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Chapter 24

MY FIRST TERROR.


One of the main discomforts in writing a book is, that there are so many ways in which every thing, as it comes up, might be told, and you can't tell which is the best. You believe there must be a best way; but you might spend your life in trying to satisfy yourself which was that best way, and, when you came to the close of it, find you had done nothing,--hadn't even found out the way. I have always to remind myself that something, even if it be far from the best thing, is better than nothing. Perhaps the only way to arrive at the best way is to make plenty of blunders, and find them out.

This morning I had been sitting a long time with my pen in my hand, thinking what this chapter ought to be about,--that is, what part of my own history, or of that of my neighbors interwoven therewith, I ought to take up next,--when my third child, my little Cecilia, aged five, came into the room, and said,--

"Mamma, there's a poor man at the door, and Jemima won't give him any thing."

"Quite right, my dear. We must give what we can to people we know. We are sure then that it is not wasted."

"But he's so very poor, mamma!"

"How do you know that?"

"Poor man! he has only three children. I heard him tell Jemima. He was so sorry! And I'm very sorry, too."

"But don't you know you mustn't go to the door when any one is talking to Jemima?" I said.

"Yes, mamma. I didn't go to the door: I stood in the hall and peeped."

"But you mustn't even stand in the hall," I said. "Mind that."

This was, perhaps, rather an oppressive reading of a proper enough rule; but I had a very special reason for it, involving an important event in my story, which occurred about two years after what I have last set down.

One morning Percivale took a holiday in order to give me one, and we went to spend it at Richmond. It was the anniversary of our marriage; and as we wanted to enjoy it thoroughly, and, precious as children are, every pleasure is not enhanced by their company, we left ours at home,--Ethel and her brother Roger (named after Percivale's father), who was now nearly a year old, and wanted a good deal of attention. It was a lovely day, with just a sufficient number of passing clouds to glorify--that is, to do justice to--the sunshine, and a gentle breeze, which itself seemed to be taking a holiday, for it blew only just when you wanted it, and then only enough to make you think of that wind which, blowing where it lists, always blows where it is wanted. We took the train to Hammersmith; for my husband, having consulted the tide-table, and found that the river would be propitious, wished to row me from there to Richmond. How gay the river-side looked, with its fine broad landing stage, and the numberless boats ready to push off on the swift water, which kept growing and growing on the shingly shore! Percivale, however, would hire his boat at a certain builder's shed, that I might see it. That shed alone would have been worth coming to see--such a picture of loveliest gloom--as if it had been the cave where the twilight abode its time! You could not tell whether to call it light or shade,--that diffused presence of a soft elusive brown; but is what we call shade any thing but subdued light? All about, above, and below, lay the graceful creatures of the water, moveless and dead here on the shore, but there--launched into their own elemental world, and blown upon by the living wind--endowed at once with life and motion and quick response.

Not having been used to boats, I felt nervous as we got into the long, sharp-nosed, hollow fish which Percivale made them shoot out on the rising tide; but the slight fear vanished almost the moment we were afloat, when, ignorant as I was of the art of rowing, I could not help seeing how perfectly Percivale was at home in it. The oars in his hands were like knitting-needles in mine, so deftly, so swimmingly, so variously, did he wield them. Only once my fear returned, when he stood up in the swaying thing--a mere length without breadth--to pull off his coat and waistcoat; but he stood steady, sat down gently, took his oars quietly, and the same instant we were shooting so fast through the rising tide that it seemed as if we were pulling the water up to Richmond.

"Wouldn't you like to steer?" said my husband. "It would amuse you."

"I should like to learn," I said,--"not that I want to be amused; I am too happy to care for amusement."

"Take those two cords behind you, then, one in each hand, sitting between them. That will do. Now, if you want me to go to your right, pull your right-hand cord; if you want me to go to your left, pull your left-hand one."

I made an experiment or two, and found the predicted consequences follow: I ran him aground, first on one bank, then on the other. But when I did so a third time,--

"Come! come!" he said: "this won't do, Mrs. Percivale. You're not trying your best. There is such a thing as gradation in steering as well as in painting, or music, or any thing else that is worth doing."

"I pull the right line, don't I?" I said; for I was now in a mood to tease him.

"Yes--to a wrong result," he answered. "You must feel your rudder, as you would the mouth of your horse with the bit, and not do any thing violent, except in urgent necessity."

I answered by turning the head of the boat right towards the nearer bank.

"I see!" he said, with a twinkle in his eyes. "I have put a dangerous power into your hands. But never mind. The queen may decree as she likes; but the sinews of war, you know"--

I thought he meant that if I went on with my arbitrary behavior, he would drop his oars; and for a little while I behaved better. Soon, however, the spirit of mischief prompting me, I began my tricks again: to my surprise I found that I had no more command over the boat than over the huge barge, which, with its great red-brown sail, was slowly ascending in front of us; I couldn't turn its head an inch in the direction I wanted.

"What does it mean, Percivale?" I cried, pulling with all my might, and leaning forward that I might pull the harder.

"What does what mean?" he returned coolly.

"That I can't move the boat."

"Oh! It means that I have resumed the reins of government."

"But how? I can't understand it."

"And I am wiser than to make you too wise. Education is not a panacea for moral evils. I quote your father, my dear."

And he pulled away as if nothing were the matter.

"Please, I like steering," I said remonstratingly. "And I like rowing."

"I don't see why the two shouldn't go together."

"Nor I. They ought. But not only does the steering depend on the rowing, but the rower can steer himself."

"I will be a good girl, and steer properly."

"Very well; steer away."

He looked shorewards as he spoke; and then first I became aware that he had been watching my hands all the time. The boat now obeyed my lightest touch.

How merrily the water rippled in the sun and the wind! while so responsive were our feelings to the play of light and shade around us, that more than once when a cloud crossed us, I saw its shadow turn almost into sadness on the countenance of my companion,--to vanish the next moment when the one sun above and the thousand mimic suns below shone out in universal laughter. When a steamer came in sight, or announced its approach by the far-heard sound of its beating paddles, it brought with it a few moments of almost awful responsibility; but I found that the presence of danger and duty together, instead of making me feel flurried, composed my nerves, and enabled me to concentrate my whole attention on getting the head of the boat as nearly as possible at right angles with the waves from the paddles; for Percivale had told me that if one of any size struck us on the side, it would most probably capsize us. But the way to give pleasure to my readers can hardly be to let myself grow garrulous in the memory of an ancient pleasure of my own. I will say nothing more of the delights of that day. They were such a contrast to its close, that twelve months at least elapsed before I was able to look back upon them without a shudder; for I could not rid myself of the foolish feeling that our enjoyment had been somehow to blame for what was happening at home while we were thus revelling in blessed carelessness.

When we reached our little nest, rather late in the evening, I found to my annoyance that the front door was open. It had been a fault of which I thought I had cured the cook,--to leave it thus when she ran out to fetch any thing. Percivale went down to the study; and I walked into the drawing-room, about to ring the bell in anger. There, to my surprise and farther annoyance, I found Sarah, seated on the sofa with her head in her hands, and little Roger wide awake on the floor.

"What does this mean?" I cried. "The front door open! Master Roger still up! and you seated in the drawing-room!"

"O ma'am!" she almost shrieked, starting up the moment I spoke, and, by the time I had put my angry interrogation, just able to gasp out--"Have you found her, ma'am?"

"Found whom?" I returned in alarm, both at the question and at the face of the girl; for through the dusk I now saw that it was very pale, and that her eyes were red with crying.

"Miss Ethel," she answered in a cry choked with a sob; and dropping again on the sofa, she hid her face once more between her hands.

I rushed to the study-door, and called Percivale; then returned to question the girl. I wonder now that I did nothing outrageous; but fear kept down folly, and made me unnaturally calm.

"Sarah," I said, as quietly as I could, while I trembled all over, "tell me what has happened. Where is the child?"

"Indeed it's not my fault, ma'am. I was busy with Master Roger, and Miss Ethel was down stairs with Jemima."

"Where is she?" I repeated sternly.

"I don't know no more than the man in the moon, ma'am."

"Where's Jemima?"

"Run out to look for her?"

"How long have you missed her?"

"An hour. Or perhaps two hours. I don't know, my head's in such a whirl. I can't remember when I saw her last. O ma'am! What shall I do?"

Percivale had come up, and was standing beside me. When I looked round, he was as pale as death; and at the sight of his face, I nearly dropped on the floor. But he caught hold of me, and said, in a voice so dreadfully still that it frightened me more than any thing,--

"Come, my love; do not give way, for we must go to the police at once." Then, turning to Sarah, "Have you searched the house and garden?" he asked.

"Yes, sir; every hole and corner. We've looked under every bed, and into every cupboard and chest,--the coal-cellar, the boxroom,--everywhere."

"The bathroom?" I cried.

"Oh, yes, ma'am! the bathroom, and everywhere."

"Have there been any tramps about the house since we left?" Percivale asked.

"Not that I know of; but the nursery window looks into the garden, you know, sir. Jemima didn't mention it."

"Come then, my dear," said my husband.

He compelled me to swallow a glass of wine, and led me away, almost unconscious of my bodily movements, to the nearest cab-stand. I wondered afterwards, when I recalled the calm gaze with which he glanced along the line, and chose the horse whose appearance promised the best speed. In a few minutes we were telling the inspector at the police-station in Albany Street what had happened. He took a sheet of paper, and asking one question after another about her age, appearance, and dress, wrote down our answers. He then called a man, to whom he gave the paper, with some words of direction.

"The men are now going on their beats for the night," he said, turning again to us. "They will all hear the description of the child, and some of them have orders to search."

"Thank you," said my husband. "Which station had we better go to next?"

"The news will be at the farthest before you can reach the nearest," he answered. "We shall telegraph to the suburbs first."

"Then what more is there we can do?" asked Percivale.

"Nothing," said the inspector,--"except you find out whether any of the neighbors saw her, and when and where. It would be something to know in what direction she was going. Have you any ground for suspicion? Have you ever discharged a servant? Were any tramps seen about the place?"

"I know, who it is!" I cried. "It's the woman that took Theodora! It's Theodora's mother! I know it is!"

Percivale explained what I meant.

"That's what people get, you see, when they take on themselves other people's business," returned the inspector. "That child ought to have been sent to the workhouse."

He laid his head on his hand for a moment.

"It seems likely enough," he added. Then after another pause--"I have your address. The child shall be brought back to you the moment she's found. We can't mistake her after your description."

"Where are you going now?" I said to my husband, as we left the station to re-enter the cab.

"I don't know," he answered, "except we go home and question all the shops in the neighborhood."

"Let us go to Miss Clare first," I said.

"By all means," he answered.

We were soon at the entrance of Lime Court.

When we turned the corner in the middle of it, we heard the sound of a piano.

"She's at home!" I cried, with a feeble throb of satisfaction. The fear that she might be out had for the last few moments been uppermost.

We entered the house, and ascended the stairs in haste. Not a creature did we meet, except a wicked-looking cat. The top of her head was black, her forehead and face white; and the black and white were shaped so as to look like hair parted over a white forehead, which gave her green eyes a frightfully human look as she crouched in the corner of a window-sill in the light of a gas-lamp outside. But before we reached the top of the first stair we heard the sounds of dancing, as well as of music. In a moment after, with our load of gnawing fear and helpless eagerness, we stood in the midst of a merry assembly of men, women, and children, who filled Miss Clare's room to overflowing. It was Saturday night, and they were gathered according to custom for their weekly music.

They made a way for us; and Miss Clare left the piano, and came to meet us with a smile on her beautiful face. But, when she saw our faces, hers fell.

"What is the matter, Mrs. Percivale?" she asked in alarm.

I sunk on the chair from which she had risen.

"We've lost Ethel," said my husband quietly.

"What do you mean? You don't"--

"No, no: she's gone; she's stolen. We don't know where she is," he answered with faltering voice. "We've just been to the police."

Miss Clare turned white; but, instead of making any remark, she called out to some of her friends whose good manners were making them leave the room,--

"Don't go, please; we want you." Then turning to me, she asked, "May I do as I think best?"

"Yes, certainly," answered my husband.

"My friend, Mrs. Percivale," she said, addressing the whole assembly, "has lost her little girl."

A murmur of dismay and sympathy arose.

"What can we do to find her?" she went on.

They fell to talking among themselves. The next instant, two men came up to us, making their way from the neighborhood of the door. The one was a keen-faced, elderly man, with iron-gray whiskers and clean-shaved chin; the other was my first acquaintance in the neighborhood, the young bricklayer. The elder addressed my husband, while the other listened without speaking.

"Tell us what she's like, sir, and how she was dressed--though that ain't much use. She'll be all different by this time."

The words shot a keener pang to my heart than it had yet felt. My darling stripped of her nice clothes, and covered with dirty, perhaps infected garments. But it was no time to give way to feeling.

My husband repeated to the men the description he had given the police, loud enough for the whole room to hear; and the women in particular, Miss Clare told me afterwards, caught it up with remarkable accuracy. They would not have done so, she said, but that their feelings were touched.

"Tell them also, please, Mr. Percivale, about the child Mrs. Percivale's father and mother found and brought up. That may have something to do with this."

My husband told them all the story; adding that the mother of the child might have found out who we were, and taken ours as a pledge for the recovery of her own.

Here one of the women spoke.

"That dark woman you took in one night--two years ago, miss--she say something. I was astin' of her in the mornin' what her trouble was, for that trouble she had on her mind was plain to see, and she come over something, half-way like, about losin' of a child; but whether it were dead, or strayed, or stolen, or what, I couldn't tell; and no more, I believe, she wanted me to."

Here another woman spoke.

"I'm 'most sure I saw her--the same woman--two days ago, and no furrer off than Gower Street," she said. "You're too good by half, miss," she went on, "to the likes of sich. They ain't none of them respectable."

"Perhaps you'll see some good come out of it before long," said Miss Clare in reply.

The words sounded like a rebuke, for all this time I had hardly sent a thought upwards for help. The image of my child had so filled my heart, that there was no room left for the thought of duty, or even of God.

Miss Clare went on, still addressing the company, and her words had a tone of authority.

"I will tell you what you must do," she said. "You must, every one of you, run and tell everybody you know, and tell every one to tell everybody else. You mustn't stop to talk it over with each other, or let those you tell it to stop to talk to you about it; for it is of the greatest consequence no time should be lost in making it as quickly and as widely known as possible. Go, please."

In a few moments the room was empty of all but ourselves. The rush on the stairs was tremendous for a single minute, and then all was still. Even the children had rushed out to tell what other children they could find.

"What must we do next?" said my husband.

Miss Clare thought for a moment.

"I would go and tell Mr. Blackstone," she said. "It is a long way from here, but whoever has taken the child would not be likely to linger in the neighborhood. It is best to try every thing."

"Right," said my husband. "Come, Wynnie."

"Wouldn't it be better to leave Mrs. Percivale with me?" said Miss Clare. "It is dreadfully fatiguing to go driving over the stones."

It was very kind of her; but if she had been a mother she would not have thought of parting me from my husband; neither would she have fancied that I could remain inactive so long as it was possible even to imagine I was doing something; but when I told her how I felt, she saw at once that it would be better for me to go.

We set off instantly, and drove to Mr. Blackstone's. What a long way it was! Down Oxford Street and Holborn we rattled and jolted, and then through many narrow ways in which I had never been, emerging at length in a broad road, with many poor and a few fine old houses in it; then again plunging into still more shabby regions of small houses, which, alas! were new, and yet wretched! At length, near an open space, where yet not a blade of grass could grow for the trampling of many feet, and for the smoke from tall chimneys, close by a gasometer of awful size, we found the parsonage, and Mr. Blackstone in his study. The moment he heard our story he went to the door and called his servant. "Run, Jabez," he said, "and tell the sexton to ring the church-bell. I will come to him directly I hear it."

I may just mention that Jabez and his wife, who formed the whole of Mr. Blackstone's household, did not belong to his congregation, but were members of a small community in the neighborhood, calling themselves Peculiar Baptists.

About ten minutes passed, during which little was said: Mr. Blackstone never seemed to have any mode of expressing his feelings except action, and where that was impossible they took hardly any recognizable shape. When the first boom of the big bell filled the little study in which we sat, I gave a cry, and jumped up from my chair: it sounded in my ears like the knell of my lost baby, for at the moment I was thinking of her as once when a baby she lay for dead in my arms. Mr. Blackstone got up and left the room, and my husband rose and would have followed him; but, saying he would be back in a few minutes, he shut the door and left us. It was half an hour, a dreadful half-hour, before he returned; for to sit doing nothing, not even being carried somewhere to do something, was frightful.

"I've told them all about it," he said. "I couldn't do better than follow Miss Clare's example. But my impression is, that, if the woman you suspect be the culprit, she would make her way out to the open as quickly as possible. Such people are most at home on the commons: they are of a less gregarious nature than the wild animals of the town. What shall you do next?"

"That is just what I want to know," answered my husband.

He never asked advice except when he did not know what to do; and never except from one whose advice he meant to follow.

"Well," returned Mr. Blackstone, "I should put an advertisement into every one of the morning papers."

"But the offices will all be closed," said Percivale.

"Yes, the publishing, but not the printing offices."

"How am I to find out where they are?"

"I know one or two of them, and the people there will tell us the rest."

"Then you mean to go with us?"

"Of course I do,--that is, if you will have me. You don't think I would leave you to go alone? Have you had any supper?"

"No. Would you like something, my dear?" said Percivale turning to me.

"I couldn't swallow a mouthful," I said.

"Nor I either," said Percivale.

"Then I'll just take a hunch of bread with me," said Mr. Blackstone, "for I am hungry. I've had nothing since one o'clock."

We neither asked him not to go, nor offered to wait till he had had his supper. Before we reached Printing-House Square he had eaten half a loaf.

"Are you sure," said my husband, as we were starting, "that they will take an advertisement at the printing-office?"

"I think they will. The circumstances are pressing. They will see that we are honest people, and will make a push to help us. But for any thing I know it may be quite en règle."

"We must pay, though," said Percivale, putting his hand in his pocket, and taking out his purse. "There! Just as I feared! No money!--Two--three shillings--and sixpence!"

Mr. Blackstone stopped the cab.

"I've not got as much," he said. "But it's of no consequence. I'll run and write a check."

"But where can you change it? The little shops about here won't be able."

"There's the Blue Posts."

"Let me take it, then. You won't be seen going into a public-house?" said Percivale.

"Pooh! pooh!" said Mr. Blackstone. "Do you think my character won't stand that much? Besides, they wouldn't change it for you. But when I think of it, I used the last check in my book in the beginning of the week. Never mind; they will lend me five pounds."

We drove to the Blue Posts. He got out, and returned in one minute with five sovereigns.

"What will people say to your borrowing five pounds at a public-house?" said Percivale.

"If they say what is right, it won't hurt me."

"But if they say what is wrong?"

"That they can do any time, and that won't hurt me, either."

"But what will the landlord himself think?"

"I have no doubt he feels grateful to me for being so friendly. You can't oblige a man more than by asking a light favor of him."

"Do you think it well in your position to be obliged to a man in his?" asked Percivale.

"I do. I am glad of the chance. It will bring me into friendly relations with him."

"Do you wish, then, to be in friendly relations with him?"

"Indubitably. In what other relations do you suppose a clergyman ought to be with one of his parishioners?"

"You didn't invite him into your parish, I presume."

"No; and he didn't invite me. The thing was settled in higher quarters. There we are, anyhow; and I have done quite a stroke of business in borrowing that money of him."

Mr. Blackstone laughed, and the laugh sounded frightfully harsh in my ears.

"A man"--my husband went on, who was surprised that a clergyman should be so liberal--"a man who sells drink!--in whose house so many of your parishioners will to-morrow night get too drunk to be in church the next morning!"

"I wish having been drunk were what would keep them from being in church. Drunk or sober, it would be all the same. Few of them care to go. They are turning out better, however, than when first I came. As for the publican, who knows what chance of doing him a good turn it may put in my way?"

"You don't expect to persuade him to shut up shop?"

"No: he must persuade himself to that."

"What good, then, can you expect to do him?"

"Who knows? I say. You can't tell what good may or may not come out of it, any more than you can tell which of your efforts, or which of your helpers, may this night be the means of restoring your child."

"What do you expect the man to say about it?"

"I shall provide him with something to say. I don't want him to attribute it to some foolish charity. He might. In the New Testament, publicans are acknowledged to have hearts."

"Yes; but the word has a very different meaning in the New Testament."

"The feeling religious people bear towards them, however, comes very near to that with which society regarded the publicans of old."

"They are far more hurtful to society than those tax-gatherers."

"They may be. I dare say they are. Perhaps they are worse than the sinners with whom their namesakes of the New Testament are always coupled."

I will not follow the conversation further. I will only give the close of it. Percivale told me afterwards that he had gone on talking in the hope of diverting my thoughts a little.

"What, then, do you mean to tell him?" asked Percivale.

"The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," said Mr. Blackstone. "I shall go in to-morrow morning, just at the time when there will probably he far too many people at the bar,--a little after noon. I shall return him his five sovereigns, ask for a glass of ale, and tell him the whole story,--how my friend, the celebrated painter, came with his wife,--and the rest of it, adding, I trust, that the child is all right, and at the moment probably going out for a walk with her mother, who won't let her out of her sight for a moment."

He laughed again, and again I thought him heartless; but I understand him better now. I wondered, too, that Percivale could go on talking, and yet I found that their talk did make the time go a little quicker. At length we reached the printing-office of "The Times,"--near Blackfriars' Bridge, I think.

After some delay, we saw an overseer, who, curt enough at first, became friendly when he heard our case. If he had not had children of his own, we might perhaps have fared worse. He took down the description and address, and promised that the advertisement should appear in the morning's paper in the best place he could now find for it.

Before we left, we received minute directions as to the whereabouts of the next nearest office. We spent the greater part of the night in driving from one printing-office to another. Mr. Blackstone declared he would not leave us until we had found her.

"You have to preach twice to-morrow," said Percivale: it was then three o'clock.

"I shall preach all the better," he returned. "Yes: I feel as if I should give them one good sermon to-morrow."

"The man talks as if the child were found already!" I thought, with indignation. "It's a pity he hasn't a child of his own! he would be more sympathetic." At the same time, if I had been honest, I should have confessed to myself that his confidence and hope helped to keep me up.

At last, having been to the printing-office of every daily paper in London, we were on our dreary way home.

Oh, how dreary it was!--and the more dreary that the cool, sweet light of a spring dawn was growing in every street, no smoke having yet begun to pour from the multitudinous chimneys to sully its purity! From misery and want of sleep, my soul and body both felt like a gray foggy night. Every now and then the thought of my child came with a fresh pang,--not that she was one moment absent from me, but that a new thought about her would dart a new sting into the ever-burning throb of the wound. If you had asked me the one blessed thing in the world, I should have said sleep--with my husband and children beside me. But I dreaded sleep now, both for its visions and for the frightful waking. Now and then I would start violently, thinking I heard my Ethel cry; but from the cab-window no child was ever to be seen, down all the lonely street. Then I would sink into a succession of efforts to picture to myself her little face,--white with terror and misery, and smeared with the dirt of the pitiful hands that rubbed the streaming eyes. They might have beaten her! she might have cried herself to sleep in some wretched hovel; or, worse, in some fever-stricken and crowded lodging-house, with horrible sights about her and horrible voices in her ears! Or she might at that moment be dragged wearily along a country-road, farther and farther from her mother! I could have shrieked, and torn my hair. What if I should never see her again? She might be murdered, and I never know it! O my darling! my darling!

At the thought a groan escaped me. A hand was laid on my arm. That I knew was my husband's. But a voice was in my ear, and that was Mr. Blackstone's.

"Do you think God loves the child less than you do? Or do you think he is less able to take care of her than you are? When the disciples thought themselves sinking, Jesus rebuked them for being afraid. Be still, and you will see the hand of God in this. Good you cannot foresee will come out of it."

I could not answer him, but I felt both rebuked and grateful.

All at once I thought of Roger. What would he say when he found that his pet was gone, and we had never told him?

"Roger!" I said to my husband. "We've never told him!"

"Let us go now," he returned.

We were at the moment close to North Crescent. After a few thundering raps at the door, the landlady came down. Percivale rushed up, and in a few minutes returned with Roger. They got into the cab. A great talk followed; but I heard hardly any thing, or rather I heeded nothing. I only recollect that Roger was very indignant with his brother for having been out all night without him to help.

"I never thought of you, Roger," said Percivale.

"So much the worse!" said Roger.

"No," said Mr. Blackstone. "A thousand things make us forget. I dare say your brother all but forgot God in the first misery of his loss. To have thought of you, and not to have told you, would have been another thing."

A few minutes after, we stopped at our desolate house, and the cabman was dismissed with one of the sovereigns from the Blue Posts. I wondered afterwards what manner of man or woman had changed it there. A dim light was burning in the drawing-room. Percivale took his pass-key, and opened the door. I hurried in, and went straight to my own room; for I longed to be alone that I might weep--nor weep only. I fell on my knees by the bedside, buried my face, and sobbed, and tried to pray. But I could not collect my thoughts; and, overwhelmed by a fresh access of despair, I started again to my feet.

Could I believe my eyes? What was that in the bed? Trembling as with an ague,--in terror lest the vision should by vanishing prove itself a vision,--I stooped towards it. I heard a breathing! It was the fair hair and the rosy face of my darling--fast asleep--without one trace of suffering on her angelic loveliness! I remember no more for a while. They tell me I gave a great cry, and fell on the floor. When I came to myself I was lying on the bed. My husband was bending over me, and Roger and Mr. Blackstone were both in the room. I could not speak, but my husband understood my questioning gaze.

"Yes, yes, my love," he said quietly: "she's all right--safe and sound, thank God!"

And I did thank God.

Mr. Blackstone came to the bedside, with a look and a smile that seemed to my conscience to say, "I told you so." I held out my hand to him, but could only weep. Then I remembered how we had vexed Roger, and called him.

"Dear Roger," I said, "forgive me, and go and tell Miss Clare."

I had some reason to think this the best amends I could make him.

"I will go at once," he said. "She will be anxious."

"And I will go to my sermon," said Mr. Blackstone, with the same quiet smile.

They shook hands with me, and went away. And my husband and I rejoiced over our first-born.


George MacDonald