Зображення сторінки

came to the door, but seeing that he only stood looking on the floor in a sternly contemplative manner, went on with her work, taking no further notice of his presence. He then, after pausing a moment or two, went upstairs to his own room, and presently re-appeared on the threshold of the kitchen in the clothes he usually put on when his hard, out-of-door work was over.

This time he fixed his eyes on the clock, as if he had come there merely to consult that. Then he went away as far as the house-door, and Kezia thought he was going out; but the next moment his form again stood in the doorway of the kitchen.

Kezia !'
The soft, peaceful eyes look up inquiringly.

Will you come into my room? There is a matter on which I have to speak with you.'

Surely, Elias.'
She rose and followed him.

Elias went to his bureau, and took out the well-known packet of Hugh's letters. From these he selected four.

Sit down, Kezia, and read those.' She thought his voice and manner peculiar, and, looking at him anxiously as she received the letters, said

• There's nothing wrong with the lad, Elias, is there?'

He sat down, holding the packet in both his hands, and answered gently

• Read, Kezia.' She began to read the letters in the order they were given

to her.

The first one was written when Hugh's enthusiasm for Loncon had experienced a sudden revulsion. All was now as poor, mean, and hopeless as before all had been rich, alluring, infinite. His musical friend, having raised his hopes by the very highest of praise, considered his duty towards him done, and left him to his own resources. Thus his happiness was made to depend solely on the manner in which he performed his business at Tidman's and on his office companions, both of which he described as becoming more and more distasteful to him.

* You ask me, Elias,' he wrote, “if I have made any friends among my fellow-clerks yet. Lonely as I am, I am thankful

to answer “no” to that. I wonder what you would think of them—their views—their conversation—the intense meanness of their lives and aims—the way they speak of womenas if they had never known a mother or sister, or any but the wretchedly artificial fast-looking creatures I meet them with at theatres and some of the concerts. Elias, how inexpressibly dear and angelic the image that is always with me grows by such a contrast. Sometimes I wish she knew. You might say more about her than you have done lately. I am afraid you are not able to give me much hope, as you carefully avoid saying anything about her whenever you can.'

Here the letter finished with the usual messages to each. Kezia had heard it all before, except this last passage. Folding the letter, and handing it to Elias, she asked, with deepening colour

Who is it he means, Elias—the image that is always with him ? I do not understand.'

Take the next-perhaps you will understand that better,' was the answer—and Kezia took up the next with a trembling hand.

This one she remembered well. It had touched them all deeply, for in it Hugh told—with a generous regret for his former hasty judgment of the great goodness that in many instances lay behind the outward vulgarity and disagreeableness of his fellow-clerks. He told them how one whom he had laughed at for his effeminacy—who had a nervous horror of thieves, cattle, dogs, and draughts, was, by his persistent labours to support a wife and seven children, in spite of the encroachments of a deadly and painful disease, proving himself a miracle of courage and heroic strength. He told them how another, whom he had before described as utterly selfish, was capable of an act of such self-abnegation as breaking off his engagement to the woman he loved, in order to devote himself to the support of his newly-widowed mother and young sisters. 'Let them appear as commonplace, vulgar, apathetic, cowardly as they please,' Hugh wrote, “they cannot deceive me longer, or incite me to self-glorification. I know there is in this office as much delicate sentiment, refined sense of honour, and chivalrous bravery, as ever existed in the olden times, among the same number of men. What becomes of all the old ledgers, I wonder, when they are full, and done with ? It seems to me there are histories in those long lines of figures which should be read and treasured when “The House,” whose accounts they contained, is no more.

You must all have thought me very rambling and unsuccessful since I came here ; but, strange to say, something has been growing in my mind which my very mistakes have helped to enrich. It is a new adaptation of Kezia's favourite air, one I find quite unknown here-it is wonderful to me how it has "come to me”-or, as Ephraim Jones would say, “ been borne in upon me." I find myself able to work at it really, steadily, and progressively. You may be sure that I find my work all the pleasanter for remembering who used to sing it. Oh, Elias, if I could but come home and see her-how it would refresh me after all I have passed through here! Tell her—but no, I cannot send the usual message. Let her think I have forgotten to mention her in this, and tell me what she says. Love to Hirell. Your affectionate brother,

• Hugh MORGAN.'

Kezia kept the letter in her fingers a minute after she had read it.

Elias took it from her, and gently placed another in her hand.

This was the most eventful one that had been received from Hugh since his departure. It contained the joyful news that his song was accepted by a well-known publisher, who thought it would have a great success, but he wanted words to it. Hugh knew that his brother's lodger was the author of several anonymous poems of some power and grace. Did Elias think he would write a song of the character of the enclosed description? From some conversation Hugh had had with him during their brief acquaintance, Hugh thought it likely Mr. Rymer might be pleased with the idea he suggested for the poem. And now,' he wrote, “if, Elias, you think as I do, that this is the foundation of a great prosperity and success, you may tell Kezia how long and how deeply I have loved her ; but if you still doubt me, I am willing to wait till I have still stronger evidence to convince you I am worthy to be trusted with one so dear to us all.'

Kezia laid this letter down, and rose with wet eyes and burning cheeks.

'I understand what you would have me know, Elias Mor. gan,' she said, 'need I read more ?'

Besa Kezia, read that;' and he gave her the fourth and last the lotters he had selected from the packet.

This was written after the brilliant success of his song, to which the desired verses had been written by Rymer.

Of course I have thrown up my situation at Tidman's ; it would be sheer nonsense to stay there. My plans are not yet quite settled. I shall write again in a day or two. I was certainly surprised you did not speak to Kezia as I wished, upon receiving my last. I shall begin to think, Elias, if you still show such reluctance to let her know the truth, that I am but a poor, miserable fellow, with all my success—I mean that you feel there is no hope for me. It would certainly be better for me to know the worst.'

This was the last letter Elias had received from him, and a month had elapsed since its arrival.

Kezia had read it standing.

*Oh what a pity this is, Elias; what a great, great pity,' she said in a trembling voice, without looking up from the letter.

“You will be his wife, Kezia-you will make him happy;' said Elias, in a tone half entreating, half authoritative.

He heard her tears pattering on the letter, but her head was unusually erect, her cheek very bright and hot.

He walked to the other end of the room and back, then said to her again,

“You will be his wife, Kezia ? You will let me write today and set his heart at rest?'

The letter rustled in her hands, then fluttered to the floor, and she turned slowly, holding the edge of the table.

Elias Morgan, do not ask me that again. I am sorry-no one could be more sorry—but never ask me again !!

They stood looking in each other's faces, and there was a strange light in the eyes of Elias that might have been taken for a gleam of intense joy, but that, as he spoke, his voice was so harsh and measured.

And do you know, Kezia, that he looks to me to win you. for him—to give you to him?'.

That you cannot do.' *You say it, Kezia, I cannot ;' he said, with a strange passion in his voice and eyes. If you will not, how can I force you ? Had I, like the patriarchs of old, full power over all my

house, I would command you to marry him—the Lord be my witness, I would command you to marry him!'.

. And it would be the first command of yours, Elias, that'

She had gone to the door, and now, without finishing her sentence, glided out gently.

They did not meet again till evening, and then not a word was said till Hirell's return.

When Kezia, some time after Hirell, went up to bed, she took from an old box of hers a little packet, and sat down with it in her lap before her bare, blindless window, which showed, through its small square panes, the April stars and moon. Kezia opened the paper with trembling fingers. Soon there glittered in them a plain gold ring; and where it had lain, words were traced—too faintly for her to see by the moonlight but that she knew them as well as she knew her own name.

'I leave this, my wedding-ring, to Kezia Williams, my death-bed comforter and friend, whom I earnestly desire one day to take my place as my husband's wife and my daughter's mother, with the blessing of her who shall have gone before to dwell with her Saviour.'

Kezia looked at the faint lines, and laid back the ring, saying softly

Mary, Mary! it is over!'

CHAPTER XXXIII. THE REVEREND EPHRAIM JONES SENDS. EVIL NEWS. The next morning Elias received the following letter from the Reverend Ephraim Jones :

DEAR FRIEND,—Your brother has given great dissatisfaction at Tidman's by his negligence during the last few weeks of his being there, and by his leaving suddenly without any reasonable warning. He seems, by his manner of dress and living, to be prosperous ; but I warn you he is among evil companions. You will do wisely to order him home at any cost.

Yours truly,

‘EPHRAIM JONES.' Elias never thought of questioning the advisability of carrying out his old friend's advice. He wrote commanding Hugh to come home instantly.

« НазадПродовжити »