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A cup was at my lips: it pass'd
As passes the wild desert blast!
I woke--around me was a gloom
And silence of the tomb;
But in that awful solitude
That little spirit by me stood--
But oh, how changed!--Thoughts in Past Years
Under Richard's kind let-alone system, Leonard was slowly recovering tone. First he took to ruling lines in the Cocksmoor account-books, then he helped in their audit; and with occupation came the sense of the power of voluntary exertion. He went and came freely, and began to take long rambles in the loneliest parts of the heath and plantations, while Richard left him scrupulously to his own devices, and rejoiced to see them more defined and vigorous every day. The next stop was to assist in the night-school where Richard had hitherto toiled single-handed among very rough subjects. The technical training and experience derived from Leonard's work under the schoolmaster at Portland were invaluable; and though taking the lead was the last thing he would have thought of, he no sooner entered the school than attention and authority were there, and Richard found that what had to him been a vain and patient struggle was becoming both effective and agreeable. Interest in his work was making Leonard cheerful and alert, though still grave, and shrinking from notice--avoiding the town by daylight, and only coming to Dr. May's in the dark evenings.
On the last Sunday in Advent, Richard was engaged to preach at his original curacy, and that the days before and after it should likewise be spent away from home was insisted on after the manner of the friends of hard-working clergy. He had the less dislike to going that he could leave his school-work to Leonard, who was to be housed at his father's, and there was soon perceived to have become a much more ordinary member of society than on his first arrival.
One evening, there was a loud peal at the door-bell, and the maid-- one of Ethel's experiments of training--came in.
'Please, sir, a gentleman has brought a cockatoo and a letter and a little boy from the archdeacon.'
'Archdeacon!' cried Dr. May, catching sight of the handwriting on the letter and starting up. 'Archdeacon Norman--'
'One of Norman's stray missionaries and a Maori newly caught; oh, what fun!' cried Daisy, in ecstasy.
At that moment, through the still open door, walking as if he had lived there all his life, there entered the prettiest little boy that ever was seen--a little knickerbocker boy, with floating rich dark ringlets, like a miniature cavalier coming forth from a picture, with a white cockatoo on his wrist. Not in the least confused, he went straight towards Dr. May and said, 'Good-morning, grandpapa.'
'Ha! And who may you be, my elfin prince?' said the Doctor.
'I'm Dickie--Richard Rivers May--I'm not an elfin prince,' said the boy, with a moment's hurt feeling. 'Papa sent me.' By that time the boy was fast in his grandfather's embrace, and was only enough released to give him space to answer the eager question, 'Papa--papa here?'
'Oh no; I came with Mr. Seaford.'
The Doctor hastily turned Dickie over to the two aunts, and hastened forth to the stranger, whose name he well knew as a colonist's son, a favourite and devoted clerical pupil of Norman's.
'Aunt Ethel,' said little Richard, with instant recognition; 'mamma said you would be like her, but I don't think you will.'
'Nor I, Dickie, but we'll try. And who's that!'
'Yes, what am I to be like?' asked Gertrude.
'You're not Aunt Daisy--Aunt Daisy is a little girl.'
Gertrude made him the lowest of curtseys; for not to be taken for a little girl was the compliment she esteemed above all others. Dickie's next speech was, 'And is that Uncle Aubrey?'
'No, that's Leonard.'
Dickie shook hands with him very prettily; but then returning upon Ethel, observed, 'I thought it was Uncle Aubrey, because soldiers always cut their hair so close.'
The other guest was so thoroughly a colonist, and had so little idea of anything but primitive hospitality, that he had had no notion of writing beforehand to announce his coming, and accident had delayed the letters by which Norman and Meta had announced their decision of sending home their eldest boy under his care.
'Papa had no time to teach me alone,' said Dickie, who seemed to have been taken into the family councils; 'and mamma is always busy, and I wasn't getting any good with some of the boys that come to school to papa.'
'Indeed, Mr. Dickie!' said the Doctor, full of suppressed laughter.
'It is quite true,' said Mr. Seaford; 'there are some boys that the archdeacon feels bound to educate, but who are not desirable companions for his son.'
'It is a great sacrifice,' remarked the young gentleman.
'Oh, Dickie, Dickie,' cried Gertrude, in fits, 'don't you be a prig--'
'Mamma said it,' defiantly answered Dickie.
'Only a parrot,' said Ethel, behind her handkerchief; but Dickie, who heard whatever he was not meant to hear, answered--
'It is not a parrot, it is a white cockatoo, that the chief of (something unutterable) brought down on his wrist like a hawk to the mission-ship; and that mamma sent as a present to Uncle George.'
'I prefer the parrot that has fallen to my share,' observed the Doctor.
It was by this time perched beside him, looking perfectly at ease and thoroughly at home. There was something very amusing in the aspect of the little man; he so completely recalled his mother's humming- bird title by the perfect look of finished porcelain perfection that even a journey from the Antipodes with only gentleman nursemaids had not destroyed. The ringleted rich brown hair shone like glossy silk, the cheeks were like painting, the trim well-made legs and small hands and feet looked dainty and fairy-like, yet not at all effeminate; hands and face were a healthy brown, and contrasted with the little white collar, the set of which made Ethel exclaim, 'Just look, Daisy, that's what I always told you about Meta's doings. Only I can't understand it.--Dickie, have the fairies kept you in repair ever since mamma dressed you last?'
'We haven't any fairies in New Zealand,' he replied; 'and mamma never dressed me since I was a baby!'
'And what are you now?' said the Doctor.
'I am eight years old,' said this piece of independence, perfectly well mannered, and au fait in all the customs of the tea-table; and when the meal was over, he confidentially said to his aunt, 'Shall I come and help you wash up? I never break anything.'
Ethel declined this kind offer; but he hung on her hand and asked if he might go and see the schoolroom, where papa and Uncle Harry used to blow soap-bubbles. She lighted a candle, and the little gentleman showed himself minutely acquainted with the whole geography of the house, knew all the rooms and the pictures, and where everything had happened, even to adventures that Ethel had forgotten.
'It is of no use to say there are no fairies in New Zealand,' said Dr. May, taking him on his knee, and looking into the blue depths of Norman's eyes. 'You have been head-waiter to Queen Mab, and perpetually here when she made you put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes.'
'Papa read that to the boys, and they said it was stupid and no use,' said Dickie; 'but papa said that the electric telegraph would do it.'
The little cavalier appeared not to know what it was to be at a loss for an answer, and the joint letter from his parents explained that his precocious quickness was one of their causes for sending him home. He was so deft and useful as to be important in the household, and necessarily always living with his father and mother, he took constant part in their conversation, and was far more learned in things than in books. In the place where they were settled, trustworthy boy society was unattainable, and they had felt their little son, in danger of being spoilt and made forward from his very goodness and brightness--wrote Meta, 'If you find him a forward imp, recollect it is my fault for having depended so much on him.'
His escort was a specimen of the work Norman had done, not actual mission-work, but preparation and inspiriting of those who went forth on the actual task. He was a simple-minded, single-hearted man, one of the first pupils in Norman's college, and the one who had most fully imbibed his spirit. He had been for some years a clergyman, and latterly had each winter joined the mission voyage among the Melanesian Isles, returning to their homes the lads brought for the summer for education to the mission college in New Zealand, and spending some time at a station upon one or other of the islands. He had come back from the last voyage much out of health, and had been for weeks nursed by Meta, until a long rest having been declared necessary, he had been sent to England as the only place where he would not be tempted to work, and was to visit his only remaining relation, a sister, who had married an officer and was in Ireland. He was burning to go back again, and eagerly explained--sagely corroborated by the testimony of the tiny archdeacon--that his illness was to be laid to the blame of his own imprudence, not to the climate; and he dwelt upon the delights of the yearly voyage among the lovely islands, beautiful beyond imagination, fenced in by coral breakwaters, within which the limpid water displayed exquisite sea- flowers, shells, and fishes of magical gorgeousness of hue; of the brilliant white beach, fringing the glorious vegetation, cocoa-nut, bread-fruit, banana, and banyan, growing on the sloping sides of volcanic rocks; of mysterious red-glowing volcano lights seen far out at sea at night, of glades opening to show high-roofed huts covered with mats: of canoes decorated with the shining white shells resembling a poached egg; of natives clustering round, eager and excited, seldom otherwise than friendly; though in hitherto unvisited places, or in those where the wanton outrages of sandal-wood traders had excited distrust, caution was necessary, and there was peril enough to give the voyage a full character of heroism and adventure. Bows and poisoned arrows were sometimes brought down--and Dickie insisted that they had been used--but in general the mission was recognized, and an eager welcome given; presents of fish-hooks, or of braid and handkerchiefs, established a friendly feeling; and readiness--in which the Hand of the Maker must be recognized--was manifested to intrust lads to the mission for the summer's training at the college in New Zealand--wild lads, innocent of all clothing, except marvellous adornments of their woolly locks, wigged out sometimes into huge cauliflowers whitened with coral lime, or arranged quarterly red and white, and their noses decorated with rings, which were their nearest approach to a pocket, as they served for the suspension of fish-hooks, or any small article. A radiate arrangement of skewers from the nose, in unwitting imitation of a cat's whiskers, had even been known. A few days taught dressing and eating in a civilized fashion; and time, example, and the wonderful influence of the head of the mission, trained these naturally intelligent boys into much that was hopeful. Dickie, who had been often at the college, had much to tell of familiarity with the light canoes that some cut out and launched; of the teaching them English games, of their orderly ways in school and in hall; of the prayers in their many tongues, and of the baptism of some, after full probation, and at least one winter's return to their own isles, as a test of their sincerity and constancy. Much as the May family had already heard of this wonderful work, it came all the closer and nearer now. The isle of Alan Ernescliffe's burial-place had now many Christians in it. Harry's friend, the young chief David, was dead; but his people were some of them already teachers and examples, and the whole region was full to overflowing of the harvest, calling out for labourers to gather it in.
Silent as usual, Leonard nevertheless was listening with all his heart, and with parted lips and kindling eyes that gave back somewhat of his former countenance. Suddenly his face struck Mr. Seaford, and turning on him with a smile, he said, 'You should be with us yourself, you look cut out for mission work.'
Leonard murmured something, blushed up to the ears, and subsided, but the simple, single-hearted Mr. Seaford, his soul all on one object, his experience only in one groove, by no means laid aside the thought, and the moment he was out of Leonard's presence, eagerly asked who that young man was.
'Leonard Ward? he is--he is the son of an old friend,' replied Dr. May, a little perplexed to explain his connection.
'What is he doing? I never saw any one looking more suited for our work.'
'Tell him so again,' said Dr. May; 'I know no one that would be fitter.'
They were all taken up with the small grandson the next day. He was ready in his fairy-page trimness to go to the early service at the Minster; but he was full of the colonial nil admirari principle, and was quite above being struck by the grand old building, or allowing its superiority--either to papa's own church or Auckland Cathedral. They took him to present to Mary on their way back from church, when he was the occasion of a great commotion by carrying the precious Master Charlie all across the hall to his mamma, and quietly observing in resentment at the outcry, that of course he always carried little Ethel about when mamma and nurse were busy. After breakfast, when he had finished his investigations of all Dr. May's domains, and much entertained Gertrude by his knowledge of them, Ethel set him down to write a letter to his father, and her own to Meta being engrossing, she did not look much more after him till Dr. May came in, and said, 'I want you to sketch off a portrait of her dicky-bird for Meta;' and he put before her a natural history with a figure of that tiny humming-bird which is endowed with swansdown knickerbockers.
'By the bye, where is the sprite?'
He was not to be found; and when dinner-time, and much calling and searching, failed to produce him, his grandfather declared that he was gone back to Elf-land; but Leonard recollected certain particular inquiries about the situation of the Grange and of Cocksmoor, and it was concluded that he had anticipated the Doctor's intentions of taking him and Mr. Seaford there in the afternoon. The notion was confirmed by the cockatoo having likewise disappeared; but there was no great anxiety, since the little New Zealander appeared as capable of taking care of himself as any gentleman in Her Majesty's dominions; and a note had already been sent to his aunt informing her of his arrival. Still, a summons to the Doctor in an opposite direction was inopportune, the more so as the guest was to remain at Stoneborough only this one day, and had letters and messages for Mr. and Mrs. Rivers, while it was also desirable to see whether the boy had gone to Cocksmoor.
Leonard proposed to become Mr. Seaford's guide to the Grange, learn whether Dickie were there, and meet the two ladies at Cocksmoor with the tidings, leaving Mr. Seaford and the boy to be picked up by the Doctor on his return. It was his first voluntary offer to go anywhere, though he had more than once been vainly invited to the Grange with Richard.
Much conversation on the mission took place during the walk, and resulted in Mr. Seaford's asking Leonard if his profession were settled. 'No,' he said; and not at all aware that his companion did not know what every other person round him knew, he added, 'I have been thrown out of everything--I am waiting to hear from my brother.'
'Then you are not at a University?'
'Oh no, I was a clerk.'
'Then if nothing is decided, is it impossible that you should turn your eyes to our work?'
'Stay,' said Leonard, standing still; 'I must ask whether you know all about me. Would it be possible to admit to such work as yours one who, by a terrible mistake, has been under sentence of death and in confinement for three years?'
'I must think! Let us talk of this another time. Is that the Grange?' hastily exclaimed the missionary, rather breathlessly. Leonard with perfect composure replied that it was, pointed out the different matters of interest, and, though a little more silent, showed no other change of manner. He was asking the servant at the door if Master May were there, when Mr. Rivers came out and conducted both into the drawing room, where little Dickie was, sure enough. It appeared that, cockatoo on wrist, he had put his pretty face up to the glass of Mrs Rivers's morning-room, and had asked her, 'Is this mamma's room, Aunt Flora? Where's Margaret?'
Uncle, aunt, and cousin had all been captivated by him, and he was at present looking at the display of all Margaret's treasures, keenly appreciating the useful and ingenious, but condemning the merely ornamental as only fit for his baby sister. Margaret was wonderfully gracious and child-like; but perhaps she rather oppressed him; for when Leonard explained that he must go on to meet Miss May at Cocksmoor, the little fellow sprang up, declaring that he wanted to go thither; and though told that his grandfather was coming for him, and that the walk was long, he insisted that he was not tired; and Mr. Seaford, finding him not to be dissuaded, broke off his conversation in the midst, and insisted on accompanying him, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Rivers rather amazed at colonial breeding.
The first time Mr. Seaford could accomplish being alone with Dr. May, he mysteriously shut the door, and began, 'I am afraid Mrs. Rivers thought me very rude; but though no doubt he is quite harmless, I could not let the child or the ladies be alone with him.'
'With your patient.'
'What patient of mine have you been seeing to-day?' asked Dr. May, much puzzled.
'Oh, then you consider him as convalescent, and certainly he does seem rational on every other point; but is this one altogether an hallucination?'
'I have not made out either the hallucination or the convalescent. I beg your pardon,' said the courteous Doctor; 'but I cannot understand whom you have seen.'
'Then is not that young Ward a patient of yours? He gave me to understand to-day that he has been under confinement for three years--'
'My poor Leonard!' exclaimed the Doctor; 'I wish his hair would grow! This is the second time! And did you really never hear of the Blewer murder, and of Leonard Ward?'
Mr. Seaford had some compound edifice of various murders in his mind, and required full enlightenment. Having heard the whole, he was ardent to repair his mistake, both for Leonard's own sake, and that of his cause. The young man was indeed looking ill and haggard; but there was something in the steady eyes, hollow though they still were, and in the determined cast of features, that strangely impressed the missionary with a sense of his being moulded for the work; and on the first opportunity a simple straightforward explanation of the error was laid before Leonard, with an entreaty that if he had no duties to bind him at home, he would consider the need of labourers in the great harvest of the Southern Seas.
Leonard made no answer save 'Thank you' and that he would think. The grave set features did not light up as they had done unconsciously when listening without personal thought; he only looked considering, and accepted Mr. Seaford's address in Ireland, promising to write after hearing from his brother.
Next morning, Dr. May gave notice that an old patient was coming to see him, and must be asked to luncheon. Leonard soon after told Ethel that he should not be at home till the evening, and she thought he was going to Cocksmoor, by way of avoiding the stranger. In the twilight, however, Dr. May, going up to the station to see his patient off, was astonished to see Leonard emerge from a second-class carriage.
'You here! the last person I expected.'
'I have only been to W-- about my teeth.'
'What, have you been having tooth-ache?'
'At times, but I have had two out, so I hope there is an end of it.'
'And you never mentioned it, you Stoic!'
'It was only at night.'
'And how long has this been?'
'Since I had that cold; but it was no matter.'
'No matter, except that it kept you looking like Count Ugolino, and me always wondering what was the matter with you. And'--detaining him for a moment under the lights of the station--'this extraction must have been a pretty business, to judge by your looks! What did the dentist do to you?'
'It is not so much that' said Leonard, low and sadly; 'but I began to have a hope, and I see it won't do.'
'What do you mean, my dear boy? what have you been doing?'
'I have been into my old cell again,' said he, under his breath; and Dr. May, leaning on his arm, felt his nervous tremor.
'Prisoner of the Bastille, eh, Leonard!'
'I had long been thinking that I ought to go and call on Mr. Reeve and thank him.'
'But he does not receive calls there.'
'No,' said Leonard, as if the old impulse to confidence had returned; 'but I have never been so happy since, as I was in that cell, and I wanted to see it again. Not only for that reason,' he added, 'but something that Mr. Seaford said brought back a remembrance of what Mr. Wilmot told me when my life was granted--something about the whole being preparation for future work--something that made me feel ready for anything. It had all gone from me--all but the remembrance of the sense of a blessed Presence and support in that condemned cell, and I thought perhaps ten minutes in the same place would bring it back to me.'
'And did they?'
'No, indeed. As soon as the door was locked, it all went back to July 1860, and worse. Things that were mercifully kept from me then, mere abject terror of death, and of that kind of death--the disgrace --the crowds--all came on me, and with them, the misery all in one of those nine months; the loathing of those eternal narrow waved white walls, the sense of their closing in, the sickening of their sameness, the longing for a voice, the other horror of thinking myself guilty. The warder said it was ten minutes--I thought it hours! I was quite done for, and could hardly get down-stairs. I knew the spirit was being crushed out of me by the solitary period, and it is plain that I must think of nothing that needs nerve or presence of mind!' he added, in a tone of quiet dejection.
'You are hardly in a state to judge of your nerve, after sleepless nights and the loss of your teeth. Besides, there is a difference between the real and imaginary, as you have found; you who, in the terrible time of real anticipation, were a marvel in that very point of physical resolution.'
'I could keep thoughts out then,' he said; 'I was master of myself.'
'You mean that the solitude unhinged you? Yet I always found you brave and cheerful.'
'The sight of you made me so. Nay, the very sight or sound of any human being made a difference! And now you all treat me as if I had borne it well, but I did not. It was all that was left me to do, but indeed I did not.'
'What do you mean by bearing it well?' said the Doctor, in the tone in which he would have questioned a patient.
'Living--as--as I thought I should when I made up my mind to life instead of death,' said Leonard; 'but all that went away. I let it slip, and instead came everything possible of cowardice, and hatred, and bitterness. I lost my hold of certainty what I had done or what I had not, and the horror, the malice, the rebellion that used to come on me in that frightful light white silent place, were unutterable! I wish you would not have me among you all, when I know there can hardly be a wicked thought that did not surge over me.'
'To be conquered.'
'To conquer me,' he said, in utter lassitude.
'Stay. Did they ever make you offend wilfully?'
'There was nothing I could offend in.'
'Your tasks of work, for instance.'
'I often had a savage frantic abhorrence of it, but I always brought myself to do it, and it did me good; it would have done more if it had been less mechanical. But it often was only the instinct of not degrading myself like the lowest prisoners.'
'Well, there was your conduct to the officials.'
'Oh! one could not help being amenable to them, they were so kind. Besides, these demons never came over me except when I was alone.'
'And one thing more, Leonard; did these demons, as you well call them, invade your devotions?'
'Never,' he answered readily; then recalling himself--'not at the set times I mean, though they often made me think the comfort I had there mere hypocrisy and delusion, and be nearly ready to give over what depended on myself. Chapel was always joy; it brought change and the presence of others, if nothing else; and that would in itself have been enough to banish the hauntings.'
'And they did not interfere with your own readings?' said the Doctor, preferring this to the word that he meant.
'I could not let them,' said Leonard. 'There was always refreshment; it was only before and after that all would seem mockery, profanation, or worse still, delusion and superstition--as if my very condition proved that there was none to hear.'
'The hobgoblin had all but struck the book out of Christian's hand,' said Dr. May, pressing his grasp on Leonard's shuddering arm. 'You are only telling me that you have been in the valley of the shadow of death; you have not told me that you lost the rod and staff.'
'No, I must have been helped, or I should not have my senses now.'
And perhaps it was the repressed tremor of voice and frame rather than the actual words that induced the Doctor to reply--'That is the very point, Leonard. It is the temptation to us doctors to ascribe too much to the physical and too little to the moral; and perhaps you would be more convinced by Mr. Wilmot than by me; but I do verily believe that all the anguish you describe could and would have been insanity if grace had not been given you to conquer it. It was a tottering of the mind upon its balance; and, humanly speaking, it was the self-control that enabled you to force yourself to your duties, and find relief in them, which saved you. I should just as soon call David conquered because the "deep waters had come in over his soul."'
'You can never know how true those verses are,' said Leonard, with another shiver.
'At least I know to what kind of verses they all lead,' said the Doctor; 'and I am sure they led you, and that you had more and brighter hours than you now remember.'
'Yes, it was not all darkness. I believe there were more spaces than I can think of now, when I was very fairly happy, even at Pentonville; and at Portland all did well with me, till last spring, and then the news from Massissauga brought back all the sense of blood-guiltiness, and it was worse than ever.'
'And that sense was just as morbid as your other horrible doubt, about which you asked me when we were coming home.'
'I see it was now, but that was the worst time of all--the monotony of school, and the sense of hypocrisy and delusion in teaching--the craving to confess, if only for the sake of the excitement, and the absolute inability to certify myself whether there was any crime to confess--I can't talk about it. And even chapel was not the same refreshment, when one was always teaching a class in it, as coming in fresh only for the service. Even that was failing me, or I thought it was! No, I do not know how I could have borne it much longer.'
'No, Leonard, you could not; Tom and I both saw that in your looks, and quite expected to hear of your being ill; but, you see, we are never tried above what we can bear!'
'No,' said Leonard, very low, as if he had been much struck; and then he added, after an interval, 'It is over now, and there's no need to recollect it except in the way of thanks. The question is what it has left me fit for. You know, Dr. May,' and his voice trembled, 'my first and best design in the happy time of Coombe, the very crown of my life, was this very thing--to be a missionary. But for myself, I might be in training now. If I had only conquered my temper, and accepted that kind offer of Mr. Cheviot's, all this would never have been, and I should have had my youth, my strength, and spirit, my best, to devote. I turned aside because of my obstinacy, against warning, and now how can I offer?--one who has stood at the bar, lived among felons, thought such thoughts--the released convict with a disgraced name! It would just be an insult to the ministry! No, I know how prisoners feel. I can deal with them. Let me go back to what I am trained for. My nerve and spirit have been crushed out; I am fit for nothing else. The worst thing that has remained with me is this nervousness--cowardice is its right name--starting at the sound of a door, or at a fresh face--a pretty notion that I should land among savages!'
Dr. May had begun an answer about the remains of the terrible ordeal that might in itself have been part of Leonard's training, when they reached the house door.
These nerves, or whatever they were, did indeed seem disposed to have no mercy on their owner; for no sooner had he sat down in the warm drawing-room, than such severe pain attacked his face as surpassed even his powers of concealment. Dr. May declared it was all retribution for his unfriendliness in never seeking sympathy or advice, which might have proved the evil to be neuralgia and saved the teeth, instead of aggravating the evil by their extraction.
'I suspect he has been living on nothing,' said Dr. May, when, in a lull of the pain, Leonard had gone to bed.
'Papa!' exclaimed Gertrude, 'don't you know what Richard's housekeeping is? Don't you recollect his taking that widow for a cook because she was such a good woman?'
'I don't think it was greatly Richard's fault,' said Ethel. 'I can hardly get Leonard to make a sparrow's meal here, and most likely his mouth has been too uncomfortable.'
'Ay, that never seeking sympathy is to me one of the saddest parts of all. He has been so long shut within himself, that be can hardly feel that any one cares for him.'
'He does so more than at first,' said Ethel.
'Much more. I have heard things from him to-night that are a revelation to me. Well, he has come through, and I believe he is recovering it; but the three threads of our being have all had a terrible wrench, and if body and mind come out unscathed, it is the soundness of the spirit that has brought them through.'
A sleepless night and morning of violent pain ensued; but, at least thus much had been gained--that there was no refusal of sympathy, but a grateful acceptance of kindness, so that it almost seemed a recurrence to the Coombe days; and as the pain lessened, the enjoyment of Ethel's attendance seemed to grow upon Leonard in the gentle languor of relief; and when, as she was going out for the afternoon, she came back to see if he was comfortable in his easy- chair by the drawing-room fire, and put a screen before his face, he looked up and thanked her with a smile--the first she had seen.
When she returned, the winter twilight had closed in, and he was leaning back in the same attitude, but started up, so that she asked if he had been asleep.
'I don't know--I have seen her again.'
'Minna, my dear little Minna!'
'Dreamt of her?'
'I cannot tell,' he said; 'I only know she was there; and then rising and standing beside Ethel, he continued--'Miss May, you remember the night of her death?'
'Well,' continued he, 'that night I saw her.'
'I remember,' said Ethel, 'that Mr. Wilmot told us you knew at once what he was come to tell you.'
'It was soon after I was in bed, the lights were out, and I do not think I was asleep, when she was by me--not the plump rosy thing she used to be, but tall and white, her hair short and waving back, her eyes--oh! so sad and wistful, but glad too--and her hands held out-- and she said, "Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope. O Leonard, dear, it does not hurt."'
'It was the last thing she did say.'
'Yes, so Ave's letter said. And observe, one o'clock in Indiana is half-past nine with us. Then her hair--I wrote to ask, for you know it used to be in long curls, but it had been cut short, like what I saw. Surely, surely, it was the dear loving spirit allowed to show itself to me before going quite away to her home!'
'And you have seen her again?'
'Just now'--his voice was even lower than before--'since it grew dark, as I sat there. I had left off reading, and had been thinking, when there she was, all white but not wistful now; "Leonard, dear," she said, "it has not hurt;" and then, "He brought me forth, He brought me forth even to a place of liberty, because He had a favour unto me."'
'O, Leonard, it must have made you very happy.'
'I am very thankful for it,' he said. Then after a pause, 'You will not speak of it--you will not tell me to think it the action of my own mind upon itself.'
'I can only believe it a great blessing come to comfort you and cheer you,' said Ethel: 'cheer you as with the robin-note, as papa called it, that sung all through the worst of times! Leonard, I am afraid you will think it unkind of me to have withheld it so long, but papa told me you could not yet bear to hear of Minna. I have her last present for you in charge--the slippers she was working for that eighteenth birthday of yours. She would go on, and we never knew whether she fully understood your danger; it was always "they could not hurt you," and at last, when they were finished, and I had to make her understand that you could not have them, she only looked up to me and said, "Please keep them, and give them to him when he comes home." She never doubted, first or last.'
Ethel, who had daily been watching for the moment, took out the parcel from the drawer, with the address in the childish writing, the date in her own.
Large tears came dropping from Leonard's eyes, as he undid the paper, and looked at the work, then said, 'Last time I saw that pattern, my mother was working it! Dear child! Yes, Miss May, I am glad you did not give them to me before. I always felt as if my blow had glanced aside and fallen on Minna; but somehow I feel more fully how happy she is!'
'She was the messenger of comfort throughout to Ave and to Ella,' said Ethel, 'and well she may be to you still.'
'I have dreaded to ask,' said Leonard; 'but there was a line in one letter I was shown that made me believe that climate was not the whole cause.'
'No,' said Ethel; 'at least the force to resist it had been lost, as far as we can see. It was a grievous error of your brother's to think her a child who could forget. She pined to hear of you, and that one constant effort of faith and love was too much, and wasted away the little tender body. But oh, Leonard, how truly she can say that her captivity is over, and that it has not hurt!'
'It has not hurt,' musingly repeated Leonard. 'No, she is beyond the reach of distracting temptations and sorrows; it has only made her brighter to have suffered what it breaks one's heart to think of. It has not hurt.'
'Nothing from without does hurt!' said Ethel, 'unless one lets it.'
'Hurt what?' he asked.
'The soul,' returned Ethel. 'Mind and body may be hurt, and it is not possible to know one's mind from one's soul while one is alive, but as long as the will and faith are right, to think the soul can be hurt seems to me like doubting our Protector.'
'But if the will have been astray?'
'Then while we repent, we must not doubt our Redeemer.'
Dickie ran in at the moment, calling for Aunt Ethel. She had dropped her muff. Leonard picked it up, and as she took it, he wrung her hand with an earnestness that showed his gratitude.
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