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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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piteous loss ; he went over and over this ground, and
only varied it by still sadder reflections on his father's



1 62 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

death, his mother's painful condition, the national dis-
tress, their loss of money, the closing of both mills, and
the absolute necessity for his own expatriation.

He was thinking somberly of the latter circumstance
one morning, when his mother entered his room. She
had an air of business about her, the alert manner of a
person on whom there are great and grave charges.
Advancing to Lancelot, she cast a letter down upon the
table, and said :

" There, then ! That came half an hour since. Some
woman scribbling to thee, I see. If I was thee, I would
try and find something else to do with life, than to sit
still and dream it away."

He took the letter with a " Thank you, mother."

" Nay, thou needn't thank me. It hes the Atherton
postmark on it, and " then he looked anxiously at
the letter and saw it was Miss Loida's writing. Imme-
diately he was sure that Francesca was ill. A swoon of
fearful thoughts turned him sick and faint.

" Mother," he said, " will you leave me now ? I I
want to read my letter. I am terrified."

" About Miss Atherton ? To be sure. Thy mother
is to go away that thou may read about her and hev
thy love-feast all to thysen. Does ta think I'll stay
where I am not wanted? Not I. Mebbe it will come
into thy mind, either to live like a Christian in thy home,
or to get out of a place not good enough for thee, as
soon as iver ta can."

"I will, mother."

Then she left the room with an air of indifference, but
her heart was burning within her. She was truly angry
at Lancelot, but far more angry at herself. Her blame



GOD BRINGS THE TARDY BLESSING. 1 6$

of him was from the lips only ; she accused herself con-
tinually with her very soul, in words she durst not utter,
in tears she would not shed.

When the door was closed, Lancelot opened his let-
ter. He was sure it contained ill news, and it was after
all only a friendly note of advice. And yet, it was the
determining note of his future :

" Dear Sir: " Miss Loida wrote. " I hear that you are going
to Mexico. It is sad to be in a strange country without a friend.
I have a dear friend who has been at the San Lepato mines for ten
years. I think he may be there yet. If not, he is at some Mexi-
can seaport in the blockade business. His name is Richard Al-
derson ; and if you show him this letter, he will, for my sake, be
a friend to you. And he will soon love you for your own sake. I
have written this out of my own wish and desire to do you good.
Francesca loves you continually with all her heart, and I am your
sincere friend, LOIDA VYNER."

In the wavering condition of his mind, this letter was
like an anchor to Lancelot. He took it for a sign, and
accepted at once the destiny it should lead him to. For
it appeared strange that two circumstances so different
as the need of cotton and Miss Loida's desire to help
him should both point out this same country to him.
Surely there was some higher indication than mere chance
in such a double leading.

Miss Loida's letter was followed by one announcing
the success of his lawyer regarding the two thousand
pounds he wanted ; and now the gate was opened, and
the road cleared for his journey. His preparations were
otherwise perfect; he had only to bid "farewell" to
his mother, and write his last letter to Francesca. Mar-
tha Leigh knew well that, this point had been reached ;



1 64 LOVE FOR AN HOUR,

but, suffer as she might, she would die ere she would
show the knowledge affected her.

Though not a word had been said on the subject,
she was aware, on the morning of Lancelot's departure,
that they were to eat their last breakfast together. A
tenderness she neither admitted nor denied led her to
set the table with unusual care, and to make the dishes
her son liked best. She was drawing her eyelids tight
together, and setting her lips firm, the whole time her
hands and feet were busy. It was bitter hard work to
keep back the tears, bitter hard work to keep back the
long, moaning cries that burst from her heart, and almost
choked her in their impetuous rush to her lips.

But she made no sign the woman in her would have
escaped into the outer space rather than do so no sign,
unless her specially neat attire and the rigid bordering
of the gray-white muslin of her widow's cap might be
so taken. And perhaps Martha Leigh had a distinct
though dim intention of this kind in her 'dress ; perhaps
she did wish Lancelot's last mental picture of his mother
to be one he could remember with respect. At any
rate, something of this result was obtained ; for Lance-
lot carried with him wherever he went this memory of
a tall, grave, handsome woman in a black gown, her
bosom crossed by white lawn, her gray hair covered
with that formal, desolate-looking head-gear.

When they rose from the breakfast-table, Lancelot
glanced at the doors. They were shut. He then looked
steadily into his mother's face, and her lips quivered,
and she forced herself to look away from him. He
lifted both her hands and held them a moment. She
still gazed outward and remained speechless. He



GOD BRINGS THE TARDY BLESSING. 1 6$

dropped her hands and took her to his breast. He
kissed her repeatedly, and murmured repeatedly :

"God help you, mother! God help you, mother'.
I shall never forget you. Mother! Mother!"

Then she broke utterly down. Lancelot had led her
to her chair, and was going away. She laid her head
backward, and a great mother-cry escaped her lips :

"My lad! My dear lad! Do not leave me! Do
not leave me! "

But he was gone. She heard the outer door shut.
She heard his quick footsteps on the gravel. She felt
as if her heart was torn in two ; felt all the physical
agony of the soul-parting. It was worse than death.
Her women, coming to look for her an hour afterward,
found her sitting like a stone in her chair, upright by
sheer force of will, conscious by sheer force of will,
white as a corpse, and with a look in her eyes as if tears
had turned to stone in them.

" You be sick, mistress ? " said one woman, touching
her almost with fear.

Then she made an effort to speak a supreme effort
which only succeeded in dragging from the prostrate
soul a few words, disconnected and hardly articulate :

" No my son gone ! "

They carried her to a couch and gave her brandy
and began to softly chafe her hands and feet, and so a
dead sleep fell upon the wretched woman and she forgot
for a little time her misery and her despair or, at least,
flesh and blood were at rest, but the soul has potentiali-
ties of suffering no sleep dulls. Who has not suffered
in the mysterious travel of dreams agonies of which
their waking bodies were incapable ? Vague terrors of



1 66 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

nameless things ; sense of loss irreparable ; visions that
would blind their mortal eyes ; yea, and also consolations
ineffable, inconceivable, unspeakable.

Martha Leigh slept, but her soul waked, and when,
after hours of apparent oblivion, she rose up with a great
sigh and feebly walked across the room to her own
chair, she was a much older woman. Whatever experi-
ences she had had in her sleep, they had not been void
or misunderstood. She came back to life like a woman
chidden by Mighty Powers. For it is truly in the night
season, when deep sleep falleth upon man, that God
punishes and admonishes. It is

"... In quiet silence, when the night is in the midst of her
swift course, the Almighty Word leaps down from heaven, and
suddenly visions of terrible dreams trouble the wicked sore, and
terrors come upon them unlocked for ... lest they should perish,
and not know why they were afflicted." *

Martha Leigh knew at that hour why she was afflicted,
but, alas! knowledge is not penitence. Weary and
suffering, she was also resentful. Too weak and con-
fused yet to argue out her own case, she felt sure of its
justice ; and if she deferred to a fitter time her plea,
it was because she was confident of making it then
stronger and juster.

The great fact remained, however, in spite of all pleas
Lancelot was gone. But she positively refused to
think of him as gone for any great length of time. He
would be back in a few months. That girl at Atherton
Court if all other considerations failed would bring
him home again.

* Wisdom of Solomon, xviii. 14-19.



GOD BRINGS THE TARDY BLESSING. 167

In the meantime Lancelot was nearing Liverpool.
The bark he was to sail in was nearly ready for sea ; he
had only to make a few purchases and write farewell to
Francesca. He delayed this letter until the last hour.
He had granted himself this privilege not to give her
up while he remained in England. As he went to the
ship, he posted the letter. A middle-aged woman no-
ticed the handsome youth drop it into the irrevocable
box, and she pitied the look of misery with which he
walked away. She comprehended his despair, and said
a soft "God help the lad!" as he passed out of her
sight. Lancelot would have been comforted by her
prayer and pity, had he known it ; but it is one of the
misfortunes of existence that society compels us to re-
strain sympathy unless we have a bond and right to
offer it. Every one is thus poorer by many a kindly wish
and many an honest prayer.

Driven like a blind man before his sorrowful destiny,
Lancelot reached the ship and crossed the narrow plank,
and felt himself already adrift from every hope and joy
that had made his youth so blessed ; and he could not
avoid a passion of regret for those past years that
would never return. Amid falling shades and a wind
like the Banshee they were driven down the Mersey.
The thick-coated murmur of the river blending with the
great complaining of the distant sea came through the
darkness, and the hoarse, melancholy voices of the
sailors went with it. He was utterly wretched and hope-
less, bruised in heart and brain, but an act so vulgar and
cowardly as suicide never occurred to him. The vestal
fires of conscience, of pure love, of honor and integrity
still burned within him.



1 68 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Sitting alone on the edge of his rough berth he told
himself that, even if his life should be a tragedy of
never-fulfilled desires and vain strivings, and of final
suffering and death, he could at least make it a noble
tragedy a tragedy fit for the angel " cloud of witnesses "
to contemplate. So, though he knew it not, he was re-
ceiving the grandest education of which humanity is
capable the education that comes by reverence and by
sorrow ; for these are the teachers greater than Gamaliel,
and blessed are they who can sit at their feet.

It is always impossible to say how far the change in
one life may affect other lives. Lancelot's voluntary
expatriation was the cause of unforeseen and very im-
portant changes in the hitherto placid routine of Ather-
ton Court. The squire had been dallying with an inten-
tion to enter Parliament, and Francesca's despondency
after her receipt of Lancelot's farewell letter made him
decide in favor of such a course. His own influence
and that of a neighboring earl were sufficient to insure
his election without any great expense or trouble, and
he was possessed by the usual idea that love could be
cured by a change of scene and a gay social life.

But when he proposed to rent a house in London and
take Miss Vyner and Francesca there for the season, he
found that he had at least reckoned without his house-
hold. Miss Vyner who was daily feeling more sure of
Dick Alderson's return very calmly but very resolutely
declined the London season; and Francesca was still
more positive in her determination to remain at home.
She declared herself " too sick to go into society ; all
she wished was to be still and not to talk."

So the squire, with all his own unacknowledged reluc-



GOD BRINGS THE TARDY BLESSING. 169

tance to political and social life, was compelled to enter
it alone. Francesca made a sad little joke of his scheme
and its failure :

" You planned so many engagements for Loida and
me, dear father, and now you will have them to fulfil
yourself. Loida, will you fancy Squire Atherton in a
court costume, or wearing his militia uniform, or a black
swallow-tail dress-coat ? "

And the squire answered :

" I shall wear my own fashions, Francesca thou may
be sure of that ; " and there was some faint merriment
about it all, but in the end the squire went alone and
very sadly to London and to Parliament.

But as it often happens, the lonely man was quickly
introduced to some charming people, and then he be-
came quite enamored of social pleasures. Every letter
received at Atherton was a gayer one. Lords and
ladies, great men and beautiful women, flitted across the
pages ; and there was specially frequent mention made
of a Mrs. Mott, an American lady of wealth and fashion.

Loida began to ponder this circumstance. She said
nothing to Francesca ; for Francesca was too much ab-
sorbed in her own love affair to imagine any other pos-
sible. Yet Loida thought it possible. The squire was
a very handsome man, in the prime of life. His rustic-
ity had imparted an idea of years which did not belong-
to him. She could imagine him fashionably dressed
and exceedingly attractive ; for his simple, straightfor-
ward, courteous 'nature could hardly fail to be delight-
ful, because it was so perfectly natural.

Yet, in spite of the squire's gay letters, the winter at
Atherton Court went past very dully. The hunting and



170 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

the hunt dinners and balls had hitherto broken the mo-
notony of its winter life. The ladies had supposed these
breaks would not be missed, but Loida missed them.
She admitted to herself that the winter was long, very
long and weary. She wished often that her brother-in-
law had never gone to London ; she had a presentiment
that change had only begun, and she could not help
asking wistfully : " Where will it end ? "

At last, at last, the spring came! Everything is pos-
sible in spring-time. When the tulips and jonquils pushed
their bright leaves through the brown earth, Loida began
to watch, to listen, to dress herself for the hope in her
heart. And how sweet a thing is hope! We may ac-
knowledge that Hope is the brother of Fear, and only
the merrier fool of the two ; but it is at least good to
have the company of the merry one. Even Francesca
lifted her drooping head a little, and suffered the sun-
shine to fall upon her white face. She had not heard a
word of Lancelot, and Loida had not heard a word of
Dick, but when the swallows came back from over the
sea, it seemed natural to hope that some message would
follow them. Francesca often looked longingly at their
swift, scythe-like wings, and said to her heart : " Oh,
that I had wings like a swallow, then I would fly away
and search the whole world over for Lancelot ! "

Never had the Court looked fairer than it did that
Maytime. The clematis arbor was darkly green, and
the scent of a hundred flowers and herbs was in the air.
There were birds building everywhere ; the men were
whistling in the fields, the women singing through the
house as they threw open the long-closed casements and
hung the rooms with snowy draperies.



GOD BRINGS THE TARD Y BLESSING. I 7 I

But May is not all sunshine and flowers ; one morn-
ing, about the middle of the month, it was very chilly
and raining heavily. The ladies came late downstairs,
and they eat their breakfast without much conversation.
The drip of the rain was monotonous and mournful.
The " chirp," " chirp " of the birds had a fretful, put-
out-of-the-way sound. There was no mail but a letter
from the squire to Miss Loida ; a very long letter, from
which there fell some architectural plan. Francesca
glanced at it with a little curiosity, and Miss Loida an-
swered the glance :

" It is a plan for an orchid-house," she said.

" Whatever can father want with an orchid-house f "

" I will read his letter, and then we shall understand."

The letter, however, did not appear to be satisfactory.
Miss Loida turned it over and backward, and was cer-
tainly much embarrassed, and Francesca, with some im-
patience, asked:

" What is it all about, Aunt Loida ? "

" My dear I hardly know what to say to you. Do
you recollect how much your father has written lately
about Mrs. Mott, the American lady, who is so much
admired in London ? "

" Yes. Is she coming here ? "

" I think she is coming here."

" How dreadful! I cannot bear the thought of visit-
ors. I hope she will not stay long."

" I am sure, my dear I do not know how to tell
you, Francesca your father has married her."

" My father! Married! Loida, that is impossible! "

" It is true. He says Mrs. Mott preferred a quiet
wedding. They are gone to Paris for a few weeks.



i;2 LOVE FOR AX HOUR.

She wants the orchid-house built, and your father has
written to a man in Drayton to come here and attend
to the building of it. He will probably be here to-day."
" How cruel! How wrong of father! "
" No, my dear. Your father has as much right to
marry as you have. If you had loved him alone, he
would have been faithful to you, no doubt."
" How could I help loving Lancelot?"
" Perhaps your father could not help loving this charm-
ing American. Francesca, you have yourself to blame.
You fret so continually about Lancelot that it appeared
necessary for your health and life to do something.
Your father went to Parliament, hoping to take you with
him to London. You would neither be happy at home
nor yet go with him to London. My dear, the best of
men, the tenderest of fathers, grow weary of sorrow that
will not be comforted."

" Father is an old man. The idea of him marrying! "
"He is a very handsome man, in the prime of life.
The idea of his marriage is not mdre absurd than the
idea of your marriage."

" Aunt Loida, how can old people be in love ? "
" They love better, they love less selfishly, they love
more wisely than the very young love. And all people
over twenty years of age are not old. I have no doubt
your father has made a wise choice ; no doubt whatever
that Mrs. Atherton is a charming, lovable woman ; and
if I were you, Francesca, I should meet her on that pre-
sumption. Of course, there must be other changes.
That is always the case, for one change brings an-
other. I shall now leave this house, and go to my own
house."



GOD BRINGS THE TARDY BLESSING. 173

"Aunt Loida, if you leave, I shall leave also. Let
me go with you."

" Your movements must depend upon your father's
will, Francesca. Do you remember what a little fret I
had the other day, because my house was not rented
this year ? You see now that it is a fortunate thing. I
can go directly to it."

" May I not live with you ? "

" Such a step would look like deserting your father,
and it would surely prejudice all the country-side against
your stepmother. But you can make me long visits."

" Things go very hard with me, Loida. If Lancelot
were only here, I should not care."

"You condemn yourself, and excuse your father's
marriage if it needs excuse by that very remark.
You mean that if Lancelot were here you would be
indifferent as to whether your father married or not ? "

" Suppose I do mean that ? "

" If you care more for Lancelot than for your father,
then why should not your father care more for Mrs.
Mott than for you? Let us be fair, Francesca."

" Father has treated you badly, also, Loida."

" No, he has not. Your father knew that as soon as
Dick Alderson came home, I should marry Dick and
leave him. Love asks its equivalent. No love abides
that is on one side only. Come, my dear, do not fret.
Let us go to my room and consider things calmly and
kindly. There are some preparations to make for the
bride."

" I will not talk about any bride. I wish I knew
where Lancelot was."

At this moment a servant entered the room and said :



174 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

" There is a person to see you, Miss Vyner. I put
him in Squire Atherton's office."

"Who is it, Sarah?"

" I have never seen the person before, miss."

" He can come in here, Francesca, can he not ? "

" No, he cannot, Loida. I have a bad headache, and
he will be talking about glass and measurements and
steam heat, and such things, until I am half crazy."

"To be sure, it is the man from Drayton. I had
forgotten. It is the orchid-house, of course. Sarah,
tell him I will see him in a few minutes."

She talked a little longer with Francesca, and then,
with the " plan " and the letter of directions in her hand,
went to see the builder and discuss the arrangements
with him. She was much depressed, in spite of the
calm, reasonable way in which she had taken the news
of the squire's marriage. The idea of a total change of
life was not pleasant to Loida. Her heart fell fathoms
deep after she had left Francesca, and she slowly walked
through the long and somewhat intricate passages lead-
ing to the squire's office. The Court had become home
to her. She dreaded the idea of making another home.
And she had grown a little despairing about Dick. She
would not acknowledge the feeling, but it was there ;
and somehow this discussion with a stranger about a
fancy of the new mistress pained her. She could not
help feeling that Rashleigh Atherton had been a little
selfish for his bride. She controlled herself better than
Francesca, but the thoughts of both women weie equally
bitter.

Loida was always reserved, and her manner with
social inferiors had distinctly an air of pride. She en.



GOD BRINGS THE TAK^Y BLESSING, 175

tered the office quite conscious of this feeling, accentu-
ated by a sense that the discussion was disagreeable to
her. There was a large painting in oils of the squire
in hunting costume over the chimney-piece, and the
man stood on the hearth looking up at it. His back
was to the door, but he turned quickly as Loida entered.
She looked at him. Then she uttered a shrill cry a
cry of joy, of delight, of amazement :

"Dick! Dick! O Dick! Dick! Home at last! "

With the words on her lips, she reached his arms.
She could not have told how ; she only knew she was
there, and that the knowledge filled her being with a
delicious content. The fruit so hardly tended for ten
years was ripe was on their lips, and all its sweetness
realized. For some moments there were no questions
and no explanations. It was joy sufficient to be to-
gether again. No doubt of Dick's worthiness troubled
the meeting. He took from his pocket a ring, made
like a forget-me-not. The flower was the ornament ;
its golden stem was turned into a circle for the finger.

" I have worn it over my heart for ten years, Loida,"
he said. " Will you take it from me again, dearest? "

" Dick, forgive me for ever removing it. Let me
have it once more, love, and not even in death will I
resign it."

" I have won the right to re-offer it, Loida. The task
is finished. I have brought with me money sufficient to
pay the uttermost farthing, and a little over, dear, for
our own use. I have sent word to every one I owe to
meet me in the bank parlor in ten days. After that
meeting, Loida, need we wait longer ? "

With the sweetest frankness she surrendered all to his



176 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

will. And they talked of the glad future in that con-
fused, hurried way which is natural to those who love
and meet after a long absence. There was so much to
tell, nothing could be told in detail. Their whole con-
versation was only like a table of " contents." It named
the incidents, or the expectations, or indicated the plans
and hopes of the coming years ; no more. So that
nothing serious or final was arrived at, and the hours
went by in saying little more than :

" How lovely you have grown, Loida ! "

" How handsome and brave-looking you are, Dick! "

" How happy we are ! "

" How good it is to live! "

" How good to do right ! "

All Dick's adventures, and what he had seen, and
what he had done, and the money he had saved, and
the love and gratitude in his heart, and the ways of the
future all these things were but touched with a ques-
tion. Was there not all their lives long to talk about
them?

Finally, Loida remembered Francesca, and they went
to find her. She had gone upstairs ; she was weeping
bitterly.

" She wished now she had never seen Lancelot !
What trouble there had been since he came that day to
Atherton! What changes were following him! He
had set a door open, and so many sorrows had come
through it. Oh, if she had only been a poor girl, Lan-
celot would have taken her with him!" And then she


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 11 of 20)