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A bystander now considerately offered Mr. Youle the loan of his horse and buggy, and Coralie and her aunt were swiftly driven homeward. The remainder of the party walked back as they had come-Miss Thane and Bergan being in the rear. As they turned into the narrow woodpath, she motioned him to precede her; and he quietly obeyed, understanding, better than she knew, her desire to feel herself free from observation. Yet he failed not to listen for the sound of her light footsteps behind him, and to adapt his pace to hers. Meanwhile, his mind busied itself, almost against his will, with a new and serious question. In the little interval before the starting of the buggy, Coralie had taken his hands in hers, and thanked him for the service rendered her, with a look that haunted him still. There had been nothing in that look but what was most delicate and maidenly,-an involuntary attempt to help out with her eyes the broken words which yet expressed her gratitude so well; nevertheless, it had been possessed of some indefinable quality which had touched him deeply at the time, and now set him gravely to question within himself whether he had any right to be the object of a second look of the kind; at least, while the past was still a desolate grave, over which no grass yet grew green, no flowers bloomed. Trained to look difficult questions in the face, stripping them of all confusing or meretricious appendages, it did not take him long to arrive at an emphatic "No," as the only possible answer to this one. Fortunately, he had not committed himself to any particular length of stay at Farview, and the sudden recollection of an important paper that he had locked up in his desk, instead of committing it to the safer guardianship of the fire-proof safe, suggested itself as an excellent excuse for a speedy departure. He decided that he would take bis leave early in the morning, and see Coralie no more until he had determined that the past had become so far a dream as to admit of a new dream of the future.
This honourable decision being reached, his mind was sufficiently at ease to allow him to notice that his pace had gradually become a very slow one, in half unconscious conformity to the lagging footsteps behind him,footsteps which spoke so unmistakably of a troubled mind or an exhausted frame. It even appeared that Miss Thane stopped altogether, now and then, by reason of absorbing thought, or from the necessity of taking breath. Bergan hesitated for a moment, divided between the fear of being intrusive, and the kindly impulse to afford timely help; but the latter prevailed, and, the path having widened somewhat, he turned and offered her his arm. She shook her head absently, at first; then seemed to become suddenly aware that support was needful, and accepted it.
“We are privileged to be silent, I believe," said Bergan, as they moved on together, “only in the presence of strangers or friends. Count me in either category, as you please, and do not trouble yourself to talk. I see you are tired.”
“Thank you," returned Miss Thane, in a cool tone of acquiescence.
Across the next two fields, their own linked shadows, sliding slowly over the ground in advance of them, were not more silent than they. The voices of their companions, who had far outstripped them, reached their ears only in subdued and harmonious murmurs. The moonlight lay over the earth like a visible blessing of peace ; and even threw a kind of reflected brightness into Miss Thane's heart, by the aid of which she was better able to try to find some pathway out of its shadows. In that one terrible moment, when she had seemed to see Coralie wrapped in flames, a swift vision of herself, left standing alone in the world --without relative, without friend, without human affection, hope, or solace—a lonely, empty, unsatisfied heart—had risen before her, and left her appalled, even in the midst of her thankfulness that it was only a vision as yet, and not a reality. For, how easily, through the agency of a boat or an engine, a fever or a chill, a thousand every-day accidents, it might still become a reality! With what was she then to supply Coralie's place in her heart and life?
Awhile ago, she would have answered confidently, “With Art.” Now, she knew better. For two years she had been testing Art's capacity to fill and satisfy an empty human heart, and her soul was exceeding bitter with the unexpected result. She had painfully experienced the truth (though she could hardly be said to understand it as yet) that he who embraces Art with a thought of self and not of service, will find it turn to ice or to ashes in his arms. In itself, it has neither balm for affliction, nor skilful surgery for remorse, nor sunshine to throw athwart the black gloom of despair.
Out of this bitter knowledge Miss Thane finally spoke, apparently recurring in thought to their previous talk on the piazza :
“Mr. Arling, how is one to love God, if one does not?”
“I think, where it is not spontaneous,” Bergan answered, after a moment's consideration, “that such love is most surely to be attained through prayer and service; -a frequent lifting up of the heart to Him whom it would fain love; a constant endeavour to do His will, as the best means of developing and manifesting love."
Miss Thane looked down thoughtfully. “I have known-a man,”—she began slowly, with a shade of irrepressible sadness in her tone,—"a man not less gifted with talent and intellectual power than yourself, and with a somewhat longer and more varied experience in the use of his gifts, who would have laughed at the idea of any virtue in prayer, except as affording a pleasant illusion to a weak mind.”
“I, too, have known such a man,' replied Bergan the image of Doctor Remy rising irresistibly before his mind, and causing a dull ache in his heart; “ but was he —was this man of whom you speak—or had he ever been. in the devout, habitual use of prayer ? "
She shook her head, “I do not know, probably not.”
“Miss Thane, you would scarcely need to have me warn you that no man is to be accepted as authority, in law or medicine, who is not thoroughly conversant with the subject, both by study and practice. So those, and those only, who pray themselves, humbly, devoutly, persistently have any right to pronounce upon the efficacy of
flowing outline of the moon-silvered hills. Those womanly tears, he was certain, would afford most safe and seasonable relief to whatever pain and excitement, whatever distressful memories or dismal forebodings, had resulted from the evening's events.
For himself, comparative stranger as he was, he had no right to give Miss Thane more than the silent sympathy of a heart itself not unacquainted with sorrow.
Suddenly, the deep silence was broken by the soft whirr of wings. A bird, flying as straight over the moonlighted fields as if let loose by an unseen hand for that purpose, alighted in the boughs over the two motionless figures, and shook down upon them a shower of liquid notes,-sweet, clear, and joyous,-a very prophecy of hope.
The song being sung, the bird soon spread its wings and flew back to its nest and its mate. Then Diva rose, and held out her hand to Bergan.
“ I accept your offer,” said she. “Something tells me that the time will come when I can repay you is degree, if not in kind.”
And Bergan, as he took the white, cool hand-empty now, except perhaps of a half-reluctant gratitude, and a moderate measure of good-will-had a singular intuition that some day it would be held out to him with an inestimable gift in it.
AN AIMLESS STROLL.
She looked up at him quickly and keenly. "Pardon me, but-have you the right to speak with authority ? ”
“In some small measure, yes. I can certify you that the medicine is good, because I have taken it; that the staff is strong, because I have leaned upon it; that the weapon is efficient, because I have fought with it. Allow me to hope that you do not need the certification."
Her eyes fell, and her cheek Aushed slightly, but she answered with her usual straightforward candour: “I. was never taught to pray ;-my mother died when I was born, and my father believed none of these things. I have no habit of prayer." “ Does no one pray
Bergan looked down upon her, and a sudden moisture dimmed his eyes. His heart was taken complete possession of, for the moment, by a vast, sorrowful pity for this beautiful and gifted woman, who masked so empty and aching a heart with so cold a demeanour, impelling him irresistibly to help her, as he could.
“When you are next asked that question,” said he, and there was a deep, rich melody in his voice, “do not say that you
don't know,' for I promise to put up a prayer for you daily, from henceforth, until you send me word that you have learned to pray habitually and gladly for yourself. Hereafter, when you lie down to rest, remember that another-claiming no title of friend, but simply that of neighbour-has asked forgiveness for your day, protection for your night, and every strength that you need for your morrow.”
The proud heart was touched at last. That is to say, Bergan's words were the effectual “last drop" in the full cup of the evening's varied emotions,— comparatively insignificant perhaps in itself, but none the less inevitably productive of overflow. Miss Thane's lips parted with a kind of gasp, scarcely distinguishable as sound, but profoundly suggestive of pain ; and a perceptible tremor ran over her from head to foot. Suddenly releasing Bergan's arm, she sat down on a fallen tree by the side of the path, and covered her face with her hands, while tears, dripping through her slender fingers, glistened gem-like in the moonlight.
Yet it argued much for her power of self-control, that she made no sound, nor shook with any sob. Grief must be content to exercise over her limited, not absolute dominion.
Bergan withdrew to a little distance, and waited silently, looking out over the shadowy valley to the fair,
Late one afternoon, about a month after Bergan's retur to Savalla, he quitted the office, which seemed to have grown unaccountably barren and dreary of aspect, and set out for an aimless stroll through the city. The air was fresh and moist from a recent shower, and the slanting sunbeams were working alchemic wonders in the streets and squares; turning the polished leaves of the oak and olive trees to silver, and hanging them with prismatic jewels, enriching the grass with a vivider green, and the earth with a rich golden brown, and imprinting the sensitive surface of every tiny rain-pool with a lovely picture of blue sky, fleecy clouds, and pendent sprays foliage.
Through all these pleasant sights Bergan moved slowly and half absently, occupying himself less with their beauty than with the sober monologue of his own thoughts. Yet his gaze was not without occasional moments of intelligence, and in one of these he noticed a child, attended by a large dog, standing with a curiously doubtful, undecided air, in the midst of the square that he was crossing. Suddenly making up her mind, it would seem, she held out her hand to a gentleman coming from the opposite direction, who took no further notice of the mute appeal than was implied by a shake of the head. The sight was a comparatively strange one in those days,
when begging was resorted to as an occasional resource, rather than followed as a regular trade; and Bergan continued to observe the child with a certain degree of interest, though not with a wholly unpreoccupied mind, as he advanced toward her.
All at once, it struck him that there was something oddly familiar about her slender little figure. As for the dog, he was certainly an old acquaintance, as could easily be proven; and Bergan's lips emitted a low, peculiar whistle. There was an instant pricking up of the canine ears, and an inquisitive turning sidewise of the canine head, but the faithful animal would not leave his young mistress until he was absolutely certain that he recognized a friend. She, meanwhile, seemed to notice neither the whistle nor its effect; nor could she distinctly see what manner of man drew near, her eyes being dazzled by the level sun-rays, but she again mutely held out her hand.
It was instantly taken possession of. “Cathie,” said Bergan, wonderingly, “what does this mean?"
She looked at him a moment in blank bewilderment, but ended by recognizing him and Ainging herself into bis arms exactly as the Cathie of a year before would have done ; but with a deep, long-drawn, repressed sob, implying a profounder sorrow than had ever darkened the horizon of even that child of many and incomprehensible moods.
Yet Bergan was considerably relieved by her first words :—“Oh, Mr. Arling, don't tell mamma-don't tell Astra-please don't!” It seemed probable that the episode of the begging was simply one of the child's strange freaks.
“Did you do it for fun, then?” he asked. “Fun?" repeated Cathie, with indignant emphasis, do
you think it's fun to beg, Mr. Arling ? I don't. I was so ashamed that I wanted to hide my face with both hands."
" Then why did you do it?" asked Bergan, gravely.
The child's lip assumed its most sorrowful curve. "To get some money to give Astra,” she answered. “We are very poor now; the bank went and got broke, with all mamma's money in it; and she was taken sick, and Astra couldn't get much to do, and we've had to move into a little mean house, in a dirty little street, where there are no flowers, nor trees, nor anything that's nice. And this morning I saw Astra take the last money out of her purse, to pay the rent, and she looked-oh! I can't tell how she looked,-something like that big grey man, with the little boy on his back, that she made so long ago; and I did so wish that I could do something to help her, just a little bit. So, when she sent me out to take a walk with Nix, it came into my head that I could beg for her, if I couldn't do anything else, and I thought I'd try it. Was it doing wrong?"
Bergan did not answer except by stooping to kiss the child's upturned face. His eyes grew moist.
“I know it must be wrong," pursued Cathie, innocently, “if it makes you cry, Mr. Arling."
“No, Cathie," replied Bergan, smiling reassuringly. “ I do not think it was wrong,—at least, you did not mean to do wrong, and that makes a great difference. But I don't think that you will need to try it again. Now, certainly you can do something better, that is, take me home with you."
On the way, Cathie, secure in the sympathy of this trusted friend of better days, gave a more detailed account of the misfortunes that bad befallen the little family, since it left Berganton. His heart ached as he pictured to himself the weary and wasting struggle with poverty that Astra had maintained so bravely, yet so hopelessly ; heavily weighted, on the one hand, with the burden of disappointed affection, and, on the other, with the anxiety caused by her mother's severe illness. For works of art, there had been no demand; for portrait busts and medallions, there had been only a scanty and fitful one. Her last resource had been pupils in drawing, but these had now failed her, in consequeuce of the usual summer exodus of the city's wealthier population ; by reason of which she was reduced to the bitter straits shadowed forth by Cathie's earlier communications. It was touching, too, to see what real nobleness of character had all along been hidden under the child's caprice and waywardness, as evinced by the fact that she said little of the privations that had fallen to her own lot, but dwelt chiefly on her mother's lack of accustomed comforts, and the forlorn face that Astra wore, when out of that mother's sight.
The house was reached before the story had come to an end. It was a little better than Bergan's fears, but far worse than his hopes. It smote him to the heart to contrast it with the comfortable and spacious mansion that had opened its doors so readily to him at Berganton, and wherein he had come to feel himself so pleasantly at home. : Cathie ushered Bergan into the dingy little room that served both for parlour and studio, and then rushed through the opposite door, full of the importance of the news that she had to impart. There was a smothered exclamation of surprise from the adjoining room, followed by a murmured consultation; and then Astra appeared in the doorway.
But it was by no means the Astra of Bergan's remembrance. The features were the same, to be sure, but the light, the hope, the energy, that bad animated them, and informed them with such rich and varied expression, was utterly lacking. There was a perceptible line between the eyebrows, as if the brow were wont to be knit over difficult problems; and the mouth expressed a settled melancholy, which a smile seemed only to vary slightly, not to displace. Nor could Bergan help detecting a little hardness in it,—the look of a defeated general, forced to lay down his weapons, but still unsubdued in will.
What he most marvelled at, however, was that it immediately brought Diva Thane's face before him, as if
there was some 'subtle relation between them, though there was not the slightest resemblance.
Astra's manner to him was scarcely less altered than her face. It was not exactly cold, but it lacked much of the old warmth and heartiness. Bergan took no notice of it; he readily divined what chords of painful association were thrilled at the sight of him, and how inevitably her pride revolted against being seen in her present surroundings. Her hand was so cold when he took it in his, that he pressed it between both his own, with a vague idea of warming it; then, stirred by a sympathy too deep for ordinary expression, he bent over and touched it with his lips.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing, just now," she answered, mournfully. “I believe my hands have lost their cunning,-if ever they had any. That is the last.” She pointed to a small basrelief.
It represented a child, skipping lightly down a flowery slope, trailing a vine behind her. The face was turned so far away from the beholder, as to show only the rounded outline of the youthful cheek and brow, but the figure expressed a wonderful joyousness. In more senses than one, it was plainly, “In the Sunshine ;” which title was lightly scratched in the plaster.
Bergan studied it attentively. “It is as fresh as a rose," said he, “and as sweet. This “Sunshine'is just what I want to brighten my office. I was thinking, this very day, that something must be done to make it less dismal. I suppose it is for sale?”.
Astra bent her head a little stiffly. She doubted the reality of this new-born desire for office decorations.
He took out his purse, and laid a folded bank-note on the table. He expected that she would not look at it, until after he had gone, but she immediately took it up, opened it, and tendered it back to him.
“It is too much," said she proudly. And her look added, “I am no beggar.”
“Is it?" inquired Bergan, with apparent surprise. “I thought it agreed tolerably well with the prices that you used to mention as the least you would receive for your works, in the future.”
“I have lived to grow wiser,” replied Astra.
“It is all the same," rejoined Bergan composedly, “I was about to say that, as my mother has long been entreating me to send her some sort of a portrait, it occurs to me that I cannot do better than to get you to make a medallion or a bust of me, whichever you please. The balance of the note can go toward the first payment. We will arrange for the sittings, as soon as you are at leisure.”
Astra's lip trembled. Put in this way, the note might be retained; and no one knew so well as herself what an amount of relief to her, and of comfort to her mother, it ensured. But her pride was very sore, nevertheless, and her face was little grateful, as she dropped the note on the table, somewhat as if it had burned her fingers.
Burgan hastened to change the subject. “I am sorry not to see your mother,” he began ; but Astra interrupted him.
“She would like to see you very much,” said she, “if you don't mind coming to her room. It is several days since she has left it; though I really think that she is better to-day."
“Why should I mind?" asked Bergan, smiling. "She used to call me her son sometimes; though you do take such pains to give me to understand that you utterly repudiate me as a brother."
Astra turned her face aside, to conceal the sudden unbending of the set mouth. “Indeed, I do not,” she faltered.
Bergan drew her toward him, just as a brother would have done. “Then you will help me to persuade her to move into more comfortable quarters at once. I promise you that it shall be arranged so carefully as to give her the least possible fatigue.”
Astra shook her head. "It cannot be ; it would excite her too much. Her disease is of the heart; and joy kills as surely as sorrow. When I moved her here—being imperatively forced to do so, because I could not afford to stay where we were-I determined that, let come what would, she should not be stirred again, until she is a great deal better or-worse. Thank you for the kind thought, but indeed she is best off here, for the present,—now that I have the means of making her tolerably comfortable."
In the last sentence, there was some trace of Astra's old self; and, glad to have gained thus much, Bergan followed her to Mrs. Lyte's bedside.
If he still cherished any belief in the feasibility of removing her, it vanished with the first sight of her face. He wondered what could have led Astra to think her better. Even to his inexperienced eyes, the struggling breath, the beaded forehead, the ashy pallor, indicated but too plainly that the thread of her life was wellnigh
Yet she was less changed, in some respects, than Astra. Her smile had the old sweetness; her facewhen the excitement caused by his unexpected visit was calmed a little, and she could breathe easier-had the old expression of gentle resignation. It lighted up, too, at sight of him ;-as he had reminded Astra, she had come to regard him with a half-motherly affection, during his residence in her house.
“ It is very good of you to come to us," she said, gratefully; "it seems a great while since I have seen any friendly face.”
“If I had only known that you were in Savalla, I should have come much sooner," answered Bergan.
“And if I had known that you were here," she responded, “I should certainly have sent for you. It is strange, Astra, that we never happened to hear of him.”
Mrs. Lyte briefly explained the circumstances which had led to the removal. She stated, furthermore, that she had written to Major Bergan, upon the failure of the bank where her money was invested, and inquired if he had sold the house, and whether there was any balance in her favour. To which he replied that he had done nothing about the matter, and proposed to do nothing at present; he only wished that she would come back, and live in it, as before. But this was impossible, she had now no means of maintaining so large and expensive a place. She had, therefore, written again, to the effect that she asked nothing better than the immediate foreclosure of the mortgage, and the sale of the property. Would he attend to it at his earliest convenience, and forward her the balance? To this letter there had been no reply; she took it for granted that a purchaser had not been found. What she desired of Bergan, in the event of her death, which she believed to be near at hand, was to hurry forward the sale of the place, and secure something for Astra, if possible. This he promised to do; and he added, in a tone that brought instant conviction to her mind, and tears of gratitude to her eyes, that, however this matter terminated, neither Astra nor Cathie should lack friendly aid, at need.
When he finally took his leave, Bergan beckoned Astra to the door. “Are you alone here?" he inquired. " Is there no one to share your labours and your cares ? '
“We brought our old Chloe with us,” replied Astra ; “she would not be left behind, and indeed, I do not know what we should have done without her. But lately the good old creature has insisted upon going out to do a day's washing, now and then, to bring something into the family purse; she is out to-day. When she is home, she does all she can."
Bergan recollected the old slave, and doubted nothing of her fidelity. But, in the woeful event that he foresaw, Astra would need other help, other sympathy, he thought.
" Is there no one you can send for,-no relative, no friend, in Berganton, or elsewhere?” he persisted.
“None,” replied Astra. "And what accommodations have we for such a friend, if we had one?"
There was nothing more to be said. He shook her hand warmly, told her that he had promised her mother to come again on the morrow, lifted his hat, with his usual courtesy, and went down the street, in such a maze of pity and perplexity, that he forgot to notice which way he went.
When he became cognizant of his whereabouts, he was standing before a large, old-fashioned mansion fronting on one of the principal squares of the city. On the door was a silver plate, bearing the name of “Diva THANE, ARTIST."