The Moorland Cottage
by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
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"Don't come till five, please. I must tell mamma; and I want some time to think. It does seem so like a dream. Do go, please."

"Well! if I must, I must. But I don't feel as if I were in a dream, but in some real blessed heaven so long as I see you."

At last he went. Nancy was awaiting Maggie, the side-gate.

"Bless us and save us, bairn! what a time it has taken thee to get the water. Is the spring dry with the hot weather?"

Maggie ran past her. All dinner-time she heard her mother's voice in long-continued lamentation about something. She answered at random, and startled her mother by asserting that she thought "it" was very good; the said "it" being milk turned sour by thunder. Mrs. Browne spoke quite sharply, "No one is so particular as you, Maggie. I have known you drink water, day after day, for breakfast, when you were a little girl, because your cup of milk had a drowned fly in it; and now you tell me you don't care for this, and don't mind that, just as if you could eat up all the things which are spoiled by the heat. I declare my head aches so, I shall go and lie down as soon as ever dinner is over."

If this was her plan, Maggie thought she had no time to lose in making her confession. Frank would be here before her mother got up again to tea. But she dreaded speaking about her happiness; it seemed as yet so cobweb-like, as if a touch would spoil its beauty.

"Mamma, just wait a minute. Just sit down in your chair while I tell you something. Please, dear mamma." She took a stool, and sat at her mother's feet; and then she began to turn the wedding-ring on Mrs. Browne's hand, looking down and never speaking, till the latter became impatient.

"What is if you have got to say, child? Do make haste, for I want to go up-stairs."

With a great jerk of resolution, Maggie said:

"Mamma, Frank Buxton has asked me to marry him."

She hid her face in her mother's lap for an instant; and then she lifted it up, as brimful of the light of happiness as is the cup of a water-lily of the sun's radiance.

"Maggie—you don't say so," said her mother, half incredulously. "It can't be, for he's at Cambridge, and it's not post-day. What do you mean?"

"He came this morning, mother, when I was down at the well; and we fixed that I was to speak to you; and he asked if he might come again for tea."

"Dear! dear! and the milk all gone sour? We should have had milk of our own, if Edward had not persuaded me against buying another cow."

"I don't think Mr. Buxton will mind it much," said Maggie, dimpling up, as she remembered, half unconsciously, how little he had seemed to care for anything but herself.

"Why, what a thing it is for you!" said Mrs. Browne, quite roused up from her languor and her head-ache. "Everybody said he was engaged to Miss Erminia. Are you quite sure you made no mistake, child? What did he say? Young men are so fond of making fine speeches; and young women are so silly in fancying they mean something. I once knew a girl who thought that a gentleman who sent her mother a present of a sucking-pig, did it as a delicate way of making her an offer. Tell me his exact words."

But Maggie blushed, and either would not or could not. So Mrs. Browne began again:

"Well, if you're sure, you're sure. I wonder how he brought his father round. So long as he and Erminia have been planned for each other! That very first day we ever dined there after your father's death, Mr. Buxton as good as told me all about it. I fancied they were only waiting till they were out of mourning."

All this was news to Maggie. She had never thought that either Erminia or Frank was particularly fond of the other; still less had she had any idea of Mr. Buxton's plans for them. Her mother's surprise at her engagement jarred a little upon her too: it had become so natural, even in these last two hours, to feel that she belonged to him. But there were more discords to come. Mrs. Browne began again, half in soliloquy:

"I should think he would have four thousand a-year. He did not tell you, love, did he, if they had still that bad property in the canal, that his father complained about? But he will have four thousand. Why, you'll have your carriage, Maggie. Well! I hope Mr. Buxton has taken it kindly, because he'll have a deal to do with the settlements. I'm sure I thought he was engaged to Erminia."

Ringing changes on these subjects all the afternoon, Mrs. Browne sat with Maggie. She occasionally wandered off to speak about Edward, and how favorably his future prospects would be advanced by the engagement.

"Let me see—there's the house in Combehurst: the rent of that would be a hundred and fifty a-year, but we'll not reckon that. But there's the quarries" (she was reckoning upon her fingers in default of a slate, for which she had vainly searched), "we'll call them two hundred a-year, for I don't believe Mr. Buxton's stories about their only bringing him in seven-pence; and there's Newbridge, that's certainly thirteen hundred—where had I got to, Maggie?"

"Dear mamma, do go and lie down for a little; you look quite flushed," said Maggie, softly.

Was this the manner to view her betrothal with such a man as Frank? Her mother's remarks depressed her more than she could have thought it possible; the excitement of the morning was having its reaction, and she longed to go up to the solitude under the thorn-tree, where she had hoped to spend a quiet, thoughtful afternoon.

Nancy came in to replace glasses and spoons in the cupboard. By some accident, the careful old servant broke one of the former. She looked up quickly at her mistress, who usually visited all such offences with no small portion of rebuke.

"Never mind, Nancy," said Mrs. Browne. "It's only an old tumbler; and Maggie's going to be married, and we must buy a new set for the wedding-dinner."

Nancy looked at both, bewildered; at last a light dawned into her mind, and her face looked shrewdly and knowingly back at Mrs. Browne. Then she said, very quietly:

"I think I'll take the next pitcher to the well myself, and try my luck. To think how sorry I was for Miss Maggie this morning! 'Poor thing,' says I to myself, 'to be kept all this time at that confounded well' (for I'll not deny that I swear a bit to myself at times—it sweetens the blood), 'and she so tired.' I e'en thought I'd go help her; but I reckon she'd some other help. May I take a guess at the young man?"

"Four thousand a-year! Nancy;" said Mrs. Browne, exultingly.

"And a blithe look, and a warm, kind heart—and a free step—and a noble way with him to rich and poor—aye, aye, I know the name. No need to alter all my neat M.B.'s, done in turkey-red cotton. Well, well! every one's turn comes sometime, but mine's rather long a-coming."

The faithful old servant came up to Maggie, and put her hand caressingly on her shoulder. Maggie threw her arms round her neck, and kissed the brown, withered face.

"God bless thee, bairn," said Nancy, solemnly. It brought the low music of peace back into the still recesses of Maggie's heart. She began to look out for her lover; half-hidden behind the muslin window curtain, which waved gently to and fro in the afternoon breezes. She heard a firm, buoyant step, and had only time to catch one glimpse of his face, before moving away. But that one glance made her think that the hours which had elapsed since she saw him had not been serene to him any more than to her.

When he entered the parlor, his face was glad and bright. He went up in a frank, rejoicing way to Mrs. Browne; who was evidently rather puzzled how to receive him—whether as Maggie's betrothed, or as the son of the greatest man of her acquaintance.

"I am sure, sir," said she, "we are all very much obliged to you for the honor you have done our family!"

He looked rather perplexed as to the nature of the honor which he had conferred without knowing it; but as the light dawned upon him, he made answer in a frank, merry way, which was yet full of respect for his future mother-in-law:

"And I am sure I am truly grateful for the honor one of your family has done me."

When Nancy brought in tea she was dressed in her fine-weather Sunday gown; the first time it had ever been worn out of church, and the walk to and fro.

After tea, Frank asked Maggie if she would walk out with him; and accordingly they climbed the Fell-Lane and went out upon the moors, which seemed vast and boundless as their love.

"Have you told your father?" asked Maggie; a dim anxiety lurking in her heart.

"Yes," said Frank. He did not go on; and she feared to ask, although she longed to know, how Mr. Buxton had received the intelligence.

"What did he say?" at length she inquired.

"Oh! it was evidently a new idea to him that I was attached to you; and he does not take up a new idea speedily. He has had some notion, it seems, that Erminia and I were to make a match of it; but she and I agreed, when we talked it over, that we should never have fallen in love with each other if there had not been another human being in the world. Erminia is a little sensible creature, and says she does not wonder at any man falling in love with you. Nay, Maggie, don't hang your head so down; let me have a glimpse of your face."

"I am sorry your father does not like it," said Maggie, sorrowfully.

"So am I. But we must give him time to get reconciled. Never fear but he will like it in the long run; he has too much good taste and good feeling. He must like you."

Frank did not choose to tell even Maggie how violently his father had set himself against their engagement. He was surprised and annoyed at first to find how decidedly his father was possessed with the idea that he was to marry his cousin, and that she, at any rate, was attached to him, whatever his feelings might be toward her; but after he had gone frankly to Erminia and told her all, he found that she was as ignorant of her uncle's plans for her as he had been; and almost as glad at any event which should frustrate them.

Indeed she came to the moorland cottage on the following day, after Frank had returned to Cambridge. She had left her horse in charge of the groom, near the fir-trees on the heights, and came running down the slope in her habit. Maggie went out to meet her, with just a little wonder at her heart if what Frank had said could possibly be true; and that Erminia, living in the house with him, could have remained indifferent to him. Erminia threw her arms round her neck, and they sat down together on the court-steps.

"I durst not ride down that hill; and Jem is holding my horse, so I may not stay very long; now begin, Maggie, at once, and go into a rhapsody about Frank. Is not he a charming fellow? Oh! I am so glad. Now don't sit smiling and blushing there to yourself; but tell me a great deal about it. I have so wanted to know somebody that was in love, that I might hear what it was like; and the minute I could, I came off here. Frank is only just gone. He has had another long talk with my uncle, since he came back from you this morning; but I am afraid he has not made much way yet."

Maggie sighed. "I don't wonder at his not thinking me good enough for Frank.

"No! the difficulty would be to find any one he did think fit for his paragon of a son."

"He thought you were, dearest Erminia."

"So Frank has told you that, has he? I suppose we shall have no more family secrets now," said Erminia, laughing. "But I can assure you I had a strong rival in lady Adela Castlemayne, the Duke of Wight's daughter; she was the most beautiful lady my uncle had ever seen (he only saw her in the Grand Stand at Woodchester races, and never spoke a word to her in his life). And if she would have had Frank, my uncle would still have been dissatisfied as long as the Princess Victoria was unmarried; none would have been good enough while a better remained. But Maggie," said she, smiling up into her friend's face, "I think it would have made you laugh, for all you look as if a kiss would shake the tears out of your eyes, if you could have seen my uncle's manner to me all day. He will have it that I am suffering from an unrequited attachment; so he watched me and watched me over breakfast; and at last, when I had eaten a whole nest-full of eggs, and I don't know how many pieces of toast, he rang the bell and asked for some potted charr. I was quite unconscious that it was for me, and I did not want it when it came; so he sighed in a most melancholy manner, and said, 'My poor Erminia!' If Frank had not been there, and looking dreadfully miserable, I am sure I should have laughed out."

"Did Frank look miserable?" said Maggie, anxiously.

"There now! you don't care for anything but the mention of his name."

"But did he look unhappy?" persisted Maggie.

"I can't say he looked happy, dear Mousey; but it was quite different when he came back from seeing you. You know you always had the art of stilling any person's trouble. You and my aunt Buxton are the only two I ever knew with that gift."

"I am so sorry he has any trouble to be stilled," said Maggie.

"And I think it will do him a world of good. Think how successful his life has been! the honors he got at Eton! his picture taken, and I don't know what! and at Cambridge just the same way of going on. He would be insufferably imperious in a few years, if he did not meet with a few crosses."

"Imperious!—oh Erminia, how can you say so?"

"Because it's the truth. He happens to have very good dispositions; and therefore his strong will is not either disagreeable, or offensive; but once let him become possessed by a wrong wish, and you would then see how vehement and imperious he would be. Depend upon it, my uncle's resistance is a capital thing for him. As dear sweet Aunt Buxton would have said, 'There is a holy purpose in it;' and as Aunt Buxton would not have said, but as I, a 'fool, rush in where angels fear to tread,' I decide that the purpose is to teach Master Frank patience and submission."

"Erminia—how could you help"—and there Maggie stopped.

"I know what you mean; how could I help falling in love with him? I think he has not mystery and reserve enough for me. I should like a man with some deep, impenetrable darkness around him; something one could always keep wondering about. Besides, think what clashing of wills there would have been! My uncle was very short-sighted in his plan; but I don't think he thought so much about the fitness of our characters and ways, as the fitness of our fortunes!"

"For shame, Erminia! No one cares less for money than Mr. Buxton!"

"There's a good little daughter-in-law elect! But seriously, I do think he is beginning to care for money; not in the least for himself, but as a means of aggrandizement for Frank. I have observed, since I came home at Christmas, a growing anxiety to make the most of his property; a thing he never cared about before. I don't think he is aware of it himself, but from one or two little things I have noticed, I should not wonder if he ends in being avaricious in his old age." Erminia sighed.

Maggie had almost a sympathy with the father, who sought what he imagined to be for the good of his son, and that son, Frank. Although she was as convinced as Erminia, that money could not really help any one to happiness, she could not at the instant resist saying:

"Oh! how I wish I had a fortune! I should so like to give it all to him."

"Now Maggie! don't be silly! I never heard you wish for anything different from what was before, so I shall take this opportunity of lecturing you on your folly. No! I won't either, for you look sadly tired with all your agitation; and besides I must go, or Jem will be wondering what has become of me. Dearest cousin-in-law, I shall come very often to see you; and perhaps I shall give you my lecture yet."


It was true of Mr. Buxton, as well as of his son, that he had the seeds of imperiousness in him. His life had not been such as to call them out into view. With more wealth than he required; with a gentle wife, who if she ruled him never showed it, or was conscious of the fact herself; looked up to by his neighbors, a simple affectionate set of people, whose fathers had lived near his father and grandfather in the same kindly relation, receiving benefits cordially given, and requiting them with good will and respectful attention: such had been the circumstances surrounding him; and until his son grew out of childhood, there had not seemed a wish which he had it not in his power to gratify as soon as formed. Again, when Frank was at school and at college, all went on prosperously; he gained honors enough to satisfy a far more ambitious father. Indeed, it was the honors he gained that stimulated his father's ambition. He received letters from tutors, and headmasters, prophesying that, if Frank chose, he might rise to the "highest honors in church or state;" and the idea thus suggested, vague as it was, remained, and filled Mr. Buxton's mind; and, for the first time in his life, made him wish that his own career had been such as would have led him to form connections among the great and powerful. But, as it was, his shyness and gene, from being unaccustomed to society, had made him averse to Frank's occasional requests that he might bring such and such a school-fellow, or college-chum, home on a visit. Now he regretted this, on account of the want of those connections which might thus have been formed; and, in his visions, he turned to marriage as the best way of remedying this. Erminia was right in saying that her uncle had thought of Lady Adela Castlemayne for an instant; though how the little witch had found it out I cannot say, as the idea had been dismissed immediately from his mind.

He was wise enough to see its utter vanity, as long as his son remained undistinguished. But his hope was this. If Frank married Erminia, their united property (she being her father's heiress) would justify him in standing for the shire; or if he could marry the daughter of some leading personage in the county, it might lead to the same step; and thus at once he would obtain a position in parliament, where his great talents would have scope and verge enough. Of these two visions, the favorite one (for his sister's sake) was that of marriage with Erminia.

And, in the midst of all this, fell, like a bombshell, the intelligence of his engagement with Maggie Browne; a good sweet little girl enough, but without fortune or connection—without, as far as Mr. Buxton knew, the least power, or capability, or spirit, with which to help Frank on in his career to eminence in the land! He resolved to consider if as a boyish fancy, easily to be suppressed; and pooh-poohed it down, to Frank, accordingly. He remarked his son's set lips, and quiet determined brow, although he never spoke in a more respectful tone, than while thus steadily opposing his father. If he had shown more violence of manner, he would have irritated him less; but, as it was, if was the most miserable interview that had ever taken place between the father and son.

Mr. Buxton tried to calm himself down with believing that Frank would change his mind, if he saw more of the world; but, somehow, he had a prophesying distrust of this idea internally. The worst was, there was no fault to be found with Maggie herself, although she might want the accomplishments he desired to see in his son's wife. Her connections, too, were so perfectly respectable (though humble enough in comparison with Mr. Buxton's soaring wishes), that there was nothing to be objected to on that score; her position was the great offence. In proportion to his want of any reason but this one, for disapproving of the engagement, was his annoyance under it. He assumed a reserve toward Frank; which was so unusual a restraint upon his open, genial disposition, that it seemed to make him irritable toward all others in contact with him, excepting Erminia. He found it difficult to behave rightly to Maggie. Like all habitually cordial persons, he went into the opposite extreme, when he wanted to show a little coolness. However angry he might be with the events of which she was the cause, she was too innocent and meek to justify him in being more than cool; but his awkwardness was so great, that many a man of the world has met his greatest enemy, each knowing the other's hatred, with less freezing distance of manner than Mr. Buxton's to Maggie. While she went simply on in her own path, loving him the more through all, for old kindness' sake, and because he was Frank's father, he shunned meeting her with such evident and painful anxiety, that at last she tried to spare him the encounter, and hurried out of church, or lingered behind all, in order to avoid the only chance they now had of being forced to speak; for she no longer went to the dear house in Combehurst, though Erminia came to see her more than ever.

Mrs. Browne was perplexed and annoyed beyond measure. She upbraided Mr. Buxton to every one but Maggie. To her she said—"Any one in their senses might have foreseen what had happened, and would have thought well about it, before they went and fell in love with a young man of such expectations as Mr. Frank Buxton."

In the middle of all this dismay, Edward came over from Woodchester for a day or two. He had been told of the engagement, in a letter from Maggie herself; but if was too sacred a subject for her to enlarge upon to him; and Mrs. Browne was no letter writer. So this was his first greeting to Maggie; after kissing her:

"Well, Sancho, you've done famously for yourself. As soon as I got your letter I said to Harry Bish—'Still waters run deep; here's my little sister Maggie, as quiet a creature as ever lived, has managed to catch young Buxton, who has five thousand a-year if he's a penny.' Don't go so red, Maggie. Harry was sure to hear of if soon from some one, and I see no use in keeping it secret, for it gives consequence to us all."

"Mr. Buxton is quite put out about it," said Mrs. Brown, querulously; "and I'm sure he need not be, for he's enough of money, if that's what he wants; and Maggie's father was a clergyman, and I've seen 'yeoman,' with my own eyes, on old Mr. Buxton's (Mr. Lawrence's father's) carts; and a clergyman is above a yeoman any day. But if Maggie had had any thought for other people, she'd never have gone and engaged herself, when she might have been sure it would give offence. We are never asked down to dinner now. I've never broken bread there since last Christmas."

"Whew!" said Edward to this. It was a disappointed whistle; but he soon cheered up. "I thought I could have lent a hand in screwing old Buxton up about the settlements; but I see it's not come to that yet. Still I'll go and see the old gentleman. I'm a bit of a favorite of his, and I doubt I can turn him round."

"Pray, Edward, don't go," said Maggie. "Frank and I are content to wait; and I'm sure we would rather not have any one speak to Mr. Buxton, upon a subject which evidently gives him so much pain; please, Edward, don't!"

"Well, well. Only I must go about this property of his. Besides, I don't mean to get into disgrace; so I shan't seem to know anything about it, if it would make him angry. I want to keep on good terms, because of the agency. So, perhaps, I shall shake my head, and think it great presumption in you, Maggie, to have thought of becoming his daughter-in-law. If I can do you no good, I may as well do myself some."

"I hope you won't mention me at all," she replied.

One comfort (and almost the only one arising from Edward's visit) was, that she could now often be spared to go up to the thorn-tree, and calm down her anxiety, and bring all discords into peace, under the sweet influences of nature. Mrs. Buxton had tried to teach her the force of the lovely truth, that the "melodies of the everlasting chime" may abide in the hearts of those who ply their daily task in towns, and crowded populous places; and that solitude is not needed by the faithful for them to feel the immediate presence of God; nor utter stillness of human sound necessary, before they can hear the music of His angels' footsteps; but, as yet, her soul was a young disciple; and she felt it easier to speak to Him, and come to Him for help, sitting lonely, with wild moors swelling and darkening around her, and not a creature in sight but the white specks of distant sheep, and the birds that shun the haunts of men, floating in the still mid-air.

She sometimes longed to go to Mr. Buxton and tell him how much she could sympathize with him, if his dislike to her engagement arose from thinking her unworthy of his son. Frank's character seemed to her grand in its promise. With vehement impulses and natural gifts, craving worthy employment, his will sat supreme over all, like a young emperor calmly seated on his throne, whose fiery generals and wise counsellors stand alike ready to obey him. But if marriage were to be made by due measurement and balance of character, and if others, with their scales, were to be the judges, what would become of all the beautiful services rendered by the loyalty of true love? Where would be the raising up of the weak by the strong? or the patient endurance? or the gracious trust of her:

"Whose faith is fixt and cannot move; She darkly feels him great and wise, She dwells on him with faithful eyes, 'I cannot understand: I love.'"

Edward's manners and conduct caused her more real anxiety than anything else. Indeed, no other thoughtfulness could be called anxiety compared to this. His faults, she could not but perceive, were strengthening with his strength, and growing with his growth. She could not help wondering whence he obtained the money to pay for his dress, which she thought was of a very expensive kind. She heard him also incidentally allude to "runs up to town," of which, at the time, neither she nor her mother had been made aware. He seemed confused when she questioned him about these, although he tried to laugh it off; and asked her how she, a country girl, cooped up among one set of people, could have any idea of the life it was necessary for a man to lead who "had any hope of getting on in the world." He must have acquaintances and connections, and see something of life, and make an appearance. She was silenced, but not satisfied. Nor was she at ease with regard to his health. He looked ill, and worn; and, when he was not rattling and laughing, his face fell into a shape of anxiety and uneasiness, which was new to her in it. He reminded her painfully of an old German engraving she had seen in Mrs. Buxton's portfolio, called, "Pleasure digging a Grave;" Pleasure being represented by a ghastly figure of a young man, eagerly industrious over his dismal work.

A few days after he went away, Nancy came to her in her bed-room.

"Miss Maggie," said she, "may I just speak a word?" But when the permission was given, she hesitated.

"It's none of my business, to be sure," said she at last: "only, you see, I've lived with your mother ever since she was married; and I care a deal for both you and Master Edward. And I think he drains Missus of her money; and it makes me not easy in my mind. You did not know of it, but he had his father's old watch when he was over last time but one; I thought he was of an age to have a watch, and that it was all natural. But, I reckon he's sold it, and got that gimcrack one instead. That's perhaps natural too. Young folks like young fashions. But, this time, I think he has taken away your mother's watch; at least, I've never seen it since he went. And this morning she spoke to me about my wages. I'm sure I've never asked for them, nor troubled her; but I'll own it's now near on to twelve months since she paid me; and she was as regular as clock-work till then. Now, Miss Maggie don't look so sorry, or I shall wish I had never spoken. Poor Missus seemed sadly put about, and said something as I did not try to hear; for I was so vexed she should think I needed apologies, and them sort of things. I'd rather live with you without wages than have her look so shame-faced as she did this morning. I don't want a bit for money, my dear; I've a deal in the Bank. But I'm afeard Master Edward is spending too much, and pinching Missus."

Maggie was very sorry indeed. Her mother had never told her anything of all this, so it was evidently a painful subject to her; and Maggie determined (after lying awake half the night) that she would write to Edward, and remonstrate with him; and that in every personal and household expense, she would be, more than ever, rigidly economical.

The full, free, natural intercourse between her lover and herself, could not fail to be checked by Mr. Buxton's aversion to the engagement. Frank came over for some time in the early autumn. He had left Cambridge, and intended to enter himself at the Temple as soon as the vacation was ended. He had not been very long at home before Maggie was made aware, partly through Erminia, who had no notion of discreet silence on any point, and partly by her own observation, of the increasing estrangement between father and son. Mr. Buxton was reserved with Frank for the first time in his life; and Frank was depressed and annoyed at his father's obstinate repetition of the same sentence, in answer to all his arguments in favor of his engagement—arguments which were overwhelming to himself and which it required an effort of patience on his part to go over and recapitulate, so obvious was the conclusion; and then to have the same answer forever, the same words even:

"Frank! it's no use talking. I don't approve of the engagement; and never shall."

He would snatch up his hat, and hurry off to Maggie to be soothed. His father knew where he was gone without being told; and was jealous of her influence over the son who had long been his first and paramount object in life.

He needed not have been jealous. However angry and indignant Frank was when he went up to the moorland cottage, Maggie almost persuaded him, before half an hour had elapsed, that his father was but unreasonable from his extreme affection. Still she saw that such frequent differences would weaken the bond between father and son; and, accordingly, she urged Frank to accept an invitation into Scotland.

"You told me," said she, "that Mr. Buxton will have it, it is but a boy's attachment; and that when you have seen other people, you will change your mind; now do try how far you can stand the effects of absence." She said it playfully, but he was in a humor to be vexed.

"What nonsense, Maggie! You don't care for all this delay yourself; and you take up my father's bad reasons as if you believed them."

"I don't believe them; but still they may be true."

"How should you like it, Maggie, if I urged you to go about and see something of society, and try if you could not find some one you liked better? It is more probable in your case than in mine; for you have never been from home, and I have been half over Europe."

"You are very much afraid, are not you, Frank?" said she, her face bright with blushes, and her gray eyes smiling up at him. "I have a great idea that if I could see that Harry Bish that Edward is always talking about, I should be charmed. He must wear such beautiful waistcoats! Don't you think I had better see him before our engagement is quite, quite final?"

But Frank would not smile. In fact, like all angry persons, he found fresh matter for offence in every sentence. She did not consider the engagement as quite final: thus he chose to understand her playful speech. He would not answer. She spoke again:

"Dear Frank, you are not angry with me, are you? It is nonsense to think that we are to go about the world, picking and choosing men and women as if they were fruit and we were to gather the best; as if there was not something in our own hearts which, if we listen to it conscientiously, will tell us at once when we have met the one of all others. There now, am I sensible? I suppose I am, for your grim features are relaxing into a smile. That's right. But now listen to this. I think your father would come round sooner, if he were not irritated every day by the knowledge of your visits to me. If you went away, he would know that we should write to each other yet he would forget the exact time when; but now he knows as well as I do where you are when you are up here; and I fancy, from what Erminia says, it makes him angry the whole time you are away."

Frank was silent. At last he said: "It is rather provoking to be obliged to acknowledge that there is some truth in what you say. But even if I would, I am not sure that I could go. My father does not speak to me about his affairs, as he used to do; so I was rather surprised yesterday to hear him say to Erminia (though I'm sure he meant the information for me), that he had engaged an agent."

"Then there will be the less occasion for you to be at home. He won't want your help in his accounts."

"I've given him little enough of that. I have long wanted him to have somebody to look after his affairs. They are very complicated and he is very careless. But I believe my signature will be wanted for some new leases; at least he told me so."

"That need not take you long," said Maggie.

"Not the mere signing. But I want to know something more about the property, and the proposed tenants. I believe this Mr. Henry that my father has engaged, is a very hard sort of man. He is what is called scrupulously honest and honorable; but I fear a little too much inclined to drive hard bargains for his client. Now I want to be convinced to the contrary, if I can, before I leave my father in his hands. So you cruel judge, you won't transport me yet, will you?"

"No" said Maggie, overjoyed at her own decision, and blushing her delight that her reason was convinced it was right for Frank to stay a little longer.

The next day's post brought her a letter from Edward. There was not a word in it about her inquiry or remonstrance; it might never have been written, or never received; but a few hurried anxious lines, asking her to write by return of post, and say if it was really true that Mr. Buxton had engaged an agent. "It's a confounded shabby trick if he has, after what he said to me long ago. I cannot tell you how much I depend on your complying with my request. Once more, write directly. If Nancy cannot take the letter to the post, run down to Combehurst with it yourself. I must have an answer to-morrow, and every particular as to who—when to be appointed, &c. But I can't believe the report to be true."

Maggie asked Frank if she might name what he had told her the day before to her brother. He said:

"Oh, yes, certainly, if he cares to know. Of course, you will not say anything about my own opinion of Mr. Henry. He is coming to-morrow, and I shall be able to judge how far I am right."


The next day Mr. Henry came. He was a quiet, stern-looking man, of considerable intelligence and refinement, and so much taste for music as to charm Erminia, who had rather dreaded his visit. But all the amenities of life were put aside when he entered Mr. Buxton's sanctum—his "office," as he called the room where he received his tenants and business people. Frank thought Mr. Henry was scarce commonly civil in the open evidence of his surprise and contempt for the habits, of which the disorderly books and ledgers were but too visible signs. Mr. Buxton himself felt more like a school-boy, bringing up an imperfect lesson, than he had ever done since he was thirteen.

"The only wonder, my good sir, is that you have any property left; that you have not been cheated out of every farthing."

"I'll answer for it," said Mr. Buxton, in reply, "that you'll not find any cheating has been going on. They dared not, sir; they know I should make an example of the first rogue I found out."

Mr. Henry lifted up his eyebrows, but did not speak.

"Besides, sir, most of these men have lived for generations under the Buxtons. I'd give you my life, they would not cheat me."

Mr. Henry coldly said:

"I imagine a close examination of these books by some accountant will be the best proof of the honesty of these said tenants. If you will allow me, I will write to a clever fellow I know, and desire him to come down and try and regulate this mass of papers."

"Anything—anything you like," said Mr. Buxton, only too glad to escape from the lawyer's cold, contemptuous way of treating the subject.

The accountant came; and he and Mr. Henry were deeply engaged in the office for several days. Mr. Buxton was bewildered by the questions they asked him. Mr. Henry examined him in the worrying way in which an unwilling witness is made to give evidence. Many a time and oft did he heartily wish he had gone on in the old course to the end of his life, instead of putting himself into an agent's hands; but he comforted himself by thinking that, at any rate, they would be convinced he had never allowed himself to be cheated or imposed upon, although he did not make any parade of exactitude.

What was his dismay when, one morning, Mr. Henry sent to request his presence, and, with a cold, clear voice, read aloud an admirably drawn up statement, informing the poor landlord of the defalcations, nay more, the impositions of those whom he had trusted. If he had been alone, he would have burst into tears, to find how his confidence had been abused. But as it was, he became passionately angry.

"I'll prosecute them, sir. Not a man shall escape. I'll make them pay back every farthing, I will. And damages, too. Crayston, did you say, sir? Was that one of the names? Why, that is the very Crayston who was bailiff under my father for years. The scoundrel! And I set him up in my best farm when he married. And he's been swindling me, has he?"

Mr. Henry ran over the items of the account—"421l, 13s. 4-3/4d. Part of this I fear we cannot recover"——

He was going on, but Mr. Buxton broke in: "But I will recover it. I'll have every farthing of it. I'll go to law with the viper. I don't care for money, but I hate ingratitude."

"If you like, I will take counsel's opinion on the case," said Mr. Henry, coolly.

"Take anything you please, sir. Why this Crayston was the first man that set me on a horse—and to think of his cheating me!"

A few days after this conversation, Frank came on his usual visit to Maggie.

"Can you come up to the thorn-tree, dearest?" said he. "It is a lovely day, and I want the solace of a quiet hour's talk with you."

So they went, and sat in silence some time, looking at the calm and still blue air about the summits of the hills, where never tumult of the world came to disturb the peace, and the quiet of whose heights was never broken by the loud passionate cries of men.

"I am glad you like my thorn-tree," said Maggie.

"I like the view from it. The thought of the solitude which must be among the hollows of those hills pleases me particularly to-day. Oh, Maggie! it is one of the times when I get depressed about men and the world. We have had such sorrow, and such revelations, and remorse, and passion at home to-day. Crayston (my father's old tenant) has come over. It seems—I am afraid there is no doubt of it—he has been peculating to a large amount. My father has been too careless, and has placed his dependents in great temptation; and Crayston—he is an old man, with a large extravagant family—has yielded. He has been served with notice of my father's intention to prosecute him; and came over to confess all, and ask for forgiveness, and time to pay back what he could. A month ago, my father would have listened to him, I think; but now, he is stung by Mr. Henry's sayings, and gave way to a furious passion. It has been a most distressing morning. The worst side of everybody seems to have come out. Even Crayston, with all his penitence and appearance of candor, had to be questioned closely by Mr. Henry before he would tell the whole truth. Good God! that money should have such power to corrupt men. It was all for money, and money's worth, that this degradation has taken place. As for Mr. Henry, to save his client money, and to protect money, he does not care—he does not even perceive—how he induces deterioration of character. He has been encouraging my father in measures which I cannot call anything but vindictive. Crayston is to be made an example of, they say. As if my father had not half the sin on his own head! As if he had rightly discharged his duties as a rich man! Money was as dross to him; but he ought to have remembered how it might be as life itself to many, and be craved after, and coveted, till the black longing got the better of principle, as it has done with this poor Crayston. They say the man was once so truthful, and now his self-respect is gone; and he has evidently lost the very nature of truth. I dread riches. I dread the responsibility of them. At any rate, I wish I had begun life as a poor boy, and worked my way up to competence. Then I could understand and remember the temptations of poverty. I am afraid of my own heart becoming hardened as my father's is. You have no notion of his passionate severity to-day, Maggie! It was quite a new thing even to me!"

"It will only be for a short time," said she. "He must be much grieved about this man."

"If I thought I could ever grow as hard and different to the abject entreaties of a criminal as my father has been this morning—one whom he has helped to make, too—I would go off to Australia at once. Indeed, Maggie, I think it would be the best thing we could do. My heart aches about the mysterious corruptions and evils of an old state of society such as we have in England.—What do you say Maggie? Would you go?"

She was silent—thinking.

"I would go with you directly, if it were right," said she, at last. "But would it be? I think it would be rather cowardly. I feel what you say; but don't you think it would be braver to stay, and endure much depression and anxiety of mind, for the sake of the good those always can do who see evils clearly. I am speaking all this time as if neither you nor I had any home duties, but were free to do as me liked."

"What can you or I do? We are less than drops in the ocean, as far as our influence can go to model a nation?"

"As for that," said Maggie, laughing, "I can't remodel Nancy's old-fashioned ways; so I've never yet planned how to remodel a nation."

"Then what did you mean by the good those always can do who see evils clearly? The evils I see are those of a nation whose god is money."

"That is just because you have come away from a distressing scene. To-morrow you will hear or read of some heroic action meeting with a nation's sympathy, and you will rejoice and be proud of your country."

"Still I shall see the evils of her complex state of society keenly; and where is the good I can do?"

"Oh! I can't tell in a minute. But cannot you bravely face these evils, and learn their nature and causes; and then has God given you no powers to apply to the discovery of their remedy? Dear Frank, think! It may be very little you can do—and you may never see the effect of it, any more than the widow saw the world-wide effect of her mite. Then if all the good and thoughtful men run away from us to some new country, what are we to do with our poor dear Old England?"

"Oh, you must run away with the good, thoughtful men—(I mean to consider that as a compliment to myself, Maggie!) Will you let me wish I had been born poor, if I am to stay in England? I should not then be liable to this fault into which I see the rich men fall, of forgetting the trials of the poor."

"I am not sure whether, if you had been poor, you might not have fallen into an exactly parallel fault, and forgotten the trials of the rich. It is so difficult to understand the errors into which their position makes all men liable to fall. Do you remember a story in 'Evenings at Home,' called the Transmigrations of Indra? Well! when I was a child, I used to wish I might be transmigrated (is that the right word?) into an American slave-owner for a little while, just that I might understand how he must suffer, and be sorely puzzled, and pray and long to be freed from his odious wealth, till at last he grew hardened to its nature;—and since then, I have wished to be the Emperor of Russia, for the same reason. Ah! you may laugh; but that is only because I have not explained myself properly."

"I was only smiling to think how ambitious any one might suppose you were who did not know you."

"I don't see any ambition in it—I don't think of the station—I only want sorely to see the 'What's resisted' of Burns, in order that I may have more charity for those who seem to me to have been the cause of such infinite woe and misery."

"'What's done we partly may compute; But know not what's resisted,'"

repeated Frank musingly. After some time he began again:

"But, Maggie, I don't give up this wish of mine to go to Australia—Canada, if you like it better—anywhere where there is a newer and purer state of society."

"The great objection seems to be your duty, as an only child, to your father. It is different to the case of one out of a large family."

"I wish I were one in twenty, then I might marry where I liked to-morrow."

"It would take two people's consent to such a rapid measure," said Maggie, laughing. "But now I am going to wish a wish, which it won't require a fairy godmother to gratify. Look, Frank, do you see in the middle of that dark brown purple streak of moor a yellow gleam of light? It is a pond, I think, that at this time of the year catches a slanting beam of the sun. It cannot be very far off. I have wished to go to it every autumn. Will you go with me now? We shall have time before tea."

Frank's dissatisfaction with the stern measures that, urged on by Mr. Henry, his father took against all who had imposed upon his carelessness as a landlord, increased rather than diminished. He spoke warmly to him on the subject, but without avail. He remonstrated with Mr. Henry, and told him how he felt that, had his father controlled his careless nature, and been an exact, vigilant landlord, these tenantry would never have had the great temptation to do him wrong; and that therefore he considered some allowance should be made for them, and some opportunity given them to redeem their characters, which would be blasted and hardened for ever by the publicity of a law-suit. But Mr. Henry only raised his eyebrows and made answer:

"I like to see these notions in a young man, sir. I had them myself at your age. I believe I had great ideas then, on the subject of temptation and the force of circumstances; and was as Quixotic as any one about reforming rogues. But my experience has convinced me that roguery is innate. Nothing but outward force can control it, and keep it within bounds. The terrors of the law must be that outward force. I admire your kindness of heart; and in three-and-twenty we do not look for the wisdom and experience of forty or fifty."

Frank was indignant at being set aside as an unripe youth. He disapproved so strongly of all these measures, and of so much that was now going on at home under Mr. Henry's influence that he determined to pay his long promised visit to Scotland; and Maggie, sad at heart to see how he was suffering, encouraged him in his determination.


After he was gone, there came a November of the most dreary and characteristic kind. There was incessant rain, and closing-in mists, without a gleam of sunshine to light up the drops of water, and make the wet stems and branches of the trees glisten. Every color seemed dimmed and darkened; and the crisp autumnal glory of leaves fell soddened to the ground. The latest flowers rotted away without ever coming to their bloom; and it looked as if the heavy monotonous sky had drawn closer and closer, and shut in the little moorland cottage as with a shroud. In doors, things were no more cheerful. Maggie saw that her mother was depressed, and she thought that Edward's extravagance must be the occasion. Oftentimes she wondered how far she might speak on the subject; and once or twice she drew near it in conversation; but her mother winced away, and Maggie could not as yet see any decided good to be gained from encountering such pain. To herself it would have been a relief to have known the truth—the worst, as far as her mother knew it; but she was not in the habit of thinking of herself. She only tried, by long tender attention, to cheer and comfort her mother; and she and Nancy strove in every way to reduce the household expenditure, for there was little ready money to meet it. Maggie wrote regularly to Edward; but since the note inquiring about the agency, she had never heard from him. Whether her mother received letters she did not know; but at any rate she did not express anxiety, though her looks and manner betrayed that she was ill at ease. It was almost a relief to Maggie when some change was given to her thoughts by Nancy's becoming ill. The damp gloomy weather brought on some kind of rheumatic attack, which obliged the old servant to keep her bed. Formerly, in such an emergency, they would have engaged some cottager's wife to come and do the house-work; but now it seemed tacitly understood that they could not afford it. Even when Nancy grew worse, and required attendance in the night, Maggie still persisted in her daily occupations. She was wise enough to rest when and how she could; and, with a little forethought, she hoped to be able to go through this weary time without any bad effect. One morning (it was on the second of December; and even the change of name in the month, although it brought no change of circumstances or weather, was a relief—December brought glad tidings even in its very name), one morning, dim and dreary, Maggie had looked at the clock on leaving Nancy's room, and finding it was not yet half-past five, and knowing that her mother and Nancy were both asleep, she determined to lie down and rest for an hour before getting up to light the fires. She did not mean to go to sleep; but she was tired out and fell into a sound slumber. When she awoke it was with a start. It was still dark; but she had a clear idea of being wakened by some distinct, rattling noise. There it was once more—against the window, like a shower of shot. She went to the lattice, and opened it to look out. She had that strange consciousness, not to be described, of the near neighborhood of some human creature, although she neither saw nor heard any one for the first instant. Then Edward spoke in a hoarse whisper, right below the window, standing on the flower-beds.

"Maggie! Maggie! Come down and let me in. For your life, don't make any noise. No one must know."

Maggie turned sick. Something was wrong, evidently; and she was weak and weary. However, she stole down the old creaking stairs, and undid the heavy bolt, and let her brother in. She felt that his dress was quite wet, and she led him, with cautious steps, into the kitchen, and shut the door, and stirred the fire, before she spoke. He sank into a chair, as if worn out with fatigue. She stood, expecting some explanation. But when she saw he could not speak, she hastened to make him a cup of tea; and, stooping down, took off his wet boots, and helped him off with his coat, and brought her own plaid to wrap round him. All this time her heart sunk lower and lower. He allowed her to do what she liked, as if he were an automaton; his head and his arms hung loosely down, and his eyes were fixed, in a glaring way, on the fire. When she brought him some tea, he spoke for the first time; she could not hear what he said till he repeated it, so husky was his voice.

"Have you no brandy?"

She had the key of the little wine-cellar, and fetched up some. But as she took a tea-spoon to measure if out, he tremblingly clutched at the bottle, and shook down a quantity into the empty tea-cup, and drank it off at one gulp. He fell back again in his chair; but in a few minutes he roused himself, and seemed stronger.

"Edward, dear Edward, what is the matter?" said Maggie, at last; for he got up, and was staggering toward the outer door, as if he were going once more into the rain, and dismal morning-twilight.

He looked at her fiercely as she laid her hand on his arm.

"Confound you! Don't touch me. I'll not be kept here, to be caught and hung!"

For an instant she thought he was mad.

"Caught and hung!" she echoed. "My poor Edward! what do you mean?"

He sat down suddenly on a chair, close by him, and covered his face with his hands. When he spoke, his voice was feeble and imploring.

"The police are after me, Maggie! What must I do? Oh! can you hide me? Can you save me?"

He looked wild, like a hunted creature. Maggie stood aghast. He went on:

"My mother!—Nancy! Where are they? I was wet through and starving, and I came here. Don't let them take me, Maggie, till I'm stronger, and can give battle."

"Oh! Edward! Edward! What are you saying?" said Maggie, sitting down on the dresser, in absolute, bewildered despair. "What have you done?"

"I hardly know. I'm in a horrid dream. I see you think I'm mad. I wish I were. Won't Nancy come down soon? You must hide me."

"Poor Nancy is ill in bed!" said Maggie.

"Thank God," said he. "There's one less. But my mother will be up soon, will she not?"

"Not yet," replied Maggie. "Edward, dear, do try and tell me what you have done. Why should the police be after you?"

"Why, Maggie," said he with a kind of forced, unnatural laugh, "they say I've forged."

"And have you?" asked Maggie, in a still, low tone of quiet agony.

He did not answer for some time, but sat, looking on the floor with unwinking eyes. At last he said, as if speaking to himself:

"If I have, it's no more than others have done before, and never been found out. I was but borrowing money. I meant to repay it. If I had asked Mr. Buxton, he would have lent it me."

"Mr. Buxton!" said Maggie.

"Yes!" answered he, looking sharply and suddenly up at her. "Your future father-in-law. My father's old friend. It is he that is hunting me to death! No need to look so white and horror-struck, Maggie! It's the way of the world, as I might have known, if I had not been a blind fool."

"Mr. Buxton!" she whispered, faintly.

"Oh, Maggie!" said he, suddenly throwing himself at her feet, "save me! You can do it. Write to Frank, and make him induce his father to let me off. I came to see you, my sweet, merciful sister! I knew you would save me. Good God! What noise is that? There are steps in the yard!"

And before she could speak, he had rushed into the little china closet, which opened out of the parlor, and crouched down in the darkness. It was only the man who brought their morning's supply of milk from a neighboring farm. But when Maggie opened the kitchen door, she saw how the cold, pale light of a winter's day had filled the air.

"You're late with your shutters to-day, miss," said the man. "I hope Nancy has not been giving you all a bad night. Says I to Thomas, who came with me to the gate, 'It's many a year since I saw them parlor shutters barred up at half-past eight.'"

Maggie went, as soon as he was gone, and opened all the low windows, in order that they might look as usual. She wondered at her own outward composure, while she felt so dead and sick at heart. Her mother would soon get up; must she be told? Edward spoke to her now and then from his hiding-place. He dared not go back into the kitchen, into which the few neighbors they had were apt to come, on their morning's way to Combehurst, to ask if they could do any errands there for Mrs. Browne or Nancy. Perhaps a quarter of an hour or so had elapsed since the first alarm, when, as Maggie was trying to light the parlor fire, in order that the doctor, when he came, might find all as usual, she heard the click of the garden gate, and a man's step coming along the walk. She ran up stairs to wash away the traces of the tears which had been streaming down her face as she went about her work, before she opened the door. There, against the watery light of the rainy day without, stood Mr. Buxton. He hardly spoke to her, but pushed past her, and entered the parlor. He sat down, looking as if he did not know what he was doing. Maggie tried to keep down her shivering alarm. It was long since she had seen him; and the old idea of his kind, genial disposition, had been sadly disturbed by what she had heard from Frank, of his severe proceedings against his unworthy tenantry; and now, if he was setting the police in search of Edward, he was indeed to be dreaded; and with Edward so close at hand, within earshot! If the china fell! He would suspect nothing from that; it would only be her own terror. If her mother came down! But, with all these thoughts, she was very still, outwardly, as she sat waiting for him to speak.

"Have you heard from your brother lately?" asked he, looking up in an angry and disturbed manner. "But I'll answer for it he has not been writing home for some time. He could not, with the guilt he has had on his mind. I'll not believe in gratitude again. There perhaps was such a thing once; but now-a-days the more you do for a person, the surer they are to turn against you, and cheat you. Now, don't go white and pale. I know you're a good girl in the main; and I've been lying awake all night, and I've a deal to say to you. That scoundrel of a brother of yours!"

Maggie could not ask (as would have been natural, if she had been ignorant) what Edward had done. She knew too well. But Mr. Buxton was too full of his own thoughts and feelings to notice her much.

"Do you know he has been like the rest? Do you know he has been cheating me—forging my name? I don't know what besides. It's well for him that they've altered the laws, and he can't be hung for it" (a dead heavy weight was removed from Maggie's mind), "but Mr. Henry is going to transport him. It's worse than Crayston. Crayston only ploughed up the turf, and did not pay rent, and sold the timber, thinking I should never miss it. But your brother has gone and forged my name He had received all the purchase-money, while he only gave me half, and said the rest was to come afterward. And the ungrateful scoundrel has gone and given a forged receipt! You might have knocked me down with a straw when Mr. Henry told me about it all last night. 'Never talk to me of virtue and such humbug again,' I said, 'I'll never believe in them. Every one is for what he can get.' However, Mr. Henry wrote to the superintendent of police at Woodchester; and has gone over himself this morning to see after it. But to think of your father having such a son!"

"Oh my poor father!" sobbed out Maggie. "How glad I am you are dead before this disgrace came upon us!"

"You may well say disgrace. You're a good girl yourself, Maggie. I have always said that. How Edward has turned out as he has done, I cannot conceive. But now, Maggie, I've something to say to you." He moved uneasily about, as if he did not know how to begin. Maggie was standing leaning her head against the chimney-piece, longing for her visitor to go, dreading the next minute, and wishing to shrink into some dark corner of oblivion where she might forget all for a time, till she regained a small portion of the bodily strength that had been sorely tried of late. Mr. Buxton saw her white look of anguish, and read it in part, but not wholly. He was too intent on what he was going to say.

"I've been lying awake all night, thinking. You see the disgrace it is to you, though you are innocent; and I'm sure you can't think of involving Frank in it."

Maggie went to the little sofa, and, kneeling down by it, hid her face in the cushions. He did not go on, for he thought she was not listening to him. At last he said:

"Come now, be a sensible girl, and face it out. I've a plan to propose."

"I hear," said she, in a dull veiled voice.

"Why, you know how against this engagement I have always been. Frank is but three-and-twenty, and does not know his own mind, as I tell him. Besides, he might marry any one he chose."

"He has chosen me," murmured Maggie.

"Of course, of course. But you'll not think of keeping him to it, after what has passed. You would not have such a fine fellow as Frank pointed at as the brother-in-law of a forger, would you? It was far from what I wished for him before; but now! Why you're glad your father is dead, rather than he should have lived to see this day; and rightly too, I think. And you'll not go and disgrace Frank. From what Mr. Henry hears, Edward has been a discredit to you in many ways. Mr. Henry was at Woodchester yesterday, and he says if Edward has been fairly entered as an attorney, his name may be struck off the Rolls for many a thing he has done. Think of my Frank having his bright name tarnished by any connection with such a man! Mr. Henry says, even in a court of law what has come out about Edward would be excuse enough for a breach of promise of marriage."

Maggie lifted up her wan face; the pupils of her eyes were dilated, her lips were dead white. She looked straight at Mr. Buxton with indignant impatience:

"Mr. Henry! Mr. Henry! What has Mr. Henry to do with me?"

Mr. Buxton was staggered by the wild, imperious look, so new upon her mild, sweet face. But he was resolute for Frank's sake, and returned to the charge after a moment's pause.

"Mr. Henry is a good friend of mine, who has my interest at heart. He has known what a subject of regret your engagement has been to me; though really my repugnance to it was without cause formerly, compared to what it is now. Now be reasonable, my dear. I'm willing to do something for you if you will do something for me. You must see what a stop this sad affair has put to any thoughts between you and Frank. And you must see what cause I have to wish to punish Edward for his ungrateful behavior, to say nothing of the forgery. Well now! I don't know what Mr. Henry will say to me, but I have thought of this. If you'll write a letter to Frank, just saying distinctly that, for reasons which must for ever remain a secret..."

"Remain a secret from Frank?" said Maggie, again lifting up her head. "Why?"

"Why? my dear! You startle me with that manner of yours—just let me finish out my sentence. If you'll say that, for reasons which must forever remain a secret, you decidedly and unchangeably give up all connection, all engagement with him (which, in fact, Edward's conduct has as good as put an end to), I'll go over to Woodchester and tell Mr. Henry and the police that they need not make further search after Edward, for that I won't appear against him. You can save your brother; and you'll do yourself no harm by writing this letter, for of course you see your engagement is broken off. For you never would wish to disgrace Frank."

He paused, anxiously awaiting her reply. She did not speak.

"I'm sure, if I appear against him, he is as good as transported," he put in, after a while.

Just at this time there was a little sound of displaced china in the closet. Mr. Buxton did not attend to it, but Maggie heard it. She got up, and stood quite calm before Mr. Buxton.

"You must go," said she. "I know you; and I know you are not aware of the cruel way in which you have spoken to me, while asking me to give up the very hope and marrow of my life"—she could not go on for a moment; she was choked up with anguish.

"It was the truth, Maggie," said he, somewhat abashed.

"It was the truth that made the cruelty of it. But you did not mean to speak cruelly to me, I know. Only it is hard all at once to be called upon to face the shame and blasted character of one who was once an innocent child at the same father's knee."

"I may have spoken too plainly," said Mr. Buxton, "but it was necessary to set the plain truth before you, for my son's sake. You will write the letter I ask?"

Her look was wandering and uncertain. Her attention was distracted by sounds which to him had no meaning; and her judgment she felt was wavering and disturbed.

"I cannot tell. Give me time to think; you will do that, I'm sure. Go now, and leave me alone. If it is right, God will give me strength to do it, and perhaps He will comfort me in my desolation. But I do not know—I cannot tell. I must have time to think. Go now, if you please, sir," said she, imploringly.

"I am sure you will see it is a right thing I ask of you," he persisted.

"Go now," she repeated.

"Very well. In two hours, I will come back again; for your sake, time is precious. Even while we speak he may be arrested. At eleven, I will come back."

He went away, leaving her sick and dizzy with the effort to be calm and collected enough to think. She had forgotten for the moment how near Edward was; and started when she saw the closet-door open, and his face put out.

"Is he gone? I thought he never would go. What a time you kept him, Maggie! I was so afraid, once, you might sit down to write the letter in this room; and then I knew he would stop and worry you with interruptions and advice, so that it would never be ended; and my back was almost broken. But you sent him off famously. Why, Maggie! Maggie!—you're not going to faint, surely!"

His sudden burst out of a whisper into a loud exclamation of surprise, made her rally; but she could not stand. She tried to smile, for he really looked frightened.

"I have been sitting up for many nights—and now this sorrow!" Her smile died away into a wailing, feeble cry.

"Well, well! it's over now, you see. I was frightened enough myself this morning, I own; and then you were brave and kind. But I knew you could save me, all along."

At this moment the door opened, and Mrs. Browne came in.

"Why, Edward, dear! who would have thought of seeing you! This is good of you; what a pleasant surprise! I often said, you might come over for a day from Woodchester. What's the matter, Maggie, you look so fagged? She's losing all her beauty, is not she, Edward? Where's breakfast? I thought I should find all ready. What's the matter? Why don't you speak?" said she, growing anxious at their silence. Maggie left the explanation to Edward.

"Mother," said he, "I've been rather a naughty boy, and got into some trouble; but Maggie is going to help me out of it, like a good sister."

"What is it?" said Mrs. Browne, looking bewildered and uneasy.

"Oh—I took a little liberty with our friend Mr. Buxton's name; and wrote it down to a receipt—that was all."

Mrs. Browne's face showed that the light came but slowly into her mind.

"But that's forgery—is not it?" asked she at length, in terror.

"People call it so," said Edward; "I call it borrowing from an old friend, who was always willing to lend."

"Does he know?—is he angry?" asked Mrs. Browne.

"Yes, he knows; and he blusters a deal. He was working himself up grandly at first. Maggie! I was getting rarely frightened, I can tell you."

"Has he been here?" said Mrs. Browne, in bewildered fright.

"Oh, yes! he and Maggie have been having a long talk, while I was hid in the china-closet. I would not go over that half-hour again for any money. However, he and Maggie came to terms, at last."

"No, Edward, we did not!" said Maggie, in a low quivering voice.

"Very nearly. She's to give up her engagement, and then he will let me off."

"Do you mean that Maggie is to give up her engagement to Mr. Frank Buxton?" asked his mother.

"Yes. It would never have come to anything, one might see that. Old Buxton would have held out against it till doomsday. And, sooner or later, Frank would have grown weary. If Maggie had had any spirit, she might have worked him up to marry her before now; and then I should have been spared even this fright, for they would never have set the police after Mrs. Frank Buxton's brother."

"Why, dearest, Edward, the police are not after you, are they?" said Mrs. Browne, for the first time alive to the urgency of the case.

"I believe they are though," said Edward. "But after what Mr. Buxton promised this morning, it does not signify."

"He did not promise anything," said Maggie.

Edward turned sharply to her, and looked at her. Then he went and took hold of her wrists with no gentle grasp, and spoke to her through his set teeth.

"What do you mean, Maggie?—what do you mean?" (giving her a little shake.) "Do you mean that you'll stick to your lover through thick and thin, and leave your brother to be transported? Speak, can't you?"

She looked up at him, and tried to speak, but no words came out of her dry throat. At last she made a strong effort.

"You must give me time to think. I will do what is right, by God's help."

"As if it was not right—and such can't—to save your brother," said he, throwing her hands away in a passionate manner.

"I must be alone," said Maggie, rising, and trying to stand steadily in the reeling room. She heard her mother and Edward speaking, but their words gave her no meaning, and she went out. She was leaving the house by the kitchen-door, when she remembered Nancy, left alone and helpless all through this long morning; and, ill as she could endure detention from the solitude she longed to seek, she patiently fulfilled her small duties, and sought out some breakfast for the poor old woman.

When she carried it up stairs, Nancy said:

"There's something up. You've trouble in your sweet face, my darling. Never mind telling me—only don't sob so. I'll pray for you, bairn: and God will help you."

"Thank you, Nancy. Do!" and she left the room.


When she opened the kitchen-door there was the same small, mizzling rain that had obscured the light for weeks, and now it seemed to obscure hope.

She clambered slowly (for indeed she was very feeble) up the Fell-Lane, and threw herself under the leafless thorn, every small branch and twig of which was loaded with rain-drops. She did not see the well-beloved and familiar landscape for her tears, and did not miss the hills in the distance that were hidden behind the rain-clouds, and sweeping showers.

Mrs. Browne and Edward sat over the fire. He told her his own story; making the temptation strong; the crime a mere trifling, venial error, which he had been led into, through his idea that he was to become Mr. Buxton's agent.

"But if it is only that," said Mrs. Browne, "surely Mr. Buxton will not think of going to law with you?"

"It's not merely going to law that he will think of, but trying and transporting me. That Henry he has got for his agent is as sharp as a needle, and as hard as a nether mill-stone. And the fellow has obtained such a hold over Mr. Buxton, that he dare but do what he tells him. I can't imagine how he had so much free-will left as to come with his proposal to Maggie; unless, indeed, Henry knows of it—or, what is most likely of all, has put him up to it. Between them they have given that poor fool Crayston a pretty dose of it; and I should have come yet worse off if it had not been for Maggie. Let me get clear this time, and I will keep to windward of the law for the future."

"If we sold the cottage we could repay it," said Mrs. Browne, meditating. "Maggie and I could live on very little. But you see this property is held in trust for you two."

"Nay, mother; you must not talk of repaying it. Depend upon it he will be so glad to have Frank free from his engagement, that he won't think of asking for the money. And if Mr. Henry says anything about it, we can tell him it's not half the damages they would have had to have given Maggie, if Frank had been extricated in any other way. I wish she would come back; I would prime her a little as to what to say. Keep a look out, mother, lest Mr. Buxton returns and find me here."

"I wish Maggie would come in too," said Mrs. Browne. "I'm afraid she'll catch cold this damp day, and then I shall have two to nurse. You think she'll give it up, don't you, Edward? If she does not I'm afraid of harm coming to you. Had you not better keep out of the way?"

"It's fine talking. Where am I to go out of sight of the police this wet day: without a shilling in the world too? If you'll give me some money I'll be off fast enough, and make assurance doubly sure. I'm not much afraid of Maggie. She's a little yea-nay thing, and I can always bend her round to what we want. She had better take care, too," said he, with a desperate look on his face, "for by G—— I'll make her give up all thoughts of Frank, rather than be taken and tried. Why! it's my chance for all my life; and do you think I'll have it frustrated for a girl's whim?"

"I think it's rather hard upon her too," pleaded his mother. "She's very fond of him; and it would have been such a good match for her."

"Pooh! she's not nineteen yet, and has plenty of time before her to pick up somebody else; while, don't you see, if I'm caught and transported, I'm done for life. Besides I've a notion Frank had already begun to be tired of the affair; it would have been broken off in a month or two, without her gaining anything by it."

"Well, if you think so," replied Mrs. Browne. "But I'm sorry for her. I always told her she was foolish to think so much about him: but I know she'll fret a deal if it's given up."

"Oh! she'll soon comfort herself with thinking that she has saved me. I wish she'd come. It must be near eleven. I do wish she would come. Hark! is not that the kitchen-door?" said he, turning white, and betaking himself once more to the china-closet. He held it ajar till he heard Maggie stepping softly and slowly across the floor. She opened the parlor-door; and stood looking in, with the strange imperceptive gaze of a sleep-walker. Then she roused herself and saw that he was not there; so she came in a step or two, and sat down in her dripping cloak on a chair near the door.

Edward returned, bold now there was no danger.

"Maggie!" said he, "what have you fixed to say to Mr. Burton?"

She sighed deeply; and then lifted up her large innocent eyes to his face.

"I cannot give up Frank," said she, in a low, quiet voice.

Mrs. Browne threw up her hands and exclaimed in terror:

"Oh Edward, Edward! go away—I will give you all the plate I have; you can sell it—my darling, go!"

"Not till I have brought Maggie to reason," said he, in a manner as quiet as her own, but with a subdued ferocity in it, which she saw, but which did not intimidate her.

He went up to her, and spoke below his breath.

"Maggie, we were children together—we two—brother and sister of one blood! Do you give me up to be put in prison—in the hulks—among the basest of criminals—I don't know where—all for the sake of your own selfish happiness?"

She trembled very much; but did not speak or cry, or make any noise.

"You were always selfish. You always thought of yourself. But this time I did think you would have shown how different you could be. But it's self—self—paramount above all."

"Oh Maggie! how can you be so hard-hearted and selfish?" echoed Mrs. Browne, crying and sobbing.

"Mother!" said Maggie, "I know that I think too often and too much of myself. But this time I thought only of Frank. He loves me; it would break his heart if I wrote as Mr. Buxton wishes, cutting our lives asunder, and giving no reason for it."

"He loves you so!" said Edward, tauntingly. "A man's love break his heart! You've got some pretty notions! Who told you that he loved you so desperately? How do you know it?"

"Because I love him so," said she, in a quiet, earnest voice. "I do not know of any other reason; but that is quite sufficient to me. I believe him when he says he loves me; and I have no right to cause him the infinite—the terrible pain, which my own heart tells me he would feel, if I did what Mr. Buxton wishes me."

Her manner was so simple and utterly truthful, that it was as quiet and fearless as a child's; her brother's fierce looks of anger had no power over her; and his blustering died away before her into something of the frightened cowardliness he had shown in the morning. But Mrs. Browne came up to Maggie; and took her hand between both of hers, which were trembling. "Maggie, you can save Edward. I know I have not loved you as I should have done; but I will love and comfort you forever, if you will but write as Mr. Buxton says. Think! Perhaps Mr. Frank may not take you at your word, but may come over and see you, and all may be right, and yet Edward may be saved. It is only writing this letter; you need not stick to it."

"No!" said Edward. "A signature, if you can prove compulsion, is not valid. We will all prove that you write this letter under compulsion; and if Frank loves you so desperately, he won't give you up without a trial to make you change your mind."

"No!" said Maggie, firmly. "If I write the letter I abide by it. I will not quibble with my conscience. Edward! I will not marry—I will go and live near you, and come to you whenever I may—and give up my life to you if you are sent to prison; my mother and I will go, if need be—I do not know yet what I can do, or cannot do, for you, but all I can I will; but this one thing I cannot."

"Then I'm off!" said Edward. "On your deathbed may you remember this hour, and how you denied your only brother's request. May you ask my forgiveness with your dying breath, and may I be there to deny it you."

"Wait a minute!" said Maggie, springing up, rapidly. "Edward, don't curse me with such terrible words till all is done. Mother, I implore you to keep him here. Hide him—do what you can to conceal him. I will have one more trial." She snatched up her bonnet, and was gone, before they had time to think or speak to arrest her.

On she flew along the Combehurst road. As she went, the tears fell like rain down her face, and she talked to herself.

"He should not have said so. No! he should not have said so. We were the only two." But still she pressed on, over the thick, wet, brown heather. She saw Mr. Buxton coming; and she went still quicker. The rain had cleared off, and a yellow watery gleam of sunshine was struggling out. She stopped or he would have passed her unheeded; little expecting to meet her there.

"I wanted to see you," said she, all at once resuming her composure, and almost assuming a dignified manner. "You must not go down to our house; we have sorrow enough there. Come under these fir-trees, and let me speak to you."

"I hope you have thought of what I said, and are willing to do what I asked you."

"No!" said she. "I have thought and thought. I did not think in a selfish spirit, though they say I did. I prayed first. I could not do that earnestly, and be selfish, I think. I cannot give up Frank. I know the disgrace; and if he, knowing all, thinks fit to give me up, I shall never say a word, but bow my head, and try and live out my appointed days quietly and cheerfully. But he is the judge, not you; nor have I any right to do what you ask me." She stopped, because the agitation took away her breath.

He began in a cold manner:—"I am very sorry. The law must take its course. I would have saved my son from the pain of all this knowledge, and that which he will of course feel in the necessity of giving up his engagement. I would have refused to appear against your brother, shamefully ungrateful as he has been. Now you cannot wonder that I act according to my agent's advice, and prosecute your brother as if he were a stranger."

He turned to go away. He was so cold and determined that for a moment Maggie was timid. But she then laid her hand on his arm.

"Mr. Buxton," said she, "you will not do what you threaten. I know you better. Think! My father was your old friend. That claim is, perhaps, done away with by Edward's conduct. But I do not believe you can forget it always. If you did fulfill the menace you uttered just now, there would come times as you grew older, and life grew fainter and fainter before you—quiet times of thought, when you remembered the days of your youth, and the friends you then had and knew;—you would recollect that one of them had left an only son, who had done wrong—who had sinned—sinned against you in his weakness—and you would think then—you could not help it—how you had forgotten mercy in justice—and, as justice required he should be treated as a felon, you threw him among felons—where every glimmering of goodness was darkened for ever. Edward is, after all, more weak than wicked;—but he will become wicked if you put him in prison, and have him transported. God is merciful—we cannot tell or think how merciful. Oh, sir, I am so sure you will be merciful, and give my brother—my poor sinning brother—a chance, that I will tell you all. I will throw myself upon your pity. Edward is even now at home—miserable and desperate;—my mother is too much stunned to understand all our wretchedness—for very wretched we are in our shame."

As she spoke the wind arose and shivered in the wiry leaves of the fir-trees, and there was a moaning sound as of some Ariel imprisoned in the thick branches that, tangled overhead, made a shelter for them. Either the noise or Mr. Buxton's fancy called up an echo to Maggie's voice—a pleading with her pleading—a sad tone of regret, distinct yet blending with her speech, and a falling, dying sound, as her voice died away in miserable suspense.

It might be that, formed as she was by Mrs. Buxton's care and love, her accents and words were such as that lady, now at rest from all sorrow, would have used;—somehow, at any rate, the thought flashed into Mr. Buxton's mind, that as Maggie spoke, his dead wife's voice was heard, imploring mercy in a clear, distinct tone, though faint, as if separated from him by an infinite distance of space. At least, this is the account Mr. Buxton would have given of the manner in which the idea of his wife became present to him, and what she would have wished him to do a powerful motive in his conduct. Words of hers, long ago spoken, and merciful, forgiving expressions made use of in former days to soften him in some angry mood, were clearly remembered while Maggie spoke; and their influence was perceptible in the change of his tone, and the wavering of his manner henceforward.

"And yet you will not save Frank from being involved in your disgrace," said he; but more as if weighing and deliberating on the case than he had ever spoken before.

"If Frank wishes it, I will quietly withdraw myself out of his sight forever;—I give you my promise, before God, to do so. I shall not utter one word of entreaty or complaint. I will try not to wonder or feel surprise;—I will bless him in every action of his future life—but think how different would be the disgrace he would voluntarily incur to my poor mother's shame, when she wakens up to know what her child has done! Her very torper about it now is more painful than words can tell."

"What could Edward do?" asked Mr. Buxton. "Mr. Henry won't hear of my passing over any frauds."

"Oh, you relent!" said Maggie, taking his hand, and pressing it. "What could he do? He could do the same, whatever it was, as you thought of his doing, if I had written that terrible letter."

"And you'll be willing to give it up, if Frank wishes, when he knows all?" asked Mr. Buxton.

She crossed her hands and drooped her head, but answered steadily.

"Whatever Frank wishes, when he knows all, I will gladly do. I will speak the truth. I do not believe that any shame surrounding me, and not in me, will alter Frank's love one title."

"We shall see," said Mr. Buxton. "But what I thought of Edward's doing, in case—Well never mind! (seeing how she shrunk back from all mention of the letter he had asked her to write,)—was to go to America, out of the way. Then Mr. Henry would think he had escaped, and need never be told of my coenivance. I think he would throw up the agency, if he were; and he's a very clever man. If Ned is in England, Mr. Henry will ferret him out. And, besides, this affair is so blown, I don't think he could return to his profession. What do you say to this, Maggie?"

"I will tell my mother. I must ask her. To me it seems most desirable. Only, I fear he is very ill; and it seems lonely; but never mind! We ought to be thankful to you forever. I cannot tell you how I hope and trust he will live to show you what your goodness has made him."

"But you must lose no time. If Mr. Henry traces him; I can't answer for myself. I shall have no good reason to give, as I should have had, if I could have told him that Frank and you were to be as strangers to each other. And even then I should have been afraid, he is such a determined fellow; but uncommonly clever. Stay!" said he, yielding to a sudden and inexplicable desire to see Edward, and discover if his criminality had in any way changed his outward appearance. "I'll go with you. I can hasten things. If Edward goes, he must be off, as soon as possible, to Liverpool, and leave no trace. The next packet sails the day after to-morrow. I noted it down from the Times."

Maggie and he sped along the road. He spoke his thoughts aloud:

"I wonder if he will be grateful to me for this. Not that I ever mean to look for gratitude again. I mean to try, not to care for anybody but Frank. 'Govern men by outward force,' says Mr. Henry. He is an uncommonly clever man, and he says, the longer he lives, the more he is convinced of the badness of men. He always looks for it now, even in those who are the best, apparently."

Maggie was too anxious to answer, or even to attend to him. At the top of the slope she asked him to wait while she ran down and told the result of her conversation with him. Her mother was alone, looking white and sick. She told her that Edward had gone into the hay-loft, above the old, disused shippon.

Maggie related the substance of her interview with Mr. Buxton, and his wish that Edward should go to America.

"To America!" said Mrs. Browne. "Why that's as far as Botany Bay. It's just like transporting him. I thought you'd done something for us, you looked so glad."

"Dearest mother, it is something. He is not to be subjected to imprisonment or trial. I must go and tell him, only I must beckon to Mr. Buxton first. But when he comes, do show him how thankful we are for his mercy to Edward."

Mrs. Browne's murmurings, whatever was their meaning, were lost upon Maggie. She ran through the court, and up the slope, with the lightness of a lawn; for though she was tired in body to an excess she had never been before in her life, the opening beam of hope in the dark sky made her spirit conquer her flesh for the time.

She did not stop to speak, but turned again as soon as she had signed to Mr. Buxton to follow her. She left the house-door open for his entrance, and passed out again through the kitchen into the space behind, which was partly an uninclosed yard, and partly rocky common. She ran across the little green to the shippon, and mounted the ladder into the dimly-lighted loft. Up in a dark corner Edward stood, with an old rake in his hand.

"I thought it was you, Maggie!" said he, heaving a deep breath of relief. "What have you done? Have you agreed to write the letter? You've done something for me, I see by your looks."

"Yes! I have told Mr. Buxton all. He is waiting for you in the parlor. Oh! I knew he could not be so hard!" She was out of breath.

"I don't understand you!" said he. "You've never been such a fool as to go and tell him where I am?"

"Yes, I have. I felt I might trust him. He has promised not to prosecute you. The worst is, he says you must go to America. But come down, Ned, and speak to him. You owe him thanks, and he wants to see you."

"I can't go through a scene. I'm not up to it. Besides, are you sure he is not entrapping me to the police? If I had a farthing of money I would not trust him, but be off to the moors."

"Oh, Edward! How do you think he would do anything so treacherous and mean? I beg you not to lose time in distrust. He says himself, if Mr. Henry comes before you are off, he does not know what will be the consequence. The packet sails for America in two days. It is sad for you to have to go. Perhaps even yet he may think of something better, though I don't know how we can ask or expect it."

"I don't want anything better," replied he, "than that I should have money enough to carry me to America. I'm in more scrapes than this (though none so bad) in England; and in America there's many an opening to fortune." He followed her down the steps while he spoke. Once in the yellow light of the watery day, she was struck by his ghastly look. Sharp lines of suspicion and cunning seemed to have been stamped upon his face, making it look older by many years than his age warranted. His jaunty evening dress, all weather-stained and dirty, added to his forlorn and disreputable appearance; but most of all—deepest of all—was the impression she received that he was not long for this world; and oh! how unfit for the next! Still, if time was given—if he were placed far away from temptation, she thought that her father's son might yet repent, and be saved. She took his hand, for he was hanging back as they came near the parlor-door, and led him in. She looked like some guardian angel, with her face that beamed out trust, and hope, and thankfulness. He, on the contrary, hung his head in angry, awkward shame; and half wished he had trusted to his own wits, and tried to evade the police, rather than have been forced into this interview.

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