord Chancellor's: on some people's characters I cannot get her to pronounce sentence, entreat as I may.'
  114. Mrs. Pryor here smiled.
  115. 'Yes,' said her pupil, 'I know what that smile means: you are thinking of my gentleman-tenant. Do you know Mr. Moore of the Hollow?' she asked Mr. Helstone.
  116. 'Ay! ay! your tenant - so he is: you have seen a good deal of him, no doubt, since you came?'
  117. 'I have been obliged to see him: there was business to transact. Business! Really the word makes me conscious I am indeed no longer a girl, but quite a woman and something more. I am an esquire! Shirley Keeldar, Esquire, ought to be my style and title. They gave me a man's name; I hold a man's position: it is enough to inspire me with a touch of manhood, and when I see such people as that stately Anglo-Belgian - that Gérard Moore before me, gravely talking to me of business, really I feel quite gentleman-like. You must choose me for your churchwarden, Mr. Helstone, the next time you elect new ones: they ought to make me a magistrate and a captain of yeomanry Tony Lumpkin's mother was a colonel, and his aunt a justice of the peace - why shouldn't I be?'
  118. 'With all my heart. If you choose to get up a requisition on the subject, I promise to head the list of signatures with my name. But you were speaking of Moore?'
  119. 'Ah! yes. I find it a little difficult to understand Mr. Moore - to know what to think of him: whether to like him or not. He seems a tenant of whom any proprietor might be proud - and proud of him I am, in that sense - but as a neighbour, what is he? Again and again I have entreated Mrs. Pryor to say what she thinks of him, but she still evades returning a direct answer. I hope you will be less oracular, Mr. Helstone, and pronounce at once: do you like him?'
  120. 'Not at all, just now: his name is entirely blotted from my good books.'
  121. 'What is the matter? What has he done?'
  122. 'My uncle and he disagree on politics,' interposed the low voice of Caroline. She had better not have spoken just then: having scarcely joined in the conversation before, it was not apropos to do it now: she felt this with nervous acuteness as soon as she had spoken, and coloured to the eyes.
  123. 'What are Moore's politics?' inquired Shirley.
  124. 'Those of a tradesman,' returned the Rector; 'narrow, selfish, and unpatriotic. The man is eternally writing and speaking against the continuance of the war: I have no patience with him.'
  125. 'The war hurts his trade. I remember he remarked that only yesterday. But what other objection have you to him?'
  126. 'That is enough.'
  127. 'He looks the gentleman, in my sense of the term,' pursued Shirley, 'and it pleases me to think he is such.'
  128. Caroline rent the Tyrian petals of the one brilliant flower in her bouquet, and answered in distinct tones - 'Decidedly he is.' Shirley, hearing this courageous affirmation, flashed an arch, searching glance at the speaker from her deep, expressive eyes.
  129. 'You are his friend, at any rate,' she said; 'you defend him in his absence.'
  130. 'I am both his friend and his relative,' was the prompt reply. 'Robert Moore is my cousin.'
  131. 'Oh, then, you can tell me all about him. Just give me a sketch of his character.'
  132. Insuperable embarrassment seized Caroline when this demand was made: she could not, and did not attempt to comply with it. Her silence was immediately covered by Mrs. Pryor, who proceeded to address sundry questions to Mr. Helstone regarding a family or two in the neighbourhood, with whose connections in the south she said she was acquainted. Shirley soon withdrew her gaze from Miss Helstone's face. She did not renew her interrogations, but returning to her flowers, proceeded to choose a nosegay for the Rector. She presented it to him as he took leave, and received the homage of a salute on the hand in return.
  133. 'Be sure you wear it for my sake,' said she.
  134. 'Next my heart, of course,' responded Helstone. 'Mrs. Pryor, take care of this future magistrate, this churchwarden in perspective, this captain of yeomanry, this young squire of Briarfield, in a word: don't let him exert himself too much: don't let him break his neck in hunting: especially, let him mind how he rides down that dangerous hill near the Hollow.'
  135. 'I like a descent,' said Shirley - 'I like to clear it rapidly; and especially I like that romantic Hollow, with all my heart.'
  136. 'Romantic - with a mill in it?'
  137. 'Romantic with a mill in it. The old mill and the white cottage are each admirable in its way.'
  138. 'And the counting-house, Mr. Keeldar?'
  139. 'The counting-house is better than my bloom-coloured drawing-room: I adore the counting-house.'
  140. 'And the trade? The cloth - the greasy wool - the polluting dyeing-vats?'
  141. 'The trade is to be thoroughly respected.'
  142. 'And the tradesman is a hero? Good!'
  143. 'I am glad to hear you say so: I thought the tradesman looked heroic.'
  144. Mischief, spirit, and glee sparkled all over her face as she thus bandied words with the old Cossack, who almost equally enjoyed the tilt.
  145. 'Captain Keeldar, you have no mercantile blood in your veins: why are you so fond of trade?'
  146. 'Because I am a mill-owner, of course. Half my income comes from the works in that Hollow.'
  147. 'Don't enter into partnership, that's all.'
  148. 'You've put it into my head! you've put it into my head!' she exclaimed, with a joyous laugh. 'It will never get out: thank you.' And waving her hand, white as a lily and fine as a fairy's, she vanished within the porch, while the Rector and his niece passed out through the arched gateway.




CHAPTER XII

SHIRLEY AND CAROLINE

  1. Shirley showed she had been sincere in saying she should be glad of Caroline's society, by frequently seeking it: and, indeed, if she had not sought it, she would not have had it; for Miss Helstone was slow to make fresh acquaintance. She was always held back by the idea that people could not want her, - that she could not amuse them; and a brilliant, happy, youthful creature, like the heiress of Fieldhead, seemed to her too completely independent of society so uninteresting as hers, ever to find it really welcome.
  2. Shirley might be brilliant, and probably happy likewise, but no one is independent of genial society; and though in about a month she had made the acquaintance of most of the families round, and was on quite free and easy terms with all the Misses Sykes, and all the Misses Pearson, and the two superlative Misses Wynne of Walden Hall; yet, it appeared, she found none amongst them very genial: she fraternised with none of them, to use her own words. If she had had the bliss to be really Shirley Keeldar, Esq., Lord of the Manor of Briarfield, there was not a single fair one in this and the two neighbouring parishes, whom she should have felt disposed to request to become Mrs. Keeldar, lady of the manor. This declaration she made to Mrs. Pryor, who received it very quietly, as she did most of her pupil's off-hand speeches, responding - 'My dear, do not allow that habit of alluding to yourself as a gentleman to be confirmed: it is a strange one. Those who do not know you, hearing you speak thus, would think you affected masculine manners.'
  3. Shirley never laughed at her former governess: even the little formalities and harmless peculiarities of that lady were respectable in her eyes: had it been otherwise, she would have proved herself a weak character at once: for it is only the weak who make a butt of quiet worth; therefore she took her remonstrance in silence. She stood quietly near the window, looking at the grand cedar on her lawn, watching a bird on one of its lower boughs. Presently she began to chirrup to the bird: soon her chirrup grew clearer; erelong she was whistling; the whistle struck into a tune, and very sweetly and deftly it was executed.
  4. 'My dear!' expostulated Mrs. Pryor.
  5. 'Was I whistling?' said Shirley; 'I forgot. I beg your pardon, ma'am. I had resolved to take care not to whistle before you.'
  6. 'But, Miss Keeldar, where did you learn to whistle? You must have got the habit since you came down into Yorkshire. I never knew you guilty of it before.'
  7. 'Oh! I learned to whistle a long while ago.'
  8. 'Who taught you?'
  9. 'No one: I took it up by listening, and I had laid it down again; but lately, yesterday evening, as I was coming up our lane, I heard a gentleman whistling that very tune in the field on the other side of the hedge, and that reminded me.'
  10. 'What gentleman was it?'
  11. 'We have only one gentleman in this region, ma'am, and that is Mr. Moore: at least he is the only gentleman who is not grey-haired: my two venerable favourites, Mr. Helstone and Mr. Yorke, it is true, are fine old beaux; infinitely better than any of the stupid young ones.'
  12. Mrs. Pryor was silent.
  13. 'You do not like Mr. Helstone, ma'am?'
  14. 'My dear, Mr. Helstone's office secures him from criticism.'
  15. 'You generally contrive to leave the room when he is announced.'
  16. 'Do you walk out this morning, my dear?'
  17. 'Yes, I shall go to the Rectory, and seek and find Caroline Helstone, and make her take some exercise: she shall have a breezy walk over Nunnely Common.'
  18. 'If you go in that direction, my dear, have the goodness to remind Miss Helstone to wrap up well, as there is a fresh wind, and she appears to me to require care.'
  19. 'You shall be minutely obeyed, Mrs. Pryor: meantime, will you not accompany us yourself?'
  20. 'No, my love; I should be a restraint upon you: I am stout, and cannot walk so quickly as you would wish to do.'
  21. Shirley easily persuaded Caroline to go with her: and when they were fairly out on the quiet road, traversing the extensive and solitary sweep of Nunnely Common, she as easily drew her into conversation. The first feelings of diffidence overcome, Caroline soon felt glad to talk with Miss Keeldar. The very first interchange of slight observations sufficed to give each an idea of what the other was. Shirley said she liked the green sweep of the common turf, and, better still, the heath on its ridges, for the heath reminded her of moors: she had seen moors when she was travelling on the borders near Scotland. She remembered particularly a district traversed one long afternoon, on a sultry but sunless day in summer: they journeyed from noon till sunset, over what seemed a boundless waste of deep heath, and nothing had they seen but wild sheep; nothing heard but the cries of wild birds.
  22. 'I know how the heath would look on such a day,' said Caroline; 'purple-black: a deeper shade of the sky-tint, and that would be livid.'
  23. 'Yes - quite livid, with brassy edges to the clouds, and here and there a white gleam, more ghastly than the lurid tinge, which, as you looked at it, you momentarily expected would kindle into blinding lightning.'
  24. 'Did it thunder?'
  25. 'It muttered distant peals, but the storm did not break till evening, after we had reached our inn: that inn being an isolated house at the foot of a range of mountains.'
  26. 'Did you watch the clouds come down over the mountains?'
  27. 'I did: I stood at the window an hour watching them. The hills seemed rolled in a sullen mist, and when the rain fell in whitening sheets, suddenly they were blotted from the prospect: they were washed from the world.'
  28. 'I have seen such storms in hilly districts in Yorkshire; and at their riotous climax, while the sky was all cataract, the earth all flood, I have remembered the Deluge.'
  29. 'It is singularly reviving after such hurricanes to feel calm return, and from the opening clouds to receive a consolatory gleam, softly testifying that the sun is not quenched.'
  30. 'Miss Keeldar, just stand still now, and look down at Nunnely dale and wood.'
  31. They both halted on the green brow of the Common: they looked down on the deep valley robed in May raiment; on varied meads, some pearled with daisies, and some golden with king-cups: to-day all this young verdure smiled clear in sunlight; transparent emerald and amber gleams played over it. On Nunnwood - the sole remnant of antique British forest in a region whose lowlands were once all sylvan chase, as its highlands were breast-deep heather - slept the shadow of a cloud; the distant hills were dappled, the horizon was shaded and tinted like mother-of-pearl; silvery blues, soft purples, evanescent greens and rose-shades, all melting into fleeces of white cloud, pure as azury snow, allured the eye as with a remote glimpse of heaven's foundations. The air blowing on the brow was fresh, and sweet, and bracing.
  32. 'Our England is a bonnie island,' said Shirley, 'and Yorkshire is one of her bonniest nooks.'
  33. 'You are a Yorkshire girl too?'
  34. 'I am - Yorkshire in blood and birth. Five generations of my race sleep under the aisles of Briarfield Church: I drew my first breath in the old black hall behind us.'
  35. Hereupon Caroline presented her hand, which was accordingly taken and shaken. 'We are compatriots,' said she.
  36. 'Yes,' agreed Shirley, with a grave nod.
  37. 'And that,' asked Miss Keeldar, pointing to the forest - 'that is Nunnwood?'
  38. 'It is.'
  39. 'Were you ever there? '
  40. 'Many a time.'
  41. 'In the heart of it?
  42. 'Yes.'
  43. 'What is it like?'
  44. 'It is like an encampment of forest sons of Anak. The trees are huge and old. When you stand at their roots, the summits seem in another region: the trunks remain still and firm as pillars, while the boughs sway to every breeze. In the deepest calm their leaves are never quite hushed, and in high wind a flood rushes - a sea thunders above you.'
  45. 'Was it not one of Robin Hood's haunts?'
  46. 'Yes, and there are mementoes of him still existing. To penetrate into Nunnwood, Miss Keeldar, is to go far back into the dim days of old. Can you see a break in the forest, about the centre?'
  47. 'Yes, distinctly.'
  48. 'That break is a dell; a deep, hollow cup, lined with turf as green and short as the sod of this common: the very oldest of the trees, gnarled mighty oaks, crowd about the brink of this dell: in the bottom lie the ruins of a nunnery.'
  49. 'We will go - you and I alone, Caroline - to that wood, early some fine summer morning, and spend a long day there. We can take pencils and sketch-books, and any interesting reading-book we like; and of course we shall take something to eat. I have two little baskets, in which Mrs. Gill, my housekeeper, might pack our provisions, and we could each carry our own. It would not tire you too much to walk so far?'
  50. 'Oh, no; especially if we rested the whole day in the wood, and I know all the pleasantest spots: I know where we could get nuts in nutting time; I know where wild strawberries abound: I know certain lonely, quite untrodden glades, carpeted with strange mosses, some yellow as if gilded, some a sober grey, some gem-green. I know groups of trees that ravish the eye with their perfect, picture-like effects: rude oak, delicate birch, glossy beech, clustered in contrast; and ash trees stately as Saul, standing isolated, and superannuated wood-giants clad in bright shrouds of ivy. Miss Keeldar, I could guide you.'
  51. 'You would be dull with me alone?'
  52. 'I should not. I think we should suit: and what third person is there whose presence would not spoil our pleasure?'
  53. 'Indeed, I know of none about our own ages - no lady at least, and as to gentlemen' ----
  54. 'An excursion becomes quite a different thing when there are gentlemen of the party,' interrupted Caroline.
  55. 'I agree with you - quite a different thing to what we were proposing.'
  56. 'We were going simply to see the old trees, the old ruins; to pass a day in old times, surrounded by olden silence, and above all by quietude.'
  57. 'You are right; and the presence of gentlemen dispels the last charm, I think. If they are of the wrong sort, like your Malones, and your young Sykes, and Wynnes, irritation takes the place of serenity. If they are of the right sort, there is still a change - I can hardly tell what change, one easy to feel, difficult to describe.'
  58. 'We forget Nature, imprimis.'
  59. 'And then Nature forgets us; covers her vast calm brow with a dim veil, conceals her face, and withdraws the peaceful joy with which, if we had been content to worship her only, she would have filled our hearts.'
  60. 'What does she give us instead?'
  61. 'More elation and more anxiety: an excitement that steals the hours away fast, and a trouble that ruffles their course.'
  62. 'Our power of being happy lies a good deal in ourselves, I believe,' remarked Caroline sagely. 'I have gone to Nunnwood with a large party, all the curates and some other gentry of these parts, together with sundry ladies; and I found the affair insufferably tedious and absurd: and I have gone quite alone, or accompanied but by Fanny, who sat in the woodman's hut and sewed, or talked to the good wife, while I roamed about and made sketches, or read; and I have enjoyed much happiness of a quiet kind all day long. But that was when I was young - two years ago.'
  63. 'Did you ever go with your cousin, Robert Moore?'
  64. 'Yes; once.'
  65. 'What sort of a companion is he on these occasions?'
  66. 'A cousin, you know, is different to a stranger.'
  67. 'I am aware of that; but cousins, if they are stupid, are still more insupportable than strangers, because you cannot so easily keep them at a distance. But your cousin is not stupid?'
  68. 'No; but ----'
  69. 'Well?'
  70. 'If the company of fools irritates, as you say, the society of clever men leaves its own peculiar pain also. Where the goodness or talent of your friend is beyond and above all doubt, your own worthiness to be his associate often becomes a matter of question.'
  71. 'Oh! there I cannot follow you: that crotchet is not one I should choose to entertain for an instant. I consider myself not unworthy to be the associate of the best of them - of gentlemen, I mean: though that is saying a great deal. Where they are good, they are very good, I believe. Your uncle, by-the-bye, is not a bad specimen of the elderly gentleman: I am always glad to see his brown, keen, sensible old face, either in my own house or any other. Are you fond of him? Is he kind to you? Now speak the truth.'
  72. He has brought me up from childhood, I doubt not, precisely as he would have brought up his own daughter, if he had had one; and that is kindness; but I am not fond of him: I would rather be out of his presence than in it.'
  73. 'Strange! when he has the art of making himself so agreeable.'
  74. 'Yes, in company; but he is stern and silent at home. As he puts away his cane and shovel-hat in the Rectory-hall, so he locks his liveliness in his book-case and study-desk: the knitted brow and brief word for the fire-side; the smile, the jest, the witty sally, for society.'
  75. 'Is he tyrannical?'
  76. 'Not in the least: he is neither tyrannical nor hypocritical: he is simply a man who is rather liberal than good-natured, rather brilliant than genial, rather scrupulously equitable than truly just, - if you can understand such superfine distinctions?'
  77. 'Oh! yes: good-nature implies indulgence, which he has not; geniality, warmth of heart, which he does not own; and genuine justice is the offspring of sympathy and considerateness, of which, I can well conceive, my bronzed old friend is quite innocent.'
  78. 'I often wonder, Shirley, whether most men resemble my uncle in their domestic relations; whether it is necessary to be new and unfamiliar to them, in order to seem agreeable or estimable in their eyes; and whether it is impossible to their natures to retain a constant interest and affection for those they see every day.'
  79. 'I don't know: I can't clear up your doubts. I ponder over similar ones myself sometimes. But, to tell you a secret, if I were convinced that they are necessarily and universally different from us - fickle, soon petrifying, unsympathising - I would never marry. I should not like to find out that what I loved did not love me, that it was weary of me, and that whatever effort I might make to please would hereafter be worse than useless, since it was inevitably in its nature to change and become indifferent. That discovery once made, what should I long for? To go away - to remove from a presence where my society gave no pleasure.'
  80. 'But you could not, if you were married.'
  81. 'No, I could not, - there it is. I could never be my own mistress more. A terrible thought! - it suffocates me! Nothing irks me like the idea of being a burden and a bore, - an inevitable burden, - a ceaseless bore! Now, when I feel my company superfluous, I can comfortably fold my independence round me like a mantle, and drop my pride like a veil, and withdraw to solitude. If married, that could not be.'
  82. 'I wonder we don't all make up our minds to remain single,' said Caroline: 'we should if we listened to the wisdom of experience. My uncle always speaks of marriage as a burden; and I believe whenever he hears of a man being married, he invariably regards him as a fool, or at any rate, as doing a foolish thing.'
  83. 'But, Caroline, men are not all like your uncle: surely not - I hope not.'
  84. She paused and mused.
  85. 'I suppose we each find an exception in the one we love, till we are married,' suggested Caroline.
  86. 'I suppose so: and this exception we believe to be of sterling materials; we fancy it like ourselves; we imagine a sense of harmony. We think his voice gives the softest, truest promise of a heart that will never harden against us: we read in his eyes that faithful feeling - affection. I don't think we should trust to what they call passion at all, Caroline. I believe it is a mere fire of dry sticks, blazing up and vanishing: but we watch him, and see him kind to animals, to little children, to poor people. He is kind to us likewise - good - considerate: he does not flatter women, but he is patient with them, and he seems to be easy in their presence, and to find their company genial. He likes them not only for vain and selfish reasons, but as we like him - because we like him. Then we observe that he is just - that he always speaks the truth - that he is conscientious. We feel joy and peace when he comes into a room: we feel sadness and trouble when he leaves it. We know that this man has been a kind son, that he is a kind brother: will any one dare to tell me that he will not be a kind husband?'
  87. 'My uncle would affirm it unhesitatingly. He will be sick of you in a month,' he would say.'
  88. 'Mrs. Pryor would seriously intimate the same.'
  89. 'Miss Yorke and Miss Mann would darkly suggest ditto.'
  90. 'If they are true oracles, it is good never to fall in love.'
  91. 'Very good, if you can avoid it.'
  92. 'I choose to doubt their truth.'
  93. 'I am afraid that proves you are already caught.'
  94. 'Not I: but if I were, do you know what soothsayers I would consult?'
  95. 'Let me hear.'
  96. 'Neither man nor woman, elderly nor young : - the little Irish beggar that comes barefoot to my door; the mouse that steals out of the cranny in the wainscot; the bird that in frost and snow pecks at my window for a crumb; the dog that licks my hand and sits beside my knee.'
  97. 'Did you ever see any one who was kind to such things?'
  98. 'Did you ever see any one whom such things seemed instinctively to follow, like, rely on?'
  99. 'We have a black cat and an old dog at the Rectory. I know somebody to whose knee that black cat loves to climb; against whose shoulder and cheek it likes to purr. The old dog always comes out of his kennel and wags his tail, and whines affectionately when somebody passes.'
  100. 'And what does that somebody do?'
  101. 'He quietly strokes the cat, and lets her sit while he conveniently can, and when he must disturb her by rising, he puts her softly down, and never flings her from him roughly; he always whistles to the dog and gives him a caress.'
  102. 'Does he? It is not Robert?'
  103. 'But it is Robert.'
  104. 'Handsome fellow!' said Shirley, with enthusiasm: her eyes sparkled.
  105. 'Is he not handsome? Has he not fine eyes and well-cut features, and a clear, princely forehead?'
  106. 'He has all that, Caroline. Bless him! he is both graceful and good.'
  107. 'I was sure you would see that he was: when I first looked at your face I knew you would.'
  108. 'I was well inclined to him before I saw him. I liked him when I did see him: I admire him now. There is charm in beauty for itself, Caroline; when it is blent with goodness, there is a powerful charm.'
  109. 'When mind is added, Shirley?'
  110. 'Who can resist it?'
  111. 'Remember my uncle, Mesdames Pryor, Yorke, and Mann.'
  112. 'Remember the croaking of the frogs of Egypt! He is a noble being. I tell you when they are good, they are the lords of the creation, - they are the sons of God. Moulded in their Maker's image, the minutest spark of His spirit lifts them almost above mortality. Indisputably, a great, good, handsome man is the first of created things.'
  113. 'Above us?'
  114. 'I would scorn to contend for empire with him, - I would scorn it. Shall my left hand dispute for precedence with my right? - shall my heart quarrel with my pulse? - shall my veins be jealous of the blood which fills them?'
  115. 'Men and women, husbands and wives quarrel horribly, Shirley.'
  116. 'Poor things! - poor, fallen, degenerate things! God made them for another lot - for other feelings.'
  117. 'But are we men's equals, or are we not?'
  118. 'Nothing ever charms me more than when I meet my superior - one who makes me sincerely feel that he is my superior.'
  119. 'Did you ever meet him?'
  120. 'I should be glad to see him any day: the higher above me, so much the better: it degrades to stoop - it is glorious to look up. What frets me is, that when I try to esteem, I am baffled: when religiously inclined, there are but false gods to adore. I disdain to be a Pagan.'
  121. 'Miss Keeldar, will you come in? We are here at the Rectory gates.'
  122. 'Not to-day; but to-morrow I shall fetch you to spend the evening with me. Caroline Helstone - if you really are what at present to me you seem - you and I will suit. I have never in my whole life been able to talk to a young lady as I have talked to you this morning. Kiss me - and good-bye.'

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  123. Mrs. Pryor seemed as well-disposed to cultivate Caroline's acquaintance as Shirley. She, who went nowhere else, called on an early day at the Rectory. She came in the afternoon, when the Rector happened to be out. It was rather a close day; the heat of the weather had flushed her, and she seemed fluttered, too, by the circumstance of entering a strange house; for it appeared her habits were most retiring and secluded. When Miss Helstone went to her in the dining-room she found her seated on the sofa, trembling, fanning herself with her handkerchief, and seeming to contend with a nervous discomposure that threatened to become hysterical.
  124. Caroline marvelled somewhat at this unusual want of self-command in a lady of her years, and also at the lack of real strength in one who appeared almost robust: for Mrs. Pryor hastened to allege the fatigue of her walk, the heat of the sun, etc., as reasons for her temporary indisposition; and still as, with more hurry than coherence, she again and again enumerated these causes of exhaustion, Caroline gently sought to relieve her by opening her shawl and removing her bonnet. Attentions of this sort, Mrs. Pryor would not have accepted from everyone: in general, she recoiled from touch or close approach, with a mixture of embarrassment and coldness far from flattering to those who offered her aid: to Miss Helstone's little light hand, however, she yielded tractably, and seemed soothed by its contact. In a few minutes she ceased to tremble, and grew quiet and tranquil.
  125. Her usual manner being resumed, she proceeded to talk of ordinary topics. In a miscellaneous company, Mrs. Pryor rarely opened her lips; or, if obliged to speak, she spoke under restraint, and consequently not well; in dialogue, she was a good converser: her language, always a little formal, was well chosen; her sentiments were just; her information was varied and correct. Caroline felt it pleasant to listen to her: more pleasant than she could have anticipated.
  126. On the wall opposite the sofa where they sat, hung three pictures: the centre one, above the mantel-piece, that of a lady; the two others, male portraits.
  127. 'That is a beautiful face,' said Mrs. Pryor, interrupting a brief pause which had followed half-an-hour's animated conversation: 'the features may be termed perfect; no statuary's chisel could improve them: it is a portrait from the life, I presume?'
  128. 'It is a portrait of Mrs. Helstone.'
  129. 'Of Mrs. Matthewson Helstone? Of your uncle's wife?'
  130. 'It is, and is said to be a good likeness: before her marriage, she was accounted the beauty of the district.'
  131. 'I should say she merited the distinction: what accuracy in all the lineaments! It is, however, a passive face: the original could not have been what is generally termed 'a woman of spirit.''
  132. 'I believe she was a remarkably still, silent person.'
  133. 'One would scarcely have expected, my dear, that your uncle's choice should have fallen on a partner of that description. Is he not fond of being amused by lively chat?'
  134. 'In company he is; but he always says he could never do with a talking wife: he must have quiet at home. You go out to gossip, he affirms; you come home to read and reflect.'
  135. 'Mrs. Matthewson lived but a few years after her marriage, I think I have heard?'
  136. 'About five years.'
  137. 'Well, my dear,' pursued Mrs. Pryor, rising to go, 'I trust it is understood that you will frequently come to Fieldhead: I hope you will. You must feel lonely here, having no female relative in the house: you must necessarily pass much of your time in solitude.'
  138. 'I am inured to it: I have grown up by myself. May I arrange your shawl for you?'
  139. Mrs. Pryor submitted to be assisted.
  140. 'Should you chance to require help in your studies,' she said, 'you may command me.'
  141. Caroline expressed her sense of such kindness.
  142. 'I hope to have frequent conversations with you. I should wish to be of use to you.'
  143. Again Miss Helstone returned thanks. She thought what a kind heart was hidden under her visitor's seeming chilliness. Observing that Mrs. Pryor again glanced with an air of interest towards the portraits, as she walked down the room, Caroline casually explained - 'The likeness that hangs near the window, you will see, is my uncle, taken twenty years ago; the other, to the left of the mantelpiece, is his brother James, my father.'
  144. 'They resemble each other in some measure,' said Mrs. Pryor; 'yet a difference of character may be traced in the different mould of the brow and mouth.'
  145. 'What difference?' inquired Caroline, accompanying her to the door. 'James Helstone - that is, my father - is generally considered the best-looking of the two: strangers, I remark, always exclaim, 'What a handsome man!' Do you think his picture handsome, Mrs. Pryor?'
  146. 'It is much softer or finer featured than that of your uncle.'
  147. 'But where or what is the difference of character to which you alluded? Tell me: I wish to see if you guess right.'
  148. 'My dear, your uncle is a man of principle: his forehead and his lips are firm, and his eye is steady.'
  149. 'Well, and the other? Do not be afraid of offending me: I always like the truth.'
  150. 'Do you like the truth? It is well for you: adhere to that preference - never swerve thence. The other, my dear, if he had been living now, would probably have furnished little support to his daughter. It is, however, a graceful head - taken in youth, I should think. My dear' (turning abruptly), 'you acknowledge an inestimate value in principle?'
  151. 'I am sure no character can have true worth without it.'
  152. 'You feel what you say? You have considered the subject?'
  153. 'Often. Circumstances early forced it upon my attention.'
  154. 'The lesson was not lost, then, though it came so prematurely. I suppose the soil is not light nor stony, otherwise seed falling in that season never would have borne fruit. My dear, do not stand in the air of the door, you will take cold: good afternoon.'
  155. Miss Helstone's new acquaintance soon became of value to her: their society was acknowledged a privilege. She found she would have been in error indeed to have let slip this chance of relief - to have neglected to avail herself of this happy change: a turn was thereby given to her thoughts; a new channel was opened for them, which, diverting a few of them at least from the one direction in which all had hitherto tended, abated the impetuosity of their rush, and lessened the force of their pressure on one worn-down point.
  156. Soon she was content to spend whole days at Fieldhead, doing by turns whatever Shirley or Mrs. Pryor wished her to do: and now one would claim her, now the other. Nothing could be less demonstrative than the friendship of the elder lady; but also nothing could be more vigilant, assiduous, untiring. I have intimated that she was a peculiar personage; and in nothing was her peculiarity more shown than in the nature of the interest she evinced for Caroline. She watched all her movements: she seemed as if she would have guarded all her steps: it gave her pleasure to be applied to by Miss Helstone for advice and assistance; she yielded her aid, when asked, with such quiet yet obvious enjoyment, that Caroline ere long took delight in depending on her.
  157. Shirley Keeldar's complete docility with Mrs. Pryor had at first surprised Miss Helstone, and not less the fact of the reserved ex-governess being so much at home and at ease in the residence of her young pupil, where she filled with such quiet independency a very dependent post; but she soon found that it needed but to know both ladies to comprehend fully the enigma. Every one, it seemed to her, must like, must love, must prize Mrs. Pryor when they knew her. No matter that she perseveringly wore old-fashioned gowns; that her speech was formal, and her manner cool; that she had twenty little ways such as nobody else had - she was still such a stay, such a counsellor, so truthful, so kind in her way, that, in Caroline's idea, none once accustomed to her presence could easily afford to dispense with it.
  158. As to dependency or humiliation, Caroline did not feel it in her intercourse with Shirley, and why should Mrs. Pryor? The heiress was rich - very rich - compared with her new friend: one possessed a clear thousand a year - the other not a penny; and yet there was a safe sense of equality experienced in her society, never known in that of the ordinary Briarfield and Whinbury gentry.
  159. The reason was, Shirley's head ran on other things than money and position. She was glad to be independent as to property: by fits she was even elated at the notion of being lady of the manor, and having tenants and an estate: she was especially tickled with an agreeable complacency when reminded of 'all that property' down in the Hollow, 'comprising an excellent cloth-mill, dyehouse, warehouse, together with the messuage, gardens, and outbuildings, termed Hollow's Cottage'; but her exultation being quite undisguised was singularly inoffensive; and, for her serious thoughts, they tended elsewhere. To admire the great, reverence the good, and be joyous with the genial, was very much the bent of Shirley's soul: she mused therefore on the means of following this bent far oftener than she pondered on her social superiority.
  160. In Caroline, Miss Keeldar had first taken an interest because she was quiet, retiring, looked delicate, and seemed as if she needed some one to take care of her. Her predilection increased greatly when she discovered that her own way of thinking and talking was understood and responded to by this new acquaintance. She had hardly expected it. Miss Helstone, she fancied, had too pretty a face, manners and voice too soft, to be anything out of the common way in mind and attainments; and she very much wondered to see the gentle features light up archly to the reveillé of a dry sally or two risked by herself; and more did she wonder to discover the self-won knowledge treasured, and the untaught speculations working in that girlish, curl-veiled head. Caroline's instinct of taste, too, was like her own: such books as Miss Keeldar had read with the most pleasure, were Miss Helstone's delight also. They held many aversions too in common, and could have the comfort of laughing together over works of false sentimentality and pompous pretension.
  161. Few, Shirley conceived, men or women have the right taste in poetry: the right sense for discriminating between what is real and what is false. She had again and again heard very clever people pronounce this or that passage, in this or that versifier, altogether admirable, which, when she read, her soul refused to acknowledge as anything but cant, flourish, and tinsel, or at the best, elaborate wordiness; curious, clever, learned perhaps; haply even tinged with the fascinating hues of fancy, but, God knows, as different from real poetry as the gorgeous and massy vase of mosaic is from the little cup of pure metal; or, to give the reader a choice of similes, as the milliner's artificial wreath is from the fresh-gathered lily of the field.
  162. Caroline, she found, felt the value of the true ore, and knew the deception of the flashy dross. The minds of the two girls being toned in harmony, often chimed very sweetly together.
  163. One evening, they chanced to be alone in the oak-parlour. They had passed a long wet day together without ennui; it was now on the edge of dark; candles were not yet brought in; both, as twilight deepened, grew meditative and silent. A western wind roared high round the hall, driving wild clouds and stormy rain up from the far-remote ocean: all was tempest outside the antique lattices, all deep peace within. Shirley sat at the window, watching the rack in heaven, the mist on earth, listening to certain notes of the gale that plained like restless spirits - notes which, had she not been so young, gay, and healthy, would have swept her trembling nerves like some omen, some anticipatory dirge: in this her prime of existence and bloom of beauty, they but subdued vivacity to pensiveness. Snatches of sweet ballads haunted her ear; now and then she sang a stanza: her accents obeyed the fitful impulse of the wind; they swelled as its gusts rushed on, and died as they wandered away. Caroline, withdrawn to the farthest and darkest end of the room, her figure just discernible by the ruby shine of the flameless fire, was pacing to and fro, murmuring to herself fragments of well-remembered poetry. She spoke very low, but Shirley heard her; and while singing softly, she listened. This was the strain:

    Obscurest night involved the sky,
    The Atlantic billows roar'd,
    When such a destined wretch as I,
    Washed headlong from on board,
    Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
    His floating home for ever left.

  164. Here the fragment stopped; because Shirley's song, erewhile somewhat full and thrilling, had become delicately faint.
  165. 'Go on,' said she.
  166. 'Then you go on, too. I was only repeating The Castaway.'
  167. 'I know: if you can remember it all, say it all.'
  168. And as it was nearly dark, and, after all, Miss Keeldar was no formidable auditor, Caroline went through it. She went through it as she should have gone through it. The wild sea, the drowning mariner, the reluctant ship swept on in the storm, you heard were realised by her; and more vividly was realised the heart of the poet, who did not weep for The Castaway, but who, in an hour of tearless anguish, traced a semblance to his own God-abandoned misery in the fate of that man-forsaken sailor, and cried from the depths where he struggled:

    No voice divine the storm allayed,
    No light propitious shone,
    When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
    We perish'd - each alone!
    But I - beneath a rougher sea,
    And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he.

  169. 'I hope William Cowper is safe and calm in heaven now,' said Caroline.
  170. 'Do you pity what he suffered on earth?' asked Miss Keeldar.
  171. 'Pity him, Shirley? What can I do else? He was nearly broken-hearted when he wrote that poem, and it almost breaks one's heart to read it. But he found relief in writing it - I know he did; and that gift of poetry - the most divine bestowed on man - was, I believe, granted to allay emotions when their strength threatens harm. It seems to me, Shirley, that nobody should write poetry to exhibit intellect or attainment. Who cares for that sort of poetry? Who cares for learning - who cares for fine words in poetry? And who does not care for feeling - real feeling - however simply, even rudely expressed?'
  172. 'It seems you care for it, at all events: and certainly, in hearing that poem, one discovers that Cowper was under an impulse strong as that of the wind which drove the ship - an impulse which, while it would not suffer him to stop to add ornament to a single stanza, filled him with force to achieve the whole with consummate perfection. You managed to recite it with a steady voice, Caroline: I wonder thereat.'
  173. 'Cowper's hand did not tremble in writing the lines; why should my voice falter in repeating them? Depend on it, Shirley, no tear blistered the manuscript of The Castaway, I hear in it no sob of sorrow, only the cry of despair; but, that cry uttered, I believe the deadly spasm passed from his heart; that he wept abundantly, and was comforted.'
  174. Shirley resumed her ballad minstrelsy. Stopping short, she remarked ere long - 'One could have loved Cowper, if it were only for the sake of having the privilege of comforting him.'
  175. 'You never would have loved Cowper,' rejoined Caroline promptly: 'he was not made to be loved by woman.'
  176. 'What do you mean?'
  177. 'What I say. I know there is a kind of natures in the world - and very noble, elevated natures, too - whom love never comes near. You might have sought Cowper with the intention of loving him; and you would have looked at him, pitied him, and left him: forced away by a sense of the impossible, the incongruous, as the crew were borne from their drowning comrade by "the furious blast."'
  178. 'You may be right. Who told you this?'
  179. 'And what I say of Cowper, I should say of Rousseau. Was Rousseau ever loved? He loved passionately; but was his passion ever returned? I am certain, never. And if there were any female Cowpers and Rousseaus, I should assert the same of them.'
  180. 'Who told you this, I ask? Did Moore?'
  181. 'Why should anybody have told me? Have I not an instinct? Can I not divine by analogy? Moore never talked to me either about Cowper, or Rousseau, or love. The voice we hear in solitude told me all I know on these subjects.'
  182. 'Do you like characters of the Rousseau order, Caroline?'
  183. 'Not at all, as a whole. I sympathise intensely with certain qualities they possess: certain divine sparks in their nature dazzle my eyes, and make my soul glow. Then, again, I scorn them. They are made of clay and gold. The refuse and the ore make a mass of weakness: taken altogether, I feel them unnatural, unhealthy, repulsive.'
  184. 'I dare say I should be more tolerant of a Rousseau than you would, Cary: submissive and contemplative yourself, you like the stern and the practical. By the way, you must miss that Cousin Robert of yours very much, now that you and he never meet.'
  185. 'I do.'
  186. 'And he must miss you?'
  187. 'That he does not.'
  188. 'I cannot imagine,' pursued Shirley, who had lately got a habit of introducing Moore's name into the conversation, even when it seemed to have no business there, - 'I cannot imagine but that he was fond of you, since he took so much notice of you, talked to you, and taught you so much.'
  189. 'He never was fond of me: he never professed to be fond of me. He took pains to prove that he only just tolerated me.'
  190. Caroline, determined not to err on the flattering side in estimating her cousin's regard for her, always now habitually thought of it and mentioned it in the most scanty measure. She had her own reasons for being less sanguine than ever in hopeful views of the future: less indulgent to pleasurable retrospections of the past.
  191. 'Of course, then,' observed Miss Keeldar, 'you only just tolerated him, in return?'
  192. 'Shirley, men and women are so different: they are in such a different position. Women have so few things to think about - men so many: you may have a friendship for a man, while he is almost indifferent to you. Much of what cheers your life may be dependent on him, while not a feeling or interest of moment in his eyes may have reference to you. Robert used to be in the habit of going to London, sometimes for a week or a fortnight together; well, while he was away, I found his absence a void: there was something wanting; Briarfield was duller. Of course, I had my usual occupations; still I missed him. As I sat by myself in the evenings, I used to feel a strange certainty of conviction I cannot describe: that if a magician or a genius had, at that moment, offered me Prince Ali's tube (you remember it in the Arabian Nights?), and if, with its aid, I had been enabled to take a view of Robert - to see where he was, how occupied - I should have learned, in a startling manner, the width of the chasm which gaped between such as he and such as I. I knew that, however my thoughts might adhere to him, his were effectually sundered from me.'
  193. 'Caroline,' demanded Miss Keeldar abruptly, 'don't you wish you had a profession - a trade?'
  194. 'I wish it fifty times a day. As it is, I often wonder what I came into the world for. I long to have something absorbing and compulsory to fill my head and hands, and to occupy my thoughts.'
  195. 'Can labour alone make a human being happy?'
  196. 'No; but it can give varieties of pain, and prevent us from breaking our hearts with a single tyrant master-torture. Besides, successful labour has its recompense; a vacant, weary, lonely, hopeless life has none.'
  197. 'But hard labour and learned professions, they say, make women masculine, coarse, unwomanly.'
  198. 'And what does it signify, whether unmarried and never-to-be-married women are unattractive and inelegant, or not? - provided only they are decent, decorous, and neat, it is enough. The utmost which ought to be required of old maids, in the way of appearance, is that they should not absolutely offend men's eyes as they pass them in the street; for the rest, they should be allowed, without too much scorn, to be as absorbed, grave, plain-looking, and plain-dressed as they please.'
  199. 'You might be an old maid yourself, Caroline, you speak so earnestly.'
  200. 'I shall be one: it is my destiny. I will never marry a Malone or a Sykes - and no one else will ever marry me.'
  201. Here fell a long pause. Shirley broke it. Again the name by which she seemed bewitched was almost the first on her lips.
  202. 'Lina - did not Moore call you Lina sometimes?'
  203. 'Yes: it is sometimes used as the abbreviation of Caroline in his native country.'
  204. 'Well, Lina, do you remember my one day noticing an inequality in your hair - a curl wanting on that right side - and your telling me that it was Robert's fault, as he had once cut therefrom a long lock?'
  205. 'Yes.'
  206. 'If he is, and always was, as indifferent to you as you say, why did he steal your hair?'
  207. 'I don't know - yes, I do: it was my doing, not his. Everything of that sort always was my doing. He was going from home, to London, as usual; and the night before he went, I had found in his sister's workbox a lock of black hair - a short, round curl: Hortense told me it was her brother's and a keepsake. He was sitting near the table; I looked at his head - he has plenty of hair; on the temples were many such round curls. I thought he could spare me one: I knew I should like to have it, and I asked for it. He said, on condition that he might have his choice of a tress from my head; so he got one of my long locks of hair, and I got one of his short ones. I keep his, but, I dare say, he has lost mine. It was my doing, and one of those silly deeds it distresses the heart and sets the face on fire to think of: one of those small but sharp recollections that return, lacerating your self-respect like tiny penknives, and forcing from your lips, as you sit alone, sudden, insane-sounding interjections.'
  208. 'Caroline!'
  209. 'I do think myself a fool, Shirley, in some respects: I do despise myself. But I said I would not make you my confessor; for you cannot reciprocate foible for foible: you are not weak. How steadily you watch me now! Turn aside your clear, strong, she-eagle eye: it is an insult to fix it on me thus.'
  210. 'What a study of character you are! Weak, certainly; but not in the sense you think. - Come in!'
  211. This was said in answer to a tap at the door. Miss Keeldar happened to be near it at the moment, Caroline at the other end of the room; she saw a note put into Shirley's hands, and heard the words - 'From Mr. Moore, ma'am.'
  212. 'Bring candles,' said Miss Keeldar.
  213. Caroline sat expectant.
  214. 'A communication on business,' said the heiress; but when candles were brought, she neither opened nor read it. The Rector's Fanny was presently announced, and the Rector's niece went home.




CHAPTER XIII

FURTHER COMMUNICATIONS ON BUSINESS

  1. In Shirley's nature prevailed at times an easy indolence: there were periods when she took delight in perfect vacancy of hand and eye - moments when her thoughts, her simple existence, the fact of the world being around - and heaven above her, seemed to yield her such fulness of happiness, that she did not need to lift a finger to increase the joy. Often, after an active morning, she would spend a sunny afternoon in lying stirless on the turf, at the foot of some tree of friendly umbrage: no society did she need but that of Caroline, and it sufficed if she were within call; no spectacle did she ask but that of the deep blue sky, and such cloudlets as sailed afar and aloft across its span; no sound but that of the bee's hum, the leaf's whisper. Her sole book in such hours was the dim chronicle of memory, or the sibyl page of anticipation: from her young eyes fell on each volume a glorious light to read by; round her lips at moments played a smile which revealed glimpses of the tale or prophecy: it was not sad, not dark. Fate had been benign to the blissful dreamer, and promised to favour her yet again. In her past were sweet passages; in her future rosy hopes.
  2. Yet one day when Caroline drew near to rouse her, thinking she had lain long enough, behold, as she looked down, Shirley's cheek was wet as if with dew: those fine eyes of hers shone humid and brimming.
  3. 'Shirley, why do you cry?' asked Caroline, involuntarily laying stress on you.
  4. Miss Keeldar smiled, and turned her picturesque head towards the questioner. 'Because it pleases me mightily to cry,' she said; 'my heart is both sad and glad: but why, you good, patient child - why do you not bear me company? I only weep tears, delightful and soon wiped away: you might weep gall, if you choose.'
  5. 'Why should I weep gall?'
  6. 'Mateless, solitary bird!' was the only answer.
  7. 'And are not you, too, mateless, Shirley?'
  8. 'At heart - no.'
  9. 'Oh! who nestles there, Shirley?'
  10. But Shirley only laughed gaily at this question, and alertly started up.
  11. I have dreamed,' she said: 'a mere day-dream; certainly bright, probably baseless!'

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  12. Miss Helstone was by this time free enough from illusions: she took a sufficiently grave view of the future, and fancied she knew pretty well how her own destiny and that of some others were tending. Yet old associations retained their influence over her, and it was these, and the power of habit, which still frequently drew her of an evening to the field-stile and the old thorn overlooking the Hollow.
  13. One night, the night after the incident of the note, she had been at her usual post, watching for her beacon - watching vainly; that evening no lamp was lit. She waited till the rising of certain constellations warned her of lateness, and signed her away. In passing Fieldhead, on her return, its moonlight beauty attracted her glance, and stayed her step an instant. Tree and hall rose peaceful under the night sky and clear full orb; pearly paleness gilded the building; mellow brown gloom bosomed it round; shadows of deep green brooded above its oak-wreathed roof. The broad pavement in front shone pale also; it gleamed as if some spell had transformed the dark granite to glistering Parian: on the silvery space slept two sable shadows, thrown sharply defined from two human figures. These figures when first seen were motionless and mute; presently they moved in harmonious step, and spoke low in harmonious key. Earnest was the gaze that scrutinised them as they emerged from behind the trunk of the cedar. ' Is it Mrs. Pryor and Shirley?
  14. Certainly it is Shirley. Who else has a shape so lithe, and proud, and graceful? And her face, too, is visible: her countenance careless and pensive, and musing and mirthful, and mocking and tender. Not fearing the dew, she has not covered her head; her curls are free: they veil her neck and caress her shoulder with their tendril rings. An ornament of gold gleams through the half-closed folds of the scarf she has wrapped across her bust, and a large bright gem glitters on the white hand which confines it. Yes, that is Shirley.
  15. Her companion then is, of course, Mrs. Pryor?
  16. Yes, if Mrs. Pryor owns six feet of stature, and if she has changed her decent widow's weeds for masculine disguise. The figure walking at Miss Keeldar's side is a man - a tall, young, stately man - it is her tenant, Robert Moore.
  17. The pair speak softly, their words are not distinguishable: to remain a moment to gaze is not to be an eavesdropper; and as the moon shines so clearly and their countenances are so distinctly apparent, who can resist the attraction of such interest; Caroline it seems cannot, for she lingers.
  18. There was a time when, on summer nights, Moore had been wont to walk with his cousin, as he was now walking with the heiress. Often had she gone up the Hollow with him after sunset, to scent the freshness of the earth, where a growth of fragrant herbage carpeted a certain narrow terrace, edging a deep ravine, from whose rifted gloom was heard a sound like the spirit of the lonely watercourse, moaning amongst its wet stones, and between its weedy banks, and under its dark bower of alders.
  19. 'But I used to be closer to him,' thought Caroline: 'he felt no obligation to treat me with homage; I needed only kindness. He used to hold my hand: he does not touch hers. And yet Shirley is not proud where she loves. There is no haughtiness in her aspect now, only a little in her port; what is natural to and inseparable from her; what she retains in her most careless as in her most guarded moments. Robert must think as I think, that he is at this instant looking down on a fine face; and he must think it with a man's brain, not with mine. She has such generous, yet soft fire in her eyes. She smiles - what makes her smile so sweet? I saw that Robert felt its beauty, and he must have felt it with his man's heart, not with my dim woman's perceptions. They look to me like two great happy spirits; yonder silver pavement reminds me of that white shore we believe to be beyond the death-flood: they have reached it, they walk there united. And what am I - standing here in shadow, shrinking into concealment, my mind darker than my hiding-place? I am one of this world, no spirit - a poor, doomed mortal, who asks, in ignorance and hopelessness, wherefore she was born, to what end she lives; whose mind for ever runs on the question, how she shall at last encounter, and by whom be sustained through death?'
  20. 'This is the worst passage I have come to yet: still I was quite prepared for it. I gave Robert up, and gave him up to Shirley, the first day I heard she was come: the first moment I saw her - rich, youthful, and lovely. She has him now: he is her lover; she is his darling: she will be far more his darling yet when they are married: the more Robert knows of Shirley, the more his soul will cleave to her. They will both be happy, and I do not grudge them their bliss; but I groan under my own misery: some of my suffering is very acute. Truly, I ought not to have been born: they should have smothered me at the first cry.'
  21. Here, Shirley stepping aside to gather a dewy flower, she and her companion turned into a path that lay nearer the gate: some of their conversation became audible. Caroline would not stay to listen: she passed away noiselessly, and the moonlight kissed the wall which her shadow had dimmed. The reader is privileged to remain, and try what he can make of the discourse.
  22. 'I cannot conceive why Nature did not give you a bulldog's head, for you have all a bulldog's tenacity,' said Shirley.
  23. 'Not a flattering idea: am I so ignoble?'
  24. 'And something also you have of the same animal's silent ways of going about its work: you give no warning; you come noiselessly behind, seize fast, and hold on.'
  25. 'This is guess-work; you have witnessed no such feat on my part: in your presence I have been no bulldog.'
  26. 'Your very silence indicates your race. How little you talk in general, yet how deeply you scheme! You are far-seeing; you are calculating.'
  27. 'I know the ways of these people. I have gathered information of their intentions. My note last night informed you that Barraclough's trial had ended in his conviction and sentence to transportation: his associates will plot vengeance. I shall lay my plans so as to counteract, or, at least, be prepared for theirs; that is all. Having now given you as clear an explanation as I can, am I to understand that for what I propose doing I have your approbation?'
  28. 'I shall stand by you so long as you remain on the defensive. Yes.'
  29. 'Good! Without any aid - even opposed or disapproved by you - I believe I should have acted precisely as I now intend to act; but in another spirit. I now feel satisfied. On the whole, I relish the position.'
  30. 'I dare say you do; that is evident: you relish the work which lies before you still better than you would relish the execution of a government order for army-cloth.'
  31. 'I certainly feel it congenial.'
  32. 'So would old Helstone. It is true there is a shade of difference in your motives: many shades, perhaps. Shall I speak to Mr. Helstone? I will, if you like.'
  33. 'Act as you please: your judgment, Miss Keeldar, will guide you accurately. I could rely on it myself, in a more difficult crisis; but I should inform you, Mr. Helstone is somewhat prejudiced against me at present.'
  34. 'I am aware, I have heard all about your differences: depend upon it they will melt away: he cannot resist the temptation of an alliance under present circumstances.'
  35. 'I should be glad to have him: he is of true metal.'
  36. 'I think so also.'
  37. 'An old blade, and rusted somewhat; but the edge and temper still excellent.'
  38. 'Well, you shall have him, Mr. Moore; that is, if I can win him.'
  39. 'Whom can you not win?'
  40. 'Perhaps not the Rector; but I will make the effort.'
  41. 'Effort! He will yield for a word - a smile.'
  42. 'By no means. It will cost me several cups of tea, some toast and cake, and an ample measure of remonstrances, expostulations, and persuasions. It grows rather chill.'
  43. 'I perceive you shiver. Am I acting wrongly to detain you here? Yet it is so calm: I even feel it warm; and society such as yours is a pleasure to me so rare. - If you were wrapped in a thicker shawl ----'
  44. 'I might stay longer, and forget how late it is, which would chagrin Mrs. Pryor. We keep early and regular hours at Fieldhead, Mr. Moore; and so, I am sure, does your sister at the cottage.'
  45. 'Yes; but Hortense and I have an understanding the most convenient in the world, that we shall each do as we please.'
  46. 'How do you please to do?'
  47. 'Three nights in the week I sleep in the mill: but I require little rest; and when it is moonlight and mild, I often haunt the Hollow till daybreak.'
  48. 'When I was a very little girl, Mr. Moore, my nurse used to tell me tales of fairies being seen in that Hollow. That was before my father built the mill, when it was a perfectly solitary ravine: you will be falling under enchantment.'
  49. 'I fear it is done,' said Moore, in a low voice.
  50. 'But there are worse things than fairies to be guarded against,' pursued Miss Keeldar.
  51. 'Things more perilous,' he subjoined.
  52. 'Far more so. For instance, how would you like to meet Michael Hartley, that mad Calvinist and Jacobin weaver? They say he is addicted to poaching, and often goes abroad at night with his gun.'
  53. 'I have already had the luck to meet him. We held a long argument together one night. A strange little incident it was: I liked it.'
  54. 'Liked it? I admire your taste! Michael is not sane. Where did you meet him?'
  55. 'In the deepest, shadiest spot in the glen, where the water runs low, under brushwood. We sat down near that plank bridge. It was moonlight, but clouded, and very windy. We had a talk.'
  56. 'On politics?'
  57. 'And religion. I think the moon was at the full, and Michael was as near crazed as possible: he uttered strange blasphemy in his Antinomian fashion.'
  58. 'Excuse me, but I think you must have been nearly as mad as he, to sit listening to him.'
  59. 'There is a wild interest in his ravings. The man would be half a poet, if he were not wholly a maniac; and perhaps a prophet, if he were not a profligate. He solemnly informed me that hell was foreordained my inevitable portion; that he read the mark of the beast on my brow; that I had been an outcast from the beginning. God's vengeance, he said, was preparing for me, and affirmed that in a vision of the night he had beheld the manner and the instrument of my doom. I wanted to know further, but he left me with these words, 'The end is not yet.'
  60. 'Have you ever seen him since?'
  61. 'About a month afterwards, in returning from market, I encountered him and Moses Barraclough both in an advanced stage of inebriation: they were praying in frantic sort at the roadside. They accosted me as Satan, bid me avaunt, and clamoured to be delivered from temptation. Again, but a few days ago, Michael took the trouble of appearing at the counting-house door, hatless, in his shirt-sleeves, - his coat and castor having been detained at the public-house in pledge; he delivered himself of the comfortable message that he could wish Mr. Moore to set his house in order, as his soul was likely shortly to be required of him.'
  62. 'Do you make light of these things?'
  63. 'The poor man had been drinking for weeks, and was in a state bordering on delirium tremens.'
  64. 'What then? He is the more likely to attempt the fulfilment of his own prophecies.'
  65. 'It would not do to permit incidents of this sort to affect one's nerves.'
  66. 'Mr. Moore, go home!'
  67. 'So soon?'
  68. 'Pass straight down the fields, not round by the lane and plantations.'
  69. 'It is early yet.'
  70. 'It is late: for my part I am going in. Will you promise me not to wander in the Hollow to-night?'
  71. 'If you wish it.'
  72. 'I do wish it. May I ask whether you consider life valueless?'
  73. 'By no means: on the contrary, of late I regard my life as invaluable.'
  74. 'Of late?'
  75. 'Existence is neither aimless nor hopeless to me now; and it was both three months ago. I was then drowning, and rather wished the operation over. All at once a hand was stretched to me, - such a delicate hand, I scarcely dared trust it: - its strength, however, has rescued me from ruin.'
  76. 'Are you really rescued?'
  77. 'For the time your assistance has given me another chance.'
  78. 'Live to make the best of it. Don't offer yourself as a target to Michael Hartley, and good-night!'

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  79. Miss Helstone was under a promise to spend the evening of the next day at Fieldhead: she kept her promise. Some gloomy hours had she spent in the interval. Most of the time had been passed shut up in her own apartment; only issuing from it, indeed, to join her uncle at meals, and anticipating inquires from Fanny by telling her that she was busy altering a dress, and preferred sewing upstairs, to avoid interruption.
  80. She did sew: she plied her needle continuously, ceaselessly; but her brain worked faster than her fingers. Again, and more intensely than ever, she desired a fixed occupation, - no matter how onerous, how irksome. Her uncle must be once more entreated, but first she would consult Mrs. Pryor. Her head laboured to frame projects as diligently as her hands to plait and stitch the thin texture of the muslin summer dress spread on the little white couch at the foot of which she sat. Now and then, while thus doubly occupied, a tear would fill her eyes and fall on her busy hands; but this sign of emotion was rare and quickly effaced: the sharp pang passed, the dimness cleared from her vision; she would re-thread her needle, rearrange tuck and trimming, and work on.
  81. Late in the afternoon she dressed herself: she reached Fieldhead, and appeared in the oak parlour just as tea was brought in. Shirley asked her why she came so late.
  82. 'Because I have been making my dress,' said she. 'These fine sunny days began to make me ashamed of my winter merino; so I have furbished up a lighter garment.'
  83. 'In which you look as I like to see you,' said Shirley. 'You are a lady-like little person, Caroline: is she not, Mrs. Pryor?'
  84. Mrs. Pryor never paid compliments, and seldom indulged in remarks, favourable or otherwise, on personal appearance. On the present occasion she only swept Caroline's curls from her cheek as she took a seat near her, caressed the oval outline, and observed - 'You get somewhat thin, my love, and somewhat pale. Do you sleep well? Your eyes have a languid look'; and she gazed at her anxiously.
  85. 'I sometimes dream melancholy dreams,' answered Caroline; 'and if I lie awake for an hour or two in the night, I am continually thinking of the Rectory as a dreary old place. You know it is very near the churchyard: the back part of the house is extremely ancient, and it is said that the out-kitchens there were once enclosed in the churchyard, and that there are graves under them. I rather long to leave the Rectory.'
  86. 'My dear! You are surely not superstitious?'
  87. 'No, Mrs. Pryor; but I think I grow what is called nervous. I see things under a darker aspect than I used to do. I have fears I never used to have - not of ghosts, but of omens and disastrous events; and I have an inexpressible weight on my mind which I would give the world to shake off, and I cannot do it.'
  88. 'Strange!' cried Shirley. 'I never feel so.' Mrs. Pryor said nothing.
  89. 'Fine weather, pleasant days, pleasant scenes are powerless to give me pleasure,' continued Caroline. 'Calm evenings are not calm to me: moonlight, which I used to think mild, now only looks mournful. Is this weakness of mind, Mrs. Pryor, or what is it? I cannot help it: I often struggle against it: I reason: but reason and effort make no difference.'
  90. 'You should take more exercise,' said Mrs. Pryor.
  91. 'Exercise! I exercise sufficiently: I exercise till I am ready to drop.'
  92. 'My dear, you should go from home.'
  93. 'Mrs. Pryor, I should like to go from home, but not on any purposeless excursion or visit. I wish to be a governess as you have been. It would oblige me greatly if you would speak to my uncle on the subject.'
  94. 'Nonsense!' broke in Shirley. 'What an idea! Be a governess! Better be a slave at once. Where is the necessity of it? Why should you dream of such a painful step?'
  95. 'My dear,' said Mrs. Pryor, 'you are very young to be a governess, and not sufficiently robust: the duties a governess undertakes are often severe.'
  96. 'And I believe I want severe duties to occupy me.'
  97. 'Occupy you!' cried Shirley. 'When are you idle? I never saw a more industrious girl than you you are always at work. Come,' she continued - 'come and sit by my side, and take some tea to refresh you. You don't care much for my friendship, then, that you wish to leave me?'
  98. 'Indeed, I do, Shirley; and I don't wish to leave you. I shall never find another friend so dear.'
  99. At which words Miss Keeldar put her hand into Caroline's with an impulsively affectionate movement, which was well seconded by the expression of her face.
  100. 'If you think so, you had better make much of me,' she said, 'and not run away from me. I hate to part with those to whom I am become attached. Mrs. Pryor there sometimes talks of leaving me, and says I might make a more advantageous connection than herself. I should as soon think of exchanging an old-fashioned mother for something modish and stylish. As for you - why, I began to flatter myself we were thoroughly friends; that you liked Shirley almost as well as Shirley likes you: and she does not stint her regard.'
  101. 'I do like Shirley: I like her more and more every day; but that does not make me strong or happy.'
  102. 'And would it make you strong or happy to go and live as a dependent amongst utter strangers? It would not; and the experiment must not be tried. I tell you it would fail: it is not in your nature to bear the desolate life governesses generally lead: you would fall ill: I won't hear of it.'
  103. And Miss Keeldar paused, having uttered this prohibition very decidedly. Soon she recommenced, still looking somewhat courroucée - 'Why, it is my daily pleasure now to look out for the little cottage bonnet and the silk scarf glancing through the trees in the lane, and to know that my quiet, shrewd, thoughtful companion and monitress is coming back to me: that I shall have her sitting in the room to look at, to talk to, or to let alone, as she and I please. This may be a selfish sort of language - I know it is; but it is the language which naturally rises to my lips; therefore I utter it.'
  104. 'I would write to you, Shirley.'
  105. 'And what are letters? Only a sort of pis-aller. Drink some tea, Caroline: eat something - you eat nothing; laugh and be cheerful, and stay at home.'
  106. Miss Helstone shook her head and sighed. She felt what difficulty she would have to persuade any one to assist or sanction her in making that change in her life which she believed desirable. Might she only follow her own judgment, she thought she should be able to find, perhaps a harsh, but an effectual cure for her sufferings. But this judgment, founded on circumstances she could fully explain to none, least of all to Shirley, seemed, in all eyes but her own, incomprehensible and fantastic, and was opposed accordingly.
  107. There really was no present pecuniary need for her to leave a comfortable home and 'take a situation'; and there was every probability that her uncle might in some way permanently provide for her. So her friends thought, and, as far as their lights enabled them to see, they reasoned correctly: but of Caroline's strange sufferings, which she desired so eagerly to overcome or escape, they had no idea, - of her racked nights and dismal days, no suspicion. It was at once impossible and hopeless to explain: to wait and endure was her only plan. Many that want food and clothing have cheerier lives and brighter prospects than she had; many, harassed by poverty, are in a strait less afflictive.
  108. 'Now, is your mind quieted?' inquired Shirley. 'Will you consent to stay at home?'
  109. 'I shall not leave it against the approbation of my friends,' was the reply; 'but I think in time they will be obliged to think as I do.'
  110. During this conversation Mrs. Pryor looked far from easy. Her extreme habitual reserve would rarely permit her to talk freely, or to interrogate others closely. She could think a multitude of questions she never ventured to put; give advice in her mind which her tongue never delivered. Had she been alone with Caroline, she might possibly have said something to the point: Miss Keeldar's presence, accustomed as she was to it, sealed her lips. Now, as on a thousand other occasions, inexplicable nervous scruples kept her back from interfering. She merely showed her concern for Miss Helstone in an indirect way, by asking her if the fire made her too warm, placing a screen between her chair and the hearth, closing a window whence she imagined a draught proceeded, and often and restlessly glancing at her. Shirley resumed - 'Having destroyed your plan,' she said, 'which I hope I have done, I shall construct a new one of my own. Every summer I make an excursion. This season I propose spending two months either at the Scotch lochs or the English lakes: that is, I shall go there, provided you consent to accompany me: if you refuse, I shall not stir a foot.'
  111. 'You are very good, Shirley.'
  112. 'I would be very good if you would let me: I have every disposition to be good. It is my misfortune and habit, I know, to think of myself paramount to anybody else: but who is not like me in that respect? However, when Captain Keeldar is made comfortable, accommodated with all he wants, including a sensible genial comrade, it gives him a thorough pleasure to devote his spare efforts to making that comrade happy. And should we not be happy, Caroline, in the Highlands? We will go to the Highlands. We will, if you can bear a sea-voyage, go to the Isles, - the Hebrides, the Shetland, the Orkney Islands. Would you not like that? I see you would: Mrs. Pryor, I call you to witness; her face is all sunshine at the bare mention of it.'
  113. 'I should like it much,' returned Caroline; to whom, indeed, the notion of such a tour was not only pleasant, but gloriously reviving. Shirley rubbed her hands.
  114. 'Come, I can bestow a benefit,' she exclaimed. 'I can do a good deed with my cash. My thousand a year is not merely a matter of dirty bank-notes and jaundiced guineas (let me speak respectfully of both though, for I adore them); but, it may be, health to the drooping, strength to the weak, consolation to the sad. I was determined to make something of it better than a fine old house to live in, than satin gowns to wear; better than deference from acquaintance, and homage from the poor. Here is to begin. This summer - Caroline, Mrs. Pryor, and I go out into the North Atlantic, beyond the Shetland - perhaps to the Faroe Isles. We will see seals in Suderoe, and, doubtless, mermaids in Stromoe. Caroline is laughing, Mrs. Pryor: I made her laugh; I have done her good.'
  115. 'I shall like to go, Shirley,' again said Miss Helstone. 'I long to hear the sound of waves - ocean-waves, and to see them as I have imagined them in dreams, like tossing banks of green light, strewed with vanishing and re-appearing wreaths of foam, whiter than lilies. I shall delight to pass the shores of those lone rock-islets where the sea-birds live and breed unmolested. We shall be on the track of the old Scandinavians - of the Norsemen; we shall almost see the shores of Norway. This is a very vague delight that I feel, communicated by your proposal, but it is a delight.'
  116. 'Will you think of Fitful Head now, when you lie awake at night; of gulls shrieking round it, and waves tumbling in upon it rather than of the graves under the Rectory hack-kitchen?'
  117. 'I will try; and instead of musing about remnants of shrouds, and fragments of coffins, and human bones and mould, I will fancy seals lying in the sunshine on solitary shores, where neither fisherman nor hunter ever come: of rock-crevices full of pearly eggs bedded in sea-weed; of unscared birds covering white sands in happy flocks.'
  118. 'And what will become of that inexpressible weight you said you had on your mind?'
  119. 'I will try to forget it in speculation on the sway of the whole Great Deep above a herd of whales rushing through the livid and liquid thunder down from the frozen zone: a hundred of them, perhaps, wallowing, flashing, rolling in the wake of a patriarch bull, huge enough to have been spawned before the Flood: such a creature as poor Smart had in his mind when he said:

    Strong against tides, the enormous whale
    Emerges as he goes.'

  120. 'I hope our bark will meet with no such shoal, or herd, as you term it, Caroline. (I suppose you fancy the sea-mammoths pasturing about the bases of the 'everlasting hills,' devouring strange provender in the vast valleys through and above which sea-billows roll.) I should not like to be capsized by the patriarch bull.'
  121. 'I suppose you expect to see mermaids, Shirley?'
  122. 'One of them at any rate: I do not bargain for less: and she is to appear in some such fashion as this. I am to be walking by myself on deck, rather late of an August evening, watching and being watched by a full harvest-moon: something is to rise white on the surface of the sea, over which that moon mounts silent, and hangs glorious: the object glitters and sinks. It rises again. I think I hear it cry with an articulate voice: I call you up from the cabin: I show you an image, fair as alabaster, emerging from the dim wave. We both see the long hair, the lifted and foam-white arm, the oval mirror brilliant as a star. It glides nearer: a human face is plainly visible; a face in the style of yours, whose straight, pure (excuse the word, it is appropriate), - whose straight, pure lineaments, paleness does not disfigure. It looks at us, but not with your eyes. I see a preternatural lure in its wily glance: it beckons. Were we men, we should spring at the sign, the cold billow would be dared for the sake of the colder enchantress; being women, we stand safe, though not dreadless. She comprehends our unmoved gaze; she feels herself powerless; anger crosses her front; she cannot charm, but she will appal us: she rises high, and glides all revealed, on the dark wave-ridge. Tempt-ress-terror! monstrous likeness of ourselves! Are you not glad, Caroline, when at last, and with a wild shriek, she dives?'
  123. 'But, Shirley, she is not like us: we are neither temptresses, nor terrors, nor monsters.'
  124. 'Some of our kind, it is said, are all three. There are men who ascribe to 'woman,' in general, such attributes.'
  125. 'My dears,' here interrupted Mrs. Pryor, 'does it not strike you that your conversation for the last ten minutes has been rather fanciful?'
  126. 'But there is no harm in our fancies is there, ma'am?'
  127. 'We are aware that mermaids do not exist: why speak of them as if they did? How can you find interest in speaking of a nonentity?'
  128. 'I don't know,' said Shirley.
  129. 'My dear, I think there is an arrival. I heard a step in the lane, while you were talking; and is not that the garden-gate which creaks?'
  130. Shirley stepped to the window.
  131. 'Yes, there is some one,' said she, turning quietly away; and, as she resumed her seat, a sensitive flush animated her face, while a trembling ray at once kindled and softened her eye. She raised her hand to her chin, cast her gaze down, and seemed to think as she waited.
  132. The servant announced Mr. Moore, and Shirley turned round when Mr. Moore appeared at the door. His figure seemed very tall as he entered, and stood in contrast with the three ladies, none of whom could boast a stature much beyond the average. He was looking well, better than he had been known to look for the past twelve months: a sort of renewed youth glowed in his eye and colour, and an invigorated hope and settled purpose sustained his bearing: firmness his countenance still indicated, but not austerity: it looked as cheerful as it was earnest.
  133. 'I am just returned from Stilbro',' he said to Miss Keeldar, as he greeted her; 'and I thought I would call to impart to you the result of my mission.'
  134. 'You did right not to keep me in suspense,' she said; 'and your visit is well-timed. Sit down: we have not finished tea. Are you English enough to relish tea; or do you faithfully adhere to coffee?'
  135. Moore accepted tea.
  136. 'I am learning to be a naturalised Englishman,' said he; my foreign habits are leaving me one by one.'
  137. And now he paid his respects to Mrs. Pryor, and paid them well, with a grave modesty that became his age, compared with hers. Then he looked at Caroline - not, however, for the first time - his glance had fallen upon her before: he bent towards her as she sat, gave her his hand, and asked her how she was. The light from the window did not fall upon Miss Helstone, her back was turned towards it: a quiet though rather low reply, a still demeanour, and the friendly protection of early twilight, kept out of view each traitorous symptom. None could affirm that she had trembled or blushed, that her heart had quaked, or her nerves thrilled: none could prove emotion: a greeting showing less effusion was never interchanged. Moore took the empty chair near her, opposite Miss Keeldar. He had placed himself well: his neighbour, screened by the very closeness of his vicinage from his scrutiny, and sheltered further by the dusk which deepened each moment, soon regained not merely seeming, but real mastery of the feelings which had started into insurrection at the first announcement of his name.
  138. He addressed his conversation to Miss Keeldar.
  139. 'I went to the barracks,' he said, 'and had an interview with Colonel Ryde: he approved my plans, and promised the aid I wanted: indeed, he offered a more numerous force than I require - half-a-dozen will suffice. I don't intend to be swamped by redcoats: they are needed for appearance rather than anything else: my main reliance is on my own civilians.'
  140. 'And on their Captain,' interposed Shirley.
  141. 'What, Captain Keeldar?' inquired Moore, slightly smiling, and not lifting his eyes: the tone of raillery in which he said this was very respectful and suppressed.
  142. 'No,' returned Shirley, answering the smile; 'Captain Gérard Moore, who trusts much to the prowess of his own right arm, I believe.'
  143. 'Furnished with his counting-house ruler,' added Moore. Resuming his usual gravity, he went on: 'I received by this evening's post a note from the Home Secretary in answer to mine: it appears they are uneasy at the state of matters here in the north; they especially condemn the supineness and pusillanimity of the mill-owners; they say, as I have always said, that inaction, under present circumstances, is criminal, and that cowardice is cruelty, since both can only encourage disorder, and lead finally to sanguinary outbreaks. There is the note: I brought it for your perusal; and there is a batch of newspapers, containing further accounts of proceedings in Nottingham, Manchester, and elsewhere.'
  144. He produced letters and journals, and laid them before Miss Keeldar. While she perused them, he took his tea quietly; but, though his tongue was still, his observant faculties seemed by no means off duty. Mrs. Pryor, sitting in the background, did not come within the range of his glance, but the two younger ladies had the full benefit thereof.
  145. Miss Keeldar, placed directly opposite, was seen without effort: she was the object his eyes, when lifted, naturally met first; and, as what remained of daylight - the gilding of the west - was upon her, her shape rose in relief from the dark panelling behind. Shirley's clear cheek was tinted yet with the colour which had risen into it a few minutes since: the dark lashes of her eyes looking down as she read, the dusk yet delicate line of her eyebrows, the almost sable gloss of her curls, made her heightened complexion look fine as the bloom of a red wild-flower by contrast. There was natural grace in her attitude, and there was artistic effect in the ample and shining folds of her silk dress - an attire simply fashioned, but almost splendid from the shifting brightness of its dye, warp and woof being of tints deep and changing as the hue on a pheasant's neck. A glancing bracelet on her arm produced the contrast of gold and ivory: there was something brilliant in the whole picture. It is to be supposed that Moore thought so, as his eye dwelt long on it, but he seldom permitted his feelings or his opinions to exhibit themselves in his face: his temperament boasted a certain amount of phlegm, and he preferred an undemonstrative, not ungentle, but serious aspect, to any other.
  146. He could not, by looking straight before him, see Caroline, as she was close at his side; it was necessary, therefore, to manoeuvre a little to get her well within the range of his observation: he leaned back in his chair, and looked down on her. In Miss Helstone, neither he nor any one else could discover brilliancy. Sitting in the shade, without flowers or ornaments, her attire the modest muslin dress, colourless but for its narrow stripe of pale azure, her complexion unflushed, unexcited, the very brownness of her hair and eyes invisible by this faint light, she was, compared with the heiress, as a graceful pencil-sketch compared with a vivid painting. Since Robert had seen her last, a great change had been wrought in her; whether he perceived it, might not be ascertained: he said nothing to that effect.
  147. 'How is Hortense?' asked Caroline softly.
  148. 'Very well; but she complains of being unemployed; she misses you.'
  149. 'Tell her that I miss her, and that I write and read a portion of French every day.'
  150. 'She will ask if you sent your love: she is always particular on that point. You know she likes attention.'
  151. 'My best love - my very best; and say to her, that whenever she has time to write me a little note, I shall be glad to hear from her.'
  152. 'What if I forget? I am not the surest messenger of compliments.'
  153. 'No, don't forget, Robert: it is no compliment - it is in good earnest.'
  154. 'And must therefore be delivered punctually?'
  155. 'If you please.'
  156. 'Hortense will be ready to shed tears. She is tender-hearted on the subject of her pupil; yet she reproaches you sometimes for obeying your uncle's injunctions too literally. Affection, like love, will be unjust now and then.'
  157. And Caroline made no answer to this observation; for indeed her heart was troubled, and to her eyes she would have raised her handkerchief, if she had dared. If she had dared, too, she would have declared how the very flowers in the garden of Hollow's Cottage were dear to her; how the little parlour of that house was her earthly paradise; how she longed to return to it, as much almost as the First Woman, in her exile, must have longed to revisit Eden. Not daring, however, to say these things, she held her peace: she sat quiet at Robert's side, waiting for him to say something more. It was long since this proximity had been hers - long since his voice had addressed her; could she, with any show of probability, even of possibility, have imagined that the meeting gave him pleasure, to her it would have given deep bliss. Yet, even in doubt that it pleased - in dread that it might annoy him - she received the boon of the meeting as an imprisoned bird would the admission of sunshine to its cage: it is of no use arguing - contending against the sense of present happiness: to be near Robert was to be revived.
  158. Miss Keeldar laid down the papers.
  159. 'And are you glad or sad for all these menacing tidings?' she inquired of her tenant.
  160. 'Not precisely either; but I certainly am instructed. I see that our only plan is to be firm. I see that efficient preparation and a resolute attitude are the best means of averting bloodshed.'
  161. He then inquired if she had observed some particular paragraph, to which she replied in the negative, and he rose to show it to her: he continued the conversation standing before her. From the tenor of what he said, it appeared evident that they both apprehended disturbances in the neighbourhood of Briarfield, though in what form they expected them to break out was not specified. Neither Caroline nor Mrs. Pryor asked questions: the subject did not appear to be regarded as one ripe for free discussion; therefore the lady and her tenant were suffered to keep details to themselves, unimportuned by the curiosity of their listeners.
  162. Miss Keeldar, in speaking to Mr. Moore, took a tone at once animated and dignified, confidential and self-respecting. When, however, the candles were brought in, and the fire was stirred up, and the fulness of light thus produced rendered the expression of her countenance legible, you could see that she was all interest, life, and earnestness: there was nothing coquettish in her demeanour: whatever she felt for Moore, she felt it seriously. And serious, too, were his feelings, and settled were his views, apparently; for he made no petty effort to attract, dazzle, or impress. He contrived, notwithstanding, to command a little; because the deeper voice, however mildly modulated, the somewhat harder mind, now and then, though involuntarily and unintentionally, bore down by some peremptory phrase or tone the mellow accents and susceptible, if high, nature of Shirley. Miss Keeldar looked happy in conversing with him, and her joy seemed twofold, - a joy of the past and present, of memory and of hope.
  163. What I have just said are Caroline's ideas of the pair: she felt what has just been described. In thus feeling, she tried not to suffer; but suffered sharply, nevertheless. She suffered, indeed, miserably: a few minutes before, her famished heart had tasted a drop and crumb of nourishment, that, if freely given, would have brought back abundance of life where life was failing; but the generous feast was snatched from her, spread before another, and she remained but a bystander at the banquet.
  164. The clock struck nine: it was Caroline's time for going home: she gathered up her work, put the embroidery, the scissors, the thimble into her bag: she bade Mrs. Pryor a quiet goodnight, receiving from that lady a warmer pressure of the hand than usual: she stepped up to Miss Keeldar.
  165. 'Good-night, Shirley!'
  166. Shirley started up. 'What! - so soon? Are you going already?'
  167. 'It is past nine.'
  168. 'I never heard the clock. You will come again to-morrow, and you will be happy to-night, will you not? Remember our plans.'
  169. 'Yes,' said Caroline: 'I have not forgotten.'
  170. Her mind misgave her that neither those plans nor any other could permanently restore her mental tranquillity. She turned to Robert, who stood close behind her: as he looked up, the light of the candles on the mantelpiece fell full on her face: all its paleness, all its change, all its forlorn meaning were clearly revealed. Robert had good eyes, and might have seen it, if he would: whether he did see it, nothing indicated.
  171. 'Good-night!' she said, shaking like a leaf, offering her thin hand hastily, anxious to part from him quickly.
  172. 'You are going home?' he asked, not touching her hand.
  173. 'Yes.'
  174. 'Is Fanny come for you?'
  175. 'Yes.'
  176. 'I may as well accompany you a step of the way: not up to the Rectory, though, lest my old friend, Helstone, should shoot me from the window.'
  177. He laughed and took his hat. Caroline spoke of unnecessary trouble: he told her to put on her bonnet and shawl. She was quickly ready, and they were soon both in the open air. Moore drew her hand under his arm, just in his old manner, - that manner which she ever felt to be so kind.
  178. 'You may run on, Fanny,' he said to the house-maid: 'we shall overtake you': and when the girl had got a little in advance, he enclosed Caroline's hand in his, and said he was glad to find she was a familiar guest at Fieldhead: he hoped her intimacy with Miss Keeldar would continue; such society would be both pleasant and improving.
  179. Caroline replied that she liked Shirley.
  180. 'And there is no doubt the liking is mutual,' said Moore: 'if she professes friendship, be certain she is sincere: she cannot feign; she scorns hypocrisy. And, Caroline, are we never to see you at Hollow's Cottage again?'
  181. 'I suppose not, unless my uncle should change his mind.'
  182. 'Are you much alone now?'
  183. 'Yes; a good deal. I have little pleasure in any society but Miss Keeldar's.'
  184. 'Have you been quite well lately?'
  185. 'Quite.'
  186. 'You must take care of yourself. Be sure not to neglect exercise. Do you know I fancied you somewhat altered; - a little fallen away, and pale. Is your uncle kind to you?'
  187. 'Yes; he is just as he always is.'
  188. 'Not too tender, that is to say; not too protective and attentive. And what ails you, then? - tell me, Lina.'
  189. 'Nothing, Robert'; but her voice faltered.
  190. 'That is to say, nothing that you will tell me: I am not to be taken into confidence. Separation is then quite to estrange us, is it?'
  191. 'I do not know: sometimes I almost fear it is.'
  192. 'But it ought not to have that effect. 'Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days o' lang syne?''
  193. 'Robert, I don't forget.'
  194. 'It is two months, I should think, Caroline, since you were at the cottage.'
  195. 'Since I was within it - yes.'
  196. 'Have you ever passed that way in your walk?'
  197. 'I have come to the top of the fields sometimes of an evening, and looked down. Once I saw Hortense in the garden watering her flowers, and I know at what time you light your lamp in the counting-house: I have waited for it to shine out now and then; and I have seen you bend between it and the window: I knew it was you - I could almost trace the outline of your form.'
  198. 'I wonder I never encountered you: I occasionally walk to the top of the Hollow's fields after sunset.'
  199. 'I know you do: I had almost spoken to you one night, you passed so near me.'
  200. 'Did I? I passed near you, and did not see you Was I alone?'
  201. 'I saw you twice, and neither time were you alone.'
  202. 'Who was my companion? Probably nothing but Joe Scott, or my own shadow by moonlight.'
  203. 'No; neither Joe Scott nor your shadow, Robert. The first time you were with Mr. Yorke; and the second time what you call your shadow was a shape with a white forehead and dark curls, and a sparkling necklace round its neck; but I only just got a glimpse of you and that fairy shadow: I did not wait to hear you converse.'
  204. 'It appears you walk invisible. I noticed a ring on your hand this evening; can it be the ring of Gyges? Henceforth, when sitting in the counting-house by myself, perhaps at dead of night, I shall permit myself to imagine that Caroline may be leaning over my shoulder reading with me from the same book, or sitting at my side engaged in her own particular task, and now and then raising her unseen eyes to my face to read there my thoughts.'
  205. 'You need fear no such infliction: I do not come near you: I only stand afar off, watching what may become of you.'
  206. 'When I walk out along the hedgerows in the evening after the mill is shut - or at night, when I take the watchman's place - I shall fancy the flutter of every little bird over its nest, the rustle of every leaf, a movement made by you; tree-shadows will take your shape: in the white sprays of hawthorn, I shall imagine glimpses of you. Lina, you will haunt me.'
  207. 'I will never be where you would not wish me to he, nor see nor hear what you would wish unseen and unheard.'
  208. 'I shall see you in my very mill in broad daylight: indeed, I have seen you there once. But a week ago, I was standing at the top of one of my long rooms, girls were working at the other end, and amongst half-a-dozen of them, moving to and fro, I seemed to see a figure resembling yours. It was some effect of doubtful light or shade, or of dazzling sunbeam. I walked up to this group; what I sought had glided away: I found myself between two buxom lasses in pinafores.'
  209. 'I shall not follow you into your mill, Robert, unless you call me there.'
  210. 'Nor is that the only occasion on which imagination has played me a trick. One night, when I came home late from market, I walked into the cottage parlour thinking to find Hortense; but instead of her, I thought I found you. There was no candle in the room: my sister had taken the light upstairs with her; the window-blind was not drawn, and broad moonbeams poured through the panes: there you were, Lina, at the casement, shrinking a little to one side in an attitude not unusual with you. You were dressed in white, as I have seen you dressed at an evening party. For half a second, your fresh, living face seemed turned towards me, looking at me; for half a second, my idea was to go and take your our hand, to chide you for your long absence, and welcome your present visit. Two steps forward broke the spell: the drapery of the dress changed outline; the tints of the complexion dissolved, and were formless: positively, as I reached the spot, there was nothing left but the sweep of a white muslin curtain, and a balsam plant in a flower-pot, covered with a flush of bloom - 'sic transit,' et cetera.'
  211. 'It was not my wraith, then? I almost thought it was.'
  212. 'No; only gauze, crockery, and pink blossom: a sample of earthly illusions.'
  213. 'I wonder you have time for such illusions, occupied as your mind must be.'
  214. 'So do I. But I find in myself, Lina, two natures; one for the world and business, and one for home and leisure. Gérard Moore is a hard dog, brought up to mill and market: the person you call your cousin Robert is sometimes a dreamer, who lives elsewhere than in Cloth-hall and counting-house.'
  215. 'Your two natures agree with you: I think you are looking in good spirits and health: you have quite lost the harassed air which it often pained one to see in your face a few months ago.'
  216. 'Do you observe that? Certainly, I am disentangled of some difficulties: I have got clear of some shoals, and have more sea-room.'
  217. 'And, with a fair wind, you may now hope to make a prosperous voyage?'
  218. 'I may hope it - yes - but hope is deceptive: there is no controlling wind or wave: gusts and swells perpetually trouble the mariner's course; he dare not dismiss from his mind the expectation of tempest.'
  219. 'But you are ready for a breeze - you are a good seaman - an able commander: you are a skilful pilot, Robert; you will weather the storm.'
  220. 'My kinswoman always thinks the best of me, but I will take her words for a propitious omen; I will consider that in meeting her to-night, I have met with one of those birds whose appearance is to the sailor the harbinger of good-luck.'
  221. 'A poor harbinger of good-luck is she who can do nothing - who has no power. I feel my incapacity: it is of no use saying I have the will to serve you, when I cannot prove it; yet I have the will. I wish you success; I wish you high fortune and true happiness.'
  222. 'When did you ever wish me anything else? What is Fanny waiting for - I told her to walk on? Oh! we have reached the churchyard: then, we are to part here, I suppose: we might have sat a few minutes in the church-porch, if the girl had not been with us. It is so fine a night, so summer-mild and still, I have no particular wish to return yet to the Hollow.'
  223. 'But we cannot sit in the porch now, Robert.' Caroline said this because Moore was turning her round towards it.
  224. 'Perhaps not, but tell Fanny to go in; say we are coming, a few minutes will make no difference.'
  225. The church-clock struck ten.
  226. 'My uncle will be coming out to take his usual sentinel round, and he always surveys the church and churchyard.'
  227. 'And if he does? If it were not for Fanny, who knows we are here, I should find pleasure in dodging and eluding him. We could be under the east window when he is at the porch; as he came round to the north side we could wheel off to the south; we might at a pinch hide behind some of the monuments: that tall erection of the Wynnes would screen us completely.'
  228. 'Robert, what good spirits you have! Go - go!' added Caroline hastily, 'I hear the front door ----'
  229. 'I don't want to go; on the contrary, I want to stay.'
  230. 'You know my uncle will be terribly angry: he forbade me to see you because you are a Jacobin.'
  231. 'A queer Jacobin!'
  232. 'Go, Robert, he is coming; I hear him cough.'
  233. 'Diable! It is strange - what a pertinacious wish I feel to stay!'
  234. 'You remember what he did to Fanny's ----' began Caroline, and stopped abruptly short. Sweetheart was the word that ought to have followed, but she could not utter it; it seemed calculated to suggest ideas she had no intention to suggest; ideas delusive and disturbing. Moore was less scrupulous; 'Fanny's sweetheart?' he said at once. 'He gave him a shower-bath under the pump - did he not? He'd do as much for me, I daresay, with pleasure. I should like to provoke the old Turk - not however against you: but he would make a distinction between a cousin and a lover, would he not?'
  235. 'Oh! he would not think of you in that way, of course not; his quarrel with you is entirely political; yet I should not like the breach to be widened, and he is so testy. Here he is at the garden gate - for your own sake and mine, Robert, go!'
  236. The beseeching words were aided by a beseeching gesture and a more beseeching look. Moore covered her clasped hands an instant with his, answered her upward by a downward gaze, said 'Good-night!' and went.
  237. Caroline was in a moment at the kitchen-door behind Fanny; the shadow of the shovel-hat at that very instant fell on a moonlit tomb; the Rector emerged erect as a cane, from his garden, and proceeded in slow march, his hands behind him, down the cemetery. Moore was almost caught: he had to 'dodge' after all, to coast round the church, and finally to bend his tall form behind the Wynnes' ambitious monument. There he was forced to hide full ten minutes, kneeling with one knee on the turf, his hat off, his curls bare to the dew, his dark eye shining, and his lips parted with inward laughter at his position; for the Rector meantime stood coolly star-gazing, and taking snuff within three feet of him.
  238. It happened, however, that Mr. Helstone had no suspicion whatever on his mind; for being usually but vaguely informed of his niece's movements, not thinking it worth while to follow them closely, he was not aware that she had been out at all that day, and imagined her then occupied with book or work in her chamber: where, indeed, she was by this time; though not absorbed in the tranquil employment he ascribed to her, but standing at her window with fast-throbbing heart, peeping anxiously from behind the blind, watching for her uncle to re-enter and her cousin to escape; and at last she was gratified; she heard Mr. Helstone come in; she saw Robert stride the tombs and vault the wall; she then went down to prayers. When she returned to her chamber, it was to meet the memory of Robert. Slumber's visitation was long averted: long she sat at her lattice, long gazed down on the old garden and older church, on the tombs laid out all grey and calm, and clear in moonlight. She followed the steps of the night, on its pathway of stars, far into the 'wee sma' hours ayont the twal':' she was with Moore, in spirit, the whole time: she was at his side: she heard his voice: she gave her hand into his hand; it rested warm in his fingers. When the church-clock struck, when any other sound stirred, when a little mouse familiar to her chamber, an intruder for which she would never permit Fanny to lay a trap, came rattling amongst the links of her locket chain, her one ring, and another trinket or two on the toilet-table, to nibble a bit of biscuit laid ready for it, she looked up, recalled momentarily to the real. Then she said half aloud, as if deprecating the accusation of some unseen and unheard monitor, 'I am not cherishing love-dreams: I am only thinking because I cannot sleep; of course, I know he will marry Shirley.'
  239. With returning silence, with the lull of the chime, and the retreat of her small untamed and unknown protégé, she still resumed the dream, nestling to the vision's side, - listening to, conversing with it. It paled at last: as dawn approached, the setting stars and breaking day dimmed the creation of Fancy: the wakened song of birds hushed her whispers. The tale full of fire, quick with interest, borne away by the morning wind, became a vague murmur. The shape that, seen in a moonbeam, lived, had a pulse, had movement, wore health's glow and youth's freshness, turned cold and ghostly grey, confronted with the red of sunrise. It wasted. She was left solitary at last: she crept to her couch, chill and dejected.




CHAPTER XIV

SHIRLEY SEEKS TO BE SAVED BY WORKS

  1. 'Of course, I know he will marry Shirley,' were her first words when she rose in the morning. 'And he ought to marry her: she can help him,' she added firmly. 'But I shall be forgotten when they are married,' was the cruel succeeding thought. 'Oh! I shall be wholly forgotten! And what - what shall I do when Robert is taken quite from me? Where shall I turn? My Robert! I wish I could justly call him mine: but I am poverty and incapacity; Shirley is wealth and power: and she is beauty too, and love - I cannot deny it. This is no sordid suit: she loves him - not with inferior feelings: she loves, or will love, as he must feel proud to be loved. Not a valid objection can be made. Let them be married then: but afterwards I shall be nothing to him. As for being his sister, and all that stuff, I despise it. I will either be all or nothing to a man like Robert: no feeble shuffling or false cant is endurable. Once let that pair be united, and I will certainly leave them. As for lingering about, playing the hypocrite, and pretending to calm sentiments of friendship, when my soul will be wrung with other feelings, I shall not descend to such degradation. As little could I fill the place of their mutual friend as that of their deadly foe: as little could I stand between them as trample over them. Robert is a first-rate man - in my eyes: I have loved, do love, and must love him. I would be his wife, if I could; as I cannot, I must go where I shall never see him. There is but one alternative - to cleave to him as if I were a part of him, or to be sundered from him wide as the two poles of a sphere. Sunder me then, Providence. Part us speedily.'
  2. Some such aspirations as these were again working in her mind late in the afternoon, when the apparition of one of the personages haunting her thoughts passed the parlour window. Miss Keeldar sauntered slowly by: her gait, her countenance wearing that mixture of wistfulness and carelessness which, when quiescent, was the wonted cast of her look, and character of her bearing. When animated, the carelessness quite vanished, the wistfulness became blent with a genial gaiety, seasoning the laugh, the smile, the glance, with an unique flavour of sentiment, so that mirth from her never resembled 'the crackling of thorns under a pot.'
  3. 'What do you mean by not coming to see me this afternoon, as you promised?' was her address to Caroline as she entered the room.
  4. 'I was not in the humour,' replied Miss Helstone, very truly.
  5. Shirley had already fixed on her a penetrating eye.
  6. 'No,' she said; 'I see you are not in the humour for loving me: you are in one of your sunless, inclement moods, when one feels a fellow-creature's presence is not welcome to you, You have such moods are you aware of it?'
  7. 'Do you mean to stay long, Shirley?'
  8. 'Yes; I am come to have my tea, and must have it before I go. I shall take the liberty then of removing my bonnet, without being asked.'
  9. And this she did, and then stood on the rug with her hands behind her.
  10. 'A pretty expression you have in your countenance,' she went on, still gazing keenly, though not inimically, rather indeed pityingly at Caroline. 'Wonderfully self-supported you look, you solitude-seeking, wounded deer. Are you afraid Shirley will worry you, if she discovers that you are hurt, and that you bleed?'
  11. 'I never do fear Shirley.'
  12. 'But sometimes you dislike her: often you avoid her. Shirley can feel when she is slighted and shunned. If you had not walked home in the company you did last night, you would have been a different girl to-day. What time did you reach the Rectory?'
  13. 'By ten.'
  14. 'Humph! You took three-quarters of an hour to walk a mile. Was it you, or Moore, who lingered so?'
  15. 'Shirley, you talk nonsense.'
  16. 'He talked nonsense - that I doubt not; or he looked it, which is a thousand times worse: I see the reflection of his eyes on your forehead at this moment. I feel disposed to call him out, if I could only get a trustworthy second: I feel desperately irritated: I felt so last night, and have felt it all day.'
  17. 'You don't ask me why,' she proceeded, after a pause, 'you little silent, over-modest thing; and you don't deserve that I should pour out my secrets into your lap without an invitation. Upon my word, I could have found it in my heart to have dogged Moore yesterday evening with dire intent: I have pistols, and can use them.'
  18. 'Stuff, Shirley! Which would you have shot - me or Robert?'
  19. 'Neither, perhaps - perhaps myself - more likely a bat or a tree-bough. He is a puppy - your cousin: a quiet, serious, sensible, judicious, ambitious puppy. I see him standing before me, talking his half-stern, half-gentle talk, bearing me down (as I am very conscious he does) with his fixity of purpose, etc.; and then ---- I have no patience with him!'
  20. Miss Keeldar started off on a rapid walk through the room, repeating energetically that she had no patience with men in general, and with her tenant in particular.
  21. 'You are mistaken,' urged Caroline, in some anxiety: 'Robert is no puppy or male flirt; I can vouch for that.'
  22. 'You vouch for it! Do you think I'll take your word on the subject? There is no one's testimony I would not credit sooner than yours. To advance Moore's fortune, you would cut off your right hand.'
  23. 'But not tell lies; and if I speak the truth, I must assure you that he was just civil to me last night - that was all.'
  24. 'I never asked what he was - I can guess: I saw him from the window take your hand in his long fingers, just as he went out at my gate.'
  25. 'That is nothing. I am not a stranger, you know: I am an old acquaintance, and his cousin.'
  26. 'I feel indignant; and that is the long and short of the matter,' responded Miss Keeldar. 'All my comfort,' she added presently, 'is broken up by his manoeuvres. He keeps intruding between you and me: without him we should be good friends; but that six feet of puppy-hood makes a perpetually-recurring eclipse of our friendship. Again and again he crosses and obscures the disk I want always to see clear: ever and anon he renders me to you a mere bore and nuisance.'
  27. 'No, Shirley; no.'
  28. 'He does. You did not want my society this afternoon, and I feel it hard: you are naturally somewhat reserved, but I am a social personage, who cannot live alone. If we were but left unmolested, I have that regard for you that I could bear you in my presence for ever, and not for the fraction of a second do I ever wish to be rid of you. You cannot say as much respecting me.'
  29. 'Shirley, I can say anything you wish: Shirley, I like you.'
  30. 'You will wish me at Jericho to-morrow, Lina.'
  31. 'I shall not. I am every day growing more accustomed to - fonder of you. You know I am too English to get up a vehement friendship all at once; but you are so much better than common - you are so different to everyday young ladies - I esteem you - I value you: you are never a burden to me - never. Do you believe what I say?'
  32. 'Partly,' replied Miss Keeldar, smiling rather incredulously; 'but you are a peculiar personage: quiet as you look, there is both a force and a depth somewhere within, not easily reached or appreciated: then you certainly are not happy.'
  33. 'And unhappy people are rarely good - is that what you mean?'
  34. 'Not at all: I mean rather that unhappy people are often pre-occupied, and not in the mood for discoursing with companions of my nature. Moreover, there is a sort of unhappiness which not only depresses, but corrodes - and that, I fear, is your portion. Will pity do you any good, Lina? If it will, take some from Shirley: she offers largely, and warrants the article genuine.'
  35. 'Shirley, I never had a sister - you never had a sister; but it flashes on me at this moment how sisters feel towards each other. Affection twined with their life, which no shocks of feeling can uproot, which little quarrels only trample an instant that it may spring more freshly when the pressure is removed: affection that no passion can ultimately outrival, with which even love itself cannot do more than compete in force and truth. Love hurts us so, Shirley: it is so tormenting, so racking, and it burns away our strength with its flame; in affection is no pain and no fire, only sustenance and balm. I am supported and soothed when you - that is, you only - are near, Shirley, Do you believe me now?'
  36. 'I am always easy of belief when the creed pleases me. We really are friends then, Lina, in spite of the black eclipse?'
  37. 'We really are,' returned the other, drawing Shirley towards her, and making her sit down, 'chance what may.'
  38. 'Come, then, we will talk of something else than the Troubler.' But at this moment the Rector came in, and the 'something else' of which Miss Keeldar was about to talk was not again alluded to till the moment of her departure; she then delayed a few minutes in the passage to say. - 'Caroline, I wish to tell you that I have a great weight on my mind: my conscience is quite uneasy, as if I had committed, or was going to commit, a crime. It is not my private conscience, you must understand, but my landed-proprietor and lord-of-the-manor conscience. I have got into the clutch of an eagle with iron talons. I have fallen under a stern influence, which I scarcely approve, but cannot resist. Something will be done ere long, I fear, which it by no means pleases me to think of. To ease my mind, and to prevent harm as far as I can, I mean to enter on a series of good works. Don't be surprised, therefore, if you see me all at once turn outrageously charitable. I have no idea how to begin, but you must give me some advice: we will talk more on the subject to-morrow; and just ask that excellent person, Miss Ainley, to step up to Fieldhead: I have some notion of putting myself under her tuition - won't she have a precious pupil? Drop a hint to her, Lina, that, though a well-meaning, I am rather a neglected character, and then she will feel less scandalised at my ignorance about clothing societies, and such things.'
  39. On the morrow, Caroline found Shirley sitting gravely at her desk, with an account-book, a bundle of bank-notes, and a well-filled purse before her. She was looking mighty serious, but a little puzzled. She said she had been 'casting an eye' over the weekly expenditure in housekeeping at the Hall, trying to find out where she could retrench; that she had also just given audience to Mrs. Gill, the cook, and had sent that person away with a notion that her (Shirley's) brain was certainly crazed. 'I have lectured her on the duty of being careful,' said she, 'in a way quite new to her. So eloquent was I on the text of economy, that I surprised myself; for, you see, it is altogether a fresh idea: I never thought, much less spoke, on the subject till lately. But it is all theory; for when I came to the practical part I could retrench nothing. I had not firmness to take off a single pound of butter, or to prosecute to any clear result an inquest into the destiny of either dripping, lard, bread, cold meat, or other kitchen perquisite whatever. I know we never get up illuminations at Fieldhead, but I could not ask the meaning of sundry quite unaccountable pounds of candles: we do not wash for the parish, yet I viewed in silence items of soap and bleaching-powder calculated to satisfy the solicitude of the most anxious inquirer after our position in reference to those articles: carnivorous I am not, nor is Mrs. Pryor, nor is Mrs. Gill herself, yet I only hemmed and opened my eyes a little wide when I saw butchers' bills whose figures seemed to prove that fact - falsehood, I mean. Caroline, you may laugh at me, but you can't change me. I am a poltroon on certain points - I feel it. There is a base alloy of moral cowardice in my composition. I blushed and hung my head before Mrs. Gill, when she ought to have been faltering confessions to me. I found it impossible to get up the spirit even to hint, much less to prove, to her that she was a cheat. I have no calm dignity - no true courage about me.'
  40. 'Shirley, what fit of self-injustice is this? My uncle, who is not given to speak well of women, says there are not ten thousand men in England as genuinely fearless as you.'
  41. 'I am fearless, physically: I am never nervous about danger. I was not startled from self-possession when Mr. Wynne's great red bull rose with a bellow before my face, as I was crossing the cowslip-lea alone, stooped his begrimed, sullen head, and made a run at me: but I was afraid of seeing Mrs. Gill brought to shame and confusion of face. You have twice - ten times my strength of mind on certain subjects, Caroline: you, whom no persuasions can induce to pass a bull, however quiet he looks, would have firmly shown my housekeeper she had done wrong; then you would have gently and wisely admonished her; and at last, I daresay, provided she had seemed penitent, you would have very sweetly forgiven her. Of this conduct I am incapable. However, in spite of exaggerated imposition, I still find we live within our means: I have money in hand, and I really must do some good with it. The Briarfield poor are badly off: they must be helped. What ought I to do, think you, Lina? Had I not better distribute the cash at once?'
  42. 'No, indeed, Shirley: you will not manage properly. I have often noticed that your only notion of charity is to give shillings and half-crowns in a careless, freehanded sort of way, which is liable to continual abuse. You must have a prime minister, or you will get yourself into a series of scrapes. You suggested Miss Ainley yourself: to Miss Ainley I will apply; and, meantime, promise to keep quiet, and not begin throwing away your money. What a great deal you have, Shirley! - you must feel very rich with all that?'
  43. 'Yes; I feel of consequence. It is not an immense sum, but I feel responsible for its disposal; and really this responsibility weighs on my mind more heavily than I could have expected. They say that there are some families almost starving to death in Briarfield: some of my own cottagers are in wretched circumstances: I must and will help them.'
  44. 'Some people say we shouldn't give alms to the poor, Shirley.'
  45. 'They are great fools for their pains. For those who are not hungry, it is easy to palaver about the degradation of charity, and so on; but they forget the brevity of life, as well as its bitterness. We have none of us long to live: let us help each other through seasons of want and woe, as well as we can, without heeding in the least the scruples of vain philosophy.'
  46. 'But you do help others, Shirley: you give a great deal as it is.'
  47. 'Not enough: I must give more, or, I tell you, my brother's blood will some day be crying to Heaven against me. For, after all, if political incendiaries come here to kindle conflagration in the neighbourhood, and my property is attacked, I shall defend it like a tigress - I know I shall. Let me listen to Mercy as long as she is near me: her voice once drowned by the shout of ruffian defiance, and I shall be full of impulses to resist and quell. If once the poor gather and rise in the form of the mob, I shall turn against them as an aristocrat: if they bully me, I must defy; if they attack, I must resist, - and I will.'
  48. 'You talk like Robert.'
  49. 'I feel like Robert, only more fierily. Let them meddle with Robert, or Robert's mill, or Robert's interests, and I shall hate them. At present I am no patrician, nor do I regard the poor around me as plebeians; but if once they violently wrong me or mine, and then presume to dictate to us, I shall quite forget pity for their wretchedness and respect for their poverty, in scorn of their ignorance and wrath at their insolence.'
  50. 'Shirley - how your eyes flash!'
  51. 'Because my soul burns. Would you, any more than me, let Robert be borne down by numbers?'
  52. 'If I had your power to aid Robert, I would use it as you mean to use it. If I could be such a friend to him as you can be, I would stand by him, as you mean to stand by him - till death.'
  53. 'And now, Lina, though your eyes don't flash, they glow. You drop your lids; but I saw a kindled spark. However, it is not yet come to fighting. What I want to do is to prevent mischief. I cannot forget, either day or night, that these embittered feelings of the poor against the rich have been generated in suffering: they would neither hate nor envy us if they did not deem us so much happier than themselves. To allay this suffering, and thereby lessen this hate, let me, out of my abundance, give abundantly: and that the donation may go farther, let it be made wisely. To that intent, we must introduce some clear, calm, practical sense into our councils: so go, and fetch Miss Ainley.'
  54. Without another word, Caroline put on her bonnet and departed. It may, perhaps, appear strange that neither she nor Shirley thought of consulting Mrs. Pryor on their scheme; but they were wise in abstaining. To have consulted her - and this they knew by instinct - would only have been to involve her in painful embarrassment. She was far better informed, better read, a deeper thinker than Miss Ainley, but of administrative energy, of executive activity, she had none. She would subscribe her own modest mite to a charitable object willingly, - secret almsgiving suited her; but in public plans, on a large scale, she could take no part: as to originating them, that was out of the question. This Shirley knew, and therefore she did not trouble Mrs. Pryor by unavailing conferences, which could only remind her of her own deficiencies, and do no good.
  55. It was a bright day for Miss Ainley when she was summoned to Fieldhead to deliberate on projects so congenial to her; when she was seated with all honour and deference at a table with paper, pen, ink and - what was best of all - cash before her, and requested to draw up a regular plan for administering relief to the destitute poor of Briarfield. She, who knew them all, had studied their wants, had again and again felt in what way they might best be succoured, could the means of succour only be found, was fully competent to the undertaking, and a meek exultation gladdened her kind heart as she felt herself able to answer clearly and promptly the eager questions put by the two young girls; as she showed them in her answers how much and what serviceable knowledge she had acquired of the condition of her fellow-creatures round her.
  56. Shirley placed at her disposal 300, and at sight of the money Miss Ainley's eyes filled with joyful tears; for she already saw the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the sick comforted thereby. She quickly drew up a simple, sensible plan for its expenditure; and she assured them brighter times would now come round, for she doubted not the lady of Fieldhead's example would be followed by others: she should try to get additional subscriptions, and to form a fund; but first she must consult the clergy: yes, on that point, she was peremptory: Mr. Helstone, Dr. Boultby, Mr. Hall, must be consulted - (for not only must Briarfield be relieved, but Whinbury and Nunnely) - it would, she averred, be presumption in her to take a single step unauthorised by them.
  57. The clergy were sacred beings in Miss Ainley's eyes: no matter what might be the insignificance of the individual, his station made him holy. The very curates - who, in their trivial arrogance, were hardly worthy to tie her patten-strings, or carry her cotton umbrella, or check woollen-shawl - she, in her pure, sincere enthusiasm, looked upon as sucking saints. No matter how clearly their little vices and enormous absurdities were pointed out to her, she could not see them: she was blind to ecclesiastical defects: the white surplice covered a multitude of sins.
  58. Shirley, knowing this harmless infatuation on the part of her recently chosen prime minister, stipulated expressly that the curates were to have no voice in the disposal of the money; that their meddling fingers were not to be inserted into the pie. The rectors, of course, must be paramount, and they might be trusted: they had some experience, some sagacity, and Mr. Hall, at least, had sympathy and loving-kindness for his fellowmen; but as for the youth under them, they must be set aside, kept down, and taught that subordination and silence best became their years and capacity.
  59. It was with some horror Miss Ainley heard this language: Caroline, however, interposing with a mild word or two in praise of Mr. Sweeting, calmed her again. Sweeting was, indeed, her own favourite: she endeavoured to respect Messrs. Malone and Donne; but the slices of sponge-cake, and glasses of cowslip or primrose wine, she had at different times administered to Sweeting when he came to see her in her little cottage, were ever offered with sentiments of truly motherly regard. The same innocuous collation she had once presented to Malone; but that personage evinced such open scorn of the offering, she had never ventured to renew it. To Donne she always served the treat, and was happy to see his approbation of it proved beyond a doubt, by the fact of his usually eating two pieces of cake, and putting a third in his pocket.
  60. Indefatigable in her exertions where good was to be done, Miss Ainley would immediately have set out on a walk of ten miles round to the three rectors, in order to show her plan, and humbly solicit their approval: but Miss Keeldar interdicted this, and proposed, as an amendment, to collect the clergy in a small select reunion that evening at Fieldhead. Miss Ainley was to meet them, and the plan was to be discussed in full privy council.
  61. Shirley managed to get the senior priesthood together accordingly; and before the old maid's arrival she had, further, talked all the gentlemen into the most charming mood imaginable. She herself had taken in hand Dr. Boultby and Mr. Helstone. The first was a stubborn old Welshman, hot, opinionated, and obstinate, but withal a man who did a great deal of good, though not without making some noise about it: the latter we know. She had rather a friendly feeling for both; especially for old Helstone; and it cost her no trouble to be quite delightful to them, She took them round the garden; she gathered them flowers; she was like a kind daughter to them. Mr. Hall she left to Caroline - or rather, it was to Caroline's care Mr. Hall consigned himself.
  62. He generally sought Caroline in every party where she and he happened to be. He was not generally a lady's man, though all ladies liked him: something of a book-worm he was, nearsighted, spectacled, now and then abstracted. To old ladies he was kind as a son. To men of every occupation and grade he was acceptable: the truth, simplicity, frankness of his manners, the nobleness of his integrity, the reality and elevation of his piety, won him friends in every grade: his poor clerk and sexton delighted in him; the noble patron of his living esteemed him highly. It was only with young, handsome, fashionable, and stylish ladies he felt a little shy: being himself a plain man - plain in aspect, plain in manners, plain in speech - he seemed to fear their dash, elegance, and airs. But Miss Helstone had neither dash nor airs, and her native elegance was of a very quiet order - quiet as the beauty of a ground-loving hedge-flower. He was a fluent, cheerful, agreeable talker. Caroline could talk, too, in a tête-ô-tête: she liked Mr. Hall to come and take the seat next her in a party, and thus secure her from Peter Augustus Malone, Joseph Donne, or John Sykes; and Mr. Hall never failed to avail himself of this privilege when he possibly could. Such preference shown by a single gentleman to a single lady would certainly, in ordinary cases, have set in motion the tongues of the gossips; but Cyril Hall was forty-five years old, slightly bald and slightly grey, and nobody ever said or thought he was likely to be married to Miss Helstone. Nor did he think so himself: he was wedded already to his books and his parish: his kind sister Margaret, spectacled and learned like himself, made him happy in his single state; he considered it too late to change. Besides, he had known Caroline as a pretty little girl: she had sat on his knee many a time; he had bought her toys and given her books; he felt that her friendship for him was mixed with a sort of filial respect; he could not have brought himself to attempt to give another colour to her sentiments, and his serene mind could glass a fair image without feeling its depths troubled by the reflection.
  63. When Miss Ainley arrived, she was made kindly welcome by every one: Mrs. Pryor and Margaret Hall made room for her on the sofa between them; and when the three were seated, they formed a trio which the gay and thoughtless would have scorned, indeed, as quite worthless and unattractive - a middle-aged widow and two plain spectacled old maids - yet which had its own quiet value, as many a suffering and friendless human being knew.
  64. Shirley opened the business and showed the plan.
  65. 'I know the hand which drew up that,' said Mr. Hall, glancing at Miss Ainley, and smiling benignantly: his approbation was won at once. Boultby heard and deliberated with bent brow and protruded under lip: his consent he considered too weighty to be given in a hurry. Helstone glanced sharply round with an alert, suspicious expression, as if he apprehended that female craft was at work, and that something in petticoats was somehow trying underhand to acquire too much influence, and make itself of too much importance. Shirley caught and comprehended the expression - 'This scheme is nothing,' said she carelessly; 'it is only an outline - a mere suggestion; you, gentlemen, are requested to draw up rules of your own.'
  66. And she directly fetched her writing-case, smiling queerly to herself as she bent over the table where it stood: she produced a sheet of paper, a new pen, drew an arm-chair to the table, and presenting her hand to old Helstone, begged permission to instal him in it. For a minute he was a little stiff, and stood wrinkling his copper-coloured forehead strangely. At last he muttered - 'Well, you are neither my wife nor my daughter, so I'll be led for once; but mind - I know I am led: your little female manoeuvres don't blind me.'
  67. 'Oh!' said Shirley, dipping the pen in the ink, and putting it into his hand, 'you must regard me as Captain Keeldar to-day. This is quite a gentleman's affair - yours and mine entirely, Doctor' (so she had dubbed the Rector). 'The ladies there are only to be our aides-de-camp, and at their peril they speak, till we have settled the whole business.'
  68. He smiled a little grimly, and began to write. He soon interrupted himself to ask questions, and consult his brethren, disdainfully lifting his glance over the curly heads of the two girls, and the demure caps of the elder ladies, to meet the winking glasses and grey pates of the priests. In the discussion which ensued, all three gentlemen, to their infinite credit, showed a thorough acquaintance with the poor of their parishes, - an even minute knowledge of their separate wants. Each rector knew where clothing was needed, where food would be most acceptable, where money could be bestowed with a probability of it being judiciously laid out. Wherever their memories fell short, Miss Ainley or Miss Hall, if applied to, could help them out; but both ladies took care not to speak unless spoken to. Neither of them wanted to be foremost but each sincerely desired to be useful, and useful the clergy consented to make them: with which boon they were content.
  69. Shirley stood behind the rectors, leaning over their shoulders now and then to glance at the rules drawn up, and the list of cases making out, listening to all they said, and still at intervals smiling her queer smile - a smile not ill-natured, but significant: too significant to be generally thought amiable. Men rarely like such of their fellows as read their inward nature too clearly and truly. It is good for women, especially, to be endowed with a soft blindness: to have mild, dim eyes, that never penetrate below the surface of things - that take all for what it seems: thousands, knowing this, keep their eyelids drooped, on system; but the most downcast glance has its loophole, through which it can, on occasion, take its sentinel-survey of life. I remember once seeing a pair of blue eyes, that were usually thought sleepy, secretly on the alert, and I knew by their expression - an expression which chilled my blood, it was in that quarter so wondrously unexpected - that for years they had been accustomed to silent soul-reading. The world called the owner of these blue eyes 'bonne petite femme' (she was not an Englishwoman): I learned her nature afterwards - got it off by heart - studied it in its farthest, most hidden recesses - she was the finest, deepest, subtlest schemer in Europe.
  70. When all was at length settled to Miss Keeldar's mind, and the clergy had entered so fully into the spirit of her plans as to head the subscription-list with their signatures for 50 each, she ordered supper to be served; having previously directed Mrs. Gill to exercise her utmost skill in the preparation of this repast. Mr. Hall was no bon-vivant: he was naturally an abstemious man, indifferent to luxury; but Boultby and Helstone both liked good cookery; the recherché supper consequently put them into excellent humour: they did justice to it, though in a gentlemanly way - not in the mode Mr. Donne would have done, had he been present. A glass of fine wine was likewise tasted, with discerning though most decorous relish. Captain Keeldar was complimented on his taste; the compliment charmed him: it had been his aim to gratify and satisfy his priestly guests: he had succeeded, and was radiant with glee.




CHAPTER XV

MR. DONNE'S EXODUS

  1. The next day Shirley expressed to Caroline how delighted she felt that the little party had gone off so well.
  2. 'I rather like to entertain a circle of gentlemen,' said she; 'it is amusing to observe how they enjoy a judiciously concocted repast. For ourselves, you see, these choice wines and these scientific dishes are of no importance to us; but gentlemen seem to retain something of the naïveté of children about food, and one likes to please them: that is, when they show the becoming, decent self-government of our admirable rectors. I watch Moore sometimes, to try and discover how he can be pleased; but he has not that child's simplicity about him. Did you ever find out his accessible point, Caroline? You have seen more of him than I.'
  3. 'It is not, at any rate, that of my uncle and Dr. Boultby,' returned Caroline, smiling. She always felt a sort of shy pleasure in following Miss Keeldar's lead respecting the discussion of her cousin's character: left to herself, she would never have touched on the subject; but when invited, the temptation of talking about him of whom she was ever thinking was irresistible. 'But,' she added, 'I really don't know what it is; for I never watched Robert in my life but my scrutiny was presently baffled by finding he was watching me.'
  4. 'There it is!' exclaimed Shirley: 'you can't fix your eyes on him but his presently flash on you. He is never off his guard: he won't give you an advantage: even when he does not look at you, his thoughts seem to be busy amongst your own thoughts, tracing your words and actions to their source, contemplating your motives at his ease. Oh! I know that sort of character, or something in the same style: it is one that piques me singularly - how does it affect you?'
  5. This question was a specimen of one of Shirley's sharp, sudden turns: Caroline used to be fluttered by them at first, but she had now got into the way of parrying these home-thrusts like a little Quakeress.
  6. 'Pique you? In what way does it pique you?' she said.
  7. 'Here he comes!' suddenly exclaimed Shirley, breaking off, starting up and running to the window. 'Here comes a diversion. I never told you of a superb conquest I have made lately - made at those parties to which I can never persuade you to accompany me; and the thing has been done without effort or intention on my part: that I aver. There is the bell - and, by all that's delicious! there are two of them. Do they never hunt, then, except in couples? You may have one, Lina, and you may take your choice: I hope I am generous enough. Listen to Tartar!'
  8. The black-muzzled, tawny dog, a glimpse of which was seen in the chapter which first introduced its mistress to the reader, here gave tongue in the hall, amidst whose hollow space the deep bark resounded formidably. A growl, more terrible than the bark - menacing as muttered thunder - succeeded.
  9. 'Listen!' again cried Shirley, laughing. 'You would think that the prelude to a bloody onslaught: they will be frightened: they don't know old Tartar as I do: they are not aware his uproars are all sound and fury, signifying nothing.'
  10. Some bustle was heard. 'Down, sir! - down!' exclaimed a high-toned, imperious voice, and then came a crack of a cane or whip. Immediately there was a yell - a scutter - a run - a positive tumult.
  11. 'Oh! Malone! Malone!'
  12. 'Down! down! down!' cried the high voice.
  13. 'He really is worrying them!' exclaimed Shirley. 'They have struck him: a blow is what he is not used to, and will not take.'
  14. Out she ran - a gentleman was fleeing up the oak staircase, making for refuge in the gallery or chambers in hot haste; another was backing fast to the stair-foot, wildly flourishing a knotty stick, at the same time reiterating, 'Down I down! down!' while the tawny dog bayed, bellowed, howled at him, and a group of servants came bundling from the kitchen. The dog made a spring: the second gentleman turned tail and rushed after his comrade: the first was already safe in a bedroom: he held the door against his fellow; - nothing so merciless as terror; - but the other fugitive struggled hard: the door was about to yield to his strength.
  15. 'Gentlemen,' was uttered in Miss Keeldar's silvery but vibrating tones, 'spare my locks, if you please. Calm yourselves! - come down! Look at Tartar, - he won't harm a cat.'
  16. She was caressing the said Tartar: he lay crouched at her feet, his fore-paws stretched out, his tail still in threatening agitation, his nostrils snorting, his bulldog eyes conscious of a dull fire. He was an honest, phlegmatic, stupid, but stubborn canine character: he loved his mistress, and John - the man who fed him - but was mostly indifferent to the rest of the world: quiet enough he was, unless struck or threatened with a stick, and that put a demon into him at once.
  17. 'Mr. Malone, how do you do?' continued Shirley, lifting up her mirth-lit face to the gallery. 'That is not the way to the oak-parlour: that is Mrs. Pryor's apartment. Request your friend Mr. Donne to evacuate: I shall have the greatest pleasure in receiving him in a lower room.'
  18. 'Ha! ha!' cried Malone, in hollow laughter, quitting the door, and leaning over the massive balustrade. 'Really that animal alarmed Donne. He is a little timid,' he proceeded, stiffening himself, and walking trimly to the stairhead. 'I thought it better to follow, in order to reassure him.'
  19. 'It appears you did: well, come down, if you please. John' (turning to her manservant), 'go upstairs and liberate Mr. Donne. Take care, Mr. Malone, the stairs are slippery.'
  20. In truth they were; being of polished oak. The caution came a little late for Malone: he had slipped already in his stately descent, and was only saved from falling by a clutch at the banisters, which made the whole structure creak again.
  21. Tartar seemed to think the visitor's descent effected with unwarranted éclat, and accordingly he growled once more. Malone, however, was no coward: the spring of the dog had taken him by surprise: but he passed him now in suppressed fury rather than fear: if a look could have strangled Tartar, he would have breathed no more. Forgetting politeness, in his sullen rage, Malone pushed into the parlour before Miss Keeldar. He glanced at Miss Helstone; he could scarcely bring himself to bend to her. He glared on both the ladies: he looked as if, had either of them been his wife, he would have made a glorious husband at the moment: in each hand he seemed as if he would have liked to clutch one and gripe her to death.
  22. However, Shirley took pity: she ceased to laugh; and Caroline was too true a lady to smile even at any one under mortification. Tartar was dismissed; Peter Augustus was soothed: for Shirley had looks and tones that might soothe a very bull: he had sense to feel that, since he could not challenge the owner of the dog, he had better be civil; and civil he tried to be; and his attempts being well received, he grew presently very civil and quite himself again. He had come, indeed, for the express purpose of making himself charming and fascinating: rough portents had met him on his first admission to Fieldhead; but that passage got over, charming and fascinating he resolved to be. Like March, having come in like a lion, he purposed to go out like a lamb.
  23. For the sake of air, as it appeared, or perhaps for that of ready exit in case of some new emergency arising, he took his seat - not on the sofa, where Miss Keeldar offered him enthronisation, nor yet near the fireside, to which Caroline, by a friendly sigh, gently invited him, - but on a chair close to the door. Being no longer sullen or furious, he grew, after his fashion, constrained and embarrassed. He talked to the ladies by fits and starts, choosing for topics whatever was most intensely commonplace: he sighed deeply, significantly, at the close of every sentence; he sighed in each pause; he sighed ere he opened his mouth. At last, finding it desirable to add ease to his other charms, he drew forth to aid him an ample silk pocket-handkerchief. This was to be the graceful toy with which his unoccupied hands were to trifle. He went to work with a certain energy: he folded the red and yellow square cornerwise; he whipped it open with a waft: again he folded it in narrower compass: he made of it a handsome band. To what purpose would he proceed to apply the ligature? Would he wrap it about his throat - his head? Should it be a comforter or a turban? Neither. Peter Augustus had an inventive - an original genius: he was about to show the ladies graces of action possessing at least the charm of novelty. He sat on the chair with his athletic Irish legs crossed, and these legs, in that attitude, he circled with the bandanna and bound firmly together. It was evident he felt this device to be worth an encore: he repeated it more than once. The second performance sent Shirley to the window to laugh her silent but irrepressible laugh unseen: it turned Caroline's head aside, that her long curls might screen the smile mantling on her features. Miss Helstone, indeed, was amused by more than one point in Peter's demeanour: she was edified at the complete though abrupt diversion of his homage from herself to the heiress: the 5,000 he supposed her likely one day to inherit, were not to be weighed in the balance against Miss Keeldar's estate and hall. He took no pains to conceal his calculations and tactics: he pretended to no gradual change of views: he wheeled about at once: the pursuit of the lesser fortune was openly relinquished for that of the greater. On what grounds he expected to succeed in his chase, himself best knew: certainly not by skilful management.
  24. From the length of time that elapsed, it appeared that John had some difficulty in persuading Mr. Donne to descend. At length, however, that gentleman appeared: nor, as he presented himself at the oak-parlour door, did he seem in the slightest degree ashamed or confused - not a whit. Donne, indeed, was of that coldly phlegmatic, immovably complacent, densely self-satisfied nature which is insensible to shame. He had never blushed in his life: no humiliation could abash him: his nerves were not capable of sensation enough to stir his life, and make colour mount to his cheek: he had no fire in his blood, and no modesty in his soul: he was a frontless, arrogant; decorous slip of the commonplace; conceited, inane, insipid: and this gentleman had a notion of wooing Miss Keeldar! He knew no more, however, how to set about the business than if he had been an image carved in wood: he had no idea of a taste to be pleased, a heart to be reached in courtship: his notion was, when he should have formally visited her a few times, to write a letter proposing marriage; then he calculated she would accept him for love of his office, then they would be married, then he should be master of Fieldhead, and he should live very comfortably, have servants at his command, eat and drink of the best, and be a great man. You would not have suspected his intentions when he addressed his intended bride in an impertinent, injured tone - 'A very dangerous dog that, Miss Keeldar. I wonder you should keep such an animal.'
  25. 'Do you, Mr. Donne? Perhaps you will wonder more when I tell you I am very fond of him.'
  26. 'I should say you are not serious in the assertion. Can't fancy a lady fond of that brute - 'tis so ugly - a mere carter's dog - pray hang him.'
  27. 'Hang what I am fond of!'
  28. 'And purchase in his stead some sweetly pooty pug or poodle: something appropriate to the fair sex: ladies generally like lapdogs.'
  29. 'Perhaps I am an exception.'
  30. 'Oh! you can't be, you know. All ladies are alike in those matters: that is universally allowed.'
  31. 'Tartar frightened you terribly, Mr. Donne. I hope you won't take any harm.'
  32. 'That I shall, no doubt. He gave me a turn I shall not soon forget. When I sor him' (such was Mr. Donne's pronunciation) 'about to spring, I thought I should have fainted.'
  33. 'Perhaps you did faint in the bed-room - you were a long time there?'
  34. 'No; I bore up that I might hold the door fast: I was determined not to let any one enter: I thought I would keep a barrier between me and the enemy.'
  35. 'But what if your friend Mr. Malone had been worried?'
  36. 'Malone must take care of himself. Your man persuaded me to come out at last by saying the dog was chained up in his kennel: if I had not been assured of this, I would have remained all day in the chamber. But what is that? I declare the man has told a falsehood! The dog is there!'
  37. And indeed Tartar walked past the glass-door opening to the garden, stiff, tawny, and black-muzzled as ever. He still seemed in bad humour; he was growling again, and whistling a half-strangled whistle, being an inheritance from the bull-dog side of his ancestry.
  38. 'There are other visitors coming,' observed Shirley, with that provoking coolness which the owners of formidable-looking dogs are apt to show while their animals are all bristle and bay. Tartar sprang down the pavement towards the gate, bellowing 'avec explosion.' His mistress quietly opened the glass-door, and stepped out chirruping to him. His bellow was already silenced, and he was lifting up his huge, blunt, stupid head to the new callers to be patted.
  39. 'What - Tartar, Tartar!' said a cheery, rather boyish voice, 'don't you know us? Good-morning, old boy!'
  40. And little Mr. Sweeting, whose conscious good-nature made him comparatively fearless of man, woman, child, or brute, came through the gate, caressing the guardian. His vicar, Mr. Hall, followed: he had no fear of Tartar either, and Tartar had no ill-will to him: he snuffed both the gentlemen round, and then, as if concluding that they were harmless, and might be allowed to pass, he withdrew to the sunny front of the hall, leaving the archway free. Mr. Sweeting followed, and would have played with him, but Tartar took no notice of his caresses: it was only his mistress's hand whose touch gave him pleasure; to all others he showed himself obstinately insensible.
  41. Shirley advanced to meet Messrs. Hall and Sweeting, shaking hands with them cordially: they were come to tell her of certain successes they had achieved that morning in applications for subscriptions to the fund. Mr. Hall's eyes beamed benignantly through his spectacles: his plain face looked positively handsome with goodness, and when Caroline, seeing who was come, ran out to meet him, and put both her hands into his, he gazed down on her with a gentle, serene, affectionate expression, that gave him the aspect of a smiling Melanchthon.
  42. Instead of re-entering the house, they strayed through the garden, the ladies walking one on each side of Mr. Hall. It was a breezy sunny day; the air freshened the girls' cheeks, and gracefully dishevelled their ringlets: both of them looked pretty, - one, gay: Mr. Hall spoke oftenest to his brilliant companion, looked most frequently at the quiet one. Miss Keeldar gathered handfuls of the profusely blooming flowers, whose perfume filled the enclosure; she gave some to Caroline, telling her to choose a nosegay for Mr. Hall; and with her lap filled with delicate and splendid blossoms, Caroline sat down on the steps of a summer-house: the Vicar stood near her, leaning on his cane.
  43. Shirley, who could not be inhospitable, now called out the neglected pair in the oak-parlour: she convoyed Donne past his dread enemy Tartar, who, with his nose on his fore-paws, lay snoring under the meridian sun. Donne was not grateful: he never was grateful for kindness and attention; but he was glad of the safeguard. Miss Keeldar, desirous of being impartial, offered the curates flowers: they accepted them with native awkwardness. Malone seemed specially at a loss, when a bouquet filled one hand, while his shillelagh occupied the other. Donne's 'Thank you!' was rich to hear: it was the most fatuous and arrogant of sounds, implying that he considered this offering an homage to his merits, and an attempt on the part of the heiress to ingratiate herself into his priceless affections. Sweeting alone received the posy like a smart, sensible little man, as he was; putting it gallantly and nattily into his button-hole.
  44. As a reward for his good manners, Miss Keeldar beckoning him apart, gave him some commission, which made his eyes sparkle with glee. Away he flew, round by the courtyard to the kitchen: no need to give him directions; he was always at home everywhere. Erelong he re-appeared, carrying a round table, which he placed under the cedar; then he collected six garden-chairs from various nooks and bowers in the grounds, and placed them in a circle. The parlour-maid - Miss Keeldar kept no footman - came out, bearing a napkin-covered tray. Sweeting's nimble fingers aided in disposing glasses, plates, knives and forks: he assisted her too in setting forth a neat luncheon, consisting of cold chicken, ham, and tarts.
  45. This sort of impromptu regale, it was Shirley's delight to offer any chance guests: and nothing pleased her better than to have an alert, obliging little friend, like Sweeting, to run about her hand, cheerily receive and briskly execute her hospitable hints. David and she were on the best terms in the world; and his devotion to the heiress was quite disinterested, since it prejudiced in nothing his faithful allegiance to the magnificent Dora Sykes.
  46. The repast turned out a very merry one. Donne and Malone, indeed, contributed but little to its vivacity, the chief part they played in it being what concerned the knife, fork, and wineglass; but where four such natures as Mr. Hall, David Sweeting, Shirley, and Caroline, were assembled in health and amity, on a green lawn, under a sunny sky, amidst a wilderness of flowers, there could not be ungenial dullness.
  47. In the course of conversation, Mr. Hall reminded the ladies that Whitsuntide was approaching, when the grand United Sunday-School tea-drinking and procession of the three parishes of Briarfield, Whinbury, and Nunnely were to take place. Caroline he knew would be at her post as teacher, he said, and he hoped Miss Keeldar would not be wanting: he hoped she would make her first public appearance amongst them at that time. Shirley was not the person to miss an occasion of this sort; she liked festive excitement, a gathering of happiness, a concentration and combination of pleasant details, a throng of glad faces, a muster of elated hearts: she told Mr. Hall they might count on her with security: she did not know what she would have to do, but they might dispose of her as they pleased.
  48. 'And,' said Caroline, 'you will promise to come to my table, and to sit near me, Mr. Hall?'
  49. 'I shall not fail, Deo volente,' said he. 'I have occupied the place on her right hand at these monster tea-drinkings for the last six years,' he proceeded, turning to Miss Keeldar. 'They made her a Sunday-school teacher when she was a little girl of twelve: she is not particularly self-confident by nature, as you may have observed; and the first time she had to 'take a tray,' as the phrase is, and make tea in public, there was some piteous trembling and flushing. I observed the speechless panic, the cups shaking in the little hand, and the overflowing tea-pot filled too full from the urn. I came to her aid, took a seat near her, managed the urn and the slop-basin, and in fact made the tea for her like any old woman.'
  50. 'I was very grateful to you,' interposed Caroline.
  51. 'You were: you told me so with an earnest sincerity that repaid me well; inasmuch as it was not like the majority of little ladies of twelve, whom you may help and caress for ever without their evincing any quicker sense of the kindness done and meant than if they were made of wax and wood, instead of flesh and nerves. She kept close to me, Miss Keeldar, the rest of the evening, walking with me over the grounds where the children were playing; she followed me into the vestry when all were summoned into church: she would, I believe, have mounted with me to the pulpit, had I not taken the previous precaution of conducting her to the Rectory-pew.'
  52. 'And he has been my friend ever since,' said Caroline.
  53. 'And always sat at her table, near her tray, and handed the cups, - that is the extent of my services. The next thing I do for her will be to marry her some day to some curate or mill-owner: but mind, Caroline, I shall inquire about the bridegroom's character, and if he is not a gentleman likely to render happy the little girl who walked with me hand in hand over Nunnely Common, I will not officiate: so take care.'
  54. 'The caution is useless: I am not going to be married. I shall live single like your sister Margaret, Mr. Hall.'
  55. 'Very well - you might do worse - Margaret is not unhappy: she has her books for a pleasure, and her brother for a care, and is content. If ever you want a home; if the day should come when Briarfield Rectory is yours no longer, come to Nunnely Vicarage. Should the old maid and bachelor be still living, they will make you tenderly welcome.'
  56. 'There are your flowers. Now,' said Caroline, who had kept the nosegay she had selected for him till this moment, 'you don't care for a bouquet, but you must give it to Margaret: only - to be sentimental for once - keep that little forget-me-not, which is a wild-flower I gathered from the grass; and - to be still more sentimental - let me take two or three of the blue blossoms and put them in my souvenir.'
  57. And she took out a small book with enamelled cover and silver clasp, wherein, having opened it, she inserted the flowers, writing round them in pencil - 'To be kept for the sake of the Rev. Cyril Hall, my friend. May --, 18--.'
  58. The Rev. Cyril Hall, on his part also, placed a sprig in safety between the leaves of a pocket Testament: he only wrote on the margin - 'Caroline.'
  59. 'Now,' said he, smiling, 'I trust we are romantic enough. Miss Keeldar,' he continued (the curates, by-the-bye, during this conversation, were too much occupied with their own jokes to notice what passed at the other end of the table), 'I hope you are laughing at this trait of 'exaltation' in the old grey-headed Vicar; but the fact is, I am so used to comply with the requests of this young friend of yours, I don't know how to refuse her when she tells me to do anything. You would say it is not much in my way to traffic with flowers and forget-me-nots: but, you see, when requested to be sentimental, I am obedient.'
  60. 'He is naturally rather sentimental,' remarked Caroline; 'Margaret told me so, and I know what pleases him.'
  61. 'That you should be good and happy? Yes; that is one of my greatest pleasures. May God long preserve to you the blessings of peace and innocence! By which phrase, I mean comparative innocence; for in His sight, I am well aware, none are pure. What, to our human perceptions, looks spotless as we fancy angels, is to Him but frailty, needing the blood of His Son to cleanse, and the strength of His Spirit to sustain. Let us each and all cherish humility - I, as you, my young friends; and we may well do it when we look into our own hearts, and see there temptations, inconsistencies, propensities, even we blush to recognise. And it is not youth, nor good looks, nor grace, nor any gentle outside charm which makes either beauty or goodness in God's eyes. Young ladies, when your mirror or men's tongues flatter you, remember that, in the sight of her Maker, Mary Ann Ainley - a woman whom neither glass nor lips have ever panegyrised - is fairer and better than either of you. She is, indeed,' he added, after a pause - 'she is, indeed. You young things - wrapt up in yourselves and in earthly hopes - scarcely live as Christ lived: perhaps you cannot do it yet, while existence is so sweet and earth so smiling to you; it would be too much to expect: she, with meek heart and due reverence, treads close in her Redeemer's steps.'
  62. Here the harsh voice of Donne broke in on the mild tones of Mr. Hall - 'Ahem!' he began, clearing his throat evidently for a speech of some importance. 'Ahem Miss Keeldar, your attention an instant, if you please.'
  63. 'Well,' said Shirley nonchalantly. 'What is it? I listen: all of me is ear that is not eye.'
  64. 'I hope part of you is hand also,' returned Donne, in his vulgarly presumptuous and familiar style, 'and part purse: it is to the hand and purse I propose to appeal. I came here this morning with a view to beg of you ----'
  65. 'You should have gone to Mrs. Gill: she is my almoner.'
  66. 'To beg of you a subscription to a school. I and Dr. Boultby intend to erect one in the hamlet of Ecclefigg, which is under our vicarage of Whinbury. The Baptists have got possession of it: they have a chapel there, and we want to dispute the ground.'
  67. 'But I have nothing to do with Ecclefigg: I possess no property there.'
  68. 'What does that signify? You're a Churchwoman, ain't you?'
  69. 'Admirable creature!' muttered Shirley, under her breath: 'exquisite address: fine style! What raptures he excites in me!' Then aloud, 'I am a Churchwoman, certainly.'
  70. 'Then you can't refuse to contribute in this case. The population of Ecclefigg are a parcel of brutes - we want to civilise them.'
  71. 'Who is to be the missionary?'
  72. 'Myself, probably.'
  73. 'You won't fail through lack of sympathy with your flock.'
  74. 'I hope not - I expect success; but we must have money. There is the paper - pray give a handsome sum.'
  75. When asked for money, Shirley rarely held back. She put down her name for 5: after the 300 she had lately given, and the many smaller sums she was giving constantly, it was as much as she could at present afford. Donne looked at it, declared the subscription 'shabby,' and clamorously demanded more. Miss Keeldar flushed up with some indignation and more astonishment.
  76. 'At present I shall give no more,' said she.
  77. 'Not give more! Why, I expected you to head the list with a cool hundred. With your property, you should never put down a signature for less.'
  78. She was silent.
  79. 'In the south,' went on Donne, 'a lady with a thousand a year would be ashamed to give five pounds for a public object.'
  80. Shirley, so rarely haughty, looked so now. Her slight frame became nerved; her distinguished face quickened with scorn.
  81. 'Strange remarks!' said she: 'most inconsiderate! Reproach in return for bounty is misplaced.'
  82. 'Bounty! Do you call five pounds bounty?'
  83. 'I do: and bounty which, had I not given it to Dr. Boultby's intended school, of the erection of which I approve, and in no sort to his curate, who seems ill-advised in his manner of applying for - or rather extorting - subscriptions, - bounty, I repeat, which, but for this consideration, I should instantly reclaim.'
  84. Donne was thick-skinned: he did not feel all or half that the tone, air, glance of the speaker expressed: he knew not on what ground he stood.
  85. 'Wretched place - this Yorkshire,' he went on. 'I could never have formed an idear of the country had I not seen it; and the people - rich and poor - what a set! How corse and uncultivated! They would be scouted in the south.'
  86. Shirley leaned forwards on the table, her nostrils dilating a little, her taper fingers interlaced and compressing each other hard.
  87. 'The rich,' pursued the infatuated and unconscious Donne, 'are a parcel of misers - never living as persons with their incomes ought to live: you scarsley' - (you must excuse Mr. Donne's pronunciation, reader; it was very choice; he considered it genteel, and prided himself on his southern accent; northern ears received with singular sensations his utterance of certain words); 'you scarsley ever see a fam'ly where a propa carriage or a reg'la butla is kep; and as to the poor - just look at them when they come crowding about the church-doors on the occasion of a marriage or a funeral, clattering in clogs; the men in their shirt-sleeves and wool-combers' aprons, the women in mob-caps and bed-gowns. They pos'tively deserve that one should turn a mad cow in amongst them to rout their rabble-rank - he! he! What fun it would be!'
  88. 'There, - you have reached the climax,' said Shirley quietly. 'You have reached the climax,' she repeated, turning her glowing glance towards him. 'You cannot go beyond it, and,' she added with emphasis, 'you shall not, in my house.'
  89. Up she rose: nobody could control her now, for she was exasperated; straight she walked to her garden-gates, wide she flung them open.
  90. 'Walk through,' she said austerely, 'and pretty quickly, and set foot on this pavement no more.'
  91. Donne was astounded. He had thought all the time he was showing himself off to high advantage, as a lofty-souled person of the first 'ton'; he imagined he was producing a crushing impression. Had he not expressed disdain of everything in Yorkshire? What more conclusive proof could be given that he was better than anything there? And yet here was he about to be turned like a dog out of a Yorkshire garden! Where, under such circumstances, was the 'concatenation accordingly'?
  92. 'Rid me of you instantly - instantly!' reiterated Shirley, as he lingered.
  93. 'Madam - a clergyman! Turn out a clergyman?'
  94. 'Off! Were you an archbishop you have proved yourself no gentleman, and must go. Quick!'
  95. She was quite resolved: there was no trifling with her: besides, Tartar was again rising; he perceived symptoms of a commotion: he manifested a disposition to join in; there was evidently nothing for it but to go, and Donne made his Exodus; the heiress sweeping him a deep curtsey as she closed the gates on him.
  96. 'How dare the pompous priest abuse his flock? How dare the lisping cockney revile Yorkshire?' was her sole observation on the circumstance, as she returned to the table.
  97. Ere long, the little party broke up: Miss Keeldar's ruffled and darkened brow, curled lip, and incensed eye, gave no invitation to further social enjoyment.




CHAPTER XVI

WHITSUNTIDE

  1. The fund prospered. By dint of Miss Keeldar's example, the three rectors' vigorous exertions, and the efficient though quiet aid of their spinster and spectacled lieutenants, Mary Ann Ainley and Margaret Hall, a handsome sum was raised; and this being judiciously managed, served for the present greatly to alleviate the distress of the unemployed poor. The neighbourhood seemed to grow calmer: for a fortnight past no cloth had been destroyed; no outrage on mill or mansion had been committed in the three parishes. Shirley was sanguine that the evil she wished to avert was almost escaped; that the threatened storm was passing over: with the approach of summer she felt certain that trade would improve - it always did; and then this weary war could not last for ever: peace must return one day: with peace what an impulse would be given to commerce!
  2. Such was the usual tenor of her observations to her tenant, Gérard Moore, whenever she met him where they could converse, and Moore would listen very quietly - too quietly to satisfy her. She would then by her impatient glance demand something more from him - some explanation, or at least some additional remark. Smiling in his way, with that expression which gave a remarkable cast of sweetness to his mouth, while his brow remained grave, he would answer to the effect, that himself, too, trusted in the finite nature of the war; that it was indeed on that ground the anchor of his hopes was fixed: thereon his speculations depended. 'For you are aware,' he would continue, 'that I now work Hollow's Mill entirely on speculation: I sell nothing; there is no market for my goods. I manufacture for a future day: I make myself ready to take advantage of the first opening that shall occur. Three months ago this was impossible to me; I had exhausted both credit and capital: you well know who came to my rescue; from what hand I received the loan which saved me. It is on the strength of that loan I am enabled to continue the bold game which, a while since, I feared I should never play more. Total ruin I know will follow loss, and I am aware that gain is doubtful; but I am quite cheerful: so long as I can be active, so long as I can strive, so long, in short, as my hands are not tied, it is impossible for me to be depressed. One year, nay, but six months of the reign of the olive, and I am safe; for, as you say, peace will give an impulse to commerce. In this you are right; but as to the restored tranquillity of the neighbourhood - as to the permanent good effect of your charitable fund - I doubt. Eleemosynary relief never yet tranquillised the working-classes - it never made them grateful; it is not in human nature that it should. I suppose, were all things ordered aright, they ought not to be in a position to need that humiliating relief; and this they feel: we should feel it were we so placed. Besides, to whom should they be grateful? To you - to the clergy perhaps, but not to us mill-owners. They hate us worse than ever. Then, the disaffected here are in correspondence with the disaffected elsewhere: Nottingham is one of their headquarters, Manchester another, Birmingham a third. The subalterns receive orders from their chiefs; they are in a good state of discipline: no blow is struck without mature deliberation. In sultry weather, you have seen the sky threaten thunder day by day, and yet night after night the clouds have cleared, and the sun has set quietly; but the danger was not gone, it was only delayed: the long-threatening storm is sure to break at last. There is analogy between the moral and physical atmosphere.'
  3. 'Well, Mr. Moore' (so these conferences always ended), 'take care of yourself. If you think that I have ever done you any good, reward me by promising to take care of yourself.'
  4. 'I do: I will take close and watchful care. I wish to live, not to die: the future opens like Eden before me; and still, when I look deep into the shades of my paradise, I see a vision, that I like better than seraph or cherub, glide across remote vistas.'
  5. 'Do you? Pray, what vision?'
  6. 'I see ----'
  7. The maid came bustling in with the tea-things.
  8. The early part of that May, as we have seen, was fine, the middle was wet; but in the last week, at change of moon, it cleared again. A fresh wind swept off the silver-white, deep-piled rain-clouds, bearing them, mass on mass, to the eastern horizon; on whose verge they dwindled, and behind whose rim they disappeared, leaving the vault behind all pure blue space, ready for the reign of the summer sun. That sun rose broad on Whitsuntide: the gathering of the schools was signalised by splendid weather.
  9. Whit-Tuesday was the great day, in preparation for which the two large schoolrooms of Briarfield, built by the present rector, chiefly at his own expense, were cleaned out, white-washed, repainted, and decorated with flowers and evergreens - some from the Rectory-garden, two cart-loads from Fieldhead, and a wheel-barrowful from the more stingy domain of De Walden, the residence of Mr. Wynne. In these schoolrooms twenty tables, each calculated to accommodate twenty guests, were laid out, surrounded with benches, and covered with white cloths: above them were suspended at least some twenty cages, containing as many canaries, according to a fancy of the district, specially cherished by Mr. Helstone's clerk, who delighted in the piercing song of these birds, and knew that amidst confusion of tongues they always carolled loudest. These tables, be it understood, were not spread for the twelve hundred scholars to be assembled from the three parishes, but only for the patrons and teachers of the schools: the children's feast was to be spread in the open air. At one o'clock the troops were to come in; at two they were to be marshalled; till four they were to parade the parish; then came the feast, and afterwards the meeting, with music and speechifying in the church.
  10. Why Briarfield was chosen for the point of rendezvous - the scene of the fête - should be explained. It was not because it was the largest or most populous parish - Whinbury far outdid it in that respect; nor because it was the oldest - antique as were the hoary Church and Rectory, Nunnely's low-roofed Temple and mossy Parsonage, buried both in coeval oaks, outstanding sentinels of Nunnwood, were older still: it was simply because Mr. Helstone willed it so, and Mr. Helstone's will was stronger than that of Boultby or Hall; the former could not, the latter would not, dispute a point of precedence with their resolute and imperious brother: they let him lead and rule.
  11. This notable anniversary had always hitherto been a trying day to Caroline Helstone, because it dragged her perforce into public, compelling her to face all that was wealthy, respectable, influential in the neighbourhood; in whose presence, but for the kind countenance of Mr. Hall, she would have appeared unsupported. Obliged to be conspicuous; obliged to walk at the head of her regiment as the Rector's niece, and first teacher of the first class; obliged to make tea at the first table for a mixed multitude of ladies and gentlemen; and to do all this without the countenance of mother, aunt, or other chaperon - she, meantime, being a nervous person, who mortally feared publicity - it will be comprehended that, under these circumstances, she trembled at the approach of Whitsuntide.
  12. But this year Shirley was to be with her, and that changed the aspect of the trial singularly - it changed it utterly: it was a trial no longer - it was almost an enjoyment. Miss Keeldar was better in her single self than a host of ordinary friends. Quite self-possessed, and always spirited and easy; conscious of her social importance, yet never presuming upon it, it would be enough to give one courage only to look at her. The only fear was, lest the heiress should not be punctual to tryst: she often had a careless way of lingering behind time, and Caroline knew her uncle would not wait a second for any one: at the moment of the church-clock tolling two, the bells would clash out and the march begin. She must look after Shirley, then, in this matter, or her expected companion would fail her.
  13. Whit-Tuesday saw her rise almost with the sun. She, Fanny, and Eliza were busy the whole morning arranging the Rectory-parlours in first-rate company order, and setting out a collation of cooling refreshments - wine, fruit, cakes - on the dining-room sideboard. Then she had to dress in her freshest and fairest attire of white muslin; the perfect fineness of the day and the solemnity of the occasion warranted, and even exacted, such costume. Her new sash - a birthday present from Margaret Hall, which she had reason to believe Cyril himself had bought, and in return for which she had indeed given him a set of cambric bands in a handsome case - was tied by the dexterous fingers of Fanny, who took no little pleasure in arraying her fair young mistress for the occasion; her simple bonnet had been trimmed to correspond with her sash; her pretty but inexpensive scarf of white crape suited her dress. When ready she formed a picture, not bright enough to dazzle, but fair enough to interest; not brilliantly striking, but very delicately pleasing; a picture in which sweetness of tint, purity of air, and grace of mien, atoned for the absence of rich colouring and magnificent contour. What her brown eye and clear forehead showed of her mind, was in keeping with her dress and face - modest, gentle, and, though pensive, harmonious. It appeared that neither lamb nor dove need fear her, but would welcome rather, in her look of simplicity and softness, a sympathy with their own natures, or with the natures we ascribe to them.
  14. After all, she was an imperfect, faulty human being; fair enough of form, hue, and array; but, as Cyril Hall said, neither so good nor so great as the withered Miss Ainley, now putting on her best black gown and Quaker-drab shawl and bonnet in her own narrow cottage-chamber.
  15. Away Caroline went, across some very sequestered fields and through some quite hidden lanes, to Fieldhead. She glided quickly under the green hedges and across the greener leas. There was no dust - no moisture - to soil the hem of her stainless garment, or to damp her slender sandal: after the late rains all was clean, and under the present glowing sun all was dry: she walked fearlessly, then on daisy and turf, and through thick plantations; she reached Fieldhead and penetrated to Miss Keeldar's dressing-room.
  16. It was well she had come, or Shirley would have been too late. Instead of making ready with all speed, she lay stretched on a couch, absorbed in reading: Mrs. Pryor stood near, vainly urging her to rise and dress. Caroline wasted no words: she immediately took the book from her, and with her own hands commenced the business of disrobing and re-robing her. Shirley, indolent with the heat, and gay with her youth and pleasurable nature, wanted to talk, laugh and linger; but Caroline, intent on being in time, persevered in dressing her as fast as fingers could fasten strings or insert pins. At length, as she united a final row of hooks and eyes, she found leisure to chide her, saying she was very naughty to be so unpunctual; that she looked even now the picture of incorrigible carelessness: and so Shirley did - but a very lovely picture of that tiresome quality.
  17. She presented quite a contrast to Caroline: there was style in every fold of her dress and every line of her figure: the rich silk suited her better than a simpler costume; the deep embroidered scarf became her: she wore it negligently, but gracefully; the wreath on her bonnet crowned her well: the attention to fashion, the tasteful appliance of ornament in each portion of her dress, were quite in place with her: all this suited her, like the frank light in her eyes, the rallying smile about her lips, like her shaft-straight carriage and lightsome step. Caroline took her hand when she was dressed, hurried her downstairs, out of doors, and thus they sped through the fields, laughing as they went, and looking very much like a snow-white dove and gem-tinted bird-of-paradise joined in social flight.
  18. Thanks to Miss Helstone's promptitude, they arrived in good time. While yet trees hid the church, they heard the bell tolling a measured but urgent summons for all to assemble; the trooping in of numbers, the trampling of many steps, and murmuring of many voices were likewise audible. From a rising ground they presently saw, on the Whinbury road, the Whinbury school approaching: it numbered five hundred souls. The Rector and Curate, Boultby and Donne, headed it: the former, looming large in full canonicals, walking as became a beneficed priest, under the canopy of a shovel-hat, with the dignity of an ample corporation, the embellishment of the squarest and vastest of black coats, and the support of the stoutest of gold-headed canes. As the Doctor walked, he now and then slightly flourished his cane, and inclined his shovel-hat with a dogmatical wag towards his aide-de-camp. That aide-de-camp - Donne, to wit - narrow as the line of his shape was compared to the broad bulk of his principal, contrived, notwithstanding, to look every inch a curate: all about him was pragmatical and self-complacent, from his turned-up nose and elevated chin to his clerical black gaiters, his somewhat short, strapless trousers, and his square-toed shoes.
  19. Walk on, Mr. Donne! You have undergone scrutiny. You think you look well - whether the white and purple figures watching you from yonder hill think so, is another question.
  20. These figures come running down when the regiment has marched by: the churchyard is full of children and teachers, all in their very best holiday attire: and - distressed as is the district, bad as are the times - it is wonderful to see how respectably - how handsomely even - they have contrived to clothe themselves. That British love of decency will work miracles: the poverty which reduces an Irish girl to rags is impotent to rob the English girl of the neat wardrobe she knows necessary to her self-respect. Besides, the lady of the manor - that Shirley, now gazing with pleasure on this well-dressed and happy-looking crowd - has really done them good: her seasonable bounty consoled many a poor family against the coming holiday, and supplied many a child with a new frock or bonnet for the occasion; she knows it, and is elate with the consciousness: glad that her money, example, and influence have really - substantially - benefited those around her. She cannot be charitable like Miss Ainley - it is not in her nature: it relieves her to feel that there is another way of being charitable, practicable for other characters, and under other circumstances.
  21. Caroline, too, is pleased; for she also has done good in her small way; robbed herself of more than one dress, ribbon, or collar she could ill spare, to aid in fitting out the scholars of her class; and as she could not give money, she has followed Miss Ainley's example, in giving her time and her industry to sew for the children.
  22. Not only is the churchyard full, but the Rectory-garden is also thronged: pairs and parties of ladies and gentlemen are seen walking amongst the waving lilacs and laburnums. The house also is occupied: at the wide-open parlour-windows gay groups are standing. These are the patrons and teachers, who are to swell the procession. In the parson's croft, behind the Rectory, are the musicians of the three parish bands, with their instruments. Fanny and Eliza, in the smartest of caps and gowns, and the whitest of aprons, move amongst them, serving out quarts of ale; whereof a stock was brewed very sound and strong some weeks since, by the Rector's orders, and under his special superintendence. Whatever he had a hand in, must be managed handsomely: 'shabby doings,' of any description, were not endured under his sanction: from the erection of a public building, a church, school, or court-house, to the cooking of a dinner, he still advocated the lordly, liberal, and effective. Miss Keeldar was like him in this respect, and they mutually approved each other's arrangements.
  23. Caroline and Shirley were soon in the midst of the company; the former met them very easily for her: instead of sitting down in a retired corner, or stealing away to her own room till the procession should be marshalled, according to her wont, she moved through the three parlours, conversed and smiled, absolutely spoke once or twice ere she was spoken to, and, in short, seemed a new creature. It was Shirley's presence which thus transformed her: the view of Miss Keeldar's air and manner did her a world of good. Shirley had no fear of her kind; no tendency to shrink from, to avoid it. All human beings, men, women, or children, whom low breeding or coarse presumption did not render positively offensive, were welcome enough to her: some much more so than others, of course; but, generally speaking, till a man had indisputably proved himself bad and a nuisance, Shirley was willing to think him good and an acquisition, and to treat him accordingly. This disposition made her a general favourite, for it robbed her very raillery of its sting, and gave her serious or smiling conversation a happy charm: nor did it diminish the value of her intimate friendship, which was a distinct thing from this social benevolence, depending, indeed, on quite a different part of her character. Miss Helstone was the choice of her affection and intellect; the Misses Pearson, Sykes, Wynne, etc., etc., only the profiters by her good-nature and vivacity.
  24. Donne happened to come into the drawing-room while Shirley, sitting on the sofa, formed the centre of a tolerably wide circle. She had already forgotten her exasperation against him, and she bowed and smiled good-humouredly. The disposition of the man was then seen. He knew neither how to decline the advance with dignity, as one whose just pride has been wounded, nor how to meet it with frankness, as one who is glad to forget and forgive; his punishment had impressed him with no sense of shame, and he did not experience that feeling on encountering his chastiser: he was not vigorous enough in evil to be actively malignant - he merely passed by sheepishly with a rated, scowling look. Nothing could ever again reconcile him to his enemy; while no passion of resentment, for even sharper and more ignominious inflictions, could his lymphatic nature know.
  25. 'He was not worth a scene!' said Shirley to Caroline. 'What a fool I was! To revenge on poor Donne his silly spite at Yorkshire, is something like crushing a gnat for attacking the hide of a rhinoceros. Had I been a gentleman, I believe I should have helped him off the premises by dint of physical force: I am glad now I only employed the moral weapon. But he must come near me no more: I don't like him: he irritates me: there is not even amusement to be had out of him: Malone is better sport.'
  26. It seemed as if Malone wished to justify the preference; for the words were scarcely out of the speaker's mouth, when Peter Augustus came up, all in 'grande tenue,' gloved and scented, with his hair oiled and brushed to perfection, and bearing in one hand a huge bunch of cabbage roses, five or six in full blow: these he presented to the heiress with a grace to which the most cunning pencil could do but defective justice. And who, after this, could dare to say that Peter was not a lady's man? He had gathered and he had given flowers: he had offered a sentimental - a poetic tribute at the shrine of Love or Mammon. Hercules holding the distaff was but a faint type of Peter bearing the roses. He must have thought this himself, for he seemed amazed at what he had done: he backed without a word; he was going away with a husky chuckle of self-felicitation; then he bethought himself to stop and turn, to ascertain by ocular testimony that he really had presented a bouquet: yes - there were the six red cabbages on the purple satin lap, a very white hand, with some gold rings on the fingers, slightly holding them together, and streaming ringlets, half hiding a laughing face, drooped over them: only half-hiding: Peter saw the laugh - it was unmistakable - he was made a joke of - his gallantry, his chivalry were the subject of a jest for a petticoat - for two petticoats - Miss Helstone too was smiling. Moreover, he felt he was seen through, and Peter grew black as a thundercloud. When Shirley looked up, a fell eye was fastened on her: Malone, at least, had energy enough in hate: she saw it in his glance.
  27. 'Peter is worth a scene, and shall have it; if he likes, one day,' she whispered to her friend.
  28. And now - solemn and sombre as to their colour, though bland enough as to their faces - appeared at the dining-room door the three rectors: they had hitherto been busy in the church, and were now coming to take some little refreshment for the body, ere the march commenced. The large morocco-covered easy chair had been left vacant for Dr. Boultby; he was put into it, and Caroline, obeying the instigations of Shirley, who told her now was the time to play the hostess, hastened to hand to her uncle's vast, revered, and, on the whole, worthy friend, a glass of wine and a plate of macaroons. Boultby's churchwardens, patrons of the Sunday-school both, as he insisted on their being, were already beside him; Mrs. Sykes. and the other ladies of his congregation were on his right hand and on his left, expressing their hopes that he was not fatigued, their fears that the day would be too warm for him. Mrs. Boultby, who held an opinion that when her lord dropped asleep after a good dinner his face became as the face of an angel, was bending over him, tenderly wiping some perspiration, real or imaginary, from his brow: Boultby, in short, was in his glory, and in a round sound 'voix de poitrine,' he rumbled out thanks for attentions, and assurances of his tolerable health. Of Caroline he took no manner of notice as she came near, save to accept what she offered; he did not see her, he never did see her: he hardly knew that such a person existed. He saw the macaroons, however, and being fond of sweets, possessed himself of a small handful thereof. The wine Mrs. Boultby insisted on mingling with hot water, and qualifying with sugar and nutmeg.
  29. Mr. Hall stood near an open window, breathing the fresh air and scent of flowers, and talking like a brother to Miss Ainley. To him Caroline turned her attention with pleasure. 'What should she bring him? He must not help himself - he must be served by her'; and she provided herself with a little salver, that she might offer him variety. Margaret Hall joined them; so did Miss Keeldar: the four ladies stood round their favourite pastor: they also had an idea that they looked on the face of an earthly angel: Cyril Hall was their pope, infallible to them as Dr. Thomas Boultby to his admirers. A throng, too, enclosed the Rector of Briarfield: twenty or more pressed round him; and no parson was ever more potent in a circle than old Helstone. The curates, herding together after their manner, made a constellation of three lesser planets: divers young ladies watched them afar off, but ventured not nigh.
  30. Mr. Helstone produced his watch. 'Ten minutes to two,' he announced aloud. 'Time for all to fall into line. Come.' He seized his shovel-hat and marched away; all rose and followed en masse.
  31. The twelve hundred children were drawn up in three bodies of four hundred souls each: in the rear of each regiment was stationed a band; between every twenty there was an interval, wherein Helstone posted the teachers in pairs: to the van of the armies he summoned --
  32. 'Grace Boultby and Mary Sykes lead out Whinbury.'
  33. 'Margaret Hall and Mary Ann Ainley conduct Nunnely.'
  34. 'Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar head Briarfield.'
  35. Then again he gave command --
  36. 'Mr. Donne to Whinbury: Mr. Sweeting to Nunnely; Mr. Malone to Briarfield.'
  37. And these gentlemen stepped up before the lady-generals.
  38. The rectors passed to the full front - the parish clerks fell to the extreme rear; Helstone lifted his shovel-hat; in an instant out clashed the eight bells in the tower, loud swelled the sounding bands, flute spoke and clarion answered, deep rolled the drums, and away they marched.
  39. The broad white road unrolled before the long procession, the sun and sky surveyed it cloudless, the wind tossed the tree-boughs above it, and the twelve hundred children, and one hundred and forty adults, of which it was composed, trod on in time and tune, with gay faces and glad hearts. It was a joyous scene, and a scene to do good: it was a day of happiness for rich and poor: the work, first of God, and then of the clergy. Let England's priests have their due: they are a faulty set in some respects, being only of common flesh and blood, like us all; but the land would be badly off without them: Britain would miss her church, if that church fell. God save it! God also reform it!




CHAPTER XVII

THE SCHOOL-FEAST

  1. Not on combat bent, nor of foemen in search, was this priest-led and women-officered company: yet their music played martial tunes, and - to judge by the eyes and carriage of some, Miss Keeldar, for instance - these sounds awoke, if not a martial, yet a longing spirit. Old Helstone, turning by chance, looked into her face, and he laughed, and she laughed at him.
  2. 'There is no battle in prospect,' he said; 'our country does not want us to fight for it: no foe or tyrant is questioning or threatening our liberty: there is nothing to be done: we are only taking a walk. Keep your hand on the reins, Captain, and slack the fire of that spirit: it is not wanted; the more's the pity.'
  3. 'Take your own advice, Doctor,' was Shirley's response. To Caroline she murmured, 'I'll borrow of imagination what reality will not give me. We are not soldiers-bloodshed is not my desire; or, if we are, we are soldiers of the Cross. Time has rolled back some hundreds of years, and we are bound on a pilgrimage to Palestine. But no, - that is too visionary. I need a sterner dream: we are Lowlanders of Scotland, following a covenanting captain up into the hills to hold a meeting out of the reach of persecuting troopers. We know that battle may follow prayer; and, as we believe that in the worst issue of battle, heaven must be our reward, we are ready and willing to redden the peat-moss with our blood. That music stirs my soul; it wakens all my life; it makes my heart beat: not with its temperate daily pulse, but with a new, thrilling vigour. I almost long for danger; for a faith - a land - or, at least, a lover to defend.'
  4. 'Look, Shirley!' interrupted Caroline. 'What is that red speck above Stilbro' Brow? You have keener sight than I; just turn your eagle eye to it.'
  5. Miss Keeldar looked. 'I see,' she said: then added presently, 'there is a line of red. They are soldiers - cavalry soldiers,' she subjoined quickly: 'they ride fast: there are six of them: they will pass us: no - they have turned off to the right: they saw our procession, and avoid it by making a circuit. Where are they going?'
  6. 'Perhaps they are only exercising their horses'
  7. 'Perhaps so. We see them no more now.'
  8. Mr. Helstone here spoke.
  9. 'We shall pass through Royd-lane, to reach Nunnely Common by a short cut,' said he.
  10. And into the straits of Royd Lane they accordingly defiled. It was very narrow, - so narrow that only two could walk abreast without falling into the ditch which ran along each side. They had gained the middle of it, when excitement became obvious in the clerical commanders: Boultby's spectacles and Helstone's Rehoboam were agitated: the curates nudged each other: Mr. Hall turned to the ladies and smiled.
  11. 'What is the matter?' was the demand.
  12. He pointed with his staff to the end of the lane before them. Lo and behold! another, - an opposition procession was there entering, headed also by men in black, and followed also, as they could now hear, by music.
  13. 'Is it our double?' asked Shirley: 'our manifold wraith? Here is a card turned up.'
  14. 'If you wanted a battle, you are likely to get one, - at least of looks,' whispered Caroline, laughing.
  15. 'They shall not pass us!' cried the curates unanimously: 'we'll not give way!'
  16. 'Give way!' retorted Helstone sternly, turning round; 'who talks of giving way? You, boys, mind what you are about: the ladies, I know, will be firm; I can trust them. There is not a churchwoman here but will stand her ground against these folks, for the honour of the Establishment. What does Miss Keeldar say?'
  17. 'She asks what is it?'
  18. 'The Dissenting and Methodist schools, the Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans, joined in unholy alliance, and turning purposely into this lane with the intention of obstructing our march and driving us back.'
  19. 'Bad manners!' said Shirley; 'and I hate bad manners. Of course, they must have a lesson.'
  20. 'A lesson in politeness,' suggested Mr. Hall, who was ever for peace: 'not an example of rudeness.'
  21. Old Helstone moved on. Quickening his step, he marched some yards in advance of his company. He had nearly reached the other sable leaders, when he who appeared to act as the hostile commander-in-chief - a large, greasy man, with black hair combed flat on his forehead - called a halt. The procession paused: he drew forth a hymn-book, gave out a verse, set a tune, and they all struck up the most dolorous of canticles.
  22. Helstone signed to his bands: they clashed out with all the power of brass. He desired them to play 'Rule, Britannia,' and ordered the children to join in vocally, which they did with enthusiastic spirit. The enemy was sung and stormed down; his psalm quelled: as far as noise went, he was conquered.
  23. 'Now, follow me!' exclaimed Helstone; 'not at a run, but at a firm, smart pace. Be steady, every child and woman of you: - keep together - hold on by each other's skirts, if necessary.'
  24. And he strode on with such a determined and deliberate gait, and was, besides, so well seconded by his scholars and teachers - who did exactly as he told them, neither running nor faltering, but marching with cool, solid impetus: the curates, too, being compelled to do the same, as they were between two fires, - Helstone and Miss Keeldar, both of whom watched any deviation with lynx-eyed vigilance, and were ready, the one with his cane, the other with her parasol, to rebuke the slightest breach of orders, the least independent or irregular demonstration, - that the body of Dissenters were first amazed, then alarmed, then borne down and pressed back, and at last forced to turn tail and leave the outlet from Royd Lane free. Boultby suffered in the onslaught, but Helstone and Malone, between them, held him up, and brought him through the business, whole in limb, though sorely tried in wind.
  25. The fat Dissenter who had given out the hymn was left sitting in the ditch. He was a spirit merchant by trade, a leader of the Nonconformists, and, it was said, drank more water in that one afternoon than he had swallowed for a twelvemonth before. Mr. Hall had taken care of Caroline, and Caroline of him: he and Miss Ainley made their own quiet comments to each other afterwards on the incident. Miss Keeldar and Mr. Helstone shook hands heartily when they had fairly got the whole party through the lane. The curates began to exult, but Mr. Helstone presently put the curb on their innocent spirits: he remarked that they never had sense to know what to say, and had better hold their tongues; and he reminded them that the business was none of their managing.
  26. About half-past three the procession turned back, and at four once more regained the starting-place. Long lines of benches were arranged in the close-shorn fields round the school: there the children were seated, and huge baskets, covered up with white cloths, and great smoking tin vessels were brought out. Ere the distribution of good things commenced, a brief grace was pronounced by Mr. Hall, and sung by the children: their young voices sounded melodious, even touching, in the open air. Large currant buns, and hot, well-sweetened tea, were then administered in the proper spirit of liberality: no stinting was permitted on this day, at least; the rule for each child's allowance being that it was to have about twice as much as it could possibly eat, thus leaving a reserve to be carried home for such as age, sickness, or other impediment, prevented from coming to the feast. Buns and beer circulated, meantime, amongst the musicians and church-singers: afterwards the benches were removed, and they were left to unbend their spirits in licensed play.
  27. A bell summoned the teachers, patrons, and patronesses to the schoolroom; Miss Keeldar, Miss Helstone, and many other ladies were already there, glancing over the arrangement of their separate trays and tables. Most of the female servants of the neighbourhood, together with the clerks', the singers', and the musicians' wives, had been pressed into the service of the day as waiters: each vied with the other in smartness and daintiness of dress, and many handsome forms were seen amongst the younger ones. About half a score were cutting bread and butter; another half-score supplying hot water, brought from the coppers of the Rector's kitchen. The profusion of flowers and evergreens decorating the white walls, the show of silver teapots and bright porcelain on the tables, the active figures, blithe faces, gay dresses flitting about everywhere, formed altogether a refreshing and lively spectacle. Everybody talked, not very loudly, but merrily, and the canary birds sang shrill in their high-hung cages.
  28. Caroline, as the Rector's niece, took her place at one of the three first tables; Mrs. Boultby and Margaret Hall officiated at the others. At these tables the élite of the company were to be entertained; strict rules of equality not being more in fashion at Briarfield than elsewhere. Miss Helstone removed her bonnet and scarf, that she might be less oppressed with the heat; her long curls, falling on her neck, served almost in place of a veil, and for the rest, her muslin dress was fashioned modestly as a nun's robe, enabling her thus to dispense with the encumbrance of a shawl.
  29. The room was filling: Mr. Hall had taken his post beside Caroline, who now, as she re-arranged the cups and spoons before her, whispered to him in a low voice remarks on the events of the day. He looked a little grave about what had taken place in Royd Lane, and she tried to smile him out of his seriousness. Miss Keeldar sat near; for a wonder, neither laughing nor talking; on the contrary, very still, and gazing round her vigilantly: she seemed afraid lest some intruder should take a seat she apparently wished to reserve next her own: ever and anon she spread her satin dress over an undue portion of the bench, or laid her gloves or her embroidered handkerchief upon it. Caroline noticed this manège at last, and asked her what friend she expected. Shirley bent towards her, almost touched her ear with her rosy lips, and whispered with a musical softness that often characterised her tones, when what she said tended even remotely to stir some sweet secret source of feeling in her heart - 'I expect Mr. Moore: I saw him last night, and I made him promise to come with his sister, and to sit at our table: he won't fail me, I feel certain, but I apprehend his coming too late, and being separated from us. Here is a fresh batch arriving; every place will be taken: provoking!'
  30. In fact Mr. Wynne the magistrate, his wife, his son, and his two daughters, now entered in high state. They were Briarfield gentry: of course their place was at the first table, and being conducted thither, they filled up the whole remaining space. For Miss Keeldar's comfort, Mr. Sam Wynne inducted himself into the very vacancy she had kept for Moore, planting himself solidly on her gown, her gloves, and her handkerchief. Mr. Sam was one of the objects of her aversion; and the more so because he showed serious symptoms of an aim at her hand. The old gentleman, too, had publicly declared that the Fieldhead estate and the De Walden estate were delightfully contagious - a malapropism which rumour had not failed to repeat to Shirley.
  31. Caroline's ears yet rung with that thrilling whisper, 'I expect Mr. Moore,' her heart yet beat and her cheek yet glowed with it, when a note from the organ pealed above the confused hum of the place. Dr. Boultby, Mr. Helstone, and Mr. Hall rose, so did all present, and grace was sung to the accompaniment of the music; and then tea began. She was kept too busy with her office for a while to have leisure for looking round, but the last cup being filled, she threw a restless glance over the room. There were some ladies and several gentlemen standing about yet unaccommodated with seats; amidst a group she recognised her spinster friend, Miss Mann, whom the fine weather had tempted, or some urgent friend had persuaded, to leave her drear solitude for one hour of social enjoyment. Miss Mann looked tired of standing: a lady in a yellow bonnet brought her a chair. Caroline knew well that 'chapeau en satin jaune'; she knew the black hair, and the kindly though rather opinionated and froward-looking face under it; she knew that 'robe de soie noire'; she knew even that 'schal gris de lin'; she knew, in short, Hortense Moore, and she wanted to jump up and run to her and kiss her - to give her one embrace for her own sake, and two for her brother's. She half rose, indeed, with a smothered exclamation, and perhaps - for the impulse was very strong - she would have run across the room, and actually saluted her, but a hand replaced her in her seat, and a voice behind her whispered - 'Wait till after tea, Lina, and then I'll bring her to you.'
  32. And when she could look up she did, and there was Robert himself close behind, smiling at her eagerness, looking better than she had ever seen him look - looking, indeed, to her partial eyes, so very handsome, that she dared not trust herself to hazard a second glance; for his image struck on her vision with painful brightness, and pictured itself on her memory as vividly as if there daguerreotyped by a pencil of keen lightning.
  33. He moved on, and spoke to Miss Keeldar. Shirley, irritated by some unwelcome attentions from Sam Wynne, and by the fact of that gentleman being still seated on her gloves and handkerchief - and probably, also, by Moore's want of punctuality - was by no means in good humour. She first shrugged her shoulder at him, and then she said a bitter word or two about his 'insupportable tardiness.' Moore neither apologised nor retorted: he stood near her quietly, as if waiting to see whether she would recover her temper; which she did in little more than three minutes, indicating the change by offering him her hand. Moore took it with a smile, half corrective, half grateful: the slightest possible shake of the head delicately marked the former quality; it is probable a gentle pressure indicated the latter.
  34. 'You may sit where you can now, Mr. Moore,' said Shirley, also smiling: 'you see there is not an inch of room for you here; but I discern plenty of space at Mrs. Boultby's table, between Miss Armitage and Miss Birtwhistle; go: John Sykes will be your vis-ô-vis, and you will sit with your back towards us.'
  35. Moore, however, preferred lingering about where he was: he now and then took a turn down the long room, pausing in his walk to interchange greetings with other gentlemen in his own placeless predicament: but still he came back to the magnet, Shirley, bringing with him, each time he returned, observations it was necessary to whisper in her ear.
  36. Meantime, poor Sam Wynne looked far from comfortable; his fair neighbour, judging from her movements, appeared in a mood the most unquiet and unaccommodating: she would not sit still two seconds: she was hot; she fanned herself; complained of want of air and space. She remarked, that, in her opinion, when people had finished their tea they ought to leave the tables, and announced distinctly that she expected to faint if the present state of things continued. Mr. Sam offered to accompany her into the open air; just the way to give her her death of cold, she alleged: in short, his post became untenable; and having swallowed his quantum of tea, he judged it expedient to evacuate.
  37. Moore should have been at hand, whereas he was quite at the other extremity of the room, deep in conference with Christopher Sykes. A large corn-factor, Timothy Ramsden, Esq., happened to be nearer, and feeling himself tired of standing, he advanced to fill the vacant seat. Shirley's expedients did not fail her: a sweep of her scarf upset her teacup, its contents were shared between the bench and her own satin dress. Of course, it became necessary to call a waiter to remedy the mischief: Mr. Ramsden, a stout, puffy gentleman, as large in person as he was in property, held aloof from the consequent commotion. Shirley, usually almost culpably indifferent to slight accidents affecting dress, etc., now made a commotion that might have become the most delicate and nervous of her sex; Mr. Ramsden opened his mouth, withdrew slowly, and, as Miss Keeldar again intimated her intention to 'give way' and swoon on the spot, he turned on his heel, and beat a heavy retreat.
  38. Moore at last returned: calmly surveying the bustle, and somewhat quizzically scanning Shirley's enigmatical-looking countenance, he remarked, that in truth this was the hottest end of the room; that he found a climate there calculated to agree with none but cool temperaments like his own; and, putting the waiters, the napkins, the satin robe, the whole turmoil, in short, to one side, he installed himself where destiny evidently decreed he should sit. Shirley subsided; her features altered their lines: the raised knit brow and inexplicable curve of the mouth became straight again: wilfulness and roguery gave place to other expressions; and all the angular movements with which she had vexed the soul of Sam Wynne were conjured to rest as by a charm. Still, no gracious glance was cast on Moore: on the contrary, he was accused of giving her a world of trouble, and roundly charged with being the cause of depriving her of the esteem of Mr. Ramsden, and the invaluable friendship of Mr. Samuel Wynne.
  39. 'Wouldn't have offended either gentleman, for the world,' she averred: 'I have always been accustomed to treat both with the most respectful consideration, and there, owing to you, how they have been used! I shall not be happy till I have made it up: I never am happy till I am friends with my neighbours; so to-morrow I must make a pilgrimage to Royd corn-mill, soothe the miller, and praise the grain; and next day I must call at De Walden - where I hate to go - and carry in my reticule half an oat-cake to give to Mr. Sam's favourite pointers.'
  40. 'You know the surest path to the heart of each swain, I doubt not,' said Moore quietly. He looked very content to have at last secured his present place; but he made no fine speech expressive of gratification, and offered no apology for the trouble he had given. His phlegm became him wonderfully: it made him look handsomer, he was so composed: it made his vicinage pleasant, it was so peace-restoring. You would not have thought, to look at him, that he was a poor, struggling man seated beside a rich woman; the calm of equality stilled his aspect: perhaps that calm, too, reigned in his soul. Now and then, from the way in which he looked down on Miss Keeldar as he addressed her, you would have fancied his station towered above hers as much as his stature did. Almost stern lights sometimes crossed his brow and gleamed in his eyes: their conversation had become animated, though it was confined to a low key; she was urging him with questions - evidently he refused to her curiosity all the gratification it demanded. She sought his eye once with hers: you read, in its soft yet eager expression, that it solicited clearer replies. Moore smiled pleasantly, but his lips continued sealed. Then she was piqued and turned away, but he recalled her attention in two minutes: he seemed making promises, which he soothed her into accepting, in lieu of information.
  41. It appeared that the heat of the room did not suit Miss Helstone: she grew paler and paler as the process of tea-making was protracted. The moment thanks were returned, she quitted the table, and hastened to follow her cousin Hortense, who, with Miss Mann, had already sought the open air. Robert Moore had risen when she did - perhaps he meant to speak to her; but there was yet a parting word to exchange with Miss Keeldar, and while it was being uttered, Caroline had vanished.
  42. Hortense received her former pupil with a demeanour of more dignity than warmth: she had been seriously offended by Mr. Helstone's proceedings, and had all along considered Caroline to blame in obeying her uncle too literally.
  43. 'You are a very great stranger,' she said austerely, as her pupil held and pressed her hand. The pupil knew her too well to remonstrate or complain of coldness; she let the punctilious whim pass, sure that her natural bonté (I use this French word, because it expresses just what I mean; neither goodness nor good-nature, but something between the two) would presently get the upper hand. It did: Hortense had no sooner examined her face well, and observed the change its somewhat wasted features betrayed, than her mien softened. Kissing her on both cheeks, she asked anxiously after her health: Caroline answered gaily. It would, however, have been her lot to undergo a long cross - examination, followed by an endless lecture on this head, had not Miss Mann called off the attention of the questioner, by requesting to be conducted home. The poor invalid was already fatigued: her weariness made her cross - too cross almost to speak to Caroline; and besides, that young person's white dress and lively look were displeasing in the eyes of Miss Mann: the everyday garb of brown stuff or grey gingham, and the everyday air of melancholy, suited the solitary spinster better: she would hardly know her young friend tonight, and quitted her with a cool nod. Hortense having promised to accompany her home, they departed together.
  44. Caroline now looked round for Shirley. She saw the rainbow scarf and purple dress in the centre of a throng of ladies, all well known to herself, but all of the order whom she systematically avoided whenever avoidance was possible. Shyer at some moments than at others, she felt just now no courage at all to join this company: she could not, however, stand alone where all others went in pairs or parties, so she approached a group of her own scholars, great girls, or rather young women, who were standing watching some hundreds of the younger children playing at blind-man's buff.
  45. Miss Helstone knew these girls liked her, yet she was shy even with them out of school: they were not more in awe of her than she of them: she drew near them now, rather to find protection in their company than to patronise them with her presence. By some instinct they knew her weakness, and with natural politeness they respected it. Her knowledge commanded their esteem when she taught them; her gentleness attracted their regard; and because she was what they considered wise and good when on duty, they kindly overlooked her evident timidity when off: they did not take advantage of it. Peasant girls as they were, they had too much of her own English sensibility to be guilty of the coarse error: they stood round her still, civil, friendly, receiving her slight smiles, and rather hurried efforts to converse, with a good feeling and good breeding: the last quality being the result of the first, which soon set her at her ease.
  46. Mr. Sam Wynne coming up with great haste, to insist on the elder girls joining in the game as well as the younger ones, Caroline was again left alone. She was meditating a quiet retreat to the house, when Shirley, perceiving from afar her isolation, hastened to her side.
  47. 'Let us go to the top of the fields,' she said: 'I know you don't like crowds, Caroline.'
  48. 'But it will be depriving you of a pleasure, Shirley, to take you from all these fine people, who court your society so assiduously, and to whom you can, without art or effort, make yourself so pleasant.'
  49. 'Not quite without effort: I am already tired of the exertion: it is but insipid, barren work, talking and laughing with the good gentlefolks of Briarfield. I have been looking out for your white dress for the last ten minutes: I like to watch those I love in a crowd, and to compare them with others: I have thus compared you. You resemble none of the rest, Lina: there are some prettier faces than yours here; you are not a model-beauty like Harriet Sykes, for instance; beside her, your person appears almost insignificant; but you look agreeable - you look reflective - you look what I call interesting.'
  50. 'Hush, Shirley! You flatter me.'
  51. 'I don't wonder that your scholars like you.'
  52. 'Nonsense, Shirley: talk of something else.'
  53. 'We will talk of Moore, then, and we will watch him: I see him even now.'
  54. 'Where?' And as Caroline asked the question, she looked not over the fields, but into Miss Keeldar's eyes, as was her wont whenever Shirley mentioned any object she descried afar. Her friend had quicker vision than herself; and Caroline seemed to think that the secret of her eagle acuteness might be read in her dark grey irids: or rather, perhaps, she only sought guidance by the direction of those discriminating and brilliant spheres.
  55. 'There is Moore,' said Shirley, pointing right across the wide field where a thousand children were playing, and now nearly a thousand adult spectators walking about. 'There - can you miss the tall stature and straight port? He looks amidst the set that surround him like Eliab amongst humbler shepherds - like Saul in a war-council: and a war-council it is, if I am not mistaken.'
  56. 'Why so, Shirley?' asked Caroline, whose eye had at last caught the object it sought. 'Robert is just now speaking to my uncle, and they are shaking hands; they are then reconciled.'
  57. 'Reconciled not without good reason, depend on it: making common cause against some common foe. And why, think you, are Messrs. Wynne and Sykes, and Armitage and Ramsden, gathered in such a close circle round them? And why is Malone beckoned to join them? When he is summoned, be sure a strong arm is needed.'
  58. Shirley, as she watched, grew restless: her eyes flashed.
  59. 'They won't trust me,' she said: 'that is always the way when it comes to the point.'
  60. 'What about?'
  61. 'Cannot you feel? There is some mystery afloat: some event is expected; some preparation is to be made, I am certain: I saw it all in Mr. Moore's manner this evening: he was excited, yet hard.'
  62. 'Hard to you, Shirley!'
  63. 'Yes, to me. He often is hard to me. We seldom converse tête-à-tête, but I am made to feel that the basis of his character is not of eider-down.'
  64. 'Yet he seemed to talk to you softly.'
  65. 'Did he not? Very gentle tones and quiet manner; yet the man is peremptory and secret: his secrecy vexes me.'
  66. 'Yes - Robert is secret.'
  67. 'Which he has scarcely a right to be with me; especially as he commenced by giving me his confidence. Having done nothing to forfeit that confidence, it ought not to be withdrawn: but I suppose I am not considered iron-souled enough to be trusted in a crisis.'
  68. 'He fears, probably, to occasion you uneasiness.'
  69. 'An unnecessary precaution: I am of elastic materials, not soon crushed: he ought to know that: but the man is proud: he has his faults, say what you will, Lina. Observe how engaged that group appear: they do not know we are watching them.'
  70. 'If we keep on the alert, Shirley, we shall perhaps find the clue to their secret.'
  71. 'There will be some unusual movements ere long - perhaps to-morrow - possibly to-night. But my eyes and ears are wide open: Mr. Moore, you shall be under surveillance. Be you vigilant also, Lina.'
  72. 'I will: Robert is going, I saw him turn - I believe he noticed us - they are shaking hands.'
  73. 'Shaking hands, with emphasis,' added Shirley; 'as if they were ratifying some solemn league and covenant.'
  74. They saw Robert quit the group, pass through a gate, and disappear.
  75. 'And he has not bid us good-bye,' murmured Caroline.
  76. Scarcely had the words escaped her lips, when she tried by a smile to deny the confession of disappointment they seemed to imply. An unbidden suffusion for one moment both softened and brightened her eyes.
  77. 'Oh, that is soon remedied!' exclaimed Shirley. 'We'll make him bid us good-bye.'
  78. 'Make him! that is not the same thing,' was the answer.
  79. 'It shall be the same thing.'
  80. 'But he is gone: you can't overtake him.'
  81. 'I know a shorter way than that he has taken: we will intercept him.'
  82. 'But, Shirley, I would rather not go.'
  83. Caroline said this as Miss Keeldar seized her arm, and hurried her down the fields. It was vain to contend: nothing was so wilful as Shirley, when she took a whim into her head: Caroline found herself out of sight of the crowd almost before she was aware, and ushered into a narrow shady spot, embowered above with hawthorns, and enamelled under foot with daisies. She took no notice of the evening sun chequering the turf, nor was she sensible of the pure incense exhaling at this hour from tree and plant; she only heard the wicket opening at one end, and knew Robert was approaching. The long sprays of the hawthorns, shooting out before them, served as a screen; they saw him before he observed them. At a glance Caroline perceived that his social hilarity was gone: he had left it behind him in the joy-echoing fields round the school; what remained now was his dark, quiet, business countenance. As Shirley had said, a certain hardness characterised his air, while his eye was excited, but austere. So much the worse-timed was the present freak of Shirley's: if he had looked disposed for holiday mirth, it would not have mattered much, but now ----
  84. 'I told you not to come,' said Caroline, somewhat bitterly, to her friend. She seemed truly perturbed: to be intruded on Robert thus, against her will and his expectation, and when he evidently would rather not be delayed, keenly annoyed her. It did not annoy Miss Keeldar in the least: she stepped forward and faced her tenant, barring his way - 'You omitted to bid us good-bye,' she said.
  85. 'Omitted to bid you good-bye! Where did you come from? Are you fairies? I left two like you, one in purple and one in white, standing at the top of a bank, four fields off, but a minute ago.'
  86. 'You left us there and find us here. We have been watching you; and shall watch you still: you must be questioned one day, but not now: at present, all you have to do is to say good-night, and then pass.'
  87. Moore glanced from one to the other, without unbending his aspect. 'Days of fete have their privileges, and so have days of hazard,' observed he gravely.
  88. 'Come - don't moralise: say good-night, and pass,' urged Shirley.
  89. 'Must I say good-night to you, Miss Keeldar?'
  90. 'Yes, and to Caroline likewise. It is nothing new, I hope: you have bid us both good-night before.'
  91. He took her hand, held it in one of his, and covered it with the other: he looked down at her gravely, kindly, yet commandingly. The heiress could not make this man her subject: in his gaze on her bright face there was no servility, hardly homage; but there was interest and affection, heightened by another feeling: something in his tone when he spoke, as well as in his words, marked that last sentiment to be gratitude.
  92. 'Your debtor bids you good-night! - May you rest safely and serenely till morning!'
  93. 'And you, Mr. Moore, - what are you going to do? What have you been saying to Mr. Helstone, with whom I saw you shake hands? Why did all those gentlemen gather round you? Put away reserve for once: be frank with me.'
  94. 'Who can resist you? I will be frank: to-morrow, if there is anything to relate, you shall hear it.'
  95. 'Just now,' pleaded Shirley: 'don't procrastinate.'
  96. 'But I could only tell half a tale; and my time is limited, - I have not a moment to spare: hereafter I will make amends for delay by candour.'
  97. 'But are you going home?'
  98. 'Yes.'
  99. 'Not to leave it any more to-night?'
  100. 'Certainly not. At present, farewell to both of you!'
  101. He would have taken Caroline's hand and joined it in the same clasp in which he held Shirley's, but somehow it was not ready for him; she had withdrawn a few steps apart: her answer to Moore's adieu was only a slight bend of the head, and a gentle, serious smile. He sought no more cordial token: again he said 'Farewell!' and quitted them both.
  102. 'There! - it is over!' said Shirley, when he was gone. 'We have made him bid us good-night, and yet not lost ground in his esteem, I think, Cary.'
  103. 'I hope not,' was the brief reply.
  104. 'I consider you very timid and undemonstrative,' remarked Miss Keeldar. 'Why did you not give Mr. Moore your hand when he offered you his? He is your cousin: you like him. Are you ashamed to let him perceive your affection?'
  105. 'He perceives all of it that interests him: no need to make a display of feeling.'
  106. 'You are laconic: you would be stoical if you could. Is love, in your eyes, a crime, Caroline?'
  107. 'Love a crime! No, Shirley: - love is a divine virtue; but why drag that word into the conversation? it is singularly irrelevant!'
  108. 'Good!' pronounced Shirley.
  109. The two girls paced the green lane in silence. Caroline first resumed.
  110. 'Obtrusiveness is a crime; forwardness is a crime; and both disgust: but love! - no purest angel need blush to love! And when I see or hear either man or woman couple shame with love, I know their minds are coarse, their associations debased. Many who think themselves refined ladies and gentlemen, and on whose lips the word 'vulgarity' is for ever hovering, cannot mention 'love' without betraying their own innate and imbecile degradation: it is a low feeling in their estimation, connected only with low ideas for them.'
  111. 'You describe three-fourths of the world, Caroline.'
  112. 'They are cold - they are cowardly - they are stupid on the subject, Shirley! They never loved - they never were loved!'
  113. 'Thou art right, Lina! And in their dense ignorance they blaspheme living fire, seraph-brought from a divine altar.'
  114. 'They confound it with sparks mounting from Tophet!'
  115. The sudden and joyous clash of bells here stopped the dialogue by summoning all to the church.




CHAPTER XVIII

WHICH THE GENTEEL READER IS RECOMMENDED TO SKIP, LOW PERSONS BEING HERE INTRODUCED

  1. The evening was still and warm; close and sultry it even promised to become. Round the descending sun the clouds glowed purple; summer tints, rather Indian than English, suffused the horizon, and cast rosy reflections on hill-side, house-front, tree-bole; on winding road, and undulating pasture-ground. The two girls came down from the fields slowly by the time they reached the churchyard the bells were hushed; the multitudes were gathered into the church: the whole scene was solitary.
  2. 'How pleasant and calm it is!' said Caroline.
  3. 'And how hot it will be in the church!' responded Shirley; 'and what a dreary long speech Dr. Boultby will make! and how the curates will hammer over their prepared orations! For my part, I would rather not enter.'
  4. 'But my uncle will be angry, if he observes our absence.'
  5. 'I will bear the brunt of his wrath: he will not devour me. I shall be sorry to miss his pungent speech. I know it will be all sense for the Church, and all causticity for Schism: he'll not forget the battle of Royd Lane. I shall be sorry also to deprive you of Mr. Hall's sincere friendly homily, with all its racy Yorkshireisms; but here I must stay. The grey church and greyer tombs look divine with this crimson gleam on them. Nature is now at her evening prayers: she is kneeling before those red hills. I see her prostrate on the great steps of her altar, praying for a fair night for mariners at sea, for travellers in deserts, for lambs on moors, and unfledged birds in woods. Caroline, I see her! and I will tell you what she is like: she is like what Eve was when she and Adam stood alone on earth.'
  6. 'And that is not Milton's Eve, Shirley.'
  7. 'Milton's Eve! Milton's Eve! I repeat. No, by the pure Mother of God, she is not! Cary, we are alone: we may speak what we think. Milton was great; but was he good? His brain was right; how was his heart? He saw heaven: he looked down on hell. He saw Satan, and Sin his daughter, and Death their horrible offspring. Angels serried before him their battalions: the long lines of adamantine shields flashed back on his blind eyeballs the unutterable splendour of heaven. Devils gathered their legions in his sight: their dim, discrowned, and tarnished armies passed rank and file before him. Milton tried to see the first woman; but, Cary, he saw her not.'
  8. 'You are bold to say so, Shirley.'
  9. 'Not more bold than faithful. It was his cook that he saw; or it was Mrs. Gill, as I have seen her, making custards, in the heat of summer, in the cool dairy, with rose-trees and nasturtiums about the latticed window, preparing a cold collation for the rectors, - preserves, and 'dulcet creams' - puzzled 'what choice to choose for delicacy best; what order so contrived as not to mix tastes, not well-joined, inelegant; but bring taste after taste, upheld with kindliest change.''
  10. 'All very well too, Shirley.'
  11. 'I would beg to remind him that the first men of the earth were Titans, and that Eve was their mother: from her sprang Saturn, Hyperion, Oceanus; she bore Prometheus' ----
  12. 'Pagan that you are! what does that signify?'
  13. 'I say, there were giants on the earth in those days: giants that strove to scale heaven. The first woman's breast that heaved with life on this world yielded the daring which could contend with Omnipotence: the strength which could bear a thousand years of bondage, - the vitality which could feed that vulture death through uncounted ages, - the unexhausted life and uncorrupted excellence, sisters to immortality, which, after millenniums of crimes, struggles, and woes, could conceive and bring forth a Messiah. The first woman was heaven-born: vast was the heart whence gushed the well-spring of the blood of nations; and grand the undegenerate head where rested the consort-crown of creation.'
  14. 'She coveted an apple, and was cheated by a snake: but you have got such a hash of Scripture and mythology into your head that there is no making any sense of you. You have not yet told me what you saw kneeling on those hills.'
  15. 'I saw - I now see - a woman-Titan: her robe of blue air spreads to the outskirts of the heath, where yonder flock is grazing; a veil white as an avalanche sweeps from her head to her feet, and arabesques of lightning flame on its borders. Under her breast I see her zone, purple like that horizon: through its blush shines the star of evening. Her steady eyes I cannot picture; they are clear - they are deep as lakes - they are lifted and full of worship - they tremble with the softness of love and the lustre of prayer. Her forehead has the expanse of a cloud, and is paler than the early moon, risen long before dark gathers: she reclines her bosom on the ridge of Stilbro' Moor; her mighty hands are joined beneath it. So kneeling, face to face she speaks with God. That Eve is Jehovah's daughter, as Adam was His son.'
  16. 'She is very vague and visionary! Come, Shirley, we ought to go into church.'
  17. 'Caroline, I will not: I will stay out here with my mother Eve, in these days called Nature. I love her, undying, mighty being! Heaven may have faded from her brow when she fell in paradise; but all that is glorious on earth shines there still, She is taking me to her bosom, and showing me her heart. Hush, Caroline! you will see her and feel her as I do, if we are both silent.'
  18. 'I will humour your whim; but you will begin talking again, ere ten minutes are over.'
  19. Miss Keeldar, on whom the soft excitement of the warm summer evening seemed working with unwonted power, leaned against an upright headstone: she fixed her eyes on the deep-burning west, and sank into a pleasurable trance. Caroline, going a little apart, paced to and fro beneath the Rectory garden-wall, dreaming, too, in her way. Shirley had mentioned the word 'mother': that word suggested to Caroline's imagination not the mighty and mystical parent of Shirley's visions, but a gentle human form - the form she ascribed to her own mother; unknown, unloved, but not unlonged for.
  20. 'Oh, that the day would come when she would remember her child! Oh, that I might know her, and knowing, love her!'
  21. Such was her aspiration.
  22. The longing of her childhood filled her soul again. The desire which many a night had kept her awake in her crib, and which fear of its fallacy had of late years almost extinguished, relit suddenly, and glowed warm in her heart: that her mother might come some happy day, and send for her to her presence - look upon her fondly with loving eyes, and say to her tenderly, in a sweet voice - 'Caroline, my child I have a home for you: you shall live with me. All the love you have needed, and not tasted, from infancy, I have saved for you carefully. Come! it shall cherish you now.'
  23. A noise on the road roused Caroline from her filial hopes, and Shirley from her Titan visions. They listened, and heard the tramp of horses: they looked, and saw a glitter through the trees: they caught through the foliage glimpses of martial scarlet; helm shone, plume waved. Silent and orderly, six soldiers rode softly by.
  24. 'The same we saw this afternoon,' whispered Shirley: 'they have been halting somewhere till now. They wish to be as little noticed as possible, and are seeking their rendezvous at this quiet hour, while the people are at church. Did I not say we should see unusual things ere long?'
  25. Scarcely were sight and sound of the soldiers lost, when another and somewhat different disturbance broke the night-hush - a child's impatient scream. They looked: a man issued from the church, carrying in his arms an infant - a robust, ruddy little boy, of some two years old - roaring with all the power of his lungs; he had probably just awaked from a church-sleep: two little girls, of nine and ten, followed. The influence of the fresh air, and the attraction of some flowers gathered from a grave, soon quieted the child; the man sat down with him, dandling him on his knee as tenderly as any woman; the two little girls took their places one on each side.
  26. 'Good evening, William,' said Shirley, after due scrutiny of the man. He had seen her before, and apparently was waiting to be recognised; he now took off his hat, and grinned a smile of pleasure. He was a rough-headed, hard-featured personage, not old, but very weather-beaten; his attire was decent and clean, that of his children singularly neat; it was our old friend, Farren. The young ladies approached him.
  27. 'You are not going into the church?' he inquired, gazing at them complacently, yet with a mixture of bashfulness in his look: a sentiment not by any means the result of awe of their station, but only of appreciation of their elegance and youth. Before gentlemen - such as Moore or Helstone, for instance - William was often a little dogged; with proud or insolent ladies, too, he was quite unmanageable, sometimes very resentful; but he was most sensible of, most tractable to, good-humour and civility. His nature - a stubborn one - was repelled by inflexibility in other natures; for which reason, he had never been able to like his former master, Moore; and unconscious of that gentleman's good opinion of himself, and of the service he had secretly rendered him in recommending him as gardener to Mr. Yorke, and by this means to other families in the neighbourhood, he continued to harbour a grudge against his austerity. Latterly, he had often worked at Fieldhead; Miss Keeldar's frank, hospitable manners were perfectly charming to him. Caroline he had known from her childhood: unconsciously she was his ideal of a lady. Her gentle mien, step, gestures, her grace of person and attire, moved some artist-fibres about his peasant heart: he had a pleasure in looking at her, as he had in examining rare flowers, or in seeing pleasant landscapes. Both the ladies liked William: it was their delight to lend him books, to give him plants; and they preferred his conversation far before that of many coarse, hard, pretentious people, immeasurably higher in station.
  28. 'Who was speaking, William, when you came out?' asked Shirley.
  29. 'A gentleman ye set a deal of store on, Miss Shirley - Mr. Donne.'
  30. 'You look knowing, William. How did you find out my regard for Mr. Donne?'
  31. 'Ay, Miss Shirley, there's a gleg light i' your een sometimes which betrays you. You look raight down scornful sometimes, when Mr. Donne is by.'
  32. 'Do you like him yourself, William?'
  33. 'Me? I'm stalled o' t' curates, and so is t' wife: they've no manners; they talk to poor folk fair as if they thought they were beneath them. They're allus magnifying their office: it is a pity but their office could magnify them; but it does nought o' t' soart. I fair hate pride.'
  34. 'But you are proud in your own way yourself,' interposed Caroline: 'you are what you call house-proud; you like to have everything handsome about you: sometimes you look as if you were almost too proud to take your wages. When you were out of work, you were too proud to get anything on credit; but for your children, I believe you would rather have starved than gone to the shops without money; and when I wanted to give you something, what a difficulty I had in making you take it!'
  35. 'It is partly true, Miss Caroline: ony day I'd rather give than take, especially from sich as ye. Look at t' difference between us: ye're a little, young, slender lass, and I'm a great strong man: I'm rather more nor twice your age. It is not my part then, I think, to tak' fro' ye - to be under obligations (as they say) to ye; and that day ye came to our house, and called me to t' door, and offered me five shillings, which I doubt ye could ill spare, - for ye've no fortin', I know, - that day I war fair a rebel - a radical - an insurrectionist; and ye made me so. I thought it shameful that, willing and able as I was to work, I suld be i' such a condition that a young cratur about the age o' my own eldest lass suld think it needful to come and offer me her bit o' brass.'
  36. 'I suppose you were angry with me, William?'
  37. 'I almost was, in a way; but I forgave ye varry soon: ye meant well. Ay, I am proud, and so are ye; but your pride and mine is t' raight mak' - what we call i' Yorkshire clean pride - such as Mr. Malone and Mr. Donne knows nought about: theirs is mucky pride. Now, I shall teach my lasses to be as proud as Miss Shirley there, and my lads to be as proud as myseln; but I dare ony o' 'em to be like t' curates: I'd lick little Michael, if I seed him show any signs o' that feeling.'
  38. 'What is the difference, William?'
  39. 'Ye know t' difference weel enow, but ye want me to get a gate o' talking. Mr. Malone and Mr. Donne is almost too proud to do aught for theirsel'n; we are almost too proud to let anybody do aught for us. T' curates can hardly bide to speak a civil word to them they think beneath them; we can hardly bide to tak' an uncivil word fro' them that thinks themsel'n aboon us.'
  40. 'Now, William, be humble enough to tell me truly how you are getting on in the world. Are you well off?'
  41. 'Miss Shirley - I am varry well off. Since I got into t' gardening line, wi' Mr. Yorke's help, and since Mr. Hall (another o' t' raight sort) helped my wife to set up a bit of a shop, I've nought to complain of. My family has plenty to eat and plenty to wear: my pride makes me find means to save an odd pound now and then against rainy days; for I think I'd die afore I'd come to t' parish: and me and mine is content; but th' neighbours is poor yet: I see a great deal of distress.'
  42. 'And, consequently, there is still discontent, I suppose?' inquired Miss Keeldar.
  43. 'Consequently - ye say right - consequently. In course, starving folk cannot be satisfied or settled folk. The country's not in a safe condition; - I'll say so mich!'
  44. 'But what can be done? What more can I do, for instance?'
  45. 'Do? - ye can do not mich, poor young lass! Ye've gi'en your brass: ye've done well. If ye could transport your tenant, Mr. Moore, to Botany Bay, ye'd happen do better. Folks hate him.'
  46. 'William, for shame!' exclaimed Caroline warmly. 'If folks do hate him, it is to their disgrace, not his. Mr. Moore himself hates nobody; he only wants to do his duty, and maintain his rights: you are wrong to talk so!'
  47. 'I talk as I think. He has a cold, unfeeling heart, yond' Moore.'
  48. 'But,' interposed Shirley, 'supposing Moore was driven from the country, and his mill razed to the ground, would people have more work?'
  49. 'They'd have less. I know that, and they know that; and there is many an honest lad driven desperate by the certainty that, whichever way he turns, he cannot better himself, and there is dishonest men plenty to guide them to the devil: scoundrels that reckons to be the 'people's friends,' and that knows naught about the people, and is as insincere as Lucifer. I've lived aboon forty year in the world, and I believe that 'the people' will never have any true friends but theirsel'n, and them two or three good folk i' different stations that is friends to all the world. Human natur', taking it i' th' lump, is naught but selfishness. It is but excessive few, it is but just an exception here and there, now and then, sich as ye two young uns and me, that being in a different sphere, can understand t' one t' other, and be friends wi'out slavishness o' one hand, or pride o' t' other. Them that reckons to be friends to a lower class than their own fro' political motives is never to be trusted: they always try to make their inferiors tools. For my own part, I will neither be patronised nor misled for no man's pleasure. I've had overtures made to me lately that I saw were treacherous, and I flung 'em back i' the faces o' them that offered 'em.'
  50. 'You won't tell us what overtures?'
  51. 'I will not: it would do no good; it would mak' no difference: them they concerned can look after theirsel'n.'
  52. 'Ay, we'se look after wersel'n,' said another voice. Joe Scott had sauntered forth from the church to get a breath of fresh air, and there he stood.
  53. 'I'll warrant ye, Joe,' observed William, smiling.
  54. 'And I'll warrant my maister,' was the answer. 'Young ladies,' continued Joe, assuming a lordly air, 'ye'd better go into th' house.'
  55. 'I wonder what for?' inquired Shirley, to whom the overlooker's somewhat pragmatical manners were familiar, and who was often at war with him; for Joe, holding supercilious theories about women in general, resented greatly, in his secret soul, the fact of his master and his master's mill being, in a manner, under petticoat government, and had felt as wormwood and gall certain business-visits of the heiress to the Hollow's counting-house.
  56. 'Because there is naught agate that fits women to be consarned in.'
  57. 'Indeed! There is prayer and preaching agate in that church: are we not concerned in that?'
  58. 'Ye have been present neither at the prayer nor preaching, ma'am, if I have observed aright. What I alluded to was politics: William Farren, here, was touching on that subject, if I'm not mista'en.'
  59. 'Well, what then? Politics are our habitual study, Joe. Do you know I see a newspaper every day, and two of a Sunday?'
  60. 'I should think you'll read the marriages, probably, Miss, and the murders, and the accidents, and sich like?'
  61. 'I read the leading articles, Joe, and the foreign intelligence, and I look over the market prices: in short, I read just what gentlemen read.'
  62. Joe looked as if he thought this talk was like the chattering of a pie. He replied to it by a disdainful silence.
  63. 'Joe,' continued Miss Keeldar, 'I never yet could ascertain properly whether you are a Whig or a Tory: pray which party has the honour of your alliance?'
  64. 'It is rayther difficult to explain where you are sure not to be understood,' was Joe's haughty response; 'but, as to being a Tory, I'd as soon be an old woman, or a young one, which is a more flimsier article still. It is the Tories that carries on the war and ruins trade; and, if I be of any party - though political parties is all nonsense - I'm of that which is most favourable to peace, and, by consequence, to the mercantile interests of this here land.'
  65. 'So am I, Joe,' replied Shirley, who had rather a pleasure in teasing the overlooker, by persisting in talking on subjects with which he opined she - as a woman - had no right to meddle: 'partly, at least. I have rather a leaning to the agricultural interest, too; as good reason is, seeing that I don't desire England to be under the feet of France, and that if a share of my income comes from Hollow's Mill, a larger share comes from the landed estate around it. It would not do to take any measure injurious to the farmers, Joe, I think?'
  66. 'The dews at this hour is unwholesome for females,' observed Joe.
  67. 'If you make that remark out of interest in me, I have merely to assure you that I am impervious to cold. I should not mind taking my turn to watch the mill one of these summer nights, armed with your musket, Joe.'
  68. Joe Scott's chin was always rather prominent: he poked it out, at this speech, some inches farther than usual.
  69. 'But - to go back to my sheep,' she proceeded - 'clothier and mill-owner as I am, besides farmer, I cannot get out of my head a certain idea that we manufacturers and persons of business are sometimes a little - a very little selfish and shortsighted in our views, and rather too regardless of human suffering, rather heartless in our pursuit of gain: don't you agree with me, Joe?'
  70. 'I cannot argue, where I cannot be comprehended,' was again the answer.
  71. 'Man of mystery! Your master will argue with me sometimes, Joe; he is not so stiff as you are.'
  72. 'May be not: we've all our own ways.'
  73. 'Joe, do you seriously think all the wisdom in the world is lodged in male skulls?'
  74. 'I think that women are a kittle and a froward generation; and I've a great respect for the doctrines delivered in the second chapter of St. Paul's first Epistle to Timothy.'
  75. 'What doctrines, Joe?'
  76. ''Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man; but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.''
  77. 'What has that to do with the business?' interjected Shirley: 'that smacks of rights of primogeniture. I'll bring it up to Mr. Yorke the first time he inveighs against those rights.'
  78. ''And,'' continued Joe Scott, ''Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression.''
  79. 'More shame to Adam to sin with his eyes open!' cried Miss Keeldar. 'To confess the honest truth, Joe, I never was easy in my mind concerning that chapter: it puzzles me.'
  80. 'It is very plain, Miss: he that runs may read.'
  81. 'He may read it in his own fashion,' remarked Caroline, now joining in the dialogue for the first time. 'You allow the right of private judgment, I suppose, Joe?'
  82. 'My certy, that I do! I allow and claim it for every line of the holy Book.'
  83. 'Women may exercise it as well as men?'
  84. 'Nay: women is to take their husbands' opinion, both in politics and religion: it's wholesomest for them.'
  85. 'Oh! oh!' exclaimed both Shirley and Caroline.
  86. 'To be sure; no doubt on't,' persisted the stubborn overlooker.
  87. 'Consider yourself groaned down, and cried shame over, for such a stupid observation' said Miss Keeldar. 'You might as well say men are to take the opinions of their priests without examination. Of what value would a religion so adopted be? It would be mere blind, besotted superstition.'
  88. 'And what is your reading, Miss Helstone, o' these words o' St. Paul's?'
  89. 'Hem! I - I account for them in this way: he wrote that chapter for a particular congregation of Christians, under peculiar circumstances; and besides, I dare say, if I could read the original Greek, I should find that many of the words have been wrongly translated, perhaps misapprehended altogether. It would be possible, I doubt not, with a little ingenuity, to give the passage quite a contrary turn: to make it say, 'Let the woman speak out whenever she sees fit to make an objection;' - 'it is permitted to a woman to teach and to exercise authority as much as may be. Man, meantime, cannot do better than hold his peace,' and so on.'
  90. 'That willn't wash, Miss.'
  91. 'I dare say it will. My notions are dyed in faster colours than yours, Joe. Mr. Scott, you are a thoroughly dogmatical person, and always were: I like William better than you.'
  92. 'Joe is well enough in his own house,' said Shirley: 'I have seen him as quiet as a lamb at home. There is not a better nor a kinder husband in Briarfield. He does not dogmatise to his wife.'
  93. 'My wife is a hard-working, plain woman: time and trouble has ta'en all the conceit out of her; but that is not the case with you, young misses. And then you reckon to have so much knowledge; and i' my thoughts it's only superficial sort o' vanities you're acquainted with. I can tell - happen a year sin' - one day Miss Caroline coming into our counting-house when I war packing up summat behind t' great desk, and she didn't see me, and she brought a slate wi' a sum on it to t' maister: it were only a bit of a sum in practice, that our Harry would have settled i' two minutes. She couldn't do it; Mr. Moore had to show her how; and when he did show her, she couldn't understand him.'
  94. 'Nonsense, Joe!'
  95. 'Nay, it's no nonsense: and Miss Shirley there reckons to hearken to t' maister when he's talking ower trade, so attentive like, as if she followed him word for word, and all war as clear as a lady's looking-glass to her een; and all t' while she's peeping and peeping out o' t' window to see if t' mare stands quiet; and then looking at a bit of a splash on her riding-skirt; and then glancing glegly round at wer counting-house cobwebs and dust, and thinking what mucky folk we are, and what a grand ride she'll have just i' now ower Nunnely Common. She hears no more o' Mr. Moore's talk nor if he spake Hebrew.'
  96. 'Joe, you are a real slanderer. I would give you your answer, only the people are coming out of church: we must leave you. Man of prejudice, good-bye: William, good-bye. Children, come up to Fieldhead to-morrow, and you shall choose what you like best out of Mrs. Gill's store-room.'

PART THREE

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