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event! How it looms up, dark, huge, funereal-like, away off in memory's far-stretching retrospect! What a lively recollection I yet have of looking, with tear-dimmed sight, throbbing head, and faint, shivering frame, into that greedy grave! And what a strange, morbid longing was that which, on that memorable occasion, I experienced! I actually longed to go down into that damp, and, abstractedly considered, dismal hole, and
I AM really a widow, aged sixty-five. Of course it is with me the evening of life I am thankful, however, to be able to add, that it is a calm and even balmy evening. I have many home comforts, and am not without pleasant memories and sustain-make my bed there, and sleep there, and die there, and ing hopes; I feel sometimes, nevertheless, a touch sad and lonely, most of my intimate friends and old com panions having left me to join the great but quiet congregation of the dead. When in this mood I find a melancholy interest-I suppose most people similarly circumstanced do-in wandering back to days long gone by, and living over again in thought portions of my history.
moulder there! It was more than a hallowed spot to me-it was a sacred treasure-house, for it had received a bosom-asylum, rocking arms, a mild, assuring face, more precious to my child and girlhood than aught or all the world contained. I can visit thee now, thou dire nece sity, and look on thy sunken stone, bordered with rank shooting grass, and read thy fast-fading inscription with a tempered, and even placid grief. But, oh, how different was it with me for years after that bereavement!
My existence for a while was purposeless. I couldn't think of aught that possessed for me any interest. What shall I do? I asked myself. Not live in solitary confinement most surely. Mother had advised me to attempt to continue the school; but the bare thought of working on all alone in the same house in which we had lived so happily was insupportable.
Of those portions there is one that has for my thoughts strong attractions. When they hasten, which often happens, into the past, they are sure to speed away until they come to this part of my life, when they will settle down, on or about it, just--so it appears to my imagination-as a flight of rooks drop from their airy pathway, and folding their flapping wings, splash with inky blackness the broad face of a meadow that tempts them with promise of a repast. I have often, and ardently, longed to give it to the reading public, but have been hindered One day a friend-a "business friend" that is-suggested to by conscious inability to put it into anything like a form that me a situation as nursery-governess. I liked the idea. A would be tolerated by a correct literary taste. Having met, cousin of his, fifty miles south, was in want of such an article; however, with a friend who has offered to edit it, that is, as II offered myself, was accepted, sold off, and went. I was pretty understand the engagement, to re-write my narrative, retain--just bearably-comfortable; but as the incidents which there ing, of course, intact, facts and facts only, and allowing me to occurred form no part of my story I will pass them by. address the reader in the first person, I have decided to yield to, the longing that has so repeatedly asserted itself, and permit to be published what I am wont in private to designate, "A Widow's Story."
In ei-hteen months I longed for a change, and resolved to realise one. I hankered to return into Yorkshire, a proof, I suppose, that my tastes were depraved. One day I experienced a rather singular desire, but, oh! how fruitful as to conseIquences! I believe the exciting cause was-and it shows that the apparently frivolous is by no means always uninfluentiala break in a somewhat leaden sky, and an unexpected burst of sunshine. It was an April morn, and I was busy with some accounts in my room. As I looked at the broad, flaming patch thrown on to the floor at my feet, and then at the changed aspect of nature without, a strong longing was kindled in my breast to spend a week in rambling, not to and fro in the earth exactly, but amongst the scenes and resorts of what I had begun In 1816 my mother died also. How vividly I remember the to denominate, with a patriarchal air Bomewhat premature,
In August, 1802-I can just recollect it-my father died. was in my sixth year. Mother was left with only two children. Edward would be, at this time, twenty at least. In a few weeks after the funeral we went to reside near a ising town in the West-Riding of Yorkshire, where she opened a select and rather remunerative school. My brother Edward went abroad in less than six months after our removal, and was never more seen by his anxious, pining parent. He has found a grave in India, I believe, poor man.
VOL. X.. No. 1-2
"olden times." I resolved to visit the place of my birth and my father's death, and also the town near to which my mother and I had resided. My plan included, of course, the dropping, to speak poetically, of a tear on my parents' grave.
On the 10th of May I bade adieu to Mr. Greave and mounted, with my luggage, a lumbering coach, the horses' heads of which were kept pointing, to my intense satisfaction, due Yorkshire. When we arrived at S, where I had to wait for another conveyance, I changed the name on my boxes. My real one I erased, and wrote on-suppose we say Bertha Bland? I would rather not give the name I substituted for my own; indeed, I must not do it. Of course I instructed my presence of mind rather solemnly, to be sure and answer promptly to either Bertha or Miss Bland. The cause of this little transaction was a desire to avoid exciting troublesome inquiries and an intrusive interest in my movements.
Arrived at a certain inn in a certain town-pretty vague, I guess I made arrangements for the safe custody of my luggage until such time as I might call or send for it, and started off on my tour. The sun had set when I reached the old church, that stood all alone, where rest my parents' remains. I sat down near the sacred spot and wept, of course. How still! how solemn; not a voice could I hear-not a human form did I see! Several birds flitted restlessly about, rather like, it appeared to my stupid fancy, alarmed citizens, hastening hither and thither to apprise one another of the arrival of a besieging foe, whilst three or four cows thrust their long, dull faces over the low fence, and watched with a gawky curiosity my movements. Poor beasts! I recollect wondering if ever they felt a crushing sense of loneliness.
This graveyard was within half a mile of my birthplace. I visited it; the few cottages were altered, and all the faces that looked out at me were strange. There was no promise of accommodation for the night, so I passed on to a small town about two miles further north. I will call it Grassland. It was then, and is now, an agricultural town, with little-very little of what is considered life by lovers of excitement. Not having any acquaintance in Grassland-that I was aware of, I sought out what had been represented to me as the most respectable inn in the town, the White Horse. Here I met with very respectiul treatment, and found-using the verb in what I consider a secondary sense--a good clean bed.
Being a touch tired and more than a touch comfortable, I didn't leave the White Horse for even a stroll, until about four in the afternoon of the following day. I then walked slowly through the main street of Grassland, after which I turned into a smooth footpath that wound along the margin of a narrow river. The sun happening to shine clearly at the time, and the river to glide and ripple along, as I suppose rivers-to please sentimental people-ought to do, and the fresh grass to be very liberal-prodigal, indeed, in respect to the article of fragrance, and there chancing to be a most opportune quiet, I sat down to feast, in my way, on these imponderable dainties.
I hadn't satisfied, far from it, the cravings of hunger, when a female form attracted my attention, and interrupted, I may say rendered me altogether unmindful of the rich repast. She was coming slowly along the footpath, her head bent a little forward and her eyes-so they appeared to me-fixed on the ground. She was rather slender, and as she approached, I concluded not beyond my own age. Soon as she descried me she halted; the discovery had shaken or in some way altered her purpose. She lifted up her head and glanced around: her hands were clasped before her, and held a small bunch of flowA dreamy sweetness was the prevailing expression of her round, pale face, whilst neatness and modesty were the characteristics of her simple attire. I felt a longing, a throbbing longing for her to come forward- my heart yearned, my arms moved to embrace her. She appeared lonely-I felt lonely, and I loved her partly, I suppose, because of this similarity in our condition.
She soon came to a decision-more, that decision favored my wishes, for it brought her to the stile near to which I sat. As she passed through, her large light blue eyes fastened on me in a rather disagreeably earnest, penetrating way; indeed, the way was so earnest and penetrating that I couldn't maintain my part of the mutual scrutiny-I yielded, and sought relief in the footpath at my feet. When I looked up again, she was
standing opposite me. Her manner was strange, and dashed by more freedom than I quite relished. This roused me, so I said respectfully,
"Beautiful day and spot, madam."
"Is it?" she promptly responded, in a tone suggestive of sharp curiosity. Her large, light-blue eyes were still on me, trying, as it were, to look through me.
"Yes," I said, rising from the grassy bank, "it is charming, and you think so, surely?"
"Think, think," she repeated, appearing to meditate. "Think-what do you like to think about?”
"What do I like to think about?" I answered, shaking out my dress in the hope of shaking off those eyes.
"Yes, you." She placed a hand on my shoulder and looked right into my face.
"Oh, lots of things!" I found it difficult to give her a summary just then.
Have you a mother?" she asked. "No."
"Oh, then, don't you think of her! and wouldn't you like to see her? Where's Canaan, lady? bright, beautiful Canaan !"' Her questions and observations came out with quite a rush. "Does the sun go there when he sets? My mother went to Canaan, long, long, years ago! Oh, I should like to see Canaan. I wonder"-she turned a placid, dreamy face towards the declining sun-" if he shines there when he has done here!" For a minute she was silent. Then, seizing my arm and pointing with her disengaged hand, she said, somewhat energetically,
"Oh, see! wouldn't you like to climb to the top of yon cloudmountain, so bright and round and warm, and sit there and find out what the sun does after dropping down behind that hill? And then to recline there all day long and sing that beautiful hymn of my mother's
"Yes, it is," I replied, not caring for more of her poetry. "How long is it since you lost your mother?''
"Since she went to Canaan? Let me see-twelve years, ay, twelve, and may be more. Will you look at her grave, sweet lady? Do come; I'm going thither. I visit it every day in summer, when I'm well."
It was a strange request, but the frank confidence it expressed won my heart; so I yielded to her gentle pressure, took her proffered arm and went.
In a shaded nook of the quiet churchyard she pointed out the
sacred spot, where rested her mother's hallowed dust. We sat | needed a nursery governess, but of course he must have referdown on the rankly-shooting grass, and, unsolicited, she spake ences. References! I shook my head in what appeared to him of home, her father and his family. I learnt that he was a very significant way. What was to be done? a widower, his second wife having died; that she had left him "Done? Order me from the house, and remember me as an three small children, that he was in independent if not affluent impostor only. Easy enough, isn't it?" circumstances, and that he was a kind, indulgent parent. Her manner of relating these particulars was odd, but I had not the shadow of a suspicion that she was otherwise than strictly truthful. When she had done, she claimed to know who and what I was. I told her.
Mr. Brown smiled. My independent playfulness amused and puzzled him.
"Not easy at all, madam. My daughter is already passionately fond of you, and, I must confess, for I would be frank, that I don't heartily loathe you."
"Thank you, sir," I replied.
"Then we are hard pressed by necessity, and that tyrant, you know, won't allow us to be very nice always. Some one we must have."
"Thank you again, sir."
Bella," he went on, turning to his daughter, "I believe this young lady, though without references, is not without common sense; so, if you will leave us a few minutes, I will attempt to engage her."
Bella bounced from the room, her face radiant with smiling joy.
"I shall esteem it," he resumed, throwing himself with an air of weariness on to a couch, "a real kindness, if you will come and reside with us on your own terms. Although unknown to me, I somehow have confidence in you; I ought,
"And a nursery governess, too, father," she went on, "and however, tɔ inform you, and I therefore do, that the situation wanting a situation also!"'
It was amusing to witness the wild and garrulous wonder with which those facts struck her. On some account she regarded them as quite a happy combination.
I rose, and in as polite a manner as I could command, acknowledged the presence of Bella's parent. It was clear that his predominating emotion was also one of surprise. I spake, and as he answered he assumed a most gentle and respectful bearing. He was tall, rather thin and dark. I judged him to be about fifty. He wore a blue coat with bright metal buttons: the whole of his apparel was rich as to material and sober, even grave, as to style. Indeed, there hovered about him, about every inch of him, an air of severe gravity, even of melancholy. The lines of his face had no appearance of ever having been worked by a fit of laughter. Sighs and sobs, not smiles, were what they seemed accustomed to express. "Wanting a situation is she, my dear?" "Yes; and oh! let-"
is a peculiar one, which is, perhaps, the reason why it is vacant. You will not, probably, meet with any unkindness; but I fear you will find me and my daughter such moping, miserable hermits, that existence under our roof will be to you unbearable. We each nurse a grief-hers is the loss of her mother; mine the loss of-I'll not say what. Once I was happy; now my life is a blighted thing; misery is my portion-a demon that never forsakes me. See what it has done! I'm not yet forty, indeed I'm not, and yet note how it has wrinkled this face, and sunk those eyes, and wasted this frame, once firm as the flesh of an ox, and plump as the form of a child. However, go on your way not heeding us, resolved to perform duty, and enjoy life. Let us now arrange details.''
Details were settled, I was introduced to the children, my boxes were sent for, and that day I entered on the work and responsibilities of nursery-governess.
The first three days were dull and monotonous. I saw little of Mr. Brown. Bella bovered about me in a flutter of excite"Allow me, please, Bella. I presume you are a stranger ment, but the staple of her talk was her mother and "bright, here," he observed, looking rather keenly at me. beautiful Canaan."
"In a way I am, sir, and in a way I'm not."
In the evening of the fourth day I made a discovery that
"What is your name?" his daughter asked, with her wonted varied slightly the even flow of my life-current. It was the promptitude and point.
"Bertha Bland, madam."
There, father, I like her name, and I like the lady herself. Do engage her."
"Perhaps, my dear, Miss Bland will not allow me to engage her. Recollect she has a voice in such a matter. Where are you staying?"
"At the White Horse."
"For how long?"
"Don't know; until I'm tired, I suppose. I'm merely wandering about to indulge in a humor."
"Let me see. Will you call on me to-morrow? Inquire for Solomon Brown; anybody will direct you."
fact that Miss Brown had a young and handsome suitor. The discovery was made in the garden, where I had joined her after seeing my little charge snugly deposited in their beds. I made another discovery, also, namely, that they were lovers having a most extraordinary modicum of passion. Their interview, which they insisted should be in my presence, was cold and formal. Mr. Littleton came, conversed and went away, like one attending to the merest details of a most insipid business.
"And do you," I asked, when he had left us, and we were reclining underneath the broad, drooping branches of a laburnum, "call this courting?"
"I've never," she replied, with a touch of testiness, "called it aught. If pressed to give it a name, I should very likely
I promised to do so, and after submitting to be fervently bestow on it the word 'nonsense.' kissed by the eccentric Bella, we parted.
CHAPTER II.A STRANGE DARKNESS.
WHEN alone in my room at the White Horse I regretted my promise. And yet I felt drawn, strangely so, towards Bella. In the morning I decided to call on Mr. Brown, and risk whatever consequences might issue therefrom.
I experienced no difficulty in finding Mr. Brown's residence. It appeared to me that he was both well known and respected. He lived in a large, substantial house, on the outskirts of the little town, amply furnished with garden and general appurtenances.
"Don't you like it?''
"Because I must, I suppose."
"Just so. And I court, I suppose, because I must. Certainly it is not because I prefer it. I don't enjoy aught, have no pleasure in aught, except in sitting with you, and watching the moon, and stars, and clouds, far, far away, up yonder! Oh, Bland!" she passionately exclaimed, throwing her arms around my neck, and pressing my cheek against her throbbing He and his daughter gave me audience in a lofty, well-fur-bosom, "I wish we were with my mother, in bright, beautiful nished apartment, whence I derived favorable impressions as to Canaan! I was my mother's darling. I was with her all alone his resources, tastes and manner of domestic life. He much up in yonder room when she died. I held her hand, and
watched the light die out of her eye, and her breath cease to come and go; and, oh! when she didn't talk, her spirit being so busy preparing to depart for Canaan, and naught was to be heard but her heavy breathing, it was so solemn-so solemn ! She told me it was Canaan she was going to, and bade me be good, and follow her. She used to sing so sweetly of Canaan, as she folded me in her arms when I was a child, and called me her pet lamb. I can feel her hot tears cn my face now, and the heaving of her bosom, on which my throbbing head was so often pillowed; and then there was that prayer, so strange to me, that always followed the evening lullaby, that we might not be parted in death. For some reason she didn't wish me to survive her. It wasn't that she feared father would be unkind. I'm sure it wasn't. He was always kind to me and mother. But somehow, she didn't think me able, without her. to cope with the world. I do not know why, but she didn't, and so wished to have me with her in Canaan, there, she said, I should be safe. Oh, how fond she was of Canaan! That morning-yes, that morning when she went away, she talked to me of its
Wide extended plain",
Where shines one eternal day;
And Christ, the Son, for ever reigns, And scatters night away.
I've been good ever since, I hope I have; but I cannot get to Canaan, the angels don't fetch me-they keep me waiting; but they will come. Sometimes, when the moon is round, and the wind high, and I can steal away to the chamber-father keeps it closed, he thinks fastened; but I can get in-then she comes to me, all in white, so thin and cold and airy, and beckons me to follow; but when I rise to do so, I lose her she somehow melts away, or else it's the cruel wall that hides her from my view, and when I look around there is naught to be seen but the ghostly shadows of these sprawling boughs against the windows, leaping and dancing in the moonlight on the floor. You shall see the room, Bertha; we'll go there some time when the moon shines brightly. They say I'm odd and queer at those times, and I note the children look wonderingly at me when I pass, and people seem as if they pitied me. It's because I fret and mourn, I suppose, for Canaan and my mother. You won't think me odd, will you? nor laugh at me, nor tease me, will you, Bertha?"
"No," I replied, meaning I would neither laugh at nor tease her. God knows I'd no inclination for such cruelty. I wouldn't promise, however, not to think her odd-I couldn't help so doing. Indeed, I thought the place altogether, and the whole business on which I'd entered, and all I'd seen, and nearly every word I'd heard, odd-odd in the extreme-so odd that I was bewildered. I found out, however, that she was not one of whom to ask explanations, so, feeling her shiver, as in her fondness she clung to me, I intimated we had better turn in. Like a little child she yielded, and when I had wiped the cold tears from her pale, sweet cheek, we joined Mr. Brown, at his request, in his room, and sat down to supper.
-Satan? Do you believe he's Satan? Is he the spirit of darkness clothed with flesh and blood? See! Isn't that eye an evil eye? Isn't that face a devil's mask?''
The stranger was furtively scanning the row of windows through one of which we were peering. That face a devil's mask? How queer I felt! That face!
"Oh!" she continued, her manner acquiring wild vehemence, as if his presence were a very furnace-blast to her excitement, "I abhor, I hate that piece of crawling blasphemy! The sight of his form, the sound of his voice, awaken within me a thousand demons. Why is it?"
"Yes," I replied, slightly moved (that face moved me), "why is it? Maybe your hatred is without sufficient cause, Bella." Why did I take his part?
"Cause!" she vociferated, "happen it is. nay, it isn't!"
"Has he ill-used you?"
Nay, it isn't
"Mean you has he scoffed at me, slighted me, spit at me?" "If you like I mean that."
"Then my answer is no! With me he has no dealings; would he had-would I might deal with him!"
"Then why your aversion, hussey?" I was hot-hot as she.
"Why? Isn't it enough that he nearly kills my father each time he visits him? It's slow murder! When he's been here -vampyre-the bed is unvisited and the meal untouched; long they whisper, but what they say never reaches me. Go listen, Bertha, do. See, they meet. Can't you hear father's sighs see the stranger's frown? They'll sit, and sit, and sit underneath that laburnum long hours after we're both abed.” They won't sit long hours to-night after I'm in bed," I replied, mentally. "I'll eavesdrop-that I will. Something's wrong here. Maybe there's that which ought to be found out and exposed. I'll judge." "Oh, I wish I were in Canaan !"
"I believe you, dear," I answered. "But you are not there yet, nor likely to be. You are in the world and in the body; so if you please we will descend and hunt up some supper, and banish our foolish fancies."
I proposed what I felt sure was an impossibility. I succeeded, however, in calming Miss Brown, and to my great surprise and satisfaction, I even prevailed on her to retire for the night.
"That is something," I observed to myself, with an air of triumph, as I crept back to the room where the foregoing dialogue was spoken. "Now I'm at liberty to watch alone; and I'm much mistaken if there isn't something to be discovered. Let me see-yes, you are there. I can only just descry you though, which is a favorable circumstance."
They were near a high wall. A stratagem presented itself the instant I noted that fact. It might have come out of the wall. I had a bonnet and shawl which Mr. Brown had not seen. Disguised in these I would ensconce myself behind the fence. I should barely be seen, and if seen merely, I should not be known.
Few words we exchanged. I was disposed to be taciturn, Bella apparently absorbed in her own meditations, and Mr. I reached a capital point for hearing, without attracting the Brown was clearly, on some account, very sad. He did not, slightest notice, and crouched with elongated neck, and riveted however, neglect to pay me close, even respectful attentions; attention, and throbbing interest, resolved to catch and treasure so close, indeed, that they appeared to me to border on the up, even each whispered syllable. I didn't admire, though, timidly obsequious. Were they, my vanity asked, meant to the part I was acting, the character I had assumed. I even reconcile me to my new situation? Perhaps they were, was the marvelled that I had brought myself to assume it. It was besilent reply; perhaps he very much liked me, and was solicit-low what I considered Bertha Bland capable of; which taught ous that I should feel as much at home as possible, that there might be the less risk of my leaving.
The following evening my perplexities were much increased by the visit of a stranger, and the eccentric behavior of Bella occasioned thereby. I was in an upper room, that afforded a full view of the garden, and all approaches thereto, when, just as the click of the closing gate struck my ear, Miss Brown came hurrying in, every feature of her face charged with wild excitement.
"See!" she exclaimed, seizing my arm, and pointing down at a dark figure sauntering along the main walk, "he's come again! Horror, horror! Poor father, poor father! No sleep once more. If you'll creep with me to his bedroom door you'll hear him to-night pacing about with heavy step, mingling most mournful moans with the midnight winds. He's sure to do so when that man has been. Oh, Bertha! who, what can he be
me that we cannot tell what we may be impelled to do by our impulses.
It soon appeared that great risks had been run for small gains. For a while little was said that I could hear. The little I did catch convinced me that the stranger was there to urge some proposal from which Mr. Brown recoiled. When he rose to depart this became quite evident.
"Come, Brown, fix your time, or he'll swing, and there'll be no help." Mr. Brown groaned.
"Come, say in a month," the stranger demanded sharply. "I cannot !"
"Then say no! and let's get to the end of this suspense. I'm on thorns, but I'll be off."
“Don't take it that way," Mr. Brown piteously begged. "That way," he sneeringly replied. "I'll not be trifled with. It's not reasonable I should. I'm doing you a real kindness; one that outweighs gold in value, and I've a right to be paid in the coin we agreed upon." "I'll give you more money." "But I'll not have it. Your dribbets only keep me in misery, which is really cruel of you, Brown. Here I am, like an impaled dog, and you offering me crumbs to keep me quiet, instead of extending a hand to help me out of my tortures. I want this business settled, that I may away. She's old enough, and will be cared for.'
"But is she-" "Don't.
I've heard it, as you well know, a hundred times. You can spare her now, for I hear you've got a housekeeper. Who is she?"
"Can't tell you. A nice person apparently."
"Wish you may keep her, Brown. Once more let all be settled when I see you again."
He walked haughtily away, Mr. Brown retaining his seat. When he had quitted the garden, my master cursed him audibly and bitterly, and then groaned like one in the agonies of death.
I crept back to my room, and sat down to reckon up my gains. What had I discovered? In the first place, I had discovered that Mr. Brown was being pressed by a proposal, and intruded upon by a proposer, each of which he strongly dislike. In the second place, I had discovered that a female was involved in the proposal; and, thirdly, that whilst Mr. Brown could not bring himself to accede to it, neither durst he, on some account, absolutely reject it. A female. To whom did they allude? To Bella? Surely not. A shiver shot through my frame, for a voice whispered, to Bella they certainly alluded. But if the stranger wasn't soliciting Mr. Brown's consent to marry his daughter and take her away, it was like it. All my womanhood rose in wrath. It was wicked-vile - most awful. Well might Mr. Brown hesitate. Hesitate! The marvel was that he didn't so denounce the stranger as to provoke a deadly feud. How much he must be in the man's power, tamely to endure the thing even in the shape of a proposition!
Is Bella aware of it? Is it the secret of her hatred of him? Is Littleton the man's rival? And had the hanging a reference to him? What a mystery! Well may I be excused for circling | round its verge, and straining my vision to penetrate its dark
CHAPTER III.-DEEPER DARKNESS.
I SAT alone, at least an hour. Then inferring from sundry movements that Mr. Brown was in occupation of his room, I tapped at the door, prompted by a wish to calm and comfort him. Would he pardon me? I had been pained ever since coming to reside with him by witnessing his distress. Could I help him in any way? He was astonished, then testy, then positively angry, on account, I supposed, of the intrusion. I left him, my officious zeal a touch cooled.
In a few minutes he was at my door. No response to his request to be permitted to enter. He walked in, however, apologising for his ru leness. I didn't speak. I resolved he should see he had stung a commendable motive. He drew near to me; so near, that I smelt the flavor of his breath, which, although it didn't sicken, deeply saddened me. He had been partaking freely of brandy. A feeble light was on the table, which disclosed features, once no doubt very handsome, but now stricken with woe.
"Pardon me, Miss Bland," he repeated rather unsteadily. “You should have saved yourself the trouble of such a petition," I replied, in a tone of wounded pride.
"Then you really are offended? Oh dear! Another blunder. But do not take it amiss. Say you are not offended."
"I was displeased, Mr. Brown; hurt. Your acting as you have done, and then asking me not to be offended, are as if a suffering patient should bite the hand extended to lave his
throbbing temples, and then beg the ministering owner of the hand not to feel hurt. My intrusion was well-”
"But if the biter were delirious, you would hardly take it wrong, would you, my angel? Thank you for the simile. Now I'm delirious I really am, or nearly so. I'm all but mad, Miss Bland. Oh my God! shield my little ones and my poor Bella! You know not how thankful I am that you are here, Bertha. What did you wish to say to me? How would you, how can you help me? You know not whence comes this. poison, that levers my whole life, and that is wasting me up body and soul. And more I dare not disclose it to you, much as I feel moved to confide in your judgment and your heart. What then can you do?"
"More, perhaps, than you suppose. Who is this stranger whose visits are to you as sharp goads?"
How know you that any visitor goads me?" The question came out sharply, accompanied by a look of newly-aroused curiosity. I saw I'd been indiscreet. I felt confusion struggling for expression, but was determined to keep it in check.
"Oh," I replied, with assumed ease and indifference, "I know more, probably, than you are aware of. What's his name?" I perceived I had gained an advantage, and was bent on keeping it.
"His name? His name? It's-It's-Ross"
"Ross. is it?" I replied. I watched him closely whilst answering my question. I could detect considerable confusion, which was to me a clear gain. "And has he always borne that name?" I added.
"Do you know aught of him? If so tell me." I didn't speak.
"I say," he resumed, after a short pause, are you an eavesdropper? If so, l'll advise you to indulge your propensity with the utmost caution. Otherwise, you may get into
Good-night," I said, rising as I spoke. "Not going? Nay, you-"
"Now, Mr. Brown," I replied sternly, "let us understand each other." He had placed himself between me and the door. "If you would retain me in your service, you must keep inviolate two conditions. First, you must receive as weli meant any advice that I may in seriousness tender. By advice I may be able to help you. In the second place, you must not take any liberties with me when under the influence of your potations. When not under such influence, there is no risk. You are then a gentleman. Will you observe, honor these conditions? Do you say yes? If not, I leave to-morrow. To-night. Now!''
He sank into a chair, cowed and speechless. I walked out with firm step, resolved to seek a bed, if it might be needful, amongst the heather on the moor, rather than submit to any insult or indignity, however slight.
"Miss Bland, Miss Bland," he called out. "Do return. At once return." I hesitated.
"What is my duty?" I mentally asked. "To return," was the reply. I yielded obedience.
"I've done wrong, Miss Bland. I've insulted you. Pardon me. I accept your conditions. And what is more, I'll fulfil them in both letter and spirit. Good-night." "Good-night, sir."
I went direct to my bedroom. "What shall I do? What ought I to do? Is Mr. Browa guilty of irregularities? Is there risk in remaining here? So it would appear. I'll leave. about the stranger?''
But how about Bella? And how
I found myself talking on in this way, whilst preparing to lie down. I decided to give the situation a further trial, and with this decision, courted what proved to be, not merely broken, but very fragmentary sleep.
In two or three days, Littleton visited us again. This time he took tea with us. He and Bella were cold as ever towards each other. They and Mr. Brown had a long interview; its precise nature I of course didn't ascertain, but one of its effects I couldn't but note, which was, increased gloom on the countenance of each.
The moon was fast approaching full. One morning near the time, Mr. Brown thus spoke :
"Bertha, don't lose sight of Bella to-day, nor to-morrow.