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Title: Ready, aye ready!

Author: Agnes Giberne

Release date: May 3, 2024 [eBook #73528]

Language: English

Original publication: London: James Nisbet & Co., Limited, 1888


Transcriber's note: Unusual and inconsistent spelling is as printed.











At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh

































"AND they call this 'Woodbine Cottage'!" said Susan Dunn, gazing out upon a paved street, where several unwashed children were disporting themselves in a gutter.

She looked dusty and unhappy, and she spoke disconsolately,—all three things rare with Susan Dunn, for a neater and brighter and more smiling little roundabout of a woman could in general be nowhere found.

The cottage wore an air of confusion. A damp floor told of recent scrubbing, as also did pail and soap, not to speak of Mrs. Dunn's own rolled-up sleeves and bare arms.

In one corner stood a pile of chairs: in another a small wooden cupboard. An empty book-case lay on the table, and through the open door might be seen a folded carpet, waiting for admission.

Side by side with the book-case, on the round table, sat cross-legged a little girl, about seven years old, contemplating the scene with sober eyes. She had plainly climbed there to be out of the way.

There had been a family flitting from an old home to a new. No unusual event this, in the lives of many men and women, but very unusual in the lives of Richard and Susan Dunn.

For during more than fifteen years Dunn had worked as a regularly attached labourer, under Messrs. Horry, Builders, &c.; and not merely as a labourer, but as a clever and skilful "handy man," though, unhappily for himself, not as a skilled artisan. A widowed mother had been unable to afford the seven years' apprenticeship in those days requisite; and Richard Dunn's abilities were thereby handicapped through his after life.

For fifteen years they had known no change; and now suddenly a change had become necessary. Times were bad for business men, and Dunn's employers had failed. Thereby many working-men were cast adrift, and compelled to flit elsewhere in search of employment.

Dunn found what he needed, with less difficulty than he had expected. But he had to quit the pretty cottage and well-cultivated garden-slip which had long been the pride of his heart; to say good-bye to friends of many years' standing; and to find himself fresh quarters at Littleburgh.

"Woodbine Cottage" had sounded hopeful, when first he was advised to take a look at it. Dunn soon found, however, that dreams of country prettiness and twining creepers must be put aside.

Littleburgh was a bustling manufacturing town, of perhaps some nine or ten thousand inhabitants, and, viewed from a money point of view, it might be regarded as a very thriving place. There were cloth-factories and other factories, some of the former being worked almost entirely by women. Fresh houses and streets were being run up in all directions: so the builders were just then having a fairly good time of it. Of course rents were proportionately dear.

The town lay in a flat unbeautiful neighbourhood; very different from the fair and hilly landscape the Dunns were used to look upon. Long rows of small red or white houses, as much alike one to another as a supply of pill-boxes, stretched away to the east and south; and beyond them lay wide brick-fields, with a kiln here and there.

"Woodbine Cottage" stood exactly in the middle of one such row. It was flanked by "Rose Cottage" and "Myrtle Cottage." But no roses, myrtles, or woodbine grew anywhere near.

The cottage contained four rooms, two below and two above; so it did well enough for a small family as to space. It opened straight upon the pavement, without an inch of garden in front, and with only a minute yard behind. No doubt the Dunns were well off to have so much. Some cottages in Littleburgh could boast no back yard at all. Still—when they should think of the garden they had left, the pinks and sweet-williams, the roses and geraniums, cannot we imagine how they would feel?

They had arrived quite early that morning, and Dunn had immediately gone straight off to his new work. He was not a man to waste one day without necessity.

For hours since, Susan and her eldest girl, Nancy, had been scrubbing and scouring. The bedrooms and the kitchen were now almost in order. Only the little parlour remained. Susan was bent upon getting that straight too, before her husband should come in.

"Just to make him feel home-like," she said once or twice.

But Susan was very tired, and her back ached. They had started early by train, and she had been up late the night before. So at length she stood still for a minute to rest, gazing out upon the street, and then it was that the words escaped her lips,—

"They call this 'Woodbine Cottage!'"

"It isn't so pretty as home, mother," a sedate small voice said, and the little maiden on the table folded her hands.

"Pretty! There isn't a scrap of woodbine anywhere," said Susan.

"Won't father get some?"

"It wouldn't grow here, if he did, I expect."

"Won't father get some nice garden-mould, mother?"

Susan shook her head. "I don't know what he'll do yet, child. We've got to make the best of things—somehow."

Then she fell to her work anew. The boards were getting dry, and soon it was time to lay the carpet down. The elder girl, Nancy, was upstairs, finishing the bedrooms; and the boy, Dick, had gone to assist. So Susie climbed off the table, and offered her tiny help. It was little, if anything, that she could really do; yet Susan would not spurn that little or nothing. For the child wanted to be useful, and that was good both for child and mother. So Susan had often said.

"Pull harder, Susie. It is not straight yet," Susan said encouragingly.

All at once a stronger hand grasped Susie's corner, and in a trice the matter was accomplished. Susan said, "Why, Richard!" and looked up.

No, not Richard Dunn. A stout motherly woman was raising herself erect.

"That was what you wanted, wasn't it?" she said. "So you've only just come?"

Susan answered civilly but coldly. She did not wish to plunge into fresh acquaintances, without knowing something first of the people around. Like a wise mother, she had a great notion of choosing good and desirable companions for her children.

But the new-comer, smiling good-humouredly, seemed unconscious of her coldness.

"Now, I suppose you'll put the cupboard into that recess. It'll just fit there, if I'm not mistaken. What a handsome bit of furniture it is! And that clock has the look of something uncommon. Old, isn't it?"

"Yes,—it came from Holland. It's more than a hundred years old," said Susan.

"Wouldn't Mr. Rawdon give something to have it! He's a wonderful fancier of old furniture and the like!"

Mr. Rawdon was Richard Dunn's new employer; but Susan said nothing. She could hardly refuse, however, the kindly offered help, and for a few minutes the two worked hard.

"That looks well!" the other said presently. "Is this little one your only child? Pretty," was murmured in a lower key.

"No, I've two others."

"Older or younger?"

"Dick is one year older; and Nancy is sixteen."


The stout woman paused, looked at Susan, looked out of the window, and then once more looked back at Susan.

"I don't know you yet, my dear," she said. "I don't know whether you're one that minds a word of advice. I shouldn't wonder if you'll count it an impertinent interference. Maybe I should in your place. For I'm a stranger to you,—and if I say I'm Mrs. Mason from over the way, you'll not be much the wiser. But there's one thing I should like to say to you, now you've just come here, and don't know the ways of the place nor the people,—if you'll not take it ill, that's to say?"

Susan simply answered,—"No."

Mrs. Mason's face broke into a smile.

"I like that," she said. "I like a woman that don't pour out a rush of words, like water gallopading out of a spout. 'No' was enough: and you're right to say just that, and not a word more."

Susan privately thought that Mrs. Mason was admiring a virtue to which she had not herself attained.

"Well, but what I was going to say," resumed the other, "what I was going to say to you, was this: If you can help it, don't you let that girl of yours work in the factories!"

"My Nancy work in the factory!" Susan's comely face lighted up with a hot flush. "My Nancy! Thank you, Mrs. Mason. No, I'm not angry, indeed—but it's such an idea as never came into my head before!"

Susan stopped, and suddenly cooled down.

"But there! You don't know my Nannie yet," she said quietly.

"No, I don't, Mrs. Dunn."

"Nor her father—nor me!"

Mrs. Mason's face broke into a genial smile.

"I think I'm getting to know you fast, Mrs. Dunn," she said, "and the faster the better. I'm sorry I said a word about the factories, as it seems to put you out,—but, dear me, if you knew what I know! The young mothers that are out all day, working, and leaving their little ones with none to care for them! And the girls of fifteen and sixteen, who do for themselves, and won't brook a word of control from father nor mother nor anybody! Not but what there's good girls among them, and good women too. But I always do say there's a lot of temptation, specially for young things. And if I was you, I wouldn't send a girl of mine there without I was downright obliged. I wouldn't, Mrs. Dunn!"



RICHARD DUNN was walking briskly homeward, half-an-hour later, with a young man by his side.

He did not look depressed, though the change in his home and circumstances had been to him, as to Susan, no slight trouble. Dunn was a man of cheerful spirit; and the cheerfulness could be seen in his very air. He carried himself with an alert vigour, usually more characteristic of the artisan than of the labourer. In truth, Dunn occupied a position decidedly superior to that of the ordinary labourer, though of course inferior to that of the journeyman. He had a peculiar knack of picking up knowledge in all directions, and was actually capable of "handling the tools" in an emergency, though not usually permitted to exercise this feat in the trade.

Besides being thoroughly "handy" in his ordinary work, Dunn was something of a scholar. He read much, and thought over what he read. But Dunn was the last man ever to make a boast of these acquirements. People were often long in finding out his intelligence and capabilities.

Not always, however. For the young fellow by his side, Archibald Stuart by name, a last-year apprentice in the workshop of Mr. Rawdon, had already scented out "something uncommon" in the new workman. Dunn had known Archibald Stuart's father many years before, and this fact drew the two together. Moreover, Archibald's homeward road lay past Woodbine Cottage. Halfway thither, he overtook Dunn, and remained with him.

"You'll tell your mother we're here," Dunn said, as they drew near the end of their walk. "Dear me, I remember her well as a fine tall lass! There wasn't a handsomer girl about, nor one that held her head higher. Your father did think a deal of her, to be sure."

"She has been a good mother to me," Archibald said. He was a fine tall young fellow himself, doubtless taking after his mother.

"And you're her only one? No brothers nor sisters?"

"None," Archibald said. "Only mother and me."

Dunn stood still. "I won't ask you in to-day," he said. "We're all in a mess—only come this morning. But we shall see you here soon; and you: mother too."

"I hope so," Archibald answered. He did not speak with certainty, and a slight shade crossed his face.

Almost instantly the shadow passed, and was replaced by a look of admiration. For the door opened, and a voice said, "Father!" as a young girl came out to welcome him.

The young girl was not alone. A plump little woman, all smiles, stood close behind, and two children also.

Archibald saw only Nancy, however. He was oblivious to the presence of anything or anybody else; and he stood stock-still, gazing hard, with never a thought of how his conduct might seem to others.

I do not think his admiration of Nancy could be wondered at,—she was such a very pretty girl: not only young and fresh-complexioned, but really pretty, almost beautiful. Her features were regular, and her rosy month and blue eyes seemed only made to smile. Besides all this, Nancy had a nice figure, and a soft winning manner, and hair and dress and hands all most daintily neat. She wore a print dress, made by herself; but the dress fitted like a glove; and her linen collar and cuffs were spotless. So it was not surprising that young Stuart stood as if he had been moonstruck, almost forgetting where he was.

"Father," Nancy said again, "it's all so nice. Come in and see how we've put things. I am sure you are tired."

Archibald thought he had never in his life heard so kind and sweet a voice before. But nobody noticed him. Dunn had responded to the petition, going straight in. Archibald could see two children clinging to him, and the wife's hand on his arm. He saw all that without caring particularly. What did strike him was the upturned girlish face, with loving eyes and rosy lips, and the voice which he could still hear repeating,—

"Come and see it all, father! We have been so hard at work all day, and now things do really look like home."

Then Archibald suddenly woke up to the fact that he had no business there. He strode fast off to his own home; and all the way thither, he could not get Nancy Dunn's face out of his mind.

Mrs. Stuart lived two streets farther on. The cottages here were rather smaller than Woodbine Cottage. It was now nearly eight years since the death of Archibald's father, and the widow had had a hard time of it since. The wish of Mrs. Stuart's heart had been that her boy Archie should be in his father's trade. All her powers were bent to this aim. Through the long years of his apprenticeship she had pinched and denied herself in every possible way for his sake. She could not endure that her boy should be one whit less respectably dressed than his fellow-apprentices. He always had his best and second best as well as his working suits. Nay, even in the matter of his pocket-money, she would not keep him shorter than others.

It may be doubted whether Mrs. Stuart was quite wise here. Archie would have been none the worse for some necessary self-denial in daily life.

But Mrs. Stuart held her head high still, as she had done in younger days. She held it high for her boy even more than for herself. She was very particular as to whom she would know and very anxious about Archie's acquaintances.

Six years and a half of the apprenticeship were over. Six months more, and Archie would be a full-blown artisan, receiving man's pay. Mrs. Stuart's hope and expectation were that then he would repay her long toil and self-denial. She did not intend him to marry early; and when he did marry, her daughter-in-law was to be unexceptionable in character and position. Mrs. Stuart, daughter of a farmer, widow of an artisan, would be content with nothing lower in the social scale than her own standing for this only son.

Yes, certainly Mrs. Stuart held her head high; everybody said so. She held it high literally as well as figuratively, being very tall and thin and upright. A greater contrast could hardly have been found than between this cold-mannered handsome woman, and the bright little roundabout Susan Dunn.

Even towards Archibald, Mrs. Stuart was not gentle or warm in manner. Dearly, even passionately, as she loved her boy, he seldom had from her a look or word of tenderness. She indulged him in many ways, but she expected him always to conform to her will. As yet they had seldom had collisions. Archie was a good-humoured kind-hearted fellow.

"Mother," said he, about an hour after his return, "there's a family of Dunns come here to live. Dunn spoke to me to-day, and said he used to know you and father."

Mrs. Stuart did not seem very much interested. Archibald had to make the remark over again before it brought a response.

"Dunn!" she said indifferently. "Yes, I remember a man of that name. He used to work under your father about the time we were married."

"He seems a nice sort of fellow," Archie observed.

"I never cared much about him. He never came in my way," said Mrs. Stuart.

"But I think they are people we shall like," persisted Archie. "And they don't know anybody here; you might befriend them, I should think. Couldn't you?"

"I dare say I could if I chose," said Mrs. Stuart stiffly.

"And you'll choose, won't you—if I ask it?" Archie put on a coaxing air, sometimes effectual.

"What makes you so keen after them, all in a hurry?" demanded Mrs. Stuart. "That isn't your fashion commonly."

Archie reddened, feeling conscious. He did not want to speak about Nancy.

"I like Dunn," he said. "We walked home together, part of the way. He's a scholar, and no mistake. Got lots of books, and read them all. I found out by asking—something he said about father started me off. And he wouldn't mind lending me a volume now and then. I should like that! Why, I should think he reads more books in a year than all the other men in our works put together."

"Mayn't be any better man for that," said Mrs. Stuart snappishly. "I don't hold with such a lot of reading. Has he got any family?"

Archie could only answer, "Yes."

"How many children?"

"Three, I believe."

"Any grown-up girls?"

"Only one," said Archie.

"You've not seen her?"

"Only just a glimpse in passing," said Archie, with a careless air.

Mrs. Stuart's mouth fell into a grim set, and she worked fast.

"I didn't speak to any of them except Dunn," pursued Archie. "He's a first-rate fellow, mother, really. I wish you'd get to know them."

No answer. Mrs. Stuart sewed on resolutely, clicking her needle fiercely at every stitch, in a manner peculiar to herself. It boded temper.

Archie felt irritated, but he knew well that it was wiser to say no more just then. Silence reigned for some minutes.

"I'm going out for a turn," he announced presently.

Mrs. Stuart paid no attention. Once thoroughly annoyed, she did not soon recover herself. Archie gave her a look, then strolled out of the front door, instinctively bending his steps in the direction of Woodbine Cottage.

He was not without hopes that Nancy might catch a glimpse of him. Archie, of course, knew himself to be a good-looking young fellow, especially in the tidy "second best" suit which he donned every evening. As he passed, he shot a side glance at the window. But no pretty blue-eyed face was visible; and he wandered on, feeling aggrieved. Nancy really ought to have been looking out just then!

It was a quiet spring evening, the quietness being broken only by the subdued mixture of human and other sounds belonging to life in a town. Absolute stillness cannot be found there. Now and then shrill laugh, a child's cry, or a vociferous utterance became prominent.

Suddenly a wild chorus of shouts and yells broke out, coming nearer. Archie came to a standstill, listening. What could it mean?

Somebody hurt! A horse running away! These thoughts occurred to him first. He would have rushed forward to help, but for a moment, he could not tell whence the outcries proceeded, so full was the air of uproar.

The uproar swelled, drawing closer, shrieks mingling with deeper-toned shouts: and all at once Archie could distinguish words: "A MAD DOG! A MAD DOG!"

For a single instant Archie's impulse was to flee before so gruesome a peril. But he resisted the coward-thought, knowing that women and children might be in danger, and went in the direction whence the volume of sound proceeded—cautiously, and keeping a look-out.

Had he guessed who, a few seconds later, would claim the help of his strong young arm, he would have sped to her rescue at his utmost speed.

Not far from the neighbourhood of Woodbine Cottage stood the large red-brick District Church, belonging to this part of Littleburgh. It was a handsome building, free-seated, intended mainly for working-men and their families.

Beyond the Church was the Parsonage, surrounded by a neat garden. In this garden, near the gate, the Rev. Arthur Wilmot stood, carefully examining a young sapling, which seemed to have suffered a good deal from the spring breezes.

He was a remarkably tall man, fully six feet four inches in height, upright, vigorous, and strongly built, with a fine thoughtful face, guiltless of whiskers or beard. It was a genial face too, full of kindness. In age he could hardly have passed forty, yet he had been for ten years a widower, and the gentle girl of sixteen by his side was his only child.

"That poor little tree is done for, I am afraid," she said.

"Yes; not much hope of its recovery. But we will give it a good dose of water, dear."

"My watering-can is nearly empty; I'll fill it again."

"No; wait, Annie. You have been often enough, my child. Give it to me."

Mr. Wilmot moved towards her, and at the same instant the loud chorus of cries and yells which had startled Archie broke upon him and Annie.

"Something must be the matter," Annie said.

Mr. Wilmot listened intently, moving closer to the gate. Annie followed him. Suddenly words were distinguishable. Mr. Wilmot turned to his daughter.

"Annie, go indoors at once."

He spoke in a quiet voice, but resolutely. Annie hesitated. She had not caught the words which had reached his ear; yet something in his look, combined with those wild shouts, alarmed her.

"What is it?" she began to say.

"You hear me, Annie! Go indoors this instant, and close the door. This instant: go!"

Never in his life had he spoken so sternly to his darling. Annie turned at once to obey. She believed that he knew something to be drawing near which he did not deem it right or proper for her to see.

Mr. Wilmot looked after her till she had passed into the house. Then he stepped out into the road.

Along that road, coming straight towards him, was a black dog. The poor creature seemed exhausted, and ran unsteadily, with drooping tail and lowered head, and bluish foam-flecked tongue hanging from the open mouth; yet it ran fast. A crowd of hallooing men rushed in its rear, some little way behind.



"WELL, Sue, you've made things look uncommon comfortable, and that I must say!" Dunn observed cheerfully, after supper. "You and Nannie must have worked uncommon hard too."

"There's one comfort in working hard for you: that you don't pass it all over as if it was nothing," said Susan.

"Nice sort of chap I should be, if I did! Why, it's as clean!—And the dishes as shiny!—It's almost like the old home kitchen, Sue!" Richard Dunn could not resist one sigh. "And I'm sure you've made the parlour look beautiful. Curtains up, and all!"

"Only there's no garden, father," Susie said plaintively.

"No more there is, Susie. But I'll make some good big window-boxes, as soon as ever I can get time, and we'll fill them quite full. And a lot of plants can stand inside the window of the parlour too."

"Mayn't we have some mignonette?" asked Susie.

"To be sure we will. You and Nannie shall have a box of it, all to yourselves, up at your bedroom window. Won't that be nice? Why, Nannie,—haven't you done enough yet to-day?" As she came in, with her neat little brown hat on.

"Dick and I are just going round into the next street, father, for some stout thread. It'll be wanted in the morning, and I don't want to have to go out then."

"Got lots more to do indoors, eh? But you mustn't toil too hard, my girl."

Nancy smiled and said, "There's no fear, father."

She did not seem overdone by the day's work, standing there in her print dress, with a pretty colour on her cheeks.

"I'm much more afraid for mother. She always will do so much."

"Well, you're a good girl, Nannie,—always trying to save her trouble."

"I should just hope so," Nancy answered. "I don't see much goodness in that."

Richard Dunn took her hand, and pulled her down for a hearty kiss. He was a very affectionate father, and he never seemed ashamed to show his affection.

"I'm sure of one thing," he said, "and that is, that God's blessing is on such a daughter as Nannie!"

Nancy's bright eyes grew moist with feeling. "It's nice to hear you say so, father," she whispered; and then she stood up. "Come, Dick, I don't want to be out late," she said.

Dick was eight years old—a rosy merry boy. He ran off beside his sister, chattering.

"I've had a warning about Nannie to-day," said Susan. Dunn pricked up his ears. "Mrs. Mason came to see us,—walked straight in through our open door, without a 'with your leave,' or 'by your leave.' I didn't quite like it, but I do believe she meant kindly. She lives over the way, and she seems a nice sort of body, only such a talker. And she begged me not to let Nancy work in a factory. She did really!"

Susan flushed up at the recollection. Dunn burst out laughing.

"Our Nancy work in a factory! That's a good 'un! Not if I can help it, Sue!"

"She did really!" repeated Susan.

Dunn seemed to enjoy the idea as a capital joke. He laughed heartily. "Our Nannie! I should think so! Not but what they may be good girls enough,—factory girls, I mean! But our Nannie! As if we'd ever let her!"

"Well, I'm glad you can think it funny, Richard, for I declare I couldn't at first. But of course Mrs. Mason meant it kindly. And oh, the things she told me! There's mothers here, with little ones, away all day at the factories, and not a soul at home to see after the poor mites. Even when the men get good wages, the wives will often go out to work, just because they don't like the dulness of home. Dulness, indeed! I wonder what women were made for!

"And there's young girls too, our Nancy's age, getting their ten or twelve shillings a week, and setting up independent for themselves, and won't hear a word from anybody, Mrs. Mason says. Not but what there's good girls among them, as you say, good honest steady girls, I don't doubt, who make a fight against what's wrong. But there's too many of the other sort among them as well,—some who won't live with their parents at all, but go off and board with strangers. Think of that. Our Nannie's age,—and girls younger than her too, —and the fathers and mothers without a scrap of control over them! Why, if I had a child like that, it would break my heart."

"Bad! Very bad!" Dunn said musingly. "It's just what was written long ago in the Bible,—'disobedient to parents,' you know, that's to be on the earth in the last days. Seems to me there's a vast deal of 'disobedience to parents' in our days."

"And a lot of blame lies with the parents themselves," said Susan. "If fathers and mothers are both away from their children all day long, it passes me how the children are to be trained. Just toss 'em out into the world, and let 'em sink or swim. That's all the training many of them have at all, poor little things!"

"True enough, I'm afraid," said Dunn.

"Mrs. Mason was telling me about the Gardiners next door," resumed Susan. "The eldest girl is in one of the factories; and her parents daren't ever say one word of blame to her for anything, lest she should go straight off and board with somebody else. That's a nice state of things, isn't it? And the Handcocks on our other side,—Mrs. Handcock is out all day long at the factory, and her husband and children may fare as they can,—she don't care."

"I say, Sue,—seems to me Mrs. Mason is something of a gossip," remonstrated Dunn.

Susan blushed. "Yes; only you see we've got to find out a little about the neighbours, Richard, or we shall get dragged in to know a lot of people that we hadn't ought to know."

"I don't see that. Nobody can drag us into acquaintances against our will," said Dunn. "We had best be careful, that's all, and not get intimate with anybody in a hurry."

"What's all that noise about?" Susan exclaimed.

The noise swelled; and both Dunn and his wife left the kitchen, going to the front door.

People had done the same in neighbouring cottages. "What can be the matter?" one and another was asking.

Shouts and yells seemed to sweep past near at hand, and people could be seen running fast along a cross-road at the end. None came past "Woodbine Cottage."

"I wish Nancy and Dick were at home," Susan said uneasily; "I don't like this."

"Which way did they go? I'd better find them," said Dunn.

Susan pointed out what she believed to be the right direction. She could not feel sure, but Nancy had spoken of shops in the next street.

Dunn started off immediately at a brisk pace, and Susan stood in the doorway, watching and listening anxiously. The shouts continued, but lessened somewhat, as if from increased distance.

"Mother, do you think Nannie will be frightened?" asked Susie, holding her mother's hand.

"I don't know, dear. I hope not. Perhaps it wasn't really near her,—but father will see."

"Can't think whatever in the world it's all about!" a woman remarked, lounging listlessly at the door of "Rose Cottage," to Susan's left. She was a careworn slatternly unhappy-looking woman: and the smudged faces and dirty frocks of the children by her side were unpleasant to see.

"Mother!" wailed one dismally, "Mother—Jacky's pinched me!"

"I didn't," screamed Jacky's shrill tones.

"He did, mother!"

"Have done with your quarrelling, will you! I declare, you're all the plague of my life!" And two or three sounding slaps were administered round with great impartiality, producing a burst of shrieking sobs.

"Be quiet, now,—will you! If you don't hold your tongues, I'll slap you both again, that I will!" cried Mrs. Gardiner. "There's no peace in life with your squabbling."

The children certainly did not hold their tongues, and Mrs. Gardiner lugged two or three of them indoors, bestowing a shake upon each by the way.

"Mother, was that little girl naughty?" asked Susie's wondering tones. "The boy really did pinch her, and he made ugly faces too—I saw him."

"I'm afraid the mother didn't take much trouble to find out who was wrong," Susan said softly, and not very wisely, perhaps. There was no need to call the child's attention to Mrs. Gardiner's shortcomings.

Susie's small voice sounded clearly in answer, "Dick doesn't pinch me. I'm so glad he doesn't. But he did scratch me once, mother,—don't you know? And father made him go straight to bed, and Dick was so sorry after. He went and got me two big bull's-eyes. And you didn't slap me, did you? 'Cause it wasn't my fault?"

"Well done, little 'un!" laughed a hearty voice on the other side.

Susan glanced towards the big broad-shouldered working-man, seated in the doorway of "Myrtle Cottage," smoking. She rather liked his look, and she liked too the way in which a puny little boy had confidently climbed upon "father's knee." That spoke well for the man. Susan was much less attracted by the hard features and gaudy cap of the woman who stood behind him, drawn out by the noise. But she felt very anxious, and she could not refrain from asking, "I suppose you can't tell me what's the matter?"

"No, missis, I can't," the man answered civilly. His name was Handcock, as Susan guessed rightly; and he alone, of all the men within sight, had not started off to see what was up. "Shouldn't wonder if it's a lot of boys chasing a cat."

But the voices were those of men, not boys; and almost immediately a cry came down the street: "Mad dog! Mad dog!"



CHILDREN were bundled promiscuously within cottage doors, and mothers followed them. Handcock stood up at last. He seemed an easy-going sort of individual—indolent perhaps, and not readily startled or flurried by passing events.

"O Nannie!" Susan had said faintly, at the first instant. Then she sent Susie indoors, and stood close to it herself, waiting.

The crowd did not come that way, neither did the dog. People began presently to breathe more freely, and Handcock returned to say, "There's no fear. Shouldn't wonder if it's all a scare about nothing!" But he had not gone farther than the end of the street to inquire.

Suddenly Richard Dunn hurried up, Dick trotting by his side.

"Nannie not here?" Dunn said breathlessly.

"No, she hasn't come. O Richard!"

"It's a scare about the mad dog, I suppose?" said Handcock.

"A scare! No. It's true!" said Dunn hoarsely. "And Nannie not here!"

"Tell me quick,—haven't you seen her?" asked Susan, holding on to his arm, for he seemed about to start off without another word.

"No. She left something in the shop, and Dicky ran back for it. And the crowd came between—dog and all. Dick wasn't allowed to leave the shop. Nobody seems to know anything about Nannie. Let me go, Susan."

Susan made no effort to detain her husband.

Handcock said, "I'll come with you, neighbour;" but his movements were too slow for the distracted father. Dunn was gone.

Somebody spoke to Susan, but she made no answer. She could not stand, for her legs shook under her, as if with the palsy, and she crept inside the cottage, and sat down. Both children came close.

"Mother, I wouldn't have left Nannie if I had known the dog was coming," said Dicky. "And I wanted to go to her, but the woman held me tight, and locked the door. I thought Nannie would be so frightened. Do you think the dog has hurt her, mother?"

Susan shook her head, and moaned. She could not shed a tear, and her parched tongue refused to speak.

Somebody's face was put in at the door.

"Here she comes, Mrs. Dunn! All right!" a voice said.

The owner of the voice withdrew, and Nancy entered. She walked with a hasty faltering step, and her face was perfectly white,—lips, cheeks, and all, as colourless as chalk. Close behind followed a tall good-looking young man.

Susan stood up, and took bold of Nancy with a tight grasp. She wanted to ask, "Are you hurt?" but no words came.

"Hadn't you better both sit down?" asked the young man. "The dog didn't touch her, Mrs. Dunn,—thank God, he didn't! She's only had a fright."

"Mother, he saved me!" Nannie said. "I should have been bitten but for him!" And Nancy burst into a flood of tears.

       *       *        *       *        *       *

Yes, Archie Stuart had saved Nancy—at his own risk—from one of the most terrible perils which can well beset a man or woman.

When the thought of helping somebody had occurred to him, he could not, of course, guess who that somebody might be.

Nancy had failed to find exactly what she wanted at the nearest shop in the next street: so she had gone farther. Halfway home she found that a small pattern for the colour of the thread, which she knew her mother would need, had been left behind.

Dick offered to run back for it, and Nancy, feeling tired, consented. She promised to wait for Dick a quiet sort of back lane, which had a high wall on either side, broken only by one five-barred gate, leading into a yard, and locked. Nancy did not even notice the gate.

She had strolled but a few paces, when a burst of yells filled the air.

What could be the cause? Nancy felt a little afraid. She wished too that she had not sent Dick off alone.

Scant time remained for thought. The shouts drew nearer, and the warning cry,—"A mad dog!" reached Nancy's ears distinctly. Almost at the same instant, a black dog appeared at the farthest end of the lane, running straight towards her, dropping foam from his open jaws and hanging tongue.

Nancy staggered against the wall, sick with horror. Men followed behind, but none were near enough to succour her. She could see no outlet—no means of escape. Her limbs seemed paralysed with the shock, so that she could not even run.

"O God, help me! Oh, help!" That cry went up from Nancy's heart, as the sense of her peril grew upon her. It was not the vague despairing cry of one who has never thought of God till danger or death threaten. Nancy had known God from very infancy as her great and loving Father in heaven,—as One to whom, in the Name of Christ, she might always have full and instant access. She had a childlike trust in His great might. It was the instinct of her heart to cry to Him in need.

Nancy did not see it, but help was at hand. Her dilated eyes, fixed upon the poor mad creature rushing towards her, could look in no other direction.

Archie Stuart had entered the nearer end of the lane, behind Nancy, just before the dog appeared.

He did not recognise her at first as the girl whose pretty and gentle face had taken his fancy. But without recognising Nancy Dunn, he did recognise a woman in danger,—and, happily, that was enough.

What to do? was the question. Alone he could have climbed the wall without difficulty, for he was an active young fellow. But with Nancy! That made all the difference.

The gate lay a few paces beyond Nancy, between her and the dog. The best hope lay there, if it could be reached in time. Flight seemed hopeless.

"Don't be frightened!" a voice said at her side. "Here,—this way!"

Nancy clutched her deliverer's arm with one sharp cry; and before she knew what was happening, he had dragged her to the gate.

Some men in Archie's place might have thrown themselves to the top first, and pulled up the girl after. But somehow Archie could not do that. All the manliness of his nature revolted from putting himself in safety while a woman stood below within reach of the dog.

Without losing an instant, he lifted Nancy in his strong arms, raising her rapidly till her feet were on the top bar except one.

"Hold fast!" he said shortly, sharply, breathing hard in his excitement. He did not look to see how close the dreaded creature had come; but he felt that in four or five seconds more—

"Oh—come!" gasped Nancy.

"Hold on hard! You're safe!"

Archie loosened his grasp of her, clutched the top of the gate, and swung himself up, with a desperate effort, barely in time. As his feet rose, the open jaws followed, but the passing snap was fruitless. One spring, and Archie stood upon the topmost bar, drawing the terrified girl higher, lest the dog should leap. Already, however, the creature had gone on, and the crowd of shouting men swept after, keeping, it must be confessed, at a respectful distance.

Then Archie sprang to the ground, and lifted down the trembling girl. In the white frightened face, he now recognised Dunn's pretty daughter.

"It's all right; the dog won't come back," Archie said encouragingly. "It's a mercy I came. But we'll get out of this lane as soon as we can. It's an awkward place to be caught in. Anywhere else you might have got inside a door."

"Please,—now," Nancy managed to say, and though shaking still, she was able to walk. At the end of the lane she paused suddenly.

"Dick—where can Dick be?"

"Is he your brother?"

"Yes. He went back to the shop. What can have become of him?" asked Nancy, in distress.

"They'll have kept him there, you may be sure of that. I'll just get you home, and then go to see after him. Don't be frightened," Archie urged once more.

"It was so dreadful!" Nancy whispered. "I can't thank you. Father will."

"Isn't his name Dunn?" asked Archie, putting a very unnecessary question. "I walked home with him to-day. My name's Stuart, and he used to know my father; but I dare say he didn't think of mentioning me?"

Nancy was unable to give the answer which Archie desired. She could remember nothing at that moment except the mad dog, her own past peril, and her fears about Dick.

A few minutes brought them to Woodbine Cottage, where Dick was found to have arrived before them. And while Nancy was still sobbing, and Susan looking stupefied, and Archie standing by, half proud, yet embarrassed, Dunn walked in.

He had been told outside of Nancy's return, "looking as white as paper," one woman said, "and scarce able to drag herself along." Nobody seemed to be sure whether she had entirely escaped injury. Dunn heart was filled with a terrible foreboding.

"Nannie!" he said hoarsely, "Is anything wrong?" Then he turned to Archie. "Tell me the worst," he muttered.

"She's not hurt," Archie answered quickly. "She's not hurt, indeed; only frightened. The dog didn't touch her; I give you my word for it, he didn't. She'll be all right presently."

"Nannie, he speaks the truth?" pleaded poor Richard Dunn, hardly able to believe what he heard.

Nancy looked up at her father, with blue wet eyes, her chest heaving still, and her lips quivering. "Yes, father, it's quite true," she sobbed. "I'm not hurt. But I should have been—if—if—O father, he saved me! I should have been bitten but for him!"

Dunn grasped Archie's hand, and turned his face away, unable to express what he felt. And none who know what true manliness is will think one whit the worse of that strong working-man for the big tears upon his cheeks, drawn forth by the thought of his child's peril.

"Tell me about it," he said huskily, after a pause.

Mrs. Mason had just then walked in, but nobody took any notice of her. She said nothing, only lifting her hands and eyes with gestures of mute astonishment, and then bringing a mug of water to Nancy, which helped to check her sobbing.

Archie was by no means unwilling to "tell all about it." He did not wish to exalt unduly his own courage, but of course he knew that he had been courageous, and he felt much gratification in having saved somebody—especially pretty Nancy Dunn—from a great danger.

So he narrated what had occurred, neither underrating nor overrating his own share in the matter. Nancy tearfully corroborated his tale, even to the snap of the dog's jaws after Archie's heel, which she had distinctly heard.

"Words can't thank you, my lad. If ever there's anything I can do for you,—if it were with my last shilling,—I'd do it!" Dunn said fervently. And then, taking off his cap, which he had hitherto forgotten to remove, Dunn added, in a reverent voice:

"Thank God for His great mercy!"

Susan had neither stirred nor spoken hitherto, and as yet no one had particularly noticed her stunned look. But now Mrs. Mason went to her side with the mug of water, and made her drink some. And Susan at length looked up, saying in a hollow voice, "I shall never trust her out of my sight again."

"There! There! There! Poor dear! It's given her such a turn, you see," Mrs. Mason remarked soothingly, patting Susan on the back, and looking round at everybody present.

"I shall never trust her out of my sight again," repeated Susan.

"Sue, I wouldn't feel that," Dunn said.

"She might have been bitten! And I should never have forgiven myself—sending her out alone!"

Mrs. Mason patted Susan again, and Dunn came nearer.

"Sue, my dear, I wonder who takes best care of our Nannie," he said,—"you and me, or God? If you'd been with her in the lane, I wonder what you could have done for her? Wasn't it better, God sending the help in time? I wouldn't feel that, Sue. It seems to me, we ought to be feeling that there's no need ever to fear again—she's been so cared for, just when you and me couldn't get at her, or help her."

Susan sighed heavily. "Yes, you're right," she said. "But if Nannie had been bitten—if we'd the thought of that before us!"

"I suppose God could bear us through anything—even that!" Dunn said, with an effort. "Only He hasn't called us to it. He has taken care of our Nannie for us. I do think we ought to be full of nothing but thankfulness, instead of talking about what might have been. I do think it," repeated Dunn.

"I ought to go home," Archie said unwillingly. "Mother 'll be anxious, if she hears about the dog."

"Well, we won't keep you, lad," said Dunn. "But you'll come again? You can't come too often. I shall be able to thank you better another day. Sue and me feel all turned upside-down-like this evening."

Archie went off briskly, straight home first, though determined later to inquire what was become of the dog. He found Mrs. Stuart in a very troubled state. Some rumours of peril to Archie had reached her ears; and she was working herself up into a fever of fright. Archie's appearance and his bright face were a great relief.

He told her something of what had happened, but not more than was necessary. He rightly judged that Mrs. Stuart would not welcome any event which should tend to intimacy with the Dunns.

Other people, however, lavishly filled up gaps in Archie's tale; and before nightfall, Mrs. Stuart knew as much of Archie's doings as he knew himself.



ANNIE WILMOT, passing quickly indoors at her father's bidding, did not catch the ominous words which had reached his ears. And believing that he wished her not to see the cause of the uproar, she went dutifully to the dining-room at the back, without one glance through a front window.

Mr. Wilmot, stepping out of his gate, had not resolved what to do. His immediate object was to take a glance, and then to beat a retreat. There would be time for this, he knew. It was not his intention to place himself recklessly in danger by meeting a mad dog in full career,—if the creature were really mad. He had his doubts on this head.

Once in the road, he cast two quick glances—first to right, then to left. Then, instead of retiring, as he might have done, he stood still. For on the right, running along the road straight towards him, was the dog, wearing every appearance of madness in the semi-exhausted stage: and on the left, about halfway between himself and the nearest cottage, were three little unconscious children, sitting by the roadside, never dreaming of danger.

If Mr. Wilmot could reach the little ones before the dog, that would be the utmost he might accomplish. And how, then, could he hope to save all three?

They were getting frightened, poor mites! The shouts had aroused them: and one small creature tottered to her feet; another, catching sight of the dog, set up a wail.

Mr. Wilmot was not looking at them now. He had walked to the middle of the road, and he stood there, facing the poor mad brute, quite calm and cool. Not the slightest sign of flurry or fear showed in his manner. The men behind redoubled their shouts, but this was of little use.

The dog drew near, came close, and snapped at the man in his path.

With one sharp swerve, Mr. Wilmot avoided the bite. The next instant the dog was in his grasp, lifted off the ground, and held out at arm's length. It was a desperate feat. No man less powerfully made could have done the same. One hand gripped firmly the back of the dog's neck, the other held its back, not far from the tail.

A fearful struggle followed, but Mr. Wilmot did not yield. "Quick!" was the one word he uttered; and a butcher's man, rushing up with a sharp knife, put the creature to an instant death.

"Thanks," Mr. Wilmot said, as he dropped the dead body.

"Sir, I don't believe there's another man in the village would have dared do that!" the butcher's man exclaimed.

"I am bodily strong," said Mr. Wilmot. "Have the creature taken away at once, and buried deep. The less handling of it the better. Anybody been bitten?"

The men who had gathered round hoped not. They had done their best to warn everybody, and to drive it out of the more frequented streets. But one young girl had had a narrow escape.

"Better see to those children; they are frightened," said Mr. Wilmot.

He did not go to them himself, as he would usually have done. One or two thought the severe struggle and exertion had been somewhat too much for "the Parson." He looked pale, as he nodded farewell, and went indoors.

Annie came to meet him. "Father, was anything the matter?"

"A mad dog, dear. The poor thing is killed now."

"And nobody hurt?"

"The men hoped not. One girl had a very narrow escape; but I did not hear particulars."

Annie shuddered. "How dreadful!" she said. "You didn't help to kill him, father? You didn't put yourself in any danger?"

"Not unnecessarily. The actual killing was done by the butcher's man. A happy thing that he was there. My dear, I have a little business to attend to in the town; but I shall not be gone long."

"Do ask if anybody is hurt, father."

"Yes, dear."

Mr. Wilmot gave her his usual smile, and entered the study, shutting the door. A different expression came over his face then. He lighted a light, and looked at his left wrist, just under the coat-sleeve.

Yes, he had felt the touch of a tooth there, in the instant's sharp scuffle, before he obtained command of the mad animal. It was hardly more than a short red scratch, just deep enough to have drawn blood. Nothing to look at; but Mr. Wilmot knew what it might portend!

He glanced at his watch. "The doctor will be in now. Better so; he will do it more thoroughly than I could myself."

Without a word to Annie, he was gone. It was close upon ten o'clock when he reappeared.

"Not quite tired out, waiting for me, my child?" he asked cheerfully.

"Where have you been all this time?" asked Annie.

"I had a little business matter to attend to; and since then I have been to see a new family, just come to Littleburgh—the Dunns. The eldest girl had a most narrow escape to-day. She was saved by Mrs. Stuart's son."

"Young Stuart! How nice of him! Father, there have been several people here, asking after you. They all say you were so brave,—saving some poor little children. Was it true? Did you really catch up the dog by its neck and back, without letting it touch you? How could you? O father, it was frightfully dangerous!" And she hid her face on his shoulder.

"I am very strong, Annie. God has not given me my bodily strength for nothing."

"But if the creature had bitten you! Oh, father!"

"If so, my child, it would have come in the way of my duty."

"But such a death!" And she shivered.

"All who are bitten do not die of hydrophobia, dear. And even if that were to be the end, it would still be God's will. Heaven would be none the less fair for one having reached it by a fiery chariot. But come, I think we have talked long enough of this. It is time for Prayers."

Annie clung to him still. "I can't help thinking!" she said. "It seems so frightful. If anybody had been bitten, how soon would he be safe?"

"The disease generally develops in a few days or weeks. It might even be as long as a year; but this is rare. Not longer, I believe."

"Then one would not feel sure till after a whole year! What a frightful year that would be! Oh, I am so glad nobody in Littleburgh has to look forward to it!"

"Time for Prayers now, Annie;" and his clear-cut pleasant face, only a shade paler than usual, smiled down on her. "Will you ring the bell?"

Annie obeyed, and the servants filed in, looking rather excited with the stories they had been hearing. Mr. Wilmot read a psalm, in place of the usual portion, and in his prayer he offered up earnest thanks for the many lives spared that day.

Then Annie said good-bye, and went off to bed, and Mr. Wilmot moved into his study.

A change once more passed over his face change from calm cheerfulness to deep depression. He leant back in the easy-chair, placed a hand over his eyes, and was silent.

The lamp burnt on by his side, and the house sank into profound stillness. All but himself had retired to rest.

Nearly an hour passed, and he had not stirred. The striking of the clock on the stairs aroused him. Eleven strokes, in slow musical succession.

Mr. Wilmot stood up, and went to the window. He drew aside one of the curtains, pulled up the blind, and gazed steadfastly at a starlit sky.

"If it is Thy will, O my Father!" he uttered aloud. "Thy will, not mine. If it be Thy will! Father, I am ready."

A faint gleam passed over the upturned face.

"I would not choose for myself. Only fulfil Thy will in me—glorify Thy Name. If Thou wiliest so to call me home—I am Thy servant,—Thy child."

Then a pause, and the head was bowed.

"Willing in heart, yet the flesh is weak. I cannot trust myself. Willing to go with Thee to death; yet, for Christ's sake, if possible, let this cup pass from me—if possible!"

Again he lifted his face.

"Father, I commend myself—spirit, soul, and body—into Thy hands. I am Thine. I desire only to have Thy will wrought in me, through me. I dare not choose. I am ready, Father,—ready, O my Lord and Master,—ready to do or bear Thy will, to know no will but Thine. I roll my burden upon Thee. Thou wilt comfort me."

And with a smile upon his pale lips, he passed upstairs to his bedroom, there to fall peacefully asleep, and to dream of the "Everlasting Arms."



"YOU'D better! Sall, let that alone! What are you after, Will? Always teasing somebody. I never did see such children for quarrelling and mischief. Have done!"

Mrs. Gardiner dragged two struggling children apart, and shook them by turns.

"Plaguing one another, and making baby cry! Now you'll just keep quiet and hold your tongue, or you'll get it again."

This was the way in which Sunday morning began at Rose Cottage.

John Gardiner had not left his bed yet; nor Bess, the elder girl, who earned enough in the factory to clothe herself and pay for her board, and who counted herself at sixteen an independent young woman, free from control. Jem, Sally, and Will ought to have been now starting for the Sunday school; but dressing was barely accomplished, and breakfast had not yet been thought of. Little Tom and the baby were in night-dresses still; and Mrs. Gardiner hurried to and fro distractedly.

"Well, it's no good driving and scurrying," she said at length. "I shall just keep you all at home to-day."

Sally and Will set up a shout of approval; and Jem only remarked, "We shan't get tickets for the school-feast."

"If you like to eat a bit of bread quick, and have some milk and be off, I'm sure I don't care," said Mrs. Gardiner.

And this was the saddest part of the matter, that neither parents nor children cared. Even the thought of the school-feast did not decide Jem to follow out his mother's suggestion.

With the coming of Sunday morning there came, in the Gardiner household, no loving thoughts of the great Father in heaven; no wish to worship at the footstool of the King; no desire to ask pardon of that gentle Redeemer Who had shed His blood for them; no remembrance of the Holy Spirit, Who is promised as a Divine Gift to every one that will earnestly ask.

There was nothing of all this. John was only pleased to lie lazily in bed the whole morning; and Betsy's thoughts were on the smoking hot dinner which had to be provided. Bess, the elder girl, presently appearing in a slovenly dress and curl-papers, busied herself with putting some finishing touches to the gaudy cheap costume which she meant to don later in the day; and the children played and quarrelled, and thought how they might best find amusement.

Lounging! Eating! Dressing! Amusing themselves! This was the Gardiner notion of how to keep Sunday.

The sweet Church bells might ring, ring, invitingly; but the Gardiners could not reply, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the House of the Lord." They were only glad of an opportunity for self-indulgence.

"Mother," Bess said in her rough careless tones, some minutes after coming into the kitchen, "what sort of people have come next door?"

"How should I know?" Mrs. Gardiner asked. "They've only been here three days."

"They look to me as stuck-up as possible," said Bess. "I don't believe we shall like them."

"Well, I only know I wish you were more like that Dunn girl," said Betsy Gardiner, with shortness. "She does treat her mother civilly; and that's more than you do."

Bess gave her head a scornful toss.

"You weren't home till I don't know when night. And I know who you were with, too. It's no good me interfering, for you won't stand it, and you'll choose your own friends, whatever anybody says. But I can tell you, Bess, if father hears you are taking up with those people, there'll be a row. I know it quite well."

Bess's freckled face, with its light-coloured fringe, wore a very unpleasant expression.

"The Jones' will board me any time I choose," she said proudly. "I needn't stay here."

"And you'd leave your own home and go to strangers!" Mrs. Gardiner burst into angry tears.

"The Jones' aren't strangers to me. I'm not going to be bothered and meddled with, I can tell you, mother!"

Poor unhappy girl! And poor unhappy mother! Hot words passed between the two, and Bess walked off in a huff, while Mrs. Gardiner sat and cried.

What a contrast to this scene might have been found next door, only just beyond the thin dividing wall.

Breakfast was over in good time; everybody having come down early, looking clean, bright, and happy, in neat fresh attire. Dunn, wearing his "Sunday best" suit, and also his "Sunday best" face of quiet content, sat near the door, with Susie on his knee.

Usually Dick and Susie were off to Sunday school at this hour, but having only just come to the place, they did not yet know about the hours of school. True, Mr. Wilmot had called at Woodbine Cottage, and as a rule his plan was to secure at once the children for Sunday school. But there had been much to talk about in connection with Nancy's narrow escape, and doubtless Mr. Wilmot's own mind had been slightly pre-occupied. Somehow the subject had not been referred to.

"It don't matter for just once. We'll ask somebody at Church, and you can both go in the afternoon," Susan Dunn said.

"I shouldn't wonder if there'll be a Bible Class I can go to as well," remarked Nancy, who was busily washing up the breakfast things. She had quite recovered from the fright of her narrow escape, and was as rosy and pretty as ever.

"Shouldn't wonder if there is," said Dunn. "You'll miss your old class, my girl."

"Yes, father, very much," the girl said, with a sigh. "And a good many things beside."

But she was much too busy to stand still, and indulge melancholy recollections.

Sometimes, when they could manage it, the Dunns all went to Church together in the morning, Dunn contenting himself with a cold Sunday dinner, that Susan might be free; and that was the plan for to-day. Susan always took care that he should have something extra nice, though cold, in return for this self-denial; and the vegetables, being prepared beforehand, were cooked after their return.

Now and then they would all go together in the evening also. If Dick or Susie seemed tired, however, or disinclined for the second service, then Susan or Nancy would remain at home. The children were really too young for both services, in addition to Sunday school, yet they often begged to go. For they had been brought up to look upon Church-going not only as a duty, but as a happiness. And though there was much that they could not understand, yet they did clearly understand that people came together in Church for the purpose of united worship and praise of God, and united prayer for others as well as for themselves.

These thoughts must surely have been in Dunn's mind as he sat with Susie on his knee, and Dick by his side; for after hearing the two repeat some hymns, he said suddenly—

"We shan't be in the old Church to-day, Susie. But we shall all be doing the same here as they'll be doing there—saying the very same words to God. It's nice to think of."

"Will we have the same hymns, father?" asked Susie.

"No, that's not likely. But the same prayers. It's wonderful to remember the thousands and thousands who'll be asking the very same things of God presently all through England, and in many other parts of the world."

"And God always hears, don't He, father?" little Dick observed.

"He always hears real prayer, Dick. I'm afraid there's lots of people go to Church who let the clergyman say the prayers, and don't join in themselves,—don't really mean to ask anything of God. And some even say the words aloud, and never think of the sense. But that's not prayer at all."

"I do try to think," said Susie. "Only there's a lot of words I can't understand."

"Well, you needn't try to pray what you don't understand, Susie. You're such a little thing yet. And there's one prayer you always know when it comes,—'Our Father, which art in Heaven.'"

"Isn't it a good thing that comes so often?" said Dick. "That's the prayer the Lord Jesus made for us, isn't it, father?"

"For us and for everybody," said Dunn.

Dick looked thoughtful.

"And the more you try, the more you'll understand the other prayers, too," said Dunn. "It isn't hard when something comes about asking God to forgive us all our sins and naughtinesses, for Jesus' sake; and when we ask God to bless the Queen, and to help people who are sick and unhappy. Why, there's lots of things even you and Dick can pray in Church, like the rest of the people, Susie. And most commonly, there's one hymn, at least, that you can join in."



ARCHIE STUART did not always trouble himself to go to Church on Sunday mornings. His mother commonly stayed in, cooking a hot dinner for him; and she liked Archie to go with her in the evening.

Mrs. Stuart was one who considered a certain amount of religion to be respectable, and, as she would have said, "due to herself." What might be due to God did not much enter into her thoughts. She liked to be seen in Church once every Sunday, wearing her neat Sunday dress and best bonnet; and she liked her boy Archie to be there also, wearing his best suit. She had been brought up to go to Church, and she counted it proper and decorous to continue the habits in which she had been brought up.

If Archie had wished to go in the morning also, Mrs. Stuart would have made no particular objection; but she took no pains to encourage him in so doing. So, not unnaturally, after leaving Sunday school, and when beginning to look upon himself as a man, Archie fell into the ways of too many around.

Though far from lazy in other respects, he did not at all object to an extra two or three hours in bed every Sunday; and after coming down to a late breakfast, he felt often much more disposed for a country ramble than for Church.

On this particular Sunday morning, Archie had not at all made up his mind what to do. It was not yet quite a regular habit with him to stay away every Sunday morning, though fast becoming so; and perhaps Archie's own narrow escape from the mad dog during the past week had disposed him to unusually serious thought.

"Going for a walk, I suppose?" his mother said, seeing him ready to start.

"Well—yes—I suppose so," Archie answered hesitatingly.

He had been on the point of getting his Prayer-book; but somehow Mrs. Stuart's words and manner checked him. If he said he meant to go to Church, his mother would be sure to ask why, and Archie could not have told her why, for he did not know it himself.

So he started with a resolve to have his walk as usual; yet, instead of going towards the country, he went in the direction of the Church. "One way's as good as another," he said to himself.

Then, suddenly, after turning a corner, he found the whole family of Dunns proceeding leisurely churchwards; Richard Dunn and his wife together, and in front Nancy, looking very sweet and modest, in her dark dress and straw bonnet, and the two children, one on each side of her.

"Fine day," Dunn said, as Archie came up.

"Very fine," responded Archie. "Just what the farmers are wanting now."

Nancy stopped to speak to him, quite simply and naturally. She did not blush, or seem to be thinking about herself, but only said, "We have been wanting so to thank you again for what you did that day."

"Yes, I thought you'd have been to see us by this time," remarked Dunn. "Come along with us, lad; unless your mother's waiting for you anywhere."

"No, she don't go in the morning," said Archie. Honesty prompted him to add, "I don't either—most commonly. She and I go of an evening."

"Come with us to-day," suggested Dunn again.

"I don't mind if I do," said Archie. "Only I haven't got a Prayer-book."

"We're close home. Dick 'll run back for one,—mother's old one, Dick. It's on the book-case."

"You won't mind having my old one?" asked Susan. "Nancy and the children gave me a new one my last birthday,—look, isn't it a beauty?" And she unfolded a sheltering silk handkerchief. "I shouldn't like to lend that. But my old one's quite tidy."

Dick ran off at once, and overtook them close to the Church door.

It was a large building with lofty pillars; and low open seats, all free; and a good organ, the gift of Dunn's new employer, Mr. Rawdon. Mr. Wilmot read well, in clear reverent tones; and the congregation—largely composed of working-men and their families—joined heartily in the responses. There was plenty of singing, a good choir taking the lead; but the congregation did not sit or stand and idly listen to the choir. Mr. Wilmot was very particular about having well-known simple tunes, and he often impressed upon his people the duty of every one in Church taking an active personal share in the public worship of God.

So a more hearty yet reverent service could hardly have been found.

After the second hymn, Mr. Wilmot stood up in the pulpit,—looking pale still, some thought,—and gave out his text twice over, in far-reaching tones:

"St. Luke xxii. 33: 'Lord, I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison and to death.'"



MR. WILMOT'S sermon was short. Parts of it, curtailed, were as follows:—

"There is an old English motto, my friends, which has been lately often in my mind—a short motto, of three words only—


"Now you scarcely need that I should tell you the meaning of this motto.

"Ready for what? Why, ready, of course, for anything and everything which may come in the way of one's duty.

"The true-hearted soldier is 'ready, aye ready' to go where bidden, even to death. The true-hearted servant is 'ready, aye ready' to do his master's desire, careless of trouble or weariness. The true-hearted child is 'ready, aye ready' to accept or bear whatever his father wills for him. The true-hearted man or woman is 'ready, aye ready' to risk or suffer aught in the cause of needy and suffering men and women.

"This spirit of readiness is not rare in the present day; and especially it is not rare in our own land. You may say that the age is a selfish age; and so has been every age, for mankind is a selfish race. Nevertheless, there are in these days thousands who hold themselves 'ready, aye ready' to do and dare, for the sake of loved ones, for the sake of their country,—nay, that is not surprising, but more than this—for the sake of all those who are in need, in peril, in extremity, and unable to help themselves. Look at the records of shipwrecks; look at the records of mines; look at the records of hospitals, of fever and plague-stricken districts,—for the truth of what I say.

"Ready to do, ready to dare, ready to endure, ready to risk life itself, for the sake of others. It is something to be able to say so much. And mark all of you what I say, this would not now be, but for the life and example and teaching of Him who was 'ready, aye ready' to quit His glorious throne in heaven, that He might die a fearful death, as Man, for a ruined world. All that we see around us of benevolence, of pity, of tenderness, of self-denial, has been taught to mankind by Jesus, the Son of God.

"I do not say that no gleams of tenderness are to be found in the natural heart of man. A heathen wife or mother may love her husband or child; a heathen may shrink from the sight of suffering. But if you would learn what man is by nature, you must look at heathendom in the mass. Look at those lands where the Name of Christ is unknown, and see the awful abounding cruelty, the recklessness of human life, the wholesale murder of infants, the slavery of women, the contempt for others' distress, the neglect of the sick and dying, the utter rampant selfishness.

"Look then at our own land, and see the hospitals, the orphanages, the immense and countless charitable organisations, the eagerness of thousands to 'spend and be spent' for those who are in need. These are no mere fruits of civilisation. You may search in vain for any such results of the finest pagan civilisations of olden days. These things are the fruits of Christianity.

"So widespread, so far-reaching, is the influence of the Spirit of Jesus,—of His pity, His self-forgetfulness, His love for men, His tenderness towards suffering,—that thousands who care little about Christ are yet so impregnated from babyhood with lessons of Christian love and pity, that they will themselves do Christ-like deeds, deeds of pity and love and humanity, utterly unknowing whence this spirit of kindliness in them is derived.

"But now we have to think of something far beyond mere kind and humane intentions towards those around us.

"'Lord, I am ready,' Peter said, with his eager warm-hearted utterance, 'ready to go with Thee both into prison and to death.'

"And he was not really ready. He thought himself so; but when the test of peril came, he failed. He was 'ready, aye ready,' in will; but weak in act. Trusting, perhaps, in his own readiness, his own love for Christ, instead of trusting only in his Master's power, and in that Master's love for him, he failed. He was one of those who at the moment of darkness 'forsook' Jesus, 'and fled.'

"Yet Peter went far beyond too many of us. For he did at least wish to be thus 'ready.' His aim was to do always and unflinchingly the will of Christ.

"A grander example of this 'ready' spirit is to be found in the life of St. Paul.

"Look at Acts xxi. 13,—'I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the Name of the Lord Jesus.' And again, in 2 Timothy iv. 6,—'I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.'

"He was ready. No vain boast this, but a calm certainty. St. Paul was bound, and did die,—not at Jerusalem, but at Rome,—for that Master whom he loved and served. During long years of toil and trouble, he had held himself always 'ready, aye ready' to go here or there, to do this or that, which his Lord might command. And now he was ready to be bound, ready to die,—without a thought of reluctance or of holding back.

"Most of us are ready enough to follow our own inclinations. How many a one among us all now gathered in this Church holds himself habitually, day by day and hour by hour, in a position of calm willing readiness to do the will of God?

"Look at a verse in 2 Samuel xv. 15,—'And the king's servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever any lord the king shall appoint.'

"Which of you will stand and say that from your very heart to the Lord your King?—'Master, I am ready to do whatsoever Thou shalt appoint.'

"Whatsoever! That allows no choice to self, no indulgence of self's fancies, no habits of laziness, no mere life of pleasure with the smallest possible amount of real work. O no: it means a very different kind of existence—toil cheerfully undertaken, hardship and suffering patiently borne, sin met and conquered, self subdued.

"Will some of you say that such a life of absolute readiness to carry out another's will must be a life of slavery?

"Nay! For unto love there is no slavery; and we who serve the Lord Christ love Him. St. Peter's readiness was the readiness of love; and so also was St. Paul's.

"Is it slavery which makes a mother willing to toil, to endure, to forget herself, to die, if needful, for her child? Is it not love alone?

"Look at the other side of the question. If not servants to the King of kings, standing always ready to do whatsoever He shall appoint, whose servants will you be? Satan's? Is there anything grand in the subjection of a man to the Evil One? Your own? But the most contemptible of all contemptible sights is the man who is a slave to his own will and passions!

"I tell you there is no loftier or grander life lived on earth, than the life of the man who holds himself a willing bond-servant to the King of kings. That man is free indeed,—free from the tyranny of Satan, free from the tyranny of self, free with the glorious freedom of Christ. Whether he be king or labourer, prince or tradesman, matters little. Once enrolled in the service of the King, yielding himself and his all to the King, accepted and pardoned by the King, signed with the King's own signet, he is thenceforth himself of the heavenly blood-royal.

"'Ready to do whatsoever my Lord the King shall appoint.' He may appoint us something painful, something sad, something from which heart and flesh shall shrink,—but what then? Has He not the right? He has bought us with His Blood. He loves us, and knows what is needful for us. And we are bound to His Service,—aye, bound whether we will or no,—bound as His children by creation, bound as His purchased possession, bound by Baptismal promises, bound by Confirmation vows. He would have you bound by one more tie,—the tie of willing heart-servitude,—not to be servants only, but children by adoption, children of the Father, 'heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ,' led by His Spirit, obedient to His will.

"There must be the blood-washing. There must be the heart-readiness. There must be the use of all appointed means of grace. There must be acceptance of the King's free gifts.

"Then, whatever the King may appoint for you, whether suffering or joy, whether work or waiting, whether life or death, from Him shall come the needed grace, the needed strength. Not like St. Peter, but like St. Paul, you shall be in very heart and in very deed,—

"Ready, aye Ready!"



"THAT'S a preacher of the right sort," Dunn said warmly, as they left the Churchyard. "He speaks right from his own heart, and straight to ours. I like your Mr. Wilmot, Stuart; that I do!"

"I'm sure it's a comfort to have such a Church to go to in a new place," added Susan.

The two children were alone in front, pacing quietly together. Dunn walked between his wife and Nancy, and Archie had managed adroitly to place himself on Nancy's other side.

"I don't know that I've seen things just in that light before," Archie remarked hesitatingly. "Mr. Wilmot seemed to make out religion to be a manly sort of thing. And there's a good many who count it—"

"Count it womanish and namby-pamby, eh?" Dunn said, as Archie stopped. "I'll tell you one, thing, lad, which you may as well remember. If ever you see a feeble namby-pamby sort of fellow trying to serve God, you may be quite sure it isn't his religion that makes him so. He'd be a deal more feeble and namby-pamby if he didn't serve God. Fighting against evil and striving to do what's right, don't make any man less manly than he is by nature. It makes a man more manly. But it don't work a miracle, and turn a dull man into a clever man, nor a puling weak sort of chap into a strong spirited one."

"I don't know, though, as I could quite hold with what Mr. Wilmot said," observed Archie. "I mean about a man giving up himself to be a sort of slave to God's will. A man likes to feel he's free."

Nancy's eyes gave a quick look up at Archie, and then at her father.

"A man is free—in one sense," said Dunn. "God made man free,—gave him a will of his own, and power to choose what he'll do and be. But there's a deal of clap-trap talked about freedom and independence: for after all there's no man living who stands altogether alone, and don't depend on others. And more than that, there's no man living who don't choose for himself a master. Mr. Wilmot spoke true enough there. It was a command to the Israelite people of old,—'Choose ye whom ye will serve.' For they were morally sure to serve somebody; and it's the same now."

Archie made a sound of dissent.

"Think not? Why, look around you," said Dunn. "One man's a slave to money; and another's a slave to drink; and another's a slave to evil habits; and another's a slave to bad temper; and most of them are slaves to self. And everybody who don't own Christ for his Master is under the dominion of the Evil One. Is that freedom, I wonder?"

Archie was silent.

"A soldier gives himself up to the service of his Queen,—does it willingly,—and then he's bound just to go where he's bid, and to do what he's told, and to fight for his Queen and country whenever the command comes. But you don't count that slavery, eh, lad?"

"Well, I'll think about what you say," observed Archie, standing still. "I've got to turn off here. Mother 'll be expecting me. It's very good of you to let me go to Church with you all, and I'm glad I went."

"That's a nice young fellow," Dunn observed, when Archie was out of hearing.

"It seems to me odd his mother shouldn't have been in to see us yet," Susan said. "I did think at first I must go right off and thank her for what her boy did for our Nannie. But when I said something of the sort to him, I could see at once he didn't want it. What sort of a woman used she to be?"

"She used to take a sort of pride in keeping herself to herself," said Dunn.

Susan shook her head slightly, and remarked: "Well, I'm not one to push myself on her, anyway."

Nancy said nothing. She was not much of a talker at any time.

Meanwhile Archie strode home at a brisk pace, and found dinner just ready, and Mrs. Stuart in her best gown and cap, looking very tall, starched, upright, clean, and solemn.

She greeted him with a short,—"You're late to-day."

Archie knew in a moment that something had happened in his absence to annoy her.

"I went to Church," he said.

"That's a new notion," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Well, I didn't see why I shouldn't. I do go sometimes—in the morning, I mean."

"Four months since last time," she rejoined sarcastically.

"I suppose you've nothing to say against it, if I like to go once in a while, morning as well as evening?" observed Archie, his own tone growing somewhat tart.

"What made you like to go to-day?"

Archie had no immediate answer to give. Mrs. Stuart was dishing up, and the talk was in abeyance for some minutes. When they were both seated, and Archie had made some way through a large helping of roast beef and vegetables, she began again where they had left off, wording her question differently,—

"Who got you to go to Church to-day?"

"I'd thought of going before," said Archie.

"And left your Prayer-book behind?"

"Well, yes,—I hadn't made up my mind," said Archie.

"Who made it up for you, I should like to know?"

Archie was sure by this time that somebody had seen him with the Dunns, and had reported the fact to Mrs. Stuart.

"I met some friends going, and I went with them," he said, with assumed carelessness. "I don't see why I'm to be catechised like this, mother, as if I was in my pinafores still! One would think I'd done something wicked."

Mrs. Stuart's long nose became pinched, and her thin lips grew rigid.

"What friends?" she demanded.

"Only the Dunns."

A pause followed. Archie glanced up once or twice from his plate to Mrs. Stuart's face.

"There's no harm if I did go with the Dunns, or anybody else," he continued. "They're out-and-out nice people; and Dunn's a really good fellow, if ever there was one. I'm sure of it. There's lots of things he can talk about."

Silence answered him. Mrs. Stuart helped herself to another potato, and disposed of it in four big gulps, as a relief to her feelings.

"I haven't been to see them again, because I knew you wanted me not. But they've been expecting me; and they must count it odd you not going. I do think you might, when Dunn knew father, and all! And when I want it too! Anyway, I'm old enough to choose my friends. If it was a bad sort of friends I'd got hold of, things would be different. But people like the Dunns,—I can't see why on earth you should mind."

Mrs. Stuart avoided looking at her son.

"I didn't know I should meet them, of course; but I did. It wasn't likely I should pass them by. I'd had thoughts of going to Church; and when Dunn asked me, I didn't see why I shouldn't. They lent me a Prayer-book."

Mrs. Stuart went on eating solemnly, her eyes downcast.

Archie had a temper as well as his mother: not a sullen temper like hers, but sometimes a hot one. He was very good-humoured up to a certain point; but he could be roused; and her manner was irritating.

"If you don't mean to speak to me about them, mother, I shan't speak of them to you neither," he said. "And another time you needn't catechise me,—that's all. I'm not a baby to be kept in leading-strings."

Still no reply. Archie bolted the remainder of his big helping, pushed back his chair, and stood up.

"Well, if I'm not to have civil words here, I'll go where I can get them," he said, in a passion.

Mrs. Stuart did not look up, but she said coldly,—"You're not going to those Dunns?"

"I don't see why not. Mrs. Dunn won't treat me like this, anyway."

Archie lingered for two or three seconds near the door. Even in his fit of anger, he knew himself to be acting wrongly. He really did not wish to grieve or trouble his mother. She had been a good mother to him, and Archie could not but know it. He had good reason to be grateful and forbearing, even apart from the fact that she was his mother. Archie, of course, did not fully know how much he owed to her: young people seldom do. Nevertheless, he waited, hoping she might say some little word which should make it easy for him to come back to the table. Truth to tell, he would not have objected to so doing, since he was hungry still.

No such word came, however. Mrs. Stuart rose, and stalked with long offended strides towards the fireplace.

"Mother!" Archie said hesitatingly.

Mrs. Stuart looked round. "Oh, you're not gone yet!" she said, though she had been aware of the fact before.

Archie walked off at once, and banged the front door. Mrs. Stuart saw him pass the window.

A change came over her face then. The thin nose began to work, and the thin lips to tremble. She had not expected Archie to take her at her word. Though Mrs. Stuart was a proud woman, with a cold manner and a bad temper, yet down below she had a loving heart towards this only boy.

Al! the morning she had been working for him; and in the oven now were the rice pudding and the fruit tart which he liked.

Mrs. Stuart was wounded to the very quick. It seemed so hard that he should turn against her, only for the sake of these new people, almost strangers to her. She did not want to know the Dunns. She looked upon their standing as inferior to her own; and Mrs. Stuart was a proud-spirited woman, very particular as to whom she would associate with. Moreover, there was a girl at Woodbine Cottage—a pretty winning girl. People had not been backward in talking about Nancy's looks, and about Archie Stuart's evident admiration. That was just the thing which Mrs. Stuart most feared. She wanted to keep her boy to herself for many a year to come.

A neighbour had run in before dinner to gossip about the matter, having seen from her window Archie's encounter with the Dunn family on their way to Church.

"And you may depend upon it, things won't stop there," the neighbour had been so kind as to add. "Archie's a likely young fellow, and he'll be easy caught; and Mrs. Dunn's a woman that knows what she's about."

This was enough for Mrs. Stuart, and she gave her caller very plainly to understand that nothing of the kind ever would or should come to pass. Archie was not going to marry anybody yet awhile, and most certainly he was not going to marry Nancy Dunn.

Poor Mrs. Stuart! She had never yet learnt that difficult lesson, which almost all have sooner or later to learn—that we cannot have our own way in life, either for ourselves or for others.



IF Archie had been a little less angry, I do not think he would have seriously entertained the idea of going to Woodbine Cottage that afternoon, despite his threat. For it was not commonly his way to run straight in the teeth of his mother's wishes.

But being for once thoroughly vexed, he marched off in that direction, determined to assert his independence.

When near the cottage, it occurred to him that the Dunns would not yet have finished their dinner. So he went for a good round first, walking fast, and doing his best to keep up his indignation at fever-heat.

This proved not quite easy. Archie could get into a passion, and could say or do angry words or deeds; but he never could remain long annoyed. Mrs. Stuart, after being vexed, would spend hours in a sullen mood. Not so Archie. He never could sulk.

By the time he had performed a certain round, and was drawing once more near to Woodbine Cottage, he began to wonder whether he really would go in. He did not like to remember his mother sitting alone at home,—alone, and doubtless unhappy. The thought made him feel uncomfortable. What if he were to return, and try to put her into a better humour?

But perhaps, if he did, she would still refuse to speak. Or if she spoke, she might insist on his promising never to see the Dunns.

"No, no; I'm not going to do that," Archie said, almost aloud.

Then, looking up, he found himself close to the gate of Woodbine Cottage; and he saw Dunn issuing therefrom, with a little boy and girl, one on each side of him.

"How d'ye do again?" Dunn said kindly. "I'm off with these young 'uns to the Sunday school. It's their first time of going, and they're a morsel shy,—eh, Dick and Susie?"

"I'm not shy," asserted Dick; "I could take care of Susie."

"So you could, I don't doubt; but Susie don't think so. You'll find my wife inside, if you've a thought of going in," added Dunn to Archie.

"Well, I did half think of it," said Archie hesitatingly. "She told me to come some time, you know."

"So she did, lad,—you're quite right. We're not much of folks for gadding in and out of neighbours' houses all Sunday; but you're different to anybody and everybody. You've made your self, in a sort, one of us. She will be glad enough to see you, I make no doubt. Come along, Susie and Dick,—we mustn't be late. Yes, yes; go in, Stuart."

And Archie went,—not fully resolved yet in his own mind, but hardly knowing now how to get out of it.

Susan Dunn herself opened the door, and led Archie into the cosy parlour, which was always used on Sundays. But Nancy was not there, as Archie had expected and hoped. A book lay open on the table, and Susan had plainly been alone, reading.

"Sit down, won't you?" she said, in a kind manner. "I'm so glad to see you here at last. You meant to come before, didn't you? My husband's gone to see the children to Sunday school. It's a new place to them, and Susie was afraid. And Nannie's gone to the Rectory. She wanted to hear of a Bible class on Sunday afternoons, that she could go to; and I asked Mr. Wilmot this morning if there wasn't one. I met him just a little while before we all came on you, and I asked him, and he said Nannie was to go and talk it over with Miss Wilmot. We are glad of that, for somebody told us Miss Wilmot was a very sweet young lady."

"Yes, so she is," observed Archie. "She comes to see mother once in a way."

Susan looked at Archie, then out of the window, then back again at Archie.

"Your mother don't come to see me?" she said at length.

Archie reddened somewhat. "I wish she would, Mrs. Dunn. I've tried my best. I can't get her to come."

"Don't she want to know us?"

Archie said "No," involuntarily. Then it struck him that perhaps Susan might feel conscientiously bound to carry out Mrs. Stuart's wish, and might cease to encourage his calling at Woodbine Cottage. "It doesn't mean anything," he added in some haste. "Mother's got her own notions, you see; and if she's said a thing, she sticks to it like a leech. She's got her friends, and I've got mine. We pull along pretty well together. Sometimes she's angry, and won't speak to me,—like to-day. But it's not worth bothering about. She's always sure to come round after a while."

"Has she been vexed to-day?" asked Susan, with a look of trouble and pity.

"Oh, it's her way, you know," Archie said, assuming a careless air. "She don't mean anything by it, and I don't take it for more than it's worth. She wouldn't say a word to me at dinner, so I just walked off and left her alone. Oh, she'll come round."

Susan was evidently distressed. "I wouldn't," she said in an undertone,—"I wouldn't do that,—not again."

"But I couldn't sit it out. Nobody could," protested Archie.

"She didn't mean anything by it. You say that yourself," pleaded Susan. "And she's your mother, and she's been a good mother to you,—hasn't she? I wouldn't leave her to sit alone, Archie,—may I call you Archie?"

"Yes, do, please," put in Archie.

"I wouldn't leave her there alone,—I wouldn't really," said Susan again, chiming in with the remonstrances of the young man's own heart.

"Well, I won't," said Archie, after a pause. "I'll go back presently, and see if she won't like a walk."

"Yes, do. That'll be nice," said Susan. "And if she's put out once in a way, I wouldn't be put out too! I daresay she's had a deal of trouble to fight against, and that don't always smooth the temper."

"Well, yea, she's had troubles," admitted Archie. "And she's got a temper too, no mistake about that. And she'd like to keep me in leading-strings still, as if I was six years old."

"You're not in leading-strings," said Susan, with a little smile. "But I do think you're bound to do all you can to please her."

Archie said, "I s'pose so," not very cheerfully. He did not mean to count himself bound to shun the Dunns. He liked them increasingly, and he lingered on, hoping for one more glimpse of Nancy. The lingering was in vain, for Nancy did not appear, and presently Susan said, "I don't like to seem to hurry you. But won't your mother get impatient?"

"Well, p'raps she will," admitted Archie. Thereupon, he said good-bye, and walked off.



MRS. STUART felt her loneliness more than she would have liked to say, and very bitter and sorrowful grew her spirit, as time went by and Archie appeared not. She could not read, could not employ herself, could not turn her mind to any other subject. She would not go out, for fear Archie might return to find her gone.

"It would serve him right," she told herself; and once she rose and put her bonnet on, determined to punish him. But resolution failed there, and she took it off and sat down again.

So the minutes dragged slowly past, and Mrs. Stuart watched in weary solitude; and her face fell into a sad dreary set, which anybody must have been grieved to see.

Suddenly a brisk footstep could be heard without. Mrs. Stuart stirred out of her stooping postures and was in one moment stiffly upright. She wiped hastily away the traces of two tears which had insisted on having their way, and hardened her features into an expression of cold indifference. Archie should not know what she had suffered. If he did not care to be with her, she would not seem to care about being with him.

"Well, mother?" Archie spoke in a bright voice as he entered, for he wanted to make a pleasant impression. "Like to have a walk with me?"

Mrs. Stuart made no answer. She would not look at Archie, but stood up, stalked to a drawer, pulled out a duster, and began polishing a corner of the small bookshelf, which needed no polishing.

"Come, mother! Now you're not going to be vexed with me still," expostulated Archie. "There's no need. Let's have a walk and forget it."

Mrs. Stuart went on with her polishing industriously, just as if she had not heard a word.

"Of course if you don't want me, I can be off again," said Archie, in a rather aggrieved tone. "But I should think you might as well forgive and forget. I'm sorry now that I went away in such a hurry from dinner. And I do think you've been angry long enough."

Mrs. Stuart faced round upon Archie.

"Where have you been all this while?" she demanded.

"I went for a walk, mother, first."

"And after that?"

"I just went in for a little chat with Mrs. Dunn. But I didn't stay long. She wouldn't let me stay. She told me I'd ought to come back to you; so I've come."

Mrs. Stuart's thin nostrils began to quiver.

"I'm much beholden to Mrs. Dunn," she said hoarsely. "So I'm to have my boy's company at the bidding of a stranger! That's it, is it? Not as he cares to be with his mother! O no, I quite understand all about it now! And all I've got to say is, that if you don't want to be here, I don't want to have you. So there! You'd best go back to Mrs. Dunn, and stay there till bedtime. Why shouldn't you? I don't care whether you go or stay. I'm not going to have you come to me just at Mrs. Dunn's bidding."

She did not mean it, of course; people seldom do mean what they say in a passion. She did care very much—even terribly. It went to her heart to have this difference with her boy. But pride and temper were stronger than love. They had been allowed to grow rampant during many long years of indulgence; and the gentler plant of love was well-nigh choked by these great rank weeds. So bitter was her tone, so severe was her manner, that Archie at the moment believed her words. He looked strangely at Mrs. Stuart, growing almost pale.

"Very well, mother!" he said, husky in his turn. "If you don't want me, I'll go. I'm sure I shan't bother you, against your will. I'll go somewhere, though it won't be to the Dunns. And you needn't look for me till bedtime." Archie stopped, hesitating. "If you mean it," he added.

"It isn't my way to say one thing and mean another," retorted Mrs. Stuart. "May be the way of your friends, the Dunns,—likely enough! A set of—"

"Mother, you'd better not! You don't know them!" broke in Archie.

"I know enough about 'em," she said scornfully. "Trying to wheedle you away from me—you that I've just lived for! I know all about it! But I don't mean to say no more. You'll do as you choose. And if you don't want to stay, I don't mean to have you just at Mrs. Dunn's bidding, nor that spoony-faced chit of a girl's neither."

Archie broke into one angry utterance, and then he was gone—this time with a heavy unmistakable bang of the front door. Mrs. Stuart could see him striding past the window, not towards Woodbine Cottage, but the other way.

Would he come back? Might he not think better of his annoyance, and return? She had not meant him to take her at her word. She had not intended really to send him from her. Was it only the allusion to Nancy Dunn which he would not endure? Mrs. Stuart's face grew rigid at this thought.

She stood very long near the window, watching and waiting. Then she sat down, and watched and waited still. The afternoon wore away, and tea-time approached. Mrs. Stuart laid the table, and put the kettle on to boil; but she could not resolve to sit down alone to eat and think; and Archie did not come.

"I've driven him away," she murmured at length. "And he's my only boy."

Time went on, and by-and-by the Church bells began to ring. Would Archie not reappear in time for Church? He had always gone with her.

Mrs. Stuart made herself a cup of tea, and drank it off feverishly. It was of no use to think of eating. Then she dressed, putting on her boots and her best shawl and bonnet. Just at the last moment he would run in—having had tea doubtless somewhere else.

But the last moment came, and with it no Archie. The bells had ceased chiming, and the last five minutes' tinkle had come to an end. Mrs. Stuart stood waiting still.

Suddenly she came to a resolution. She would go and try to find her boy. Why had she not started sooner on this errand? The two had been parted long enough. Mrs. Stuart meant to forgive him now, and to take him back into favour. As for the Dunns, that matter must settle itself somehow. It was not her intention to give way about them; but, on the other hand, she could not forego her boy's companionship. She had had a lesson against pulling the reins too sharply.

"I'll find him and bring him back," she murmured. "I mustn't drive him away. He's getting masterful—not a child any longer, and I mustn't forget that."

And she started on the search, her mother's heart all unstrung and aching with the strain of the afternoon, her whole soul going out in a passionate longing for the boy she so loved.

Yet, if Archie had that moment walked up with a smile, I am not at all sure whether her features would not have stiffened instantly with cold disdain, and whether she might not have turned her back upon him straightway.



"PLEASE, Miss Wilmot, there's a young girl wants to see you. She says her name's Nancy Dunn," announced the Rectory parlour-maid.

Annie Wilmot looked up with a smile. "O yes, I expected Nancy Dunn," she said. "Please show her in here."

Nancy entered shyly, with her usual pretty and modest manner. Annie, used to the bold and rough bearing of too many Littleburgh girls, was taken by Nancy's manner directly. She came forward, saying, "How do you do? I am so glad to see you, Nancy. My father told me that you would come."

"He said it was to be about this time, Miss," said Nancy timidly. "I hope I haven't kept you in."

"No, you have not kept me in, because I kept myself in," said Annie's kind tones. "Generally I have a class in the Sunday school; but a lady is here to-day who used to take that class, and she wanted to take it again. So I have nothing to do, and it is the right time for you to come. Now you will sit down here, and tell me all about yourselves."

Nancy felt rather at a loss. Telling "all about themselves" sounded formidable. But a few questions soon set her off, and in a very short space, Annie knew something of the pretty home that the Deans had left, and the regret they felt in leaving it; also of the good father and mother that Nancy had, and the little brother and sister.

"And you are sixteen years old—just about my age," said Annie, who was much taken with her timid visitor.

Nancy smiled. She liked its being so said; though really Annie's ease made her seem much the older of the two.

"My father tells me that you want to go to a Bible Class," observed Annie presently.

"I always used to go to one; and it was such a help," said Nancy.

"Yes, I have been thinking about it," said Annie. "There is a class here, held in the Church schoolroom by a lady, for young women and big girls. More than a hundred belong to it."

Nancy looked rather alarmed. Fresh from country life, she did not quite like the notion of such a number.

"There wasn't ever more than twelve in the class I've been used to go to," she said.

"You like that better, perhaps. This class is meant for all sorts of girls, and some of them are terribly ignorant. The teaching has to be very simple, that they may all understand. I have been thinking—" continued Annie. "My father has wanted for a long while to get up another class—quite a small one. We hoped a lady was coming who could take it; but she cannot come. And now my father wants me—we have been wondering whether perhaps I could not do it instead."

Annie blushed a little, and spoke half apologetically. "It seems almost as if I were too young; but I do so love teaching; and of course I have a great deal more time for working up subjects than many can have—those who have to work hard in other ways, I mean. And then there is always my father at hand to help me. So I have been planning whether perhaps you, and three or four other nice girls that I know of, would like to come here for an hour every Sunday afternoon, and read the Bible with me. I think it would be so pleasant—don't you? And I shall want you all to talk as well as myself—to ask questions, or say anything you like. If we get puzzled over a text, I can ask my father about it before the next time. What do you think, Nancy?"

Nancy looked bright. "I should like it ever so much, Miss," she said.

"We can sing hymns together," pursued Annie. "I do so love singing hymns—don't you too? It always seems to me to come nearer than anything else to what the angels do in heaven. We'll begin and end with a hymn. Then will you count it a settled thing to come at half-past three next Sunday afternoon? The lady who has taken my class this afternoon wants to have it again regularly, so that will be all right. I will see about the other girls before the week is over."

Nancy assented with her shy smile, and stood up, thinking that she was meant to go.

"Oh, don't leave just yet," said Annie; "I haven't done with you yet,—unless you are in a hurry to get to your home."

Nancy was not in a hurry, and she sat down again willingly.

"I have been thinking so much about you, ever since you were nearly bitten by that dreadful dog," murmured Annie. "It was such a thing to happen in Littleburgh! And if anybody had been hurt! My own dear father was in terrible danger, you know, and oh, so brave! I am very proud of him, but I can't bear to think of the danger he was in; and your father and mother must feel the same about you."

"Yes," Nancy answered; "Mother has scarce liked me to go out of her sight till to-day."

"I wonder," Annie said slowly, "I wonder how you or I would feel now, if the dog really had bitten one of us?"

"I think it would be very dreadful," Nancy said, with a shudder.

"Yes—dreadful. It could not help being that. But I do think it would make such a difference, if one could look quietly on to the beyond without any fear—to beyond death, I mean. What lay between might look dreadful; but if the 'beyond' were all sure peace, then the 'between' wouldn't matter so very very much—would it, Nancy?"

Two large tears gathered in Nancy's eyes, and fell.

"No, Miss," she said; "it's just that. I've had it, in my mind so often since. If one could be sure—"

"I have had it in my mind too," said Annie. "A thing of that sort happening does make one think. It makes death seem so much nearer, and life so much smaller. Oh, I do think it ought to make one very very earnest in seeking Christ, in praying Him to forgive us and make us His own; and in giving up ourselves to live only for Him. And I am hoping that perhaps our Sunday afternoons together will be a help to all of us."

Half-an-hour later Nancy wended her way homewards, to find her parents alone. The "little ones" had not yet returned.

"Well, Nannie?" her father said.

"I'm going to the Rectory, father. Miss Wilmot means to have a small class herself; of just a few girls; and I do think I shall like it. Miss Wilmot is such a sweet young lady; she don't seem to have a bit of pride. I do love her already."

"Hallo, my girl, you're going on fast! Forsaking old friends for new ones already!"

"O no, father, please don't say that. I couldn't forsake old friends, and I love everybody at home as much as ever."

Littleburgh was not yet "home" to the Dunns.

"But I do think Miss Wilmot is sweet, and I'm so glad she will have the class herself."



AT half-past eight Archie reached his home, feeling altogether guilty and uncomfortable. Pride had prevented his returning sooner, otherwise he would undoubtedly have found his way back before Church time. As anger died away, he became sorry for his mother and vexed with himself.

"Well, well—I'll make it up to her now," thought Archie, as he tried to lift the latch.

But the door was fast locked.

This seemed odd. Had Mrs. Stuart gone for a walk so late? She was not in the habit of thus doing, even with Archie for a companion; still less alone.

But the door was unmistakably locked. Archie rapped at the window, and had no response. He could see nothing within, through white blinds and flowering plants, beyond a faint glimmer of firelight.

Was Mrs. Stuart really out? Or did she wish to refuse admittance to her boy?

Somehow Archie could not accept the latter supposition. More likely, on her return from Church, she had gone to a neighbour to inquire after Archie's own whereabouts.

He began to feel thoroughly annoyed and regretful at having stayed absent so many hours.

Well, no doubt she would return in a few minutes. Archie tried the door afresh, without avail. Then he walked up and down the street, keeping watch. He asked one or two women whether they had seen Mrs. Stuart go out, but they had not; and he did not pursue the inquiry. He was not anxious that the uncomfortable state of affairs between his mother and himself should become known.

Thirty minutes passed. Nine strokes from the Church clock sounded solemnly.

This would never do. Archie went once more to the door, and struggled with it, but to no purpose.

Then he directed his efforts towards the window, which—being happily held by a crazy hasp—he succeeded at length in forcing open.

Entrance had now become easy. Archie pushed aside a few plants, and scrambled in—two or three small boys watching his proceedings from the pavement, and commenting thereon with interjections of "O my!"

The room was nearly dark; but Archie could see its emptiness. He went out into the passage, then to the kitchen, lastly upstairs, searching carefully. All in vain. No human being except himself was under the roof.

A feeling of great perplexity and trouble crept over Archie. He could not at all understand what this meant. Had he found his mother at home, vexed and silent still, he would not have been surprised; but to find no mother at all awaiting his return did startle him sorely.

It was plain that Mrs. Stuart had gone somewhere, locking the front door, and taking the key away with her; for Archie found no key within. When thoroughly convinced of her absence, he had to make his exit by the same mode as that by which he had entered. Derisive exclamations from the group of small boys greeted his reappearance through the window. Archie was in no mood to care for laughter. He passed them by, and began a series of close inquiries, speaking to one neighbour after another.

These inquiries were not without results. In a few minutes Archie learnt that his mother had not gone to Church. She had been seen to come out, dressed as usual, a short time after the bells ceased, and to set off, walking hurriedly, in just the other direction.

"I spoke to her, and she didn't answer," one woman said. "Seemed to me some'at had worried her. She looked queer-like. But she never do like to be asked nothing. I saw her go along the road, all of a scurry, and turn to the left there—towards the brick-fields."

Archie followed the clue thus obtained. By dint of further inquiries, he traced her steps all along the road "to the left," and down a lane beyond, as far as the very border of the brick-fields.

There evidence failed, and he came to a pause. It was not likely that Mrs. Stuart should have actually crossed those flat dull fields, with their piled up rows of bricks. Archie had indeed himself taken a solitary ramble round them that afternoon, brooding over the condition of things; but it seemed highly improbable that his mother should have done the same.

"She's not there," he said aloud, gazing over the uninteresting expanse. He turned back into Littleburgh, to call at cottage after cottage where his mother was known, and where she might have gone. But nobody could tell him any news of Mrs. Stuart. He returned home once more, only to find the door still locked, and nobody to welcome him.

Archie's trouble was becoming now very real indeed. He went at last to the Dunns, and told his story; and Nancy's face of sympathy brought the first scrap of comfort.

"I'll go with you, lad," Dunn said at once. "We'll hunt till we find her—please God. But you'll take a mouthful of something to eat first."

Archie did not feel as if he could eat—till he tried. Then he found how much he had been in need of refreshment. While hastily disposing of what was put before him, he recounted what he had already done.

"That's right. You're looking more up to the mark now," said Dunn. "I'll tell you what, lad—my wife shall go to your house, and make up the kitchen fire, and see that there's boiling water against it's wanted. And you and I'll go and take a look at the brick-fields."

"But what's the use? Why, she'd never dream of staying alone there all this while," protested Archie.

"Maybe not. Best to make sure, any way," said Dunn. "She was seen to go there, and she wasn't seen to come back. And where else can she be?"

Archie shook his head.

"You see, now! Best to make sure," repeated Dunn. "She may be all right and safe in somebody's house. But if she did take a fancy to go into the brick-fields, why, she might have tumbled down somewhere and stunned herself. I don't see why not. Are there any sort of deep holes or quarries anywhere about?"

"Nothing of the sort," averred Archie. "It's all flat."

"So much the better," said Dunn. "But anyhow we'll go and look."

Which they did—Susan Dunn accompanying them part of the way, as far as Mrs. Stuart's cottage. It was rather a puzzle how to get her indoors, till they found that the front door key of Woodbine Cottage would open the locked door.

"I'll be sure to have everything comfortable," Susan Dunn said kindly. "I shouldn't think Mrs. Stuart could mind. I do hope you'll find her soon, all safe and sound."



"WHAT'S that?" exclaimed Archie.

They were treading the brick-fields side by side—not in darkness, but in clear moonlight. It streamed down upon the wide flat expanse, lending weirdness to the long lines of piled new bricks. Not far off a kiln stood up like a small island.

The two listened attentively.

"I didn't hear anything," Dunn said.

Archie sighed. "It must have been my fancy," he said. "But I thought—Well, she don't seem to be hereabouts, any way."

"We'll make more sure before we give up," said Dunn.

"I can't think how ever I could be such a fool," broke out the young man. "To leave her all those hours alone! And just because she was vexed with me. Why, I might have known she meant nothing by it, really. You don't think she's staying away because she's angry yet?" he asked dubiously.

"No, that I don't," Dunn answered. "It don't sound mother-like. You've not told me what it was that angered her so, and I'm not a good judge without knowing; but it does seem to me a deal more likely that she just went hunting after you. I can't believe the other."

"Nor I," said Archie.

"Sh-h-h!" Dunn exclaimed in his turn.

And the sound of a groaning murmur—"O dear—deary! O dear—my poor foot! O dear—dear—dear—whatever shall I do?" came distinctly.

"Mother!" cried Archie.

"It's she, I do believe," said Dunn. "Steady, lad—don't run a-muck through the bricks."

"Mother! Where are you?" shouted Archie.

"O dear—dear—dear—please help me!" was groaned out again.

"This way! Look-out! Steady, lad!"

And in another minute they came on the tall figure of Mrs. Stuart, seated on the ground, bowing to and fro as if in great pain, and keeping up a continuous groan.

"Mother, are you hurt?" cried Archie. "What's kept you here? We couldn't think whatever had become of you. Why, mother! Have you had a tumble? What's the matter?"

"O dear, dear! I don't know how to bear it! O my poor foot!" And Mrs. Stuart swayed herself to and fro. "O deary me! I thought you'd never come! I thought nobody 'd ever find me! I thought I should die here, all alone! O dear me!"

"She's hurt her foot somehow. Ask her what it is," Dunn said in an undertone to Archie.

"Mother, what's the matter?" inquired Archie again. He stooped down, and touched the foot which seemed to be the cause of her trouble; whereupon Mrs. Stuart screamed.

"O don't! O deary me! I shall die of the pain, I know I shall. And if you hadn't gone and left me all that while, it wouldn't never have happened! Dear me! I thought I'd try to find you, and I came on a pocket-handkerchief of yours, lying on the brick-field—one of your very best—and I thought you'd gone along somewhere here. O dear me! O dear! And a lot of bricks was piled up, and I didn't see they were loose—and I just touched 'em, and they all came down on my poor foot. O dear, dear! And I haven't been able to move since. And I don't know whatever I'm to do—the pain's so bad. O deary me, I don't know how to bear it."

"Mother, we'll get you home," said Archie. "It won't be so bad then, I dare say. Somebody's there who'll help nicely. Dunn and I will get you home."

If Mrs. Stuart noticed the name, she paid no attention to it, but only kept on her persistent rocking and groaning.

"Let's have a look at the foot, missis," Dunn said kindly. "It's bad, though!" he muttered, after a slight inspection. "I doubt but the boot ought to come off—if she'd let me try."

"I'd sooner get her home first," said Archie; for Mrs. Stuart kept fencing them off with her hands, as if dreading the least touch.

A consultation took place, and Dunn started off at full speed for the nearest cottage. He had proposed a shutter as the easiest mode of conveyance; but Mrs. Stuart, overhearing the word, cried out against it. "She'd feel as if she was being carried to her grave," she said. "No, it was to be a chair." And though they knew that progression in a chair must mean the more suffering, they had to yield.

Mrs. Dunn, waiting in the cottage, had no intimation of their approach until they arrived. She had just gone to take another look at the kitchen fire, when groaning sounds of complaint at the front door drew her quickly thither.

"That's over now, isn't it?" Dunn said cheerfully, as he and Archie placed Mrs. Stuart on the black horse-hair couch in the small parlour. "That's over now, and it's been pretty hard to bear, too, hasn't it? Let's put the foot up—so—gently, lad—and now Susan must have a look at it. Eh, Susan, what d'you think? Shouldn't the boot come off?"

"O me, but it is bad!" exclaimed Susan, in a voice of consternation. "Why, I never saw such a foot. You poor thing, you! No, I daren't touch it, Richard, and I don't believe anybody ought, till the doctor comes. You'd best go straight off for him, and he'll say what ought to be done. I am sorry, now—you poor thing! It's bad, isn't it? Yes, I don't wonder you can't help crying," continued Susan tenderly. "But Richard 'll make great haste, and the doctor won't be long."

Archie was astonished. For there, actually, was Mrs. Stuart sobbing, with her head on Mrs. Dunn's shoulder, and there was little plump motherly Mrs. Dunn petting and coaxing great tall Mrs. Stuart, like one of her own children.

"I'd go this very minute, if I was you, Richard," she continued. "I wouldn't stop a moment. The poor thing don't know how to bear herself, hardly. I dare say the doctor isn't far off." And she looked at Archie.

"Mr. Rawdon? No, he isn't far," said Archie. "You'd like Mr. Rawdon best, wouldn't you, mother? He came when you were ill, you know. She don't seem to hear," added Archie, turning to Dunn. "But Mr. Rawdon 'll come, I'm sure. He's our Mr. Rawdon's brother, and he's very clever. I'd best just walk along the street, and show you the turn—if you won't mind going. And then I can come back."

Which plan being followed out, Mr. Rawdon in no long time made his appearance.

He was not very unlike his brother, Dunn's new employer,—a man of medium height and strong build, grey-haired, quiet in manner, sparing of words, with short-sighted spectacles covering eyes of no particular colour. On first coming in, he said nothing at all, beyond a brief "Good evening," but sat down to examine the foot. A pen-knife in his hand speedily ripped up the boot; and silence followed.

Next came a question or two as to the manner of accident. Mrs. Stuart enlarged sobbingly on her sensations in the brick-field, with a digression about the lost handkerchief—"One of Archie's very best, as I had marked for him so particular!" she averred. A touch brought in a shriek here, and Mrs. Stuart clutched at Mrs. Dunn for comfort.

"Well," Mr. Rawdon said at length, raising himself from his stooping posture, "it's a bad foot, no doubt. Many in my place would take it off at once. But I think I can save it for you, if—"

He was interrupted. Mrs. Stuart cried out lustily. Lose her foot! She'd sooner die—a great deal sooner. Life wasn't worth so very much, she was sure! A poor woman with no end of troubles and bothers! She wouldn't have her foot cut off, not she—if that was what the doctor meant. She was much obliged, all the same. Much sooner die! Mr. Rawdon heard all this and more composedly. When her ejaculations came to a pause, he said only—

"I think I can save you the foot, if you are careful to do as you are told."

"I'm not a-going to have my foot taken off. No, not for nobody," said Mrs. Stuart.

"It will, I hope, be unnecessary. I shall bind it up for you now, and you will go to bed."

"I'd sooner die—a deal sooner; if it was fifty times over!" cried Mrs. Stuart.

Mr. Rawdon was examining the foot again. He raised himself, looked at her, and asked:

"Mrs. Stuart, have you ever stood face to face with death, that you can speak of it so lightly?"

For the moment, Mrs. Stuart was silenced.



"NOW," the doctor said, having bound up the crushed member, and ordered complete rest, "who is going to see after you, my good woman? There are to be no attempts at standing about, remember."

Mrs. Stuart was by this time looking somewhat sullen. She answered curtly, "Nobody; I'll do for myself."

"Can't," said Mr. Rawdon.

"I'm not going to be beholden to nobody," declared Mrs. Stuart.

"In that case, you will very soon have to be beholden to me—for amputating your foot," said Mr. Rawdon bluntly.

He was a particularly kind-hearted man, but he had not much patience with entire unreasonableness.

"Have you no friends who—"

"I've got no friends. 'Tisn't my way. I like to keep myself to myself," said Mrs. Stuart, in the tone of one stating a virtuous characteristic.

The doctor's eyebrows went up a little way. "That's nothing to be proud of;" he said.

"I can stay here to-night," put in Susan Dunn. "I should like to do it, sir, very much—if Mrs. Stuart don't mind."

Mrs. Stuart plainly did mind. Her long nose took a discontented curl. Mr. Rawdon ran his eyes over Susan.

"Your face seems strange to me," he said.

"We haven't been long in Littleburgh," she said. "My husband is come for work."

"Hope he's got it," said the doctor.

"Yes, sir—with Mr. Rawdon." A nod answered her. "And I know he'd wish me to help. My girl Nancy will see to everything at home."

"You are fortunate in having such a girl," said Mr. Rawdon.

Perhaps he was thinking of Bess Gardiner, or of girls like Bess.

"Yes, sir, I think I am; more than fortunate," averred Susan. "It's something to thank God for."

"True!" and the doctor bent his head slightly, with a reverent gesture. "Let me see, your name is—"

"Susan Dunn, sir."

"Dunn! Ah—then it would be your husband who called on me. Dunn!" and he looked thoughtful. "I seem to have some sort of connection with the word. Well, nothing can be better than that you should stay here to-night. Mrs. Stuart accepts your kind offer, of course."

"I can do for myself," said Mrs. Stuart stolidly.

"Stuff!" Mr. Rawdon answered, rising. "You can do for your foot, if you like—and you would do for it most effectually, without help. That is settled, then. To-morrow morning I will look in, and we shall see what can be arranged next. Very much obliged to you, Mrs. Dunn. 'A friend in need is a friend indeed.' Mrs. Stuart will have no cause to say again that she has no friends."

Mrs. Stuart made no response. The doctor gave Susan a few careful directions.

"Mind, you are not to put your foot to the ground," he said, turning to Mrs. Stuart. "Your son and Mrs. Dunn will get you upstairs, and you must go to bed at once. Stay there, of course, till I come again. Good evening."

Mr. Rawdon looked rather curiously at the patient's glum visage, smiled at Mrs. Dunn's cheery face, and left the cottage at a quick pace.

Halfway through the next street, he was overtaken by Mr. Wilmot. Those two worked hand-in-hand among the needy and suffering.

"The very man I had in my mind at this moment," quoth Mr. Rawdon. "How do you do? All right?"

The doctor's eyes were lifted for an instant's scrutiny of the other's face as they passed a gas-lamp. Of late, a settled paleness had been stamped there. No immediate reply to the question came, but only another question—

"Is this true about Mrs. Stuart?"

"Crushed foot, yes. Within a hair's-breadth of having to lose it. I'm not quite sure yet!"

"Poor thing!" Mr. Wilmot said, in a half-abstracted manner.

"She's an oddity," the doctor said, stealing another glance. "A fussy sort of body, apparently."

"So much the more to be pitied. I must see her to-morrow."

"Yes, do. A nice little woman is there to-night—Mrs. Dunn. I haven't come across her before."

"The Dunns are new-comers. You have heard of the eldest girl, Nancy Dunn," added the clergyman abruptly. "She is the girl whom young Stuart saved from the mad dog."

"Ha! I thought I had some association with the name in my mind."

"That is it, of course. Nancy Dunn is one of the best and prettiest girls I know. I rather think our friend Archie Stuart is of the same opinion, from a few words I had with him this afternoon. But he seems to fear opposition from his mother."

"Ha!" repeated Mr. Rawdon. "That is why she so disdainfully wished to be beholden to nobody."

After a slight pause, he asked carelessly—"Have you been doing too much to-day?"

"No. The more the better just now. Less time for thought."

Mr. Rawdon gave him another glance.

"I believe the strain is rather too much for me sometimes." Mr. Wilmot spoke low. "Do what I will, I cannot help expecting—watching myself—dwelling on what may come."

"And the fact that you cannot speak to Annie makes you, of course, suffer the more," Mr. Rawdon said, carelessly still, as he slipped an arm into the clergyman's. "My dear Wilmot, it was a mere scratch—almost a nothing. I do not say that it was an absolute nothing, of course. But the prompt measures taken—How is your wrist to-day? You were coming to see me again to-morrow, I think."

"It seems to be steadily healing. That is as should be. Yes, you burnt deeply. The thing could not have been done with more thoroughness. But still—"

A sigh came after the word. There was just the "but still!" Mr. Rawdon knew it, and so did Mr. Wilmot. Say what they might, there could be no certainty of escape. Prompt and thorough measures had been taken—but still! And the dawn of a new hope which now exists for such as are in Mr. Wilmot's case had not then become known.

"I wish you could banish the whole thing from your mind," said Mr. Rawdon.

"Impossible," was the quiet answer. "I do not repine, Rawdon. If the time came over again, I would do the same again, knowing what lay before me. And if—if it is God's will to call me to His presence through that gate of suffering—I think I can say truly that I am willing. Willingness does not mean stoical indifference, however. Flesh and heart may shrink—must shrink—under some circumstances."

"Aye," Mr. Rawdon answered briefly. "How do you sleep at night?"

"Not well. I have a return of uncomfortable heart sensations—such as I had two years ago. Nothing of importance—merely the result of the shock."

"I'll look into that to-morrow. You must keep up your strength. Yes, the shock was likely to tell upon you, one way or another."

"So I supposed. I do not at present see in myself any marked symptoms which might prelude that," Mr. Wilmot said calmly, as if speaking about somebody else. "The wound seems to be healing healthily. I am not particularly troubled with moroseness, or unreasonable depression, or anxiety to be much away from home. These are some of the tokens, are they not, sometimes? You see, I have looked into the matter. I wish to know in time, if it comes—for Annie's sake."

"And you have been wrong," said Mr. Rawdon decisively. "This is not quite your usual good sense, Wilmot. The thing you have to do now is as much as possible to put the whole question aside, not to sit watching your own symptoms, and speculating on what may come next. Mind, my dear friend, it is your positive duty—for Annie's sake as much as for your own. If this goes on, you will soon be thoroughly overstrained, and unfit for work. I shall have to order you abroad."

Mr. Wilmot shook his head.

"One thing or the other will have to be." The doctor spoke with a touch of sternness. "Either you must give up this morbid self-watching, or you must go away."

A pause followed before Mr. Wilmot said—"I have had to fight the battle."

"What battle?"

"To be able to say from my heart, Thy will—not mine.'"

"Wrong again. Don't misunderstand me, but I think you are wrong. If God sends the trial, He will send strength to endure. You are not called upon yet to endure. All you are called upon to do at present is to put aside possibilities, and to trust for the future. The more childlike a life you can live just now the better—taking each day as it comes, and not looking forward. I am speaking both as your friend and as your medical adviser. This strain of expectation is the worst thing possible for you."

Mr. Wilmot uttered a simple "Yes" of acquiescence.

"You know that it is. Now mark my words, Wilmot. There must be a change. You must put the thing aside-give up analysis of your own symptoms—and have done with midnight battlings. What need for it all? HE will not let you be tried 'above that you are able.' Yours is a childlike trust, generally. Be a child now, in trust, and leave the matter in God's hands. He is all-powerful; and there is nothing more that you and I can do."

"You are right," Mr. Wilmot said quietly. "I have preached you a good many sermons, but never a truer one than you have just preached to me."

"Shall I quote from a sermon of your own?" asked Mr. Rawdon. "Your concluding words this morning, Wilmot—'Whatever the King may appoint, whether joy or sorrow, life or death, from Him shall come the needed strength. Not like St. Peter, but, like St. Paul, you shall be—Ready, aye Ready.' But standing ready to obey surely does not mean conjuring up possibilities of commands which never may be given."

"No. You are right," repeated Mr. Wilmot, pausing before a small house. "I must go in here."

"Not done the day's work yet! It is very late. Can't you go home and rest?"

"I promised to look in for a minute. This is the last."

"Good-bye, then."

The two shook hands and parted, Mr. Rawdon going on alone in the darkness. A sigh escaped him, suppressed hitherto. "Poor fellow!" he murmured.



TEN days had gone by, and Mrs. Stuart had her foot up still on a chair, swathed in bandages. She was allowed to hop downstairs once a day, with Archie's aid, but not to stand yet.

Mrs. Stuart was by no means a patient invalid. It seemed to her very hard indeed that she of all people should be laid aside, very hard that she should have to suffer pain, very hard that she should be indebted to neighbours—above all, to the Dunns—for help. Other people, of course, had their troubles, and must expect to have them, as a matter of course, but why Mrs. Stuart should have them was quite another question. She could only count it "very hard." As for being patient and cheerful under her trial, who could be so unreasonable as to expect it of her!

Many a time Mrs. Stuart had heard in Church those familiar words—"Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." But it may very much be doubted how far Mrs. Stuart really listened to the reading of the Bible in Church; and it may be doubted still more how far she really understood what she heard. Her feeling towards God was in no sense the feeling of a child towards a Father. She had no love for Him, and she knew nothing of the deep Divine love which will rather send pain and sorrow than suffer the wilful child to wander on in courses of evil. Sometimes nothing less than great trouble will bring the wayward soul to Christ.

Mrs. Stuart saw nothing of this, however. The love of God was far away from her thoughts. She only considered herself a much injured woman; and she felt sure that nobody had ever had so much to bear as herself; while she was vexed with the Dunns for their persistent kindness, and yet more vexed with Archie for his growing friendship with them.

Undoubtedly Mrs. Stuart was greatly indebted to the Dunns. Mrs. Dunn had spent whole nights in the cottage, and had taken turns with Nancy to run in and out by day. Mrs. Dunn was looking quite fagged with all she had undertaken, and Mrs. Stuart ought to have been extremely grateful. But she was not grateful at all. She was only annoyed with herself and the Dunns and Archie and everybody—a most uncomfortable state of mind to be in.

Mrs. Mason, living opposite Woodbine Cottage, was usually a very convenient person in time of illness. Being a widow, with only one married daughter, and having consequently no home-ties; being, moreover, a motherly sort of body, with useful instincts, she liked to be called in to help where help might be needed.

The very day, however, before Mrs. Stuart's accident, Mrs. Mason was summoned to her married daughter by telegram. Had it not been for this, she would as a matter of course have shared with Mrs. Dunn the care of Mrs. Stuart.

After ten days, Mrs. Mason came home, leaving her daughter recovered from a sharp little illness; and then she was speedily made acquainted with events which had taken place during her absence. The next thing that happened was Mrs. Mason's appearance in Mrs. Stuart's kitchen, with a half-knitted stocking, a short time before tea.

"Now, you didn't expect to see me, did you?" she asked, in her round comfortable voice, which exactly suited her stout and motherly figure. "But I'm come. I told Mrs. Dunn I'd do it for her—get you your tea, I mean, and wash up. Dear! I never thought I should find you like this—that I didn't. There's never no knowing what'll happen next, and that's a fact. Well—I'll put your kettle on to boil, first thing. And so Mrs. Dunn's been looking after you all this while. Just like her! She's got enough to do at home, though, and I told her I'd come instead. But to think now of your stealing a march on me, like that! To think of it!"

Mrs. Stuart failed to understand Mrs. Mason's meaning, and she intimated the same in gloomy tones.

"What I mean! Why, I mean the Dunns, to be sure," said Mrs. Mason briskly. "The nicest family that's come to Littleburgh for a year past. And as soon as ever I'm out of the way, you've gone and stolen a march on me, and got as intimate with 'em! No, I didn't expect it of you, I did not, Mrs. Stuart!"

Mrs. Mason shook her head vigorously. But Mrs. Stuart was in no humour for joking, and she intimated that fact also in yet gloomier accents.

"A joke don't do nobody any harm," said Mrs. Mason, "provided it's harmless. There's jokes and jokes. There's a sort that's better avoided. But I'd sooner laugh than cry over a worry any day. You wouldn't be half such a skinny scarecrow of a woman, if you was to laugh oftener, and glower seldomer over your frets. That you wouldn't."

Mrs. Mason was too useful a woman to be quarrelled with for her plain-spokenness; but certainly, her remarks did not lessen Mrs. Stuart's moodiness.

"That Nancy Dunn is the best and prettiest girl ever I see!" remarked Mrs. Mason.

Mrs. Stuart grunted.

"Isn't she now?" asked Mrs. Mason.

"I've got nothing to say against her," declared Mrs. Stuart, with the air of one suppressing truths.

"Shouldn't think you had, nor anybody else neither. Don't Archie like her?" demanded Mrs. Mason, rising to get the teapot.

No answer to this.

"Well, if I was you, I'd encourage it in every way I could. That's what I'd do," said Mrs. Mason emphatically, rinsing out the teapot. "She's a pretty girl, and a good girl, and she'll make a good wife to somebody some day. That girl's had a training that it isn't many girls get now-a-days. She'll clean up a room in next to no time; and she's first-rate at washing and ironing; and she's a good cook in a plain way. Yes; Mrs. Dunn's a wise mother. She's trained up Nancy to follow in her footsteps. And that isn't all neither; for she's trained up Nannie to live for God, and to think of the world that's to come, and not only of just how to eat and drink and get along."

Mrs. Stuart found something to say at last. She opened her lips with a resolute, "I don't hold with being so mighty religious."

"No?" said Mrs. Mason. "How much religion do you hold with?"

"I'm not one as likes shams," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Nor me neither," responded Mrs. Mason. "But there's no sort of shamming about the Dunns. It's real honest hearty living to God, and trying to do His will. I can tell you, Mrs. Stuart, I've learnt a thing or two from them already, though it's so short a time they've been here; and I'm not ashamed to own it. And I hope I'll be the better for knowing them. And as for being 'mighty religious'—if fighting against wrong, and struggling to do right, and helping those that's in need, and serving God in every bit of daily life—if that's what you mean by 'mighty religious,' why, I wish there was a lot more of it in the world. I do, and that's a fact. For it would be a deal better sort of world."

"I don't like talk," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Nor me neither," assented Mrs. Mason again. "That's to say, I don't like talk that's not carried out in action. Folks must talk. It's natural to human nature. And folks 'll talk mostly of what comes nearest to 'em. There's some cares most for eating, and they'll talk of their eating. And there's some cares most for politics, and they'll talk of politics. And there's some cares most for their children, and they'll talk of their children. And, dear me, there's some cares only for themselves, and won't they talk a lot about themselves? But that's all natural. It's all human nature.

"And when a man cares for religion, and loves God from his heart—why, don't it stand to reason that he'll speak sometimes of the things he cares for most? That's not shamming, Mrs. Stuart. It's shamming if a man talks religion, and don't let it come into his daily life. And it's shamming when folks keep all their religion for Sunday, and make believe to pray to Him in Church, and then never think of Him at all from Monday morning till Saturday night. That's shamming, as much as you like. But as for talk—why, talk's natural—in moderation. And you'll never find Mrs. Dunn talk too much. No, never."

Perhaps the same could not be said of good-humoured voluble Mrs. Mason. She brought the teapot from the hob, and set it on the table.

"There—that's all right," she said, in a different tone, possibly feeling that she had said enough on one subject. "I've had my tea before coming, so I don't want any; but I'll stay to wash up. I've got my knitting. And by-and-by I'll come in again. So Archie's out with friends to-night? Well, he's a likely young fellow—sure to make friends. I hope they'll all be as good friends as the Dunns. And you've had Mr. Wilmot here, paying you visits? Kind sort of man, isn't he?—and as good! No sort of sham there neither! But he don't look as he should. What is come over him?"

Mrs. Stuart did not know that anything had.

"He's not himself," said Mrs. Mason. "Lost all his colour, and don't walk with half his spirit. He'd ought to take care of himself. Good people ain't too common in this world. It's my belief, he works a deal too hard. Yes—there's something wrong. I'm sure I don't know what."



MANY weeks had gone by, and Mrs. Stuart was pretty well recovered from her accident. She limped a little, it is true, and was unable to walk any distance; still, on the whole, she might be counted convalescent.

Archie had been a good son to her through those weeks. Nobody could question it. Even Mrs. Stuart did not deny the fact.

It may seem an odd thing to say, considering the mother's love for her boy, but, undoubtedly, Mrs. Stuart had not quite forgiven Archie for being in some sort the cause of her accident. If Archie had not left her all those hours alone, she would not have gone searching after him in the brick-fields. Mrs. Stuart was wont to dilate on this very self-evident truth; while she forgot to mention the equally self-evident truth that if she had not given way to ill-temper, Archie would not have left her. Archie had been to blame, no question as to that. But Mrs. Stuart herself could scarcely be reckoned blameless.

And Mrs. Stuart was not of a generous nature. When her foot was at its worst, she seemed to find a particular gratification in reminding Archie that it was "all his doing." A generous nature would have shrunk from allowing Archie to see how much she suffered, for fear he should blame himself too far.

Archie bore his mother's reproaches patiently—so patiently that Mrs. Dunn often wondered, looking on. For she knew the young fellow to be of a quick and hasty disposition; and she did not know yet how a strong new principle was taking root in Archie Stuart's heart, and beginning already to show in his life.

One result of Mrs. Stuart's accident was a great pleasure to Archie. His friendship with the Dunns was no longer a thing forbidden. Mrs. Stuart hardly could prevent it, after Susan Dunn's kind care of her. But she still did not care to see more of the Dunns than was necessary; and if Archie spoke of Nannie, Mrs. Stuart was sure to spend some sulky hours in consequence.

It was very difficult for him to abstain from speaking of Nancy; for by this time he thought of her more than of any other human being. Nancy's pretty face was before his mind's eye perpetually. When he looked forward to the future, it was always a future with Nancy Dunn—not always as Nancy Dunn. But he had not spoken out to anybody yet of his wish. He wanted his mother to learn to like Nancy first.

"Why don't you come to see my mother oftener?" he asked one day, and Nancy answered frankly—

"I don't think she cares to have me come. She always seems so busy."

This was true, and Archie could not deny it. The thought troubled him much, but he tried to wait quietly. Meanwhile he was very often in and out at Woodbine Cottage; and the more he saw of the Dunns, the more thoroughly he respected and wished to be like them.

For there was nothing half-hearted, nothing inconsistent, about these Dunns. They were not great talkers, but neither did they hide their religion. In Richard Dunn's life, the leading aim was to serve that dear Lord and Master who had died for him on the Cross, and this aim was followed out with steady persistence. If need arose, he could speak of his heart's desire; if required to do aught which he believed to be contrary to God's will, he could refuse quietly, and without bluster. Lesser aims were included in the one great aim. He was a steady workman; he sought to keep his wife and children in comfort; he loved to have a tasteful and well-furnished little house. These things were right. It was well that he should be the better workman, because he served first a Heavenly Master; and it was well that while striving to do God's will, he should seek to please his wife, and make his children happy.

Things were much the same with Susan Dunn and with Nancy. Setting first before them the desire to please in all things a Heavenly Master and Friend, they did, as a matter of course, their best in all things.

But there was nothing sombre, nothing gloomy, in the atmosphere of Woodbine Cottage. How should there be? Richard Dunn was a man of cheerful spirit. You need not suppose for a moment that he or his family were the less cheerful because of their religion. Why, how should they be? Real religion—the religion of Christ—is rest, and joy, and safety now, and the looking forward to a glorious by-and-by. That doesn't make people gloomy. No doubt a great many true servants of God are gloomy, but they find their gloom in themselves, not in their religion, if it is indeed according to the teaching of Christ.

You would not have heard merrier children's voices anywhere in the neighbourhood than in Woodbine Cottage, or a sweeter laugh than Nancy's; nor would you have seen a sunnier face than Susan's, or a busier and happier life than Richard Dunn's. He was always at work upon something, even in leisure hours; reading a book, or doing a bit of carpentering, or tending his plants, or having a game with his little ones. There was no time in his life for idle lounging, any more than there was in Susan's or Nancy's for gossiping.

Some people may count it odd to talk of a man being "at work" when he reads a book or plays with his children. But there are many different kinds of work. Reading may be very hard work indeed—not of course just looking at a shallow article in a paper, or glancing through a worthless novel, but real steady mastering of facts worth knowing in a volume of history or science. And though playing with a child is not hard work, yet it may really be in one sense work for God, if the father is lovingly trying to win his little one's heart in every possible way, and to please God in so doing.

Archie Stuart being much in and out of Woodbine Cottage, noticed all these items of the way in which his friends lived and acted, and gradually, he seemed to catch something of the same spirit. He began to feel that for a man to live only to himself is not grand; that to please one's self always is very easy, but not beautiful. He saw slowly, more and more, how grand and beautiful, aye, and how manly a thing it is, to be permitted to fight on God's side in the mighty world-wide battle between good and evil.

No namby-pamby matter this, as Archie soon discovered. For with all his young vigour and his strong will, he found soon how little he could do, how strong were the powers of evil; and then it was that his friends could speak to him of One "mighty to save," in whose great strength Archie should, if he willed, be "more than conqueror." And then, Archie learned to pray.

That was how Archie grew more kind and patient during the weeks of his mother's illness. He did not think it himself. He had never found self-restraint harder, or the temptation to sharp self-defence more keen. But others looking on saw the difference in him already.

This learning to pray is a great step in anybody's life. Archie no longer went to Church merely as a dull duty, to listen to words which had as yet no meaning for him, because his eyes were not open to their meaning. He went now to ask God, in common with others, for things which he and they needed, to offer thanks for things already given. Both in Church, and in his own little room, he had begun to draw nearer to the footstool of Christ the King, to know Him as the Crucified, to trust Him as the Saviour, to be taught of His Spirit, to bow before Him as Lord.

For all this Archie lost no whit of his growing manliness. Was it likely? Does any one lose in force or manliness through daily intercourse with a mind infinitely greater and wiser than his own? Besides, what is more manly than self-control, than conquests over one's evil tempers, than a spirit of kindness and generosity to those weaker than one's self? Archie was growing in these things more manly, not less manly, day by day, and many remarked that it was so. The Dunns saw it especially.



THINGS were widely different, next door to the Dunns, from what Archie had found in Woodbine Cottage. It is astonishing what a change comes over the scene, if one just passes from one little cottage home into a second, the two being separated by only a slender wall.

There was not too much religion in the Gardiner household by any means, neither was there too much of happy children's laughter, or too much wifely affection, or too much manliness in the head of the household.

John Gardiner had probably no intention of being unmanly. Probably, also, he was what people call "a well-meaning man," that is, he meant to do well, so long as doing well didn't happen to cross his own inclinations. He was a man of very strong principle too, after a fashion, his one leading principle being always, and on all occasions, to do exactly what he chose, without consulting the inclinations or wishes of anybody else.

In the workshop, this principle had of course to be in a measure subordinate to the will of his employers. But at home it had full swing.

John Gardiner at home counted himself absolute master, and he insisted on being so too. A wife was, in his estimation, a useful sort of creature, fit to scour and wash and cook, fit also to be the victim of harsh words when he pleased to bestow them. If words failed to bring submission, he would not object to try the effect of a blow. After which, no one could rightly speak of John Gardiner as a "manly Englishman," much as he might desire the term. For a man who can stoop to strike a woman has forfeited utterly all claim to "manliness."

But of course Gardiner did not see this. A coward nature seldom knows its own cowardice. A bully is always a coward; and there was a good deal of the bully in Gardiner's nature.

His children shrank away from him habitually, with a mixture of dread and cunning. Not that they saw much of their father. He allowed his wife a certain amount out of his wages for household expenses—expecting a goodly amount of the same to be spent upon food for himself—and he came home to eat and to sleep. That was about all.

His evenings were spent elsewhere, always. If his wife knew where he went, it was by accident, since he rarely condescended to tell her. Perhaps it is not too much to say that neither his wife nor his children craved more of Gardiner's presence in the little home.

If Betsy Gardiner knew little of her husband's doings, he was not much better acquainted with those of his wife and children. The eldest girl, Bess, was at sixteen practically independent. She chose her own friends, followed her own devices, and was at once blamed and sheltered by the weak and hasty yet indulgent mother. Betsy Gardiner might slap her children roughly, under sudden provocation; but to see them feel the weight of their father's heavy hand was another matter. She shrank from that; and she shrank from what might drive the elder girl permanently from home.

The state of things could hardly be wondered at. John Gardiner was a man who lived distinctly and solely for himself. He expected everybody and everything in the household to bend to his pleasure. He gave no love and he received none. The example of abject self-pleasing—for such slavery to self is abject and contemptible—was naturally followed by his children. How should it not be? There were no softening influences; none of an opposite kind. The spirit of the household was a reflection of the father's spirit—how in every way to please and indulge self, coupled in the case of the children with a constant effort to shirk blame at any cost.

The Gardiners and the Dunns were not disposed to be intimate. Naturally two families of such different minds and views did not suit. Had the Gardiners been in trouble, Susan Dunn would have been ready at once to help them. But she did not care for the friendship of Mrs. Gardiner for herself, or of Bess for Nancy, or of the quarrelsome shrieking children for her own Dick and Susie.

Two girls could scarcely have been found in the place more unlike than Nancy Dunn and Bess Gardiner: Nancy, with her sweet blue eyes, and pretty smile, and modest dress, and gentle manner; and Bess, with her rough bearing, her coarse laugh, her conspicuous fringe, her gaudy dress. They were girls utterly unsuited to one another. Their bringing-up had been different, their tastes were different, their pursuits were different, their rules of action were different.

Yet these two girls were alike in one thing, and that was in the possession of a naturally warm heart.

Only, with Nannie the warmth had been fostered, the tenderness had been cherished, till it was as natural to her to give out love as for a sunbeam to give out warmth. Bess, on the other hand, had been checked and snubbed, fretted, neglected, and scolded, till she had grown-up seemingly hard, and ready to fight the whole world, with all her natural warmth hidden away beneath a tough outside crust.

The warmth was there still, however. It only needed to be set free. And nobody would have guessed that gentle Nancy Dunn would be the one to win her way in through this crust. Yet so it was.

At first when the Dunns came, Bess laughed at them, and said scornful words about Nancy's "prim ways." But whenever the two girls met, Nanny always had a little smile, and a kind passing word for Bess. And gradually Bess ceased to sneer. The winning manner and the soft straightforward eyes were unconsciously gaining possession of poor Bess Gardiner's frozen-up heart.

Nancy did not know it. She guessed nothing of it yet. She only thought it rather odd that she should so often lately have met Bess. Somehow Bess seemed to be always coming across her path. Bess would say nothing when they met. She only hung about sheepishly till she had had a word of greeting, and then rushed away. And Nancy never gave more than the passing word; for she knew that Bess' companionship would not be liked by her mother. Nannie did not know how Bess craved for more, how Bess watched for her coming, and feasted on the passing word, and would have run a mile for a second word. If any one had suggested such a state of things, Nancy would have laughed and thought the idea absurd.

Yet things had actually come to this pass, one August evening, when Nancy Dunn had been to speak to Miss Wilmot at the Rectory, and was walking home—things had come to such a pass that poor rough-mannered Bess might almost be said to worship the ground on which Nancy Dunn walked.

The evening was a lovely one, and Nancy was tempted to stroll a short distance round on her way home. She chose a quiet lane, with a hedge on either side, more country-like than most of the roads round Littleburgh. And halfway through this lane, she found Bess Gardiner standing alone doing nothing, only watching her approach.



"GOOD evening," Nancy said pleasantly, as she reached Bess, and was about to pass her.

But Bess, with a sudden movement, placed herself in front of Nancy.

"You don't never say one word more!" she burst out. "And I wish you would."

Nancy looked at her in surprise. "Why—what do you want me to say?" she asked. "I don't understand."

Bess hung her head and was silent. She had spoken under a momentary impulse, and now shyness seized upon her. Rough-mannered Bess was by no means wont to suffer from shyness, and the sensation came as a novelty.

"I'd like to walk along the lane with you," she muttered at length.

Nancy was perplexed, knowing well that her mother would strongly disapprove of any intercourse beyond the exchange of bare civilities between Bess and herself. She stood still, thinking.

"I ain't good enough for you. But I'd like a talk with you sometimes. Don't see why I shouldn't. Might make me better, you know," continued Bess awkwardly.

"I should like to help anybody," Nancy said, speaking slowly. "Anybody that wants help. I should like to help you—if I could," and she hesitated, "but—"

"But you don't choose to be seen walking along of me," cried Bess, in loud tones.

"It isn't choosing—indeed it is not," said Nancy, distressed at the other's look. "Bess, please believe me. It is only—I always tell mother first—and then—"

But Bess flung herself away, and rushed off, hurt and angry. Nancy felt sorrowful, fearing that she might have acted unwisely, and done harm.

When, however, she reached the end of the lane, and turned into a broader road, there stood Bess.

"I say," the strange girl burst out, "you aren't angered?"

"No," Nancy answered, with a little smile; "I'm only sorry."

"I say," repeated the other, "d'you mean to say you do just as your mother tells you?"

"I hope so," Nancy said gravely. "Why, Bess, doesn't the Bible tell us to obey our parents? And she's such a dear good mother, I couldn't bear to make her unhappy."

"Oh, well; mine's a different sort from that," said Bess.

"But if she is—if she were—that wouldn't make any difference about what's right for you," urged Nancy.

"Oh, I think it does! I've had pretty near enough of my home," said Bess recklessly. "I'll go and live with somebody else."

"O no, Bess, you won't," said Nancy seriously.

"But I mean to," responded Bess. "So there! I did think I'd have a talk with you—and you won't."

Nancy's eyes looked into those of Bess.

"Don't be vexed," the gentle girl urged. "I'll have a talk with mother, and she'll let me see you, I'm sure."

"She don't like girls as wears hair like mine. I know," said Bess, with a careless shake of the unkempt mass which descended low on her freckled forehead. "I've seen her look me over. I know."

"Mother doesn't think that sort of thing respectable for girls in our position, Bess," said Nancy quietly.

"Nor you don't neither," said Bess.

"No," said Nancy.

Bess shoved back the loose mass, stared at Nancy and suddenly burst into tears.

"I'd be respectable if I could," she sobbed. "Nobody's never taught me; and I don't know how. I'd learn from you, that I would—and you won't help me! I'd best give up, that's what I'd best do! I'll give up, and I'll never speak one word to you again, that I won't."

But Nancy's hand was on Bess' arm, detaining her, when she would have rushed away.

"No, Bess," Nancy said, "you won't give up. You'll try harder. And you'll come home with me now and see mother, and she'll tell you what to do."

"Come home! With you!" gasped Bess.

"Yes; come straight home with me now."

Bess said not another word. She gave herself up to Nancy's guidance, and followed her meekly into Woodbine Cottage. The two girls hardly spoke by the way; and indeed the distance was very short.

Susan Dunn happened to be alone indoors, her husband having taken out the two children for a short walk. Susan was busy over some mending. She looked up with a smile on Nancy's entrance, but the smile passed into an expression of doubtful welcome, as her eyes fell on Nancy's companion.

"Mother, I've brought Bess Gardiner to you," said Nancy simply. "She isn't happy at home, and she wants some one to help her to be better. And I didn't know what you'd like me to do, so I've brought her to you. I knew you'd be glad."

Was Susan glad? With all her kind-heartedness, she had very particular notions about proper acquaintances for herself and her children, more especially for Nancy. And she had taken such pains to avoid any kind of intimacy with those Gardiners. For a moment Susan really did feel quite provoked, and the only answer she made to Nancy's appeal was a slow, "Well—sit down."

Bess stood doggedly upright.

"I told you so!" she muttered to Nancy. "And I'm not a-going to stay where I'm not wanted."

"Mother, Bess isn't happy, and she wants help," pleaded Nancy.

"Not likely to be happy with their sort of way of going on," said Susan. "But if there's anything I can do—Sit down," she repeated.

No, Bess declined to obey. She came a step forward, with glowering eyes.

"It wasn't my wish to come," she declared. "I'm not one of them who'll go where they're not wanted. And she'd ought to have known better than to bring me. I don't say I'm fit company for her, neither. Only, she's always got a kind word for me—and I did think—maybe—but it don't matter! I'll go my own way, and I'll never trouble nobody again—never! It don't matter. Folks are born to be miserable, I suppose. And there's nobody to care. It don't matter. So, good-bye."

"O mother!" cried Nancy in distress, tears filling her eyes, as Bess turned away.

But it was not Nancy's cry which made Susan Dunn stand up and move swiftly between Bess and the door, with a face which had softened all at once into motherly pity. Another thought had come to Susan—the thought of One who did care, who cared so much for poor rough Bess as to have given up His life for her on Calvary. How would it be in His eyes, if Susan let this poor untaught girl wander away without the help which she craved?

"Good-bye; I'm going," repeated Bess hoarsely. "Let me go."

"No, my dear. You're not going yet," said Susan, in resolute tones. "Nannie's right to bring you in. You're not going yet. You just take your shawl off your head, and sit down and tell me what's the matter. And you needn't say again that nobody cares. Come, child, sit down!"

That conquered Bess. She took the seat indicated and laying her head on the table, broke into heavy sobs.

"Come, now—come!" repeated Susan. "Don't you be so upset. Tell me what's wrong, and we'll see if I can't help you put things right." Then, with a sudden thought, "Is it anything my Nannie shouldn't hear? I'll send her away, if it is. She don't know the bad ways of some of you girls; and I don't choose she should, as long as I can keep her from it."

Bess choked down her sobs, and sat up with heaving chest.

"I wouldn't tell her neither," she said earnestly. "I'm not so bad as that. She ain't like us; and I wouldn't be the one to make her like my sort. I'd sooner learn to be like her—if I could."

"And of course you can," said Susan encouragingly. "I'd begin this minute, if I was you."

"Begin to be like Nancy! This minute!" Bess said, in a wondering tone, as if the idea were a new one.

"To be sure I would," said Susan.

Whatever Susan Dunn did or did not mean in a practical sense, Bess evidently had some distinct notions on the subject, for she sat more upright, gazed hard at Nancy, then walked to a small looking-glass hung over the mantel-shelf and surveyed herself. Susan and Nancy said nothing for a few seconds. On the dresser stood a basin full of water, and Bess' next move was to plunge her rough unshawled head into this water. It came out dripping; and she parted the flattened thick mass with her fingers, pushing it back on either side.

"How they'll jeer!" she burst out then.

"Who will?" asked Susan.

"They! When I'm seen like this."

"The girls that you've made your friends? But you'll have to leave them, and choose a better sort of friends," said Susan.

Bess walked back to her vacated seat.

"Won't you mind Nancy being seen along of me now?" she demanded.

Susan was rather perplexed. Certain other changes would be needed beside the possession of a neat head, if Bess Gardiner was to be counted a fit companion for Nancy Dunn; yet she could not bear to check the poor ignorant girl in her first effort to take a right turn.

"What makes you want that so much?" she inquired.

"Because—" Bess' voice suddenly faltered. "Because there ain't nobody like her—and I—I—I'd do anything in all the world that ever I could for her—I would!"

Mother and daughter exchanged looks, tears in Nancy's eyes, and something very like tears in Susan's.

"If Nannie's to be the one who can help you to what's right, I'm not the woman to hinder," she said, with a touch of huskiness. "Seems to me it may be God's will for you both. But look here, Bess. You've got to make your choice. You can't do both, you know. If you want to be in and out here, and to learn from my Nannie, you'll have to leave your bad companions, and drop your old ways. There's to be no bad words spoken, and no taking of God's Holy Name in vain, and no saying of things which a pure-minded girl shouldn't hear. And you'll have to stop going about in that sort of dress I saw you in last Sunday. I wouldn't have my Nannie seen in the street with a girl dressed like that—no, not for anything you could mention. I'm not speaking unkindly; but I do mean what I say. You've had your old friends, and you've gone on in their ways. If Nannie's to be your friend now, you'll have to take to new ways."

Bess's low brow was frowning anxiously.

"I'd do anything," she said; "anything you'll tell me. And I mean it. I told mother I'd go right off and board with them Joneses, because father did storm at me so. And I won't now."

"No," Susan said, in decisive tones. "It's the Joneses or Nancy. Not both."

Bess shook her head.

"Couldn't be both," she assented. "But my! Won't they be at me!"

"It won't be an easy time for you," said Susan gravely, "It never is, when a girl tries to leave evil and turn to good. And mind, Bess, it isn't only just a leaving off of one thing or another that you've got to think of. That's not enough. You'll have to be whole and thorough—give yourself up to serve God, and do His will. For if you haven't His Power to keep you straight, nothing else 'll be of much use."

"Parson said so too," Bess remarked briefly. "He stopped me one day, and I jeered, and he had his say out and never minded. I've thought of it a many times since."

"What did he tell you, Bess?" asked Nancy.

Bess was in difficulties. She evidently retained no clear recollection of the words spoken. Yet, as evidently, a distinct impression had been made. By dint of questioning, Susan came a vague remembrance of "something about God caring."

"And he said I just hadn't ought to go on a-troubling of Him with my bad ways," added Bess. "Him as was nailed up on the Cross. I didn't know nothing about it troubling Him before. And I thought—maybe—Nancy 'ud tell me what to do."



"THERE's something wrong with Mr. Wilmot!" Other people, besides Mrs. Mason, were saying this as the summer went on.

Annie was slower to perceive the alteration in him than were many. For one thing, he did his best to keep up in her presence, fearing to awake his darling's anxiety. For another, she was young still, and had seen little of illness. Moreover, she was extremely busy in the Parish, and was by no means given to conjuring up troubles.

Conjuring was, however, in this matter no longer needed, for a very real trouble lay already to hand.

The change in Mr. Wilmot had become patent to all who knew him. A laboured and languid gait replaced the old brisk walk; a fixed perpetual pallor replaced the old healthy sunburn. If he had to ascend a little slope, he stood still often to pant for breath. The exertion of preaching would bring visible drops of moisture to his brow; and not seldom the once clear and ringing tones were inaudible to half his congregation.

Yet with this appearance of weakness, there existed an unusual brightness, and this it was chiefly which helped to blind Annie's eyes.

For a while, in the earlier part of the summer, she and many others had thought him unwontedly grave and depressed. The gravity and depression were gone now, utterly. Never had his eyes shone with so calm a light, never had his smile been so full of sunshine. There were some who noted in his look and bearing a strange unearthliness—noted it with mingled awe and fear. Yet they could not have told wherein it consisted; for even while they noted it, and thought him worn and altered, his laugh would break out in all its old gaiety, as he paused to speak to some little child. And how the children loved him!

Annie's eyes remained long strangely shut. She thought him tired unusually often, but the hot summer seemed to account for this. By-and-by, he would take his autumn holiday, and that would set all right.

But there came a day of awakening—sudden and unexpected.

She had had her Bible class as usual one Sunday afternoon, with the half-dozen girls who regularly came to the Rectory for that purpose. It was a very interesting hour commonly to them all; not least so to Nancy Dunn, who by this time loved Miss Wilmot dearly. This day's lesson proved certainly not less interesting than usual.

Annie had chosen the subject of trouble, and of how to bear trouble. She had talked it over with her father beforehand, and she had much to say about the bright side of trouble, the often good effects of it, and the spirit in which it should be borne.

"I dare say some of you remember that sermon of my father's about being always ready," Annie said, in the course of the class.

Nancy smiled a response.

"Perhaps we haven't any of us just now any great troubles to bear—only just little every-day ones. But the great troubles may come at any time; and when they do, we ought to be ready. I suppose there is only one way of being really ready, and that is,—" Annie went on reverently—"that is, living always very close to Jesus. For if we are fighting close to His side, and under His banner, then whatever He orders we shall be ready to do—or whatever He gives us we shall be ready to take.

"I don't mean," she added, after a pause, "that one wouldn't feel trouble. My father says that is a mistake. When God sends trouble, He means it to be trouble. And He means it to bring us near to Him, that He may comfort us. I don't suppose He can comfort us till we are 'ready' to have whatever He sends. Some don't learn to be ready till after the trouble comes. But I should like to learn beforehand—shouldn't you? I should like to be able, when it comes, to look straight up, and say, 'Thy will, not mine, be done.' That's what the Lord Jesus could do, even in the midst of His great terrible struggle in Gethsemane. He could say, 'Not My will, but Thine.' For all the while He was ready—truly ready. He could always say from His heart, 'Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God!' And that is what we have to learn to say."

It seemed strange afterwards to Annie herself, as well as to those who listened, that she should have spoken just on that particular day in this particular manner.

The class ended, Annie put away her Bible, set the chairs straight, and went out into the garden, singing softly. She believed her father to be at the school, where he usually went every Sunday afternoon. A favourite Homer rose bush near the garden-gate drew Annie's attention. She thought she would gather a few buds, and put them on father's study table, to refresh his eyes when he returned. He had not seemed at all well that morning; and Annie had almost made up her mind to ask Mr. Rawdon privately some day soon whether Mr. Wilmot ought not to take a tonic.

Six pretty pinkish half-open blossoms were in hand, when a movement near made her look up. "Good afternoon," she said, smiling at the sight of Archie Stuart. Mrs. Stuart's cottage was in Annie's district, and Annie knew the mother and son well.

"How is Mrs. Stuart?" she asked, as Archie seemed to hesitate outside the gate.

Archie's mother was "pretty well," he said.

"Her foot quite recovered?" Annie asked, plucking another rose bud. "Do you think she would like two or three of these? Come in, and I'll give them to you."

Archie was much pleased. He stepped inside, letting the gate swing to.

"There!" Annie said, handing him a small bunch. "Tell Mrs. Stuart I am coming very soon to see her again." Then, with another smile, Annie inquired, "Has she begun to like Nancy Dunn yet?"

Archie's face fell. "No, Miss," he said. "Not as anybody could help liking Nancy—"

"No, indeed!" put in Annie.

"But she won't hear one word of me and Nancy having things settled between us," pursued Archie.

"Then you have to be patient a little longer," said Annie. Between confidences from Archie, from Mrs. Stuart, and from Nancy, she knew pretty well all about the matter. "Nobody is the worse for a little waiting, and I think you are pretty sure about Nancy—are you not?"

"Well, I did speak to her, Miss Wilmot, and to Mrs. Dunn too," admitted Archie. "For I didn't seem as if I was able to keep in any longer. And my mother she was in a great taking. But Mrs. Dunn said, and Nancy said too, that it wasn't to be anything settled until mother was willing. And it does seem as if she never was going to be willing."

"You have waited a very short time yet, and you and Nancy are both young," said Annie. "I think you must have patience still; and your mother has been a good mother, hasn't she? I always notice how very fond she is of you. I am sure you must want to be a very good son to her."

"Well, yes—that I do, Miss," assented Archie, though perhaps not so heartily as Annie wished, for his head was full of Nancy. Then he inquired: "Is Mr. Wilmot better, please? Mother said I was to be sure and ask. She does set store by Mr. Wilmot, and no mistake, and it's worried her to see him so ill lately."

"My father! Why, he has not been ill," said Annie in surprise. "He seemed tired this morning."

Archie looked at Annie somewhat strangely. He had heard many remarks lately on the Rectors altered look.

"I am expecting him home from Sunday school directly," pursued Annie. "So I must go indoors now and be ready for him. Good-bye. I do hope your mother will soon give way about Nancy. But you have to be patient, haven't you, till then?"

Annie went back into the house, wondering uneasily what could have made Archie speak so of her father. She would certainly got hold of Mr. Rawdon as soon as possible, and beg him to see after Mr. Wilmot.

The study door was shut; but Annie, believing her father to be out, went straight in, meaning to put the rose buds on his study table. Her light and quick approach was unheralded. The door gave no warning creak; and Annie had a noiseless manner of turning handles.

The room proved to be tenanted. Mr. Wilmot lay on the sofa, and beside him sat Mr. Rawdon, bending somewhat forward, and speaking in distinct tones—

"As for your fear of hydrophobia—"

These words struck upon Annie's ears; and no trumpet-clang could have rung out with more startling clearness.

In a moment, the two were aware of her presence, and Mr. Rawdon stopped short.



"WHY, Annie, my child!" the Rector said, raising himself on one elbow, and greeting her with a smile, in which some veiled anxiety might have been detected. "We did not hear you coming. Are those roses for me? How has the class gone to-day?"

Annie could not answer him. She hardly knew what it was that restrained her to some appearance of calm. That terrible word "Hydrophobia" seemed to be ringing still through the room, and with it an awful dread had rushed in upon her. Yet she only stood motionless, holding the back of a chair with one hand and clutching the rose buds fast in the other.

"I did not go to the school this afternoon," pursued Mr. Wilmot. "The truth is, I was not feeling quite—well, not quite as I should; so I took an hour's rest instead."

Annie seemed to hear herself speaking in a hollow distant tone—"And you sent for Mr. Rawdon?"

"No, I came without being sent for," said Mr. Rawdon. He uttered the words in a deliberate repressive manner, as if to impress upon Annie a need for caution. "I was not satisfied with your father's look in Church this morning."

Then a pause. Annie remained perfectly still, her eyes fixed on vacancy. All colour had fled from her face. The two gentlemen exchanged meaning glances.

"Come, my child—sit down here, and tell me about your class," said Mr. Wilmot.

He made a little space on the sofa, and Annie went to it mechanically, but not to talk. In another moment, she had buried her face on his shoulder, and was clinging to him in a passionate wordless agony.

For two or three minutes there was silence, which nobody liked to break. The brisk ticking of the clock sounded clearly; but to Annie that sound was lost in the rapid fluctuating throb of something nearer at hand, something fast yet broken. She could not see her father's face, but Mr. Rawdon could, and his hand took firm hold of Annie's arm.

"Miss Wilmot! Stop this, please. You must get up."

There was a sound of warning in the tone. Annie obeyed, still as one in a maze. It seemed to her that the whole world was suddenly changed with this new fearful dread. Then she saw her father's ghastly look, and she knew that something must be very wrong. He could not speak—could not breathe. Mr. Rawdon had moved away to the table, to pour out some liquid into a small glass, and now he was administering it, holding up Mr. Wilmot. The breathless struggle lessened slowly; and then a fresh fear came over Annie. Had she done him harm? With that thought she was herself again.

"It is going off now—not much this time, I hope," Mr. Rawdon said cheerfully. "Keep still, Wilmot. Don't try to talk yet. Miss Wilmot and I will arrange about the evening."

Annie could only look at the doctor imploringly, and Mr. Wilmot's hand drew her back to her former position—except that she sat upright, not leaning against him.

"Now," Mr. Rawdon said, with a glance at Annie and a movement as if to leave the room. But Annie could not stir. The restraining arm around her might be weak, yet it held her fast. Mr. Rawdon had taken one step towards the door, and he paused hesitatingly.

"The fact is, Wilmot, any kind of agitation is bad for you, in the present state of your heart," he said. "Miss Wilmot and I are used to each other. Better let us have our little talk in another room."

"No," said Mr. Wilmot gently. "Here, please. It will distress me less. Annie must be good and calm."

Mr. Rawdon took a chair, by no means with the air of a man convinced.

Then another pause. Mr. Wilmot's eyes were on his child lovingly; and Annie could be seen to draw one or two deep breaths, as if mastering herself with difficulty.

"Yes," she said at length. "Please tell me."

"I will see some one, and arrange for the service this evening." Mr. Rawdon spoke deliberately. "I have already warned your father that he must consent to do less work.

"I am ready," Mr. Wilmot said, in a quiet voice.

"The fact is, Miss Wilmot—the fact is, your father has had lately a severe return of certain troublesome heart symptoms, from which he suffered a good deal about two years ago. You will probably remember."

"Yes—I remember," Annie found herself saying. "He had to take a long holiday—and—But—but that is not—not—"

"It is essential that he should greatly lessen work now. I tell you both honestly, I don't like these attacks; and this is the third, I believe, within a fortnight."

Annie looked bewildered, even while scarcely taking in the full sense of his words. She could only feel that something more terrible lay behind, something not yet touched upon. But for her father's sake, she dared not ask questions, till she should see Mr. Rawdon alone.

Doubtless, Mr. Rawdon too purposed putting off until then the needful telling. Mr. Wilmot was of a different mind.

"Annie, my child, did you happen to hear what Mr. Rawdon and I were talking about when you came in?"

"Yes, father," she whispered.

"That comes of stealing in upon folks without warning," said Mr. Rawdon.

"What did you hear?" Mr. Wilmot asked.

Annie hid her face in her hands.

"Wilmot, I don't like this for you," the doctor said.

"I must risk it. What did you hear, my darling?"

She lifted her face, and said in a voice quiet as his own:

"Father, Mr. Rawdon will tell me, please—not you." She grew paler: turning to the doctor—"Was father—? Did the dog—?"

"No, not bitten; but he had a touch from the creature's tooth. A mere scratch," said Mr. Rawdon. "Of course the slightest scratch should be avoided. He came to me, however, at once, and I burnt the place out—burnt deeply. I believe he managed to conceal from you that anything was the matter with his wrist."

"Wrist!" Annie repeated the word, and Mr. Wilmot drew up his sleeve.

"That is the scar of the burn," said Mr. Rawdon. "The scratch itself was a mere nothing. The wound healed slowly but thoroughly, as you may see. My own belief is that the remedy was prompt and complete enough to ensure safety."

But Annie knew that these words did not imply certainty. She sat silent once more, hardly thinking, but rather weighed down by a dull pressure of misery.

"And I was never told!" she murmured at length.

"There was no need," said Mr. Rawdon. "The less said and thought about the matter, the better. Now I must be off, Wilmot, to arrange for your evening's work being done by somebody else. You may leave that in my hands. Keep very quiet, and don't exert yourself. I shall see you early to-morrow."

He said good-bye to Mr. Wilmot, but not to Annie, and turned away. Annie knew that she was to accompany him out of the room, and she stood up, her father's arm relaxing to set her free.

He said only, "Come back to me, Annie."



"NOW, remember," said Mr. Rawdon authoritatively, having stepped with Annie into the drawing-room, where he stood pulling on his gloves—"remember, Miss Wilmot, the less you dwell on that thought, and the less you allow your father to dwell on it, the better for him."

"But how can I help—?" sobbed the poor girl, for the moment entirely overcome.

"You must help it. Self-control in this matter is essential for your father's sake. It is not merely a question of talking. He reads every turn of your face, and if he sees you unlike yourself, sad and unhappy, you will act as a perpetual reminder of that which he ought to forget as much as possible."

"I will try hard—indeed I will," said Annie brokenly. "But if—if—"

"No; you are not to indulge in that 'if.' Understand me, Miss Wilmot. Your father is not suffering in the remotest degree from any premonitory symptoms of hydrophobia."

"You are quite—quite sure?"

"Perfectly sure. There is not a sign of anything of the kind about him. Some weeks ago I confess I did feel anxious for a time. He was under great depression, and living in a constant expectation of ill results. You must have remarked his depression. That has all passed off now. I cannot say he has entirely lost the expectation—perhaps I should rather say the distinct sense of what might come. But it is not depression, and it is not fear. I was wrong to use that word. He faces the matter in a wonderfully manly and Christian spirit. I wish he could banish the subject from his mind; but no doubt the present state of his health acts upon him, and lessens the power of self-restraint."

"His heart?" Annie strove to say.

"Yes—the mischief is there." Mr. Rawdon spoke in a grave tone. "I was not satisfied two years ago—but he seemed so far to rally from the weakness, that one had almost ceased to recall it. No doubt there has been mischief long brewing, which must sooner or later have declared itself. The strain and agitation of this summer have only hastened matters."

"But he will be better—he will get stronger by-and-by," said Annie imploringly. "When this dreadful year is over, and we are sure—"

"Yes, I hope so." Mr. Rawdon's voice was still more grave. "We must check his doing too much."

"If he were to get away for change? Could he not take his holiday sooner?"

"That has been discussed already. It is a difficult question," Mr. Rawdon said thoughtfully. "The fact is, I don't like his going far with only you—and he seems scarcely in a state for much travelling. If change could mean full occupation of mind—but too much leisure for thought is not at all desirable. Perhaps a moderate amount of work is better at present. But we shall see. You must try, for his sake, to take a cheerful view of things, and do your best to keep up his spirits. Good-bye now. I will look in to-morrow. But mind, he is not to count himself a regular invalid."

"No," said Annie.

She found it hard to respond, hard to lift her eyes—the trouble which had come upon her seemed so very terrible. She dreaded going to the study to meet her father's look. When Mr. Rawdon was gone, she turned mechanically into the dining-room, and stood there in an attitude of hopeless despondency.

Only half-an-hour or so earlier she had sat just here, a light-hearted girl still, speaking to other light-hearted girls of troubles that might one day come, and how they should be borne. What had she known then of trouble?

Yet her words had been true, and she knew it. But she could not feel or see their truth now. She could only bow her head beneath the blow.

"I was dumb, I opened not my mouth: because Thou didst it."

But she could not reach beyond "dumbness." She could not look up and say, "It is well."

After all, was there any need—as yet? The blow had only just fallen: and He who sent it knew its weight, knew her weakness. Annie had only just entered the School of Sorrow, and He who called her into it could pity her faltering steps with all a mother's tenderness.

She had to go back to her father. That recollection came soon, and Annie yielded to its call. Leaving the dining-room, where she had stood alone with clasped hands and drooping head, she crept thither.

And she had to look bright, to seem cheerful, to wear a face of calm unconsciousness! How could she, with this weight upon her heart?

"I have been looking for you," her father said. "Come here, my child."

Annie did as he told her. She knelt down beside the couch, and laid her face against him.

"That is the right attitude for both of us, isn't it?" said Mr. Wilmot softly.

"Father—" Annie tried to say, hardly knowing what she meant to utter. But the broken word was taken up in quiet accents—

"Father, Thy will, not ours, be done."

Annie shivered; and he spoke again—

"'The King's servants said unto the King, "Behold, Thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my Lord the King shall appoint."'"

Another little break.

"It is not for us to choose, nor for us to resist. He has His own mighty and loving purposes. We have but to be ready—ready to do—ready to bear—'whatsoever' Christ our King may appoint."

"But we may pray—pray—" she sobbed.

"Yes, pray and plead as earnestly as you will; only in the spirit always of Christ's prayer—'Thy will—not mine.'"

"O father, I can't say that, and I thought it would be so easy if trouble came—only not this trouble."

"Poor little Annie! My poor child! Yes, it is always so with us, 'only not this!' But He understands and pities. No pity was ever like His pity. He will teach you in His own good time. He knows how, for He has gone through all the worst of it Himself—worse agony than any of us can ever have to bear. And it is enough meanwhile to sit at His feet, to hear His voice. No more blessed position than that! He is so merciful. He doesn't hurry us, like man, in the lesson learning."

Mr. Wilmot spoke slowly, in brief sentences. "No, I am not hurting myself. But I can speak from experience, Annie. I have learnt much this summer—much of His exceeding gentleness. Where He lays His hand most heavily, He brings the sweetest balm."

"If only you had told me, father! To bear it alone!"

"Alone! I had my Master's presence."

Annie looked up, but she could not face his smile. Her head sank anew.

"There was the battling for awhile—not easy, but close to His side. I seem to have reached beyond the battling lately—to a quiet spot. One of His green pastures, I suppose. He gives rest when it is needful. But my child need not go through all that I went through. It is not necessary. That dread is over now. Mr. Rawdon was mistaken. I have no fear."

"He said so," she whispered.

"No fear, and no expectation. For some weeks I did expect it,—to be called Home by a fiery chariot. Not now. I think it will not be—that!"

She might have read his full meaning, but she did not, wrapped up as she was in the one dread.

He lifted Annie's face between his hands, and kissed it.

"Now, my little woman, we must obey orders. It does not take very much to bring on irregular action of the heart, and I had better not risk another attack of breathlessness. We have talked long enough on sad subjects. Try to forget what you have heard, and leave all in the hands of One who knows what is best for us. I want you to put those rose buds in water, or the poor little things will die. Then you shall tell me about your class, and about Nancy Dunn."

Annie rose at once to obey. Somehow she seemed to catch a reflection of her father's calm. She knew that she must keep up, for his sake.



"GOOD afternoon, Mrs. Stuart. Fine day! Well—and how's the world getting along with you?" asked Mrs. Mason.

Mrs. Stuart looked as if the world were not getting along with her at all. She gave Mrs. Mason scant welcome.

"My fire's took to smoking like mad; smoked me out, if I didn't want to be turned into a dried herring," said Mrs. Mason. "So I thought I'd just look in here for an hour, and ask you for a neighbourly cup of tea."

Mrs. Stuart rose to her full length, like a big snake rearing itself on end, and stalked like a pair of huge compasses to the fireplace.

"I've brought my knitting," said Mrs. Mason. Forthwith she pulled out a half-made stocking, and set to work upon it.

Mrs. Stuart stalked back again.

"The kettle don't seem to be of a mind to boil yet. Kettles are uncommon perverse articles," said Mrs. Mason. "I'm in no sort of a hurry, so it don't matter—not in the very least. But perhaps you're expecting company, in which case I'd best make myself scarce, seeing I'm not come by invitation."

Mrs. Mason knitted and smiled as she talked, showing no bodily inclination to budge.

"I'm not expecting no company," said Mrs. Stuart, with the intonation of a deeply injured woman.

"How's Archie to-day?" asked Mrs. Mason.

"He's well enough," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Fine-looking young fellow he does grow, to be sure! I don't know a finer in the neighbourhood!"

Mrs. Stuart looked glum.

"And I can tell you, other folks think so as well as me. Why, there's the Dunns!"

Mrs. Stuart's wrath exploded suddenly. "Don't talk to me of them Dunns!" she cried.

"Why, dear me!" uttered Mrs. Mason. "And they such friends of Archie's!"

Mrs. Stuart couldn't sit still. She had nothing particular to do, standing up, but she marched to the dresser, and carried off two plates to a cupboard. Then she rubbed away vigorously at a spot of grease on the table. Then she poked the fire.

"I'm sure I don't wonder, neither," pursued Mrs. Mason. "They're the nicest family I know in all Littleburgh. Yes, the very nicest."

Mrs. Stuart tossed her head.

"And Nannie Dunn is the sort of girl one don't come across often." said Mrs. Mason. "She's the best-trained I ever saw. And the best-behaved. And the prettiest. And the neatest-dressed. I'm sure now, to hear Miss Wilmot talk of her! And as for that poor thing, Bess Gardiner—why, she's a different creature altogether. I do believe there's nothing on earth she wouldn't do, if Nannie bid her. Mrs. Gardiner can't make her out. There's a lot done among girls by a good example. And I always do say Archie 'll have a pretty little wife, and a good one too, some day."

Mrs. Stuart wheeled round upon Mrs. Mason, snorting contemptuously.

"My Archie's not a-going to marry Nancy Dunn," she declared, her nostrils quivering with anger.

"Why now, you don't say so! And everybody counting it a settled thing," said Mrs. Mason.

"Everybody's got no business. It's not a settled thing. It's never a-going to be a settled thing," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Just suited for one another too," said Mrs. Mason.

"My Archie's in the trade," said Mrs. Stuart majestically; "and his father was in the trade afore him, and his father afore him. And Dunn's a labourer. Archie's not a-going to marry yet. And when he does, he'll marry somebody of his own proper standing. And that's all I've got to say about it."

"Pity! Ain't it?" said Mrs. Mason. "And Dunn pretty near as well able to handle the tools as any man in the trade, if it wasn't for trade restrictions; and better read by a long way than any other man at the works. And you don't count Nannie good enough for your Archie! Dear me, now! I shouldn't have thought it."

"It don't matter who thinks, nor who don't," said Mrs. Stuart, impatiently pouring water from the kettle into the teapot. "I've my own mind in the matter."

"But, Mrs. Stuart, Archie has his mind too," her visitor said. "And he's getting to be a man fast. And I suppose a man has a right to his mind, as well as a woman."

"Maybe!" Mrs. Stuart said shortly. Perhaps the idea had not struck her before.

"If I was you," Mrs. Mason went on, "I'd just take care not to pull the cord too tight—that's what I'd do. For if you don't, I shouldn't wonder but some day or other your boy may chance to break loose from it. It's not all young fellows as 'ud wait so patient as Archie's waiting now. And if I was you, I wouldn't go too far. You don't know but what the temptation might be too strong for him, if you do. His heart's just set on Nannie, and there's nothing except your will keeping the two apart."

Mrs. Stuart snorted again.

"I'm not saying that Archie has a mind to marry yet awhile, for I know he hasn't. I've heard him say so. And there's no need for you to fret and worry, expecting that. Archie knows well enough his first duty is to his mother. You've done a deal for him, and he knows it, Mrs. Stuart. He don't mean to marry till he can earn enough to keep a wife as well as his mother. I shouldn't wonder if he hasn't said so much to you. It's not a subject you're over-fond of talking about, if I'm not mistaken. But Archie knows his duty, and he does mean to do it. And if he didn't, there'd be none quicker to blame him than Mrs. Dunn."

Mrs. Stuart grunted this time.

"Howsomever, I do say his mind is set on Nannie Dunn—and I don't wonder!" said Mrs. Mason. "If I was a man, I wouldn't look at another girl in the place beside her! And I do say, you'll be wise to give in to your boy, and let him be happy. You don't like me saying so much!—No, of course you don't. And it isn't none of my business—no, of course it isn't. But I do say, if I was you, I wouldn't risk snapping of the cord by pulling of it too tight. For there's never no knowing how much a young man 'll stand."

Grunt the second.

"Now if Nannie was a bad sort of girl, and one as couldn't be expected to make Archie a good wife, why, you'd be right to hold out all you could. But when there's no sort of manner of reason!—And when she's the best and sweetest and prettiest girl that ever was!—And when Archie just dotes on her!—And when she's willing!—And when her father and mother don't object!—Why, I do say, Mrs. Stuart—just you lend me a pair of scissors for one moment, will you?—I do say, Mrs. Stuart, you'll be wise to give in. And if you're angry with me for speaking out, I can't help it; for I made up my mind I'd speak out, and when I make up my mind to a thing, I'm not easy stopped. And Archie's behaved so pretty of late, I do think he deserves it."

Mrs. Mason was a person of some influence among her neighbours, accounted by them to possess an uncommon amount of common-sense. Her words were not without effect. Mrs. Stuart made no answer; but she did not snort or toss her head. When Mrs. Mason was gone, she actually sat idle, with her hands before her, thinking the matter over.

After all, there was much truth in Mrs. Mason's words, and Mrs. Stuart knew it. She began almost to wish that she could see some mode of giving way to Archie, without hurting her own dignities. Like many people of rather small minds, Mrs. Stuart had the greatest possible objection to acknowledging herself in the wrong. She always was right, and she always had been right; and if she once said a thing, she stuck to it like a limpet to a rock.

So the difficulty was, how she could possibly slide out of her former position into a new position, without giving anybody the power to say, "Mrs. Stuart has changed her mind." Mrs. Stuart prided herself on not changing her mind. Infallible people never do change their minds; for why should they ever become wiser to-day than they were yesterday?

Still, without condescending to change her mind, or to acknowledge that she had been mistaken, Mrs. Stuart had certainly obtained a new view of the question. And the grand puzzle was—how to beat a retreat without seeming to do so?



EXACTLY one quarter of an hour after Mrs. Mason's departure, there came a rap at the door. Mrs. Stuart went to open it. Outside stood a respectably dressed young woman, tall and plain-featured. The shawl drawn over her head in lieu of a bonnet marked her out as a "factory-girl."

Mrs. Stuart had a puzzled recollection of knowing the face, but she could attach no name to it. So she only stared solemnly at the new-comer, who returned the stare with interest, while demanding bluntly—

"Mrs. Mason here?"

"No," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Plague!" muttered the other. "And they told me she was."

"She's been here," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Where's she gone, then?"

"What's she wanted for?" asked Mrs. Stuart.

"One o' the Handcock children's been and pulled a kettle o' boiling water over, and got itself scalded. Nancy Dunn's in there, but Mrs. Dunn's out, and Nancy thought Mrs. Mason 'ud help best. So I said I'd fetch her, and they told me she was come here."

"Why, whatever in the world was the mother about not to look after the child?" demanded Mrs. Stuart.

"Mrs. Handcock? She's off at the factory all day."

"More shame for her!" said Mrs. Stuart. "With four babies to look after, and a husband getting good wages."

"Well, she is—and the children's locked up at home commonly. Nancy heard the screams, and called help, and the door was broke open somehow. They had a job to get in. The child's badly hurt."

"I shouldn't wonder if Mrs. Mason was—what's your name?" inquired Mrs. Stuart.

"I'm Bess Gardiner." The girl's freckled face coloured up.

"You Bess Gardiner! I never! Why, I shouldn't have known you."

"That's what I am," said Bess hardily.

"I shouldn't have known you, anyway," repeated Mrs. Stuart.

"It's Nancy's doing," said Bess.

"What's her doing?"

"Me!" said Bess curtly. "If I'm different, it's all Nancy."

"You ain't a friend of Nancy Dunn's!" said Mrs. Stuart, with a toss of her head.

Bess flashed out, understanding more than Mrs. Stuart would have expected—

"No—that's what I'm not. You're right there. I'm not good enough to be Nancy's friend. But she's the best friend to me ever I had in all my life. She don't cock up her head and look down upon everybody as isn't as good as herself. She just takes 'em by the hand, and helps 'em on. If it hadn't been for Nancy—" Bess came to a stop. "But I've no business waiting here. You can't tell me where I'm to find Mrs. Mason?"

"No, I can't," said Mrs. Stuart.

"Might as well ha' told me so at first!" And Bess dashed away.

Mrs. Stuart made no effort to detain Bess further. She went back to her seat and her darning.

Not, however, to remain long undisturbed. Visitors were plentiful this day. Another rap at the door—gentler in kind than the last—drew Mrs. Stuart thither again.

"May I come in?" asked the Rector's pleasant tones.

Mrs. Stuart backed before him in a flutter of pleasure. As Archie had said, she "set great store" by Mr. Wilmot. A call from him made a red-letter day in her calendar. Mr. Wilmot was a thorough gentleman, never more so than in the homes of working-men, and his kind considerate courtesy had long ago won Mrs. Stuart's heart. Immediately her eyes fell on him, she made up her mind not to speak as yet about the scalded child, lest he should instantly start off for the Handcocks' cottage.

"Pray do come in, sir," said Mrs. Stuart, with an air of much alacrity, dusting a chair which required no dusting.

Mr. Wilmot found his way to it, with a faint smile of response. He looked very pale and weary, and for two or three seconds he did not speak. Mrs. Stuart watched him in an uneasy fashion.

"I'm afraid you're ill, sir," she said at length.

"Not very well," Mr. Wilmot answered. "Would it trouble you much, Mrs. Stuart, to give me a cup of tea?"

Trouble her! Mrs. Stuart was delighted. She put back the kettle on the coals, brought out china and teapot anew, and cut some delicate slices of thin bread-and-butter, disregarding Mr. Wilmot's assurances that he wanted nothing to eat.

Then she stood by the fire, waiting till the kettle should boil. Mrs. Stuart was far too good a housewife to make tea from a singing but not boiling kettle.

Mr. Wilmot leant back in the big wooden easy-chair, as silent as herself. Mrs. Stuart, unlike Annie, knew illness when she saw it, and she was much struck with his air of exhaustion. It seemed so unlike Mr. Wilmot. Generally when he came in he was bright and chatty, asking her about all her interests and belongings.

"I'm afraid you've been very bad sir, lately," she said. "There's a good many of us have seen it. You've lost a deal of flesh."

Hardly any answer came to this. The water was boiling at last—evidenced by the straight rush of steam from the spout and by the dancing lid. A few minutes more, and Mr. Wilmot was gratefully sipping a cup of excellent tea.

"You certainly are an adept in the art of tea making," he said.

"And I'm sure I'm proud to make it for you; sir," asserted Mrs. Stuart, with a geniality of manner which would have astonished many of those acquaintances who knew her only as a human icicle. An icicle needs to be thawed before it can possibly become warm; and not many people in Littleburgh possessed such thawing powers as Mr. Wilmot.

"Sit down, Mrs. Stuart. Pray don't stand," he said kindly.

Mrs. Stuart complied.

"And you'll eat something—won't you now?" she entreated. "My bread's every bit home-made, and I'll answer for it as it's wholesome. You do look better for the tea, sir, already. I didn't like to see you as you was when you come in."

"Mrs. Stuart, if you see my daughter, don't mention this to her," said Mr. Wilmot. "She is anxious enough already."

"No, sir. She'd need be anxious, I'm sure," said Mrs. Stuart, unaware that it is often by no means the height of wisdom to tell an invalid how ill he is looking. "For I don't know as I ever did see anybody change for the worse, sir, in a few months, as you've done—and you as used to be so strong! Why, you've grown as thin! And not a bit of strength in you."

"Not very much sometimes," admitted Mr. Wilmot. Then with a grave smile he added, "But isn't it a happy thing to be able to say, not only 'To live is Christ!' but also 'To die is gain!'"

"Mercy, sir! You're not a-going to die," exclaimed Mrs. Stuart, though she had often of late asserted a belief in the fatal nature of Mr. Wilmot's illness.

"That neither you nor I can tell. It will be as my Master wills. If He calls me, I am ready."

"But, sir—"

Mrs. Stuart stopped. Something in his look affected her strangely. She might talk to others in a glib style about his failing health, assuming to possess a gift of foresight, yet all the while not fully believing her own words. To hear him speak thus was another matter. A lump in her throat checked utterance.

"It matters little—if one is ready—whether the call Home comes a few years earlier or later," mused Mr. Wilmot. "But—if one were not ready—"

"I'm sure," said Mrs. Stuart huskily—"I'm sure it wasn't that as I meant, though I did say to Mrs. Mason as I'd never seen nobody so changed, and Mrs. Mason said—she says—"

Actually a tear rolled down Mrs. Stuart's cheek, and fell on her lap. Ashamed, she turned away her head.

"My kind old friend!" Mr. Wilmot said quickly, touched by the sight. "But I did not mean to distress you, Mrs. Stuart. I was speaking then in general terms—about you or me or anybody; not about myself alone. The call may come to any one among us, any day; and I should like to feel that you and all are indeed ready for it."

Then passing naturally to another subject, he asked, "How is Archie?"

"He's well, sir," said Mrs. Stuart, heaving a deep sigh.

"Getting on at the works?"

"Yes, sir."

"And a good son to you, Mrs. Stuart?"

"Yes, sir." Mrs. Stuart's tone grew more dubious, and also harder. "I don't complain."

"Have you anything to complain of?"

"He's got his faults," said Mrs. Stuart stiffly.

"Why, yes—he would hardly be human if he had not," said Mr. Wilmot, smiling. "What of his liking for bright little Nancy Dunn?"

Mrs. Stuart's face became grim. All softness and geniality had died out of it.

"She is a good girl, Mrs. Stuart," said the Rector.

"She ain't the sort for me!" said Mrs. Stuart.

"I am sorry for that. She seems to me just the sort for your Archie."

Mrs. Stuart was silent.

"Another person can, perhaps, hardly judge for a mother in such a matter," observed Mr. Wilmot. "But take care, Mrs. Stuart. It is a serious responsibility for you to refuse your consent, if there is not a sufficient reason. I have wished for some time to have a few words with you on this subject."

"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Stuart, with unsmiling visage.

"Don't count it interference on my part. You and I are old friends, and I am thinking about your son's happiness. Archie is, I do believe, earnestly seeking now to serve God; and Nancy Dunn is one who would help him on in the right path. If you stop the thing altogether, Archie's next fancy may be for a very different kind of girl. I want you to think over the idea. Archie is no longer a child at your knee, and sooner or later he must decide for himself. I hope he will not go against your will; but it is very important that your will should be distinctly on the right side. Probably years may pass before Archie will be in a condition to marry. Meantime, I can scarcely fancy any greater help in keeping him steady, than that he should be engaged to such a girl as Nancy."

Mrs. Stuart was silent.

"Come, you will reconsider the matter, perhaps," said Mr. Wilmot, standing up. "Second thoughts are often best. Thank you very much for your nice tea. I must not wait longer, for somebody has appointed to see me at home. Good-bye, Mrs. Stuart."

"Good-bye, sir," said Mrs. Stuart.

Mr. Wilmot turned back on the threshold to say in a kind tone—"I wish you would give your consent."

Then he was gone.



"FATHER, I expected you home nearly an hour ago," said Annie, meeting Mr. Wilmot at the hall door.

"Yes—I could not come, dear."

"Mr. Page has been waiting ever so long in the study to see you."

There was an almost imperceptible sigh. "I should have been in time, but I was stopped. One of the poor little Handcocks has been terribly scalded. Of course I went at once to see."

"Oh, how dreadful! How was it?" asked Annie. She was watching anxiously her father's face, even while keeping up in resolute style the cheerful manner which she had cultivated of late.

"The mother out, of course, and the four infants locked indoors alone. A kettle of water had been left on or close to the kitchen fire, and the eldest child pulled it over, trying to lift it farther away. The youngest child, crawling on the floor, narrowly escaped a complete deluge. Bad enough as it is."

"Who helped the poor things?"

"Nancy Dunn. Her mother was out, and Nancy behaved admirably. Bess Gardiner went off in search of Mrs. Mason."

"Bess Gardiner! Why, how was she not in the factory?"

"Some repairs going on in the machinery where she works. Annie, dear, I think I must sit down."

"O father!" Annie's start was self-reproachful. "How wrong of me to keep you here! Come to the drawing-room. Mr. Page is in the study."

"Better get that over. He has waited so long.

"I wish you would not. I am sure you ought to rest."

Mr. Wilmot stooped to kiss Annie.

"Nothing of consequence, I think," he said, as if answering her unspoken fear. "We will have a quiet evening. Come to me when Mr. Page goes."

But Mr. Page was sure to be long in going. Annie knew this well from past experience. She saw her father disappear within the study door, dragging one foot after the other. Then she busied herself in the drawing-room as best she could, waiting for the welcome sound of footsteps in the hall.

How Mr. Page's voice went on—on—on! Annie could seldom hear the sound of her father's voice in response. Mr. Page seemed to have a large amount to say; and he was very lengthy in the saying of it.

Suddenly a ring at the front door, and the opening of the study door. Mr. Page appeared alone, not followed as was usual by Mr. Wilmot.

"Good evening, Miss Wilmot—good evening," said Mr. Page. "Fine day, isn't it? Mr. Wilmot doesn't seem quite the thing, though—no, certainly not quite the thing. He'll be getting away for a holiday soon, and that'll set him up. I tell him, he wants a holiday, for he works too hard—a great deal too hard. Never any rest, morning, noon, or night, Sunday or week-day. Human nature wasn't made to stand it. I'm sorry to have had to stay so long, but there was a lot of things to settle. Good-bye, good-bye."

Mr. Page vanished, and a voice at the front door was requesting to "see Mr. Wilmot." Annie waited to see who it might be, then glided into the study.

The room was getting rather dark, and Mr. Wilmot had chosen a shady position, leaning back in his easy-chair.

"Father, Mr. Page has been very long. Somebody else wants a word with you now."

A pause, and then—"I think—I can do no more."

The voice was not entirely natural.

Annie bent over him, trying to see his face.

"Are you very tired, father?"

"Yes—strangely weary to-night."

He did not ask who had come. Annie had never before known such an omission.

"I will settle it," she said, and she went to the maid, waiting outside the study door.

"The man must come again to-morrow," she said. "My father is not well, and he must be quiet this evening. And please go yourself at once for Mr. Rawdon. If he is not in, leave a message, asking him to come as soon as he possibly can."

Once more in the study, Annie sat down close beside her father, watching him steadily in the dim light. He did not appear to notice her, until she laid her hand on his, and then his fingers closed round it.

"Father, have you any pain?" she asked.

"No, my child. Nothing, except weariness."

"When did that come on?"

He hesitated, as if to recall—then said only—"I don't know."

His head was drooping, as if he had not strength to hold it up. Annie put her arms round him supportingly.

"Would you not like to lie down?"

No reply came.

"If you could get a little rest—"

"This is rest," he said dreamily.

Some minutes went slowly by. It was impossible that Mr. Rawdon should arrive yet. Annie did not like the heavy silence. It filled her with a nameless dread.

"Father, I think you want food. May I get something?"

"No, darling. I am very comfortable."

"Really comfortable? You don't feel ill? Is it only rest that you want?"

"Only—rest," he said.

Another prolonged silence.

"The depths of His mercy—" she heard at length whispered.

"Yes, father—"

But silence again.

Was that the front door bell? Had Mr. Rawdon come?

She could not move to ring or ask. Mr. Wilmot was leaning against her, supported by her in a measure. It was as much as she could do to hold him up.

Steps sounded in the hall, and at the same instant Mr. Wilmot stirred. Annie was conscious of a slight start—was it from pain? She could not tell. Two words fell from his lips with a singular distinctness, an intonation of surprise and joy—


Mr. Rawdon entered the study. He walked straight towards the arm chair, took Mr. Wilmot's hand, dropped it, turned to the table, and struck a light.

Annie noted first the changed look on Mr. Rawdon's face. Then, as he relieved her of the weight she bore, she saw her father's face.

No signs of pain there, or even of weariness now. The eyes were lifted, looking upward, far beyond the enclosing walls of that small room, and the pale lips, smiling, said once more with exultant clearness—


Then he seemed to fall quietly asleep. It was a sleep from which no earthly power, no human skill might awake him.



ALL Littleburgh mourned for Mr. Wilmot, for he had been a friend to all.

Of Annie's grief it is needless to speak. The blow almost crushed her. She felt herself alone in the world, bereft of him who had been father, mother, friend, and companion to her. She had indeed other friends, and a choice of homes for the future, but none could ever fill his place in her heart.

Yet, in the worst of her woe, Annie could not but be thankful. She could not but know how very tenderly her Heavenly Father had dealt with them both. When she thought of the terrible death which might have been his portion, this most childlike falling "asleep in the Arms of Jesus" did indeed seem only mercy.

Almost all Littleburgh went to the funeral. So great a throng had never before been seen in the cemetery. Few dry eyes could be perceived throughout the concourse of people, and more than once a widespread burst of weeping drowned the voice of the clergyman who read the service.

For Arthur Wilmot had given up his life for others; had spent lavishly time and powers, money and strength, upon those who needed help. No marvel that years of outpoured sympathies should have brought a wealth of love in return.

Mrs. Stuart like others had been to the cemetery, and like others she had wept there freely for the friend whose face she could never see again on earth. Since returning home, she had sat long in thought, giving vent to no remarks.

Archie had noted his mother's gravity and absence of mind since the day of Mr. Wilmot's death—not grimness, which was usual, but a softened gravity which was unusual. He noted too that her manner of speaking was gentler, more humble, less stiff and self-asserting. He felt sure that she was grieving deeply over the loss they had all sustained.

"It was a wonderful sight this afternoon, mother, wasn't it?" he said, to break in upon a silence which lasted long. Archie had been to the funeral as well as his mother: and so had many scores of working-men, set free from work for the purpose by their employers.

"Ay," she said, with a deep sigh.

"There wasn't a soul stayed away that could manage to go," pursued Archie.

"Ay," repeated Mrs. Stuart. "'Twould have been a deal more wonderful if they hadn't gone, after all he's been and done."

"I'm afraid we'll never get another Rector like him, mother."

Mrs. Stuart sighed again.

"And to think of his being bitten after all by that dog,—and nobody knowing all this while what might come of it," said Archie; for the fact had become known in the town. There was no longer any reason for concealing what had occurred. It was well that the people should know to the full the brave and self-sacrificing spirit of the man who so long had lived among them. If any more were needed to make them cling to the memory of their beloved Rector, that "more" was now supplied.

He had not, indeed, in one sense, died from the results of the bite or scratch; but in another sense, he perhaps had, since without it, the break-down of his health might have been long postponed. There could be no question as to the tremendous and terrible peril which he had willingly incurred for the sake of helpless little ones.

"It isn't many would do what he did," said Mrs. Stuart.

"It isn't many would have thought of such a thing, either," added Archie. "I'm sure I shouldn't. But I liked that what the preacher said to-day, mother, about Mr. Wilmot being willing to give up his life for the children, and about God's pity being greater, and the Son of God giving up His life for us. It seemed to bring the thought out so clear. I don't know as I ever saw it so plain before. And I can remember Mr. Wilmot telling us how pretty near all the kindness and pity we do see round us was learnt from Christ."

Mrs. Stuart said "Yes" thoughtfully. After a pause, she added, "You put your life in danger too, Archie, for the sake of Nancy Dunn."

Archie was very much astonished at such a remark from his mother. He did not, however, show his astonishment, but said only—"It wasn't for Nancy, mother. I didn't see her to be Nancy till after. I hope I'd do all I could for any girl in danger—though what I did wasn't what Mr. Wilmot did."

"But you'd sooner help Nancy than any other girl?" said Mrs. Stuart.

"Yes—I would," said Archie, his face kindling. "Mother, I love Nannie so much—I do think I could die for her."

"That's easy enough said," rejoined Mrs. Stuart. "It wouldn't be so easy if you'd got to do it. But you're a brave lad, I know. And as the preacher told us to-day—it's one thing to be willing to die for one that loves us, and another thing to die for them that hates us. There wouldn't be many who'd do the last."

"Only Christ," said Archie, wondering anew at his mother's mood.

"Only—Christ," she repeated. "Yes—He did. I don't know as I've hated Him, like some do—but I haven't cared. I haven't thought about Him; and that's bad enough, after all He's done. And I hope I shan't go on so—not any longer. You needn't tell what I'm saying—not to anybody, Archie. But it did seem as if I must say it to somebody. And Mr. Wilmot 'll never come again. He'd have helped me—and there's nobody now."

"Mother, there's One," said Archie shyly; "there's One who'll help, if anybody asks Him—and He's best of all. Mr. Wilmot would tell you to go to Him."

"But if He shouldn't want me?" she said.

"I shouldn't think there's any chance of that, mother," said Archie. "I should think, if He cared enough about you to die for you, when you weren't even born—why, it isn't likely He'd stop caring, and turn away, just the minute you're beginning to want to know Him."

"No—I think you're about right," said Mrs. Stuart. And she stood up slowly, left him alone, and went upstairs to her bedroom for a while. There are times when one needs to be all alone with God.



THE next evening Mrs. Stuart asked abruptly of her son—

"Seen any of the Dunns to-day?"

"Just for a minute." Archie questioned with himself what might be coming next.

"Nancy Dunn?"

"Yes, mother. I'd hardly a word with her, though."

"And you're hankering after her just as much as ever?"

"Mother, there isn't another girl like Nancy in all the whole world! I give you my word for it," said Archie earnestly.

Mrs. Stuart began to sob.

"It isn't my way to give in," she said. "I'm not one o' those folks that's for ever chopping and changing. When I says a thing, I mean it, and I keep to it. And I did say I'd never have you marry Nancy Dunn. I didn't think her good enough. Nor I don't. Leastways, her father isn't your father's equal."

"Oh, bother!" broke out Archie.

"Yes, it's easy to say 'bother!'" she retorted, rather disposed to flare up. She had been somewhat irritable all day—no unusual state of things in the earlier stages of trouble, or of any marked change in heart and life. "But if you'd have a bit of patience and hear me out, you'd maybe speak in a different sort of way."

"Yes, mother," Archie said meekly, a sudden hope springing up.

"I did say I wouldn't have it," repeated Mrs. Stuart; "and I meant it too, and I'd have kept to my word. But he—he came in to see me, just the very same day he died—he did, Archie, that very afternoon. And I made him a cup o' tea, and he said—he said—I was the best tea-maker—"

"Yes, yes, mother, I know," said Archie, as she broke out crying. "You told me all that."

"And if I did," she retorted, "there was something else I didn't tell you nor nobody, and didn't mean to neither, till I'd made up my mind what to do. And I couldn't make it up till yesterday, when I was standing in the crowd, and all of 'em in black, and everybody crying round me, and Nancy Dunn with her pretty face all blistered—for there's no denying she's got a pretty face."

"Yes," assented Archie, with much warmth.

"It gave me a sort of a fellow-feeling with her, and I won't deny it," said Mrs. Stuart. "And it sort of made me think of his talking to me like that, about you and she, and how he hoped she'd be a good wife to you one day."

"Did he?" cried Archie.

"Yes, he did," said Mrs. Stuart, heaving another sigh. "And I won't deny as I was a bit grumpy, not thinking as it was the last time I'd ever see him again. O dear, dear me! To be sure! And the very last words he says, as he was going out of the door—looking so bad, for all he was better for the tea, as I'm sure I'd a foreboding in my mind it couldn't be long—and the very last words he says to me was how he wished I'd give in and let it be."

"And you will, won't you?" begged Archie.

"I'm not one to give in easy," repeated Mrs. Stuart. "But seeing it was, as one may say, his last wish, it do make a difference. And I won't deny neither that I've maybe been too stiff; and got to learn to be different. And understanding you don't mean to think of marrying for many a year to come—"

"Marrying! No," cried Archie. "Not yet, mother. Not till I'm earning enough to keep you and she too in comfort. But I do want to have her promise. I want to know she's safe to be my wife by-and-by."

"Folks chop and change," said Mrs. Stuart. "I'd sooner you'd keep yourself free. Maybe you'll get tired of it, or she'll change her mind. But there, you're set on the girl, and he wanted me to give in, and I'm not going to stand out against you no longer. So you just go and see Nancy Dunn, and say whatever you like, and have it settled."

Perhaps the consent might have been more graciously worded; but Archie was far too glad to be critical. He felt almost ashamed of his own gladness, at a time when everybody else was sad; yet doubtless it was only natural, and it did not prevent his sharing in the sorrow of others for the loss they had all endured.

That same evening, Archie made his way to Woodbine Cottage, and told the Dunns about his mother's newly-given permission. Nannie looked hardly so pretty as usual, for her face was still blistered with many tears, and they threatened to flow fast again when she heard of Mr. Wilmot's last call on Mrs. Stuart.

"It don't seem as if we'd ought to think about ourselves yet," she faltered. But Archie could not take that view of the question.

"I've waited ever so long, and mother's willing at last," he said. No doubt the few months that he had been acquainted with Nancy did really seem long at his age. "You won't put me off, will you, Nancy? Say she won't, Mrs. Dunn. I do want to have it a settled thing. And you've as good as told me already you'd say 'Yes' if my mother didn't make difficulties. I don't mean that I'm thinking of marrying yet awhile. I've got my mother to keep, you know. But by-and-by—"

"It'll have to be a good long by-and-by, I shouldn't wonder," observed Dunn. "Mind you, Archie, I'm willing to have it all fair and straight between you and Nannie. I do believe it'll be for her happiness and yours too, please God. There was a time when I wouldn't have been so willing. But I do believe it's your wish now to be a servant of God."

"Yes," Archie answered heartily. "And if I may have Nannie, why, I hope she and I'll be able to serve God together, Dunn."

"That's it, lad. If I didn't think so, I'd be loth enough to give her to you. But look you here, there's something else I've got to say. You've got your mother to keep, and it's right you should do it. She cared for you, and you must care for her."

"But I hope I'll soon be making enough to keep her and a wife too," said Archie.

"Maybe," responded Dunn. "You're a capable young fellow, and you're steady, and I hope you'll do well. Seems no reason why you shouldn't. Only mind this, Archie, you don't marry our Nannie, till you've got a right good sum laid by in the Savings Bank against a rainy day. It is all very fine to be making enough to live on in comfort, and to spend every penny of what you've got, never giving a thought to the future. And if illness comes, or an accident lays you by, or trade grows slack and work fails, what's to be done then? No, no, I'll never give in to that for Nannie. I've seen enough of the misery of it for wives and children, let alone a man himself. If you're bent on marrying her, you may do it; but you'll marry with a good provision laid by; and, what's more, you'll not squander it all away on a fine wedding, nor on a lot of smart furniture."

Archie was well content to bind himself by these conditions. Perhaps, like many young men, he thought them just a little needless. In his young vigour, he could not yet believe that bodily strength would ever fail him. But after all, he knew that Dunn was right, and he knew that his mother would put no difficulties in the way. Before winter, he would be receiving the wages of a full-blown artisan, and then, as she had often told him, would be the time to lay by. Archie had not quite seen the necessity till now.

Laying by for the future must of course mean some measure of self-denial. It meant this often in Archie's case. What if it did? His love for Nannie would have been a very poor sort of article, If it could not have endured the least touch of self-denial for her sake.

As time went on, months following months till they grew into years, while the amount down to Archie's name at the Savings Bank grew also, Archie became very grateful for the wise advice of Richard Dunn.

For, after all, though he and Nannie waited years for their wedding day, they did not wait so long as must have been the case, if Archie had not persistently from the first put aside every little sum he could spare from present needs. Sometimes it was a few shillings, sometimes only a few pence. But "many a little makes a mickle," says the old proverb. Archie proved the truth of this proverb.

Little more need be said, except that when the wedding did take place, Annie Wilmot was present, besides many other kind friends. The wedding cake was a present from Annie, as well as a beautiful family Bible, bound in morocco. Nannie made a sweet-looking young bride, in her neat brown dress and bonnet; and even Nannie's own parents scarcely saw her with more of fond pride than did Archie's mother. For Mrs. Stuart had long ceased to regret the thought of Nannie becoming Archie's wife; and on that wedding day, she gained a "daughter indeed" to be the comfort of her old age.



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