Mr Bevis had his horses put to, then taken away again, and an old hunter
saddled. But half-way from home he came to a burst bridge, and had to
return, much to the relief of his wife, who, when she had him in the
house again, could enjoy the rain, she said: it was so cosey and
comfortable to feel you could not go out, or any body call. I presume
she therein seemed to take a bond of fate, and doubly assure the
every-day dullness of her existence. Well, she was a good creature, and
doubtless a corner would be found for her up above, where a little more
work would probably be required of her.
Polwarth and his niece Ruth rose late, for neither had slept well. When
they had breakfasted, they read together from the Bible: first the uncle
read the passage he had last got light upon--he was always getting light
upon passages, and then the niece the passage she had last been
gladdened by; after which they sat and chatted a long time by the
"I am afraid your asthma was bad last night, uncle dear," said Ruth. "I
heard your breathing every time I woke."
"It was, rather," answered the little man, "but I took my revenge, and
had a good crow over it."
"I know what you mean, uncle: do let me hear the crow."
He rose, and slowly climbing the stair to his chamber, returned with a
half sheet of paper in his hand, resumed his seat, and read the
following lines, which he had written in pencil when the light came:
Nay, take thine hour;
Thou canst not daunt,
Thou hast no power;
Be welcome to thy nest,
Though it be in my breast.
Dig like a mole;
Fill every vein
With half-burned coal;
Puff the keen dust about,
And all to choke me out.
Fill music's ways
With creaking cries,
That no loud praise
May climb the skies;
And on my laboring chest
Lay mountains of unrest.
My slumber steep
In dreams of haste,
That only sleep,
No rest I taste--
With stiflings, rimes of rote,
And fingers on the throat.
Satan, thy might
I do defy;
Live core of night,
I patient lie:
A wind comes up the gray
Will blow thee clean away.
Christ's angel, Death,
All radiant white,
With one cold breath
Will scare thee quite,
And give my lungs an air
As fresh as answered prayer.
So, Satan, do
Thy worst with me,
Until the True
Shall set me free,
And end what He began,
By making me a man.
"It is not much of poetry, Ruth!" he said, raising his eyes from the
paper; "--no song of thrush or blackbird! I am ashamed that I called it
a cock-crow--for that is one of the finest things in the world--a
clarion defiance to darkness and sin--far too good a name for my poor
jingle--except, indeed, you call it a Cochin-china-cock-crow--from out a
very wheezy chest!"
"'My strength is made perfect in weakness,'" said Ruth solemnly,
heedless of the depreciation. To her the verses were as full of meaning
as if she had made them herself.
"I think I like the older reading better--that is, without the My,"
said Polwarth: "'Strength is made perfect in weakness.' Somehow--I can
not explain the feeling--to hear a grand aphorism, spoken in widest
application, as a fact of more than humanity, of all creation, from the
mouth of the human God, the living Wisdom, seems to bring me close to
the very heart of the universe. Strength--strength itself--all over--is
made perfect in weakness;--a law of being, you see, Ruth! not a law of
Christian growth only, but a law of growth, even all the growth leading
up to the Christian, which growth is the highest kind of creation. The
Master's own strength was thus perfected, and so must be that of His
brothers and sisters. Ah, what a strength must be his!--how patient in
endurance--how gentle in exercise--how mighty in devotion--how fine in
its issues,-perfected by such suffering! Ah, my child, you suffer sorely
sometimes--I know it well! but shall we not let patience have her
perfect work, that we may--one day, Ruth, one day, my child--be perfect
and entire, wanting nothing?"
Led by the climax of his tone, Ruth slipped from her stool on her knees.
Polwarth kneeled beside her, and said:
"O Father of life, we praise Thee that one day Thou wilt take Thy poor
crooked creatures, and give them bodies like Christ's, perfect as His,
and full of Thy light. Help us to grow faster--as fast as Thou canst
help us to grow. Help us to keep our eyes on the opening of Thy hand,
that we may know the manna when it comes. O Lord, we rejoice that we are
Thy making, though Thy handiwork is not very clear in our outer man as
yet. We bless Thee that we feel Thy hand making us. What if it be in
pain! Evermore we hear the voice of the potter above the hum and grind
of his wheel. Father, Thou only knowest how we love Thee. Fashion the
clay to Thy beautiful will. To the eyes of men we are vessels of
dishonor, but we know Thou dost not despise us, for Thou hast made us,
and Thou dwellest with us. Thou hast made us love Thee, and hope in
Thee, and in Thy love we will be brave and endure. All in good time, O
While they thus prayed, kneeling on the stone floor of the little
kitchen, dark under the universal canopy of cloud, the rain went on
clashing and murmuring all around, rushing from the eaves, and
exploding with sharp hisses in the fire, and in the mingled noise they
had neither heard a low tap, several times repeated, nor the soft
opening of the door that followed. When they rose from their knees, it
was therefore with astonishment they saw a woman standing motionless in
the doorway, without cloak or bonnet, her dank garments clinging to her
form and dripping with rain.
When Juliet woke that morning, she cared little that the sky was dull
and the earth dark. A selfish sorrow, a selfish love even, makes us
stupid, and Juliet had been growing more and more stupid. Many people,
it seems to me, through sorrow endured perforce and without a gracious
submission, slowly sink in the scale of existence. Such are some of
those middle-aged women, who might be the very strength of social
well-being, but have no aspiration, and hope only downward--after rich
husbands for their daughters, it may be--a new bonnet or an old
coronet--the devil knows what.
Bad as the weather had been the day before, Dorothy had yet contrived to
visit her, and see that she was provided with every necessary; and
Juliet never doubted she would come that day also. She thought of
Dorothy's ministrations as we so often do of God's--as of things that
come of themselves, for which there is no occasion to be thankful.
When she had finished the other little house-work required for her
comfort, a labor in which she found some little respite from the
gnawings of memory and the blankness of anticipation, she ended by
making up a good fire, though without a thought of Dorothy's being wet
when she arrived, and sitting down by the window, stared out at the
pools, spreading wider and wider on the gravel walks beneath her. She
sat till she grew chilly, then rose and dropped into an easy chair by
the fire, and fell fast asleep.
She slept a long time, and woke in a terror, seeming to have waked
herself with a cry. The fire was out, and the hearth cold. She shivered
and drew her shawl about her. Then suddenly she remembered the frightful
dream she had had.
She dreamed that she had just fled from her husband and gained the park,
when, the moment she entered it, something seized her from behind, and
bore her swiftly, as in the arms of a man--only she seemed to hear the
rush of wings behind her--the way she had been going. She struggled in
terror, but in vain; the power bore her swiftly on, and she knew
whither. Her very being recoiled from the horrible depth of the
motionless pool, in which, as she now seemed to know, lived one of the
loathsome creatures of the semi-chaotic era of the world, which had
survived its kind as well as its coevals, and was ages older than the
human race. The pool appeared--but not as she had known it, for it
boiled and heaved, bubbled and rose. From its lowest depths it was moved
to meet and receive her! Coil upon coil it lifted itself into the air,
towering like a waterspout, then stretched out a long, writhing,
shivering neck to take her from the invisible arms that bore her to her
doom. The neck shot out a head, and the head shot out the tongue of a
water-snake. She shrieked and woke, bathed in terror.
With the memory of the dream not a little of its horror returned; she
rose to shake it off, and went to the window. What did she see there?
The fearsome pool had entered the garden, had come half-way to the
house, and was plainly rising every moment. More or less the pool had
haunted her ever since she came; she had seldom dared go nearer it than
half-way down the garden. But for the dulling influence of her misery,
it would have been an unendurable horror to her, now it was coming to
fetch her as she had seen it in her warning dream! Her brain reeled; for
a moment she gazed paralyzed with horror, then turned from the window,
and, with almost the conviction that the fiend of her vision was
pursuing her, fled from the house, and across the park, through the
sheets of rain, to the gate-lodge, nor stopped until, all unaware of
having once thought of him in her terror, she stood at the door of
Ruth was darting toward her with outstretched hands, when her uncle
"Ruth, my child," he said, "run and light a fire in the parlor. I will
welcome our visitor."
She turned instantly, and left the room. Then Polwarth went up to
Juliet, who stood trembling, unable to utter a word, and said, with
perfect old-fashioned courtesy, "You are heartily welcome, ma'am. I sent
Ruth away that I might first assure you that you are as safe with her as
with me. Sit here a moment, ma'am. You are so wet, I dare not place you
nearer to the fire.--Ruth!"
She came instantly.
"Ruth," he repeated, "this lady is Mrs. Faber. She is come to visit us
for a while. Nobody must know of it.--You need not be at all uneasy,
Mrs. Faber. Not a soul will come near us to-day. But I will lock the
door, to secure time, if any one should.--You will get Mrs. Faber's room
ready at once, Ruth. I will come and help you. But a spoonful of brandy
in hot water first, please.--Let me move your chair a little, ma'am--out
of the draught."
Juliet in silence did every thing she was told, received the prescribed
antidote from Ruth, and was left alone in the kitchen.
But the moment she was freed from one dread, she was seized by another;
suspicion took the place of terror; and as soon as she heard the toiling
of the goblins up the creaking staircase, she crept to the foot of it
after them, and with no more compunction than a princess in a
fairy-tale, set herself to listen. It was not difficult, for the little
inclosed staircase carried every word to the bottom of it.
"I thought she wasn't dead!" she heard Ruth exclaim joyfully; and the
words and tone set her wondering.
"I saw you did not seem greatly astonished at the sight of her; but what
made you think such an unlikely thing?" rejoined her uncle.
"I saw you did not believe she was dead. That was enough for me."
"You are a witch, Ruth! I never said a word one way or the other."
"Which showed that you were thinking, and made me think. You had
something in your mind which you did not choose to tell me yet."
"Ah, child!" rejoined her uncle, in a solemn tone, "how difficult it is
to hide any thing! I don't think God wants any thing hidden. The light
is His region, His kingdom, His palace-home. It can only be evil,
outside or in, that makes us turn from the fullest light of the
universe. Truly one must be born again to enter into the kingdom!"
Juliet heard every word, heard and was bewildered. The place in which
she had sought refuge was plainly little better than a kobold-cave, yet
merely from listening to the talk of the kobolds without half
understanding it, she had begun already to feel a sense of safety
stealing over her, such as she had never been for an instant aware of in
the Old House, even with Dorothy beside her.
They went on talking, and she went on listening. They were so much her
inferiors there could be no impropriety in doing so!
"The poor lady," she heard the man-goblin say, "has had some difference
with her husband; but whether she wants to hide from him or from the
whole world or from both, she only can tell. Our business is to take
care of her, and do for her what God may lay to our hand. What she
desires to hide, is sacred to us. We have no secrets of our own, Ruth,
and have the more room for those of other people who are unhappy enough
to have any. Let God reveal what He pleases: there are many who have no
right to know what they most desire to know. She needs nursing, poor
thing! We will pray to God for her."
"But how shall we make her comfortable in such a poor little house?"
returned Ruth. "It is the dearest place in the world to me--but how will
she feel in it?"
"We will keep her warm and clean," answered her uncle, "and that is all
an angel would require."
"An angel!--yes," answered Ruth: "for angels don't eat; or, at least, if
they do, for I doubt if you will grant that they don't, I am certain
that they are not so hard to please as some people down here. The poor,
dear lady is delicate--you know she has always been--and I am not much
of a cook."
"You are a very good cook, my dear. Perhaps you do not know a great many
dishes, but you are a dainty cook of those you do know. Few people can
have more need than we to be careful what they eat,--we have got such a
pair of troublesome cranky little bodies; and if you can suit them, I
feel sure you will be able to suit any invalid that is not fastidious by
nature rather than necessity."
"I will do my best," said Ruth cheerily, comforted by her uncle's
confidence. "The worst is that, for her own sake, I must not get a girl
to help me."
"The lady will help you with her own room," said Polwarth. "I have a
shrewd notion that it is only the fine ladies, those that are so
little of ladies that they make so much of being ladies, who mind doing
things with their own hands. Now you must go and make her some tea,
while she gets in bed. She is sure to like tea best."
Juliet retreated noiselessly, and when the woman-gnome entered the
kitchen, there sat the disconsolate lady where she had left her, still
like the outcast princess of a fairy-tale: she had walked in at the
door, and they had immediately begun to arrange for her stay, and the
strangest thing to Juliet was that she hardly felt it strange. It was
only as if she had come a day sooner than she was expected--which
indeed was very much the case, for Polwarth had been looking forward to
the possibility, and latterly to the likelihood of her becoming their
"Your room is ready now," said Ruth, approaching her timidly, and
looking up at her with her woman's childlike face on the body of a
child. "Will you come?"
Juliet rose and followed her to the garret-room with the dormer window,
in which Ruth slept.
"Will you please get into bed as fast as you can," she said, "and when
you knock on the floor I will come and take away your clothes and get
them dried. Please to wrap this new blanket round you, lest the cold
sheets should give you a chill. They are well aired, though. I will
bring you a hot bottle, and some tea. Dinner will be ready soon."
So saying she left the chamber softly. The creak of the door as she
closed it, and the white curtains of the bed and window, reminded Juliet
of a certain room she once occupied at the house of an old nurse, where
she had been happier than ever since in all her life, until her brief
bliss with Faber: she burst into tears, and weeping undressed and got
into bed. There the dryness and the warmth and the sense of safety
soothed her speedily; and with the comfort crept in the happy thought
that here she lay on the very edge of the high road to Glaston, and that
nothing could be more probable than that she would soon see her husband
ride past. With that one hope she could sit at a window watching for
centuries! "O Paul! Paul! my Paul!" she moaned. "If I could but be made
clean again for you! I would willingly be burned at the stake, if the
fire would only make me clean, for the chance of seeing you again in the
other world!" But as the comfort into her brain, so the peace of her new
surroundings stole into her heart. The fancy grew upon her that she was
in a fairy-tale, in which she must take every thing as it came, for she
could not alter the text. Fear vanished; neither staring eyes nor
creeping pool could find her in the guardianship of the benevolent
goblins. She fell fast asleep; and the large, clear, gray eyes of the
little woman gnome came and looked at her as she slept, and their gaze
did not rouse her. Softly she went, and came again; but, although dinner
was then ready, Ruth knew better than to wake her. She knew that sleep
is the chief nourisher in life's feast, and would not withdraw the
sacred dish. Her uncle said sleep was God's contrivance for giving man
the help he could not get into him while he was awake. So the loving
gnomes had their dinner together, putting aside the best portions of it
against the waking of the beautiful lady lying fast asleep above.