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the first time you have thought of that?"
The Colonel was very apologetic. "I am afraid I am dense," he said; "but, my dear, I always like to wait till I know what you think -and as yet you have said nothing. How was I to supposeHere he broke off, seeing in his wife's eyes more than he could read all at once, and with a tremulous movement laid his hand again upon her arm.
"What is it?" he said.
She was tremulous too, but in a different fashion. She began to open out a little parcel which she held in her hand quickly, almost with indignation. "You will know what to think when you see your own hand and name," she said. "There! that's been laid up waiting for me-fancy! for me to find it these twenty years.'
The Colonel looked at the yellow old letters with increasing agitation, but no increase of understanding. "What is it?" he said. "What does it mean, Elizabeth? I did not go through all this, only to come to an old letter of my own at the last."
The little woman stamped her foot with a kind of fury. "I think you are determined not to understand," she cried. "Look who that letter is addressed to look at this other along with it; for God's sake, Henry, don't worry me any more! don't ask what I think look at them for yourself."
He did look, but with so bewildered an expression that compassion overcame her. She took the papers over which he was puzzling, looking at his own writing vaguely, with a quick impatient movement.
"You have been right, quite right in your conjectures," she said; "the poor girl that came here alone twenty years ago, and had her baby, and went wrong in
her head, and died, was your poor young wife, Joyce Hayward, Henry. There is your letter to her-not the kind of letter I should have thought you would have written; and there is hers to you, a voice out of the grave. Don't look at me in that pitiful way. I don't expect you to read it here. Go away to your own room or into the woods, Henry, and read your wife's letter. Go away! go away! and do this for yourself without me. I am not the person," cried Mrs Hayward, thrusting them into his hands, and pushing him impatiently from her," I am not the person to read your wife's letter. Go away! go away!"
"My wife's letter," he said, with a momentary look of awe and trouble. Then suddenly he put one arm round her, and, half sobbing, said, "Twenty years since! it has always been right, all the time, my darling, between you and me."
"Oh, Henry!-is that all you think of at such a moment?"
He patted her shoulder with his large and unsteady hand, and held her close. "If it is not all, it's the first and foremost," he said; "you will never again, Elizabeth, never any more
Oh, go away! go away!" she cried, stamping her foot upon the path. There were tears in her eyes, half love and softness, half impatience and fury. She pushed him away from her with all her strength, and, turning her back upon him, walked quickly through the trees and across the park in the full sunshine. She was distracted with conflicting sentiments, unwilling to be melted, yet touched to the heart; determined that he should go back by himself into that distant past with which she had nothing to do, yet scarcely able to resist the habit of doing everything for him, of encountering even that for him.
She hurried along until she had got within the shade of a belt of wood, and out of sight of the spot where she had left her husband. Here Mrs Hayward suddenly sat down upon the grass, and hid her face in her hands. Sometimes it became necessary for her, even in the ordinary course of affairs, to escape for a moment now and then from the Colonel's constant demands. But to-day it seemed to her that she must do this or die. The sudden summons, the long journey, the agitating news, the commission so suddenly put into her hands, the discovery she had made, all united had overwhelmed her at last. She cried heartily, as she did everything, with an abundant natural overflow of feeling which relieved and exhausted her, and a sensation underneath all which she could not define whether it was happiness or pain. This Joyce, who had been from the beginning the shadow upon her married life, in despite of whose possible claims she had married, and whom she had regarded all through with a mixture of pity and indignation and fear, roused in her, dead, almost as strong feelings as if she had been a living claimant to the name and place which were hers. The very fact that the poor girl's story was so pitiful, and that nothing could take away the interest and compassion roused by the image of a young forsaken creature dying so miserably with no one near who loved her, was to Mrs Hayward at this moment an additional aggravation, adding a pang to all the rest. And yet there was in it an unspeakable relief; and the fact that this, and not any revival of the romance of his youth, had been her husband's first thought, was exquisite to her, yet with a certain acrid sweetness,
not unmingled with pain and the contradictoriness of a highly sensitive, impatient, and intolerant soul, sharply conscious of every complication. For notwithstanding her strong personal share in the matter, it was clear to Elizabeth that he ought to have thought of the other, the poor girl in her youth and misery, first; and that the sight of her letter, the words written in her anguish, coming to him as it were from her grave, across the silence of twenty years, ought to have transported the man to whom these words were addressed out of all recollection of the present,-out of everything save that tragedy of which, however innocently, he was the cause. She
could not but feel it sweet that it was herself and not the dead Joyce of whom in reality he had thought: yet, in a manner, she resented it, and was wounded by it as a thing against nature which ought not to have been. "That is all that a man's love is worth," she said to herself. "He cost her her life, and it is me he thinks of, who am well and strong, and in no trouble." And yet it went to her heart that he should have so thought. In this keen complication of feeling, Mrs Hayward, for the time, could realise nothing else. It was not possible to think of the dead girl and herself but as rivals and this, too, gave her a pang. How mean, how ungenerous, how miserable it was! Such a story in a book, much more in real life, would have moved her to warm tears; but in this, which touched herself so closely, she could feel no true pity. It was her rival, it was one who had come before her, whose shadow had lain upon her life and darkened it, who even now was bringing trouble into it-trouble of which it was impossible to fathom the full ex
How could there be tenderness where such sharp antagonism was? And yet, how poor, how small, how petty, how unworthy was the feeling!
In these contrarieties her mind was caught, and thrilled with sharp vexation, shame, scorn of herself, and sense of that profound vanity of human things which makes the present in its pettiness so much greater than the past, and dims and obliterates everything that is over. To think that such a tragedy had been, and that those who were most concerned thought of their poor share in it first, and not of her who was the victim! That contradiction of all that was most true and just, that infidelity which is in every human thing, the callousness and egotism which ran through the best, jarred her with a discord which was in herself as well as in all the rest. But when she had cried her heart out, Mrs Hayward, as was natural, exhausted that first poignant sensation, and came to contemplate apart from all that was past the present condition of affairs, which was not more consolatory. Indeed, when, putting the tragedy of the poor Joyce who was dead out of her mind, she returned to the present, the figure of the living Joyce suddenly rose. before her with a sharp distinctness that made her spring to her feet as a soldier springs to his weapon when suddenly confronted by an enemy. Mrs Hayward had never seen Joyce, so that this figure was purely imaginary which rose before her, with a stinging touch, reminding her that here was something which was not past but present, a reality,-no affair of memory or sentiment, but a difficulty real and tangible, standing straight before her, not to be passed by or forgotten. She
sprang up as if to arms, to meet the new antagonist who thus presented herself, and must be met, but not with arms in hand, nor as an antagonist at all. Joyce herself would scarcely have been so terrible to encounter as Joyce's child thus coming between her husband and herself, taking possession of the foreground of their existence whether they would or not. What Mrs Hayward would be called upon to do would be— not to retire before this new actor in her existence, not to withdraw and leave the field as she had always felt it possible she might have to do, but to receive, to live with,-good heavens! perhaps to love her! Yes; no doubt this was what the Colonel would want; he would require her to love this girl who was his child. He would take it for granted that she must do so; he would innocently lay all the burden upon her, and force her into a maternity which nature had not required of her. A mother! ah yes, she could have been a mother indeed had God willed it so; but to produce that undeveloped side of her, that capacity which she had been so often tempted to think Providence had wronged her by leaving in abeyance, for the benefit of this country girl, this Scotch peasant with all her crude education, her conceit (no doubt) of superiority, her odious schoolmistress's training!
Mrs Hayward could not sit still and look calmly at what was before her. There was something intolerable in it, which stung her into energy, which made her feel the necessity of being up and doing, of making a stand against misfortune. However much she might resent and resist in her private soul, she would have to do this thing, and put on a semblance of doing it with, not
against, her own will and liking. Talk of the contradictions of fate! they seemed to be all grouped together in this problem which she had to work out. If the child had been a boy, the Colonel would have been compelled more or less to take the charge upon himself. There would have been school or college, or the necessities of a profession, to occupy the newcomer; but that it should be a girl-a girl, a young woman, a creature entirely within the sphere of Colonel Hayward's wife, whose business it would be not only to be a mother to her, but to receive her as a companion, to amend her manners, to watch over all her proceedings, to take the responsibility night and day! Mrs Hayward felt that she could have put up with a boy. He would not have been her business so much as his father's, and he would not for ever and ever have recalled his mother, and put her in mind of all that had been, and of all she herself had already borne. For though she had accepted the position knowing all that was involved, and though it was, so to speak, her own fault that she had encountered these difficulties, still there could be no doubt that she had for years had much to bear; and now what a climax, what a crown to everything! A second Joyce, no doubt, with all the headstrong qualities which had made the first Joyce spoil her own life and the lives of others, with all the disadvantages of her peasant training, of her education even, which would be rather worse than ignorance. Mrs Hayward conjured up before her the image of a pupil-teacher, a good girl striving for examinations, immaculate in spelling, thinking of everything as the subject of a lesson: looking up with awe to the inspector, with rever
ence to some little prig of a schoolmaster, a girl with neat collars and cuffs, knowing her own condition in life, and very respectful to her superiors: or else bumptious, and standing upon her dignity as an educated person, which Mrs Hayward had heard was more the way of the Scotch. In either point of view what a prospect, what a companion !
And the Colonel's wife knew how that good man would conduct himself. He would remonstrate with her if the girl were gauche, or if she were disagreeable and presuming. He would say, "You must tell her". -"you must make her do so-and-so." If his taste was shocked, if the girl turned out to be very dreadful, he himself, who ought to know so much better, would throw all the blame upon her. Or perhaps, which would be still more intolerable, his eyes would be blinded, and he would see nothing that was not beautiful and amiable in his child. With a sudden flush of irritation, Mrs Hayward felt that this would be more unbearable still. Joyce had been the bugbear of his life in the past; what if Joyce were to be the model, the example of every good quality, the admiration and delight of his life to come and she herself, the stepmother, the half-rival, halftyrant, the one who would not appreciate the new heroine! No one was so ready as Elizabeth to perceive all her husband's excellent qualities. He was good as an angel or a child-there was no soil in him. His kindness, his tenderness, his generous heart, his innocent life, were her pride and delight. And the perpetual appeal which he made to her, the helplessness with which he flung himself upon her for inspiration and counsel, made him dearer still. She herself laughed and sometimes
frowned at the devout aspiration, "If only Elizabeth were here!" for which all his friends smiled at the Colonel; but at the same time it warmed her heart. And yet there was no one in the world so feelingly alive to the irritations and vexations which were involved in this supreme helplessness and trust. There were moments when he worried her almost beyond endurance. She had to be perpetually on the watch. She had to subdue herself and forget herself, and make a thousand daily sacrifices to the man whom she ruled absolutely, and who was ready at her fiat almost to live or die.
But of all intolerable things, that which was most intolerable was the suggestion that he might in this matter judge for himself without her aid,—that he might admit this strange girl into his heart, and place her on the pinnacle which had hitherto been sacred to Elizabeth alone.
She had seated herself on grassy bank under the shade of the trees which skirted one side of the park of Bellendean. Instinctively she had chosen a spot where there was "a view." How many such spots are there to which preoccupied people, with something to think out, resort half unawares, and all-unconscious of the landscape spread before them! Edinburgh grey in the distance, with her crags and towers, shone through the opening carefully cut in the trees, the angle of the castled rock standing forth boldly against the dimness of the smoke behind; and the air was so clear, and the atmosphere so still, that while Mrs Hayward sat there the sound of the gun which regulates the time for all Edinburgh, the gun fired from the Castle at one o'clock, boomed through the distance with a sudden shock
which made her start. not a fanciful woman, nor given to metaphors. But there was something in the peace of the landscape, the summer quiet, broken only by the hum of insects and rustle of the waving boughs, the distant town too far off to add a note to that soft breathing of nature, which made a centre to the picture and no more—when the air was suddenly rent by the harsh and fatal sound of the gun, making the spectator start, which was to her like an emblematic representation of what had happened to herself. To be sure, if she had but thought of it, that voice of war had been tamed into a service of domestic peace, a sound as innocent as chanticleer ; but Mrs Hayward was a stranger, and was unaware of this. rose up hurriedly, startled by the shock in the air, she saw her husband coming towards her across the sunshine. He was moving like a man in a dream, moving instinctively towards where she was, but otherwise unconscious where he was going, unaware of the little heights and hollows, stumbling over the stump of a tree that came in his way. The sight of his abstraction brought her back to herself. He came up to her, and held out the little packet in his hand.
"Put them away," he said, hoarsely; "lock them up in some sure place, Elizabeth. To think all that should have been going on, and I ignorant-oh, as ignorant as the babe unborn!"
"How could you know when she never told you?" Mrs Hayward cried quickly, instinctively taking his part, even against himself. He put his large hand upon her small shoulder, and patted her with a deprecating, soothing touch, as if the wrong and the sorrow were not his but hers.