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Flight of the Shadow

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Title: The Flight of the Shadow Author: George MacDonald 

Release Date: September, 2005

  THE FLIGHT OF THE SHADOW                                   

By                            George MacDonald   







































I am old, else, I think, I should not have the courage to tell the storyI am going to tell. All those concerned in it about whose feelings I am careful, are gone where, thank God, there are no secrets! If they know what I am doing, I know they do not mind. If they were alive to read as I record, they might perhaps now and again look a little paler and wish the leaf turned, but to see the things set down would not make them unhappy:they do not love secrecy. Half the misery in the world comes from trying to look, instead of trying to be, what one is not. I would that not God only but all good men and women might see me through and through. They would not be pleased with everything they saw, but then neither am I, and I would have no coals of fire in my soul's pockets! But my very nature would shudder at the thought of letting one person that loved a secret see into it. Such a one never sees things as they are--would not indeed see what was there, but something shaped and coloured after his own likeness. No one who loves and chooses a secret can be of the pure in heart that shall see God. Yet how shall I tell even who I am? Which of us is other than a secret to all but God! Which of us can tell, with poorest approximation, what he or she is! Not to touch the mystery of life--that one who is not myself has made me able to say _I_, how little can any of us tell about even those ancestors whose names we know, while yet the nature, and still more the character, of hundreds of them, have shared in determining what _I_ means every time one of us utters the word! For myself, I remember neither father nor mother, nor one of their fathers or mothers: how little then can I say as to what I am! But I will tell as much as most of my readers,if ever I have any, will care to know. I come of a long yeoman-line of the name of Whichcote. In Scotland the Whichcotes would have been called _lairds_; in England they were not called _squires_. Repeatedly had younger sons of it risen to rank and honour, and in several generations would his property have entitled the head of the family to rank as a squire, but at the time when I began to be aware of existence, the family possessions had dwindled to one large farm, on which I found myself. Naturally, while some of the family had risen, others had sunk in the social scale; and of the latter was Miss Martha Moon, far more to my life than can appear in my story. I should imagine there are few families in England covering a larger range of social difference than ours. But I begin to think the chief difficulty in writing a book must be to keep out what does not belong to it. I may mention, however, my conviction, that I owe many special delights to the gradual development of my race in certain special relations to the natural ways of the world. That I was myself brought up in such relations, appears not enough to account for the intensity of my pleasure in things belonging to simplest life--in everything of the open air, in animals of all kinds, in the economy of field and meadow and moor. I can no more understand my delight in the sweet breath of a cow, than I can explain the process by which, that day in the garden--but I must not forestall, and will say rather--than I can account for the tears which, now I am an old woman, fill my eyes just as they used when I was a child, at sight of the year's first primrose. A harebell, much as I have always loved harebells, never moved me that way! Some will say the cause, whatever it be, lies in my nature, not in my ancestry; that, anyhow, it must have come first to some one--and why not to me? I answer, Everything lies in everyone of us, but has to be brought to the surface. It grows a little in one, more in that one's child, more in that child's child, and so on and on--with curious breaks as of a river which every now and then takes to an underground course. One thing I am sure of--that, however anygood thing came, I did not make it; I can only be glad and thankful that in me it came to the surface, to tell me how beautiful must he be who thought of it, and made it in me. Then surely one is nearer, if not to God himself, yet to the things God loves, in the country than amid ugly houses--things that could not have been invented by God, though he made the man that made them. It is not the fashionable only that love the town and not the country; the men and women who live in dirt and squalor--their counterparts in this and worse things far more than they think--are afraid of loneliness, and hate God's lovely dark.    

CHAPTER II.  MISS MARTHA MOON. Let me look back and see what first things I first remember! All about my uncle first; but I keep him to the last. Next, all about Rover, the dog--though for roving, I hardly remember him away from my side! Alas, he did not live to come into the story, but I must mention him here, for I shall not write another book, and, in the briefest summary of my childhood, to make no allusion to him would be disloyalty.I almost believe that at one period, had I been set to say who I was, I should have included Rover as an essential part of myself. His tail was my tail; his legs were my legs; his tongue was my tongue!--so much more did I, as we gambolled together, seem conscious of his joy than of my own! Surely, among other and greater mercies, I shall find him again! The next person I see busy about the place, now here now there in the house,and seldom outside it, is Miss Martha Moon. The house is large, built at a time when the family was one of consequence, and there was always much to be done in it. The largest room in it is now called the kitchen, but was doubtless called the hall when first it was built. This was Miss Martha Moon's headquarters. She was my uncle's second cousin, and as he always called her Martha, so did I, without rebuke: every one else about the place called her Miss Martha. Of much greater worth and much more genuine refinement than tens of thousands the world calls ladies, she never claimed the distinction.Indeed she strongly objected to it. If you had said or implied she was a lady, she would have shrunk as from a covert reflection on the quality of her work. Had she known certain of such as nowadays call themselves lady-helps, I could have understood her objection. I think, however, it came from a stern adherence to the factness--if I may coin the word--of things. She never called a lie a fib. When she was angry, she always held her tongue; she feared being unfair.She had indeed a rare power of silence. To this day I do not _know_, but am nevertheless sure that, by an instinct of understanding, she saw into my uncle's trouble, and descried, more or less plainly, the secret of it,while yet she never even alluded to the existence of such a trouble. She had a regard for woman's dignity as profound as silent. She was not of those that prate or rave about their rights, forget their duties, and care only for what they count their victories. She declared herself dead against marriage. One day, while yet hardly more than a child, I said to her thoughtfully, "I wonder why you hate gentlemen, Martha!" "Hate 'em! What on earth makes you say such a wicked thing, Orbie?" she answered. "Hate 'em, the poor dears! I love 'em! What did you ever see to make you think I hated your uncle now?" "Oh! of course! uncle!" I returned; for my uncle was all the world to me."Nobody could hate uncle!" "She'd be a bad woman, anyhow, that did!" rejoined Martha. "But didanybody ever hate the person that couldn't do without her, Orbie?" My name--suggested by my uncle because my mother died at my birth--was a curious one; I believe he made it himself. _Belorba_ it was, and it means_Fair Orphan_. "I don't know, Martha," I replied. "Well, you watch and see!" she returned. "Do you think I would stay here and work from morning to night if I hadn't some reason for it?--Oh, I like work!" she went on; "I don't deny that. I should be miserable if I didn't work. But I'm not bound to this sort of work. I have money of my own, and I'm no beggar for house-room. But rather than leave your uncle,poor man! I would do the work of a ploughman for him." "Then why don't you marry him, Martha?" I said, with innocent impertinence. "Marry him! I wouldn't marry him for ten thousand pounds, child!" "Why not, if you love him so much? I'm sure he wouldn't mind!" "Marry him!" repeated Miss Martha, and stood looking at me as if here atlast was a creature she could _not_ understand; "marry the poor dear man,and make him miserable! I could love any man better than that! Just youopen your eyes, my dear, and see what goes on about you. Do you see somany men made happy by their wives? I don't say it's all the wives'fault, poor things! But the fact's the same: there's the poor husbandsall the time trying hard to bear it! What with the babies, and theheadaches, and the rest of it, that's what it comes to--the husbands arenot happy! No, no! A woman can do better for a man than marry him!" "But mayn't it be the husband's fault--sometimes, Martha?" "It may; but what better is it for that? What better is the wife forknowing it, or how much happier the husband for not knowing it? As soonas you come to weighing who's in fault, and counting how much, it's allup with the marriage. There's no more comfort in life for either of them!Women are sent into the world to make men happy. I was sent to youruncle, and I'm trying to do my duty. It's nothing to me what other womenthink; I'm here to serve your uncle. What comes of me, I don't care, solong as I do my work, and don't keep him waiting that made me for it. Youmay think it a small thing to make a man happy! I don't. God thought himworth making, and he wouldn't be if he was miserable. I've seen one womanmake ten men unhappy! I know my calling, Orbie. Nothing would make memarry one of them, poor things!" "But if they all said as you do, Martha?" "No doubt the world would come to an end, but it would go out singing,not crying. I don't see that would matter. There would be enough to makeeach other happy in heaven, and the Lord could make more as they werewanted." "Uncle says it takes God a long time to make a man!" I ventured toremark. Miss Martha was silent for a moment. She did not see how my remark boreon the matter in hand, but she had such respect for anything my unclesaid, that when she did not grasp it she held her peace. "Anyhow there's no fear of it for the present!" she answered. "You heardthe screed of banns last Sunday!" I thought you would have a better idea of Miss Martha Moon from hearingher talk, than from any talk about her. To hear one talk is better thanto see one. But I would not have you think she often spoke at suchlength. She was in truth a woman of few words, never troubled ortroubling with any verbal catarrh. Especially silent she was when any oneshe loved was in distress. I have seen her stand moveless for moments,with a look that was the incarnation of essential motherhood--as if hereyes were swallowing up sorrow; as if her soul was ready to be thesacrifice for sin. Then she would turn away with a droop of the eye-lidsthat seemed to say she saw what it was, but saw also how little she coulddo for it. Oh the depth of the love-trouble in those eyes of hers! Martha never set herself to teach me anything, but I could not knowMartha without learning something of the genuine human heart. I gatheredfrom her by unconscious assimilation. Possibly, a spiritual actionanalogous to exosmose and endosmose, takes place between certain souls.    CHAPTER III.  MY UNCLE. Now I must tell you what my uncle was like. The first thing that struck you about him would have been, how tall andthin he was. The next thing would have been, how he stooped; and thenext, how sad he looked. It scarcely seemed that Martha Moon had beenable to do much for him. Yet doubtless she had done, and was doing, morethan either he or she knew. He had rather a small head on the top of hislong body; and when he stood straight up, which was not very often, itseemed so far away, that some one said he took him for Zacchaeus lookingdown from the sycomore. _I_ never thought of analyzing his appearance,never thought of comparing him with any one else. To me he was the bestand most beautiful of men--the first man in all the world. Nor did Ichange my mind about him ever--I only came to want another to think ofhim as I did. His features were in fine proportion, though perhaps too delicate.Perhaps they were a little too small to be properly beautiful. When firstI saw a likeness of the poet Shelley, I called out "My uncle!" andimmediately began to see differences. He wore a small but long moustache,brushed away from his mouth; and over it his eyes looked large. They wereof a clear gray, and very gentle. I know from the testimony of others,that I was right in imagining him a really learned man. That small headof his contained more and better than many a larger head of greater note.He was constantly reading--that is, when not thinking, or giving me thelessons which make me now thank him for half my conscious soul. Reading or writing or thinking, he made me always welcome to share hisroom with him; but he seldom took me out walking. He was by no meansregular in his habits--regarded neither times nor seasons--went and camelike a bird. His hour for going out was unknown to himself, was seldomtwo days together the same. He would rise up suddenly, even in the middleof a lesson--he always called it "a lesson together"--and without a wordwalk from the room and the house. I had soon observed that in gloomyweather he went out often, in the sunshine seldom. The house had a large garden, of a very old-fashioned sort, such a placefor the charm of both glory and gloom as I have never seen elsewhere. Ihave had other eyes opened within me to deeper beauties than I saw inthat garden then; my remembrance of it is none the less of an enchantedground. But my uncle never walked in it. When he walked, it was alwaysout on the moor he went, and what time he would return no one ever knew.His meals were uninteresting to him--no concern to any one but Martha,who never uttered a word of impatience, and seldom a word of anxiety. Atwhatever hour of the day he went, it was almost always night when he camehome, often late night. In the house he much preferred his own room toany other. This room, not so large as the kitchen-hall, but quite as long, seems tome, when I look back, my earliest surrounding. It was the centre fromwhich my roving fancies issued as from their source, and the end of theirjourney to which as to their home they returned. It was a curious place.Were you to see first the inside of the house and then the outside, youwould find yourself at a loss to conjecture where within it could besituated such a room. It was not, however, contained in what, to acursory glance, passed for the habitable house, and a stranger would noteasily have found the entrance to it. Both its nature and situation were in keeping with certain peculiaritiesof my uncle's mental being. He was given to curious inquiries. He wouldset out to solve now one now another historical point as odd asuninteresting to any but a mind capable of starting such a question. Todetermine it, he would search book after book, as if it were a livething, in whose memory must remain, darkly stored, thousands of facts,requiring only to be recollected: amongst them might nestle the thing hesought, and he would dig for it as in a mine that went branching throughthe hardened dust of ages. I fancy he read any old book whatever ofEnglish history with the haunting sense that next moment he might comeupon the trace of certain of his own ancestors of whom he speciallydesired to enlarge his knowledge. Whether he started any new thing inmathematics I cannot tell, but he would sit absorbed, every day and allday long, for weeks, over his slate, suddenly throw it down, walk out forthe rest of the day, and leave his calculus, or whatever it was, formonths. He read Shakespeare as with a microscope, propounding andanswering the most curious little questions. It seemed to me sometimes, Iconfess, that he missed a plain point from his eyes being so sharp thatthey looked through it without seeing it, having focused themselvesbeyond it. A specimen of the kind of question he would ask and answer himself,occurs to me as I write, for he put it to me once as we read together. "Why," he said, "did Margaret, in _Much ado about Nothing_, try topersuade Hero to wear her other rabato?" And the answer was, "Because she feared her mistress would find out that she had been wearingit--namely, the night before, when she personated her." And here I may put down a remark I heard him make in reference to atheory which itself must seem nothing less than idiotic to any one whoknows Shakespeare as my uncle knew him. The remark was this--that whoeversought to enhance the fame of lord St. Alban's--he was careful to use thereal title--by attributing to him the works of Shakespeare, must eitherbe a man of weak intellect, of great ignorance, or of low moralperception; for he cast on the memory of a man already more to be pitiedthan any, a weight of obloquy such as it were hard to believe anyonecapable of deserving. A being with Shakespeare's love of human nature,and Bacon's insight into essential truth, guilty of the moral and socialatrocities into which his lordship's eagerness after money for scientificresearch betrayed him, would be a monster as grotesque as abominable. I record the remark the rather that it shows my uncle could look atthings in a large way as well as hunt with a knife-edge. At the sametime, devoutly as I honour him, I cannot but count him intended forthinkings of larger scope than such as then seemed characteristic of him.I imagine his early history had affected his faculties, and influencedthe mode of their working. How indeed could it have been otherwise!    CHAPTER IV.  MY UNCLE'S ROOM, AND MY UNCLE IN IT. At right angles to the long, black and white house, stood a buildingbehind it, of possibly earlier date, but uncertain intent. It had beenused for many things before my uncle's time--once as part of a smallbrewery. My uncle was positive that, whether built for the purpose ornot, it had been used as a chapel, and that the house was originally theout-lying cell of some convent. The signs on which he founded thisconclusion, I was never able to appreciate: to me, as containing myuncle's study, the wonder-house of my childhood, it was far moreinteresting than any history could have made it. It had very thick walls,two low stories, and a high roof. Entering it from the court behind thehouse, every portion of it would seem to an ordinary beholder quiteaccounted for; but it might have suggested itself to a more comprehendingobserver, that a considerable space must lie between the roof and the lowceiling of the first floor, which was taken up with the servants' rooms.Of the ground floor, part was used as a dairy, part as a woodhouse, partfor certain vegetables, while part stored the turf dug for fuel from theneighbouring moor. Between this building and the house was a smaller and lower erection, amere out-house. It also was strongly built, however, and the roof, inperfect condition, seemed newer than the walls: it had been raised andstrengthened when used by my uncle to contain a passage leading from thehouse to the roof of the building just described, in which he wasfashioning for himself the retreat which he rightly called his study, forfew must be the rooms more continuously thought and read in during onelifetime than this. I have now to tell how it was reached from the house. You could hardlyhave found the way to it, even had you set yourself seriously to thetask, without having in you a good share of the constructive faculty. Thewhole was my uncle's contrivance, but might well have been supposed tobelong to the troubled times when a good hiding-place would have added tothe value of any home. There was a large recess in the kitchen, of which the hearth, raised afoot or so above the flagged floor, had filled the whole--a huge chimneyin fact, built out from the wall. At some later time an oblong space hadbeen cut out of the hearth to a level with the floor, and in it an irongrate constructed for the more convenient burning of coal. Hence theremnant of the raised hearth looked like wide hobs to the grate. Therecess as a chimney-corner was thereby spoiled, for coal makes a verydifferent kind of smoke from the aromatic product of wood or peat. Right and left within the recess, were two common, unpainted doors, withlatches. If you opened either, you found an ordinary shallow cupboard,that on the right filled with shelves and crockery, that on the left withbrooms and other household implements. But if, in the frame of the door to the left, you pressed what lookedlike the head of a large nail, not its door only but the whole cupboardturned inward on unseen hinges, and revealed an ascending stair, whichwas the approach to my uncle's room. At the head of the stair you wentthrough the wall of the house to the passage under the roof of theout-house, at the end of which a few more steps led up to the door of thestudy. By that door you entered the roof of the more ancient building.Lighted almost entirely from above, there was no indication outside ofthe existence of this floor, except one tiny window, with vaguely pointedarch, almost in the very top of the gable. Here lay my nest; this was thebower of my bliss. Its walls rose but about three feet from the floor ere the slope of theroof began, so that there was a considerable portion of the room in whichmy tall uncle could not stand upright. There was width enoughnotwithstanding, in which four as tall as he might have walked abreast upand down a length of at least five and thirty feet. Not merely the low walls, but the slopes of the roof were filled withbooks as high as the narrow level portion of the ceiling. On the slopesthe bookshelves had of course to be peculiar. My uncle had contrived, andpartly himself made them, with the assistance of a carpenter he had knownall his life. They were individually fixed to the rafters, eachprojecting over that beneath it. To get at the highest, he had to standon a few steps; to reach the lowest, he had to stoop at a right angle.The place was almost a tunnel of books. By setting a chair on an ancient chest that stood against the gable, anda footstool on the chair, I could mount high enough to get into the deepembrasure of the little window, whence alone to gain a glimpse of thelower world, while from the floor I could see heaven through sixskylights, deep framed in books. As far back as I can remember, it was mycare to see that the inside of their glass was always bright, so that sunand moon and stars might look in. The books were mostly in old and dingy bindings, but there were a few toattract the eyes of a child--especially some annuals, in red skil, orembossed leather, or, most bewitching of all, in paper, protected by atight case of the same, from which, with the help of a ribbon, you drewout the precious little green volume, with its gilt edges and lovelyengravings--one of which in particular I remember--a castle in thedistance, a wood, a ghastly man at the head of a rearing horse, and awhite, mist-like, fleeting ghost, the cause of the consternation. Thesebooks had a large share in the witchery of the chamber. At the end of the room, near the gable-window, but under one of theskylights, was a table of white deal, without cover, at which my unclegenerally sat, sometimes writing, oftener leaning over a book.Occasionally, however, he would occupy a large old-fashioned easy chair,under the slope of the roof, in the same end of the room, sitting silent,neither writing nor reading, his eyes fixed straight before him, butplainly upon nothing. They looked as if sights were going out of themrather than coming in at them. When he sat thus, I would sit gazing athim. Oh how I loved him--loved every line of his gentle, troubledcountenance! I do not remember the time when I did not know that his facewas troubled. It gave the last finishing tenderness to my love for him.It was from no meddlesome curiosity that I sat watching him, from nolonging to learn what he was thinking about, or what pictures were goingand coming before the eyes of his mind, but from such a longing tocomfort him as amounted to pain. I think it was the desire to be nearhim--in spirit, I mean, for I could be near him in the body any timeexcept when he was out on one of his lonely walks or rides--that made meattend so closely to my studies. He taught me everything, and I yearnedto please him, but without this other half-conscious yearning I do notbelieve I should ever have made the progress he praised. I took indeed atrue delight in learning, but I would not so often have shut the book Iwas enjoying to the full and taken up another, but for the sight or thethought of my uncle's countenance. I think he never once sat down in the chair I have mentioned withoutsooner or later rising hurriedly, and going out on one of his solitaryrambles. When we were having our lessons together, as he phrased it, we sat at thetable side by side, and he taught me as if we were two children findingout together what it all meant. Those lessons had, I think, the largestshare in the charm of the place; yet when, as not unfrequently, my unclewould, in the middle of one of them, rise abruptly and leave me without aword, to go, I knew, far away from the house, I was neither dismayed noruneasy: I had got used to the thing before I could wonder what it meant.I would just go back to the book I had been reading, or to any other thatattracted me: he never required the preparation of any lessons. It was ofno use to climb to the window in the hope of catching sight of him, forthence was nothing to be seen immediately below but the tops of hightrees and a corner of the yard into which the cow-houses opened, and myuncle was never there. He neither understood nor cared about farming. Hiselder brother, my father, had been bred to carry on the yeoman-line ofthe family, and my uncle was trained to the medical profession. My fatherdying rather suddenly, my uncle, who was abroad at the time, and had notbegun to practise, returned to take his place, but never paid practicalattention to the farming any more than to his profession. He gave theland in charge to a bailiff, and at once settled down, Martha told me,into what we now saw him. She seemed to imply that grief at my father'sdeath was the cause of his depression, but I soon came to the conclusionthat it lasted too long to be so accounted for. Gradually I grewaware--so gradually that at length I seemed to have known it from thefirst--that the soul of my uncle was harassed with an undying trouble,that some worm lay among the very roots of his life. What change couldever dispel such a sadness as I often saw in that chair! Now and then hewould sit there for hours, an open book in his hand perhaps, at which hecast never a glance, all unaware of the eyes of the small maiden fixedupon him, with a whole world of sympathy behind them. I suspect, however,as I believe I have said, that Martha Moon, in her silence, had piercedthe heart of the mystery, though she _knew_ nothing. One practical lesson given me now and then in varying form by my uncle, Iat length, one day, suddenly and involuntarily associated with thedarkness that haunted him. In substance it was this: "Never, my littleone, hide anything from those that love you. Never let anything thatmakes itself a nest in your heart, grow into a secret, for then at onceit will begin to eat a hole in it." He would so often say the kind ofthing, that I seemed to know when it was coming. But I had heard it as athing of course, never realizing its truth, and listening to it onlybecause he whom I loved said it. I see with my mind's eye the fine small head and large eyes so far aboveme, as we sit beside each other at the deal table. He looked down on melike a bird of prey. His hair--gray, Martha told me, before he wasthirty--was tufted out a little, like ruffled feathers, on each side. Butthe eyes were not those of an eagle; they were a dove's eyes. "A secret, little one, is a mole that burrows," said my uncle. The moment of insight was come. A voice seemed suddenly to say within me,"He has a secret; it is biting his heart!" My affection, my devotion, mysacred concern for him, as suddenly swelled to twice their size. It wasas if a God were in pain, and I could not help him. I had no desire tolearn his secret; I only yearned heart and soul to comfort him. Beforelong, I had a secret myself for half a day: ever after, I shared so inthe trouble of his secret, that I seemed myself to possess or rather tobe possessed by one--such a secret that I did not myself know it. But in truth I had a secret then; for the moment I knew that he had asecret, his secret--the outward fact of its existence, I mean--was mysecret. And besides this secret of his, I had then a secret of my own.For I knew that my uncle had a secret, and he did not know that I knew.Therewith came, of course, the question--Ought I to tell him? At once, bythe instinct of love, I saw that to tell him would put him in a greatdifficulty. He might wish me never to let any one else know of it, andhow could he say so when he had been constantly warning me to let nothinggrow to a secret in my heart? As to telling Martha Moon, much as I lovedher, much as I knew she loved my uncle, and sure as I was that anythingconcerning him was as sacred to her as to me, I dared not commit such abreach of confidence as even to think in her presence that my uncle had asecret. From that hour I had recurrent fits of a morbid terror at thevery idea of a secret--as if a secret were in itself a treacherous,poisonous guest, that ate away the life of its host. But to return, my half-day-secret came in this wise.    CHAPTER V.  MY FIRST SECRET. I was one morning with my uncle in his room. Lessons were over, and I wasreading a marvellous story in one of my favourite annuals: my uncle hadso taught me from infancy the right handling of books, that he would havetrusted me with the most valuable in his possession. I do not know howold I was, but that is no matter; man or woman is aged according to thedevelopment of the conscience. Looking up, I saw him stooping over anopen drawer in a cabinet behind the door. I sat on the great chest underthe gable-window, and was away from him the whole length of the room. Hehad never told me not to look at him, had never seemed to object to thepresence of my eyes on anything he did, and as a matter of course I satobserving him, partly because I had never seen any portion of thatcabinet open. He turned towards the sky-light near him, and held upbetween him and it a small something, of which I could just see that itwas red, and shone in the light. Then he turned hurriedly, threw it inthe drawer, and went straight out, leaving the drawer open. I knew I hadlost his company for the day. The moment he was gone, the phantasm of the pretty thing he had beenlooking at so intently, came back to me. Somehow I seemed to understandthat I had no right to know what it was, seeing my uncle had not shown itme! At the same time I had no law to guide me. He had never said I wasnot to look at this or that in the room. If he had, even if the cabinethad not been mentioned, I do not think I should have offended; but thatdoes not make the fault less. For which is the more guilty--the man whoknows there is a law against doing a certain thing and does it, or theman who feels an authority in the depth of his nature forbidding thething, and yet does it? Surely the latter is greatly the more guilty. I rose, and went to the cabinet. But when the contents of the drawerbegan to show themselves as I drew near, "I closed my lids, and kept themclose," until I had seated myself on the floor, with my back to thecabinet, and the drawer projecting over my head like the shelf of abracket over its supporting figure. I could touch it with the top of myhead by straightening my back. How long I sat there motionless, I cannotsay, but it seems in retrospect at least a week, such a multitude ofthinkings went through my mind. The logical discussion of a thing thathas to be done, a thing awaiting action and not decision--the experiment,that is, whether the duty or the temptation has the more to say foritself, is one of the straight roads to the pit. Similarly, there aremultitudes who lose their lives pondering what they ought to believe,while something lies at their door waiting to be done, and rendering itimpossible for him who makes it wait, ever to know what to believe. Onlya pure heart can understand, and a pure heart is one that sends out readyhands. I knew perfectly well what I ought to do--namely, to shut thatdrawer with the back of my head, then get up and do something, and forgetthe shining stone I had seen betwixt my uncle's finger and thumb; yetthere I sat debating whether I was not at liberty to do in my uncle'sroom what he had not told me not to do. I will not weary my reader with any further description of the evil pathby which I arrived at the evil act. To myself it is pain even now to tellthat I got on my feet, saw a blaze of shining things, banged-to thedrawer, and knew that Eve had eaten the apple. The eyes of myconsciousness were opened to the evil in me, through the evil done by me.Evil seemed now a part of myself, so that nevermore should I get rid ofit. It may be easy for one regarding it from afar, through the telescopeonly of a book, to exclaim, "Such a little thing!" but it was I who didit, and not another! it was I, and only I, who could know what I haddone, and it was not a little thing! That peep into my uncle's drawerlies in my soul the type of sin. Never have I done anything wrong withsuch a clear assurance that I was doing wrong, as when I did the thing Ihad taken most pains to reason out as right. Like one stunned by an electric shock, I had neither feeling nor careleft for anything. I walked to the end of the long room, as far as Icould go from the scene of my crime, and sat down on the great chest,with my coffin, the cabinet, facing me in the distance. The first thing,I think, that I grew conscious of, was dreariness. There was nothinginteresting anywhere. What should I do? There was nothing to do, nothingto think about, not a book worth reading. Story was suddenly dried up atits fountain. Life was a plain without water-brooks. If the sky was not"a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours," it was nothing betterthan a canopy of gray and blue. By degrees my thought settled on what Ihad done, and in a moment I realized it as it was--a vile thing, and Ihad lost my life for it! This is the nearest I can come to the expressionof what I felt. I was simply in despair. I had done wrong, and the worldhad closed in upon me; the sky had come down and was crushing me! The lidof my coffin was closed! I should come no more out! But deliverance came speedily--and in how lovely a way! Into my thought,not into the room, came my uncle! Present to my deepest consciousness, hestood tall, loving, beautiful, sad. I read no rebuke in his countenance,only sorrow that I had sinned, and sympathy with my suffering because ofmy sin. Then first I knew that I had _wronged_ him in looking into hisdrawer; then first I saw it was his being that made the thing I had donean evil thing. If the drawer had been nobody's, there would have been nowrong in looking into it! And what made it so very bad was that my unclewas so good to me! With the discovery came a rush of gladsome relief. Strange to say, withthe clearer perception of the greatness of the wrong I had done, came thegladness of redemption. It was almost a pure joy to find that it wasagainst my uncle, my own uncle, that I had sinned! That joy was the firstgleam through a darkness that had seemed settled on my soul for ever. Buta brighter followed; for thus spake the truth within me: "The thing is inyour uncle's hands; he is the lord of the wrong you have done; it is tohim it makes you a debtor:--he loves you, and will forgive you. Of coursehe will! He cannot make undone what is done, but he will comfort you, andfind some way of setting things right. There must be some way! I cannotbe doomed to be a contemptible child to all eternity! It is so easy to gowrong, and so hard to get right! He must help me!" I sat the rest of the day alone in that solitary room, away from Marthaand Rover and everybody. I would that even now in my old age I waited forGod as then I waited for my uncle! If only he would come, that I mightpour out the story of my fall, for I had sinned after the similitude ofAdam's transgression!--only I was worse, for neither serpent nor wife hadtempted me! At tea-time Martha came to find me. I would not go with her. She wouldbring me my tea, she said. I would not have any tea. With a look likethat she sometimes cast on my uncle, she left me. Dear Martha! she hadthe lovely gift of leaving alone. That evening there was no tea in thehouse; Martha did not have any. With the conceit peculiar to repentance and humiliation, I took a curioussatisfaction in being hard on myself. I could have taken my mealtolerably well: with the new hope in my uncle as my saviour, came comfortenough for the natural process of getting hungry, and desiring food; butwith common, indeed vulgar foolishness, my own righteousness in takingvengeance on my fault was a satisfaction to me. I did not then see thepresumption of the sinner's taking vengeance on her own fault, did notsee that I had no right to do that. For how should a thing defiledpunish? With all my great joy in the discovery that the fault was againstmy uncle, I forgot that therefore I was in his jurisdiction, that he onlyhad to deal with it, he alone could punish, as he alone could forgive it. It was the end of August, and the night stole swiftly upon the day. Itbegan to grow very dusk, but I would not stir. I and the cabinet kepteach other dismal company while the gloom deepened into night. Nor didthe night part us, for I and the cabinet filled all the darkness. Had myuncle remained the whole night away, I believe I should have sat till hecame. But, happily both for my mental suffering and my bodily endurance,he returned sooner than many a time. I heard the house-door open. I knewhe would come to the study before going to his bedroom, and my heart gavea bound of awe-filled eagerness. I knew also that Martha never spoke tohim when he returned from one of his late rambles, and that he would notknow I was there: long before she died Martha knew how grateful he wasfor her delicate consideration. Martha Moon was not one of this world'sladies; but there is a country where the social question is not, "Is shea lady?" but, "How much of a woman is she?" Martha's name must, I think,stand well up in the book of life. My uncle, then, approached his room without knowing there was a livekernel to the dark that filled it. I hearkened to every nearer step as hecame up the stair, along the corridor, and up the short final ascent tothe door of the study. I had crept from my place to the middle of theroom, and, without a thought of consequences, stood waiting the arrivalthrough the dark, of my deliverer from the dark. I did not know that manya man who would face a battery calmly, will spring a yard aside if ayelping cur dart at him. My uncle opened the door, and closed it behind him. His lamp and matchesstood ready on his table: it was my part to see they were there. With asigh, which seemed to seek me in the darkness and find me, he cameforward through it. I caught him round the legs, and clung to him. Hegave a great gasp and a smothered cry, staggered, and nearly fell. "My God!" he murmured. "Uncle! uncle!" I cried, in greater terror than he; "it's only Orbie!It's only your little one!" "Oh! it's only my little one, is it?" he rejoined, at once recovering hisequanimity, and not for a moment losing the temper so ready, like nervouscat, to spring from most of us when startled. He caught me up in his arms, and held me to his heart. I could feel itbeat against my little person. "Uncle! uncle!" I cried again. "Don't! Don't!" "Did I hurt you, my little one?" he said, and relaxing his embrace, heldme more gently, but did not set me down. "No, no!" I answered. "But I've got a secret, and you mustn't kiss metill it is gone. I wish there was a swine to send it into!" "Give it to me, little one. I will treat it better than a swine would." "But it mustn't be treated, uncle! It might come again!" "There is no fear of that, my child! As soon as a secret is told, it isdead. It is a secret no longer." "Will it be dead, uncle?" I returned. "--But it will be there, all thesame, when it is dead--an ugly thing. It will only put off its cloak, andshow itself!" "All secrets are not ugly things when their cloaks are off. The cloak maybe the ugly thing, and nothing else." He stood in the dark, holding me in his arms. But the clouds had clearedoff a little, and though there was no moon, I could see the dim blue ofthe sky-lights, and a little shine from the gray of his hair. "But mine is an ugly thing," I said, "and I hate it. Please let me put itout of my mouth. Perhaps then it will go dead." "Out with it, little one." "Put me down, please," I returned. He walked to the old chest under the gable-window, seated himself on it,and set me down beside him. I slipped from the chest, and knelt on thefloor at his feet, a little way in front of him. I did not touch him, andall was again quite dark about us. I told him my story from beginning to end, along with a great part of mymeditations while hesitating to do the deed. I felt very choky, butforced my way through, talking with a throat that did not seem my own,and sending out a voice I seemed never to have heard before. The moment Iceased, a sound like a sob came out of the darkness. Was it possible mybig uncle was crying? Then indeed there was no hope for me! He washorrified at my wickedness, and very sorry to have to give me up! Ihowled like a wild beast. "Please, uncle, will you kill me!" I cried, through a riot of sobs thatcame from me like potatoes from a sack. "Yes, yes, I will kill you, my darling!" he answered, "--this way! thisway!" and stretching out his arms he found me in the dark, drew me tohim, and covered my face with kisses. "Now," he resumed, "I've killed you alive again, and the ugly secret isdead, and will never come to life any more. And I think, besides, we havekilled the hen that lays the egg-secrets!" He rose with me in his arms, set me down on the chest, lighted his lamp,and carried it to the cabinet. Then he returned, and taking me by thehand, led me to it, opened wide the drawer of offence, lifted me, andheld me so that I could see well into it. The light flashed in a hundredglories of colour from a multitude of cut but unset stones that lay loosein it. I soon learned that most of them were of small money-value, buttheir beauty was none the less entrancing. There were stones of priceamong them, however, and these were the first he taught me, because theywere the most beautiful. My fault had opened a new source of delight: mystone-lesson was now one of the great pleasures of the week. In afteryears I saw in it the richness of God not content with setting right whatis wrong, but making from it a gain: he will not have his children theworse for the wrong they have done! We shall lose nothing by it: he isour father! For the hurting sand-grain, he gives his oyster a pearl. "There," said my uncle, "you may look at them as often as you please;only mind you put every one back as soon as you have satisfied your eyeswith it. You must not put one in your pocket, or carry it about in yourhand." Then he set me down, saying, "Now you must go to bed, and dream about the pretty things. I will tellyou a lot of stories about them afterward." We had a way of calling any kind of statement _a story_. I never cared to ask how it was that, seeing all the same I had done thewrong thing, the whole weight of it was gone from me. So utterly was itgone, that I did not even inquire whether I ought so to let it pass fromme. It was nowhere. In the fire of my uncle's love to me and mine to him,the thing vanished. It was annihilated. Should I not be a creatureunworthy of life, if, now in my old age, I, who had such an uncle in mychildhood, did not with my very life believe in God? I have wondered whether, if my father had lived to bring me up instead ofmy uncle, I should have been very different; but the useless speculationhas only driven me to believe that the relations on the surface of lifeare but the symbols of far deeper ties, which may exist without thosecorrespondent external ones. At the same time, now that, being old, Inaturally think of the coming change, I feel that, when I see my father,I shall have a different feeling for him just because he is my father,although my uncle did all the fatherly toward me. But we need not troubleourselves about our hearts, and all their varying hues and shades offeeling. Truth is at the root of all existence, therefore everything mustcome right if only we are obedient to the truth; and right is the deepestsatisfaction of every creature as well as of God. I wait in confidence.If things be not as we think, they will both arouse and satisfy a better_think_, making us glad they are not as we expected.    CHAPTER VI.  I LOSE MYSELF. I have one incident more to relate ere my narrative begins to flow from aquite clear memory. I was by no means a small bookworm, neither spent all my time in theenchanted ground of my uncle's study. It is true I loved the house, andoften felt like a burrowing animal that would rather not leave its hole;but occasionally even at such times would suddenly wake the passion forthe open air: I must get into it or die! I was well known in thefarmyard, not to the men only, but to the animals also. In the absence ofhuman playfellows, they did much to keep me from selfishness. But farbeyond it I took no unfrequent flight--always alone. Neither Martha normy uncle ever seemed to think I needed looking after; and I am not awarethat I should have gained anything by it. I speak for myself; I have notheories about the bringing up of children. I went where and when Ipleased, as little challenged as my uncle himself. Like him, I took nowand then a long ramble over the moor, fearing nothing, and knowingnothing to fear. I went sometimes where it seemed as if human foot couldnever have trod before, so wild and waste was the prospect, so unknown itsomehow looked. The house was built on the more sloping side of a highhollow just within the moor, which stretched wide away from the very edgeof the farm. If you climbed the slope, following a certain rough countryroad, at the top of it you saw on the one side the farm, in all thecolours and shades of its outspread, well tilled fields; on the otherside, the heath. If you went another way, through the garden, through thebelt of shrubs and pines that encircled it, and through the wildernessbehind that, you were at once upon the heath. If then you went as far asthe highest point in sight, wading through the heather, among the rocksand great stones which in childhood I never doubted grew also, you sawbefore you nothing but a wide, wild level, whose horizon was here andthere broken by low hills. But the seeming level was far from flat orsmooth, as I found on the day of the adventure I am about to relate. Iwonder I had never lost myself before. I suppose then first my legs wereable to wander beyond the ground with which my eyes were familiar. It had rained all the morning and afternoon. When our last lesson wasover, my uncle went out, and I betook myself to the barn, where I amusedmyself in the straw. By this time Rover must have gone back to his maker,for I remember as with me a large, respectable dog of the old-fashionedmastiff-type, who endured me with a patience that amounted almost tofriendliness, but never followed me about. When I grew hungry, I wentinto the house to have my afternoon-meal. It was called tea, but I knewnothing about tea, while in milk I was a connoisseur. I could tellperfectly to which of the cows I was indebted for the milk I happened atany time to be drinking: Miss Martha never allowed the milks of thedifferent cows to be mingled. Just as my meal was over, the sun shone with sudden brilliance into myvery eyes. The storm was breaking up, and vanishing in the west. I threwdown my spoon, and ran, hatless as usual, from the house. The sun was onthe edge of the hollow; I made straight for him. The bracken was so wetthat my legs almost seemed walking through a brook, and my body through athick rain. In a moment I was sopping; but to be wet was of noconsequence to me. Not for many years was I able to believe that dampcould hurt. When I reached the top, the sun was yet some distance above the horizon,and I had gone a good way toward him before he went down. As he sank hesent up a wind, which blew a sense of coming dark. The wind of the sunsetbrings me, ever since, a foreboding of tears: it seems to say--"Your dayis done; the hour of your darkness is at hand." It grew cold, and afeeling of threat filled the air. All about the grave of the buried sun,the clouds were angry with dusky yellow and splashes of gold. Theylowered tumulous and menacing. Then, lo! they had lost courage; theirbulk melted off in fierce vapour, gold and gray, and the sharp outcry oftheir shape was gone. As I recall the airy scene, that horizon looks likethe void between a cataclysm and the moving afresh of the spirit of Godupon the face of the waters. I went on and on, I do not know why.Something enticed me, or I was plunged in some meditation, thenabsorbing, now forgotten, not necessarily worthless. I am jealous ofmoods that can be forgotten, but such may leave traces in the character.I wandered on. What ups and downs there were! how uneven was the surfaceof the moor! The feet learned what the eyes had not seen. All at once I woke to the fact that mountains hemmed me in. They lookedmountains, though they were but hills. What had become of home? where wasit? The light lingering in the west might surely have shown me thedirection of it, but I remember no west--nothing but a deep hollow anddark hills. I was lost! I was not exactly frightened at first. I knew no cause of dread. I hadnever seen a tramp even; I had no sense of the inimical. I knew nothingof the danger from cold and exposure. But awe of the fading light andcoming darkness awoke in me. I began to be frightened, and fear is likeother live things: once started, it grows. Then first I thought withdismay, which became terror, of the slimy bogs and the deep pools inthem. But just as my heart was dying within me, I looked to thehills--with no hope that from them would come my aid--and there, on theedge of the sky, lifted against it, in a dip between two of the hills,was the form of a lady on horseback. I could see the skirt of her habitflying out against the clouds as she rode. Had she been a few feet lower,so as to come between me and the side of the hill instead of the sky, Ishould not have seen her; neither should I if she had been a few hundredyards further off. I shrieked at the thought that she did not see me, andI could not make her hear me. She started, turned, seemed to look whencethe cry could have come, but kept on her way. Then I shrieked in earnest,and began to run wildly toward her. I think she saw me--that my quickerchange of place detached my shape sufficiently to make it discernible.She pulled up, and sat like a statue, waiting me. I kept on calling as Iran, to assure her I was doing my utmost, for I feared she might growimpatient and leave me. But at last it was slowly indeed I staggered upto her, spent. My foot caught, and as I fell, I clasped the leg of herhorse: I had no fear of animals more than of human beings. He wasstartled, and rearing drew his leg from my arms. But he took care not tocome down on me. I rose to my feet, and stood panting. What the lady said, or what I answered, I cannot recall. The next thing Iremember is stumbling along by her side, for she made her horse walk thatI might keep up with her. She talked a little, but I do not remember whatshe said. It is all a dream now, a far-off one. It must have been like adream at the time, I was so exhausted. I remember a voice descending nowand then, as if from the clouds--a cold musical voice, with something init that made me not want to hear it. I remember her saying that we werenear her house, and would soon be there. I think she had found out fromme where I lived. All the time I never saw her face: it was too dark. I do not think sheonce spoke kindly to me. She said I had no business to be out alone; shewondered at my father and mother. I think I was too tired to tell her Ihad no father or mother. When I did speak, she indicated neither by soundnor movement that she heard or heeded what I said. She sat up above me inthe dark, unpleasant, and all but unseen--a riddle which the troubledchild stumbling along by her horse's side did not want solved. Had therebeen anything to call light, I should have run away from her. Vaguedoubts of witches and ogresses crossed my mind, but I said to myself thestories about them were not true, and kept on as best I could. Before we reached the house, we had left the heath, and were moving alonglanes. The horse seemed to walk with more confidence, and it was harderfor me to keep up with him. I was so tired that I could not feel my legs.I stumbled often, and once the horse trod on my foot. I fell; he went on;I had to run limping after him. At last we stopped. I could see nothing.The lady gave a musical cry. A voice and footsteps made answer; andpresently came the sound of a gate on its hinges. A long dark piece ofroad followed. I knew we were among trees, for I heard the wind in themover our heads. Then I saw lights in windows, and presently we stopped atthe door of a great house. I remember nothing more of that night.    CHAPTER VII.  THE MIRROR. I woke the next morning in a strange bed, and for a long time could notthink how I came to be there. A maid appeared, and told me it was time toget up. Greatly to my dislike, she would insist on dressing me. Myclothes looked very miserable, I remember, in consequence of what theyhad gone through the night before. She was kind to me, and asked me agreat many questions, but paid no heed to my answers--a treatment towhich I had not been used: I think she must have been the lady's maid.When I was ready, she took me to the housekeeper's room, where I hadbread and milk for breakfast. Several servants, men and women, came andwent, and I thought they all looked at me strangely. I concluded they hadno little girls in that house. Assuredly there was small favour forchildren in it. In some houses the child is as a stranger; in others herules: neither such house is in the kingdom of heaven. I must have lookeda forlorn creature as I sat, or perched rather, on the old horsehair-sofain that dingy room. Nobody said more than a word or so to me. I wonderedwhat was going to be done with me, but I had long been able to wait forwhat would come. At length, after, as it seemed, hours of weary waiting,during which my heart grew sick with longing after my uncle, I was,without a word of explanation, led through long passages into a roomwhich appeared enormous. There I was again left a long while--this timealone. It was all white and gold, and had its walls nearly covered withgreat mirrors from floor to ceiling, which, while it was indeed of greatsize, was the cause of its looking so immeasurably large. But it was sometime before I discovered this, for I was not accustomed to mirrors.Except the small one on my little dressing-table, and one still less onMartha's, I had scarcely seen a mirror, and was not prepared for thosesheets of glass in narrow gold frames. I went about, looking at one thing and another, but handling nothing: mylate secret had cured me of that. Weary at last, I dropped upon a lowchair, and would probably have soon fallen asleep, had not the dooropened, and some one come in. I could not see the door without turning,and was too tired and sleepy to move. I sat still, staring, hardlyconscious, into the mirror in front of me. All at once I descried in itmy uncle--but only to see him grow white as death, and turn away, reelingas if he would fall. The sight so bewildered me that, instead of rushingto embrace him, I sat frozen. He clapped his hands to his eyes, steadiedhimself, stood for a moment rigid, then came straight toward me. But, tomy added astonishment, he gave me no greeting, or showed any sign of joyat having found me. Never before had he seen me for the first time anyday, without giving me a kiss; never before, it seemed to me, had hespoken to me without a smile: I had been lost and was found, and he wasnot glad! The strange reception fell on me like a numbing spell. I hadnothing to say, no impulse to move, no part in the present world. Hecaught me up in his arms, hid his face upon me, knocked his shoulderheavily against the door-post as he went from the room, walked straightthrough the hall, and out of the house. I think no one saw us as we went;I am sure neither of us saw any one. With long strides he walked down theavenue, never turning his head. Not until we were on the moor, out ofsight of the house, did he stop. Then he set me down; and then first wediscovered that he had left his hat behind. For all his carrying of me,and going so fast--and I must have been rather heavy--his face had nocolour in it. "Shall I run and get it, uncle?" I said, as I saw him raise his hand tohis head and find no hat there to be taken off. "I should be back in aminute!" It was the first word spoken between us. "No, my little one," heanswered, wiping his forehead: his voice sounded far away, like that ofone speaking in a dream; "I can't let you out of my sight. I've beenwandering the moor all night looking for you!" With that he caught me up again, and pressing his face to mine, walkedwith me thus, for a long quarter of a mile, I should think. Oh how safe Ifelt!--and how happy!--happy beyond smiling! I loved him before, but Inever knew before what it was to lose him and find him again. "Tell me," he said at length. I told him all, and he did not speak a word until my tale was finished. "Were you very frightened," he then asked, "when you found you had lostyour way, and darkness was coming?" "I was frightened, or I would not have gone to the lady. But I wish I hadstaid on the moor for you to find me. I knew you would soon be outlooking for me. Until she came I comforted myself with thinking thatperhaps even then you were on the moor, and I might see you any moment." "What else did you think of?" "I thought that God was out on the moor, and if you were not there, hewould keep me company." "Ah!" said my uncle, as if thinking to himself; "she but needs him themore when I am with her!" "Yes, of course!" I answered; "I need him then for you as well as formyself." "That is very true, my child!--Shall I tell you one thing I thought ofwhile looking for you?" "Please, uncle." "I thought how Jesus' father and mother must have felt when they werelooking for him." "And they needn't have been so unhappy if they had thought who hewas--need they?" "Certainly not. And I needn't have been so unhappy if I had thought whoyou were. But I was terribly frightened, and there I was wrong." "Who am I, uncle?" "Another little one of the same father as he." "Why were you frightened, uncle?" "I was afraid of your being frightened." "I hardly had time to be frightened before the lady came." "Yes; you see I needn't have been so unhappy!" My uncle always treated me as if I could understand him perfectly. Thiscame, I see now, from the essential childlikeness of his nature, and fromno educational theory. "Sometimes," he went on, "I look all around me to see if Jesus is outanywhere, but I have never seen him yet!" "We shall see him one day, shan't we?" I said, craning round to look intohis eyes, which were my earthly paradise. Nor are they a whit less dearto me, nay, they are dearer, that he has been in God's somewhere, thatis, the heavenly paradise, for many a year. "I think so," he answered, with a sigh that seemed to swell like asea-wave against me, as I sat on his arm; "--I hope so. I live but forthat--and for one thing more." There are some, I fancy, who would blame him for not being sure, andbring text after text to prove that he ought to have been sure. But ohthose text-people! They look to me, not like the clay-sparrows that Jesusmade fly, but like bird-skins in a glass-case, stuffed with texts. Thedoubt of a man like my uncle must be a far better thing than theirassurance! "Would you have been frightened if you had met him on the moor lastnight, little one?" he asked, after a pause. "Oh, no, uncle!" I returned. "I should have thought it was you till Icame nearer, and then I should have known who it was! He wouldn't like abig girl like me to be frightened at him--would he?" "Indeed not!'" answered my uncle fervently; but again his words broughtwith them a great sigh, and he said no more. When we reached home, he gave me up to Martha, and went out again--norreturned before I was in bed. But he came to my room, and waked me with akiss, which sent me faster asleep than before.    CHAPTER VIII.  THANATOS AND ZOE I think it must have been soon after this that my uncle bought himself ahorse. I know something of horses now--that is, if much riding and muchlove suffice to give a knowledge of them--and the horse which was a gloryand a wonder to me then, is a glory and a wonder to me still. He waslarge, big-boned, and powerful, with less beauty but more grandeur than athoroughbred, and full of a fiery gentleness. He was the very horse forsir Philip Sidney! One day, after he had had him for several months, and had let no onesaddle him but himself, therefore knew him perfectly, and knew that thehorse knew his master, I happened to be in the yard as he mounted. Themoment he was in the saddle, he bent down to me, and held out his hand. "Come with me, little one," he said. Almost ere I knew, I was in the saddle before him. I grasped his hand,instinctively caught with my foot at his, and was astride the pommel. Iwill not say I sat very comfortably, but the memory of that day's delightwill never leave me--not "through all the secular to be." There must be aGod to the world that could give any such delight as fell then to theshare of one little girl! I think my uncle must soon after have gotanother saddle, for I have no recollection of any more discomfort; Iremember only the delight of the motion of the horse under me. For, after this, I rode with him often, and he taught me to ride assurely not many have been taught. When he saw me so at home in my seat asto require no support, he made me change my position, and go behind him.There I sat sideways on a cloth, like a lady of old time on a pillion.When I had got used to this, my uncle made me stand on the horse's broadback, holding on by his shoulders; and it was wonderful how soon, and howunconsciously, I accommodated myself to every motion of the strength thatbore me, learning to keep my place by pure balance like a rope-dancer. Ihad soon quite forgotten to hold by my uncle, and without the leastsupport rode as comfortably, and with as much confidence, as any rider ina circus, though with a far less easy pace under me. When my uncle foundme capable of this, he was much pleased, though a little nervous attimes. Able now to ride his big horse any way, he brought me one afternoon theloveliest of Shetland ponies, not very small. With the ordinary humandistrust in good, I could hardly believe she was meant for me. She was adappled gray--like the twilight of a morning after rain, my uncle said.He called her Zoe, which means Life. His own horse he called Thanatos,which means Death. Such as understood it, thought it a terrible name togive a horse. For most people are so afraid of Death that they regard hisvery name with awe. My uncle had a riding-habit made for me, and after a week found I couldgive him no more trouble with my horsewomanship. At once I was at home onmy new friend's back, with vistas of delight innumerable opening aroundme, and from that day my uncle seldom rode without me. When he wentwandering, it was almost always on foot, and then, as before, he wasalways alone. The idea of offering to accompany him on such an occasion,had never occurred to me. But one stormy autumn afternoon--most of my memories seem of theautumn--my uncle looked worse than usual when he went out, and I felt, Ithink for the first time, a vague uneasiness about him. Perhaps I hadbeen thinking of him more; perhaps I had begun to wonder what the secretcould be that made him so often seem unhappy. Anyhow this evening thedesire awoke to be with him in his trouble whatever it was. There was nocuriosity in the feeling, I think, only the desire to serve him as I hadnever served him yet. I had been, as long as I could remember, always athis beck or lightest call; now I wanted to come when needed without beingcalled. Was it impossible a girl should do anything for a man in histrouble? He, a great man, had helped a little girl out of the deepestdespair; could the little girl do nothing for the great man? That the bigpeople should do everything, did not seem fair! He had told me once thatthe world was held together by what every one could do that the otherscould not do: there must be something I could do that he could not do! The rain was coming down on the roof like the steady tramp of distantsquadrons. I was in the study, therefore near the tiles, and that was howthe rain always sounded upon them. Tramp, tramp, tramp, came the wholearmy of things, riding, riding, to befall my uncle and me. Tramp, tramp,came the troops of the future, to take the citadel of the present! I wasnot afraid of them, neither sought to imagine myself afraid! I had nopicture in my mind of any evil that could assail me. A little grove ofblack poplars under the gable-window, kept swaying their expostulations,and moaning their entreaties. The great rushing blasts of the windthrough their rooted resistance, made the music of the band thataccompanied the march of the unknown. I sat and listened, with the vagueconviction that something was being done somewhere. It could not be thatonly the wind and the trees and the rain were in all that wailing andmarching! The Powers of life and death must somewhere be at work! Thenrose before me the face of my uncle, as he walked from the room, haloedin a sorrowful stillness. If only I could be with him! If only I knewwhere to seek him! Wishing, wishing, I sat and listened to the rain andthe wind. Suddenly I found myself on my feet, making for the door. I would not haveventured alone upon the moor in such a night, but I should have Zoe withme, who knew all the ways of it--had doubtless been used to bogs in herown country, and her mother before her! Like a small elephant, she wouldput out her little foot, and tap, and sound, to see if the surface wouldbear her--if the questionable spot was what it looked to her mistress, orwhat she herself doubted it. When she had once made up her mind in thenegative, no foolish attempt of mine could overpersuade her--could makeher trust our weight on it a hair's-breadth. In a bog the greenest spotsare the most dangerous, and Zoe knew it: the matted roots might be afloaton a fathomless depth of water. Backed by my uncle, she soon taught me tobe as much afraid of those green spots as she was herself. I had learnedto trust her thoroughly. I took my way to the stable, with a hug and a kiss to Martha as I passedher in the kitchen, I got the cowboy to saddle Zoe, fearing I might notpersuade one of the big men on such a night, and I was not quite ablemyself to tighten the girths properly. She had not been out all day, andwhen I mounted, she danced at the prospect of a gallop. I took with me the little lantern I went about the place with whenthere was no moon, and with this alight in my hand, we darted off at atight-reined gallop into the wet blowing night. What I was going for Idid not know, beyond being with my uncle. So far was I from any fear,that, but for my shadowy uneasiness about him, I should have been filledfull of the wild joy of battle with the elements. The first part of theway, I had to cling to the saddle: not otherwise could I keep my seatagainst the wind, which blew so fiercely on me sideways, that itthreatened to blow me out of it. I had not gone far before the saddle began to turn round with me; I wasslipping to the ground. I pulled up, dismounted, undid the girths withdifficulty, set the saddle straight, then pulled at every strap with allmy might. It was to no purpose: I could not get another hole out of oneof them. I mounted and set off again; but the moment a stronger blastcame, the saddle began to turn. Then I thought of something to try:dismounting once more, I got up on the off side. The wind now pushed meon to the saddle, freeing it from my leverage, while I had, besides, theuse of my legs against the wind, so that we got on bravely, my Zoe and I.But, alas! my lantern was out, and it was impossible to light it again,so that I had now no arrow to shoot at random for my uncle's eye. Beforelong we reached a tolerable cart-track, which led across the waste to avillage, and the wind being now behind us, I resumed the more comfortableseat in the saddle. We were going at a good speed, and had ridden, as I judged, about threemiles, when there came a great flash of lightning--not like any flash Ihad ever seen before. It was neither the reflection of lightning belowthe horizon, nor the sudden zigzagged blade, the very idea of forcewithout weight; it was the burst of a ball-headed torrent of fire from adark cloud, like water sudden from a mountain's heart, which went rushingdown a rugged channel, as if the cloud were indeed a mountain, and thefire one of its cataracts. Its endurance was momentary, but its momentsmight have been counted, for it lasted appreciably longer than anordinary flash, revealing to my eyes what remains on my mind clear as thepicture of some neighbouring tree on the skin of one slain by lightning.The torrent tumbled down the cloud and vanished, but left with me thevision of a man, plainly my uncle, a few hundred yards from me, on agigantic gray horse, which reared high with fright. But for its size Icould have testified before a magistrate, that I had not only seen thathorse in the stable as my pony was being saddled, but had stroked andkissed him on the nose. I conceived at once that his apparent size was anillusion caused by the suddenness and keenness of the light, and that myuncle had come home before I had well reached the moor, and had riddenout after me. With a wild cry of delight, I turned at once to leave theroad and join him. But the thunder that moment burst with a terrificbellow, and swallowed my cry. The same instant, however, came through itfrom the other side the voice of my uncle only a few yards away. "Stay, little one," he shouted; "stay where you are. I will be with youin a moment." I obeyed, as ever and always without a thought I obeyed the slightestword of my uncle: Zoe and I stood as if never yet parted from chaos andthe dark, for Zoe too loved his voice. The wind rose suddenly from a lullto a great roar, emptying a huge cloudful of rain upon us, so that Iheard no sound of my uncle's approach; but presently out of the dark anarm was around me, and my head was lying on my uncle's bosom. Then thedark and the rain seemed the natural elements for love and confidence. "But, uncle," I murmured, full of wonder which had had no time to takeshape, "how is it?" He answered in a whisper that seemed to dread the ear of the wind, lestit should hear him-- "You saw, did you?" "I saw you upon Death away there in the middle of the lightning. I wasgoing to you. I don't know what to think." My uncle and I often called the horse by his English name. "Neither do I," he returned, with a strange half voice, as if he werechoking. "It must have been--I don't know what. There is a deep bog awayjust there. It must be a lake by now!" "Yes, uncle; I might have remembered! But how was I to think of that whenI saw you there--on dear old Death too! He's the last of horses to getinto a bog: he knows his own weight too well!" "But why did you come out on such a night? What possessed you, littleone--in such a storm? I begin to be afraid what next you may do." "I never do anything--now--that I think you would mind me doing," Ianswered. "But if you will write out a little book of _mays_ and_maynots_, I will learn it by heart." "No, no," he returned; "we are not going back to the tables of the law!You have a better law written in your heart, my child; I will trust tothat.--But tell me why you came out on such a night--and as dark aspitch." "Just because it was such a night, uncle, and you were out in it," Ianswered. "Ain't I your own little girl? I hope you ain't sorry I came,uncle! I am glad; and I shouldn't like ever to be glad at what made yousorry." "What are you glad of?" "That I came--because I've found you. I came to look for you." "Why did you come to-night more than any other night?" "Because I wanted so much to see you. I thought I might be of use toyou." "You are always of use to me; but why did you think of it just to-night?" "I don't know.--I am older than I was last night," I replied. He seemed to understand me, and asked me no more questions. All the time, we had been standing still in the storm. He took Zoe's headand turned it toward home. The dear creature set out with slow leisurelystep, heedless apparently of storm and stable. She knew who was by herside, and he must set the pace! As we went my uncle seemed lost in thought--and no wonder! for how couldthe sight we had seen be accounted for! Or what might it indicate? Many were the strange tales I had read, and my conviction was that thevision belonged to the inexplicable. It grew upon me that I had seen myuncle's double. That he should see his own double would not in itselfhave much surprised me--or, indeed, that I should see it; but I had neverread of another person seeing a double at the same time with the persondoubled. During the next few days I sought hard for some possibleexplanation of what had occurred, but could find nothing parallel to itwithin the scope of my knowledge. I tried _fata morgana, mirage,parhelion_, and whatever I had learned of recognized illusion, but invain sought satisfaction, or anything pointing in the direction ofsatisfaction. I was compelled to leave the thing alone. My uncle keptsilence about it, but seemed to brood more than usual. I think he too wasconvinced that it must have another explanation than present sciencewould afford him. Once I ventured to ask if he had come to anyconclusion; with a sad smile, he answered, "I am waiting, little one. There is much we have to wait for. Where wouldbe the good of having your mind made up wrong? It only stands in the wayof getting it made up right!" By degrees the thing went into the distance, and I ceased evenspeculating upon it. But one little fact I may mention ere I leaveit--that, just as I was reaching a state of quiet mental prorogation, Isuddenly remembered that, the moment after the flash, my Zoe, startled asshe was, gave out a low whinny; I remembered the quiver of it under me:she too must have seen her master's double!    CHAPTER IX.  THE GARDEN. I remember nothing more to disturb the even flow of my life till I wasnearly seventeen. Many pleasant things had come and gone; many pleasantthings kept coming and going. I had studied tolerably well--at least myuncle showed himself pleased with the progress I had made and was making.I know even yet a good deal more than would be required for one of thesemodern degrees feminine. I had besides read more of the older literatureof my country than any one I have met except my uncle. I had also thisadvantage over most students, that my knowledge was gained without theslightest prick of the spur of emulation--purely in following the samedelight in myself that shone radiant in the eyes of my uncle as he readwith me. I had this advantage also over many, that, perhaps fromimpression of the higher mind, I saw and learned a thing not merely as afact whose glory lay in the mystery of its undeveloped harmonics, but asthe harbinger of an unknown advent. For as long as I can remember, myheart was given to expectation, was tuned to long waiting. I constantlyfelt--felt without thinking--that something was coming. I feel it now.Were I young I dared not say so. How could I, compassed about with sogreat a cloud of witnesses to the common-place! Do I not see theirsuperior smile, as, with voices sweetly acidulous, they quote in reply-- "Love is well on the way;He'll be here to-day,  Or, at latest, the end of the week;Too soon you will find him,And the sorrow behind him  You will not go out to seek!" Would they not tell me that such expectation was but the shadow of thecloud called love, hanging no bigger than a man's hand on the farhorizon, but fraught with storm for mind and soul, which, when itwithdrew, would carry with it the glow and the glory and the hope oflife; being at best but the mirage of an unattainable paradise, thereforedirest of deceptions! Little do such suspect that their own behaviour haswithered their faith, and their unbelief dried up their life. They cannow no more believe in what they once felt, than a cloud can believe inthe rainbow it once bore on its bosom. But I am old, therefore dare tosay that I expect more and better and higher and lovelier things than Ihave ever had. I am not going home to God to say--"Father, I haveimagined more beautiful things than thou art able to make true! They wereso good that thou thyself art either not good enough to will them, or notstrong enough to make them. Thou couldst but make thy creature dream ofthem, because thou canst but dream of them thyself." Nay, nay! In thefaith of him to whom the Father shows all things he does, I expectlovelier gifts than I ever have been, ever shall be able to dream ofasleep, or imagine awake. I was now approaching the verge of woman-hood. What lay beyond it I couldill descry, though surely a vague power of undeveloped prophecy dwells inevery created thing--even in the bird ere he chips his shell. Should I dare, or could I endure to write of what lies now to my hand, ifI did not believe that not our worst but our best moments, not our lowbut our lofty moods, not our times logical and scientific, but our timesinstinctive and imaginative, are those in which we perceive the truth! Inthem we behold it with a beholding which is one with believing. And, "Though nothing can bring back the hourOf splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower", could not Wordsworth, and cannot we, call up the vision of that hour? andhas not its memory almost, or even altogether, the potency of itspresence? Is not the very thought of any certain flower enough to make mebelieve in that flower--believe it to mean all it ever seemed to mean?That _these_ eyes may never more rest upon it with the old delight, meanslittle, and matters nothing. I have other eyes, and shall have yetothers. If I thought, as so many have degraded themselves to think, thatthe glory of things in the morning of love was a glamour cast upon theworld, no outshine of indwelling radiance, should I care to breathe oneday more the air of this or of any world? Nay, nay, but there dwells ineverything the Father hath made, the fire of the burning bush, as at homein his son dwelt the glory that, set free, broke out from him on themount of his transfiguration. The happy-making vision of things thatfloods the gaze of the youth, when first he lives in the marvel ofloving, and being loved by, a woman, is the true vision--and the morelikely to be the true one, that, when he gives way to selfishness, heloses faith in the vision, and sinks back into the commonplace unfaith ofthe beggarly world--a disappointed, sneering worshipper of power andmoney--with this remnant of the light yet in him, that he grumbles at thegloom its departure has left behind. He confesses by his soreness thatthe illusion ought to have been true; he seldom confesses that he lovedhimself more than the woman, and so lost her. He lays the blame on God,on the woman, on the soullessness of the universe--anywhere but on theone being in which he is interested enough to be sure it exists--his ownprecious, greedy, vulgar self. Would I dare to write of love, if I didnot believe it a true, that is, an eternal thing! It was a summer of exceptional splendour in which my eyes were opened to"the glory of the sum of things." It was not so hot of the sun as summersI have known, but there were so many gentle and loving winds about, withnever point or knife-edge in them, that it seemed all the housework ofthe universe was being done by ladies. Then the way the odours went andcame on those sweet winds! and the way the twilight fell asleep into thedark! and the way the sun rushed up in the morning, as if he cried, likea boy, "Here I am! The Father has sent me! Isn't it jolly!" I saw moresun-rises that year than any year before or since. And the grass was sothick and soft! There must be grass in heaven! And the roses, both wildand tame, that grew together in the wilderness!--I think you would liketo hear about the wilderness. When I grew to notice, and think, and put things together, I began towonder how the wilderness came there. I could understand that thesolemn garden, with its great yew-hedges and alleys, and its oddly cutbox-trees, was a survival of the stately old gardens haunted by ruffs andfarthingales; but the wilderness looked so much younger that I wasperplexed with it, especially as I saw nothing like it anywhere else. Iasked my uncle about it, and he explained that it was indeed after an oldfashion, but that he had himself made the wilderness, mostly with his ownhands, when he was young. This surprised me, for I had never seen himtouch a spade, and hardly ever saw him in the garden: when I did, Ialways felt as if something was going to happen. He said he had in ittried to copy the wilderness laid out by lord St. Alban's in his essays.I found the volume, and soon came upon the essay, On Gardens. The passageconcerning the wilderness, gave me, and still gives me so much delight,that I will transplant it like a rose-bush into this wilderness of mine,hoping it will give like pleasure to my reader. "For the heath, which was the third part of our plot, I wish it to beframed, as much as may be, to a natural wildness. Trees I would have nonein it; but some thickets, made only of sweetbriar, and honnysuckle, andsome wild vine amongst; and the ground set with violets, strawberries,and primroses. For these are sweet, and prosper in the shade. And theseto be in the heath, here and there not in any order. I like also littleheapes, in the nature of mole-hills (such as are in wild heaths) to beset, some with wild thyme; some with pincks; some with germander, thatgives a good flower to the eye; some with periwinkle; some with violets;some with strawberries; some with couslips; some with daisies; some withred roses; some with lilium convallium; some with sweet-williams red;some with beares-foot; and the like low flowers, being withall sweet andsightly. Part of which heapes, to be with standards, of little bushes,prickt upon their top, and part without. The standards to be roses;juniper; holly; beareberries (but here and there, because of the smell oftheir blossom;) red currans; gooseberries; rosemary; bayes; sweetbriar;and such like. But these standards, to be kept with cutting, that theygrow not out of course." Just such, in all but the gooseberries and currants, was the wildernessof our garden: you came on it by a sudden labyrinthine twist at the endof a narrow alley of yew, and a sudden door in the high wall. My unclesaid he liked well to see roses in the kitchen-garden, but notgooseberries in the flower-garden, especially a wild flower-garden.Wherein lies the difference, I never quite made out, but I feel adifference. My main delight in the wilderness was to see the roses amongthe heather--particularly the wild roses. When I was grown up, thewilderness always affected me like one of Blake's, or one of Beddoes'syet wilder lyrics. To make it, my uncle had taken in a part of the heath,which came close up to the garden, leaving plenty of the heather andling. The protecting fence enclosed a good bit of the heath just as itwas, so that the wilderness melted away into the heath, and into the widemoor--the fence, though contrived so as to be difficult to cross, beingso low that one had to look for it. Everywhere the inner garden was surrounded with brick walls, and hedgesof yew within them; but immediately behind the house, the wall to thelane was not very high.    CHAPTER X.  ONCE MORE A SECRET. One day in June I had gone into the garden about one o'clock, whetherwith or without object I forget. I had just seen my uncle start forWittenage. Hearing a horse's hoofs in the lane that ran along the outsideof the wall, I looked up. The same moment the horse stopped, and the faceof his rider appeared over the wall, between two stems of yew, and twogreat flowers of purple lilac, in shape like two perfect bunches ofswarming bees. It was the face of a youth of eighteen, and beautiful witha right manly beauty. The moment I looked on this face, I fell into a sort of trance--that is,I entered for a moment some condition of existence beyond the ramparts ofwhat commonly we call life. Love at first sight it was that initiated thestrange experience. But understand me: real as what immediately followedwas to the consciousness, there was no actual fact in it. I stood gazing. My eyes seemed drawn, and drawing my person toward thevision. Isolate over the garden-wall was the face; the rest of the manand all the horse were hidden behind it. Betwixt the yew stems and thetwo great lilac flowers--how heart and brain are yet filled with the oldscent of them!--my face, my mouth, my lips met his. I grew blind as withall my heart I kissed him. Then came a flash of icy terror, and a shudderwhich it frights me even now to recall. Instantly I knew that but amoment had passed, and that I had not moved an inch from the spot wherefirst my eyes met his. But my eyes yet rested on his; I could not draw them away. I could notfree myself. Helplessness was growing agony. His voice broke the spell.He lifted his hunting-cap, and begged me to tell him the way to the nextvillage. My self-possession returned, and the joy of its restorationdrove from me any lingering embarrassment. I went forward, and without afaltering tone, I believe, gave him detailed directions. He told meafterwards that, himself in a state of bewildered surprise, he thought methe coolest young person he had ever had the fortune to meet. Why shouldone be pleased to know that she looked quite different from what shefelt? There is something wrong there, surely! I acknowledge the somethingwrong, but do not understand it. He lifted his cap again, and rode away. I stood still at the foot of the lilac-tree, and, from a vapour,condensed, not to a stone, but to a world, in which a new Flora was aboutto be developed. If no new spiritual sense was awakened in me, at least Iwas aware of a new consciousness. I had never been to myself what I wasnow. Terror again seized me: the face might once more look over the wall, andfind me where it had left me! I turned, and went slowly away from thehouse, gravitating to the darkest part of the garden. "What has come to me," I said, "that I seek the darkness? Is this anothersecret? Am I in the grasp of a new enemy?" And with that came the whirlwind of perplexity. Must I go the firstmoment I knew I could find him, and tell my uncle what had happened, andhow I felt? or must I have, and hold, and cherish in silent heart, athing so wondrous, so precious, so absorbing? Had I not deliberatelypromised--of my own will and at my own instance--never again to have asecret from him? Was this a secret? Was it not a secret? The storm was up, and went on. The wonder is that, in the fire of thenew torment, I did not come to loathe the very thought of the youngman--which would have delivered me, if not from the necessity ofconfession, yet from the main difficulty in confessing. I said to myself that the old secret was of a wrong done to my uncle;that what had made me miserable then was a bad secret. The perception ofthis difference gave me comfort for a time, but not for long. The factremained, that I knew something concerning myself which my best frienddid not know. It was, and I could not prevent it from being, a barrierbetween us! Yet what was it I was concealing from him? What had I to tell him? Howwas I to represent a thing of which I knew neither the name nor thenature, a thing I could not describe? Could I confess what I did notunderstand? The thing might be what, in the tales I had read, was calledlove, but I did not know that it was. It might be something new, peculiarto myself; something for which there was no word in the language! How wasI to tell? I saw plainly that, if I tried to convey my new experience, Ishould not get beyond the statement that I had a new experience. It didnot occur to me that the thing might be so well known, that a mere hintof the feelings concerned, would enable any older person to classify theconsciousness. I said to myself I should merely perplex my uncle. And intruth I believe that love, in every mind in which it arises, will vary incolour and form--will always partake of that mind's individual isolationin difference. This, however, is nothing to the present point. Comfort myself as I might, that the impossible was required of no one,and granted that the thing was impossible, it was none the less a causeof misery, a present disaster: I was aware, and soon my uncle would beaware, of an impenetrable something separating us. I felt that we hadalready begun to grow strange to each other, and the feeling lay likedeath at my heart. Our lessons together were still going on; that I was no longer a childhad made only the difference that progress must make; and I had nothought that they would not thus go on always. They were never for amoment irksome to me; I might be tired by them, but never of them. Wewere regularly at work together by seven, and after half an hour forbreakfast, resumed work; at half-past eleven our lessons were over. Butalthough the day was then clear of the imperative, much the greater partof it was in general passed in each other's company. We might not speak aword, but we would be hours together in the study. We might not speak aword, but we would be hours together on horseback. For this day, then, our lessons were over, and my uncle was from home.This was an indisputable relief, yet the fact that it was so, pained mekeenly, for I recognized in it the first of the schism. How I got throughthe day, I cannot tell. I was in a dream, not all a dream of delight.Haunted with the face I had seen, and living in the new consciousness ithad waked in me, I spent most of it in the garden, now in the glooms ofthe yew-walks, and now in the smiling wilderness. It was odd, however,that, although I was not _expected_ to be in my uncle's room at any timebut that of lessons, all the morning I had a feeling as if I ought to bethere, while yet glad that my uncle was not there. It was late before he returned, and I went to bed. Perhaps I retired sosoon that I might not have to look into his eyes. Usually, I sat nowuntil he came home. I was long in getting to sleep, and then I dreamed. Ithought I was out in the storm, and the flash came which revealed thehorse and his rider, but they were both different. The horse in the dreamwas black as coal, as if carved out of the night itself; and the manupon him was the beautiful stranger whose horse I had not seen for thegarden-wall. The darkness fell, and the voice of my uncle called to me. Iwaited for him in the storm with a troubled heart, for I knew he had notseen that vision, and I could no more tell him of it, than couldChristabel tell her father what she had seen after she lay down. I woke,but my waking was no relief.    CHAPTER XI.  THE MOLE BURROWS. I slept again after my dream, and do not know whether he came into myroom as he generally did when he had not said good-night to me. Of courseI woke unhappy, and the morning-world had lost something of its naturalglow, its lovely freshness: it was not this time a thing new-born of thecreating word. I dawdled with my dressing. The face kept coming, andbrought me no peace, yet brought me something for which it seemed worthwhile even to lose my peace. But I did not know then, and do not yet knowwhat the loss of peace actually means. I only know that it must besomething far more terrible than anything I have ever known. I remainedso far true to my uncle, however, that not even for what the face seemedto promise me, would I have consented to cause him trouble. For what Isaw in the face, I would do anything, I thought, except that. I went to him at the usual hour, determined that nothing should distractme from my work--that he should perceive no difference in me. I was notat the moment awake to the fact that here again were love and deceptionhand in hand. But another love than mine was there: my uncle loved meimmeasurably more than I yet loved that heavenly vision. True love iskeen-sighted as the eagle, and my uncle's love was love true, thereforehe saw what I sought to hide. It is only the shadow of love, generally agrotesque, ugly thing, like so many other shadows, that is blind eitherto the troubles or the faults of the shadow it seems to love. The momentour eyes met, I saw that he saw something in mine that was not there whenlast we parted. But he said nothing, and we sat down to our lessons.Every now and then as they proceeded, however, I felt rather than saw hiseyes rest on me for a moment, questioning. I had never known them rest onme so before. Plainly he was aware of some change; and could there beanything different in the relation of two who so long had loved eachother, without something being less well and good than before? Nor was itindeed wonderful he should see a difference; for, with all the might ofmy resolve to do even better than usual, I would now and then find myselfunconscious of what either of us had last been saying. The face had comeyet again, and driven everything from its presence! I grew angry--notwith the youth, but with his face, for appearing so often when I did notinvite it. Once I caught myself on the verge of crying out, "Can't youwait? I will come presently!" and my uncle looked up as if I had spoken.Perhaps he had as good as heard the words; he possessed what almostseemed a supernatural faculty of divining the thought of another--not, Iwas sure, by any effort to perceive it, but by involuntary intuition. Heuttered no inquiring word, but a light sigh escaped him, which all butmade me burst into tears. I was on one side of a widening gulf, and he onthe other! Our lessons ended, he rose immediately and left the room. Five minutespassed, and then came the clatter of his horse's feet on the stones ofthe yard. A moment more, and I heard him ride away at a quick trot. Iburst into tears where I still sat beside my uncle's empty chair. I wasweary like one in a dream searching in vain for a spot whereupon to setdown her heart-breaking burden. There was no one but my uncle to whom Icould tell any trouble, and the trouble I could not have told him hadhitherto been unimaginable! From this my reader may judge what a troubleit was that I could not tell him my trouble. I was a traitor to my onlyfriend! Had I begun to love him less? had I begun to turn away from him?I dared not believe it. That would have been to give eternity to mymisery. But it might be that at heart I was a bad, treacherous girl! Ihad again a secret from him! I was not _with_ him! I went into the garden. The day was sultry and oppressive. Coolness orcomfort was nowhere. I sought the shadow of the live yew-walls; there wasshelter in the shadow, but it oppressed the lungs while it comforted theeyes. Not a breath of wind breathed; the atmosphere seemed to have lostits life-giving. I went out into the wilderness. There the air was filledand heaped with the odours of the heavenly plants that crowded its humblefloor, but they gave me no welcome. Between two bushes that flamed outroses, I lay down, and the heather and the rose-trees closed above me. Mymind was in such a confusion of pain and pleasure--not without a hope ofdeliverance somewhere in its clouded sky--that I could think no more, andfell asleep. I imagine that, had I never again seen the young man, I should not havesuffered. I think that, by slow natural degrees, his phantasmal presencewould have ceased to haunt me, and gradually I should have returned to myformer condition. I do not mean I should have forgotten him, but neithershould I have been troubled when I thought of him. I know I should neverhave regretted having seen him. In that, I had nothing to blame myselffor, and should have felt--not that a glory had passed away from theearth, but that I had had a vision of bliss. What it was, I should nothave had the power to recall, but it would have left with me the faiththat I had beheld something too ethereal for my memory to store. I shouldhave consoled myself both with the dream, and with the conviction that Ishould not dream it again. The peaceful sense of recovered nearness to myuncle would have been far more precious than the dream. The sudden fireof transfiguration that had for a moment flamed out of the All, andstraightway withdrawn, would have become a memory only; but none the lesswould that enlargement of the child way of seeing things have remainedwith me. I do not think that would ever have left me: it is the care ofthe prudent wise that bleaches the grass, and is as the fumes of sulphurto the red rose of life. Outwearied with inward conflict, I slept a dreamless sleep.   CHAPTER XII.  A LETTER. A cool soft breeze went through the curtains of my couch, and I awoke.The blooms of the peasant-briars and the court-roses were waving togetherover my head. The sigh of the wind had breathed itself out over the farheath, and ere it died in my fairy forest of lowly plants and bushes, hadfound and fanned the cheeks that lay down hot and athirst for air. Itgave me new life, and I rose refreshed. Something fluttered to theground. I thought it was a leaf from a white rose above me, but I looked.At my feet lay a piece of paper. I took it up. It had been folded veryhastily, and had no address, but who could have a better right to unfoldit than I! It might be nothing; it might be a letter. Should I open it?Should I not rather seize the opportunity of setting things right betweenmy heart and my uncle by taking it to him unopened? Only, if it wereindeed--I dared hardly even in thought complete the supposition--might itnot be a wrong to the youth? Might not the paper contain a confidence?might it not be the messenger of a heart that trusted me before even itknew my name? Would I inaugurate our acquaintance with an act oftreachery, or at least distrust? Right or wrong, thus my heart reasoned,and to its reasoning I gave heed. "It will," I said, "be time enough toresolve, when I know concerning what!" This, I now see, was juggling; forthe question was whether I should be open with my uncle or not. "It mightbe," I said to myself, "that, the moment I knew the contents of thepaper, I should reproach myself that I had not read it at once!" I satdown on a bush of heather, and unfolded it. This is what I found, writtenwith a pencil:-- "I am the man to whom you talked so kindly over your garden wallyesterday. I fear you may think me presuming and impertinent. Presuming Imay be, but impertinent, surely not! If I were, would not my heart tellme so, seeing it is all on your side? "My name is John Day; I do not yet know yours. I have not dared toinquire after it, lest I should hear of some impassable gulf between us.The fear of such a gulf haunts me. I can think of nothing but the face Isaw over the wall through the clusters of lilac: the wall seems to keeprising and rising, as if it would hide you for ever. "Is it wrong to think thus of you without your leave? If one may not lovethe loveliest, then is the world but a fly-trap hung in the great heaven,to catch and ruin souls! "If I am writing nonsense--I cannot tell whether I am or not--it isbecause my wits wander with my eyes to gaze at you through the leaves ofthe wild white rose under which you are asleep. Loveliest of faces, mayno gentlest wind of thought ripple thy perfect calm, until I have saidwhat I must, and laid it where she will find it! "I live at Rising, the manor-house over the heath. I am the son of LadyCairnedge by a former marriage. I am twenty years of age, and have justended my last term at Oxford. May I come and see you? If you will not seeme, why then did you walk into my quiet house, and turn everything upsidedown? I shall come to-night, in the dusk, and wait in the heather,outside the fence. If you come, thank God! if you do not, I shall believeyou could not, and come again and again and again, till hope is dead. ButI warn you I am a terrible hoper. "It would startle, perhaps offend you, to wake and see me; but I cannotbear to leave you asleep. Something might come too near you. I will writeuntil you move, and then make haste to go. "My heart swells with words too shy to go out. Surely a Will has broughtus together! I believe in fate, never in chance! "When we see each other again, will the wall be down between us, or shallI know it will part us all our mortal lives? Longer than that it cannot.If you say to me, 'I must not see you, but I will think of you,' not oneshall ever know I have other than a light heart. Even now I begin theendeavour to be such that, when we meet at last, as meet we must, youshall not say, 'Is this the man, alas, who dared to love me!' "I love you as one might love a woman-angel who, at the merest breathgoing to fashion a word unfit, would spread her wings and soar. Do not, Ipray you, fear to let me come! There are things that must be done infaith, else they never have being: let this be one of them.--You stir." As I came to these last words, hurriedly written, I heard behind me, overthe height, the quick gallop of a horse, and knew the piece of firm turfhe was crossing. The same moment I was there in spirit, and theimagination was almost vision. I saw him speeding away--"to come again!"said my heart, solemn with gladness. Rising-manor was the house to which the lady took me that dread nightwhen first I knew what it was to be alone in darkness and silence andspace. Was that lady his mother? Had she rescued me for her son? I wasnot willing to believe it, though I had never actually seen her. The waywas mostly dark, and during the latter portion of it, I was much tooweary to look up where she sat on her great horse. I had never to myknowledge heard who lived at Rising. I was not born inquisitive, andthere were miles between us. I sat still, without impulse to move a finger. I lived essentially. Now Iknew what had come to me. It was no merely idiosyncratic experience, forthe youth had the same: it was love! How otherwise could we thus be drawntogether from both sides! Verily it seemed also good enough to be thatwondrous thing ever on the lips of poets and tale-weaving magicians! Wasit not far beyond any notion of it their words had given me? But my uncle! There lay bitterness! Was I indeed false to him, that nowthe thought of him was a pain? Had I begun a new life apart from him? Totell him would perhaps check the terrible separation! But how was I totell him? For the first time I knew that I had no mother! Would Mr. Day'smother be my mother too, and help me? But from no woman save my ownmother, hardly even from her, would I ask mediation with the uncle I hadloved and trusted all my life and with my whole heart. I had never knownfather or mother, save as he had been father and mother and everybody tome! What was I to do? Gladly would I have hurried to some desert place,and there waited for the light I needed. That I was no longer in anyuncertainty as to the word that described my condition, did not, I found,make it easy to use the word. "Perhaps," I argued, struggling in thetoils of my new liberty, "my uncle knows nothing of this kind of love,and would be unable to understand me! Suppose I confessed to him what Ifelt toward a man I had spoken to but once, and then only to tell him theway to Dumbleton, would he not think me out of my mind?" At length I bethought me that, so long as I did not know what to do, Iwas not required to do anything; I must wait till I did know what to do.But with the thought came suffering enough to be the wages of any sinthat, so far as I knew, I had ever committed. For the conviction awokethat already the love that had hitherto been the chief joy of my being,had begun to pale and fade. Was it possible I was ceasing to love myuncle? What could any love be worth if mine should fail my uncle! Loveitself must be a mockery, and life but a ceaseless sliding down to thedeath of indifference! Even if I never ceased to love him, it was just asbad to love him less! Had he not been everything to me?--and this man,what had he ever done for me? Doubtless we are to love even our enemies;but are we to love them as tenderly as we love our friends? Or are we tolove the friend of yesterday, of whom we know nothing though we maybelieve everything, as we love those who have taken all the trouble tomake true men and women of us? "What can be the matter with my soul?" Isaid. "Can that soul be right made, in which one love begins to witherthe moment another begins to grow? If I be so made, I cannot help beingworthless!" It was then first, I think, that I received a notion--anything like atrue notion, that is, of my need of a God--whence afterward I came tosee the one need of the whole race. Of course, not being able to makeourselves, it needed a God to make us; but that making were a small thingindeed, if he left us so unfinished that we could come to nothingright;--if he left us so that we could think or do or be nothingright;--if our souls were created so puny, for instance, that there wasnot room in them to love as they could not help loving, without ceasingto love where they were bound by every obligation to love right heartily,and more and more deeply! But had I not been growing all the time I hadbeen in the world? There must then be the possibility of growing still!If there was not room in me, there must be room in God for me to becomelarger! The room in God must be made room in me! God had not done makingme, in fact, and I sorely needed him to go on making me; I sorely neededto be made out! What if this new joy and this new terror had come, hadbeen sent, in order to make me grow? At least the doors were open; Icould go out and forsake myself! If a living power had caused me--andcertainly I did not cause myself--then that living power knew all aboutme, knew every smallness that distressed me! Where should I find him? Hecould not be so far that the misery of one of his own children could notreach him! I turned my face into the grass, and prayed as I had neverprayed before. I had always gone to church, and made the responsesattentively, while I knew that was not praying, and tried to pray betterthan that; but now I was really asking from God something I sorelywanted. "Father in heaven," I said, "I am so miserable! Please, help me!" I rose, went into the house, and up to the study, took a sock I wasknitting for my uncle, and sat down to wait what would come. I couldthink no more; I could only wait.    CHAPTER XIII.  OLD LOVE AND NEW. While I waited, as nearly a log, under the weariness of spiritual unrest,as a girl could well be, the door opened. Very seldom did that door opento any one but my uncle or myself: he would let no one but me touch hisbooks, or even dust the room. I jumped from the chest where I sat. It was only Martha Moon. "How you startled me, Martha!" I cried. "No wonder, child!" she answered. "I come with bad news! Your uncle hashad a fall. He is laid up at Wittenage with a broken right arm." I burst into tears. "Oh, Martha!" I cried; "I must go to him!" "He has sent for me," she answered quietly. "Dick is putting the horse to the phaeton." "He doesn't want me, then!" I said; but it seemed a voice not my own thatshrieked the words. The punishment of my sin was upon me. Never would he have sent for Marthaand not me, I thought, had he not seen that I had gone wrong again, andwas no more to be trusted. "My dear," said Martha, "which of us two ought to be the better nurse?You never saw your uncle ill; I've nursed him at death's door!" "Then you don't think he is angry with me, Martha?" I said, humbledbefore myself. "Was he ever angry with you, Orbie? What is there to be angry about? Inever saw him even displeased with you!" I had not realized that my uncle was suffering--only that he wasdisabled; now the fact flashed upon me, and with it the perception that Ihad been thinking only of myself: I was fast ceasing to care for him! Andthen, horrible to tell! a flash of joy went through me, that he would notbe home that day, and therefore I _could_ not tell him anything! The moment Martha left me I threw myself on the floor of the desert room.I was in utter misery. "Gladly would I bear every pang of his pain," I said to myself; "yet Ihave not asked one question about his accident! He must be in danger, orhe would not have sent for Martha instead of me!" How had the thing happened, I wondered. Had Death fallen withhim--perhaps on him? He was such a horseman, I could not think hehad been thrown. Besides, Death was a good horse who loved hismaster--dearly, I was sure, and would never have thrown him or let himfall! A great gush of the old love poured from the fountain in my heart:sympathy with the horse had unsealed it. I sprang from the floor, and randown to entreat Martha to take me with her: if my uncle did not want me,I could return with Dick! But she was gone. Even the sound of her wheelswas gone. I had lain on the floor longer than I knew. I went back to the study a little relieved. I understood now that I wasnot glad he was disabled; that I was anything but glad he was suffering;that I had only been glad for an instant that the crisis of my perplexitywas postponed. In the meantime I should see John Day, who would help meto understand what I ought to do! Very strange were my feelings that afternoon in the lonely house. I hadalways felt it lonely when Martha, never when my uncle was out. Yet whenmy uncle was in, I was mostly with him, and seldom more than a fewminutes at a time with Martha. Our feelings are odd creatures! Now thatboth were away, there was neither time nor space in my heart for feelingthe house desolate; while the world outside was rich as a treasure-houseof mighty kings. The moment I was a little more comfortable with myself,my thoughts went in a flock to the face that looked over the garden-wall,to the man that watched me while I slept, the man that wrote that lovelyletter. Inside was old Penny with her broom: she took advantage of everyabsence to sweep or scour or dust; outside was John Day, and the roses ofthe wilderness! He was waiting the hour to come to me, wondering how Iwould receive him! Slowly went the afternoon. I had fallen in love at first sight, it istrue; not therefore was I eager to meet my lover. I was only more thanwilling to see him. It was as sweet, or nearly as sweet, to dream of hiscoming, as to have him before me--so long as I knew he was indeed coming.I was just a little anxious lest I should not find him altogether sobeautiful as I was imagining him. That he was good, I never doubted:could I otherwise have fallen in love with him? And his letter was sostraightforward--so manly! The afternoon was cloudy, and the twilight came the sooner. From therealms of the dark, where all the birds of night build their nests,lining them with their own sooty down, the sweet odorous filmy dusk ofthe summer, haunted with wings of noiseless bats, began at length to comeflickering earthward, in a snow infinitesimal of fluffiest gray andblack: I crept out into the garden. It was dark as wintry night amongthe yews, but I could have gone any time through every alley of themblind-folded. An owl cried and I started, for my soul was sunk in its ownlove-dawn. There came a sudden sense of light as I opened the door intothe wilderness, but light how thin and pale, and how full of expectation!The earth and the vast air, up to the great vault, seemed to throb andheave with life--or was it that my spirit lay an open thoroughfare tothe life of the All? With the scent of the roses and the humblersweet-odoured inhabitants of the wilderness; with the sound of the brookthat ran through it, flowing from the heath and down the hill; with thesilent starbeams, and the insects that make all the little noises theycan; with the thoughts that went out of me, and returned possessed of theearth;--with all these, and the sense of thought eternal, the universewas full as it could hold. I stood in the doorway of the wall, and lookedout on the wild: suddenly, by some strange reaction, it seemed out ofcreation's doors, out in the illimitable, given up to the bare, to thespace that had no walls! A shiver ran through me; I turned back among theyews. It was early; I would wait yet a while! If he were already there,he too would enjoy the calm of a lovely little wait. A small wind came searching about, and found, and caressed me. I turnedto it; it played with my hair, and cooled my face. After a while, I leftthe alley, passed out, closed the door behind me, and went strayingthrough the broken ground of the wilderness, among the low bushes,meandering, as if with some frolicsome brook for a companion--a brook ofcapricious windings--but still coming nearer to the fence that parted thewilderness from the heath, my eyes bent down, partly to avoid thehillocks and bushes, and partly from shyness of the moment when first Ishould see him who was in my heart and somewhere near. Softly the moonrose, round and full. There was still so much light in the sky that shemade no sudden change, and for a moment I did not feel her presence orlook up. In front of me, the high ground of the moor sank into a hollow,deeply indenting the horizon-line: the moon was rising just in the gap,and when I did look up, the lower edge of her disc was just clear of theearth, and the head of a man looking over the fence was in the middle ofthe great moon. It was like the head of a saint in a missal, girt with ahalo of solid gold. I could not see the face, for the halo hid it, assuch attributions are apt to do, but it must be he; and strengthened bythe heavenly vision, I went toward him. Walking less carefully thanbefore, however, I caught my foot, stumbled, and fell. There came a rushthrough the bushes; he was by my side, lifted me like a child, and heldme in his arms; neither was I more frightened than a child caught up inthe arms of any well-known friend: I had been bred in faith and notmistrust! But indeed my head had struck the ground with such force, that,had I been inclined, I could scarcely have resisted--though why should Ihave resisted, being where I would be! Does not philosophy tell us thatgrowth and development, cause and effect, are all, and that the days andyears are of no account? And does not more than philosophy tell us thattruth is everything?" "My darling! Are you hurt?" murmured the voice whose echoes seemed tohave haunted me for centuries. "A little," I answered. "I shall be all right in a minute." I did notadd, "Put me down, please;" for I did not want to be put down directly. Icould not have stood if he had put me down. I grew faint. Life came back, and I felt myself growing heavy in his arms. "I think I can stand now," I said. "Please put me down." He obeyed immediately. "I've nearly broken your arms," I said, ashamed of having become a burdento him the moment we met. "I could run with you to the top of the hill!" he answered. "I don't think you could," I returned. Perhaps I leaned a little towardhim; I do not know. He put his arm round me. "You are not able to stand," he said. "Shall we sit a moment?"    CHAPTER XIV.  MOTHER AND UNCLE. I was glad enough to sink on a clump of white clover. He stretchedhimself on the heather, a little way from me. Silence followed. He wasgiving me time to recover myself. As soon, therefore, as I was able, itwas my part to speak. "Where is your horse?" I asked. The first word is generally one hardlyworth saying. "I left him at a little farmhouse, about a mile from here. I was afraidto bring him farther, lest my mother should learn where I had been. Shetakes pains to know." "Then will she not find out?" "I don't know." "Will she not ask you where you were?" "Perhaps. There's no knowing." "You will tell her, of course, if she does?" "I think not." "Oughtn't you?" "No." "You are sure?" "Yes." "You don't mean you will tell her a story?" "Certainly not." "What will you do then?" "I will tell her that I will not tell her." "Would that be right?" Through the dusk I could see the light of his smile as he answered, "I think so. I shall not tell her." "But," I began. He interrupted me. My heart was sinking within me. Not only had I wanted him to help me totell my uncle, but I shuddered at the idea of having with any man asecret from his mother. "It must look strange to you," he said; "but you do not know my mother!" "I think I do know your mother," I rejoined. "She saved my poor littlelife once.--I am not sure it was your mother, but I think it was." "How was that?" he said, much surprised. "When was it?" "Many years ago--I cannot tell how many," I answered. "But I remember allabout it well enough. I cannot have been more than eight, I imagine." "Could she have been at the manor then?" he said, putting the question tohimself, not me. "How was it? Tell me," he went on, rising to his feet,and looking at me with almost a frightened expression. I told him the incident, and he heard me in absolute silence. When I haddone,-- "It _was_ my mother!" he broke out; "I don't know one other woman whowould have let a child walk like that! Any other would have taken you up,or put you on the horse and walked beside you!" "A gentleman would, I know," I replied. "But it would not be so easy fora lady!" _"She_ could have done either well enough. She's as strong as a horseherself, and rides like an Amazon. But I am not in the least surprised:it was just like her! You poor little darling! It nearly makes me cry tothink of the tiny feet going tramp, tramp, all that horrible way, andshe high up on her big horse! She always rides the biggest horse she canget!--And then never to say a word to you after she brought you home, orsee you the next morning!" "Mr. Day," I returned, "I would not have told you, had I known it wouldgive you occasion to speak so naughtily of your mother. You make meunhappy." He was silent. I thought he was ashamed of himself, and was sorry forhim. But my sympathy was wasted. He broke into a murmuring laugh ofmerriment. "When is a mother not a mother?" he said. "--Do you give it up?--Whenshe's a north wind. When she's a Roman emperor. When she's an iceberg.When she's a brass tiger.--There! that'll do. Good-bye, mother, for thepresent! I mayn't know much, as she's always telling me, but I do knowthat a noun is not a thing, nor a name a person!" I would have expostulated. "For love's sake, dearest," he pleaded, "we will not dispute where onlyone of us knows! I will tell you all some day--soon, I hope, very soon. Iam angry now!--Poor little tramping child!" I saw I had been behaving presumptuously: I had wanted to argue while yetin absolute ignorance of the thing in hand! Had not my uncle taught methe folly of reasoning from the ideal where I knew nothing of the actual!The ideal must be our guide how to treat the actual, but the actual mustbe there to treat! One thing more I saw--that there could be no likenessbetween his mother and my uncle! "Will you tell me something about yourself, then?" I said. "That would not be interesting!" he objected. "Then why are you here?" I returned. "Can any person without a history be interesting?" "Yes," he answered: "a person that was going to have a history might beinteresting." "Could a person with a history that was not worth telling, beinteresting? But I know yours will interest me in the hearing, thereforeit ought to interest you in the telling. "I see," he rejoined, with his merry laugh, I shall have to be careful!My lady will at once pounce upon the weak points of my logic!" "I am no logician," I answered; "I only know when I don't know a thing.My uncle has taught me that wisdom lies in that," "Yours must be a very unusual kind of uncle!" he returned. "If God had made many men like my uncle, I think the world wouldn't bethe same place." "I wonder why he didn't!" he said thoughtfully. "I have wondered much, and cannot tell," I replied. "What if it wouldn't be good for the world to have many good men in itbefore it was ready to treat them properly?" he suggested. The words let me know that at least he could think. Hitherto my uncle hadseemed to me the only man that thought. But I had seen very few men. "Perhaps that is it," I answered. "I will think about it.--Were youbrought up at Rising? Have you been there all the time? Were you therethat night? I should surely have known had you been in the house!" He looked at me with a grateful smile. "I was not brought up there," he answered. "Rising is mine, however--atleast it will be when I come of age; it was left me some ten years ago bya great-aunt My father's property will be mine too, of course. Mymother's is in Ireland. She ought to be there, not here; but she likes myestates better than her own, and makes the most of being my guardian." "You would not have her there if she is happier here?" "All who have land, ought to live on it, or else give it to those whowill. What makes it theirs, if their only connection with it is the moneyit brings them? If I let my horse run wild over the country, how could Iclaim him, and refuse to pay his damages?" "I don't quite understand you." "I only mean there is no bond where both ends are not tied. My mother hasno sense of obligation, so far as ever I have been able to see. But donot be afraid: I would as soon take a wife to the house she was in, as Iwould ask her to creep with me into the den of a hyena." It was too dreadful! I rose. He sprang to his feet. "You must excuse me, sir!" I said. "With one who can speak so of hismother, I am where I ought not to be." "You have a right to know what my mother is," he answered--coldly, Ithought; "and I should not be a true man if I spoke of her otherwise thantruly." He would pretend nothing to please me! I saw that I was again in thewrong. Was I so ill read as to imagine that a mother must of necessity bea good woman? Was he to speak of his mother as he did not believe of her,or be unfit for my company? Would untruth be a bond between us? "I beg your pardon," I said; "I was wrong. But you can hardly wonder Ishould be shocked to hear a son speak so of his mother--and to one allbut a stranger!" "What!" he returned, with a look of surprise; "do you think of me so? Ifeel as if I had known you all my life--and before it!" I felt ashamed, and was silent. If he was such a stranger, why was Ithere alone with him? "You must not think I speak so to any one," he went on. "Of those whoknow my mother, not one has a right to demand of me anything concerningher. But how could I ask you to see me, and hide from you the truth abouther? Prudence would tell you to have nothing to do with the son of such awoman: could I be a true man, true to you, and hold my tongue about her?I should be a liar of the worst sort!" He felt far too strongly, it was plain, to heed a world of commonplaces. "Forgive me," I said. "May I sit down again?" He held out his hand. I took it, and reseated myself on theclover-hillock. He laid himself again beside me, and after a littlesilence began to relate what occurred to him of his external history,while all the time I was watching for hints as to how he had come to bethe man he was. It was clear he did not find it easy to talk abouthimself. But soon I no longer doubted whether I ought to have met him,and loved him a great deal more by the time he had done. I then told him in return what my life had hitherto been; how I knewnothing of father or mother; how my uncle had been everything to me; howhe had taught me all I knew, had helped me to love what was good and hatewhat was evil, had enabled me to value good books, and turn away fromfoolish ones. In short, I made him feel that all his mother had not beento him, my uncle had been to me; and that it would take a long time tomake me as much indebted to a husband as already I was to my uncle. ThenI put the question: "What would you think of me if I had a secret from an uncle like that?" "If I had an uncle like that," he answered, "I would sooner cut my throatthan keep anything from him!" "I have not told him," I said, "what happened to-day--or yesterday." "But you will tell him?" "The first moment I can. But I hope you understand it is hard to do. Mylove for my uncle makes it hard. It has the look of turning away from himto love another!" With that I burst out crying. I could not help it. He let me cry, and didnot interfere. I was grateful for that. When at length I raised my head,he spoke. "It has that look," he said; "but I trust it is only a look. Anyhow, heknows that such things must be; and the more of a good man and agentleman he is, the less will he be pained that we should love oneanother!" "I am sure of that," I replied. "I am only afraid that he may never havebeen in love himself, and does not know how it feels, and may think Ihave forsaken him for you." "Are you with him _always?_" "No; I am sometimes a good deal alone. I can be alone as much as I like;he always gives me perfect liberty. But I never before wanted to be alonewhen I could be with him." "But he _could_ live without you?" "Yes, indeed!" I cried. "He would be a poor creature that could not livewithout another!" He said nothing, and I added, "He often goes out alone--sometimes in thedarkest nights." "Then be sure he knows what love is.--But, if you would rather, I willtell him." "I could not have any one, even you, tell my uncle about me." "You are right. When will you tell him?" "I cannot be sure. I would go to him to-morrow, but I am afraid they willnot let me until he has got a little over this accident," I answered--andtold him what had happened. "It is dreadful to think how he must havesuffered," I said, "and how much more I should have thought about it butfor you! It tears my heart. Why wasn't it made bigger?" "Perhaps that is just what is now being done with it!" he answered. "I hope it may be!" I returned. "--But it is time I went in." "Shall I not see you again to-morrow evening?" he asked. "No," I answered. "I must not see you again till I have told my uncleeverything." "You do not mean for weeks and weeks--till he is well enough to comehome? How _am_ I to live till then!" "As I shall have to live. But I hope it will be but for a few days atmost. Only, then, it will depend on what my uncle thinks of the thing." "Will he decide for you what you are to do?" "Yes--I think so. Perhaps if he were--" I was on the point of saying,"like your mother," but I stopped in time--or hardly, for I think he sawwhat I just saved myself from. It was but the other morning I made thediscovery that, all our life together, John has never once pressed me tocomplete a sentence I broke off. He looked so sorrowful that I was driven to add something. "I don't think there is much good," I said, "in resolving what you willor will not do, before the occasion appears, for it may have something init you never reckoned on. All I can say is, I will try to do what isright. I cannot promise anything without knowing what my uncle thinks." We rose; he took me in his arms for just an instant; and we parted withthe understanding that I was to write to him as soon as I had spoken withmy uncle.    CHAPTER XV.  THE TIME BETWEEN. I now felt quite able to confess to my uncle both what I had thought andwhat I had done. True, I had much more to confess than when my troublefirst awoke; but the growth in the matter of the confession had been sucha growth in definiteness as well, as to make its utterance, though moreweighty, yet much easier. If I might be in doubt about revealing mythoughts, I could be in none about revealing my actions; and I found itwas much less appalling to make known my feelings, when I had the wordsof John Day to confess as well. I may here be allowed to remark, how much easier an action is whendemanded, than it seems while in the contingent future--how mucheasier when the thing is before you in its reality, and not as a merethought-spectre. The thing itself, and the idea of it, are two suchdifferent grounds upon which to come either to a decision or to action! One thing more: when a woman wants to do the right--I do not mean, wantsto coax the right to side with her--she will, somehow, be led up to it. My uncle was very feverish and troubled the first night, and had a gooddeal of delirium, during which his care and anxiety seemed all about me.Martha had to assure him every other moment that I was well, and in nodanger of any sort: he would be silent for a time, and then again showhimself tormented with forebodings about me. In the morning, however, hewas better; only he looked sadder than usual. She thought he was, forsome cause or other, in reality anxious about me. So much I gathered fromMartha's letter, by no means scholarly, but graphic enough. It gave me much pain. My uncle was miserable about me: he had plainlyseen, he knew and felt that something had come between us! Alas, it wasno fancy of his brain-troubled soul! Whether I was in fault or not, therewas that something! It troubled the unity that had hitherto seemed athing essential and indivisible! Dared I go to him without a summons? I knew Martha would call me themoment the doctor allowed her: it would not be right to go without thatcall. What I had to tell might justify far more anxiety than the sight ofme would counteract. If I said nothing, the keen eye of his love wouldassure itself of the something hid in my silence, and he would not seethat I was but waiting his improvement to tell him everything. I resolvedtherefore to remain where I was. The next two days were perhaps the most uncomfortable ever I spent. Asecret one desires to turn out of doors at the first opportunity, is nota pleasant companion. I do not say I was unhappy, still less that once Iwished I had not seen John Day, but oh, how I longed to love him openly!how I longed for my uncle's sanction, without which our love could not beperfected! Then John's mother was by no means a gladsome thought--exceptthat he must be a good man indeed, who was good in spite of being unableto love, respect, or trust his mother! The true notion of heaven, is tobe with everybody one loves: to him the presence of his mother--such asshe was, that is--would destroy any heaven! What a painful but salutaryshock it will be to those whose existence is such a glorifying ofthemselves that they imagine their presence necessary to all about them,when they learn that their disappearance from the world sent a thrill ofrelief through the hearts of those nearest them! To learn how littlethey were prized, will one day prove a strong medicine for soulsself-absorbed. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed."    CHAPTER XVI.  FAULT AND NO FAULT. The next day I kept the house till the evening, and then went walking inthe garden in the twilight. Between the dark alleys and the openwilderness I flitted and wandered, alternating gloom and gleam outsideme, even as they chased one another within me. In the wilderness I looked up--and there was John! He stood outside thefence, just as I had seen him the night before, only now there was noaureole about his head: the moon had not yet reached the horizon. My first feeling was anger: he had broken our agreement! I did notreflect that there was such a thing as breaking a law, or even a promise,and being blameless. He leaped the fence, and clearing every bush like adeer, came straight toward me. It was no use trying to escape him. Iturned my back, and stood. He stopped close behind me, a yard or twoaway. "Will you not speak to me?" he said. "It is not my fault I am come." "Whose fault then, pray?" I rejoined, with difficulty keeping myposition. "Is it mine?" "My mother's," he answered. I turned and looked him in the eyes, through the dusk saw that he wastroubled, ran to him, and put my arms about him. "She has been spying," he said, as soon as he could speak. "She will partus at any risk, if she can. She is having us watched this very moment,most likely. She may be watching us herself. She is a terrible woman whenshe is for or against anything. Literally, I do not know what she wouldnot do to get her own way. She lives for her own way. The loss of itwould be to her as the loss of her soul. She will lose it this timethough! She will fail this time--if she never did before!" "Well," I returned, nowise inclined to take her part, "I hope she willfail! What does she say?" "She says she would rather go to her grave than see me your husband." "Why?" "Your family seems objectionable to her." "What is there against it?" "Nothing that I know." "What is there against my uncle? Is there anything against Martha Moon?"I was indignant at the idea of a whisper against either. "What have _I_ done?" I went on. "We are all of the family I know: whatis it?" "I don't think she has had time to invent anything yet; but she pretendsthere is something, and says if I don't give you up, if I don't swearnever to look at you again, she will tell it." "What did you answer her?" "I said no power on earth should make me give you up. Whatever she knew,she could know nothing against _you_, and I was as ready to go to mygrave as she was. 'Mother,' I said, 'you may tell my determination byyour own! Whether I marry her or not, you and I part company the day Icome of age; and if you speak word or do deed against one of her family,my lawyer shall look strictly into your accounts as my guardian.' You seeI knew where to touch her!" "It is dreadful you should have to speak like that to your mother!" "It is; but you would feel to her just as I do if you knew all--thoughyou wouldn't speak so roughly, I know." "Can you guess what she has in her mind?" "Not in the least. She will pretend anything. It is enough that she isdetermined to part us. How, she cares nothing, so she succeed." "But she cannot!" "It rests with you." "How with me?" "It will be war to the knife between her and me. If she succeed, it mustbe with you. I will do anything to foil her except lie." "What if she should make you see it your duty to give me up?" "What if there were no difference between right and wrong! We're as goodas married!" "Yes, of course; but I cannot quite promise, you know, until I hear whatmy uncle will say." "If your uncle is half so good a man as you have made me think him, hewill do what he can on our side. He loves what is fair; and what can befairer than that those who love each other should marry?" I knew my uncle would not willingly interfere with my happiness, and formyself, I should never marry another than John Day--that was a thing ofcourse: had he not kissed me? But the best of lovers had been parted, andthat which had been might be again, though I could not see how! It _was_good, nevertheless, to hear John talk! It was the right way for a loverto talk! Still, he had no supremacy over what was to be! "Some would say it cannot be so great a matter to us, when we have knowneach other such a little while!" I remarked. "The true time is the long time!" he replied. "Would it be a sign thatour love was strong, that it took a great while to come to anything? Thestrongest things--" There he stopped, and I saw why: strongest things are not generally ofquickest growth! But there was the eucalyptus! And was not St. Paul asgood a Christian as any of them? I said nothing, however: there wasindeed no rule in the matter! "You must allow it possible," I said, "that we may not be married!" "I will not," he answered. "It is true my mother may get me brought in asincapable of managing my own affairs; but--" "What mother would do such a wicked thing!" I cried. "_My_ mother," he answered. "Oh!" "She _would!_" "I can't believe it." "I am sure of it." I held my peace. I could not help a sense of dismay at finding myself sonear such a woman. I knew of bad women, but only in books: it wouldappear they were in other places as well! "We must be on our guard," he said. "Against what?" "I don't know; whatever she may do." "We can't do anything till she begins!" "She has begun." "How?" I asked incredulous. "Leander is lame," he answered. "I am so sorry!" "I am so angry!" "Is it possible I understand you?" "Quite. _She_ did it." "How do you know?" "I can no more prove it than I can doubt it. I cannot inquire into mymother's proceedings. I leave that sort of thing to her. Let her spy onme as she will, I am not going to spy on her." "Of course not! But if you have no proof, how can you state the thing asa fact?" "I have what is proof enough for saying it to my own soul." "But you have spoken of it to me!" "You are my better soul. If you are not, then I have done wrong in sayingit to you." I hastened to tell him I had only made him say what I hoped hemeant--only I wasn't his _better_ soul. He wanted me then to promise thatI would marry him in spite of any and every thing. I promised that Iwould never marry any one but him. I could not say more, I said, notknowing what my uncle might think, but so much it was only fair to say.For I had gone so far as to let him know distinctly that I loved him; andwhat sort would that love be that could regard it as possible, at anydistance of time, to marry another! Or what sort of woman could she bethat would shrink from such a pledge! The mischief lies in promises madewithout forecasting thought. I knew what I was about. I saw forward andbackward and all around me. A solitary education opens eyes that, in themidst of companions and engagements, are apt to remain shut. Knowledge ofthe world is no safeguard to man or woman. In the knowledge and love oftruth, lies our only safety. With that promise he had to be, and was content.    CHAPTER XVII.  THE SUMMONS. Next morning the post brought me the following letter from my uncle.Whoever of my readers may care to enter into my feelings as I read, mustimagine them for herself: I will not attempt to describe them. The letterwas not easy to read, as it was written in bed, and with his left hand. "My little one,--I think I know more than you imagine. I think the secretflew into your heart of itself; you did not take it up and put it there.I think you tried to drive it out, and it would not go: the same Fatethat clips the thread of life, had clipped its wings that it could fly nomore! Did my little one think I had not a heart big enough to hold hersecret? I wish it had not been so: it has made her suffer! I pray mylittle one to be sure that I am all on her side; that my will is to doand contrive the best for her that lies in my power. Should I be unableto do what she would like, she must yet believe me true to her as to myGod, less than whom only I love her:--less, because God is so muchbigger, that so much more love will hang upon him. I love you, dear, morethan any other creature except one, and that one is not in this world. Besure that, whatever it may cost me, I will be to you what your ownperfected soul will approve. Not to do my best for you, would be to befalse, not to God only, but to your father as well, whom I loved and lovedearly. Come to me, my child, and tell me all. I know you have donenothing wrong, nothing to be ashamed of. Some things are so difficult totell, that it needs help to make way for them: I will help you. I ambetter. Come to me at once, and we will break the creature's shelltogether, and see what it is like, the shy thing!--Your uncle." I was so eager to go to him, that it was with difficulty I finished hisletter before starting. Death had been sent home, and was in the stable,sorely missing his master. I called Dick, and told him to get ready toride with me to Wittenage; he must take Thanatos, and be at the door withZoe in twenty minutes. We started. As we left the gate, I caught sight of John coming from theother direction, his eyes on the ground, lost in meditation. I stopped.He looked up, saw me, and was at my side in two moments. "I have heard from my uncle," I said. "He wants me. I am going to him." "If only I had my horse!" he answered. "Why shouldn't you take Thanatos?" I rejoined. "No," he answered, after a moment's hesitation. "It would be an impertinence. I will walk, and perhaps see you there.It's only sixteen miles, I think.--What a splendid creature he is!" "He's getting into years now," I replied; "but he has been in the stableseveral days, and I am doubtful whether Dick will feel quite at home onhim." "Then your uncle would rather I rode him! He knows I am no tailor!" saidJohn. "How?" I asked. "I don't mean he knows who I am, but he saw me a fortnight ago, in one ofour fields, giving Leander, who is but three, a lesson or two. He stoppedand looked on for a good many minutes, and said a kind word about myhandling of the horse. He will remember, I am sure." "How glad I am he knows something of you! If you don't mind being seenwith me, then, there is no reason why you should not give me yourescort." Dick was not sorry to dismount, and we rode away together. I was glad of this for one definite reason, as well as many indefinite: Iwanted John to see my letter, and know what cause I had to love my uncle.I forgot for the moment my resolution not to meet him again beforetelling my uncle everything. Somehow he seemed to be going with me toreceive my uncle's approval. He read the letter, old Death carrying him all the time as gently as hecarried myself--I often rode him now--and returned it with the tears inhis eyes. For a moment or two he did not speak. Then he said in a verysolemn way, "I see! I oughtn't to have a chance if he be against me! I understand nowwhy I could not get you to promise!--All right! The Lord have mercy uponme!" "That he will! He is always having mercy upon us!" I answered, lovingJohn and my uncle and God more than ever. I loved John for thisespecially, at the moment--that his nature remained uninjured towardothers by his distrust of her who should have had the first claim on hisconfidence. I said to myself that, if a man had a bad mother and yet wasa good man, there could be no limit to the goodness he must come to. Thathe was a man after my uncle's own heart, I had no longer the least doubt.Nor was it a small thing to me that he rode beautifully--never seeming toheed his horse, and yet in constant touch with him. We reached the town, and the inn where my uncle was lying. On the road wehad arranged where he would be waiting me to hear what came next. He wentto see the horses put up, and I ran to find Martha. She met me on thestair, and went straight to my uncle to tell him I was come, returnedalmost immediately, and led me to his room. I was shocked to see how pale and ill he looked. I feared, and was rightin fearing, that anxiety about myself had not a little to do with hiscondition. His face brightened when he saw me, but his eyes gazed intomine with a searching inquiry. His face brightened yet more when he foundhis eager look answered by the smile which my perfect satisfactioninspired. I knelt by the bedside, afraid to touch him lest I should hurthis arm. Slowly he laid his left hand on my head, and I knew he blessed mesilently. For a minute or two he lay still. "Now tell me all about it," he said at length, turning his patient blueeyes on mine. I began at once, and if I did not tell him all, I let it beplain there was more of the sort behind, concerning which he mightquestion me. When I had ended, "Is that everything?" he asked, with a smile so like all he had ever beento me, that my whole heart seemed to go out to meet it. "Yes, uncle," I answered; "I think I may say so--except that I have notdwelt upon my feelings. Love, they say, is shy; and I fancy you willpardon me that portion." "Willingly, my child. More is quite unnecessary." "Then you know all about it, uncle?" I ventured. "I was afraid you mightnot understand me. Could any one, do you think, that had not had the sameexperience?" He made me no answer. I looked up. He was ghastly white; his head hadfallen back against the bed. I started up, hardly smothering a shriek. "What is it, uncle?" I gasped. "Shall I fetch Martha?" "No, my child," he answered. "I shall be better in a moment. I am subjectto little attacks of the heart, but they do not mean much. Give me someof that medicine on the table." In a few minutes his colour began to return, and the smile which wasforced at first, gradually brightened until it was genuine. "I will tell you the whole story one day," he said, "--whether in thisworld, I am doubtful. But _when_ is nothing, or _where_, with eternitybefore us." "Yes, uncle," I answered vaguely, as I knelt again by the bedside. "A person," he said, after a while, slowly, and with hesitating effort,"may look and feel a much better person at one time than at another.Upon occasion, he is so happy, or perhaps so well pleased with himself,that the good in him comes all to the surface." "Would he be the better or the worse man if it did not, uncle?" I asked. "You must not get me into a metaphysical discussion, little one," heanswered. "We have something more important on our hands. I want you tonote that, when a person is happy, he may look lovable; whereas, thingsgoing as he does not like, another, and very unfinished phase of hischaracter may appear." "Surely everybody must know that, uncle!" "Then you can hardly expect me to be confident that your new friend wouldappear as lovable if he were unhappy!" "I have seen you, uncle, look as if nothing would ever make you smileagain; but I knew you loved me all the time." "Did you, my darling? Then you were right. I dare not require of any manthat he should be as good-tempered in trouble as out of it--though hemust come to that at last; but a man must be _just_, whatever mood he isin." "That is what I always knew you to be, uncle! I never waited for a changein your looks, to tell you anything I wanted to tell you.--I know you,uncle!" I added, with a glow of still triumph. "Thank you, little one!" he returned, half playfully, yet gravely. "All Iwant to say comes to this," he resumed after a pause, "that when a man isin love, you see only the best of him, or something better than he reallyis. Much good may be in a man, for God made him, and the man yet not begood, for he has done nothing, since his making, to make himself. Beforeyou can say you know a man, you must have seen him in a few at least ofhis opposite moods. Therefore you cannot wonder that I should desire afuller assurance of this young man, than your testimony, founded on anacquaintance of three or four days, can give me." "Let me tell you, then, something that happened to-day," I answered."When first I asked him to come with me this morning, it was a temptationto him of course, not knowing when we might see each other again; but hehadn't his own horse, and said it would be an impertinence to rideyours." "I hope you did not come alone!" "Oh, no. I had set out with Dick, but John came after all." "Then his refusal to ride my horse does not come to much. It is a smallthing to have good impulses, if temptation is too much for them." "But I haven't done telling you, uncle!" "I am hasty, little one. I beg your pardon." "I have to tell you what made him give in to riding your horse. Iconfessed I was a little anxious lest Death, who had not been exercisedfor some days, should be too much for Dick. John said then he thought hemight venture, for you had once spoken very kindly to him of the way hehandled his own horse." "Oh, that's the young fellow, is it!" cried my uncle, in a tone thatcould not be taken for other than one of pleasure. "That's the fellow, isit?" he repeated. "H'm!" "I hope you liked the look of him, uncle!" I said. "The boy is a gentleman anyhow!" he answered.--"You may think whether Iwas pleased!--I never saw man carry himself better horseward!" he addedwith a smile. "Then you won't object to his riding Death home again?" "Not in the least!" he replied. "The man can ride." "And may I go with him?--that is, if you do not want me!--I wish I couldstay with you!" "Rather than ride home with him?" "Yes, indeed, if it were to be of use to you!" "The only way you can be of use to me, is to ride home with Mr. Day, andnot see him again until I have had a little talk with him. Tyranny may bea sense of duty, you know, little one!" "Tyranny, uncle!" I cried, as I laid my cheek to his hand, which was verycold. "You could not make me think you a tyrant!" "I should not like you to think me one, darling! Still less would I liketo deserve it, whether you thought me one or not! But I could not be atyrant to you if I would. You may defy me when you please." "That would be to poison my own soul!" I answered. "You must understand," he continued, "that I have no authority over you.If you were going to marry Mr. Day to-morrow, I should have no right tointerfere. I am but a make-shift father to you, not a legal guardian." "Don't cast me off, uncle!" I cried. "You _know_ I belong to you as muchas if you were my very own father! I am sure my father will say so whenwe see him. He will never come between you and me." He gave a great sigh, and his face grew so intense that I felt as if Ihad no right to look on it. "It is one of the deepest hopes of my existence," he said, "to give youback to him the best of daughters. Be good, my darling, be good, even ifyou die of sorrow because of it." The intensity had faded to a deep sadness, and there came a silence. "Would you like me to go now, uncle?" I asked. "I wish I could see Mr. Day at once," he returned, "but I am so far fromstrong, that I fear both weakness and injustice. Tell him I want verymuch to see him, and will let him know as soon as I am able." "Thank you, uncle! He will be so glad! Of course he can't feel as I do,but he does feel that to do anything you did not like, would be justhorrid." "And you will not see him again, little one, after he has taken you home,till I have had some talk with him?" "Of course I will not, uncle." I bade him good-bye, had a few moments' conference with Martha, and foundJohn at the place appointed.    CHAPTER XVIII.  JOHN SEES SOMETHING. As we rode, I told him everything. It did not seem in the least strangethat I should be so close to one of whom a few days before I had neverheard; it seemed as if all my life I had been waiting for him, and now hewas come, and everything was only as it should be! We were very quiet inour gladness. Some slight anxiety about my uncle's decision, and thecertain foreboding of trouble on the part of his mother, stilled us both,sending the delight of having found each other a little deeper and out ofthe way of the practical and reasoning. We did not urge our horses to their speed, but I felt that, for myuncle's sake, I must not prolong the journey, forcing the last farthingof bliss from his generosity, while yet he was uncertain of his duty. Themoon was rising just as we reached my home, and I was glad: John wouldhave to walk miles to reach his, for he absolutely refused to take Deathon, saying he did not know what might happen to him. As we stopped at thegate I bethought myself that neither of us had eaten since we left in theafternoon. I dismounted, and leaving him with the horses, got what Icould find for him, and then roused Dick, who was asleep. John confessedthat, now I had made him think of it, he was hungry enough to eatanything less than an ox. We parted merrily, but when next we met, eachconfessed it had not been without a presentiment of impending danger. Formy part, notwithstanding the position I had presumed to take with Johnwhen first he spoke of his mother, I was now as distrustful as he, andmore afraid of her. Much the nearest way between the two houses lay across the heath. Johnwalked along, eating the supper I had given him, and now and then castinga glance round the horizon. He had got about half-way, when, looking up,he thought he saw, dim in the ghosty light of the moon, a speck upon thetrack before him. He said to himself it could hardly be any one on themoor at such a time of the night, and went on with his supper. Looking upagain after an interval, he saw that the object was much larger, buthardly less vague, because of a light fog which had in the meantimerisen. By and by, however, as they drew nearer to each other, a strangethrill of recognition went through him: on the way before him, which waslittle better than a footpath, and slowly approaching, came whatcertainly could be neither the horse that had carried him that day, norhis double, but what was so like him in colour, size, and bone, while sounlike him in muscle and bearing, that he might have been he, worn butfor his skin to a skeleton. Straight down upon John he came, spectralthrough the fog, as if he were asleep, and saw nothing in his way. Johnstepped aside to let him pass, and then first looked in the face of hisrider: with a shock of fear that struck him in the middle of the body,making him gasp and choke, he saw before him--so plainly that, butfor the impossibility, he could have sworn to him in any court ofjustice--the man whom he knew to be at that moment confined to his bed,twenty miles away, with a broken arm. Sole other human being within sightor sound in that still moonlight, on that desolate moor, the horsemannever lifted his head, never raised his eyes to look at him. John stoodstunned. He hardly doubted he saw an apparition. When at length he rousedhimself, and looked in the direction in which it went, it had all butvanished in the thickening white mist. He found the rest of his way home almost mechanically, and went straightto bed, but for a long time could not sleep. For what might not the apparition portend? Mr. Whichcote lay hurt by afall from his horse, and he had met his very image on the back of justsuch a horse, only turned to a skeleton! Was he bearing him away to thetomb? Then he remembered that the horse's name was Death.    CHAPTER XIX.  JOHN IS TAKEN ILL. In the middle of the night he woke with a start, ill enough to feel thathe was going to be worse. His head throbbed; the room seemed turninground with him, and when it settled, he saw strange shapes in it. Afew rays of the sinking moon had got in between the curtains of oneof the windows, and had waked up everything! The furniture lookedodd--unpleasantly odd. Something unnatural, or at least unearthly, mustbe near him! The room was an old-fashioned one, in thorough keeping withthe age of the house--the very haunt for a ghost, but he had heard of noghost in that room! He got up to get himself some water, and drew thecurtains aside. He could have been in no thraldom to an apprehensiveimagination; for what man, with a brooding terror couched in him, would,in the middle of the night, let in the moon? To such a passion, she isworse than the deepest darkness, especially when going down, as she wasthen, with the weary look she gets by the time her work is about over,and she has long been forsaken of the poor mortals for whom she has sooften to be up and shining all night. He poured himself some water anddrank it, but thought it did not taste nice. Then he turned to thewindow, and looked out. The house was in a large park. Its few trees served mainly to show howwide the unbroken spaces of grass. Before the house, motionless as astatue, stood a great gray horse with hanging neck, his shadow stretchedin mighty grotesque behind him, and on his back the very effigy of myuncle, motionless too as marble. The horse stood sidewise to the house,but the face of his rider was turned toward it, as if scanning itswindows in the dying glitter of the moon. John thought he heard a crysomewhere, and went to his door, but, listening hard, heard nothing. Whenhe looked again from the window, the apparition seemed fainter, andfarther away, though neither horse nor rider had changed posture. Herubbed his eyes to see more plainly, could no longer distinguish theappearance, and went back to bed. In the morning he was in a highfever--unconscious save of restless discomfort and undefined trouble. He learned afterward from the housekeeper, that his mother herself nursedhim, but he would take neither food nor medicine from her hand. No doctorwas sent for. John thought, and I cannot but think, that the water in hisbottle had to do with the sudden illness. His mother may have merelywished to prevent him from coming to me; but, for the time at least, theconviction had got possession of him, that she was attempting his life.He may have argued in semi conscious moments, that she would not scrupleto take again what she was capable of imagining she had given. Herattentions, however, may have arisen from alarm at seeing him worse thanshe had intended to make him, and desire to counteract what she had done. For several days he was prostrate with extreme exhaustion. Necessarily, Iknew nothing of this; neither was I, notwithstanding my more than doubtof his mother, in any immediate dread of what she might do. The cessationof his visits could, of course, cause me no anxiety, seeing it wasthoroughly understood between us that we were not at liberty to meet.    CHAPTER XX.  A STRANGE VISIT. On the fifth night after that on which he left me to walk home, I wasroused, about two o'clock, by a sharp sound as of sudden hail against mywindow, ceasing as soon as it began. Wondering what it was, for hail itcould hardly be, I sprang from the bed, pulled aside the curtain, andlooked out. There was light enough in the moon to show me a man lookingup at the window, and love enough in my heart to tell me who he was. Howhe knew the window mine, I have always forgotten to ask him. I would havedrawn back, for it vexed me sorely to think him too weak to hold to ouragreement, but the face I looked down upon was so ghastly and deathlike,that I perceived at once his coming must have its justification. I didnot speak, for I would not have any in the house hear; but, putting on myshoes and a big cloak, I went softly down the stair, opened the doornoiselessly, and ran to the other side of the house. There stood John,with his eyes fixed on my window. As I turned the corner I could see, bytheir weary flashing, that either something terrible had happened, or hewas very ill. He stood motionless, unaware of my approach. "What is it?" I said under my breath, putting a hand on his shoulder. He did not turn his head or answer me, but grew yet whiter, gasped, andseemed ready to fall. I put my arm round him, and his head sank on thetop of mine. Whatever might be the matter, the first thing was to get him intothe house, and make him lie down. I moved a little, holding him fast,and mechanically he followed his support; so that, although withsome difficulty, I soon got him round the house, and into the greathall-kitchen, our usual sitting-room; there was fire there that wouldonly want rousing, and, warm as was the night, I felt him very cold. Ilet him sink on the wide sofa, covered him with my cloak, and ran torouse old Penny. The aged sleep lightly, and she was up in an instant.I told her that a gentleman I knew had come to the house, eithersleep-walking or delirious, and she must come and help me with him. Shestruck a light, and followed me to the kitchen. John lay with his eyes closed, in a dead faint. We got him to swallowsome brandy, and presently he came to himself a little. Then we put himin my warm bed, and covered him with blankets. In a minute or so he wasfast asleep. He had not spoken a word. I left Penny to watch him, andwent and dressed myself, thinking hard. The result was, that, havingenjoined Penny to let no one near him, _whoever_ it might be, I went tothe stable, saddled Zoe, and set off for Wittenage. It was sixteen miles of a ride. The moon went down, and the last of myjourney was very dark, for the night was cloudy; but we arrived insafety, just as the dawn was promising to come as soon as it could. Noone in the town seemed up, or thinking of getting up. I had learned alesson from John, however, and I knew Martha's window, which happilylooked on the street. I got off Zoe, who was tired enough to stand still,for she was getting old and I had not spared her, and proceeded to searchfor a stone small enough to throw at the window. The scared face ofMartha showed itself almost immediately. "It's me!" I cried, no louder than she could just hear; "it's me, Martha!Come down and let me in." Without a word of reply, she left the window, and after some fumblingwith the lock, opened the door, and came out to me, looking gray withscare, but none the less with all her wits to her hand. "How is my uncle, Martha?" I said. "Much better," she answered. "Then I must see him at once!" "He's fast asleep, child! It would be a world's pity to wake him!" "It would be a worse pity not!" I returned. "Very well: must-be must!" she answered. I made Zoe fast to the lamp-post: the night was warm, and hot as she was,she would take no hurt. Then I followed Martha up the stair. But my uncle was awake. He had heard a little of our motions andwhisperings, and lay in expectation of something. "I thought I should hear from you soon!" he said. "I wrote to Mr. Day onThursday, but have had no reply. What has happened? Nothing serious, Ihope?" "I hardly know, uncle. John Day is lying at our house, unable to move orspeak." My uncle started up as if to spring from his bed, but fell back againwith a groan. "Don't be alarmed, uncle!" I said. "He is, I hope, safe for the moment,with Penny to watch him; but I am very anxious Dr. Southwell should seehim." "How did it come about, little one?" "There has been no accident that I know of. But I scarcely know more thanyou," I replied--and told him all that had taken place within my ken. He lay silent a moment, thinking. "I can't say I like his lying there with only Penny to protect him!" hesaid. "He must have come seeking refuge! I don't like the thing at all!He is in some danger we do not know!" "I will go back at once, uncle," I replied, and rose from the bedside,where I had seated myself a little tired. "You must, if we cannot do better. But I think we can. Martha shall go,and you will stay with me. Run at once and wake Dr. Southwell. Ask him tocome directly." I ran all the way--it was not far--and pulled the doctor's night-bell. Heanswered it himself. I gave him my uncle's message, and he was at the inna few minutes after me. My uncle told him what had happened, and beggedhim to go and see the patient, carrying Martha with him in his gig. The doctor said he would start at once. My uncle begged him to givestrictest orders that no one was to see Mr. Day, whoever it might be.Martha heard, and grew like a colonel of dragoons ordered to charge withhis regiment. In less than half an hour they started--at a pace that delighted me. When Zoe was put up and attended to, and I was alone with my uncle, I gothim some breakfast to make up for the loss of his sleep. He told me itwas better than sleep to have me near him. What I went through that night and the following day, I need not recount.Whoever has loved one in danger and out of her reach, will know what itwas like. The doctor did not make his appearance until five o'clock,having seen several patients on his way back. The young man, he reported,was certainly in for a fever of some kind---he could not yet pronouncewhich. He would see him again on the morrow, he said, and by that time itwould have declared itself. Some one in the neighbourhood must watch thecase; it was impossible for him to give it sufficient attention. My uncletold him he was now quite equal to the task himself, and we would all gotogether the next day. My delight at the proposal was almost equalled bymy satisfaction that the doctor made no objection to it. For joy I scarcely slept that night: I was going to nurse John! But I wasanxious about my uncle. He assured me, however, that in one day more hewould in any case have insisted on returning. If it had not been for alittle lingering fever, he said, he would have gone much sooner. "That was because of me, uncle!" I answered with contrition. "Perhaps," he replied; "but I had a blow on the head, you know!" "There is one good thing," I said: "you will know John the sooner fromseeing him ill! But perhaps you will count that only a mood, uncle, andnot to be trusted!" He smiled. I think he was not _very_ anxious about the result of a neareracquaintance with John Day. I believe he had some faith in my spiritualinstinct. Uncle went with the doctor in his brougham, and I rode Zoe. The back ofthe house came first in sight, and I saw the window-blinds of my roomstill down. The doctor had pronounced it the fittest for the invalid, andwould not have him moved to the guest-chamber Penny had prepared for him. In the only room I had ever occupied as my own, I nursed John for a spaceof three weeks. From the moment he saw me, he began to improve. My uncle noted this, andI fancy liked John the better for it. Nor did he fail to note thegentleness and gratitude of the invalid.    CHAPTER XXI.  A FOILED ATTEMPT. The morning after my uncle's return, came a messenger from Rising withhis lady's compliments, asking if Mr. Whichcote could tell her anythingof her son: he had left the house unseen, during a feverish attack, andas she could get no tidings of him, she was in great anxiety. She hadaccidentally heard that he had made Mr. Whichcote's acquaintance, andtherefore took the liberty of extending to him the inquiry she hadalready made everywhere else among his friends. My uncle wrote in answer,that her son had come to his house in a high fever; that he had beenunder medical care ever since; and that he hoped in a day or two he mightbe able to return. If he expressed a desire to see his mother, he wouldimmediately let her know, but in the meantime it was imperative he shouldbe kept quiet. From this letter, Lady Cairnedge might surmise that her relationswith her son were at least suspected. Within two hours came anothermessage--that she would send a close carriage to bring him home the nextday. Then indeed were my uncle and I glad that we had come. For thoughMartha would certainly have defended the citadel to her utmost, she mighthave been sorely put to it if his mother proceeded to carry him away byforce. My uncle, in reply, begged her not to give herself the uselesstrouble of sending to fetch him: in the state he was in at present, itwould be tantamount to murder to remove him, and he would not be a partyto it. When I yielded my place in the sick-room to Martha and went to bed, myheart was not only at ease for the night, but I feared nothing for thenext day with my uncle on my side--or rather on John's side. We were just rising from our early dinner, for we were old-fashionedpeople, when up drove a grand carriage, with two strong footmen behind,and a servant in plain clothes on the box by the coachman. It pulled upat the door, and the man on the box got down and rang the bell, while hisfellows behind got down also, and stood together a little way behind him.My uncle at once went to the hall, but no more than in time, for therewas Penny already on her way to open the door. He opened it himself, andstood on the threshold. "If you please, sir," said the man, not without arrogance, "we're come totake Mr. Day home." "Tell your mistress," returned my uncle, "that Mr. Day has expressed nodesire to return, and is much too unwell to be informed of her ladyship'swish." "Begging your pardon, sir," said the man, "we have her ladyship's ordersto bring him. We'll take every possible care of him. The carriage is anextra-easy one, and I'll sit inside with the young gentleman myself. Ifhe ain't right in his head, he'll never know nothink till he comes tohimself in his own bed." My uncle had let the man talk, but his anger was fast rising. "I cannot let him go. I would not send a beggar to the hospital in thestate he is in." "But, indeed, sir, you must! We have our orders." "If you fancy I will dismiss a guest of mine at the order of any humanbeing, were it the queen's own majesty," said my uncle--I heard thewords, and with my mind's eyes saw the blue flash of his as he saidthem--"you will find yourself mistaken." "I'm sorry," said the man quietly, "but I have my orders! Let me pass,please. It is my business to find the young gentleman, and take him home.No one can have the right to keep him against his mother's will,especially when he's not in a fit state to judge for himself." "Happily I am in a fit state to judge for him," said my uncle, coldly. "I dare not go back without him. Let me pass," he returned, raising hisvoice a little, and approaching the door as if he would force his way. I ought to have mentioned that, as my uncle went to the door, he tookfrom a rack in the hall a whip with a bamboo stock, which he generallycarried when he rode. His answer to the man was a smart, thoughleft-handed blow with the stock across his face: they were too near forthe thong. He staggered back, and stood holding his hand to his face. Hisfellow-servants, who, during the colloquy, had looked on withgentlemanlike imperturbability, made a simultaneous step forward. Myuncle sent the thong with a hiss about their ears. They sprang toward himin a fury, but halted immediately and recoiled. He had drawn a smallswordlike weapon, which I did not know to be there, from the stock of thewhip. He gave one swift glance behind him. I was in the hall at his back. "Shut the door, Orba," he cried. I shut him out, and ran to a window in the little drawing-room, whichcommanded the door. Never had I seen him look as now--his pale face paleno longer, but flushed with anger. Neither, indeed, until that moment hadI ever seen the _natural_ look of anger, the expression of _pure_ anger.There was nothing mean or ugly in it--not an atom of hate. But how hiseyes blazed! "Go back," he cried, in a voice far more stern than loud. "If one of youset foot on the lowest step, and I will run him through." The men saw he meant it; they saw the closed door, and my uncle with hisback to it. They turned and spoke to each other. The coachman satimmovable on his box. They mounted, and he drove away. I ran and opened the door. My uncle came in with a smile. He went up thestair, and I followed him to the room where the invalid lay. We were bothanxious to learn if he had been disturbed. He was leaning on his elbow, listening. He looked a good deal more likehimself. "I knew you would defend me, sir!" he said, with a respectful confidencewhich could not but please my uncle. "You did not want to go home--did you?" he asked with a smile. "I should have thrown myself out of the carriage!" answered John; "--thatis, if they had got me into it. But, please, tell me, sir," he went on,"how it is I find myself in your house? I have been puzzling over it allthe morning. I have no recollection of coming." "You understand, I fancy," rejoined my uncle, "that one of the family hasa notion she can take better care of you than anybody else! Is not thatenough to account for it?" "Hardly, sir. Belorba cannot have gone and rescued me from my mother!" "How do you know that? Belorba is a terrible creature when she is roused.But you have talked enough. Shut your eyes, and don't trouble yourself torecollect. As you get stronger, it will all come back to you. Then youwill be able to tell us, instead of asking us to tell you." He left us together. I quieted John by reading to him, and absolutelydeclining to talk. "You are a captive. The castle is enchanted: speak a single word," Isaid, "and you will find yourself in the dungeon of your own room." He looked at me an instant, closed his eyes, and in a few minutes wasfast asleep. He slept for two hours, and when he woke was quite himself.He was very weak, but the fever was gone, and we had now only to feed himup, and keep him quiet.    CHAPTER XXII.  JOHN RECALLS AND REMEMBERS. What a weight was off my heart! It seemed as if nothing more could gowrong. But, though John was plainly happy, he was not quite comfortable:he worried himself with trying to remember how he had come to us. Thelast thing he could definitely recall before finding himself with us, washis mother looking at him through a night that seemed made of blacknessso solid that he marvelled she could move in it. She brought himsomething to drink, but he fancied it blood, and would not touch it. Heremembered now that there was a red tumbler in his room. He could recallnothing after, except a cold wind, and a sense of utter weariness butabsolute compulsion: he must keep on and on till he found the gate ofheaven, to which he seemed only for ever coming nearer. His conclusionwas, that he knew what he was about every individual moment, but had nomemory; each thing he did was immediately forgotten, while the knowledgeof what he had to do next remained with him. It was, he thought, a mentalcondition analogous with walking, in which every step is a frustratedfall. I set this down here, because, when I told my uncle what John hadbeen saying, myself not sure that I perceived what he meant, he declaredthe boy a philosopher of the finest grain. But he warned me not toencourage his talking, and especially not to ask him to explain. Therewas nothing, he said, worse for a weak brain, than to set a strong willto work it. I tried to obey him, but it grew harder as the days went on. There werenot many of them, however; he recovered rapidly. When at length my uncletalked not only to but with him, I regarded it as a virtual withdrawal ofhis prohibition, and after that spoke to John of whatever came into hisor my head. It was then he told me all he could remember since the moment he left mewith his supper in his hand. A great part of his recollection was thevision of my uncle on the moor, and afterward in the park. We did notknow what to make of it. I should at once have concluded it caused byprelusive illness, but for my remembrance of what both my uncle andmyself had seen, so long before, in the thunderstorm; while John, willingenough to attribute its recurrence to that cause, found it impossible toconcede that he was anything but well when crossing the moor. I thought,however, that excitement, fatigue, and lack of food, might have somethingto do with it, and with his illness too; while, if he was in a state tosee anything phantasmal, what shape more likely to appear than that of myuncle! He would not hear of my mentioning the thing to my uncle. I would for myown part have gone to him with it immediately; but could not with John'sprayer in my ears. I resolved, however, to gain his consent if I could. He had by this time as great a respect for my uncle as I had myself, butcould not feel at home with him as I did. Whether the vision was only avision, or indeed my uncle's double, whatever a double may be, the taleof it could hardly be an agreeable one to him; and naturally John shrankfrom the risk of causing him the least annoyance. The question of course came up, what he was to do when able to leave us.He had spoken very plainly to my uncle concerning his relations with hismother--had told him indeed that he could not help suspecting he owed hisillness to her. I was nearly always present when they talked, but remember in especial apart of what passed on one occasion. "I believe I understand my mother," said John, "--but only after muchthinking. I loved her when a child; and if she had not left me for thesake of liberty and influence--that at least is how I account for herdoing so--I might at this moment be struggling for personal freedom,instead of having that over." "There are women," returned my uncle, "some of them of the most admired,who are slaves to a demoniacal love of power. The very pleasure of theirconsciousness consists in the knowledge that they have power--not powerto do things, but power to make other people do things. It is aninsanity, but a devilishly immoral and hateful insanity.--I do not saythe lady in question is one of such, for I do not know her; I only say Ihave known such a one." John replied that certainly the love of power was his mother's specialweakness. She was spoiled when a child, he had been told; had her everywish regarded, her every whim respected. This ruinous treatment sprang,he said, from the self-same ambition, in another form, on the part ofher mother--the longing, namely, to secure her child's supremeaffection--with the natural consequence that they came to hate oneanother. His father and she had been married but fifteen months, when hedied of a fall, following the hounds. Within six months she was engaged,but the engagement was broken off, and she went abroad, leaving himbehind her. She married lord Cairnedge in Venice, and returned to Englandwhen John was nearly four, and seemed to have lost all memory of her. Hisstepfather was good to him, but died when he was about eight. His motherwas very severe. Her object plainly was to plant her authority so in hisvery nature, that he should never think of disputing her will. "But," said John, "she killed my love, and so I grew able to cast off heryoke." "The world would fare worse, I fancy," remarked my uncle, "if violentwomen bore patient children. The evil would become irremediable. Thechildren might not be ruined, but they would bring no discipline to themother!" "Her servants," continued John, "obey her implicitly, except when theyare sure she will never know. She treats them so imperiously, that theyadmire her, and are proud to have such a mistress. But she is convincedat last, I believe, that she will never get me to do as she pleases; andtherefore hates me so heartily, that she can hardly keep her ladylikehands off me. I do not think I have been unreasonable; I have not foundit difficult to obey others that were set over me; but when I foundalmost her every requirement part of a system for reducing me to aslavish obedience, I began to lay down lines of my own. I resolved to doat once whatever she asked me, whether pleasant to me or not, so long asI saw no reason why it should not be done. Then I was surprised to findhow seldom I had to make a stand against her wishes. At the same time,the mode in which she conveyed her pleasure, was invariably such as tomake a pretty strong effort of the will necessary for compliance with it.But the effort to overcome the difficulty caused by her manner, helped todevelop in me the strength to resist where it was not right to yield. Byfar the most serious difference we had yet had, arose about six monthsago, when she insisted I should make myself agreeable to a certain lady,whom I by no means disliked. She had planned our marriage, I believe, asone of her parallels in the siege of the lady's noble father, then awidower of a year. I told her I would not lay myself out to please anylady, except I wanted to marry her. 'And why, pray, should you not marryher?' she returned. I answered that I did not love her, and would notmarry until I saw the woman I could not be happy without, and sheaccepted me. She went into a terrible passion, but I found myself quiteunmoved by it: it is a wonderful heartener to know yourself not merelystanding up for a right, but for the right to do the right thing! 'Youwouldn't surely have me marry a woman I didn't care a straw for!' I said.'Quench my soul!' she cried--I have often wondered where she learned theoath--'what would that matter? She wouldn't care a straw for you in amonth!'--'Why should I marry her then?'--'Because your mother wishes it,'she replied, and turned to march from the room as if that settled thething. But I could not leave it so. The sooner she understood the better!'Mother!' I cried, 'I will not marry the lady. I will not pay her theleast attention that could be mistaken to mean the possibility of it.'She turned upon me. I have just respect enough left for her, not to saywhat her face suggested to me. She was pale as a corpse; her very lipswere colourless; her eyes--but I will not go on. 'Your father all over!'she snarled--yes, snarled, with an inarticulate cry of fiercest loathing,and turned again and went. If I do not quite think my mother, _atpresent_, would murder me, I do think she would do anything short ofmurder to gain her ends with me. But do not be afraid; I am sufficientlyafraid to be on my guard. "My father was a rich man, and left my mother more than enough; there wasno occasion for her to marry again, except she loved, and I am sure shedid not love lord Cairnedge. I wish, for my sake, not for his, he werealive now. But the moment, I am one and twenty, I shall be my own master,and hope, sir, you will not count me unworthy to be the more Belorba'sservant. One thing I am determined upon: my mother shall not cross mythreshold but at my wife's invitation; and I shall never ask my wife toinvite her. She is too dangerous. "We had another altercation about Miss Miles, an hour or two before Ifirst saw Orba. They were far from worthy feelings that possessed me upto the moment when I caught sight of her over the wall. It was a leap outof hell into paradise. The glimpse of such a face, without shadow ofscheme or plan or selfish end, was salvation to me. I thank God!" Perhaps I ought not to let those words about myself stand, but he saidthem. He had talked too long. He fell back in his chair, and the tears began togather in his eyes. My uncle rose, put his arm about me, and led me tothe study. "Let him rest a bit, little one," he said as we entered. "It is longsince we had a good talk!" He seated himself in his think-chair--a name which, when a child, I hadgiven it, and I slid to the floor at his feet. "I cannot help thinking, little one," he began, "that you are going to bea happy woman! I do believe that is a man to be trusted. As for themother, there is no occasion to think of her, beyond being on your guardagainst her. You will have no trouble with her after you are married." "I cannot help fearing she will do us a mischief, uncle," I returned. "Sir Philip Sidney says--'Since a man is bound no further to himself thanto do wisely, chance is only to trouble them that stand upon chance.'That is, we are responsible only for our actions, not for their results.Trust first in God, then in John Day." "I was sure you would like him, uncle!" I cried, with a flutter of lovingtriumph. "I was nearly as sure myself--such confidence had I in the instinct of mylittle one. I think that I, of the two of us, may, in this instance,claim the greater faith!" "You are always before me, uncle!" I said. "I only follow where you lead.But what do you think the woman will do next?" "I don't think. It is no use. We shall hear of her before long. If allmothers were like her, the world would hardly be saved!" "It would not be worth saving, uncle." "Whatever can be saved, must be worth saving, my child." "Yes, uncle; I shouldn't have said that," I replied.    CHAPTER XXIII.  LETTER AND ANSWER. We did hear of her before long. The next morning a letter was handed tomy uncle as we sat at breakfast. He looked hard at the address, changedcountenance, and frowned very dark, but I could not read the frown. Thenhis face cleared a little; he opened, read, and handed the letter to me. Lady Cairnedge hoped Mr. Whichcote would excuse one who had so latelycome to the neighbourhood, that, until an hour ago, she knew nothing ofthe position and character of the gentleman in whose house her son had,in a momentary, but, alas! not unusual aberration, sought shelter, andfound generous hospitality. She apologized heartily for the unceremoniousway in which she had sent for him. In her anxiety to have him home, ifpossible, before he should realize his awkward position in the house of astranger, she had been inconsiderate! She left it to the judgment of hiskind host whether she should herself come to fetch him, or send hercarriage with the medical man who usually attended him. In either caseher servants must accompany the carriage, as he would probably object tobeing removed. He might, however, be perfectly manageable, for he was,when himself, the gentlest creature in the world! I was in a rage. I looked up, expecting to see my uncle as indignant withthe diabolical woman as I was myself. But he seemed sunk in reverie, hisbody present, his spirit far away. A pang shot through my heart. Couldthe wicked device have told already? "May I ask, uncle," I said, and tried hard to keep my voice steady, "howyou mean to answer this vile epistle?" He looked up with a wan smile, such as might have broke from Lazarus whenhe found himself again in his body. "I will take it to the young man," he answered. "Please, let us go at once then, uncle! I cannot sit still." He rose, and we went together to John's room. He was much better--sitting up in bed, and eating the breakfast Penny hadcarried him. "I have just had a letter from your mother, Day," said my uncle. "Indeed!" returned John dryly. "Will you read it, and tell me what answer you would like me to return." "Hardly like her usual writing--though there's her own strange S!"remarked John as he looked at it. "Does she always make an S like that?" asked my uncle, with somethingpeculiar in his tone, I thought. "Always--like a snake just going to strike." My uncle's face grew ghastly pale. He almost snatched the letter fromJohn's hand, looked at it, gave it back to him, and, to our dismay, leftthe room. "What can be the matter, John?" I said, my heart sinking within me. "Go to him," said John. I dared not. I had often seen him _like_ that before walking out into thenight; but there was something in his face now which I had not seen therebefore. It looked as if some terrible suspicion were suddenly confirmed. "You see what my mother is after!" said John. "You have now to believe_her_, that I am subject to fits of insanity, or to believe _me_, thatthere is nothing she will not do to get her way." "Her object is clear," I replied. "But if she thinks to fool my uncle,she will find herself mistaken!" "She hopes to fool both you and your uncle," he rejoined. "The only wisething I could do, she will handle so as to convince any expert of mymadness--I mean, my coming to you! My reasons will go for nothing--lessthan no-thing--with any one she chooses to bewitch. She will look at mewith an anxious love no doctor could doubt. No one can know _you_ do notknow that I am not mad--or at least subject to attacks of madness!" "Oh, John, don't frighten me!" I cried. "There! you are not sure about it!" It seemed cruel of him to tease me so; but I saw presently why he did it:he thought his mother's letter had waked a doubt in my uncle; and hewanted me not to be vexed with my uncle, even if he deserted him and wentover to his mother's side. "I love your uncle," he said. "I know he is a true man! I _will_ not beangry with him if my mother do mislead him. The time will come when hewill know the truth. It must appear at last! I shall have to fight heralone, that's all! The worst is, if he thinks with my mother I shall haveto go at once!--If only somebody would sell my horse for me!" I guessed that his mother kept him short of money, and remembered withgladness that I was not quite penniless at the moment. "In the meantime, you must keep as quiet as you can, John," I said."Where is the good of planning upon an _if_? To trust is to get ready,uncle says. Trust is better than foresight." John required little such persuading. And indeed something very differentwas in my uncle's mind from what John feared. Presently I caught a glimpse of him riding out of the yard. I ran to awindow from which I could see the edge of the moor, and saw him cross itat an uphill gallop. He was gone about four hours, and on his return went straight to his ownroom. Not until nine o'clock did I go to him, and then he came with me tosupper. He looked worn, but was kind and genial as usual. After supper he sentfor Dick, and told him to ride to Rising, the first thing in the morning,with a letter he would find on the hall-table. The letter he read to us before we parted for the night. It was all wecould have wished. He wrote that he must not have any one in his houseinterfered with; so long as a man was his guest, he was his servant. Herladyship had, however, a perfect right to see her son, and would bewelcome; only the decision as to his going or remaining must rest withthe young man himself. If he chose to accompany his mother, well andgood! though he should be sorry to lose him. If he declined to returnwith her, he and his house continued at his service.    CHAPTER XXIV.  HAND TO HAND. We looked for lady Cairnedge all the next day. John was up by noon, andready to receive her in the drawing-room; he would not see her in hisbedroom. But the hours passed, and she did not come. In the evening, however, when the twilight was thickening, and alreadyall was dark in the alleys of the garden, her carriage drove quietlyup--with a startling scramble of arrest at the door. The same servantswere outside, and a very handsome dame within. As she descended, I sawthat she was tall, and, if rather stout, not stouter than suited her ageand style. Her face was pale, but she seemed in perfect health. When Isaw her closer, I found her features the most regular I had ever seen.Had the soul within it filled the mould of that face, it would have beenbeautiful. As it was, it was only handsome--to me repulsive. The moment Isaw it, I knew myself in the presence of a masked battery. My uncle had insisted that she should be received where we usually sat,and had given Penny orders to show her into the hall-kitchen. I was alone there, preparing something for John. We were not expectingher, for it seemed now too late to look for her. My uncle was in thestudy, and Martha somewhere about the house. My heart sank as I turnedfrom the window, and sank yet lower when she appeared in the doorway ofthe kitchen. But as I advanced, I caught sight of my uncle, and wentboldly to meet the enemy. He had come down his stair, and had juststepped into a clear blaze of light, which that moment burst from thewood I had some time ago laid damp upon the fire. The next instant I sawthe lady's countenance ghastly with terror, looking beyond me. I turned,but saw nothing, save that my uncle had disappeared. When I faced heragain, only a shadow of her fright remained. I offered her my hand--forshe was John's mother, but she did not take it. She stood scanning mefrom head to foot. "I am lady Cairnedge," she said. "Where is my son?" I turned yet again. My uncle had not come back. I was not prepared totake his part. I was bewildered. A dead silence fell. For the first timein my life, my uncle seemed to have deserted me, and at the moment whenmost I needed him! I turned once more to the lady, and said, hardlyknowing what, "You wish to see Mr. Day?" She answered me with a cold stare. "I will go and tell him you are here," I faltered; and passing her, Isped along the passage to the drawing-room. "John!" I cried, bursting in, "she's come! Do you still mean to see her?Are you able? Uncle--" There I stopped, for his eyes were stern, and not looking at me, but atsomething behind me. One moment I thought his fever had returned, butfollowing his gaze I looked round:--there stood lady Cairnedge! John wasface to face with his mother, and my uncle was not there to defend him! "Are you ready?" she said, nor pretended greeting. She seemed slightlydiscomposed, and in haste. I was by this time well aware of my lover's determination of character,but I was not prepared for the tone in which he addressed the icy womancalling herself his mother. "I am ready to listen," he answered. "John!" she returned, with mingled severity and sharpness, "let us haveno masquerading! You are perfectly fit to come home, and you must come atonce. The carriage is at the door." "You are quite right, mother," answered John calmly; "I _am_ fit to gohome with you. But Rising does not quite agree with me. I dread suchanother attack, and do not mean to go." The drawing-room had a rectangular bay-window, one of whose three sidescommanded the door. The opposite side looked into a little grove oflarches. Lady Cairnedge had already realized the position of the room.She darted to the window, and saw her carriage but a few yards away. She would have thrown up the sash, but found she could not. She twistedher handkerchief round her gloved hand, and dashed it through a pane. "Men!" she cried, in a loud, commanding voice, "come at once." The moment she went to the window, I sprang to the door, locked it, putthe key in my pocket, and set my back to the door. I heard the men thundering at the hall-door. Lady Cairnedge turned as ifshe would herself go and open to them, but seeing me, she understood whatI had done, and went back to the window. "Come here! Come to me here--to the window!" she cried. John had been watching with a calm, determined look. He came and stoodbetween us. "John," I said, "leave your mother to me." "She will kill you!" he answered. "You might kill her!" I replied. I darted to the chimney, where a clear fire was burning, caught up thepoker, and thrust it between the bars. "That's for you!" I whispered. "They will not touch you with that in yourhand! Never mind me. If your mother move hand or foot to help them, itwill be my turn!" He gave me a smile and a nod, and his eyes lightened. I saw that hetrusted me, and I felt fearless as a bull-dog. In the meantime, she had spoken to her servants, and was now trying toopen the window, which had a peculiar catch. I saw that John could defendhimself much better at the window than in the room. I went softly behindhis mother, put my hands round her neck, and clasping them in front,pulled her backward with all my strength. We fell on the floor together,I under of course, but clutching as if all my soul were in my fingers.Neither should she meddle with John, nor should he lay hand on her! I didnot mind much what I did to her myself. "To the window, John," I cried, "and break their heads!" He snatched the poker from the fire, and the next moment I heard acrashing of glass, but of course I could not see what was going on. Minewas no grand way of fighting, but what was dignity where John was indanger! For the moment I had the advantage, but, while determined to holdon to the last, I feared she would get the better of me, for she was muchbigger and stronger, and crushed and kicked, and dug her elbows into me,struggling like a mad woman. All at once the tug of her hands on mine ceased. She gave a great shriek,and I felt a shudder go through her. Then she lay still. I relaxed myhold cautiously, for I feared a trick. She did not move. Horror seizedme; I thought I had killed her. I writhed from under her to see. As I didso, I caught sight of the pale face of my uncle, looking in at that partof the window next the larch-grove. Immediately I remembered ladyCairnedge's terror in the kitchen, and knew that the cause of it, and ofher present cry, must be the same, to wit, the sight of my uncle. I hadnot hurt her! I was not yet on my feet when my uncle left the window,flew to the other side of it, and fell upon the men with a stick sofuriously that he drove them to the carriage. The horses took fright, andwent prancing about, rearing and jibbing. At the call of the coachman,two of the men flew to their heads. I saw no more of their assailant. John, who had not got a fair blow at one of his besiegers, left thewindow, and came to me where I was trying to restore his mother. Thethird man, the butler, came back to the window, put his hand through,undid the catch, and flung the sash wide. John caught up the poker fromthe floor, and darted to it. "Set foot within the window, Parker," he cried, "and I will break yourhead." The man did not believe he would hurt him, and put foot and head throughthe window. Now John had honestly threatened, but to perform he found harder than hehad thought: it is one thing to raise a poker, and another to strike ahead with it. The window was narrow, and the whole man was not yet in theroom, when John raised his weapon; but he could not bring the horridpoker down upon the dumb blind back of the stooping man's head. He threwit from him, and casting his eyes about, spied a huge family-bible on aside-table. He sprang to it, and caught it up--just in time. The man hadgot one foot firm on the floor, and was slowly drawing in the other, whendown came the bible on his head, with all the force John could add to itsweight. The butler tumbled senseless on the floor. "Here, Orbie!" cried John; "help me to bundle him out before he comes tohimself--Take what you would have!" he said, as between us we shoved himout on the gravel. I fetched smelling-salts and brandy, and everything I could thinkof--fetched Martha too, and between us we got her on the sofa, but ladyCairnedge lay motionless. She breathed indeed, but did not open her eyes.John stood ready to do anything for her, but his countenance revealedlittle compassion. Whatever the cause of his mother's swoon--he had neverseen her in one before--he was certain it had to do with some bad passagein her life. He said so to me that same evening. "But what could thesight of my uncle have to do with it?" I asked. "Probably he knowssomething, or she thinks he does," he answered. "Wouldn't it be better to put her to bed, and send for the doctor, John?"I suggested at last. Perhaps the sound of my voice calling her son by his Christian name,stung her proud ear, for the same moment she sat up, passed her handsover her eyes, and cast a scared gaze about the room. "Where am I? Is it gone?" she murmured, looking ghastly. No one answered her. "Call Parker," she said, feebly, yet imperiously. Still no one spoke. She kept glancing sideways at the window, where nothing was to be seenbut the gathering night. In a few moments she rose and walked straightfrom the room, erect, but white as a corpse. I followed, passed her, andopened the hall-door. There stood the carriage, waiting, as if nothingunusual had happened, Parker seated in the rumble, with one of thefootmen beside him. The other man stood by the carriage-door. He openedit immediately; her ladyship stepped in, and dropped on the seat; thecarriage rolled away. I went back to John. "I must leave you, darling!" he said. "I cannot subject you to the riskof such another outrage! I fear sometimes my mother may be what she wouldhave you think me. I ought to have said, I hope she is. It would be theonly possible excuse for her behaviour. The natural end of loving one'sown way, is to go mad. If you don't get it, you go mad; if you do get it,you go madder--that's all the difference!--I must go!" I tried to expostulate with him, but it was of no use. "Where will you go?" I said. "You cannot go home!" "I would at once," he answered, "if I could take the reins in my ownhands. But I will go to London, and see the family-lawyer. He will tellme what I had better do." "You have no money!" I said. "How do you know that?" he returned with a smile. "Have you beensearching my pockets?" "John!" I cried. He broke into a merry laugh. "Your uncle will lend me a five-pound-note," he said. "He will lend you as much as you want; but I don't think he's in thehouse," I answered. "I have two myself, though! I'll run and fetch them." I bounded away to get the notes. It was like having a common pursealready, to lend John ten pounds! But I had no intention of letting himleave the house the same day he was first out of his room after such anillness--that was, if I could help it. My uncle had given me the use of a drawer in that same cabinet in whichwere the precious stones; and there, partly, I think, from the pride ofsharing the cabinet with my uncle, I had long kept everything I countedprecious: I should have kept Zoe there if she had not been alive and toobig!    CHAPTER XXV.  A VERY STRANGE THING. The moment I opened the door of the study, I saw my uncle--in histhink-chair, his head against the back of it, his face turned to theceiling. I ran to his side and dropped on my knees, thinking he was dead.He opened his eyes and looked at me, but with such a wan, woe-begonecountenance, that I burst into a passion of tears. "What is it, uncle dear?" I gasped and sobbed. "Nothing very new, little one," he answered. "It is something terrible, uncle," I cried, "or you would not look likethat! Did those horrid men hurt you? You did give it them well! You camedown on them like the angel on the Assyrians!" "I don't know what you're talking about, little one!" he returned. "Whatmen?" "The men that came with John's mother to carry him off. If it hadn't beenfor my beautiful uncle, they would have done it too! How I wondered whathad become of you! I was almost in despair. I thought you had left us toourselves--and you only waiting, like God, for the right moment!" He sat up, and stared at me, bewildered. "I had forgotten all about John!" he said. "As to what you think I did, I know nothing about it. I haven't been outof this room since I saw--that spectre in the kitchen." "John's mother, you mean, uncle?" "Ah! she's John's mother, is she? Yes, I thought as much--and it was morethan my poor brain could stand! It was too terrible!--My little one, thisis death to you and me!" My heart sank within me. One thought only went through my head--that,come what might, I would no more give up John, than if I were alreadymarried to him in the church. "But why--what is it, uncle?" I said, hardly able to get the words out. "I will tell you another time," he answered, and rising, went to thedoor. "John is going to London," I said, following him. "Is he?" he returned listlessly. "He wants to see his lawyer, and try to get things on a footing of somesort between his mother and him." "That is very proper," he replied, with his hand on the lock. "But you don't think it would be safe for him to travel to-night--do you,uncle--so soon after his illness?" I asked. "No, I cannot say I do. It would not be safe. He is welcome to stop tillto-morrow." "Will you not tell him so, uncle? He is bent on going!" "I would rather not see him! There is no occasion. It will be a greatrelief to me when he is able--quite able, I mean--to go home to hismother--or where it may suit him best." It was indeed like death to hear my uncle talk so differently about John.What had he done to be treated in this way--taken up and made a friendof, and then cast off without reason given! My dear uncle was not at alllike himself! To say he forgot our trouble and danger, and never camenear us in our sore peril, when we owed our deliverance to him! and nowto speak like this concerning John! Something was terribly wrong withhim! I dared hardly think what it could be. I stood speechless. My uncle opened the door, and went down the steps. The sound of his feetalong the corridor and down the stair to the kitchen, died away in myears. My life seemed to go ebbing with it. I was stranded on a desertshore, and he in whom I had trusted was leaving me there! I came to myself a little, got the two five-pound-notes, and returned toJohn. When I reached the door of the room, I found my heart in my throat, andmy brains upside down. What was I to say to him? How could I let him goaway so late? and how could I let him stay where his departure would be arelief? Even I would have him gone from where he was not wanted! I saw,however, that my uncle must not have John's death at his door--that Imust persuade him to stay the night. I went in, and gave him the notes,but begged him, for my love, to go to bed. In the morning, I said, Iwould drive him to the station. He yielded with difficulty--but with how little suspicion that all thetime I wished him gone! I went to bed only to lie listening for myuncle's return. It was long past midnight ere he came. In the morning I sent Penny to order the phaeton, and then ran to myuncle's room, in the hope he would want to see John before he left: I wasnot sure he had realized that he was going. He was neither in his bed-room nor in the study. I went to the stable.Dick was putting the horse to the phaeton. He told me he had heard hismaster, two hours before, saddle Thanatos, and ride away. This made meyet more anxious about him. He did not often ride out early--seldomindeed after coming home late! Things seemed to threaten complication! John looked so much better, and was so eager after the projectedinterview with his lawyer, that I felt comforted concerning him. I didnot tell him what my uncle had said the night before. It would, I felt,be wrong to mention what my uncle might wish forgotten; and as I did notknow what he meant, it could serve no end. We parted at the station verymuch as if we had been married half a century, and I returned home tobrood over the strange things that had happened. But before long I foundmyself in a weltering swamp of futile speculation, and turned my thoughtsperforce into other channels, lest I should lose the power of thinking,and be drowned in reverie: my uncle had taught me that reverie is Phaetonin the chariot of Apollo. The weary hours passed, and my uncle did not come. I had never beforebeen really uneasy at his longest absence; but now I was far more anxiousabout him than about John. Alas, through me fresh trouble had befallen myuncle as well as John! When the night came, I went to bed, for I was verytired: I must keep myself strong, for something unfriendly was on itsway, and I must be able to meet it! I knew well I should not sleep untilI heard the sounds of his arrival: those came about one o'clock, and in amoment I was dreaming. In my dream I was still awake, and still watching for my uncle's return.I heard the sound of Death's hoofs, not on the stones of the yard, but onthe gravel before the house, and coming round the house till under mywindow. There he stopped, and I heard my uncle call to me to come down:he wanted me. In my dream I was a child; I sprang out of bed, ran fromthe house on my bare feet, jumped into his down-stretched arms, and wasin a moment seated in front of him. Death gave a great plunge, and wentoff like the wind, cleared the gate in a flying stride, and rushed upthe hill to the heath. The wind was blowing behind us furiously: I couldhear it roaring, but did not feel it, for it could not overtake us; weout-stripped and kept ahead of it; if for a moment we slackened speed, itfell upon us raging. We came at length to the pool near the heart of the heath, and I wonderedthat, at the speed we were making, we had been such a time in reachingit. It was the dismalest spot, with its crumbling peaty banks, and itswater brown as tea. Tradition declared it had no bottom--went down intonowhere. "Here," said my uncle, bringing his horse to a sudden halt, "we had aterrible battle once, Death and I, with the worm that lives in this hole.You know what worm it is, do you not?" I had heard of the worm, and any time I happened, in galloping about theheath, to find myself near the pool, the thought would always come backwith a fresh shudder--what if the legend were a true one, and the wormwas down there biding his time! but anything more about the worm I hadnever heard. "No, uncle," I answered; "I don't know what worm it is." "Ah," he answered, with a sigh, "if you do not take the more care, littleone, you will some day learn, not what the worm is called, but what itis! The worm that lives there, is the worm that never dies." I gave a shriek; I had never heard of the horrible creature before--so itseemed in my dream. To think of its being so near us, and never dying,was too terrible. "Don't be frightened, little one," he said, pressing me closer to hisbosom. "Death and I killed it. Come with me to the other side, and youwill see it lying there, stiff and stark." "But, uncle," I said, "how can it be dead--how can you have killed it, ifit never dies?" "Ah, that is the mystery!" he returned. "But come and see. It was a terrible fight. I never had such a fight--ordear old Death either. But she's dead now! It was worth living for, tomake away with such a monster!" We rode round the pool, cautiously because of the crumbling banks, to seethe worm lie dead. On and on we rode. I began to think we must haveridden many times round the hole. "I wonder where it can be, uncle!" I said at length. "We shall come to it very soon," he answered. "But," I said, "mayn't we have ridden past it without seeing it?" He laughed a loud and terrible laugh. "When once you have seen it, little one," he replied, "you too will laughat the notion of having ridden past it without seeing it. The worm thatnever dies is hardly a thing to escape notice!" We rode on and on. All at once my uncle threw up his hands, dropping thereins, and with a fearful cry covered his face. "It is gone! I have not killed it! No, I have not! It is here! it ishere!" he cried, pressing his hand to his heart. "It is here, and it washere all the time I thought it dead! What will become of me! I am lost,lost!" At the word, old Death gave a scream, and laying himself out, flew withall the might of his swift limbs to get away from the place. But thewind, which was behind us as we came, now stormed in our faces; andpresently I saw we should never reach home, for, with all Death's fierceendeavour, we moved but an inch or two in the minute, and that with akilling struggle. "Little one," said my uncle, "if you don't get down we shall all be lost.I feel the worm rising. It is your weight that keeps poor Death frommaking any progress." I turned my head, leaning past my uncle, so as to see behind him. A longneck, surmounted by a head of indescribable horror, was slowly risingstraight up out of the middle of the pool. It should not catch them! Islid down by my uncle's leg. The moment I touched the ground and let go,away went Death, and in an instant was out of sight. I was not afraid. Myheart was lifted up with the thought that I was going to die for my uncleand old Death. The red worm was on the bank. It was crawling toward me. Iwent to meet it. It sprang from the ground, threw itself upon me, andtwisted itself about me. It was a human embrace, the embrace of some oneunknown that loved me! I awoke and left the dream. But the dream never left me.    CHAPTER XXVI.  THE EVIL DRAWS NIGHER. I rose early, and went to my uncle's room. He was awake, but complainedof headache. I took him a cup of tea, and at his request left him. About noon Martha brought me a letter where I sat alone in thedrawing-room. I carried it to my uncle. He took it with a trembling hand,read it, and fell back with his eyes closed. I ran for brandy. "Don't be frightened, little one," he called after me. "I don't wantanything." "Won't you tell me what is the matter, uncle?" I said, returning. "Is itnecessary I should be kept ignorant?" "Not at all, my little one." "Don't you think, uncle," I dared to continue, forgetting in my love alldifference of years, "that, whatever it be that troubles us, it must bebetter those who love us should know it? Is there some good in a secretafter all?" "None, my darling," he answered. "The thing that made me talk to you soagainst secrets when you were a child, was, that I had one myself--onethat was, and is, eating the heart out of me. But that woman shall notknow and you be ignorant! I will not have a secret with _her!_--Leave menow, please, little one." I rose at once. "May I take the letter with me, uncle?" I asked. He rubbed his forehead with a still trembling hand. The trembling of thatbeloved hand filled me with such a divine sense of pity, that for thefirst time I seemed to know God, causing in me that consciousness! Thewhole human mother was roused in me for my uncle. I would die, I wouldkill to save him! The worm was welcome to swallow me! My very being was awell of loving pity, pouring itself out over that trembling hand. He took up the letter, gave it to me, and turned his face away with agroan. I left the room in strange exaltation--the exaltation of merestlove. I went to the study, and there read the hateful letter. Here it is. Having transcribed it, I shall destroy it. "Sir,--For one who persists in coming between a woman and her son, whowill blame the mother if she cast aside forbearance! I would have sparedyou as hitherto; I will spare you no longer. You little thought when youcrossed me who I was--the one in the world in whose power you lay! Iwould perish ever-lastingly rather than permit one of my blood to marryone of yours. My words are strong; you are welcome to call themunladylike; but you shall not doubt what I mean. You know perfectly that,if I denounce you as a murderer, I can prove what I say; and as to mysilence for so many years, I am able thoroughly to account for it. Ishall give you no further warning. You know where my son is: if he is notin my house within two days, I shall have you arrested. _I have made upmy mind._ "Lucretia Cairnedge. "Rising-Manor, July 15, 18--." "Whoever be the father, she's the mother of lies!" I exclaimed.--"Myuncle--the best and gentlest of men, a murderer!" I laughed aloud in my indignation and wrath. But, though the woman was a liar, she must have something to say with ashow of truth! How else would she dare intimidation with such a man? Howelse could her threat have so wrought upon my uncle? What did she know,or imagine she knew? What could be the something on which she founded herlie?--That my uncle was going to tell me, nor did I dread hearing hisstory. No revelation would lower him in my eyes! Of that I was confident.But I little thought how long it would be before it came, or what aterrible tale it would prove. I ran down the stair with the vile paper in my hand. "The wicked woman!" I cried. "If she _be_ John's mother, I don't care:she's a devil and a liar!" "Hush, hush, little one!" said my uncle, with a smile in which thesadness seemed to intensify the sweetness; "you do not _know_ anythingagainst her! You do not _know_ she is a liar!" "There are things, uncle, one knows without knowing!" "What if I said she told no lie?" "I should say she was a liar although she told no lie. My uncle is notwhat she threatens to say he is!" "But men have repented, and grown so different you would not know them:how can you tell it has not been so with me? I may have been a bad manonce, and grown better!" "I know you are trying to prepare me for what you think will be a shock,uncle!" I answered; "but I want no preparing. Out with your worst! I defyyou!" Ah me, confident! But I had not to repent of my confidence! My uncle gave a great sigh. He looked as if there was nothing for him nowbut tell all. Evidently he shrank from the task. He put his hand over his eyes, and said slowly,-- "You belong to a world, little one, of which you know next to nothing.More than Satan have fallen as lightning from heaven!" He lay silent so long that I was constrained to speak again. "Well, uncle dear," I said, "are you not going to tell me?" "I cannot," he answered. There was absolute silence for, I should think, about twenty minutes. Icould not and would not urge him to speak. What right had I to rouse akilling effort! He was not bound to tell _me_ anything! But I mourned theimpossibility of doing my best for him, poor as that best might be. "Do not think, my darling," he said at last, and laid his hand on my headas I knelt beside him, "that I have the least difficulty in trusting you;it is only in telling you. I would trust you with my eternal soul. Youcan see well enough there is something terrible to tell, for would I nototherwise laugh to scorn the threat of that bad woman? No one on theearth has so little right to say what she knows of me. Yet I do share asecret with her which feels as if it would burst my heart. I wish itwould. That would open the one way out of all my trouble. Believe me,little one, if any ever needed God, I need him. I need the pardon thatgoes hand in hand with righteous judgment, the pardon of him who alonecan make lawful excuse." "May God be your judge, uncle, and neither man nor woman!" "I do not think _you_ would altogether condemn me, little one, much as Iloathe myself--terribly as I deserve condemnation." "Condemn you, uncle! I want to know all, just to show you that nothingcan make the least difference. If you were as bad as that bad woman says,you should find there was one of your own blood who knew what love meant.But I know you are good, uncle, whatever you may have done." "Little one, you comfort me," sighed my uncle. "I cannot tell you thisthing, for when I had told it, I should want to kill myself more thanever. But neither can I bear that you should not know it. I will _not_have a secret with that woman! I have always intended to tell youeverything. I have the whole fearful story set down for your eyes--andthose of any you may wish to see it: I cannot speak the words into yourears. The paper I will give you now; but you will not open it until Igive you leave." "Certainly not, uncle." "If I should die before you have read it, I permit and desire you to readit. I know your loyalty so well, that I believe you would not look at iteven after my death, if I had not given you permission. There are thosewho treat the dead as if they had no more rights of any kind. 'Get awayto Hades,' they say; 'you are nothing now.' But you will not behave so toyour uncle, little one! When the time comes for you to read my story,remember that I _now_, in preparation for the knowledge that will giveyou, ask you to pardon me _then_ for all the pain it will cause you andyour husband--John being that husband. I have tried to do my best foryou, Orbie: how much better I might have done had I had a clearconscience, God only knows. It may be that I was the tenderer uncle thatI could not be a better one." He hid his face in his hands, and burst into a tempest of weeping. It was terrible to see the man to whom I had all my life looked with areverence that prepared me for knowing the great father, weeping like abitterly repentant and self-abhorrent child. It seemed sacrilege to bepresent. I felt as if my eyes, only for seeing him thus, deserved theravens to pick them out. I could not contain myself. I rose and threw my arms about him, got closeto him as a child to her mother, and, as soon as the passion of my lovewould let me, sobbed out, "Uncle! darling uncle! I love you more than ever! I did not know beforethat I could love so much! I could _kill_ that woman with my own hands! Iwish I had killed her when I pulled her down that day! It is right tokill poisonous creatures: she is worse than any snake!" He smiled a sad little smile, and shook his head. Then first I seemed tounderstand a little. A dull flash went through me. I stood up, drew back, and gazed at him. My eyes fixed themselves on his.I stared into them. He had ceased to weep, and lay regarding me with calmresponse. "You don't mean, uncle,--?" "Yes, little one, I do. That woman was the cause of the action for whichshe threatens to denounce me as a murderer. I do not say she intended tobring it about; but none the less was she the consciously wicked andwilful cause of it.--And you will marry her son, and be her daughter!" headded, with a groan as of one in unutterable despair. I sprang back from him. My very proximity was a pollution to him while hebelieved such a thing of me! "Never, uncle, never!" I cried. "How can you think so ill of one wholoves you as I do! I will denounce _her!_ She will be hanged, and weshall be at peace!" "And John?" said my uncle. "John must look after himself!" I answered fiercely. "Because he choosesto have such a mother, am I to bring her a hair's-breadth nearer to myuncle! Not for any man that ever was born! John must discard his mother,or he and I are as we were! A mother! She is a hyena, a shark, a monster!Uncle, she is a _devil!_--I don't care! It is true; and what is true isthe right thing to say. I will go to her, and tell her to her face whatshe is!" I turned and made for the door. My heart felt as big as the biggestman's. "If she kill you, little one," said my uncle quietly, "I shall be leftwith nobody to take care of me!" I burst into fresh tears. I saw that I was a fool, and could do nothing. "Poor John!--To have such a mother!" I sobbed. Then in a rage ofrebellion I cried, "I don't believe she _is_ his mother! Is it possiblenow, uncle--does it stand to reason, that such a pestilence of a womanshould ever have borne such a child as my John? I don't, I can't, I won'tbelieve it!" "I am afraid there are mysteries in the world quite as hard to explain!"replied my uncle. "I confess, if I had known who was his mother, I should have been farfrom ready to yield my consent to your engagement." "What does it matter?" I said. "Of course I shall not marry him!" "Not marry him, child!" returned my uncle. "What are you thinking of? Isthe poor fellow to suffer for, as well as by the sins of his mother?" "If you think, uncle, that I will bring you into any kind of relationwith that horrible woman, if the worst of it were only that you wouldhave to see her once because she was my husband's mother, you aremistaken. She to threaten you if you did not send back her son, as ifJohn were a horse you had stolen! You have been the angel of God about meall the days of my life, but even to please you, I cannot consent todespise myself. Besides, you know what she threatens!" "She shall not hurt me. I will take care of myself for your sakes. Yourlife shall not be clouded by scandal about your uncle." "How are you to prevent it, uncle dear? Fulfil her threat or not, shewould be sure to talk!" "When she sees it can serve no purpose, she will hardly risk reprisals." "She will certainly not risk them when she finds we have said good-bye." "But how would that serve me, little one? What! would you heap on youruncle's conscience, already overburdened, the misery of keeping twolovely lovers apart? I will tell you what I have resolved upon. I willhave no more secrets from you, Orba. Oh, how I thank you, dearest, fornot casting me off!" Again I threw myself on my knees by his bed. "Uncle," I cried, my heart ready to break with the effort to show itself,"if I did not now love you more than ever, I should deserve to be castout, and trodden under foot!--What do you think of doing?" "I shall leave the country, not to return while the woman lives." "I'm ready, uncle," I said, springing to my feet; "--at least I shall bein a few minutes!" "But hear me out, little one," he rejoined, with a smile of genuinepleasure; "you don't know half my plan yet. How am I to live abroad, ifmy property go to rack and ruin? Listen, and don't say anything till Ihave done; I have no time to lose; I must get up at once.--As soon as Iam on board at Dover for Paris, you and John must get yourselves marriedthe first possible moment, and settle down here--to make the best of thefarm you can, and send me what you can spare. I shall not want much, andJohn will have his own soon. I know you will be good to Martha!" "John may take the farm if he will. It would be immeasurably better thanliving with his mother. For me, I am going with my uncle. Why, uncle, Ishould be miserable in John's very arms and you out of the country forour sakes! Is there to be nobody in the world but husbands, forsooth! Ishould love John ever so much more away with you and my duty, than if Ihad him with me, and you a wanderer. How happy I shall be, thinking ofJohn, and taking care of you!" He let me run on. When I stopped at length-- "In any case," he said with a smile, "we cannot do much till I amdressed!"    CHAPTER XXVII.  AN ENCOUNTER. I left my uncle's room, and went to my own, to make what preparation Icould for going abroad with him. I got out my biggest box, and put in allmy best things, and all the trifles I thought I could not do without.Then, as there was room, I put in things I could do without, which yetwould be useful. Still there was room; the content would shake about onthe continent! So I began to put in things I should like to have, butwhich were neither necessary nor useful. Before I had got these in, thebox was more than full, and some of them had to be taken out again. Inchoosing which were to go and which to be left, I lost time; but I didnot know anything about the trains, and expected to be ready before myuncle, who would call me when he thought fit. My thoughts also hindered my hands. Very likely I should never marryJohn; I would not heed that; he would be mine all the same! but topromise that I would not marry him, because it suited such a mother'splans to marry him to some one else--that I would not do to save my life!I would have done it to save my uncle's, but our exile would render itunnecessary! At last I was ready, and went to find my uncle, reproaching myself that Ihad been so long away from him. Besides, I ought to have been helping himto pack, for neither he nor his arm was quite strong yet. With a heartfulof apology, I sought his room. He was not there. Neither was he in thestudy. I went all over the house, and then to the stable; but he wasnowhere, neither had anyone seen him. And Death was gone too! The truth burst upon me: I was to see him no more while that terriblewoman lived! No one was to know whither he had gone! He had given himselffor my happiness! Vain intention! I should never be happy! To be inParadise without him, would not be to be in Heaven! John was in London; I could do nothing! I threw myself on my uncle's bed,and lay lost in despair! Even if John were with me, and we found him,what could we do? I knew it now as impossible for him to separate us thathe might be unmolested, as it was for us to accept the sacrifice of hislife that we might be happy. I knew that John's way would be to leaveeverything and go with me and my uncle, only we could not live uponnothing--least of all in a strange land! Martha, to be sure, could managewell enough with the bailiff, but John could not burden my uncle, andcould not lay his hands on his own! In the mean time my uncle was gone weknew not whither! I was like one lost on the dark mountains.--If onlyJohn would come to take part in my despair! With a sudden agony, I reproached myself that I had made no attempt toovertake my uncle. It was true I did not know, for nobody could tell me,in what direction he had gone; but Zoe's instinct might have sufficedwhere mine was useless! Zoe might have followed and found Thanatos! Itwas hopeless now! But I could no longer be still. I got Zoe, and fled to the moor. All therest of the day I rode hither and thither, nor saw a single soul on itswide expanse. The very life seemed to have gone out of it. When most wetake comfort in loneliness, it is because there is some one behind it. The sun was set and the twilight deepening toward night when I turned toride home. I had eaten nothing since breakfast, and though not hungry,was thoroughly tired. Through the great dark hush, where was no sound ofwater, though here and there, like lurking live thing, it lay about me, Irode slowly back. My fasting and the dusk made everything in turn take ashape that was not its own. I seemed to be haunted by things unknown. Ihave sometimes thought whether the spirits that love solitary places, maynot delight in appropriating, for embodiment momentary and partial, sucha present shape as may happen to fit one of their passing moods; whetherit is always the _mere_ gnarled, crone-like hawthorn, or misshapen rock,that, between the wanderer and the pale sky, suddenly appals him with thesense of _another_. The hawthorn, the rock, the dead pine, is indeedthere, but is it alone there? Some such thought was, I remember, in my mind, when, about halfway fromhome, I grew aware of something a little way in front that rose betweenme and a dark part of the sky. It seemed a figure on a huge horse. Myfirst thought, very naturally, was of my uncle; the next, of the greatgray horse and his rider that John and I had both seen on the moor. Iconfess to a little awe at the thought of the latter; but I am somehowmade so as to be capable of awe without terror, and of the latter I feltnothing. The composite figure drew nearer: it was a woman on horseback.Immediately I recalled the adventure of my childhood; and then rememberedthat John had said his mother always rode the biggest horse she couldfind: could that shape, towering in the half-dark before me, be indeed mydeadly enemy--she who, my uncle had warned me, would kill me if she hadthe chance? A fear far other than ghostly invaded me, and for a moment Ihesitated whether to ride on, or turn and make for some covert, until sheshould have passed from between me and my home. I hope it was somethingbetter than pride that made me hold on my way. If the wicked, I thought,flee when no man pursueth, it ill becomes the righteous to flee beforethe wicked. By this time it was all but dark night, and I had a vaguehope of passing unquestioned: there had been a good deal of rain, and wewere in a very marshy part of the heath, so that I did not care to leavethe track. But, just ere we met, the lady turned her great animal rightacross the way, and there made him stand. "Ah," thought I, "what could Zoe do in a race with that terrible horse!" He seemed made of the darkness, and rose like the figurehead of a frigateabove a yacht. "Show me the way to Rising," said his rider. The hard bell-voice was unmistakable. "When you come where the track forks," I began. She interrupted me. "How can I distinguish in the dark?" she returned angrily. "Go on before,and show me the way." Now I had good reason for thinking she knew the way perfectly well; andstill better reason for declining to go on in front of her. "You must excuse me," I said, "for it is time I were at home; but if youwill turn and ride on in front of me, I will show you a better, thoughrather longer way to Rising." "Go on, or I will ride you down" she cried, turning her horse's headtoward me, and making her whip hiss through the air. The sound of it so startled Zoe, that she sprang aside, and was off theroad a few yards before I could pull her up. Then I saw the woman urgingher horse to follow. I knew the danger she was in, and, though tempted tobe silent, called to her with a loud warning. "Mind what you are doing, lady Cairnedge!" I cried. "The ground here willnot carry the weight of a horse like yours." But as I spoke he gave in, and sprang across the ditch at the way-side.There, however, he stood. "You think to escape me," she answered, in a low, yet clear voice, with acat-like growl in it. "You make a mistake!" "Your ladyship will make a worse mistake if you follow me here," Ireplied. Her only rejoinder was a cut with her whip to her horse, which had stoodmotionless since taking his unwilling jump. I spoke to Zoe; she boundedoff like a fawn. I pulled her up, and looked back. Lady Cairnedge continued urging her horse. I heard and saw her whippinghim furiously. She had lost her temper. I warned her once more, but she persisted. "Then you must take the consequences!" I said; and Zoe and I made for theroad, but at a point nearer home. Had she not been in a passion, she would have seen that her better waywas to return to the road, and intercept us; but her anger blinded herboth to that and to the danger of the spot she was in. We had not gone far when we heard behind us the soft plunging and suckingof the big hoofs through the boggy ground. I looked over my shoulder.There was the huge bulk, like Wordsworth's peak, towering betwixt us andthe stars! "Go, Zoe!" I shrieked. She bounded away. The next moment, a cry came from the horse behind us,and I heard the woman say "Good God!" I stopped, and peered through thedark. I saw something, but it was no higher above the ground than myself.Terror seized me. I turned and rode back. "My stupid animal has bogged himself!" said lady Cairnedge quietly. Deep in the dark watery peat, as thick as porridge, her horse gave afruitless plunge or two, and sank lower. "For God's sake," I cried, "get off! Your weight is sinking the pooranimal! You will smother him!" "It will serve him right," she said venomously, and gave the helplesscreature a cut across the ears. "You will go down with him, if you do not make haste," I insisted. Another moment and she stood erect on the back of the slowly sinkinghorse. "Come and give me your hand," she cried. "You want to smother me with him! I think I will not," I answered. "Youcan get on the solid well enough. I will ride home and bring help foryour horse, poor fellow! Stay by him, talk to him, and keep him as quietas you can. If he go on struggling, nothing will save him." She replied with a contemptuous laugh. I got to the road as quickly as possible, and galloped home as fast asZoe could touch and lift. Ere I reached the stable-yard, I shouted so asto bring out all the men. When I told them a lady had her horse fast inthe bog, they bustled and coiled ropes, put collars and chains on fourdraught-horses, lighted several lanterns, and set out with me. I knew thespot perfectly. No moment was lost either in getting ready, or inreaching the place. Neither the lady nor her horse was to be seen. A great horror wrapt me round. I felt a murderess. She might have failedto spring to the bank of the hole for lack of the hand she had asked meto reach out! Or her habit might have been entangled, so that she fellshort, and went to the bottom--to be found, one day, hardly changed, bythe side of her peat-embalmed steed!--no ill fitting fate for her, but aghastly thing to have a hand in! She might, however, be on her way to Rising on foot! I told two of themen to mount a pair of the horses, and go with me on the chance ofrendering her assistance. We took the way to Rising, and had gone about two miles, when we saw her,through the starlight, walking steadily along the track. I rode up toher, and offered her one of the cart-horses: I would not have trusted myZoe with her any more than with an American lion that lives upon horses.She declined the proffer with quiet scorn. I offered her one or both mento see her home, but the way in which she refused their service, madethem glad they had not to go with her. We had no choice, therefore turnedand left her to get home as she might. Not until we were on the way back, did it occur to me that I had notasked Martha whether she knew anything about my uncle's departure. Shewas never one to volunteer news, and, besides, would naturally think mein his confidence! I found she knew nothing of our expedition, as no one had gone into thehouse--had only heard the horses and voices, and wondered. I was able totell her what had happened; but the moment I began to question her as toany knowledge of my uncle's intentions, my strength gave way, and I burstinto tears. "Don't be silly, Belorba!" cried Martha, almost severely. "You an engagedyoung lady, and tied so to your uncle's apron-strings that you cry theminute he's out of your sight! You didn't cry when Mr. Day left you!" "No," I answered; "he was going only for a day or two!" "And for how many is your uncle gone?" "That is what I want to know. He means to be away a long time, I fear." "Then it's nothing but your fancy sets you crying!--But I'll just see!"she returned. "I shall know by the money he left for the house-keeping!Only I won't budge till I see you eat." Faint for want of food, I had no appetite. But I began at once to eat,and she left me to fetch the money he had given her as he went. She came back with a pocket-book, opened it, and looked into it. Then shelooked at me. Her expression was of unmistakable dismay. I took thepocket-book from her hand: it was full of notes! I learned afterward, that it was his habit to have money in the house, inreadiness for some possible sudden need of it.    CHAPTER XXVIII.  ANOTHER VISION. That same night, within an hour, to my unspeakable relief, John camehome--at least he came to me, who he always said was his home. It wasrather late, but we went out to the wilderness, where I had a good cry onhis shoulder; after which I felt better, and hope began to show signs oflife in me. I never asked him how he had got on in London, but told himall that had happened since he went. It was worse than painful to tellhim about his mother's letter, and what my uncle told me in consequenceof it, also my personal adventure with her so lately; but I felt I musthide nothing. If a man's mother is a devil, it is well he should know it. He sat like a sleeping hurricane while I spoke, saying never a word. WhenI had ended,-- "Is that all?" he asked. "It is all, John: is it not enough?" I answered. "It is enough," he cried, with an oath that frightened me, and started tohis feet. The hurricane was awake. I threw my arms round him. "Where are you going?" I said. "To _her_" he answered. "What for?" "To _kill_ her," he said--then threw himself on the ground, and laymotionless at my feet. I kept silence. I thought with myself he was fighting the nature hismother had given him. He lay still for about two minutes, then quietly rose. "Good night, dearest!" he said; "--no; good-bye! It is not fit the son ofsuch a mother should marry any honest woman." "I beg your pardon, John!" I returned; "I hope _I_ may have a word in thematter! If I choose to marry you, what right have you to draw back? Letus leave alone the thing that has to be, and remember that my uncle mustnot be denounced as a murderer! Something must be done. That he is beyondpersonal danger for the present is something; but is he to be the talk ofthe country?" "No harm shall come to him," said John. "If I don't throttle the tigress,I'll muzzle her. I know how to deal with her. She has learned at least,that what her stupid son says, he does! I shall make her understand that,on her slightest movement to disgrace your uncle, I will marry you rightoff, come what may; and if she goes on, I shall get myself summoned forthe defence, that, if I can say nothing for _him_, I may say somethingagainst _her_. Besides, I will tell her that, when my time comes, if Ifind anything amiss with her accounts, I will give her no quarter.--But,Orbie," he continued, "as I will not threaten what I may not be able toperform, you must promise not to prevent me from carrying it out." "I promise," I said, "that, if it be necessary for your truth, I willmarry you at once. I only hope she may not already have taken steps!" "Her two days are not yet expired. I shall present myself in goodtime.--But I wonder you are not afraid to trust yourself alone with theson of such a mother!" "To be what I know you, John," I answered, "and the son of that woman,shows a good angel was not far off at your birth. But why talk of angels?Whoever was your mother, God is your father!" He made no reply beyond a loving pressure of my hand. Then he asked mewhether I could lend him something to ride home upon. I told him therewas an old horse the bailiff rode sometimes; I was very sorry he couldnot have Zoe: she had been out all day and was too tired! He said Zoe wasmuch too precious for a hulking fellow like him to ride, but he would beglad of the old horse. I went to the stable with him, and saw him mount. What a determined lookthere was on his face! He seemed quite a middle-aged man. I have now to tell how he fared on the moor as he rode. It had turned gusty and rather cold, and was still a dark night. The moonwould be up by and by however, and giving light enough, he thought,before he came to the spot where his way parted company with that toDumbleton. The moon, however, did not see fit to rise so soon as Johnexpected her: he was not at that time quite _up_ in moons, any more thanin the paths across that moor. Now as he had not an idea where his rider wanted to be carried, and asJohn did for a while--he confessed it--fall into a reverie or somethingworse, old Sturdy had to choose for himself where to go, and took a pathhe had often had to take some years before; nor did John discover that hewas out of the way, until he felt him going steep clown, and thought ofSleipner bearing Hermod to the realm of Hela. But he let him keep on,wishing to know, as he said, what the old fellow was up to. Presently, hecame to a dead halt. John had not the least notion where they were, but I knew the spot themoment he began to describe it. By the removal of the peat on the side ofa slope, the skeleton of the hill had been a little exposed, and had fora good many years been blasted for building-stones. Nothing was going onin the quarry at present. Above, it was rather a dangerous place; therewas a legend of man and horse having fallen into it, and both beingkilled. John had never seen or heard of it. When his horse stopped, he became aware of an indefinite sensation whichinclined him to await the expected moon before attempting either toadvance or return. He thought afterward it might have been some feelingof the stone about him, but at the time he took the place for an abruptnatural dip of the surface of the moor, in the bottom of which might be apool. Sturdy stood as still as if he had been part of the quarry, stoodas if never of himself would he move again. The light slowly grew, or rather, the darkness slowly thinned. All atonce John became aware that, some yards away from him, there wassomething whitish. A moment, and it began to move like a flitting mistthrough the darkness. The same instant Sturdy began to pull his feet fromthe ground, and move after the mist, which rose and rose until it camefor a second or two between John and the sky: it was a big white horse,with my uncle on his back: Death and he, John concluded, were out on oneof their dark wanderings! His impulse, of course, was to follow them.But, as they went up the steep way, Sturdy came down on his old knees,and John got off his back to let him recover himself the easier. Whenthey reached the level, where the moon, showing a blunt horn above thehorizon, made it possible to see a little, the white horse and his riderhad disappeared--in some shadow, or behind some knoll, I fancy; and John,having not the least notion in what part of the moor he was, or in whichdirection he ought to go, threw the reins on the horse's neck. Sturdybrought him back almost to his stable, before he knew where he was. Thenhe turned into the road, for he had had enough of the moor, and took thelong way home.    CHAPTER XXIX.  MOTHER AND SON. In the morning he breakfasted alone. A son with a different sort ofmother, might then have sought her in her bedroom; but John had neverwithin his memory seen his mother in her bedroom, and after what lie hadheard the night before, could hardly be inclined to go there to her now.Within half an hour, however, a message was brought him, requesting hispresence in her ladyship's dressing-room. He went with his teeth set. "Whose horse is that in the stable, John?" she said, the moment theireyes met. "Mr. Whichcote's, madam," answered John: _mother_ he could not say. "You intend to keep up your late relations with those persons?" "I do." "You mean to marry the hussy?" "I mean to marry the lady to whom you give that epithet. There are thosewho think it not quite safe for you to call other people names!" She rose and came at him as if she would strike him. John stoodmotionless. Except a woman had a knife in her hand, he said, he would noteven avoid a blow from her. "A woman can't hurt you much; she can onlybreak your heart!" he said. "My mother would not know a heart when shehad broken it!" he added. He stood and looked at her. She turned away, and sat down again. I think she felt the term of herpower at hand. "The man told you then, that, if you did not return immediately, I wouldget him into trouble?" "He has told me nothing. I have not seen him for some days. I have beento London." "You should have contrived your story better: you contradict yourself." "I am not aware that I do." "You have the man's horse!" "His horse is in my stable; he is not himself at home." "Fled from justice! It shall not avail him!" "It may avail you though, madam! It is sometimes prudent to let wellalone. May I not suggest that a hostile attempt on your part, might leadto awkward revelations?" "Ah, where could the seed of slander find fitter soil than the heart of ason with whom the prayer of his mother is powerless!" To all appearance she had thoroughly regained her composure, and lookedat him with a quite artistic reproach. "The prayer of a mother that never prayed in her life!" returned John;"--of a woman that never had an anxiety but for herself!--I don't believeyou are my mother. If I was born of you, there must have been somejuggling with my soul in antenatal regions! I disown you!" cried Johnwith indignation that grew as he gave it issue. Her face turned ashy white; but whether it was from conscience or fear,or only with rage, who could tell! She was silent for a moment. Then again recovering herself,-- "And what, pray, would you make of me?" she said coolly. "Your slave?" "I would have you an honest woman! I would die for that!--Oh, mother!mother!" he cried bitterly. "That being apparently impossible, what else does my dutiful son demandof his mother?" "That she should leave me unmolested in my choice of a wife. It does notseem to me an unreasonable demand!" "Nor does it seem to me an unreasonable reply, that any mother wouldobject to her son's marrying a girl whose father she could throw into afelon's-prison with a word!" "That the girl does not happen to be the daughter of the gentleman youmean, signifies nothing: I am very willing she should pass for such. Buttake care. He is ready to meet whatever you have to say. He is not gonefor his own sake, but to be out of the way of our happiness--to preventyou from blasting us with a public scandal. If you proceed in yourpurpose, we shall marry at once, and make your scheme futile." "How are you to live, pray?" "Madam, that is my business," answered John. "Are you aware of the penalty on your marrying without my consent?"pursued his mother. "I am not. I do not believe there is any such penalty." "You dare me?" "I do." "Marry, then, and take the consequences." "If there were any, you would not thus warn me of them." "John Day, you are no gentleman!" "I shall not ask your definition of a gentleman, madam." "Your father was a clown!" "If my father were present, he would show himself a gentleman by makingyou no answer. If you say a word more against him, I will leave theroom." "I tell you your father was a clown and a fool--like yourself!" John turned and went to the stable, had old Sturdy saddled, and came tome. On his way over the heath, he spent an hour trying to find the placewhere he had been the night before, but without success. I presume thatSturdy, with his nose in that direction, preferred his stall, and did notchoose to find the quarry. As often as John left him to himself, he wenthomeward. When John turned his head in another direction, he would setout in that direction, but gradually work round for the farm. John told me all I have just set down, and then we talked. "I have already begun to learn farming," I said. "You are the right sort, Orbie!" returned John. "I shall be glad to teachyou anything I know." "If you will show me how a farmer keeps his books," I answered, "that Imay understand the bailiff's, I shall be greatly obliged to you. As tothe dairy, and poultry-yard, and that kind of thing, Martha can teach meas well as any." "I'll do my best," said John. "Come along then, and have a talk with Simmons! I feel as if I could bearanything after what you saw last night. My uncle is not far off! He issomewhere about with the rest of the angels!"    CHAPTER XXX.  ONCE MORE, AND YET AGAIN. From that hour I set myself to look after my uncle's affairs. It was theonly way to endure his absence. Working for him, thinking what he wouldlike, trying to carry it out, referring every perplexity to him andimagining his answer, he grew so much dearer to me, that his absence wasfilled with hope. My heart being in it, I had soon learned enough of themanagement to perceive where, in more than one quarter, improvement,generally in the way of saving, was possible: I do not mean by anylowering of wages; my uncle would have conned me small thanks for suchimprovement as that! Neither was it long before I began to delight in thefeeling that I was in partnership with the powers of life; that I had todo with the operation and government and preservation of things created;that I was doing a work to which I was set by the Highest; that I was atleast a floor-sweeper in the house of God, a servant for the good of hisworld. Existence had grown fuller and richer; I had come, like a toad outof a rock, into a larger, therefore truer universe, in which I had workto do that was wanted. Had I not been thus expanded and strengthened, howshould I have patiently waited while hearing nothing of my uncle! It was not many days before John began to press me to let my uncle havehis way: where was the good any longer, he said, in our not beingmarried? But I could not endure the thought of being married without myuncle: it would not seem real marriage without his giving me to myhusband. And when John was convinced that I could not be prevailed upon,I found him think the more of me because of my resolve, and mypersistency in it. For John was always reasonable, and that is more thancan be said of most men. Some, indeed, who are reasonable enough withmen, are often unreasonable with women. If in course of time themanagement of affairs be taken from men and given to women--which may Godfor our sakes forbid--it will be because men have made it necessary bytheir arrogance. But when they have been kept down long enough to learnthat they are not the lords of creation one bit more than the weakestwoman, I hope they will be allowed to take the lead again, lest womenshould become what men were, and go strutting in their importance. Onlythe true man knows the true woman; only the true woman knows the trueman: the difficulty between men and women comes all from the prevailingselfishness, that is, untruth, of both. Who, while such is theircharacter, would be judge or divider between them, save one of their ownkind? When such ceases to be their character, they will call for noumpire. John lived in his own house with his mother, but they did not meet. Hismother managed his affairs, to whose advantage I need hardly say; andJohn helped me to manage my uncle's, to the advantage of all concerned.Every morning he came to see me, and every night rode back to his worsethan dreary home. At my earnest request, he had a strong bolt put on hisbedroom-door, the use of which he promised me never to neglect. At mysuggestion too, he let it be known that he had always a brace of loadedpistols within his reach, and showed himself well practiced in shootingwith them. I feared much for John. After I no longer only believed, but knew the bailiff trustworthy, andhad got some few points in his management bettered, I ceased giving somuch attention to details, and allowed myself more time to read and walkand ride with John. I laid myself out to make up to him, as much as everI could, for the miserable lack of any home-life. At Rising he had notthe least sense of comfort or even security. He could never tell what hismother might not be plotting against him. He had a very strong close boxmade for Leander, and always locked him up in it at night, never allowingone of the men there to touch him. The horse had all the attention anymaster could desire, when, having locked his box behind him, he broughthim over to us in the morning. One lovely, cold day, in the month of March, with ice on some of thepools, and the wind blowing from the north, I mounted Zoe to meet Johnmidway on the moor, and had gone about two-thirds of the distance, when Isaw him, as I thought, a long way to my right, and concluded he had notexpected me so soon, and had gone exploring. I turned aside therefore tojoin him; but had gone only a few yards when, from some shift in ashadow, or some change in his position with regard to the light, I sawthat the horse was not John's; it was a gray, or rather, a white horse.Could the rider be my uncle? Even at that distance I almost thought Irecognized him. It must indeed have been he John saw at the quarry! Hewas not gone abroad! He had been all this long time lingering about theplace, lest ill should befall us! "Just like him!" said my heart, as Igave Zoe the rein, and she sprang off at her best speed. But after ridingsome distance, I lost sight of the horseman, whoever he was, and then sawthat, if I did not turn at once, I should not keep my appointment withJohn. Of course had I _believed_ it was my uncle, I should have followedand followed; and the incident would not have been worth mentioning, forgray horses are not so uncommon that there might not be one upon theheath at any moment, but for something more I saw the same night. It was bright moonlight. I had taken down a curtain of my window to mend,and the moon shone in so that I could not sleep. My thoughts were allwith my uncle--wondering what he was about; whether he was very dull;whether he wanted me much; whether he was going about Paris, or hauntingthe moor that stretched far into the distance from where I lay. Perhapsat that moment he was out there in the moonlight, would be there alone,in the cold, wide night, while I slept! The thought made me feel lonelymyself: one is indeed apt to feel lonely when sleepless; and as the moonwas having a night of it, or rather making a day of it, all alone withherself, why should we not keep each other a little company? I rose, drewthe other curtain of my window aside, and looked out. I have said that the house lay on the slope of a hollow: from whicheverwindow of it you glanced, you saw the line of your private horizon eitherclose to you, or but a little way off. If you wanted an outlook, you mustclimb; and then you were on the moor. From my window I could see the more distant edge of the hollow: lookingthitherward, I saw against the sky the shape of a man on horseback. Notfor a moment could I doubt it was my uncle. The figure was plainly his.My heart seemed to stand still with awe, or was it with intensity ofgladness? Perhaps every night he was thus near me while I slept--aheavenly sentinel patrolling the house--the visible one of a whole campunseen, of horses of fire and chariots of fire. So entrancing was thenotion, that I stood there a little child, a mere incarnate love, thetears running down my checks for very bliss. But presently my mood changed: what had befallen him? When first I sawhim, horse and man were standing still, and I noted nothing strange,blinded perhaps by the tears of my gladness. But presently they moved on,keeping so to the horizon-line that it was plain my uncle's object was tohave the house full in view; and as thus they skirted the edge of heaven,oh, how changed he seemed! His tall figure hung bent over the pommel, hisneck drooped heavily. And the horse was so thin that I seemed to see,almost to feel his bones. Poor Thanatos! he looked tired to death, and Ifancied his bent knees quivering, each short slow step he took. Ah, howunlike the happy old horse that had been! I thought of Death returninghome weary from the slaughter of many kings, and cast the thought away. Ithought of Death returning home on the eve of the great dawn, worn withhis age-long work, pleased that at last it was over, and no more need ofhim: I kept that thought. Along the sky-line they held their slow way,toilsome through weakness, the rider with weary swing in the saddle, thehorse with long gray neck hanging low to his hoofs, as if picking hispath with purblind eyes. When his rider should collapse and fall from hisback, not a step further would he take, but stand there till he fell topieces! Fancy gave way to reality. I woke up, called myself hard names, andhurried on a few of my clothes. My blessed uncle out in the night andweary to dissolution, and I at a window, contemplating him like apicture! I was an evil, heartless brute! By the time I had my shoes on, and went again to the window, he hadpassed out of its range. I ran to one on the stair that looked at rightangles to mine: he had not yet come within its field. I stood and waited.Presently he appeared, crawling along, a gray mounted ghost, in the lightthat so strangely befits lovers wandering in the May of hope, and thewasted spectre no less, whose imagination of the past reveals him to theeyes of men. For an instant I almost wished him dead and at rest; thenext I was out of the house--then up on the moor, looking eagerly thisway and that, poised on the swift feet of love, ready to spring to hisbosom. How I longed to lead him to his own warm bed, and watch by him ashe slept, while the great father kept watch over every heart in hisuniverse. I gazed and gazed, but nowhere could I see the death-jadedhorseman. I bounded down the hill, through the wilderness and the dark alleys, andhurried to the stable. Trembling with haste I led Zoe out, sprang on herbare back, and darted off to scout the moor. Not a man or a horse or alive thing was to be seen in any direction! Once more I all but concludedI had looked on an apparition. Was my uncle dead? Had he come back thusto let me know? And was he now gone home indeed? Cold and disappointed, Ireturned to bed, full of the conviction that I had seen my uncle, butwhether in the body or out of the body, I could not tell. When John came, the notion of my having been out alone on the moor in themiddle of the night, did not please him. He would have me promise notagain, for any vision or apparition whatever, to leave the house withouthis company. But he could not persuade me. He asked what I would havedone, if, having overtaken the horseman, I had found neither my uncle norDeath. I told him I would have given Zoe the use of her heels, when_that_ horse would soon have seen the last of her. At the same time, hewas inclined to believe with me, that I had seen my uncle. His intendedproximity would account, he said, for his making no arrangement to hearfrom me; and if he continued to haunt the moor in such fashion, we couldnot fail to encounter him before long. In the meantime he thought it wellto show no sign of suspecting his neighbourhood. That I had seen my uncle, John was for a moment convinced when, the verynext day, having gone to Wittenage, he saw Thanatos carrying Dr.Southwell, my uncle's friend. On the other hand, Thanatos looked verymuch alive, and in lovely condition! The doctor would not confess toknowing anything about my uncle, and expressed wonder that he had not yetreturned, but said he did not mind how long he had the loan of such ahorse. Things went on as before for a while. John began again to press me to marry him. I think it was mainly,I am sure it was in part, that I might never again ride the midnightmoor--"like a witch out on her own mischievous hook," as he had oncesaid. He knew that, if I caught sight of anything like my uncle anywhere,John or no John, I would go after it. There was another good reason, however, besides the absence of my uncle,for our not marrying: John was not yet of legal age, and who could tellwhat might not lurk in his mother's threat! Who could tell what such awoman might not have prevailed on her husband to set down in his will! Iwas ready enough to marry a poor man, but I was not ready to let my loverbecome a poor man by marrying me a few months sooner. Were we not happyenough, seeing each other everyday, and mostly all day long? No doubtpeople talked, but why not let them talk? The mind of the many is not themind of God! As to society, John called it an oyster of a divinity. Heargued, however, that probably my uncle was keeping close until he saw usmarried. I answered that, if we were married, his mother would only bethe more eager to have her revenge on us all, and my uncle the morecareful of himself for our sakes. Anyhow, I said, I would not consent tobe happier than we were, until we found him. The greater happiness Iwould receive only from his hand.    CHAPTER XXXI.  MY UNCLE COMES HOME. Time went on, and it was now the depth of a cold, miserable winter. Iremember the day to which I have now come so well! It was a black day.There was such a thickness of snow in the air, that what light gotthrough had a lost look. It was almost more like a London fog than anhonest darkness of the atmosphere, bred in its own bounds. But while thelight lasted, the snow did not fall. I went about the house doing what Icould find to do, and wondering John did not come. His horse had again fallen lame--this time through an accident which madeit necessary for him to stay with the poor animal long after his usualtime of starting to come to me. When he did start, it was on foot, withthe short winter afternoon closing in. But he knew the moor by this timenearly as well as I did. It was quite dark when he drew near the house, which he generally enteredthrough the wilderness and the garden. The snow had begun at last, andwas coming down in deliberate earnest. It would lie feet deep over themoor before the morning! He was thinking what a dreary tramp home itwould be by the road--for the wind was threatening to wake, and in asnow-wind the moor was a place to be avoided--when he struck his footagainst something soft, in the path his own feet had worn to thewilderness, and fell over it. A groan followed, and John rose with themiserable feeling of having hurt some creature. Dropping on his knees todiscover what it was, he found a man almost covered with snow, and nearlyinsensible. He swept the snow off him, contrived to get him on his back,and brought him round to the door, for the fence would have been awkwardto cross with him. Just as I began to be really uneasy at his prolongedabsence, there he was, with a man on his back apparently lifeless! I did not stop to stare or question, but made haste to help him. Hisburden was slipping sideways, so we lowered it on a chair, and thencarried it between us into the kitchen, I holding the legs. The moment aray of light fell upon the face, I saw it was my uncle. I just saved myself from a scream. My heart stopped, then bumped as if itwould break through. I turned sick and cold. We laid him on the sofa, butI still held on to the legs; I was half unconscious. Martha set me on achair, and in a moment or two I came to myself, and was able to help her.She said never a word, but was quite collected, looking every now andthen in the face of her cousin with a doglike devotion, but neverstopping an instant to gaze. We got him some brandy first, then some hotmilk, and then some soup. He took a little of everything we offered him.We did not ask him a single question, but, the moment he revived, carriedhim up the stair, and laid him in bed. Once he cast his eyes about, andgave a sigh as of relief to find himself in his own room, then went offinto a light doze, which, broken with starts and half-wakings, lasteduntil next day about noon. Either John or Martha or I was by his bedsideall the time, so that he should not wake without seeing one of us nearhim. But the sad thing was, that, when he did wake, he did not seem to come tohimself. He never spoke, but just lay and looked out of his eyes, ifindeed it was more than his eyes that looked, if indeed _he_ looked outof them at all! "He has overdone his strength!" we said to each other. "He has not beentaking care of himself!--And then to have lain perhaps hours in the snow!It's a wonder he's alive!" "He's nothing but skin and bone!" said Martha. "It will take weeks to gethim up again!--And just look at his clothes! How ever did he come nighsuch! They're fit only for a beggar! They must have knocked him down andstripped him!--Look at his poor boots!" she said pitifully, taking up oneof them, and stroking it with her hand. "He'll never recover it!" "He will," I said. "Here are three of us to give him of our life! He'llsoon be himself again, now that we have him!" But my heart was like to break at the sad sight. I cannot put in wordswhat I felt. "He would get well much quicker," said John, "if only we could tell himwe were married!" "It will do just as well to invite him to the wedding," I answered. "I do hope he will give you away," said Martha. "He will never give me away," I returned; "but he will give me to John.And I will not have the wedding until he is able to do that." "You are right," said John. "And we mustn't ask him anything, or evenrefer to anything, till he wants to hear." Days went and came, and still he did not seem to know quite where he was;if he did know, he seemed so content with knowing it, that he did notwant to know anything more in heaven or earth. We grew very anxious abouthim. He did not heed a word that Dr. Southwell said. His mind seemed asexhausted as his body. The doctor justified John's resolve, saying hemust not be troubled with questions, or the least attempt to rouse hismemory. John was now almost constantly with us. One day I asked him whether hismother took any notice of his being now so seldom home at night. Heanswered she did not; and, but for being up to her ways, he would imagineshe knew nothing at all about his doings. "What does she do herself all day long?" I asked. "Goes over her books, I imagine," he answered. "She knows the hour is athand when she must render account of her stewardship, and I suppose sheis getting ready to meet it;--how, I would rather not conjecture. Shegives me no trouble now, and I have no wish to trouble her." "Have you no hope of ever being on filial terms with her again?" I said. "There can be few things more unlikely," he replied. I was a little troubled, notwithstanding my knowledge of her and myfeeling toward her, that he should regard a complete alienation from hismother with such indifference. I could not, however, balance the accountbetween them! If she had a strong claim in the sole fact that she was hismother, how much had she not injured him simply by not being lovable!Love unpaid is the worst possible debt; and to make it impossible to payit, is the worst of wrongs. But, oh, what a heart-oppression it was, that my uncle had returned sodifferent! We were glad to have him, but how gladly would we not have lethim go again to restore him to himself, even were it never more to restour eyes upon him in this world! Dearly as I loved John, it seemed as ifnothing could make me happy while my uncle remained as he was. It was akind of cold despair to know him such impassable miles from me. I couldnot get near him! I went about all day with a sense--not merely of loss,but of a loss that gnawed at me with a sickening pain. He never spoke. Henever said _little one_ to me now! he never looked in my eyes as if heloved me! He was very gentle, never complained, never even frowned, butlay there with a dead question in his eyes. We feared his mind wasutterly gone. By degrees his health returned, but apparently neither his memory, norhis interest in life. Yet he had a far-away look in his eyes, as if heremembered something, and started and turned at every opening of thedoor, as if he expected something. He took to wandering about the yardand the stable and the cow-house; would gaze for an hour at some animalin its stall; would watch the men threshing the corn, or twistingstraw-ropes. When Dr. Southwell sent back his horse, it was in great hopethat the sight of Death would wake him up; that he would recognize hisold companion, jump on his back, and be well again; but my uncle onlylooked at him with a faint admiration, went round him and examined him asif he were a horse he thought of buying, then turned away and left him.Death was troubled at his treatment of him. He on his part showed him allthe old attention, using every equine blandishment he knew; but havingmet with no response, he too turned slowly away, and walked to hisstable, Dr. Southwell would gladly have bought him, but neither John norI would hear of parting with him: he was almost a portion of his master!My uncle might come to himself any moment: how could we look him in theface if Death was gone from us! Besides, we loved the horse for his ownsake as well as my uncle's, and John would be but too glad to ride him! My uncle would wander over the house, up and down, but seemed to preferthe little drawing-room: I made it my special business to keep a goodfire there. He never went to the study; never opened the door in thechimney-corner. He very seldom spoke, and seldomer to me than to anyother. It _was_ a dreary time! Our very souls had longed for him back,and thus he came to us! Sorely I wept over the change that had passed upon the good man. He musthave received some terrible shock! It was just as if his mother, Johnsaid, had got hold of him, and put a knife in his heart! It was well,however, that he was not wandering about the heath, exposed to theelements! and there was yet time for many a good thing to come! Where one_must_ wait, one _can_ wait. John had to learn this, for, say what he would, the idea of marryingwhile my uncle remained in such plight, was to me unendurable.    CHAPTER XXXII.  TWICE TWO IS ONE. The spring came, but brought little change in the condition of my uncle.In the month of May, Dr. Southwell advised our taking him abroad. When weproposed it to him, he passed his hand wearily over his forehead, as ifhe felt something wrong there, and gave us no reply. We made ourpreparations, and when the day arrived, he did not object to go. We were an odd party: John and I, bachelor and spinster; my uncle, asilent, moody man, who did whatever we asked him; and the still,open-eyed Martha Moon, who, I sometimes think, understood more about itall than any of us. I could talk a little French, John a good deal ofGerman. When we got to Paris, we found my uncle considerably at homethere. When he cared to speak, he spoke like a native, and was never at aloss for word or phrase. It was he, indeed, who took us to a quiet little hotel he knew; and whenwe were comfortably settled in it, he began to take the lead in all ourplans. By degrees he assumed the care and guidance of the whole party;and so well did he carry out what he had silently, perhaps almostunconsciously undertaken, that we conceived the greatest hopes of theresult to himself. A mind might lie quiescent so long as it wasministered to, and hedged from cares and duties, but wake up whensomething was required of it! No one would have thought anything amisswith my uncle, that heard him giving his orders for the day, or actingcicerone to the little company--there for his sake, though he did notknow it. How often John and I looked at each other, and how glad were ourhearts! My uncle was fast coming to himself! It was like watching thedead grow alive. One day he proposed taking a carriage and a good pair of horses, anddriving to Versailles to see the palace. We agreed, and all went well. Ihad not, in my wildest dreams, imagined a place so grand and beautiful.We wandered about it for hours, and were just tired enough to beginthinking with pleasure of the start homeward, when we found ourselves ina very long, straight corridor. I was walking alone, a little ahead ofthe rest; my uncle was coming along next, but a good way behind me; a fewpaces behind my uncle, came John with Martha, to whom he was morescrupulously attentive than to myself. In front of me was a door, dividing the corridor in two, apparentlyfilled with plain plate-glass, to break the draught without obscuring theeffect of the great length of the corridor, which stretched away as faron the other side as we had come on this. I paused and stood aside,leaning against the wall to wait for my uncle, and gazing listlessly outof a window opposite me. But as my uncle came nearer to open the door forus, I happened to cast my eyes again upon it, and saw, as it seemed, myuncle coming in the opposite direction; whence I concluded of course,that I had made a mistake, and that what I had taken for a clear plate ofglass, was a mirror, reflecting the corridor behind me. I looked back atmy uncle with a little anxiety. My reader may remember that, when he cameto fetch me from Rising, the day after I was lost on the moor,encountering a mirror at unawares, he started and nearly fell: from thisoccurrence, and from the absence of mirrors about the house, I hadimagined in his life some painful story connected with a mirror. Once again I saw him start, and then stand like stone. Almost immediatelya marvellous light overspread his countenance, and with a cry he boundedforward. I looked again at the mirror, and there I saw the self-samelight-irradiated countenance coming straight, as was natural, to meetthat of which it was the reflection. Then all at once the solidfoundations of fact seemed to melt into vaporous dream, for as I saw thetwo figures come together, the one in the mirror, the other in the world,and was starting forward to prevent my uncle from shattering the mirrorand wounding himself, the figures fell into each other's arms, and Iheard two voices weeping and sobbing, as the substance and the shadowembraced. Two men had for a moment been deceived like myself: neither glass normirror was there--only the frame from which a swing-door had beenremoved. They walked each into the arms of the other, whom they had atfirst each taken for himself. They paused in their weeping, held each other at arm's-length, and gazedas in mute appeal for yet better assurance; then, smiling like two sunsfrom opposing rain-clouds, fell again each on the other's neck, and weptanew. Neither had killed the other! Neither had lost the other! The worldhad been a graveyard; it was a paradise! We stood aside in reverence. Martha Moon's eyes glowed, but shemanifested no surprise. John and I stared in utter bewilderment. The twoembraced each other, kissed and hugged and patted each other, wept andmurmured and laughed, then all at once, with one great sigh between them,grew aware of witnesses. They were too happy to blush, yet indeed theycould not have blushed, so red were they with the fire of heaven's owndelight. Utterly unembarrassed they turned toward us--and then came afresh astonishment, an old and new joy together out of the treasure ofthe divine house-holder: the uncle of the mirror, radiant with a joy suchas I had never before beheld upon human countenance, came straight to me,cried; "Ah, little one!" took me in his arms, and embraced me with allthe old tenderness. Then I knew that my own old uncle was the same asever I had known him, the same as when I used to go to sleep in his arms. The jubilation that followed, it is impossible for me to describe; and myhusband, who approves of all I have yet written, begs me not to attemptan adumbration of it. "It would be a pity," he says, "to end a won race with a tumble down atthe post!"    CHAPTER XXXIII.  HALF ONE IS ONE. I am going to give you the whole story, but not this moment; I want totalk a little first. I need not say that I had twin uncles. They were butone man to the world; to themselves only were they a veritable two. Theword _twin_ means one of two that once were one. To _twin_ means to_divide_, they tell me. The opposite action is, of _twain_ to make one.To me as well as the world, I believe, but for the close individualcontact of all my life with my uncle Edward, the two would have been butas one man. I hardly know that I felt any richer at first for having twouncles; it was long before I should have felt much poorer for the loss ofuncle Edmund. Uncle Edward was to me the substance of which uncle Edmundwas the shadow. But at length I learned to love him dearly throughperceiving how dearly my own uncle loved him. I loved the one because hewas what he was, the other because he was not that one. Creative Lovecommonly differentiates that it may unite; in the case of my uncles itseemed only to have divided that it might unite. I am hardly intelligibleto myself; in my mind at least I have got into a bog of confusedmetaphysics, out of which it is time I scrambled. What I would say isthis--that what made the world not care there should be two of them, madethe earth a heaven to those two. By their not being one, they were ableto love, and so were one. Like twin planets they revolved around eachother, and in a common orbit around God their sun. It was a beautifulthing to see how uncle Edmund revived and expanded in the light of hisbrother's presence, until he grew plainly himself. He had suffered morethan my own uncle, and had not had an orphan child to love and be lovedby. What a drive home that was! Paris, anywhere seemed home now! I had Johnand my uncles; John had me and my uncle; my uncles had each other; and Isuspect, if we could have looked into Martha, we should have seen thatshe, through her lovely unselfishness, possessed us all more than any oneof us another. Oh the outbursts of gladness on the way!--the talks!--thesilences! The past fell off like an ugly veil from the true face ofthings; the present was sunshine; the future a rosy cloud. When we reached our hotel, it was dinner-time, and John orderedchampagne. He and I were hungry as two happy children; the brothers atelittle, and scarcely drank. They were too full of each other to have roomfor any animal need. A strange solemnity crowned and dominated theirgladness. Each was to the other a Lazarus given back from the grave. Butto understand the depth of their rapture, you must know their story. Thatof Martha and Mary and Lazarus could not have equalled it but for thepresence of the Master, for neither sisters nor brother had done eachother any wrong. They looked to me like men walking in a luminous mist--amist of unspeakable suffering radiant with a joy as unspeakable--the verystuff to fashion into glorious dreams. When we drew round the fire, for the evenings were chilly, they laidtheir whole history open to us. What a tale it was! and what a telling ofit! My own uncle, Edward, was the principal narrator, but wasoccasionally helped out by my newer uncle, Edmund. I had the storyalready, my reader will remember, in my uncle's writing, at home: when wereturned I read it--not with the same absorption as if it had come first,but with as much interest, and certainly with the more thoroughcomprehension that I had listened to it before. That same written story Ishall presently give, supplemented by what, necessarily, my uncle Edmundhad to supply, and with some elucidation from the spoken narrative of myuncle Edward. As the story proceeded, overcome with the horror of the revelation Iforesaw, I forgot myself, and cried out-- "And that woman is John's mother!" "Whose mother?" asked uncle Edmund, with scornful curiosity. "John Day's," I answered. "It cannot be!" he cried, blazing up. "Are you sure of it?" "I have always been given so to understand," replied John for me; "but Iam by no means sure of it. I have doubted it a thousand times." "No wonder! Then we may go on! But, indeed, to believe you her son, wouldbe to doubt you! I _don't_ believe it." "You could not help doubting me!" responded John. "--I might be true,though, even if I were her son!" he added. "Ed," said Edmund to Edward, "let us lay our heads together!" "Ready Ed!" said Edward to Edmund. Thereupon they began comparing memories and recollections,--to find,however, that they had by no means data enough. One thing was clear tome--that nothing would be too bad for them to believe of her. "She would pick out the eye of a corpse if she thought a sovereign laybehind it!" said uncle Edmund. "To have the turning over of his rents,--" said uncle Edward, and checkedhimself. "Yes--it would be just one of her devil-tricks!" agreed uncle Edmund. "I beg your pardon, John," said uncle Edward, as if it were he that hadused the phrase, and uncle Edmund nodded to John, as if he had himselfmade the apology. John said nothing. His eyes looked wild with hope. He felt like one who,having been taught that he is a child of the devil, begins to know thatGod is his father--the one discovery worth making by son of man. Then, at my request, they went on with their story, which I hadinterrupted. When it was at length all poured out, and the last drops shaken from thememory of each, there fell a long silence, which my own uncle broke. "When shall we start, Ed?" he said. "To-morrow, Ed." "This business of John's must come first, Ed!" "It shall, Ed!" "You know where you were born, John?" "On my father's estate of Rubworth in Gloucestershire, I _believe_"answered John. "You must be prepared for the worst, you know!" "I am prepared. As Orba told me once, God is my father, whoever my mothermay be!" "That's right. Hold by that!" said my uncles, as with one breath. "Do you know the year you were born?" asked uncle Edmund. "My _mother_ says I was born in 1820." "You have not seen the entry?" "No. One does not naturally doubt such statements." "Assuredly not--until--" He paused. How uncle Edmund had regained his wits! And how young the brotherslooked! "You mean," said John, "until he has known my mother!" Now for the story of my twin uncles, mainly as written by my uncleEdward!    CHAPTER XXXIV.  THE STORY OF MY TWIN UNCLES. "My brother and I were marvellously like. Very few of our friends, noneof them with certainty, could name either of us apart--or even together.Only two persons knew absolutely which either of us was, and those twowere ourselves. Our mother certainly did not--at least without seeing oneor other of our backs. Even we ourselves have each made the blunderoccasionally of calling the other by the wrong name. Ourindistinguishableness was the source of ever-recurring mistake, ofconstant amusement, of frequent bewilderment, and sometimes of annoyancein the family. I once heard my father say to a friend, that God had nevermade two things alike, except his twins. We two enjoyed the fun of it somuch, that we did our best to increase the confusions resulting from ourresemblance. We did not lie, but we dodged and pretended, questioned andlooked mysterious, till I verily believe the person concerned, having inhimself so vague an idea of our individuality, not unfrequently forgotwhich he had blamed, or which he had wanted, and became hopelesslymuddled. "A man might well have started the question what good could lie in theexistence of a duality in which the appearance was, if not exactly, yetso nearly identical, that no one but my brother or myself could havepointed out definite differences; but it could have been started only byan outsider: my brother and I had no doubt concerning the advantage of aduality in which each was the other's double; the fact was to us a neverceasing source of delight. Each seemed to the other created such,expressly that he might love him as a special, individual property of hisown. It was as if the image of Narcissus had risen bodily out of thewatery mirror, to be what it had before but seemed. It was as if we hadbeen made two, that each might love himself, and yet not be selfish. "We were almost always together, but sometimes we got into individualscrapes, when--which will appear to some incredible--the one accusedalways accepted punishment without denial or subterfuge or attempt toperplex: it was all one which was the culprit, and which should be thesufferer. Nor did this indistinction work badly: that the other was justas likely to suffer as the doer of the wrong, wrought rather as adeterrent. The mode of behaviour may have had its origin in theinstinctive perception of the impossibility of proving innocence; but hadwe, loving as we did, been capable of truthfully accusing each other, Ithink we should have been capable of lying also. The delight of existencelay, embodied and objective to each, in the existence of the other. "At school we learned the same things, and only long after did anydifferences in taste begin to develop themselves. "Our brother, elder by five years, who would succeed to the property, hadthe education my father thought would best fit him for the management ofland. We twins were trained to be lawyer and doctor--I the doctor. "We went to college together, and shared the same rooms. "Having finished our separate courses, our father sent us to a Germanuniversity: he would not have us insular! "There we did not work hard, nor was hard work required of us. We wentout a good deal in the evenings, for the students that lived at home inthe town were hospitable. We seemed to be rather popular, owing probablyto our singular likeness, which we found was regarded as a seriousdisadvantage. The reason of this opinion we never could find, flatteringourselves indeed that what it typified gave us each double the base anddouble the strength. "We had all our friends in common. Every friend to one of us was a friendto both. If one met man or woman he was pleased with, he never resteduntil the other knew that man or woman also. Our delight in our friendsmust have been greater than that of other men, because of the constantsharing. "Our all but identity of form, our inseparability, our unanimity, and ourmutual devotion, were often, although we did not know it, a subject oftalk in the social gatherings of the place. It was more than once ortwice openly mooted--what, in the chances of life, would be likeliest tostrain the bond that united us. Not a few agreed that a terriblecatastrophe might almost be expected from what they considered such anunnatural relation. "I think you must already be able to foresee from what the firstdifference between us would arise: discord itself was rooted in the veryunison--for unison it was, not harmony--of our tastes and instincts; andwill now begin to understand why it was so difficult, indeed impossiblefor me, not to have a secret from my little one. "Among the persons we met in the home-circles of our fellow-students,appeared by and by an English lady--a young widow, they said, thoughlittle in her dress or carriage suggested widowhood. We met her again andagain. Each thought her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, butneither was much interested in her at first. Nor do I believe eitherwould, of himself, ever have been. Our likings and dislikings alwayshitherto had gone together, and, left to themselves, would have done soalways, I believe; whence it seems probable that, left to ourselves, weshould also have found, when required, a common strength of abnegation.But in the present case, our feelings were not left to themselves; thelady gave the initiative, and the dividing regard was born in the one,and had time to establish itself, ere the provoking influence was broughtto bear on the other. "Within the last few years I have had a visit from an old companion ofthe period. I daresay you will remember the German gentleman who amusedyou with the funny way in which he pronounced certain words--one of thetruest-hearted and truest-tongued men I have ever known: he gave me muchunexpected insight into the evil affair. He had learned certain thingsfrom a sister, the knowledge of which, old as the story they concerned bythat time was, chiefly moved his coming to England to find me. "One evening, he told me, when a number of the ladies we were in thehabit of meeting happened to be together without any gentleman pres