And now he had done it, and driven Mrs. Ochterlony
to despair; but what was it about Will? Or was Will
a mere pretence on the part of the outraged and terri-
fied woman to get away? Something she had known
for years! This was the thought which had chiefly
moved Winnie, going to her heart. She herself had
lived a stormy life-, she had done a great many things
which she ought not to have done; she had never been
absolutely wicked or false, nor forfeited her reputation ;
but she knew in her heart that her life had not been
a fair and spotless life; and when she thought of its
strivings, and impatience, and selfwill, and bitter dis-
content, and of the serene course of existence which
her sister had led in the quietness, her heart smote her.
Perhaps it was for her sake that this blow, which Mary
had known of for years, had at last descended upon
her head. All the years of her own stormy career, her
sister had been living at Kirtell, doing no harm, doing
good, serving God, bringing up her children, covering
her sins, if she had sinned, with repentance and good
deeds; and yet for Winnie's sake, for her petulance,
and fury, and hotheadedness , the angel (or was it the
demon?) had lifted his fiery sword and driven Mary
out of Paradise. All this moved Winnie strangely;
and along with these were other thoughts — thoughts
of her own strange miserable unprotectedness , with
only Aunt Agatha to stand between her and the world,
while she still had a husband in the world, between
whom and herself there stood no deadly shame nor
fatal obstacle, and whose presence would shield her
from all such intrusions as that she had just suffered
MADONNA MAUY. 217
from, lie had Hiiuicd against her, but that a womau
can forgive — and she had not sinned against him,
not to such an extent as is unpardonable in a woman.
Perhaps there might even be something in the fact that
Winnie had found Kirtell and quiet not the medicine
suited to her mind, and tliat even Mary's flight into
the world had brought a tingling into her wings, a
longing to mount into freer air, and rush back to her
fate. Thus a host of contradictory feelings joined in
(ine great flame of excitement, which rose higher and
higher all through the night. To fly forth upon him,
and controvert his wicked plans, and save the sister
who was being sacrificed for her sake; and yet to take
possession of him back again, and set him up before
her, her shield and buckler against the world; and at
the same time to get out and break loose from this
flowery cage, and rush back into the big world, where
there would be air and space to move in — such were
Winnie's thoughts. In the morning, when she came
downstairs, which was an hour earlier than usual, to
Aunt Agatha's great amazement, she wore her travelling
dress, and had an air of life and movement in her,
which startled Miss Seton, and which, since her return
to Kirtell, had never been seen in Winnie's looks
"It is very kind of you to come down, AVinnie,
my darling, when you knew I was alone," said Aunt
Agatha, giving her a tender embrace.
"I don't think it is kind in me," said Winnie; and
then she sat down, and took her sister's office upon
her, to Miss Seton's still greater bewilderment, and
made the tea, without quite knowing what she was
doing. "I suppose Mary has been travelling all night,"
218 MADONNA MARY.
she said; "I cam going into Carlisle, Aunt Agatlia, to
that woman, to know what it is all about."
"Oh, my darling, you were always so generous,"
cried Aunt Agatha, in amaze; "but you must not do
it. She might say things to you, or you might meet
people — "
"If I did meet people, I hope I know how to take
care of myself," said Winnie; and that flush came to
her face, and that light to her eye, like the neigh of
the war-horse when he hears the sound of battle.
Aunt Agatha was struck dumb. Terror seized her,
as she looked at the kindling cheeks and rapid gesture,
and saw the Winnie of old, all impatient and triumphant,
dawning out from under the cloud.
"Oh, Winnie, you are not going away," she cried,
with a thrill of presentiment. "Mary has gone, and
they have all gone. You are not going to leave me all
by myself here?"
"I?" said Winnie. There was scorn in the tone,
and yet what was chiefly in it was a bitter affectation
of humility. "It will be time enough to fear my going,
when any one wants me to go."
Miss Seton was a simple woman, and yet she saw
that there lay more meaning under these words than
the plain meaning they bore. She clasped her hands,
and lifted her appealing eyes to Winnie's face — and
she was about to speak, to question, to remonstrate, to
importune, when her companion suddenly seized her
hands tight, and silenced her by the sight of an emo-
tion more earnest and violent than anything Aunt
"Don't speak to me," she said, with her eyes blaz-
ing, and clasped the soft old hands in hers till she hurt
MADONNA MAKY. 219
them. "Don't speak to me; I don't know what I am
going to do — but don't talk to me, don't look at me,
Aunt Agatha. Perhaps my life — and Mary's — may
be fixed to-day."
"Oh, Winnie, I don't understand you," cried Aunt
Agatha, ti'embling, and freeing her poor little crushed
"And I don't understand myself," said Winnie.
"Don't let us say a word more."
"What did it mean, that flusli in her face, that
thrill of purpose and meaning in her words, and her
step, and her whole figure? — - and what had Mary to
do with it? — and how could their fate be fixed one
way or other?" Aunt Agatha asked herself these ques-
tions vainly, and could make nothing of them. But
after breakfast she went to her room and said her
prayers — which was the best thing to do ; and in that
moment Winnie, poor Winnie, whose prayers wei'e few
though her wants were countless, took a rose from the
trellis, and pinned it in with her brooch, and went
softly away. I don't know what connexion there was
between the rose and Aunt Agatha's prayers, but some-
how the faint perfume softened the wild, agitated,
stormy heart, and suggested to it that sacrifice was
'ijeing made and supplications offered somewhere for its
sins and struggles. Thus, when his sons and daughters
went out to their toils and pleasures, Job drew near
the altar lest some of them might curse God in their
It was strange to see her sallying forth by herself,
she who had been shielded from every stranger's eye;
and yet there was a sense of freedom in it — freedom,
and danger, and exhilaration, which was sweet to Win-
220 MADONNA MVRY.
nie. She went rusliiiig in to Carlisle in the express
train, flying as it were on the wings of the wind. But
Mrs. Kirkmau was not at home. She was either work-
ing in her district, or she was teaching in the infant
school, or giving out work to the poor women, or per-
haps at the mothers' meeting, which she always said
was the most precious opportunity of all-, or possibly
she might be making calls — which, however, was an
liypothesis which lier maid rejected as unworthy of her.
Mrs. Percival found herself brought to a sudden stand-
still when she heard this. The sole audible motive
Avliich she had proposed to herself for her expedition
was to see Mrs. Kirkman, and for the moment she did
not know what to do. After a while, however, she
turned and went slowly yet eagerly in another direc-
tion. She concluded she would go to the Askells, who
might know something about it. They were Percival's
friends; they might be in the secret of his plans — they
might convey to him the echo of her indignation and
disdain; possibly even he might himself But Win-
nie would not let herself consider that thought. Cap-
tain Askell's house was not the same cold and ne-
glected place where Mary had first seen Emma after
their return. They had a little more money — and
that was something; and Nelly was older — which
was a great deal more; but even Nelly could not alto-
gether abrogate the character which her mother gave to
her house. The maid who opened the door had bright
ribbons in her cap, but yet was a sloven, half-sup-
pressed; and the carpets on the stairs were badly fitted,
and threatened here and there to entangle the unwary
foot. And there was a bewildering multiplicity of
sounds in the house. You could hear the maids in the
MADONNA MARY. 221
kitchen, and the chihlren in the nxirsery — and even
as Winnie ap])roachcd the drawing-room she coukT hear
voices thrilling Avith an excitement which did not be-
come that calm retreat. There was a sound as of a
sob, and tliere was a broken voice a little lond in its
accents. Winnie went on with a quicker throb of her
heart — perhaps he himself But Avhen the door
opened, it was upon a scene she had not thought of.
]\Irs. Kirkman was there, seated high as in a throne,
looking with a sad but touching resignation upon the
disturbed household. And it was Emma who was sob-
bing — sobbing and crying out, and launching a
furious little soft incapable clenched hand into the air
— while Nelly, all glowing red, eyes lit up with in-
dignation, soft lips quivering with distress, stood by,
with a gaze of horror and fury and disgust fixed on
the visitor's face. Winnie went in, and they all
stopped short and stared at her, as if she had dropped
from the skies. Her appearance startled and dismayed
them, and yet it was evidently in perfect accordance
with the spirit of the scene. She could see that at the
first glance. She saw they were already discussing this
event, whatever it might be. Thei'efore Winnie did not
hesitate. She offered no ordinary civilities hei'self, nor
required any. She went straight up to where Mrs,
Kirkman sat, not looking at the others. "I have come
to ask you what it means," she said; and Winnie felt
tliat they all stopped and gave way to her as to one
who had a right to know.
"That is what I am asking," cried Emma, "what
docs it mean? We have all known it for ages, and
none of us said a word. And she that sets up for
being a Christian! As if there was no honour left in
222 MADONNA MARY.
the regiment, and as if we were to talk of everything
that happens! Ask her, Mrs. Percival. I don't believe
half nor a quarter what they say of any one. When
they dare to raise up a scandal about Madonna Mary,
none • of us are safe. And a thing that we have all
known for a hundred years!"
"Oh, mamma!" said Nelly, softly, under her
breath. The child knew everything about everybody,
as was to have been expected; every sort of tale had
been told in her presence. But what moved her to
shame was her mother's share. It was a murmured
compunction, a vicarious acknowledgment of sin. "Oh,
"It is not I that am saying it," cried Emma, again
resuming her sob. "I would have been torn to pieces
first. Me to harm her that was always a jewel! Oh,
ask her, ask her! What is going to come of it, and
what does it mean?"
"My dear, perhaps Nelly had better retire before
we speak of it any more," said Mrs. Kirkman, meekly.
"I am not one that thinks it right to encourage de-
lusions in the youthful mind, but still, if there is much
more to be said — "
And then it was Nelly's turn to speak. "You have
talked about everything in the world without sending
me away," cried the girl, " till I wondered and wondered
you did not die of shame. But I'll stay now. One is
safe," said Nelly, with a little cry of indignation and
youthful rage, "when you so much as name Mrs. Och-
All this time Winnie was standing upright and
eager before Mrs. Kirkman's chair. It was not from
incivility that they offered her no place among them.
MADONNA MARY. 223
No one thought of it, and neither did she. The con-
flict around her had sobered Winnie's tlioughts. There
was no trace of her husband in it, nor of that striking
her through her friends which had excited and ex-
hihiratcd her mind; but the family instinct of mutual
defence awoke in her. "My sister has heard some-
thing which has — which has had a singular effect
upon her," said "Winnie, pausing instinctively, as if
she had been about to betray something. "And it is
you who have done it; I want to know what it
"Oh, she must be ill!" wailed poor Emma; "I
knew she would be ill. If she dies it will be your
fault. Oh, let me go up and see her. I knew she
must be ill."
As for Mrs. Kirkman, she shook her head and her
long curls, and looked compassionately upon her
agitated audience. And then Winnie heard all the
long-hoarded well-remembered tale. The only difference
made in it was that by this time all confidence in the
Gretna Green marriage, which had once been allowed,
at least as a matter of courtesy, had faded out of the
story. Even Mrs. Askell no longer thought of that.
When the charm of something to tell began to work,
the Captain's wife chimed in with the narrative of her
superior officer. All the circumstances of that long-
past event were revealed to the Avonder-stricken hearers.
Mary's distress, and Major Ochterlony's anxiety, and
the consultations he had with everybody, and the won-
derful indulgence and goodness of the ladies at the
station, who never made any difference, and all their
benevolent hopes that so uncomfortable an incident was
buried in the past, and could now have no painful re-
224 MADONNA MARY.
suits; — all this was told to Wiunie in detail; and in
tlie confidential committee thus formed, her own pos-
sible deficiencies and shortcomings were all passed over.
"Nothing would have induced me to say a syllable on
the subject if you had not been dear Mary's sister,"
Mrs. Kirkman said; and then she relieved her mind
and told it all.
Winnie, for her part, sat dumb and listened. She
was more than struck dumb — she was stupefied by
the news. She had thought that Mary might have
been "foolish," as she herself had been "foolish;" even
that Mary might have gone further, and compromised
herself; but of a dishonour which involved such conse-
quences she had never dreamed. She sat and heard it
all in a bewildered horror, with the faces of Hugh and
Will floating like spectres before her eyes. A woman
gone astray from her duty as a wife was not, Heaven
help her! so extraordinary an object in poor Winnie's
eyes — but, good heavens! Mary's marriage, Mary's
boys, the very foundation and beginning of her life!
The room went round and round with her as she sat
and listened. A public trial, a great talk in the papers,
one brother against anotlier, and Mary, Mary, the chief
figure in all! Winnie put her hands up to her ears,
not to shut out the sound of this incredible story, but
to deaden the noises in her head , the throbbing of all
her pulses, and stringing of all her nerves. She was
so stupefied that she could make no sort of stand
against it, no opposition to the evidence, which, indeed,
was crushing, and left no opening for unbelief. She
accepted it all, or rather, was carried away by the
bewildering, overwhelming tide. And even Emma
Askell got excited, and woke up out of her crying, and
MADONNA IN[ARY. 225
added her contribution of details. Poor little Nelly,
who had heard it all before, had retired to a corner
and taken up her work, and might be seen in the
distance working furiously , with a hot flush on her
cheek, and now and then wiping a furtive tear from
lier eye. Nelly did not know what to say, nor how to
meet it — - but there was in her little woman's soul a
conviction that something unknown must lie behind,
and that the inference at least was not true.
"And you told Will'?" said Winnie, rousing up at
last. "You knew all the horrible harm it might do,
and you told AVill."
"It was not I who told him," said Mrs. Kirkman;
and then there was a pause, and the two ladies looked
at each other, and a soft, almost imperceptible flutter,
^■isible only to a female eye, revealed that there might
be something else to say.
"Who told him?" said Winnie, perceiving the in-
dications, and feeling her heart thrill and beat high
"I am very sorry to say anything, I am sure, to
make it worse," said Mrs. Kirkman. "It was not I
who told him. 1 suppose you are aware that — that
Major Percival is here? He was present at the mar-
riage as well as I. I wonder he never told you. It
was he who told Will. He only came to get the ex-
planations from me."
They thought she would very probably faint, or
make some demonstration of distress, not knowing that
this was what })Oor Winnie had been waiting, almost
hoping for; and on the contrary, it seemed to put new
force into her, and a kind of beauty, at which her com-
panions gazed aghast. The blood rushed into her
Mmlouun Muiij. 11. lO
226 MADONNA MARY.
faded cheek, and light came to lier eyes. She could
not speak at first, so overwhelming was the tide of
energy and new life that seemed to ponr into her veins.
After all, she had been a true prophet. , It was all for
her sake. He had struck at her through her friends,
and she could not be angry with him. It was a way
like another of showing love, a way hard upon other
people, no doubt, but carrying a certain poignant sweet-
ness to her for whose sake the blow had fallen. But
Winnie knew she was in the presence of keen ob-
servers, and put restraint upon herself
"Where is Major Percival to be found?" she said,
with a measured voice, which she thought concealed
her excitement, but which was overdone, and made it
visible. They thought she was meditating something
desperate when she spoke in that unnatural voice, and
drew her shawl round her in that rigid way. She
might have been going to stab him, the bystanders
thought, or do him some grieA'ous harm.
"You would not go to him for that?" said Emma,
with a little anxiety, stopping short at once in her
tears and in her talk. "They never will let you talk
to them about what they have done; and then they
always say you take part with your own friends."
Mrs. Kirkman, too, showed a sudden change of in-
terest, and turned to the new subject with zeal and
zest: "If you are really seeking a reconciliation with
your husband — " she began; but this was more than
Winnie could bear.
"I asked where Major Percival was to be found,"
she said; "I was not discussing my own affairs: but
Nelly will tell me. If that is all about Mary, I will
MADONNA MAKY. 227
"1 will ^o with you," cried Emma 5 "only wait till
I get my things. I knew she would be ill; and she
must not think that we are going to forsake her now.
As if it could make any difference to us that have
known it for ever so long! Only wait till I get my
"Poor Mary! she is not in a state of mind to be
benefited by any visit," said Mrs. Kirkman, solemnly.
"If it were not for that, / would go."
As for AVinnie, she was trembling with impatience,
eager to be free and to be gone, and yet not content
to go until she had left a sting behind her, like a true
woman. "How you all talk!" she cried; "as if your
making any difi'crence could matter. You can set it
going, but all you can do will nCA^er stop it. Mary
has gone to AVill, whom you have made her enemy.
Perhaps she has gone to ask her boy to save her
honour; and you think she will mind about your
making a difference, or about your visits — when it is
a thing of life or death!"
And she went to the door all trembling, scarcely
able to support herself, shivering with excitement and
wild anticipation. Now she must see him — now it
was her duty to go to him and ask him why — She
rushed away, forgetting even that she had not obtained
the information she came to seek. She had been speak-
ing of ]\Iary, but it Avas not of Mary she was thinking.
Mary went totally out of her mind as she hurried down
the stairs. Now there was no longer any choice; she
mi;st go to him, must see him, must renew the inter-
rupted but never-ended struggle. It filled her with an
excitement which she could not subdue nor resist. Her
heart beat so loud that she did not hear tlie sound of
228 MADONXA MAUY.
]ier own step on the stairs, but seemed somehow to be
carried down by tlie air, whicli encircled her like a soft
Avhirlwind; and she did not hear Nelly behind her
calling her, to tell her where he lived. She had no
recollection of that. She did not wait for any one to
open the door for her, but rushed out, moved by her
own purpose as by a supernatural influence; and but
for the violent start he gave, it would have been into
his arms she rushed as she stepped out from the Askells'
This was how their meeting happened. Percival
]iad been going there to ask some questions about the
Cottage and its inmates, when his wife, with that look
he knew so well, with all the coming storm in her
eyes, and the breath of excitement quick on her parted
lips — stepped out almost into his arms. He was fond
of her, notwithstanding all their mutual sins-, and their
spirits rushed together, though in a different way from
that rush which accompanies the meeting of the lips.
They rushed together with a certain clang and spark;
and the two stood facing each other in the street, de-
fying, hating, stx'uggling, feeling that they belonged to
each other once more.
"I must speak with you," said Winnie, in her
haste; "take me somewhere that I may speak. Is this
your revenge? I know what you have done. When
everything is ended that you can do to me, you strike
me through my friends."
"If you choose to think so — " said Percival.
"If I choose to think so? What else can I think?"
said the hot combatant; and she went on by his side
Avith hasty steps and a passion and force which she
had not felt in her since the day when she fled from
MADONNA MARY. 229
biin. She felt the new tide in her veins, the new
strength in her lieart. It was not the calm of union, it
was the heat of conflict; but still, such as it was, it
was her life. She went on with him, never looking or
thinking where they were going, till they reached the
rooms where he was living, and then, all by them-
selves, the husband and wife looked each other in the
"Why did you leave me, Winnie?" he said. "I
might be wrong, but what does it matter? I may be
wrong again, but I have got what I wanted. I would
not have minded much killing the boy for the sake of
seeing you and having it out. Let them manage it
their own way, it is none of our business. Come back
to me, and let them settle it their own way."
"Never!" cried Winnie, though there was a struggle
in her heart. "After doing all the harm you could do
to me, do you think you can recall me by ruining my
sister? How dare you venture to look me in the
"And I tell you I did not mind what I did to get
to see you and have it out with you," said Percival;
"and if that is why you are here, I am glad I did it.
What is Mary to me? She must look after herself.
But I cannot exist without my wife."
"It was like that, your conduct that drove me
away," said Winnie, with a quiver on her lips.
"It was like it," said he, "only that you never did
me justice. My wife is not like other men's wives. I
might drive you away, for you were always impatient;
but you need not think I would stick at anything that
had to be done to get you back."
230 MADONNA l\rARY.
"You will never get me back," said Winnie, witli
flashing eyes. All lier beauty bad come back to her
in that moment. It was the warfare that did it, and
at the same time it was the homage and flattery which
were sweet to her, and which she could see in every-
thing he said. He would have stuck at nothing to get
her back. For that object he would have ruined, or
killed, or done anything wicked. What did it matter
about the other people? There was a sort of magnifi-
cence in it that took her captive; for neither of the two
had pure motives or a high standard of action, or
enough even of conventional goodness to make them
hypocrites. They both acknowledged, in a way, that
themselves, the two of them, were the chief objects in
the universe, and everything else in the world faded
into natural insignificance when they stood face to face,
and their great perennial conflict was renewed.
"I do not believe it," said Percival. "I have told
you I will stick at nothing. Let other people take care
of their own affairs. What have you to do in that
weedy den with that old woman? You are not good
enough, and you never were meant for that. I knew
you would come to me at the last."
"But you are mistaken," said Winnie, still brea-
thing fire and flame. "The old woman, as you call
her, is good to me, good as nobody ever was. She