the sunshine, which shone right into Aunt Agatha's
eyes, and made everything black between her and the
light. It came drifting as it were between her and the
sun, like the phantom ship in the mariner's vision.
She gazed and did not see, and felt as if a kind of
insanity was taking possession of her. "Is it Mary?"
she said, in a trembling voice, and at the same moment
felt by something in the air that it was not Mary.
And then Aunt Agatha gave such a cry as brought
Peggy, and indeed all the household, in alarm to the
It was a woman who looked as old as Mary, and
did not seem ever to have been half so fair. She had
a shawl drawn tightly round her shoulders, as if she
were cold, and a veil over her face. She was of a
very thin meagre form, with a kind of forlorn grace
about her, as if she might have been splendid under
better conditions. Her eyes were hollow and large, her
cheek-bones prominent, her face worn out of all fresh-
ness, and possessing only Avhat looked like a scornful
recollection of beauty. The noble form had missed its
development, the fine capabilities had been checked or
turned in a false direction. When Aunt Agatha uttered
that gi-eat cry which brought Peggy from the utmost
depths of the house, the new comer showed no corres-
ponding emotion. She said, "No; it is I," with a kind
of bitter rather than affectionate meaning, and stood
stock-still before the gate, and did not even make a
movement to lift her veil. Miss Seton made a tremulous
rush forward to her, but she did not advance to meet
it; and when Aunt Agatha faltered and was likely to
fall, it was not the stranger's arm that interposed to
MADONNA MARY- 39
save lier. She stood still, neither advancing nov going-
back. She read the shock, the jtainful recognition, the
reluctant certainty in Miss Seton's eye. She was like
the returning prodigal so far, but she was not content
with his position. It Avas no happiness to her to go
home, and yet it ought to have been; and she conld
not forgive her aunt for feeling the shock of the
recognition. AVhen she roused herself, after a moment,
it was not because she was pleased to come home, but
because it occurred to her that it was absurd to stand
still and be stared at, and make a scene.
And when Peggy caught her mistress in her arms,
to keep her from falling, the stranger made a step for-
ward and gave her a hurried kiss, and said, "It is I,
Aunt Agatha. I thought you would have known me
better. I will follow you directly," and then turned
to take out her purse, and give a shilling to the porter,
who had carried her bag from the station — which was
a proceeding which they all watched in consternation,
as if it had been something remarkable. Winnie,
was still Winnie, though it was difficult to realize that
Mrs. Percival was she. She was coming back wounded,
resentful, remorseful to her old home; and she did not
mean to give in, nor show the feelings of a prodigal,
nor gush forth into affectionateness. To see her give
(he man the shilling brought Aunt Agatha to herself.
She raised her head from l*eggy's shoulder, and stood
u])right, trembling, but self-restrained. "I am a silly
old woman to be so surprised," she said; "but you did
not write to say what day we were to expect you, my
"I did not write anything about it," said AVinnie;
40 MADONNA MARY.
"for I did not know. But let me go in, please; don't
let us stay here."
"Come in, my darling," said Aunt Agatha. "Oh,
how glad, how thankful, how happy I am, Winnie, my
dear love, to see you again!"
"I think you are more shocked than glad," said
Winnie; and that was all she said, until they had
entered the room where Miss Seton had just left her
maiden dreams. Then the wanderer, instead of throw-
ing herself into Aunt Agatha's kind longing arms,
looked all round her with a strange passionate mourn-
fulness and spitefulness. "I don't wonder you were
shocked," she said, going up to the glass, and looking
at herself in it. "You, all just the same as ever, and
such a change in me!"
"Oh, Winnie, my darling!" cried Aitnt Agatha,
throwing herself upon her child with a yearning which
was no longer to be restrained; "do you think there
can ever be any change in you to me? Oh, Winnie,
my dear love! come and let me look at you; let me
feel I have you in my arms at last, and that you have
really come home."
"Yes, I have come home," said Winnie, suffering
herself to be kissed. "I am sure I am very glad that
you are pleased. Of course Mary is still here, and her
children? Is she going to marry again? Are her boys
as tiresome as ever? Yes, thank you, I will take my
things off — and I should like something to eat. Biit
you must not make too much of me, Aunt Agatha, for
I have not come only for a day."
"Winnie, dear, don't you know if it was for your
good I would like to have you for ever?" cried poor
MADOXNA MARV. 41
Aunt Agatha, trembling so that she could scarcely form
And then for a moment, the strange woman, who
was Winnie, looked as if she too was moved. Some-
thing like a tear came into the corner of her eye. Her
breast heaved with one profound, unnatural, convulsive
swell. "Ah, you don't know me now," she said, with
a certain sharpness of anguish and rage in her A'oice.
Aunt Agatha did not understand it, and trembled all
the more; but her good genius led her, instead of ask-
ing questions as she was burning to do, to take
off Winnie's bonnet and her shawl, moving softly
about her with her soft old hands, which shook yet
did their office. Aunt Agatha did not understand it,
but yet it was not so very difficult to understand.
Winnie was abashed and dismayed to find herself
there among all the innocent recollections of her
youth — and she was full of rage and misery at the
remembrance of all her injuries, and to think of the
explanation which she would have to give. She was
even angry with Aunt Agatha because she did not
know what manner of woman her Winnie had grown
— but beneath all this impatience and irritation was
such a gulf of wretchedness and wrong that even the
unreasonableness took a kind of miserable reason. She
did well to be angry with herself, and all the Avorld.
Her friends ought to understand the difference, and see
what a changed creature she was, without exacting the
humiliation of an explanation; and yet at the same
time the poor soul in her misery was angry to perceive
that Aunt Agatha did see a difference. She suffered
her bonnet and shawl to be taken off, but started when
she felt Miss Seton's soft caressing hand upon her hair.
42 MADONNA MARY.
She started partly because it was a caress she was un-
used to, and partly that her hair had grown thin and
even had some grey threads in it, and she did not like
that change to be observed; for she had been proud of
her pretty hair, and taken pleasure in it as so many
women do. She rose up as she felt that touch, and
took the shawl which had been laid upon a chair.
"I suppose I can have my old room," she said.
"Never mind coming with me as if I was a visitor. I
should like to go upstairs, and I ought to know the
way, and be at home here."
"It is not for that, my darling," said Aunt Agatha,
with hesitation; "but you must have the best room,
Winnie. Not that I mean to make a stranger of you.
But the truth is one of the boys — and then it is too
small for what you ought to have now."
"One of the boys — which of the boys?" said
Winnie. "I thought you would have kept my old
room — I did not think you would have let your
house be overrun with boys. I don't mind where it
is, but let me go and put my things somewhere and
make myself respectable. Is it Hugh that has my room?"
"No, — Will," said Aunt Agatha, faltering; "I
could change him, if yoia like, but the best room is far
the best. My dear love, it is just as it was when you
Avent away. Will! Here is Will. This is the little
one that was the baby — I don't think that you can
say he is not changed."
"Not so much as I am," said Mrs. Percival, under
her breath, as turning round she saw the long-limbed,
curious boy, with his pale face and inquiring eyes,
standing in the open window. Will was not excited,
but he was curious; and as he looked at the stranger,
MADONNA MARY. 43
tliougli lie had never seen her before, his quick mind
set to work on the subject, and he put two and two
together and divined who it was. He was not like her
in external appearance — at least he had never been
a handsome boy, and Winnie had still her remains of
Avasted beauty — but yet perhaps they were like each
other in a more subtle, invisible way. Winnie looked
at him, and she gave her shoulders a shrug and turned
impatiently away. "It must be a dreadful nuisance to
1)6 interrupted like that, whatever you may be talking
about," she said. "It does not matter what room I am
to have, but I suppose I may go upstairs?"
"My dear love, I am waiting for you," said poor
Aunt Agatha, anxiously. "Kun, Will, and tell your
mother that my dear Winnie has come home. Run as
fast as ever you can, and tell her to make haste.
Winnie, my darling, let me carry your shawl. You will
feel more like yourself when you have had a good rest;
and Mary will be back directly, and I know how glad
she will be."
"Will she?" said Winnie; and she looked at the
lioy and heard him receive his instructions, and felt his
((uick eyes go throiigh and through her. "lie will go
and tell liis mother the wreck I am," she said to her-
self, with bitterness; and felt as if she hated Wilfrid.
She had no children to defend and surround her, or
even to take messages. No one could say, referring
to her, " Go and tell your mother." It was IVIary that
was well off, always the fortunate one, and for the
moment poor Winnie felt as if she hated the keen-eyed
Will, for his part, went off to seek his mother,
leaving Aunt Agatha to conduct her dear and welcome,
44 MADONNA MAKV.
but embarrassing and difficult, guest upstairs. He did
not run, nor show any symptoms of unnecessary haste,
but went along in a very steady, leisurely way. He
was so far like Winnie that he did not see any occa-
sion for disturbing himself much on account of other
people. He went to seek Mrs. Ochterlony with his
hands in his pockets, and his mind working steadily at
the new position of affairs. Why this new-comer should
have amved so unexpectedly? why Aunt Agatha should
look so anxious, and helpless, and confused, as if, not-
withstanding her love, she did not know what to do
with her visitor? were questions which exercised all
Will's faculties. He walked up to his mother, who was
coming quietly along the road from the village, and
joined her Avithout disturbing himself. "Aunt Agatha
sent me to look for yovx," he said, and turned with her
towards the Cottage in the calmest way.
"I am afraid she thought I was late," said Mary.
"It was not that," said Will. "Mrs. Percival had
just come, so far as I could understand, and she sent
me to tell you."
"Mrs. Percival?" cried Mary, stopping short.
"Whom do you mean? Not Winnie? Not my sister?
You must have made some mistake."
"I think it was. It looked like her," said Will, in
his calm way.
Mary stood still, and her breath seemed to fail her
for the moment; she had what the French call a
serrement du cceur. It felt as if some invisible hand
had seized upon her heart and compressed it tightly;
and her breathing failed, and a chill went through her
veins. The next moment her face flushed with shame
and self-reproach. Could she be thinking of herself
MADONNA MARY. 45
and any possible consequences, and grudging lier sister
the only natural refuge whicb remained to her? She
was incapable for the moment of asking any further
questions, but went on with a sudden hasty impulse,
feeling her head swim, and her whole intelligence con-
fused. It seemed to Mary, for the moment, though
she could not have told how, as if there was an end
of her peaceful life, of her comfort, and all the good
things that remained to her; a chill presentiment, con-
founding and inexplicable, went to her heart; and at
the same time she felt utterly ashamed and horrified
to be thinking of herself at all, and not of poor Winnie,
the returned wanderer. Her thoughts were so busy
and full of occupation that she had gone a long way
before it occurred to her to say anything to her boy.
"You say it looked like her. Will," she began at
last, taking up the conversation where she had left off;
"tell me, Avhat did she look like?"
"She looked just like other women," said Will; "I
didn't remark any difference. As tall as you, and a
sort of a long nose. Why I thought it looked like
her, was because Aunt Agatha was in an awful
"What sort of a way?" cried Mary.
"Oh, well, I don't know. Like a hen, or some-
thing — walking round her, and looking at her, and
cluck-clucking; and yet all the same as if she'd like
"And Winnie," said Mrs. Ochterlony, "how did she
look? — - that is what I want most to know."
"Awfully bored," said Will. He was so sometimes
liimself, when Aunt Agatha paid any special attentions
to him, and he said it with feeling. This was almost
46 MADONNA MARY.
all the conversation that passed between tliem as Mrs.
Ochterlony hurried home. Poor Winnie! Mary knew
better than Miss Setou did what a dimness had fallen
upon her sister's bright prospects — how the lustre of
her innocent name had been tarnished, and all the
freshness and beauty gone ovit of her life; and Mrs. Och-
terlony's heart smote her for the momentary reference
to herself, which she had made without meaning it,
when she heard of Winnie's return. Poor Winnie! if
the home of her youth was not open to her, where
could she find refuge? if her aunt and her sister did
not stand by her, who would? and yet — The sen-
sation was altogether involuntary, and Mary resisted it
with all her might; but she could not help a sort of
instinctive sense that her peace was over, and that
the storms and darkness of life were about to begin
When she went in hurriedly to the drawing-room,
not expecting to see anybody, she found, to her surprise,
that Winnie was there, reclining in an easy chair, with
Aunt Agatha in wistful and anxious attendance on her.
The poor old lady was hovering about her guest, full
of wonder, and pain, and anxioiTS curiosity. Winnie
as yet had given no explanation of her sudden apj^ear-
ance. She had given no satisfaction to her perplexed
and fond comj)anion. When she found that Aunt
Agatha did not leave her, she had come downstairs
again, and dropped listlessly into the easy chair. She
Avanted to have been left alone for a little, to have
realized all that had befallen her, and to feel that she
was not dreaming, but was actually in her old home.
But Miss Seton would have thought it the greatest un-
kindness, the most signal want of love and sympathy,
aiADONNA MARY. 47
and all that a wounded heart required, to leave Winnie
alone. And she was glad when Mary came to help
her to rejoice over, and overwhelm with kindness, her
child who had been lost and was found.
"It is your dear sister, thank God!" she cried, with
tears. "Oh, Mary! to think we should have her again;
to think she should be here after so many changes!
And our own Winnie through it all. She did not
wi'ite to tell us, for she did not quite know the
day — "
"I did nut know things would go further than I
could bear," said Winnie, hurriedly. "Noav Mary is
here, I know you must have some explanation. I have
not come to see you; 1 have come to escape, and hide
myself. Now, if you have any kindness, you won't
ask me any more just now. 1 came off last night be-
cause he went too far. There! that is why I did not
write. I thought you would take me in, whatever my
circumstances might be."
"Oh, Winnie, my darling! then you have not been
happy?" said Aunt Agatha, tearfully clasping Winnie's
hands in her own, and gazing wistfully into her
"Happy!" she said, with something like a laugh,
and then drew her hand away. "Please, let us have
tea or something, and don't question me any more."
It was then only that Mary interposed. Her love
for her sister was not the absorbing love of Aunt
Agatha; but it was a wiser affection. And siie managed
to draw the old lady away, and leave the new-comer
to herself for the moment. "I must not leave Winnie,"
Aunt Agatha said; "I cannot go away from my poor
child; don't you see how unhappy and suffering she is?
48 MADONNA MARY.
You can see after everything- yourself, Mary, there is
nothing to do; and tell Peggy — "
"But I have something to say to you," said Mary,
drawing her reluctant companion away, to Aunt
Agatha's great impatience and disti-ess. As for Winnie,
she was grateful for the moment's quiet, and yet she
was not grateful to her sister. She wanted to be alone
and undisturbed, and yet she rather wanted Aunt
Agatha's suffering looks and tearful eyes to be In the
same room with her. She wanted to resume the sover-
eignty, and to be queen and potentate the moment
after her return; and it did not please her to see an-
other authority, which prevailed over the fascination of
her presence. But yet she was glad to be alone. When
they left her, she lay back in her chair, in a settled
calm of passion which was at once twenty times more
calm than their peacefulness, and twenty times more
passionate than their excitement. She knew whence
she came, and why she came, which they did not.
She knew the last step which had been too far, and
was still tingling with the sense of outrage. She had
in her mind the very different scene she had left, and
which stood oiit in flaming outlines against the dim
background of this place, which seemed to have stopped
still just where she left it, and in all these years to
have grown no older; and her head began to steady a
little out of the whirl. If he ventured to seek her
here, she would turn to bay and defy him. She was
too much absorbed by active enmity, and rage, and
indignation, to be moved by the recollections of her
youth, the romance that had been enacted within these
walls. On the contrary, the last exasperation which
had filled her cup to overflowing was so much more
MADONNA MARY. 49
real than auytlimg tliat followed, that Aunt Agatha
was but a pale ghost to Winnie, flitting dimly across
the fiery surface of her own thoughts; and this calm
scene in which she found herself, almost without know-
ing how, felt somehow like a pasteboard cottage in a
theatre, suddenly let down upon her for the moment.
She had come to escape and hide herself, she said, and
that was in reality what she intended to do; but at the
same time the thought of living there, and making the
change real, had never occurred to her. It was a sud-
den expedient, adopted in the heat of battle; it was not
a flight for her life.
"She has come back to take refuge with us, the
poor darling," said Aunt Agatha. "Oh, Mary, my
dear love, don't let us be hard upon her! She has not
been happy, you heard her say so, and she has come
home; let me go back to Winnie, my dear. She will
think we are not glad to see her, that we don't sym-
pathize — And oh, Mary, her poor dear wounded heart !
when she looks upon all the things that surrounded her,
when she was so happy! — "
And Mary could not succeed in keeping the tender
old lady away, nor in stilling the thousand questions
that bubbled from her kind lips. All she could do was
to provide for Winnie's comfort, and in her own per-
son to leave her undisturbed. And the night fell over
a strangely disquieted household. Aunt Agatha could
not tell whether to cry for joy or for distress, whether
to be most glad that Winnie had come home, or most
concerned and anxious how to account for her sudden
arrival, and keep up appearances, and prevent the
parish from thinking that anything unpleasant had
happened. In Winnie's room there was such a silent
Madoiiua Mary. II, i
50 MADONNA MARY.
tumult of fury, and injury, and active conflict, as had
never existed before near Kirtell side. Winnie was not
thinking, not caring where she was; slie was going
over the last battle from which she had fled, and an-
ticipating the next, and instead of making herself
wretched by tlie contrast of her former happiness, felt
herself only, as it were, in a painted retirement, no
more real than a dream. What was real was her own
feelings, and nothing else on earth. As for Mary, she
too was strangely, and she thought ridiculously aftected
by her sister's return. She tried to explain to herself
that except for her natural sympathy for Winnie, it
affected her in no other way, and was indignant with
herself for dwelling upon a possible derangement of
domestic peace, as if that could not be guarded against,
or even endured if it came about. But nature was too
strong for her. It was not any fear for the domestic
peace that moved her; it was an indescribable con-
viction that this unlooked-for return was the onslaught
signal for a something lying in wait — that it was the
touch of revolution, the opening of the flood-gates —
and that henceforward her life of tranquil confidence
was over, and that some mysterious trouble which
she could not at present identify, had been let loose
upon her, let it come sooner or later, from that day.
MADONNA MARY. 51
After tliat first bewildered night, and when the
morning came, the I'ceollection that Winnie was in the
honse had a tnirions effect upon the thoughts of the
entire househohl. Even Aunt Agatha's uneasy joy
was mingled with many feelings that were not joyful.
She had never had anything to do before with wives
who "were not happy." Any such cases which might
have come to her knowledge among her acquaintance she
had been in the way of avoiding and tacitly condemning.
"A man may be bad," she had been in the habit of
saying, "but still if his wife had right feelings " — and
she was in the way of thinking that it was to a woman's
credit to endure all things, and to make no sign. Such
had been tlie pride and the principles of Aunt Agatha's
generation. But now, as in so many cases, principle
and theory came right in the face of fact, and gave
way. Winnie must be right at whatever cost. Poor
Winnie! to think what she had been, to remember her
as she left Kirtell splendid in her bridal beauty, and
to look at her now! Such arguments made an end of
all Aunt Agatha's old maiden sentiments about a Avife's
duty; but nevertheless her heart still ached. She knew
how she would herself have looked upon a runaway
wife, and she could not endure to think that other
people would so look upon Winnie-, and she dried an
indignant tear, and made a vow to herself to carry
matters with a high hand, and to maintain her child's
discretion, and wisdom, and perfect propriety of action,
52 MADOilNA MARY.
in the face of all comers. "My dear child has come
to pay me a visit, the very first chance she has had,"
she said to herself, rehearsing her part; "I have been
begging and begging her to come, and at last she has
found an opportunity. And to give me a delightful
surprise, she never named the day. It was so like
Winnie." This was what, omitting all notice of the
feelings which made the surprise far from delightful,
Aunt Agatha made up her mind to say.
As for Winnie, when she woke up in the sunshine
and stillness, and heard nothing but the birds singing,
and Kirtell in the distance murmuring below her win-
dow, her heart stood still for a moment and wondered;
and then a few hot salt tears came scalding to her
eyes; and then she began over again in her own mind
the recapitulation of her wrongs. She thought very
little indeed of Aunt Agatha, or of her present sur-
roundings. What she thought of was the late scenes
of exciting strife she had gone through, and future
scenes which might still be before her, and what he
would say to her, and what she would say to him; for
matters had gone so far between tliem that the con-
stantly progressing duel was as absorbing as the first
dream of love, and swallowed up every thought. It
cost her an effort to be patient with all the morning
greetings, with Aunt Agatha's anxious talk at the
breakfast-table, and discussion of the old neighbours,
whom, doubtless, Winnie, she thought, would like to
hear of. Winnie did not care a great ^deal for the old
neighbours, nor did she take much interest in hearing
of the boys. Indeed she did not know the boys. They
had been but babies when she went away, and she
had no acquaintance with the new creatures who bore