44 j& ij
The Baldwin Library
SAnb otbetr aIcg.
IN THE SURAMER HOUSE
; ~AND OTHER TALES
AGl'A[1. m &BELFAST
efodt aountls of FA life:
AND OTHER TALES.
MARCUS WARD & CO., 67, CHANDOS STREET;
AND ROYAL ULSTER WORKS, BELFAST.
MARCUS WARD & Co.
ROYAL ULSTER WORKS
I.-THE MILL-HOUSE 7
II.-How IT HAPPENED 15
III.-Too MUCH Joy 28
VI.-IN THE SUMMER-HOUSE 63
VII.-THE KNOT TIGHTENED 77
IX.-DEEPER TROUBLE 98
XI.-THE DARKEST HOUR 122
XII.-HAPPY AT LAST 130
I.-SHE ARRIVES 150
II.-SHE DEPARTS 172
LITTLE PEG O'SHAUGHNESSY.
I.-CHRISTMAS AT BALLYHUCKAMORE 186
II.-LOST AND FOUND 213
IN THE SUMMER-HOUSE (page 75) Frontispiece. PAGE
Too MUCH JoY 35
"YOU MUST RELEASE LUKE," SHE SAID 112
"GOOD GRACIOUS, MRS. ARCHIE, WHAT HAS SCARED
YE ?" 165
Tlia DOOR FLEW OPEN, AND LADY HUMPHREY HERSELF
CHAP. I.-THE MILL-HOUSE.
- HAVE promised my husband
to write him a detailed history
of one year out of my life-a
"year in which I wept more,
I rL t - laughed more, suffered more
S ---- passionate sorrow, and sunned
Myself in more unearthly bliss, than ever
SI found included in my experience before
"' or since. That I am happy now, and trying
S" to be wise, I thank heaven; that I was not
happy once, and far from wise, I am going to confess.
I will begin by relating how it came that I got
engaged to Luke Elphinstone. My father was Seth
Gordon, a millowner of high repute, not alone in the
quiet Border country where we lived, but out in the
world, in the banks and on 'Change. Luke Elphin-
stone was his junior partner, who had lived with us
for some years past. Gordon and Elphinstone was
the business firm. The mills stood on one side of our
river, and on the other our dwelling, the Mill-house-
a large white building, with a great copper-beech
lying up against its front, darkening and saddening
all the chambers within, and with a rambling orchard
crowding behind it, where the trees were bent with
age, and every stone and trunk was eaten up with a
For the Mill-house was not then what it is now.
The billiard-room and the ball-room and the new
dining-room had not been built; the pleasure-grounds
had not been made. There were corn-fields within a
stone's throw of the twig summer-house in the garden.
The hill that sloped from the gable down to the river
had not been cut up into flower-beds; it had only a
simple garniture of sweet-peas and carnations at the
top, and was given up to the growth of green abun-
dant grass, where the crimson tassels of the clover-
flower nodded in their season. But the row of syca-
mores down by the river is just the same; the leaves
spread their broad palms to catch the sun as ever,
and the water flashes behind their trunks with the
same free race.
Now, the house looks to the river, getting glimpses
through the sycamores of the mill settlement on the
other side, and over the heads of the sycamores, of
the happy woods and fields, the hills and dales-
green and golden, purple and brown-the church
spire, and handsome distant homesteads which cluster
The Mill-House. 9
on the rising and falling land between the Mill-house
and the horizon. Then, the front of the house was
turned sideways, the best windows gazing straight
into the foliage of the huge copper-beech, which grew
so lurid when the setting sun got into its branches.
The old-fashioned garden, built high on walls, and
ascended to by flagged steps inside a narrow gate, is
quite cleared away; but it was there in the time of
my story, with its hollyhocks, its cabbage roses, its
cucumber frames,, and its beehives, its raspberry
hedges, always found by the sun, and its sad murmur
from the burn that ran behind its lilac-trees, under
old iron gates, that jangled and clashed when people
came or went in the direction of the village. That,
indeed, was but seldom, except when the cook stepped
into Streamstown to scold the butcher, or I to pay a
visit to my kind friend Miss Pollard. Most people
preferred to cross the wooden bridge over the river
to the mills, and go round by the mill avenue to the
The orchard is gone, with its crimson and golden
rain of apples ever the drenched grass after a stormy
night, and inside the house is very grand. In the
days I write of it was not grand. It was comfortable,
but darksome, with blinds half raised, with thick
carpets everywhere, baize on every door, and a half-
awake silence in all the chambers, as if stealthy feet
were accustomed to cross the floors, and forms not
good to be seen were used to muffle themselves in
the shadows of the sad-coloured hangings at the ap-
proach of anything human. This was the fault of
my father, who had an exaggerated horror of noise
and glare, though we shall be obliged to hear Elspie
on this subject.
My father was a stern man, rough in his manner,
and despising all demonstrations of feeling. He lived
through his mill; he ate and drank for his mill; he
slept and often denied himself sleep for his mill. He
had married an heiress to bring capital to his mill.
Nothing had any interest for him that did not in
some way bear upon his business. He was little at
home except in the evenings, when he pored over
little books with long lists of figures in them. It
was because of these little books that he liked his
rooms so hushed. He had hardly ever leisure to
smile over the edges of the pages at his daughter.
I fear I am speaking severely of my father, and I
desire to deal very gently with his memory. I have
since those days knelt at his death-bed and seen into
his heart, which was then a sealed book to me. But
at that time he had never shown much tenderness
for me. He did not understand girls, and he had not
much patience with them. His one son, my brother
Dick, had failed him at the mill, and turned soldier;
and, besides the effects of this disappointment, I be-
lieve his heart was kept sore by the memory of my
mother, who, gentle as she was, could never, I think,
have suited him as a wife.
The Mill-House. 11
But now we must hear Elspie, not speaking aloud,
but in whispers to herself, which were overheard by
me, Mattie, her nursling. She said that my father
had been harsh to his wife, whom she, Elspie, had
loved and served; and that he had quarrelled with
her gentle ways, and neglected her. She muttered
to herself, now in her old age, of how she had gone
down on her knees to her young mistress in days
gone by, and prayed her not to marry Seth Gordon,
for "ill would come of it." And the ill had come.
A lonely life, a broken heart, an early grave. "And
now," whispered Elspie, her weird eyes gleaming
through tears under her shaggy white brows, an
unquiet spirit, that would not be kept in heaven, but
would come pattering with wistful feet down the
Mill-house stairs, weeping in the Mill-house chambers,
bending at midnight over the bed of the beloved
daughter, while that daughter sobbed for sympathy
in her sleep ;" and the old woman, groaning to hear
her, knelt praying with uplifted hands in her bed,
that the sorrowful spirit would trust the child to her,
and take its rest.
Of these things Elspie muttered to herself, as she
went hobbling about the Mill-house in her clean
white mob-cap and ancient gown of Chinese-patterned
print, or sat knitting in the narrow small-paned win-
dow of the dim room that had been my nursery.
The housemaid dubbed her "owl," and the cook
called her "witch;" and ther2 were many besides
these who said that, if the Mill-house were haunted,
it was all Elspie's doing.
I have no very clear idea of what my own character
was when I ceased to be a child; but I know that I
was always either crushed with gloom and despon-
dency, or walking on tiptoe in a state of unreasonable
ecstasy. I believe I was a musing, indolent girl, with
eccentric fancies and much passionate feeling. I had
a craving for joy, with a superstitious belief that I
should never be allowed to do more than just taste it,
and return to the bitters appointed for me. Yet the
tastes that I got were so sweet that I was always
seeking for them. In the robust hunger of my youth
I was constantly casting about for little morsels,
which I devoured out of doors, as birds feed on
berries. Any unfinished tit-bit was left upon the
lintel when I returned across the threshold of my
home. I used to fancy that the outside of the Mill-
house door was white, and the inside black; but it
was painted all the same. Very little gave me pangs
of delight-the pleasant purring noise from the beet-
ling house, the splashing of the mill-wheels, the
humming of the bees, and the smell of the roses in
the high old garden. But there was an ever-rising
lump familiar to my throat. As to my person, I was
a good height, and womanly for my years. I cannot
attempt to describe my face, for I believe that in
those days it was as variable as my mind. I was
pale when gloomy and rosy when glad. My eyes were
The Mill-House. 13
dark, and also my hair, which curled crisp and soft
when I was well, but fell limp when I was sick.
"What ails you, child ?" Miss Pollard would say;
"your hair is as straight as my apron-string !"
I was my father's only child, now that my brother
was dead. Dick had been a good deal older than I,
and very little with me except during the holidays of
his school years. Those holidays had been the white
bits of my life. I had given as much love to this
one as most people have to divide among many. To
obtain him any trifling good, I thought I would have
sat up a whole night upon the ghostly Mill-house
stairs, though that might have cost me my life through'
fear; in such absurd ways do children measure the
limits of their devotion, knowing nothing of the red-
hot ploughshares preparing to sear the feet of their
constancy through life. Dick's face, far out in the
world, had shone on me from a happy distance. Some
time to come my life would be happier through him.
When the wind made a mournful sough in the copper-
beech, it grumbled because he was away; when the
sun shone, it shone on him somewhere. I wept with
sore jealousy when he wrote me about one beautiful
Sylvia, who had taken the first place in his heart,
and had promised to be his wife; but he came to see
me, and coaxed me out of my sadness, and I wrote
her by him with promises of love. Soon after that
his regiment was ordered to the Crimea, and he was
killed. In the anguish of my grief, I was glad that
I had opened my heart to his Sylvia. Of her I shall
have much to say further on, but at this stage of my
story I knew little concerning her. I learned that
her father died soon after my brother, leaving her
quite unprovided for. I had her address, and knew
that she earned her bread as companion to.a noble
lady. But I am forgetting that I purposed to begin
this history by telling how I got engaged to Luke
c .-- 44 F,--
CHAP. II.-HOW IT HAPPENED.
" M ATTIE!" said Elspie, on one well-remembered
AUA night, "come in out of the cauld an' bide i'
the nursery. Your mither's been walking' these twa
nights. Don't you be sitting' right in her foot-pad!"
I was sitting on the stairs watching the clock on
the landing. The hands were creeping near midnight,
and I was sorely uneasy for my father, who had gone
over to the mills after dinner, and had not yet re-
turned. Again and again I had gone to my own
room to spy through the pane across the dark river,
and between the gloomy trees, at the light still burn-
ing in his private counting-house. One by one the
lights in the work-people's cottages had twinkled and
disappeared, and the landscape was all black, the rain
descending unseen into the invisible river.
I had long guessed that affairs had been going
wrong at the mills, but not until that morning had I
known that inevitable ruin hung over the firm of
Gordon and Elphinstone. My father had, for the first
time in his life, taken me into his confidence, telling
me that I must prepare to look poverty bravely in
the face. In another day or two, at furthest, the
smash of the Streamstown Mills must be known all
over the kingdom. My father's agony had been ter-
rible to behold. This was not the downfall of a mill
only; it was the destruction of an idol to which a life
had been sacrificed. I had drawn nearer to my father
in his trouble than I had ever done before. I had
always yearned to him with a natural love, and one
was absent now whom, justly or unjustly, I had always
blamed for keeping us apart.
Where is Luke Elphinstone ?" I said to my father
that morning, for the junior partner had been absent
for three weeks. "I hope he will not leave you to
bear the brunt of this alone."
My father looked at me hastily, as if I had hit on
a thought of his own, but he checked mesternly.
Were he here," he said, "he is as powerless as I,
and cowardice could only do him harm. Such conduct
would not be like him."
I thought within myself that it would be like him,
but I did not say another word.
The house had been as silent as a tomb all day. I
had strayed through the dull, sad rooms, and wondered
what might lie before me. After dark I sat on the
staircase, shunning the big rooms below. Elspie had
come out of my nursery, where she lived, and coaxed
me to come to her, as I have written down, but I was
not afraid of my mother that night. At this crisis I
could have borne to meet her wandering spirit face
to face. It was always before trouble befel us that
How it Happened. 17
her step was heard; but I was nineteen years of age
now, and I had got used to the shadows of the Mill-
I sat thinking upon the stairs. I thought of all
the friends who had ever come and gone about the
old house, of my dear Dick, and of Sylvia, who had
promised to -come and visit me in the Summer, but
whom the Mill-house would never now receive again.
I thought of Mrs. Hatteraick, my mother's friend.
She had lived at Eldergowan in my mother's lifetime,
had come between my parents in their sad disagree-
ments, and had nursed my mother in her last illness.
I thought of Mark Hatteraick, her son, the tall soldier
lad who had tossed me in his arms, and called me his
little wife. Those two last friends were far away in
a distant country now, but they haunted my mother's
rooms to my fancy.
So there was a pang at thought of quitting the old
house. I pictured myself and my father walking
hand in hand out of the iron gates over the burn, with
only Elspie in our wake, Luke Elphinstone going by
a different road. A great sigh of satisfaction swelled
my heart as I assured myself that he should have to
go one way, and we another. This is what I felt for
him that night.
I sat thinking on the stairs till it struck twelve,
and I got terrible fears about my father all alone with
his trouble in the gloom of the deserted mills. I
remembered that men have done sad things in their
extremity, that the dark river flowed by the counting-
house window, and that the coming shame was more
bitter than death to my father. To lighten my
thoughts I went down and laid out a tempting little
supper in the dining-room. I made the lamp bright,
I heaped wood on the fire, I t 1-.. .1 the ugly curtains
across the window where the wind was battering and
the rain splashing. With one o'clock all my dread-
ful thoughts came back. I got so wild with fear
that I left the house at last and got as far in the dark
as the wooden bridge that led across to the mills,
when I heard my father's laugh blowing towards me.
I was back in time to open the door to his
knock. Two came in then. Luke Elphinstone had
We three sat down to supper, my father at the
head of the table, and Luke and I facing one another.
Mly father was in high spirits, the furrows were
smoothed from his forehead, his face was flushed, he
talked and laughed a great deal. Luke also had an
air of suppressed jubilation about him. He ate and
drank well, speaking little. But I did not mind him
much, for my father was talking to me, piling my
plate with food I could not eat, and filling my glass
with wine. It was so new to me to be the object of
such attention from him that I felt overpowered by
confusion and delight. I thought he had remembered
my poor little efforts to comfort him, and that we
were going to be friends at last. God bless the day,
How it Happened. 19
even if poverty and ruin came with it! I laughed
and chattered and sipped my wine, and spoke quite
kindly to Luke Elphinstone, to whom I had often
been hard in my thoughts. I had accused him of
coming between me and my father, and widening the
breach that had always divided us. I slipped my
chair round closer to my father. We were both on
one side of the table now, and Luke was at the other.
I talked over quite kindly at Luke.
Next day I learned what was the secret of my
father's change of mood. When Luke Elphinstone
had walked into the counting-house that night, where
my father sat alone in his misery, contemplating the
ruin that was coming upon him, he had been the
bearer of wonderful tidings. He, Luke, had inherited
a fortune, the bulk of which I never clearly knew, but
which was large even in my father's eyes. He had
received notice of this three weeks before, when he
had left the Mill-house for a run up to London. He
had kept the affair a secret till he had actually become
master of his newly acquired wealth. In his absence,
matters had come to a crisis at the mills, and now he
had returned just in time to save the credit of the
firm, and with offers to my father to sink a large
amount of capital in the business-upon one condi-
tion. In what words my father was made acquainted
with that condition I do not know. How it was
made known to me I am going to do my best to
Looking back now, it is hard to find a motive for
Luke Elphinstone strong enough to explain his
conduct at this time. He must have known that I
had a suspicion of his suit, and that I had done all in
my power to check it. What he proposed to gain
for himself by a victory over the will of an insig-
nificant girl, with neither much beauty, much wit,
nor any dowry, who had hitherto spent her life
in loneliness and obscurity, I cannot attempt
to guess. From my own experience I will state
here that no contempt can equal that which a
woman feels for a man who forces himself upon
her when he knows that she has conceived a dislike
to him. And I did dislike Luke Elphinstone. It
was not that he was ugly; on the contrary, he had a
well-made figure, fine curly black hair, and a smooth
pale complexion, which gave a look of refinement to
his face. There were many who called him hand-
some. But his features were too sharp and keen, and
there was a narrowness about his forehead, and a
furtive look in his eyes, the expression of qualities in
his character which had always repelled me. There
was a cruel determination about him when his will
was crossed in little things, and a wavering hesitation
when important steps were to be taken; and these
two points in his character seemed to be always
under my eyes in those days.
Not one day did Luke Elphinstone lose in making
known what his stipulation had been to me. The
How it Happened. 21
next morning after that important night I rose early,
and with great content of heart went out to the
orchard to pick up the fallen apples. A network of
sunshine was wisped about the old trees; the river
was leaping like a river of gold at the foot of the
hill: above the sycamores that lined it the smoke
went up from the chimneys of the mill. The hum
from the distant beetling-house made a pleasant song
in my ears; the bell rang out, the workpeople flocked
home to their cottages for breakfast, and Luke Elphin-
stone came over the wooden bridge.
He espied me in the orchard, and came to join me.
I felt so amiable towards every one that I was pre-
pared to give him a friendly good-morrow; but some-
thing in his face, as he approached, gave me a sudden
apprehension of what was coming, and I began walk-
ing quickly towards the house. He begged me to
stay a little; he had something very important to
say to me. He took my hand and drew it through
his arm, and began to pour out a great deal that I do
not care to remember, a great deal that startled me
with a painful surprise. I was grieved and shocked
that he should feel as he did. I lost my presence
of mind in my dismay, and, while striving for words
to soften the pain I was about to give, I had not my
answer ready at the proper moment. Perhaps this
gave him encouragement. He held my hand which
I was drawing away, and pressed a diamond ring
upon my finger.
"Accept it," he said, "as an earnest of my love, and
wear it as a token of your promise to become my
"Oh no, no, no!" I said, trying to pull it off; "I
have not accepted your love. I have not promised to
be your wife. I cannot do either, nor wear your
My hand was swelled with the cold; the ring was
tight, and would not move. How long it remained
on my finger, and how at last it was removed, shall be
seen. Luke Elphinstone stood by and smiled at my
fierce endeavours to get it off. That smile took all
the pity out of my heart.
"Take it as an omen, Mattie," he said; "it will
not come away. You cannot get rid of me. What
must be, must."
There spoke the true Luke. Must ?" I repeated,
drawing myself up and eyeing him with defiance, and
then turned on my heel and walked away, holding
my bejewelled hand out at arm's length, as if I were
just waiting for the convenience of a hatchet to strike
it off. How I fumed over it all that day, while Elspie
tried her utmost skill to remove the ring!
"And where wad ye find a brawer man?" said
Elspie. "Bairn, bairn, ye have been ower hasty.
Do not throw the love o' a kind heart ower yer
shouther. Ye'll greet for it all yer life."
"It may be that I am born to greet all my life,
Elspie," said I, a sudden presentiment of trouble
How it Happened. 23
bringing a rush of tears to my eyes, but I'll never
greet for Luke Elphinstone."
But that evening, when my father was sleeping
in the dining-room, and 'I was sitting alone in the
fire-light in the drawing-room, nursing my in-
flamed finger, and fretting over the stubborn ring,
Luke Elphinstone came in, and began his irksome
love-making again. He spoke smoothly and plead-
I have suddenly become a rich man, Mattie," he
said, or else it might have been many years before
I could have spoken to you in this way. I cannot
enjoy my riches unless I share them with you. If
you go on refusing me every day for a year, I am
determined not to take your denial."
I tried to keep my temper, and to parley with him
"What do you see in me ?" said I. "I am poor, I
am no beauty, I am stupid enough, I am not even
good tempered, and I do not like you. You will
easily find a wife who will bring you all the qualities
I do not possess, and who will be thankful for your
love and your riches."
He smiled at this speech, and said, I think you
beautiful and clever; I like your temper; I have
wealth enough for both of us, and I intend to make
you love me."
"More likely you will make me hate you," I said,
fired by the complacence of his manner. This angered
him, and he began to talk in a different strain. A
flush rose on his face, and his eyes grew uneasy.
With many furtive glances from me to the fire, and
from the fire to me, he contrived to convey to me, in
a long speech, which I would not remember if I could,
the history of that condition which he had made with
When he had done, I got up quickly and went
straight into the dining-room, where my father was
sleeping in his chair.
"Father !" I said, shaking him gently, "is it true
what Luke Elphinstone says, that you have sold me
to him for your mills ?"
My father sat up, stared at me, and recollected.
His eye fell before mine.
"Do not put things in such unpleasant words,"
said he. Luke has turned out a millionaire. Any
sensible girl would be glad to get him."
I am not glad," said I; tell me that he has said
what is not the truth."
I have promised that you shall marry him."
But, father, I cannot do it," said I. And then a
great storm of anger broke over my head. In the
midst of it I heard Luke Elphinstone leave the house,
and I called him a coward in my heart. Such scenes
as these had frightened my mother to death. It was
like a thunderstorm, or anything else that is awful;
but I outlived it, and was so strong in my own des-
peration that I hardly seemed to mind it. After it
How it Happened. 25
was over, I got up to leave the room, and I said
It is not far to the river. I will get up in the
night, when you are asleep, and drown myself sooner
than marry Luke Elphinstone."
It was the first time I had ever defied him, and my
father was amazed. He called me back, and, trem-
bling and giddy, and hardly knowing what I did, I
went and stood beside him. I think he believed me
capable of doing what I had threatened. He looked
in my face, and his voice broke when he tried to
speak to me. He bowed his grey head in affliction,
and supplicated me to save his name, his occupation,
his honour, before the world. Luke Elphinstone would
be a good husband, he said, and what was a girl's
whim in a lover to the ruin that would fall upon his
old age ? He wrought my soul to grief within me,
brought down my spirit, broke my heart. I wept,
and at last my arms were about his neck, and I was
promising to do what I could," sobbing that I would
"think about it." And so it came that I was con-
"Eh, lass," said Elspie, "but the heart's a wilfu'
thing !" And she put me to bed like a baby, and
crooned me to sleep with her favourite ballad, The
The next day I was ill. I had caught a fever which
was hanging about the neighbourhood. I had delirious
dreams, in which I seemed to live long life-times, and
from which I wakened quite meek. Elspie kept by
my side, and I knew that Luke and my father were
coming back and forward to my door all the time. I
tried to be thankful that my life was precious. Lying
there in a hushed room, with Elspie mumbling prayers
and scraps of wisdom by my head, I had very pitiful
thoughts about the world. Life was very short, and
the other world very easy to be reached, and it did
not matter much how or where we accomplished our
few years. I did not want to get well quickly; but
the strength would come back. Luke carried me
down stairs the first time, and I tried not to shrink
from him. They tended me and petted me, those
two men, and I passively agreed to all they said and
did. Luke showed in his best light, and I thought I
could better endure his good-will than endless quarrel-
ling and resistance. My likings and dislikings were
flattered to much the same level; the hot side of my
nature was quenched; my enthusiasm had gone out
like sparks. If I had kept in my sound health, I
believe I should have held out to the end; as I fell
sick, I gave way. It seemed that things had taken a
shape as if I were willing to do what was desired of
me. I was but half alive at that time, and I drifted
into compliance; but I insisted on getting a year-a
whole year-at least, during which to grow accus-
tomed to the idea of becoming a wife. Of all that
was to fall out in that year I had very little thought.
But that was how I got engaged to Luke Elphinstone.
How it Happened. 27
The immovable ring remained on my finger. The
first night I wore it with my own consent I went up
to my room dull and'weary. What follows I never
told to any one before. A figure was sitting by
my fireside, wrapped in shimmering white, the head
lowered on the hands in the attitude of weeping.
Elspie only heard my scream, and found me insensible
on the floor. I had heard my mother's step, but never
had she visited me before. It did not need her visit
now to make my heart sink at thought of the promise
I had given. But Elspie and I kept this matter to
The next event in my life was the arrival of the
Hatteraicks at Eldergowan, after an absence of many
'years. Mrs. Hatteraick had lived in Italy with two
little orphan nieces, whilst her son was serving abroad.
Now Major Mark was off duty upon furlough, and
they all came home in the early Summer. I went to
Eldergowan, and the world changed.
t *; .c
CHAP. III.-TOO MUCH JOY.
WENT to Eldergowan, and the world changed.
This was how it happened.
Orchards had bloomed out, and early roses had
blossomed. I was standing on the steps outside the
Mill-house door; Luke Elphinstone was in London
on business, and my father was at the mill; the door
was open, the house within quiet in its undisturbed
shadows. A track of sunshine went up the stairs,
and I could hear Elspie crooning above.
I turned my face to the old iron gate over the burn,
and saw a strange lady alighting from a carriage and
moving towards me. She was tall and stately, and
all dressed in black satin, on her head a quilted hood
tied with peach-coloured ribbons, falling back and
showing her cap of rich point lace. Her hair was
silver-grey, with still a soft wave on the brow, though
she must have been sixty years old; her face, though
wrinkled, was delicately fair, and a bloom arose on
her cheeks as she acknowledged weakness by a smile
and a little shake of the head coming up the steps.
Never had I seen anything so trustable as the tender-
ness in those faded eyes.
Too much 7oy. 29
She soon made herself known to me-Mrs. Hat-
teraick, my mother's friend, whose godchild and name-
sake I was. My tears-started to see the meeting
between her and Elspie. The two old women stood
looking in each other's faces, and I knew they were
gazing at scenes I had never witnessed, remembering
words I had never heard. They did not speak much
of the past which was opened up between them. A
few words and mournful shakes of the head from
Elspie, an incomplete sentence spoken with con-
strained lips by my godmother, and then they returned
We have the sweetest early roses in the country,"
said Mrs. Hatteraick, and the most plentiful supply.
I have come for your father's permission to take you
with me, to fatten you on strawberries and cream.
You look fretted and thin; you have grown too
quickly. You were no taller than yonder gilliflower
when I saw you last."
My father, who had a deep respect for Mrs. Hat-
teraick, and had been very indulgent to me of late,
easily gave his permission to my going to Eldergowan.
Luke was not there to object, and my godmother car-
ried me off.
A long rambling avenue, scented with wild orange-
blossoms, a far-stretching golden lawn, shelving into
the flushed horizon, with knots of trees casting slanting
shadows towards us; far down in a sleepy hollow a
sedgy lake, and a group of cows and milkmaids to be
30 [ /,' '
described through a ruddy haze; a dark-red house,
almost brown with age, unfolding its many gables,
and wings, and chimneys, from which the smoke arose
in a curling, golden mist above a crowd of stately
chestnuts; a '.-.-. _!].1..-* lying open to the west, and
a brood of white pigeons sunning themselves on the
wide stone sill-this is something like Eldergowan
as I saw it first, on a Summer evening at sunset.
I remember the girls running out to meet us-
Polly, in her white frock, plump and fair, like one
of the pigeons that rose, scared at our approach,
and fluttered off in a long snow-wreath over our
heads; and Nell, with her longer skirts and laughing
eyes. Close upon their heels came Uncle Mark, with
the sun in his eyes, and his dark-red whiskers in a
flame, a tall, beaming, somewhat lazy-looking gentle-
man, of thirty-five at least; ten years older than Luke
Elphinstone, but younger looking in the soft smiling
of his blue eyes and the graciousness of his good-
natured mouth. And this was the soldier-lad who
had tossed me in his arms and called me his little
All that night is associated with moonlight in my
memory. It poured into the dining-room, gemming
the oak carvings, and changing the pictures of crusty
old squires and their commonplace dames into saints
and angels with aurioles round their heads. I sat
full in the midst of it, feeling all wrapped up in a
silver mantle, and I saw Mark Hatteraick watching
Too much yoy. 31
my face from his vantage ground in the shadows with
an intent look, as if he were remembering, observing,
or divining something regarding me. Catching my
glance, he smiled with the same trustable look that
had drawn me on the first instant to his mother. I
believe he forgot my age that night, and thought he
might assume towards me the same uncle-like de-
meanour with which he treated his nieces. It was
impossible that my face should not catch and repeat
his smile; and, these kindly signals being exchanged,
we were friends on the instant.
I sat up in bed that night and looked round me in
a fever of sleepless happiness. My room was odd
and pretty, with pale-green walls all glistening with
reflections from the moonlight. Burning with excite-
ment and expectation, I felt myself lapped in an
atmosphere of. purest calm. I dozed, and dreamed
myself a red-hot coal lying in a cool green field, then
waked and laughed at the conceit, surveying again
with delight my couch-bedstead, with its dark carv-
ings and red silk quilt, my quaint swinging book-
shelves, my small pointed window over the garden,
which had shadows of ivy-wreaths printed on the
glass, and which framed the round moon, just setting
behind the bloomy tips of the silvered fruit-trees.
Sorrow and the Mill-house were forgotten; joy had
already taken possession of me at Eldergowan.
The next morning Polly stopped buttering the
muffins to exclaim at the beauty of my diamond ring.
I drew my hand hastily from the table where it had
rested, and turned away to hide the blush on my
"Your mother had some pretty jewels, Mattie,"
said Mrs. Hatteraick, who was making the tea. I
remember her diamond ring."
So did I; but it lay in her jewel-case at home.
Having thus passed over the opportunity to tell my
friends of my engagement, I never sought for one
again. They only knew of Luke Elphinstone as my
father's partner, and I could not bring myself to en-
lighten them further concerning him.
Six summer weeks passed, during which my heart
took root at Eldergowan. I forgot that I should have
to tear it away; and, when I remembered, I tried to
forget again. I was doing no harm, I told myself; I
was -.,, my prayers, wearing my ring: my year
was my own, to spend as I pleased. We had a gay,
noisy time, hungry rambles, merry meals, universal
overflowing of milk and honey. I grew strong and
robust, and as full of bounding life as any wild thing
in the fields. They made me the pet of the house,
and they spoiled me, calling me pretty names. Nell
asking her uncle to describe me one day, he dubbed
me the fair and happy milkmaid." And at once I
grew insufferably proud through his sticking this bor-
rowed plume in my bonnet. It may have been owing
to these new garnishings that I forgot my identity as
I presently did.
Too much 7oy. 33
Soldier Mark was the head and front, pillar and
mainstay, of the house of Hatteraick It was the
fashion at Eldergowan to count him a hero. Every
Sone, from Mrs. Hatteraick downward, paid him wor-
ship-that sort of homage which simple appreciative
souls give instinctively to what is at once strong and
soft, commanding and winsome. To his mother he
paid a tender deference, which reminded one that he
had been a little child once, under her control; with
Nell and Polly he was frolicsome as a schoolboy.
Wonderful tales were whispered of his exploits in
war, and his sword was looked on with a sort of super-
stitious reverence; yet it was easier to imagine him
consoling a dying comrade, or making merry after a
victory, than dealing death and anguish to his fellow-
men. So I thought at least, till one day when I over-
heard him swearing terribly in the stable-yard, and
peeped through a curtain of acacia trees.
The noonday sun was blazing on the pavement, the
monthly roses and wallflowers from the kitchen-garden
flaunting over the wall, a -1i ,_-...v white horse drink-
ing at the flowing water-trough, and a group of men
standing near a bench where a little lad lay moaning.
A cigar was lying burning itself quietly away upon
the stones unobserved. I forgave Major Hatteraick
his oaths, for the boy had been injured by a kick from
a savage groom; but I saw that his wrath could be
fierce. Of the men, some looked on in awe and some
in admiration as he strode about the yard, frightening
the pigeons from their dovecote on the gable, making
the shaggy horse snuff and stare, and scattering the
clucking hens that were pecking about the pavement.
An hour afterwards I met this most passionate
soldier sauntering in the garden, lazy and smoking,
saying he was heated, and asking me to talk and
refresh him. So we sat in a shady nook, and talked
after a fashion of our own, of which I had learned the
trick from him. We had each our enthusiasm of
different kinds, which harmonised well, as contrasting
colours mix into the most satisfactory hues. We were
fond of bedecking common things with our mingled
tints, and to-day we exerted ourselves as much as
people care to do on a hot afternoon in a garden full
of birds and flowers. A liquid song was gurgling
down on our heads from a blackbird's hiding-place
somewhere in the boughs above, the high hedges be-
hind us, a luxurious wilderness of roses lay before
our eyes, and yellow plums hung within reach of our
touch on the mossy wall by our side. It was all very
sweet and good. I had some lace-work in my fingers,
but through deep content my hands lay idle in my
lap. I had come to be so used with these long talks
with Mark Hatteraick that it seemed the most natural
thing in the world to hear his voice going on at my
side. I had ceased to wonder at the pleasant unem-
barrassed friendship that had sprung up between us,
though at first it had surprised me much. Never had
I been so intimate with any gentleman before, except
TOO AlfH JOY
Too much oy. 35
my father or Luke; and, until the novelty wore off,
it had seemed the oddest thing in the world to be
sitting beside a man and not longing for something
to happen which must immediately remove him or me.
Mark Hatteraick had a book on his knees, and
sometimes, in the pauses of his talk, he would read
aloud passages which seemed but the translation of
all the sweet murmurs that were going on around us.
At times like these I felt that my own thoughts made
new essays, and were surprised to find that their in-
heritance was much wider than they had ever dreamed
of. I felt that I was but an ignorant thing, brought
up in a wilderness, beyond which there was a fair
world in which I, too, might live. Listening to the
travelled soldier, I heard the bells chime in distant
cathedrals, I saw the sun rise upon the glaciers.
But that was the day and the hour when something
was said which made a change in me, warning me
that I had better have stayed in my wilderness than
come straying into campaigns to whose velvet slopes
my feet had no errand. I cannot say what it was.
Who would care to hear repeated the chance changes
of a trivial conversation ? Something was said and
something was looked which made the sun seem to
drop out of the sky, and the garden to heave up and
fling its flowers in my face. I did not know exactly
what had been said, but I felt too well what had been
looked. Polly came dancing up the walk on the in-
stant, and I hastily returned with her to the house.
I think I have said in the beginning of this history
that I was not very wise in my youth. It was owing
to my want of wisdom that I did not that day declare
my engagement and go home to the Mill-house. I
had an instinctive feeling that, my secret told, I
should not have been detained at Eldergowan. I do
not think it was wickedness; it was only weakness
and blindness that made me decide on remaining.
After an hour of doubt and confusion, I persuaded
myself that what had startled me had been only in
my own imagination. Nothing had been said but
what was meant in mere kindness. Major Hatteraick
was no fonder of me than he need be.
Yet I must have been conscious of lurking danger,
for I sat on the corner of my bed for long after that,
rubbing up my diamond ring with a little bit of my
gown, and trying to convince myself logically that
Luke Elphinstone was a worthier man than Mark
Hatteraick. Now, when I came to think of it, there
was nothing commendable about Mark, except his
smile, which certainly did one good, his sympathetic
good nature, and his eloquence when he chose to talk.
As far as talking went, he had the best of it, for Luke
had no stirring stories of defeats and victories, camps
and watch-fires, to set quiet blood leaping; and, though
he was quite as great a demolisher of other determina-
tions, he did not nail you to his wish like Luke, but
had a pleasant trick of mixing your will up with his
till you did not know your own when you saw it.
Too much 7oy. 37
But, coming so far as this in my reckoning, I found
that the balance was getting all on the wrong side,
and I had to begin again. Luke did not smoke so
many cigars; he was not so inconveniently tall; he
had a better nose by rule than Mark Hatteraick; and
"when he swore, it was quietly between his teeth.
After this I wore a little likeness of Luke as a safe-
guard, and every day I studied it, having first adjusted
the rose-coloured spectacles through which I intended
to behold it. In this way I left myself not the shadow
of a doubt that Luke's dark keen eyes and fine pale
features were a much better sight than any tawny
beard or any laughing eyes; and I need not be at all
afraid of this soldier off duty in the magnificent good
humour of his Summer holiday. So I told myself
every day in the sunshine of my chamber at Elder-
gowan, with flowers in my breast, and the birds all
singing around me. I said it so often, that I found
myself too'wise to require its so frequent repetition.
I left off examining Luke's likeness.
Mrs. Hatteraick had a slight illness, through which
I nursed her; and in her convalescent chamber I
drew somehow nearer to Mark, through her medium,
I think; for I knew she loved me well. Sitting at
his feet by her chair, something went very far wrong
within me. I seemed to let go some staff with which
I had walked pretty straight till now. My life's boat,
sailing down a summer river, got into a glamour of
light that hindered my seeing, and I drifted on in a
golden dismay. Some agony mingled with the sweet-
ness of my unthinking existence. I forgot that I
was Luke's promised wife; but he came to remind
me of it.
It was one hot evening when we were all gathered
together under an awning on the broad steps in front
of the house, Mrs. Hatteraick's invalid chair in the
midst of our group. Nell had her arms round my
waist, and Polly was on her uncle's knee. Nothing
could be more snug and good than that hour; nothing
could be more insanely joyous than I was. At Polly's
request, Uncle Mark told us the story of a battle.
He grew very grave, as he always did before speaking
of such matters. He stared, smoking, awhile at the
distance of orange horizon and purpled wood; and
then a light came into his eye like the gleam of a
sword, and he began to talk. Presently we held our
breath, for we were in the thick of the affray, and our
attention was centred on one solitary figure in which
my excited fancy discerned my brother Dick. Life
was particularly sweet to this young soldier; the
thought of home was tugging at his heart-strings.
His eye was on the foe, but it saw also the anguished
face of his already widowed love; his ear was open
to the word of command, but it heard also weeping
farewells and blessings. How shall I describe this
story, which made us all sad ? Everything sweet in
the world was striving to dim his steady glance, and
make a coward of him, while he led on his band to a
Too much Joy. 39
forlorn hope and death in the moment of victory.
Ah, well he was cut down. The shout of triumph
was snatched from his lips. Then came the dying
injunctions to the friend, the moaning messages to
her, and to her, and to him, the struggle for resigna-
tion, and again the pitiful yearning for the loved faces,
the sad groping in the dark for the touch of hands
never to be grasped again.
Oh I the landscape faded away, the warm clouds,
the rich greeneries, the sleepy lake, and the sun shone
only on a red field of blood and my dying brother
Dick. I slipped from Nell's embrace, and hid myself
in my room. When had I wept before ? The tears
I shed then washed the golden dust out of my eyes
that had blinded me all these weeks past, and I saw
myself as I was, untrue in my heart to Luke Elphin-
stone. Much unusual joy had turned my brain; a
little natural grief had restored me to my senses.
Great fear gave me courage, and I felt quite strong
when I returned slowly down the stairs. The sun
was shining through the oriel window on the wide
low landing above the hall, and many colours were
wandering blissfully about this nook, which was a
sort of a lingering place for idle feet at all hours of
the day. Many an important question had been de-
cided here, and many a conversation held, one gossip
leaning against the carved corner of the banister, and
another sitting on the lowest step of the upper stair.
Here was Mark Hatteraick now, waiting for me.
I did not mean to be cruel, Mattie," he said; "it
is such a common story."
My courage shook under the fervent contrition in
his eyes. My heavy hand lay in his clasp. I could
see from where I stood the hall and the open door
framing a little bit of lawn and golden sky. While
I stood so, even as Mark Hatteraick's fingers were
closing round mine, a figure appeared upon the thres-
hold below, and Luke Elphinstone's face came between
me and the light.
He had driven over from the Mill-house with a
commission from my father to fetch me home. It
was all quite natural and right, and he brought news
which ought to have given me pleasure. Sylvia had
arrived at last; my dead brother's almost widow had
come to pay her long-promised visit to her almost
I was completely sobered. I put on my bonnet
without a murmur, even to my own heart. Major
Hatteraick scanned the unwelcome messenger coldly,
and I shunned his clouded eyes as I said my hasty
"You will return, you will return !" they all cried,
hanging round me at the door. "You must return,"
whispered Mark Hatteraick, vehemently, as he crushed
my hand in farewell; but I said, No, no," under my
breath, as I drove away with Luke.
" IH, bairn, but yon's a lovely woman!" said
SElspie, as she hugged me on the stairs. "I
lit a wee bit fire in your ain room, and put her in
there. She might ha' given us a word o' warning' to
have another ready."
I had thought of that before, but I had no time to
reflect upon it now. It was quite late in the Summer
evening; darkness was beginning to chase the yellow
dusk from the passages, and there was a slight chill
in the air. My room was shining with firelight when
I entered, and a white figure was sitting by the hearth,
the face bowed down in the hands. This was Sylvia;
but the picture presented was so like the vision of
my mother, that had shocked me so sorely some
months ago, that a little cry broke from my lips.
The first motion of her hand, of course, dispelled the
illusion, but my superstitious fancy associated thence-
forth a feeling of dread with my first glimpse of Sylvia
A blithe laugh answered my scream. "Did I
frighten you," she said, sitting at your fire-side like
a ghost ?" She was quite at home at once. I knew
that she was a good many years older than me-
four or five at least-but I was not prepared for the
motherly manner which she assumed towards me from
the first. Her sweet petting way was very grateful
to me, who never had had a mother nor a sister.
"Pretty, pretty Mattie !" said she, passing her soft
slim hand round my cheek. Luke told me you were
small and plain, but that is two years ago. One does
not see such bright eyes and wanton curls in London.
You are of a piece with the delicious whiteness and
lavender scent of your room, a perfect incarnation of
the fresh country air."
I drank this sweet praise, and received her warm
kiss with delight, proud of winning admiration from
any one so lovely as Sylvia herself. But, when I had
time to think, I found my head spinning with wonder.
I had not known that Sylvia and Luke had ever met,
yet she spoke of him familiarly by his Christian name,
and two years ago he had spoken to her about me;
and I remembered slowly, when I was free of the
enchantment of her presence, that she was not the
sort of Sylvia I had looked to see at all. From what
I knew of her story, I had expected some one droop-
ing and sad, who would require to be cheered and
cherished. I still wore my black gown for my brother,
and the soberness of spirit which I had put on with
it I had never quite shaken off. But Sylvia looked
and spoke as if the path from her cradle had been one
track of sunshine. I felt some indignation at her
brightness-till I saw her again.
She was sitting in the parlour window with her
back to the sun when Luke came in to breakfast the
next morning. She was dressed in a thick white
wrapper girdled with blue, and in fun had hung some
ripe cherries pendant from her brooch. The sun fell
on the golden top of hair on the crown of her head,
and strayed round with loving touches to the light
ripples on her forehead. There was a luxurious grace
about all the outlines of her fair soft face and splendid
figure, and much picturesque feeling in her attitude.
She fascinated me with every look and word. My
father surveyed her over the edge of his morning
paper, and I knew that it took him longer than usual
to ascertain the exact price of yarn from its columns,
because Sylvia was sitting there, so charming. I
fidgeted about the breakfast-table, keeping my face
to the door, that I might see the meeting between her
and Luke. It puzzled me to think that he should
have known her all this time and not have fallen in
love with her instead of me. But when Luke came
in there was nothing for jealous eyes to discern.
There was a cool, polite greeting, after which Sylvia
sparkled the whole of breakfast-time. I never had
seen my father so amused before, but Luke was almost
grim. Why, I kept wondering, had he never men-
tioned her name to me ?
The whole household was the better of Sylvia's
coming. My father, who did not often take much
heed of women, was amused in spite of himself by
her liveliness, which was never noisy or obtrusive,
but had a knack of coming behind dulness unawares,
and tripping up its heels, to the delight of every one.
The servants, the farm-labourers, even the dogs and
cows, liked her; for her petting touch mesmerised the
animals as much as her words and smiles did human
beings. For me, she amused and bewitched me from
morning till night. I thought the sun shone on the
Mill-house as it had never shone before. Only Elspie
held aloof from her, and eyed her with distrust.
Keep a sharp eye on Luke, Mattie," said my old
nurse, for it's my mind if himself were far awa frae
the Mill-house yon yellow-haired lassie wouldna tak'
the trouble to set the house agee as she's doin'!"
No one else could have ventured to speak to me
so, but Elspie had dried my tears too often not to
know that she might say what she pleased. I could
not see with her eyes, however. Indeed, I thought
Luke seemed to have conceived an uncomfortable dis-
like to Sylvia, and I more than suspected that she
saw it. I chid him for it one day. My intercourse
with him had been so slight since Sylvia's coming
that I had to make an opportunity, by taking my hat
one morning and forcing my escort upon him as far
towards the mill as the wooden bridge.
"You might try to be kinder," I said, "for Dick's
"For Dick's sake !" he echoed, bitterly. "I wonder
if she remembers whether he had red hair or black."
I was surprised at this burst, for there had never
been much friendship between Luke and my brother.
In Dick's time," he went on, she could speak to
one without a grimace. Now I am sickened by her
"You knew her in Dick's time, then?" I asked,
"Did she never tell you so ?" he asked, in surprise.
I said "No, she never told me anything concern-
ing herself;" which was true. He coloured up, and
was silent. I had never seen him blush before.
"I used to go with Dick to visit her when I hap-
pened to be in London doing commissions for your
father," he said, presently. That was when I was
a penniless devil, just apprenticed to the mill, whom
Miss Ashenhurst does not condescend to remember."
"She remembers," I said, "for she mentioned once
that you told her I was small and plain."
Oh! she recollects that, does she ?" he said, with
a laugh that had an unpleasant ring. Well, does
she think you answer to the description, I wonder ?
She did not expect to find you an engaged woman,
She does not know anything about that," I said.
"Indeed, you have been so little at the Mill-house
since she came that nothing of the kind has occurred
to her; and I have never made occasion to tell her,"
said I, blushing to think of the exceeding dislike I
always felt of thrusting the information upon any one.
I thought that Luke would see this and resent it, and
I gave a very troubled glance upward; but he was
not looking at me.
"Don't tell her, then," he said, turning to me with
that narrow look across his eyes and brows which
often spoiled his face. "Promise that you will not
tell her till I give you leave."
I was pleased to be able to comply willingly, for
he had often found me stubborn enough, and just now
I was trying to do my duty. I promised on the
impulse of the moment, without stopping to wonder
about his motive.
And yet, many a time after this, I longed to open
my heart to Sylvia, and tell her all my trouble. I
longed for some one to mourn over me, and chide me
for wishing that I was buried with my mother in the
Streamstown Churchyard. I longed to pour out the
rebellion in my heart, and be answered by some other
monitor than the rebukes of my own conscience: and
still I was thankful, on the whole, to the promise I
had given Luke for obliging me to keep my own
counsel on the subject. Where would have been the use
of letting Sylvia know my unhappiness ? Since for
my father's good I had bound myself to Luke Elphin-
stone, I was also bound to be a true wife to him, and,
both for my own sake and his, it were a bad way to
begin by revealing to a third person the repugnance
with which my heart turned from the life that lay
before me. There was no escape from it that I could
see. My father was getting an old man, and his
health was failing; he had never been the same since
those days when ruin had stared him in the face.
His head grew confused now over the details of busi-
ness. He was nervous and timorous, where he had
formerly been bold and sanguine. He leaned upon
Luke, and as his powers failed he clung to and loved,
in his undemonstrative way, the youth and strength,
the industry and long-headedness, that carried his
younger partner from beginning to end of whatever
undertaking he engaged in. I felt this when the
little book full of grim figures, over which it had been
his custom to pore with energy the livelong evening,
was handed over to Luke, while my father himself
lay back in his chair and slept, like a man whose age
was assured of ease, whose house was well propped
and guarded, and whose fire-side was free of care.
He already counted Luke as his son, and me he
treated with indulgence; for by me he had gained
that son. And meanwhile the days were lengthening,
the Summer deepened, roses increased and multiplied,
and the hay was sweet in the meadows. My year
was passing away.
That book of figures above mentioned was an excuse
for Luke remaining in the drawing-room almost the
whole of the long light evenings. My father liked
his doing so-liked to rouse up now and again and
see the younger, stronger man thus alive to the in-
terests of business. It was a sign of thrift that pleased
his eyes, just as his waking ears were also charmed
by the recurrence of the homely, monotonous purring
that sounded drowsily from the distant beetling-house,
whose wheel turned night and day. Sylvia and I
were busy contriving baby-clothes for a poor woman
in one of the cottages, and we made tea for ourselves
at an end window in the drawing-room, which com-
manded a view of the mill-settlement. From thence
we could see the sun setting redly behind a hill
covered with dark firs, dashing the sycamores near
us with ruddy gold, hanging a lustrous haze over the
little wooden bridge till it looked like a bridge in a
dream, and opening up wonderful chambers of colour
in the smooth, deep tide of the river. Luke sometimes
came in for a cup of tea. He and Sylvia got on so
badly together, however, that we had pleasanter times
when he stayed away. At first I had thought she
seemed bent on charming him, as it was her nature
to love to please every one; but her efforts had been
so clearly thrown away, that of late she had given
them up. As the time went on, her bright spirits
fell away; she grew silent and sad, sometimes even
discontented and pettish; she ceased to take any in-
terest in the things that at first had delighted her.
I thought she was tired of the dulness of the Mill-
house, and longed to get back to London. Nor did I
wonder at this, when I, who should have loved the
Mill-house as my home, felt the chill of its atmosphere
even in the hot, bright days of Summer with Sylvia's
companionship. Outside all nature was gay; fields
ripened, and gardens flaunted with flowers; but within
the spell of melancholy that belonged to the house
never had hung so heavily as it did now, when Sylvia
had been about three weeks our guest. Gradually
this conviction dawned upon me, that we were worse
now, as we formerly had been better, for Sylvia's pre-
sence amongst us.
One day I had coaxed Luke into a promise to take
an afternoon's holiday from his eternal plodding at the
mill, and to give Sylvia and me a drive. When the
time came, we two girls sat waiting under the syca-
mores, beside the river. Sylvia was more carefully
dressed than usual, and all her gay spirits had revived.
Instead of Luke, however, there came a note, saying
that pressure of business prevented his fulfilling his
promise. Sylvia's eyes flashed as she read the note
which I gave her. It was addressed to us jointly,
and began, "Fair ladies !" Sylvia crushed the paper
in her hand, and tossed it into the river, then she
threw off her hat and lay back in the long dry grass,
covering her face with her shawl. Once or twice I
heard a little moan come from her as I sat musing on
the strangeness that had come over Luke's behaviour
of late. He had used to be too watchfully attentive.
Many a time I had sighed, seeing him coming over the
bridge, and wished that he would leave me more to
myself. He had disapproved of many of my ways
and fancies, and given much of his time to the task of
converting me to his own habits and likings. Now,
when, for Sylvia's sake, I could have wished him to
be attentive, he showed no interest in my proceed-
ings. I could not but think that this was owing to
his absurd prejudice against Sylvia, and I pondered,
wondering what could have been the origin of this
prejudice, which must have taken root long ago, in
the days when he went with my brother Dick to see
her in London. I thought of his odd desire that she
should be kept ignorant of our engagement. He
certainly was taking special care that no action of
his should cause suspicion to cross her mind. It
flashed upon me now that perhaps he was looking
forward to breaking off that engagement, hence his
wish to keep it secret, and the sparks of light on the
river danced madly before my eyes as I strove to
stifle the pang of joy that thrilled through me at the
thought. But a moment's reflection assured me that
Luke had no wish to release me. In many little ways
he daily let me know that he meant to hold me to
my word. It were running headlong into danger to
believe anything but this. God deliver me from
temptation !" I murmured, as I rose and locked my
arms over my breast, while for a minute the birds
seemed like to turn my brain with the sudden ecstasy
of their singing.
I sat down beside Sylvia, and drew back the shawl
from her beautiful flushed face. Her eyelashes were
wet with tears.
"Sylvia," I said, sadly, "you are fretted with the
weariness of this place. Do not hesitate about leav-
ing me whenever you wish to go." And I thought
heavily that, with Luke and me for master and
mistress, the Mill-house was never likely to be a
pleasant place of sojourn for any one.
Sylvia sat up quickly, and, winding her arm round
my neck, said, in her low, wiling, passionate way:
"Never say that again, Mattie. Were it as dull as
a cavern, there is no place so dear to me as the Mill-
house. When I have to leave it, I shall be banished
out of heaven!"
I started at her vehemence, but recollected mur-
"Ah, yes! that is because it was Dick's home !"
and I felt a pang of conscience for ever having
resented her gaiety, for ever having imagined that
she had ceased to mourn for her loss and mine. She
gave me a little thoughtful stare out of her soft grey
eyes, and then gazed down past the trees after the
current of the river, as if fascinated by those sparks
of light that had danced so madly before my eyes a
few minutes ago.
"Ay !" she repeated absently; "of course, because
it was Dick's home."
I loved her better at that moment than I had ever
loved her before, and I felt indignant at Luke for
having balked her of a little pleasure. I went straight
to the house and ordered my own pony to be har-
nessed to the phaeton which I had sometimes driven
under Luke's guidance. I had never cared much for
driving myself, but Luke liked ladies to be a little
dashing. I was determined now to turn my accom-
plishment to account.
I said to Sylvia, "If we cannot find a cavalier
gallant enough to be our charioteer, I do not see why
we should not help ourselves. I can manage Frisky
We drove down the pleasant summer lanes into
Streamstown, and stopped at the best shop while I
bought some green and white muslin to make myself
a frock, having promised Elspie to leave off my sad
black gown by Midsummer's-day. Then we bowled
on, along the white roads, chatting our woman's chat,
and each, I believe, doing her best to hide from the
other that there was any troubling cloud hanging
between her and the blue sky that brooded over our
We had got quite out in the country, and were
breathing exhilarating air, and getting glimpses of
hills and sea. I was driving cautiously, and was
rather proud of my first independent essay. Turning
a corner of the road we saw a figure on horseback
riding towards us. Sylvia sat forward, gazed intently
at the figure, and turned red and then pale. Surely
enough the figure was familiar.
"Why, it is Luke Elphinstone,!" cried I.
Pressure of business had not kept him from taking
a solitary ride. His neglect of us was deliberate, his
apology untrue. Sylvia, by the changes of her face,
was quicker than I at seeing this.
"Let me drive," said she suddenly, snatching the
reins from my hands. The whip began to dangle in
the air, and we were flying along the road at a break-
Stop, stop !" I cried; Frisky will not bear to be
whipped like that !" But Sylvia, with blazing eyes
and flushed cheeks, was lashing his sides without
pity, and the insulted little pony dashed on. We
passed Luke with the swiftness of lightning. I heard
him call after us; Sylvia tried to check our speed, but
it was too late. She threw the reins from her in dis-
may, and they trailed on the road. The fields and
hedges spun round us in a dizzy green ring. Then
there was a crash, and I found myself lying on the
ground in great agony. Luke picked us up. Sylvia
escaped unhurt; but the phaeton was smashed, and
my leg was broken.
SYLVIA moaned so bitterly over my sufferings
that even Elspie, who had never liked her, was
softened somewhat, and I heard her muttering to
herself that "yon wheedlin' hizzie had a bit heart
At the first, Sylvia was a capital nurse. She her-
self brought my breakfast-tray every morning, and I
had to warn her that my father and Luke must be
waiting for their second cups of tea before I could get
her to leave me and return to the breakfast-table, over
which she had now to preside. She would spend her
day reading and talking to me, learning old Border
songs from Elspie, who was in this way much con-
ciliated. More than I loved to see her gliding about
the room. Dr. Strong, our Streamstown physician,
who came, of course, to mend my broken bones, was
completely captivated by her ready hand and light
step, even more than by her beauty and radiant health,
which last advantage has always, I notice, an especial
charm for a doctor. I soon saw that, conscientious as
I knew him to be, he took on this occasion more
interest in the nurse than in the patient.
But very soon Sylvia left off her nursing, and let
me gradually drop wholly into the hands of faithful
Elspie and my kind little friend Miss Pollard, whose
name, I think, I have before mentioned at the begin-
ning of this history, and who came often now to
beguile my pains by reading aloud her favourite poems
in her chirping little voice, or detailing to me the
gossip of the village and country-side, while she
sewed indefatigably at wonderful prodigies of fancy-
work which were destined for remote bazaars. She
was not so pleasant a companion as Sylvia. It
was not so delightful to look at her or hear her
talk. But her voice had a tremulous echo that
reminded you of a child or a bird, and her simple
face was not uncomely. Albeit a spinster, she wore
something like a widow's cap over her smooth, sand-
It looks more comfortable, my dear," she said to
me once, in an explanatory way, "much more com-
fortable, when a single woman begins to get a little
up in years."
She could only have been forty, or thereabouts,
though I had long looked upon her as a perfect rock
of ages. Her eyes were very mild and kind, and her
mouth had shaped itself into a little round button, by
dint, I always thought, of chirping to the canaries
that lived with her at home.
Sylvia gradually gave me up. Where she passed
her time, or what she did with herself, I could not
guess. Instead of bringing my breakfast she would
just flash in on me for a minute in the morning, look-
ing lovelier and gladder than I had ever seen her,
shake out her fresh cambrics before my glass, and
re-arrange the moss-rosebud in her bosom, then wander
to my bedside, give me an absent kiss, and slip out
again before I had more than time to say good-
At different times during the day she would come
in again, but she was restless while she stayed, mov-
ing about the room like something caged, and scarcely
seeming to breathe freely till she got away again.
Once she did bring out a child's frock, that we had
left unfinished, and began to sew, but after stitching
the hem of the skirt on to the waist she bundled it
away impatiently, and it saw the light no more.
Another time she opened a book to read to me as of
old, but she made so many ridiculous blunders that
at last she laughingly shut the book, saying, I really
do not know what I am reading." One evening she
slipped into the room, knelt beside my couch, laid her
head on my pillow, and lay gazing up at the ceiling,
with a blissful light on her face, every now and then
giving a long-drawn sigh.
Sylvia, dear," said I, "what can be making you
so happy in this lonely place ? What are you doing
with yourself ?"
"Doing?" she echoed, starting up with a little
warbling laugh. "Mattie, I am doing a great deal."
Then she suddenly began to talk to me about her
own past life. She spoke of the bitterness of the four
years that had gone over her head since her father's
death, not since Dick's death; she did not mention
him. Since her father's death. She described to me
the happy life she led in her cottage home at Rich-
mond, where Dick and others came and wooed her,
then in her nineteenth year. She was vain, she said,
and worldly, and deserved no better fate than befel
her. Her father, a veteran officer, died, and left her
destitute. No strong hand was near to help her.
Nothing was left her but such wit and good looks as
she had, whereby to win a dependent's bread at a
stranger's table. She opened a little ppcket-book and
showed me a lock of her father's grey hair, and a dried
vine-leaf off her cottage walls.
"Poor Sylvia !" said I, as she stroked the little
treasures in her lap; and I felt puzzled the while in
my own mind.
"Not so poor !" said she, softly, looking as happy
as a queen, and then my words had to come out.
"Sylvia !" said I, "will you answer me one ques-
tion truly ? Did you ever love my brother Dick ?"
She glanced away startled for a moment, and then,
after a long pause, turned her shining grey eyes upon
my face, and said:
"I shall have to make you another confession
before long, and I had better make this one before-
hand. I never did love your brother; not as I could
love my husband. I liked him, for he was a kind
good fellow; but at the time I promised to marry
him I loved another better. Ay, you may turn from
me in disgust, Mattie. I told you before that I was
vain and worldly; but at least I was an obedient
daughter to my father, who liked your brother, and
who considered him a better match, as they say, than
the person I cared for more. Such things as this are
not uncommon, Mattie."
I shrank a little, feeling as if the bright grey eyes
pierced me through with these words. Truly such
things were not uncommon. I gave a sigh to my
dead brother, and Sylvia went on talking.
I should have been a good wife to Dick if he had
lived. I could not marry any one unless I were pre-
pared to be the best wife in the world; but I should
like better to marry some one I could love. I have
learned that it is easier for a woman to live without
riches than without a heart. Ah, if you knew how I
have starved for a little love! I have done hard
penance for my mistake. Poor old Lady Durden I
was very submissive to her whims. She made a
white slave of me at the beginning. Could not take
her breakfast of a morning without first putting her
foot upon my neck; but that was before she knew how
necessary I should become to her. She did not guess
that I had promised myself she should prize me, sue
me, miss me, before I had done with her. In nine
months she had had three companions before I went
to her; and I remained with her nearly four years.
She raised my wages and gave me pretty dresses.
She cried when I was leaving her, and begged me to
Sylvia sat on the floor, with her cheek luxuriously
dipped in her hand, and her face bathed in a smile of
delicious complaisance, while all this ran trippingly
from her tongue.
"But you will not go back, Sylvia, you will never
starve any more for love," said I, thinking I had
guessed her secret very shrewdly; and at this moment
the doctor was announced, who blushetl as he shook
hands with her. After him quickly came Miss
Pollard, more blooming and lively than usual, with
whom Sylvia immediately began a mischievous skir-
mishing of words, for there was a perpetual war
going on between these two. We had tea in my
room all together, and Miss Pollard put off her bonnet
and filled the cups, producing a dish of sponge-cakes
which she had made with her own hands for my use,
though the fairest and largest she placed on a plate
by the doctor.
Dr. Strong was a stout little elderly man-clever,
kind, and a trifle pompous. He had a pleasant rosy
face, and the baldness of his head was quite made
up for by his handsome whiskers, which were still
untouched by grey. He had a simple fondness for
fine English, a tender heart, which often supplied the
place of a fee in his dealings with the poor, a good
income, and a handsome house a little way out of the
village. He might not be all a pretty maiden's fancy,
but a woman might choose for herself a worse staff to
lean upon through life. I had not been used to think
much upon his virtues or himself, but of late he had
inspired me with new interest. I had trained myself
to be very prosaic on the subject of matrimony, and
I thought it would be better for Sylvia to grace a
good man's home in the quiet sunshine of Streams-
town than to fade into lonely dependent old maiden-
hood in some dreary London mansion. I did wonder
at her excessive happiness and her little rhapsody
about love, which I thought rather out of place.
But her character had sunk in my esteem since I
heard her declare that she had never loved my bro-
ther. The imaginary link that had bound my sym-
pathy to hers had disappeared before the truth from
her lips. I no longer looked upon her as a sister.
An admiring friendship for her I must still pre-
serve, but the romance that had hung about her was
Somehow our little tea-party went wrong that
night, though Sylvia had adorned the room prettily
with flowers, and the sponge-cakes were good, and the
sunshine came pleasantly through -the open window.
Luke refused to come up to join us, though specially
invited. The doctor blushed too often for his comfort,
and got bewildered by Sylvia's mocking merriment,
and Miss Pollard alarmed us all by pouring the tea
into the sugar-basin. Our two friends went away
"Just like man and wife !" Sylvia said, laughingly,
afterwards; "the little spinster on tiptoe with delight.
It is unreasonable for anything so antiquated to have
Why, you are surely not jealous of Miss Pollard,"
I said, smiling in her face.
"Jealous 1" she echoed, with an astonished stare;
then laughed heartily to herself, as if at some secret
"I only meant to say," she said, "that when the
tea poured into the sugar-basin it was the overflow of
the tide of Miss Pollard's feelings which sets in the
direction of Dr. Strong."
"Nonsense," I said; but by-and-by began to think
that Sylvia was more shrewd than I. She had walked
with them that evening as far as the gates across the
burn. I limped to the window and saw her coming
back alone, sauntering along the gravel by the garden
wall, her head on a level with the wallflowers that
grew above it. She had on a light blue dress and a
pink rose in her hair, her hat in her hand, and walked
in the mellow harvest light of the setting sun.
A group of haymakers going home gazed at her in
shy admiration. Dreamy and pleasant came the plash
of the wheels from beyond the river. How sweet the
hay smelt, and over in the direction of Eldergowan
the woods were wrapped in purple and gold. I
looked at a bunch of flowers which Mark Hatteraick
had left at the door for me that morning. All the
beauty of the summer evening could not make me
glad, and it struck me sharply at the moment that I
"was very young to have given all the joy out of my
I saw Luke emerge from somewhere and join Sylvia,
and the two came slowly together towards the house,
then turned and got lost to sight among the lilac-trees
along the burn. I was surprised and pleased to see
them such good friends. I wondered that Sylvia had
not told me about it.
;---,- ,.. .AJ., 4.
CHAP. VI.-IN THE SUMMER-HOUSE.
ST is needless to set down here how often at this
time Mrs. Hatteraick came to see me, how many
cream cheeses and sweet shortbreads, how many
baskets of strawberries of their own picking, and nice
new books just fresh from London, were carried tri-
umphantly into my room by the good Samaritans,
Polly and Nell. And invariably with these other
gifts came the bouquet, of which Polly was not
unreasonably proud as the handiwork of Uncle Mark.
" He matched the colours himself," this little woman
would cry, "and you should have seen him going
picking and snipping round the greenhouses, gardener
John following him with tears in his eyes." These
flowers used to oppress me in my small room some-
times. They were richer and of stronger perfume
than any about the Mill-house. Often during these
visits of Mrs. Hatteraick's, when Sylvia had carried
off the children, and the old lady and I sat alone, she
talked to me sweetly and wistfully about her tall
soldier son, of his goodness and bravery, and her
desire to see him married to some one who could
appreciate him and be worthy of him, some one he
and she could love. When should I be able to go
back to Eldergowan ? was her constant cry.
And as often as she talked to me in this manner,
just so often had I right impulses to open my heart
to her, and tell her all about Luke. But physical
weakness and suffering had made me a coward, and I
still kept putting off the evil day. Each visit was
too short and precious to be darkened by the cloud
which I felt must come between me and that gentle
face whenever my story should be told. I cheated
myself with fair promises and the finest reasoning in
the world. I said that by-and-by, when I was
stronger and less foolishly nervous and lackadaisical
than I found myself now, I should be able, in the
telling my news, to speak up with a better dignity,
and guard the honour of my father, my future hus-
band, and myself. I felt that I could never confess
to Mark's mother that I did not like Luke Elphinstone,
and, as I was determined to hold up my head and
walk with pride in the way I had to go, I had better
have no slipping and hesitating, no goading com-
miseration and counsels. Advice could not avail me
and sympathy could only sting.
One golden afternoon, I sat alone in my own room
at the open window. The grass, the trees, the river,
and sky, all were golden. The very rolling monotony
of the distant dashing wheels was molten gold poured
out in sound upon the air. Idleness and sunshine
In tke Summer-House. 65
are sore irritants to a troubled heart. Many disturb-
ing questions had been teasing me all morning with
oft-silenced "whys and "wherefores." The birds
and the flowers had been giving me bad advice, and
my solitude had obliged me to listen to them.
Elspie came hobbling in with her knitting, and sat
down beside me in her privileged way, "speering at
my face, though I kept it turned from her till the sun
had dried it. But Elspie's eyes, with the help of a
pair of huge wry spectacles, were as keen as any I
have met with.
"It's sair to see you sitting' greetin' here for lone-
someness," said Elspie, when there's ane o' yer ain
years i' the house might bide wi' you for company."
"You are very cross, Elspie," I said. I thought
you had given up your ill-will to Miss Ashenhurst.
Do you think I would sit in-doors on such a day as
this if I could help it ? And it is new to her, you
know. You never were in London, Elspie, and how
should you understand why she loves to be so much
in the open air here."
She's no' i' the open air the noo," said Elspie,
grimly. She's doon there," and she pointed with her
thumb towards the drawing-room below. "I saw her
yonder awhile ago, walking' aboot the floor, and singin'
and talking' to herself just daft-like. She's no' sae
fond o' the open air unless when she's ane to walk
I smiled at Elspie as she tugged her needles.
I don't think she'll find any one to walk with her
here," said I, "except it be the dogs or the crows."
Oh ay! that indeed !" said Elspie. "Wait till
the sun's a bit low, an' she's off to meet Luke, wi' her
hat on her arm sae simple, an' her bare locks shining
like a wisp o' goud. You might mind yer auld nursery
window, Mattie, an' how far a body can see roun' the
orchard out o' its wee crooked panes. Gin ye were
sitting' there instead o' here the length o' the simmer's
day, ye might see mair than the river running. "
What might I see, Elspie ?" I asked, knowing that
I must speak and humour her.
Mair than I'd like to tell ye, lass," said Elspie,
peering at me from under her shaggy grey brows;
" only I'll say ane word to ye that's worth a score.
Get yon smooth-faced hizzie oot the Mill-house the
soonest day ye can, gin ye think o' Maister Elphin-
stone for yer husband."
"Elspie !" I said, sharply, I never knew before
that you were a cruel and unjust woman. I know
you have always had a strange dislike to my friend,
whom every one else loves, but you ought not to let
it carry you too far. If Mr. Luke and Miss Ashen-
hurst are better friends than they used to be, I am
very glad of it, and no more need be said on the sub-
ject. Why, you silly old thing," I added, "if you
only knew how far you are astray with your ridiculous
notions !" And I smiled as I thought of the doctor's
In the Summer-House. 67
"Eh lass !" said Elspie, leaning her chin upon her
skinny hand, and looking at me mournfully, "yer
ower young to deal wi' a wicked warld, an' yer ower
prood an' simple to look after yer ain rights. Gin ye-
were free an' coaxin' wi' yer lover yersel', ye might
snap yer fingers at a' the saft-faced strangers on airth,
but ye will not even crook yer finger to bring him to
yer side. I tell ye, bairn, that a man likes a bonny
woman that'll laugh in his eyes an' blush whenhe
comes by better than a bonnier woman that's cauld
an' sad. An' I tell ye mair, that gin ye dinna stir
yersel' it's Sylvia an' not Mattie that'll sit at Luke
Elphinstone's fireside. Wae's me did not yer mither
pass me wi' a waft i' the gloamin' last night. An' I
spoke to her oot lood on the lobby as she went flittin'
by. 'Gang hame, maistress,' I said, 'an' tak' yer sleep.
Elspie 'll speak to the bairnie afore another day.'"
At this point Sylvia came singing up the stairs, and
Elspie hobbled abruptly from my room. The young
woman and the old woman exchanged glances of dis-
trust upon the threshold. Sylvia looked saucily after
her enemy, and, turning to me, asked me gaily what
Goody Crosspatch had been saying to make me look
so glum. I told her we had been speaking of my
mother. Sylvia sat down beside me and talked
sweetly and kindly, as she knew how to talk. I half
closed my eyes and ears, and tried to look at her
apart from her fascinations, but it was like swimming
against a current, and the tide of her good humour
bore me with it. It seemed to strike her that I was
sad, and she exerted herself to amuse me, which
proved to me that her neglect at other times could be
owing to no deliberate unkindness. But she soon
"wearied of her task and left me, and the old state of
things went on.
I began to ruminate seriously upon Elspie's sug-
gestions. I had felt so certain that Sylvia was en-
couraging the doctor, that I had never thought of the
possibility of her preferring Luke. How should I,
since she and Luke had been almost at enmity when
I saw them last together ? But they had been much
thrown upon each other's society since then, and must
have at least become good friends, unless Elspie could
be supposed to have gone mad. Reflection made me
uneasy for Sylvia, and I resolved that, at all events,
she should no longer be kept in ignorance of the
engagement between me and Luke Elphinstone.
"My dear," said Miss Pollard, bursting in on me
one morning, all rosy and breathless, I wanted so
much to come and see you, so I made a little jelly for
an excuse. I got up at four this morning, partly to
make it, and partly because I could not sleep. If
Miss Ashenhurst is not about, I should like a little
I assured her that we should not be disturbed.
Should Miss Ashenhurst come in," she said, "pro-
mise me you will immediately change the conversa-
tion. Miss Ashenhurst makes me feel as if I were
In the Summer-House. 69
sitting on pins, or had my gown hooked-on crooked,
or my shoes on the wrong feet, or something else very
uncomfortable the matter with me. If she happens
to call at my house when Dr. Strong is paying me a
visit, as he often does, on the subject of broth and
petticoats, she gives way to such extraordinary merri-
ment that I quite blush, my dear, besides being uneasy
lest it should end in hysterics."
I promised that if Sylvia happened to come in I
should immediately begin to talk about canaries.
When Miss Pollard said, "I quite blush, my dear," it
was literally true, for her cheeks had turned as red
as a rose. She put off her bonnet with trembling
hands, and the lappets of'her little cap stirred with
great agitation. She had on her best black silk gown,
so I knew that a matter of importance was to be dis-
It is about Dr. Strong, my dear," she said, speak-
ing with a quaint mixture of elation and distress in
her manner, and adding, with a slight incoherency,
" though ostensibly it was only about broth and petti-
In a moment I guessed what was coming, and in
the shock of amazement I felt through my mind for
my familiar idea of Dr. Strong as a lover of Sylvia.
But all ideas were in confusion, and I could only
It is all notes, my dear," said Miss Pollard, and
I put a few in the bottom of my bag, under the jelly,
for a sample. I had one from him last year on the
subject of beef-tea, but it began, 'My dear madam,'
and ended exactly like a circular, and that, you know,
is very different from My very dear Miss Pollard,' and
' My dearest Jenny.' I think it is rather free of him,"
said the little lady, drawing herself up, and making
efforts to control her blushes, considering that I
never answered any of his notes, or gave him the
slightest encouragement, unless it may have been
running up stairs to put on my bonnet when I saw
him advancing to my cottage, and making believe I
was going to pay a visit, because it is so much easier
to talk to him walking down the road than sitting
face to face in the parlour, which is such a nervous
I read the notes which she gave me. The first was
written in polite terms of friendliness, while the last,
beginning My dearest Jenny," was the nearest pos-
sible approach to a love-letter. It was very nicely
worded, yet eminently calculated to flatter the vanity
and touch the heart of the simple little maiden lady
to whom it was addressed, especially if her heart were
at all inclined to be soft towards the writer.
"That is the one, my dear," said Miss Pollard, her
blushes rising to their climax-" that is the one which
cost me a sleepless night, and jelly-making at four
o'clock this morning. That is the one which resolved
me to come and ask your advice, should Miss Ashen-
hurst not be in the neighbourhood."
In the Summer-House. 71
Having examined the notes, I could not but give
my opinion that they could only mean that Dr. Strong
wished to marry Miss Pollard. I had at first sus-
pected a hoax, but it chanced that I had very recently
had an opportunity of seeing the doctor's handwriting
in a note which he had sent with a nosegay to Sylvia.
The evidence, to me, seemed conclusive, and the little
spinster testified her joy at my verdict by falling upon
my neck and kissing me. Sylvia came in after that,
and I thought she must have seen or overheard some-
thing, there was such a mischievous laugh in the
corner of her eye. But the conversation immediately
turned on canaries.
It was shortly after this that I saw one day the
unusual apparition of my father coming up the walk
from the river quite early in the afternoon. I thought
he looked stooped and flushed with the heat, and my
mind misgave me that he was not well. He espied
me at my window, and came up to my room.
"All alone, Mattie said he, "and looking as woe-
begone as if the mills had stopped. What have you
done with that scamp, Luke ? You are idling him
finely these times !"
"You are quite mistaken, papa," I said; "I have
not seen Luke more than twice during the past ten
"Nonsense !" cried my father, quite aghast.
Indeed," I said, it is truth."
He broke out in wrath against the senseless con-
tradictiousness of women. You have kept him doing
errands for you through the country," he said, match-
ing silks or buying bobbins, I'll be bound. I am not
going to scold you," he added, "but it interrupts busi-
ness badly, lass; it plays the very devil with business.
There, there, you've been too long shut up in this oven
of a room-infernally hot-would kill me in a week.
Where is that fine London madam that was supposed
to have broken her heart-pish !-why does she not
give you her arm into the garden to get the air ?"
"An arm would not do," I said; "but I am not
very heavy. You could carry me to the summer-
He chafed and frowned at the audacity of the pro-
posal, but I got my arms about his neck, and we
accomplished the journey together. A year before I
had hardly ventured to lift my voice in my father's
presence, but he was altered, and I was altered, and
since then I had learned my value. I remembered
that day that I was worth thousands of capital to the
mill, and I dared to claim affection and consideration.
I had been a good, obedient daughter, and I was reap-
ing the reward of my conduct.
"Papa," said I, if Luke is making holiday on his
own account, I do not see why you and I should not
have a little feast;" and I sent for some wine and
"Luke is a good, industrious lad," said my father,
sipping his wine, "and he has never been given to
In the Summer-House. 73
gadding till lately. The mills are thriving; spinning
gold every day. Gordon and Elphinstone will be
foremost among the merchant-princes of the country.
But it will not do if Luke takes to gadding. I thought
he had been dangling after you; but if there is any-
body else, it is worse. I tell you what it is, Mattie,
you must cut the year short, and get him into harness
Ah me! how I had cheated myself with false faith
in my own meekness Just now I had been enjoying
my father's better humour and the new fresh taste of
the open air; but at these last words some spirit of
evil seemed to leap up in the quiet garden there and
wrestle with, and go nigh to choke me. A wicked
despair took possession of me, and I dashed my glass
with its wine into the bushes near.
"You promised me a year," said some one who
seemed beside me; and then a convulsion caught me,
and shook me like a punished child.
Good God!" cried my father. Stop, girl! Hush,
for mercy's sake! Confound women! Mattie, lass,
you shall have your own time, only stop crying, and
don't kill yourself. Do what you please, only cure
Luke of his gadding. And, by-the-bye, I ought to
be back at the mills. There, child, good-bye; and
I'll send Elspie to give you another glass of wine."
And my father actually ran away, scared by my
frantic passion. Things were strangely altered when
I could frighten him, whom all my life I had feared.
After he had gone, I wept more quietly to see how he
was broken down in mind as well as body. Depen-
dence on Luke Elphinstone, dependence on a child's
obedience, had left its wearing mark upon his "proud
spirit. The stern, reticent man was falling into a
timorous and choleric old age.
I think I have told before how the old garden was
built high on little walls, how the twig summer-house
stood at the lower end, with the burn running behind
it, and how the lilac trees that lined the summer-
house hung over the shady path beside the burn. I
know not anywhere a sweeter, stiller, dreaming-place
than that pathway behind the garden, and there were
little breaks in the lilac trees through which I had
often, when a child, thrust my face to see the sun
dancing in the thickets, and the sticklebacks leaping
in the stream.
On this day, after my father had left me, I was sit-
ting very quiet in the summer-house, having finished
my tears, when I heard steps in the lane below the
lilacs, and voices coming murmuring from behind me.
At first I did not heed it, for the lane led to meadows
and pasture lands, and was frequented by milkmaids
and haymakers. I forgot that it was not milking
time, and that the haymaking was over. For full half
an hour the murmur of the voices went on behind
me, while I sat motionless with my face between my
hands, too weary and too drowsy with weakness and
trouble to think of putting my eyes to the opening in
In the Summer-House. 75
the lilacs to learn who were the gossips in the lane.
At last the tone of a half-raised voice came familiarly
to my ear, making me start, while a tingling sensa-
tion gave new life to every vein in my body.
I looked through the trees and saw Sylvia and
Luke Elphinstone sitting side by side on the grass
between the pathway and the burn. Sylvia's hand
was lying in Luke's clasp, her bright head was bent,
her face in shadow, but the light was full upon Luke
Elphinstone. Never had I seen him look so well.
There was a flushed, softened, generous look upon his
face which was not familiar to it. But it was Sylvia
who was speaking, softly and eagerly, her voice at
times almost lost in the murmur of the burn.
I do not know one word they said. I drew my
shawl over my ears so that I could not hear, and laid
my head down on the seat, so that I could neither
see nor be seen. The murmuring went on a long
time after that, and then it ceased. I lay thinking
in the summer-house all the long sunny afternoon. I
guessed that at dinner-time my father, who had doubt-
less forgotten to tell Elspie where to find me, would
hear questions concerning me, and would send Luke
to carry me into the house. I could have managed
to attract notice and get home to my room sooner,
but I chose rather to wait for Luke Elphinstone where
I was. This were a good quiet place to hold a painful
And in the meantime I could ponder on what I
should say to him when he appeared. Many strange
thoughts passed through my mind while the sunset
hours buzzed past, seemingly on the wings of the bees.
I was mad enough to give way to joy, thinking that
Fate and the fickleness of a lover were about to undo
for me what Fate and the selfishness of a father had
so cruelly done. I imagined that to-morrow I might
file the stubborn diamond ring from my finger, and
return it broken into the hands of the giver. And
then, "Oh, Eldergowan !" I cried aloud in the silent
garden, lifting my head to see the red sun dropping
behind the brown distant woods. A blackbird began
to pipe in the lilacs beside me; and Luke came down
the garden seeking me.
CHAP. VII.-THE KNOT TIGHTENED.
UKE came down the garden with a rod in his
hand, switching the heads off the roses as he
passed. I could see him better than he could see me,
for the sun was in his eyes, and I gave myself new
licence observing him. I looked at him straight with
the downright eyes of my own prejudice, feeling it
no longer necessary to varnish him with any lying
He lifted his hat from his head a moment and shook
back his hair. His face looked flushed and troubled.
I rejoiced to see him ft. n;ng a little wholesome com-
punction, and thought with some bitterness of the
cruel persistence with which he had held me to his
will, to be released now at his pleasure; for I could
not doubt but that he was eager to dissolve our en-
He gave me a furtive glance as he entered the
summer-house, and smiled nervously.
So, Mattie," he said, sitting down beside me, and
assuming an off-hand manner which sat upon him
uneasily, "so you have stolen a march on us to-day.
It was hardly fair. Your father says he left you here
quite early. You must have been sitting alone the
whole of the afternoon ?"
"Yes, Luke," said I, I have been sitting here alone
the whole of the afternoon."
Again he looked at me with a furtive, questioning
glance. I saw that he was uncertain as to whether I
had overheard his conversation with Sylvia or not,
but I felt too much distaste for this interview to think
of prolonging it by keeping him in suspense. I kept
my eyes on his face while I spoke; but he persisted
in watching his little rod, with which he flicked at
the gravel like a nervous schoolboy.
"I heard people talking in the lane," said I, and
I looked through the trees for one moment. After
that I rolled my head up in this shawl. It is pretty
thick, and you will believe I heard nothing that the
people said. You do believe that ?"
"Why, yes," he said, looking somewhat relieved,
though he did not lift his eyes. "I never knew you
to say what was not the truth to a tittle; but most
women would have listened. You are a rare girl,
Mattie. You might make anything you liked of a
fellow, if you were only a little softer."
There was a dash of regret in his voice as he said
this which touched me, and, indeed, I was in the
humour to forgive him. "Well, never mind that
now, Luke," I said, stooping kindly to him from my
imaginary pedestal. I know well that Sylvia will
The Knot Tightened. 79
suit you much better than I ever could. She has
just the softness that I lack. She is a lovely, sweet
woman, and will make sunshine for you where I
should only make gloom. I think it is quite natural
that you should change your mind, having seen so
much of her lately. I am not at all hurt, and I think
it is perhaps better that I happened to come here to-
day, as it has saved you the awkwardness of seeking
this interview of yourself. But you will speak to my
father soon: he will take it better from you than
Luke heard me quietly to the end of this long
speech, but curious changes of expression passed over
his face whilst he broke his little rod bit by bit to
pieces in his hands. He threw them all from him at
last, lifted his head, and looked at me straight.
"I do not understand you," he said. "You seem
to have got the idea that I wish to break my engage-
ment with you and marry Miss Ashenhurst ?"
"Yes," I said, certainly. I believe that you can-
not have any other intention. What would you wish
me to think ?"
Anything you please," he said, carelessly, "except
that I have no more idea of breaking my engagement
than I have of deserting the Streamstown Mills, which
are thriving nobly. I will give up neither for any
I felt my heart getting sick.
Your conduct to Sylvia- ," I began.
"What has it been ?" he interrupted, hastily. "I
meet her in the fields of a summer's day, I walk down
the lane with her, and sit on the grass, talking to her
about old times-about Dick- ." He went on
feeling his way with his words, and giving rapid
glances from the ground to me, to see how his story
told upon my face. Well, I flirt with her a little,"
he added, seeing, I suppose, disbelief gathering in my
eyes, "the day being fine, and the lady being pretty,
and you being, as I believe, removed from my reach.
Is this a crime past forgiveness ?"
But Sylvia- ," I began again, and then stopped
short. I could not speak out more plainly, without
compromising my friend. I could not drag forth the
gossip of servants, nor make it appear that I had
acted the spy. I knew in my heart that Luke was
false, but I also felt how weak was my case against
him; and I saw that with his sidelong glances he
read my thoughts, and took ready advantage of my
You need not be uneasy for the lady," he said,
with a slightly sneering laugh. "It is not her first
essay in flirting, as she will tell you, I dare say, if
you ask her. She and I have passed a summer after-
noon foolishly, I own, and you are jealous, and that
is all about it. If you talk more on the subject, I
shall feel inclined to ask an explanation concerning
that fine soldier who comes riding here with anxious
inquiries so early in the morning. Ah! have I touched
The Knot Tightened. 81
you there, my most high and mighty Mattie ? We
are quits, I think."
And he coolly lifted a handful of dry gravel from
between his feet, and began pelting the full-blown
roses outside, till the leaves fell in showers over the
The blood rushed to my face, and a pain shot
through my head. It was true, and yet it was false;
for had I not struggled-had I not suffered ? But
the random blow hit sorely home.
"I will not be dragged down to your level!" I cried,
passionately. You have bought my promise, and you
may refuse to release me, but you shall not insult
me !" Something like this I said.
Luke stared. It was a little raving outburst which
he seemed to think ridiculous. Perhaps it sounded
so, for he smiled and threw all the pebbles from his
"At all events, Mattie," he said, I must say that
candour is one of your virtues. You never let me
forget the terms on which you entered on our engage-
ment. But come now, let us be friends," said he,
drawing near, and trying to put his arm round me;
"forgive and forget, and let me carry you into the
house. Your father will be waiting dinner."
I shrank from him. Go away to your dinner,"
I said, "and leave me alone here for another little
while;" and I drew my shawl round my shoulders
again, and laid my head down upon the bench. Luke
82 E ,',: :: .,: ,.*;.
stood gazing at me for some moments in sullen anger,
then turned on his heel, muttering something like a
curse, and strode out of the summer-house.
Where would be the use of setting down all the
little details of what I thought and felt in the minutes
that ensued ? Half an hour does quite as much mis-
chief as a whole week of unreasonable hope. I was
very tired and heated, and I thrust my shoulders
through the cool bowery leaves of the trees, and lay
with my head on a pillow of lilac blossoms, looking
up at the sky and down at the stream. I believe I
fell into a doze, from which I was roused presently
by the jangling of the iron gates, and a voice saying,
"Why, Mattie !" as if calling over the hills from
I started up, and saw Major Hatteraick coming
quickly towards me. I was in time to see the flush
of delighted surprise still beaming on his face, and I
began to tremble. Here was too much joy coming,
and I could not run away. I felt confused by the
unexpected nearness of danger, as if a pistol had sud-
denly been presented at my head.
But it was only for a moment. I could not save
myself from the delight of this meeting. There were
little niches for feet in the wall, made by the boys
who stole the raspberries, and Mark was quickly by
my side, grasping both my hands, and searching my
face with all his great loving blue eyes.
Could they not afford you a bed or a sofa in the
The Knot Tightened. 83
house," he said, "that you must lie sleeping about the
garden-walls like a kitten ?"
I said, "I am like a parcel now, you know, and I
got left here by accident. You can make yourself
very useful if you will give me your arm and get me
back to the house."
"Wait awhile, Mattie," he said, softly; "it is plea-
sant here. Can you not sit beside me a little and
talk? In the house I should not have you all to
myself." And he drew my crutch gently away from
me, and laid it across his knees.
So I sat there a prisoner, reckless and happy. I
felt that no one in the world loved me so wholly and
kindly as this big brave man sitting beside me, and I
could not but be glad, though my whole life might
weep for it afterwards. Have I not said well that I
was very far from wise ? He told me about Elder-
gowan, and how it missed me. The house was dull,
and the inmates moped; the fields seemed deserted,
the gardens lonely. Polly had said that the taste of
Mattie was gone from everything, and nothing had
any relish. Does it not seem laughable to relate ?
But it made my heart ache to bursting.
We want you," he said, we want you badly. You
had no right to come to Eldergowan creating such a
need unless you intended to return."
I tried not to mind the tones of his voice. That is
all very well," I said, gaily, and I am greatly obliged
to Eldergowan for missing me so much; but I want
my crutch at present-I want it badly. And when
you see me hobbling along the walk you will perceive
that Eldergowan must rest content without me."
Still he withheld the crutch. Wait awhile, Mattie,"
he said again; "I am in no hurry to see you hobbling
down the walk. We used to sit together in the gar-
dens over yonder by the hour, and it is inhospitable
of you now to deny me the only thing I coveted in
coming to your house-a little of your company alone.
Do not let me feel that you are altered in anything
besides the wearing of that fresh pretty gown that
makes you look as if you were dressed in snowdrops.
Say you are not changed, Mattie."
"I am not changed," I began; and then started up,
crying wildly, I think, "give me my crutch-give it
to me at once, and take me home."
He rose on the instant, looking hurt and surprised,
placed my crutch without a word, gave me his arm,
and we went home to the house together. When we
drew near the door, I said:-
My pains have made me very cross; please forgive
me my rudeness."
I could forgive you more than that," he said; and
we went in, and found my father still in the dining-
room, and alone.
My father had some awe of, and much respect for,
Mrs. Hatteraick, and it pleased him to be friendly to
her son. He marshalled Major Hatteraick into the
drawing-room-a room which he himself rarely en-
The Knot Tzghtened. 85
tered. Miss Pollard and Sylvia were there, and the
tea-things were spread upon the table. Sylvia was
cutting cakes for the tea, and Miss Pollard was tug-
ging so fiercely at her worsted-work that I was sure
the poor little lady had been lately made to feel as if
her gown were hooked-on crooked, or she had her
shoes on the wrong feet. Luke came in presently,
but sat sullen and silent all tea-time, and directly it
was finished he disappeared. My father talked of the
wars in courtesy to Major Hatteraick, and Major Hat-
teraick talked of the mills in courtesy to my father,
who was evidently well pleased with his new friend.
After tea, Mark announced the object of his visit.
"I am my mother's ambassador, sir," he said, giving
my father a note. There was also one for me, and
another for Sylvia. They were all to the same pur-
pose. Mrs. Hatteraick wanted Sylvia and me to come
to Eldergowan. Sylvia flushed up and looked grave.
She did not want to go.
"They may do as they like," said my father, who
was pleased with Mrs. Hatteraick's letter. Mark
looked eagerly towards me.
I shook my head. You had better let me limp
about the Mill-house a little longer, papa," said I.
"I am not just in order for paying visits."
I do not suppose Mrs. Hatteraick will expect you
to walk the whole way," said my father, sharply;
" and you may as well limp about Eldergowan as the
Mill-house." He was in eminent good humour with
the Hatteraicks at the moment, and I saw that he
was bent on our going.
Mark's face had clouded over. My mother will,
of course, bring the carriage for you," he said.
Well, well," said my father, getting impatient, "let
them talk the matter over, and make up their minds.
Only no nonsense about lin_.;.-., Mattie. There is
no reason in the world against your accepting the
kindness of your friends."
And, saying this, he marched off with Major Hat-
teraick to inspect some new machinery at the mills,
and we three women were left looking at each other.
Mattie, my dear," said Miss Pollard, I should
not have believed that a few hours in the open air
could make such a change in any person. I never
saw wild hair and a tumbled gown so becoming in my
life. You are shining and blooming like a new-blown
It is my new muslin gown, Miss Pollard," I said,
Sylvia, who had been very demure all evening,
nodded her head sagely.
It's my mind, Mattie, said she, that if you go to
Eldergowan you will look like that every day you are
there; but, if you go at present, you must go alone.
I do not know the people, and I had rather stay at
"I am not going to E:l. l.i.v n, Sylvia," I said;
and then a servant came into the room with a letter.
T HE letter was for Miss Ashenhurst, but Miss
Pollard, who was nearest the door, took it from
the servant, and handed it to Sylvia.
It is from Dr. Strong !" said the little lady, drop-
ping into the nearest chair, and opening her round
eyes in wonderment; and I heard her murmuring
while Sylvia read the letter:-
"Advice about Mattie-not time to call-does not
approve of her walking about the garden with a crutch.
He might have waited until to-morrow, and spoken
But Sylvia sat grave and silent, with the letter
spread on her knees. She looked so shocked that
even I began to feel surprised, and Miss Pollard went
red and pale, and twitched at the lappets of her little
My dear," she said, looking at Sylvia with tears
in her eyes, we are naturally anxious to know what
is the matter. Pray set our minds at rest by assuring
us that this is not danger, or worse. If it is illness,
he may recover; but tell us that he is not dead, my
dear-tell us that he is not dead."
I do not think Sylvia heard, for she took no notice
of the little spinster's speech.
Well," she said, slowly and thoughtfully, I never
dreamed the poor man was so seriously in earnest."
In earnest about what ?" I said.
Why," said Sylvia, it is not fair to tell, but I am
so much astonished that I cannot hold my tongue.
You must both promise me to keep the secret. Well,
then, here is a proposal of marriage from Dr. Jacob
Strong-kind, good, simple man that he is!"
I glanced at Miss Pollard. She sat bolt upright in
her chair, in speechless dismay; but presently she got
up all trembling and most piteous to behold, and came
across the floor to Sylvia.
Miss Ashenhurst," she said, "will you allow me
to look at the envelope ? These mistakes have been
known to occur. He may have been writing to you
also about Mattie, and may have put yours into my
cover, and mine into yours."
Sylvia looked at her first in surprise, and then a
comical look, half compunction and half amusement,
came over her face.
Miss Pollard," she said, why do you suppose that
this letter was intended for you ?"
"Miss Ashenhurst," said Miss Pollard, I have
heard of such things as flirts, who have fooled many
women, but I do not believe that a respectable man
like Dr. Strong, with a high reputation in the country,
would be capable of making love to two ladies at once.
My dear, I know that I am a middle-aged, ordinary
woman, and should never dream of entering the lists
with a young and beautiful creature like yourself;
but when first one letter and then another comes
dropping into one's lonely life with words of love and
comfort that one never thought to hear-when, in
spite of one's silence and slowness to believe in the
change, these letters keep perseveringly coming to
one's fireside-then, my dear young lady, even at my
age, one will begin to forget one's wrinkles and com-
mon sense, and to look forward to events which one
would have laughed to think about but a short time
Sylvia looked up at the bright, proud, little, simple
face, then dropped her head abashed, and said, peni-
Miss Pollard, I am very sorry, indeed. I should
never have done it if I had foreseen how things were
to turn out. I hope you will forgive me, but it was
I who sent you those letters."
"My dear, no !" said Miss Pollard, mildly, feeling
in her pocket, and producing a note. These came
from Dr. Strong, Mattie will assure you. You may
compare the handwriting if you wish."
And the little spinster opened her letter with
trembling, triumphant fingers, and seemed to feel her-
self happily fit to cope with this new piece of quizzing
I am very sorry, Miss Pollard," repeated Sylvia,
"but I copied the writing, having a letter of Dr.
Strong's in my possession. That note was written
by me, as well as all the rest you have received. It
was a silly hoax."
Miss Pollard stood folding at her letter for some
moments, then, seeming to take in the truth, dropped
the paper in Sylvia's lap, and moved away quickly.
She kept her face turned from us as she crossed the
room to the door, but I could see the cruel quivering
of the contracted face, and I grieved for the kind little
wounded heart. By-and-by she came back equipped
for departure, with her bonnet put on the wrong way,
the deep silk curtain dipping over her wet patient
"Thank you, my love," she said, when I put it
straight. I had no wish to see my foolish face in
the glass, and I did not feel it wrong. It does not
Then she went up to Sylvia, and held out her hand.
"Good night, Miss Ashenhurst," she said, "and I
hope you believe that I forgive you. I know that
old maids have always been sport for the young, and
perhaps it is natural that they should be so. We
have all our crosses to bear, and I nourish no ill-will,
Forget, if you can, the humiliation you have caused
me this evening, and be a good wife to Dr. Strong."
"I am very sorry I pained you," said Sylvia; "but
I am not going to marry Dr. Strong."
Not going to marry him !" echoed Miss Pollard,
and now, at last, her meek eyes began to kindle fire.
"Dr. Strong is not a person to be played with and
"Perhaps not," said Sylvia, carelessly. She was
tired of the conversation, and was not going to submit
to be lectured. But Miss Pollard would not overlook
the doctor's wrongs so easily as she had done her own.
Miss Ashenhurst." she said, her whole little person
quivering with indignation, "you have done wrong-
you have done very wrong. Doubtless, you have been
at a loss for amusement, but the sad humbling of one
foolish woman might have been enough, without the
grieving of a worthy heart like that which has been
offered to you, and which you so carelessly fling away.
I am speaking to you freely, Miss Ashenhurst, because
I am angry. Your conduct since you came here has
been most unworthy; your behaviour with Mr. Elphin-
stone, in spite of his engagement to Mattie, is talked
of in the village. Such ways may do for London, but
they are not admired in simple places like Streams-
town. I shall bid you good night, Miss Ashenhurst.
I have not been so angry for many years. I am sorry
I have had to speak to you so plainly. Good night,
Mattie, my dear, and I wish you could contrive to
infuse a little of your honesty into your friend."
And with this the little lady bounced out of the
room, and out of the house.
It seemed a long time after she had gone before
Sylvia spoke to me. While Miss Pollard had talked
of herself and the doctor, Sylvia had sat studying the
carpet and tapping her foot. When Miss Pollard said,
" Your behaviour with Mr. Elphinstone," Sylvia's face
had flushed crimson, and she had lifted her head to
speak angrily. When Miss Pollard said, "in spite of
his engagement to Mattie," Sylvia's dilated eyes had
fixed themselves with an absent look of perplexity on
the opposite wall, while gradually the indignant glow
faded from her forehead, her cheeks, and her lips, and
she sat paler than I had ever seen her, studying the
carpet as before.
It seemed five minutes before she spoke: I dare
say it was not so long.
"Mattie," said she at last, what was it that fiery
little woman said about Luke ?"
I had never felt such a coward in my life before.
I had never been so utterly at a loss to know what
"Did not you hear what she said, Sylvia ?" I stam-
"Had I been sure I heard rightly, I should not
trouble myself and you with the question," returned
she, so sharply, it hardly seemed possible it could be
Sylvia who was speaking. You do not seem to wish
to repeat what she said. I thought she spoke of an
engagement between you and Luke. She or I must
have been wrong. It is not possible that such an
engagement could exist."
"It is quite true. Such an engagement has existed
for the past six months. I ought to have told you
about it," said I, stabbing her involuntarily in my
"You ought to have told me about it," she echoed,
laughing, with a spasm of pain upon her face. Hear
her how coolly she says it. She ought to have told
me about it !" repeated Sylvia, leaving her seat with
a passionate spring, and standing at the window, her
back to me.
Sylvia," began I, pleadingly, "how could I know
that it was anything to you ?"
She made a little frantic gesture of impatience.
"Mattie !" she cried, "you have got me on the rack,
but why need you torture me more than is necessary ?
Stay, though !" she added. We may as well speak
out, having said so much already. You think that
during your illness I have employed myself by 'set-
ting my cap,' as they say, at Mr. Luke Elphinstone,
and that I am now disappointed. Is not that what
you believe ?"
"I will not say anything, Sylvia," I said. "You
have no right to oblige me to accuse you against my
I thank you for your generosity," she said, bitterly;
"but I will have the truth. What have you thought ?
What have you believed ? Miss Pollard spoke of talk
in the village. What have they dared to say ? What
have you heard ? I will hear it from some one, so you
may as well tell me."
I heard some remarks from the servants," said I,
"which I treated as idle nonsense, and silenced at
once. I saw you and Luke sitting by the burn to-
gether this afternoon, and I spoke to Luke about it."
"You spoke to Luke about it," -she echoed, in a
choking voice. It seemed as if she could not clearly
realise the meaning of what I said, unless she repeated
my words. "You spoke to Luke about it. And what
did he say ?"
"He acknowledged that he had flirted a little," I
said, and treated the matter as a jest." Then there
followed a long silence, while Sylvia stood in the
window with her back to me, and the twilight gathered
about her light figure.
At last she turned to me again. She was strangely
flushed, and there were traces of suffering on her face.
One could scarcely have recognized the gay, pretty
"Why did you keep your engagement a secret from
me, Mattie ?" she said.
It was Luke's desire," I said. I promised him
not to tell you of it till he gave me leave."
"I see; and then he behaves as he has done, and
then he tells you that I have joined with him in a
vulgar flirtation. He trusts to a woman's pride for
silence between you and me, and he is right enough
there; but I will tell you this much, Mattie, Luke
asked me to be his wife before ever he could have
been a lover of yours. Did I not tell you one day