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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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The decision and promptitude of Loida's acquies-
cence gave some heart and hope to the sorrowing girl.



FORTUNATE GOLD. 193

and she was almost cheerful next morning when they
cantered together through the park and on to the high-
road to Leigh. It was a beautiful morning, and the
physical effort being made in the direction Francesca
herself desired, it did her a great deal of good. And
at Idleholme they met a glad welcome from the squire
and Mrs. Idle. Almund was in Italy with his sister.

" He wanted us to go with him," said the squire, " but
my mistress thinks nothing of foreign countries and their
ways."

" Thomas is right," answered Mrs. Idle. " I say the
West Riding is good enough for any Christian. And
it is very dangerous traveling about, what with steam- .
boats, and railway-carriages, and custom-houses, and
such like, not to speak of the unknown things you get
to eat and drink. When I was in France, four years
ago, I never felt safe a minute ; did I, Thomas ? "

Still, they were much interested in Dick's Mexican ex-
periences, and a very pleasant evening was spent. And
in the morning a little diplomacy secured to Francesca
the circumstances necessary for her visit to Lancelot's
mother. Dick went with her, and he was precisely
such an escort as she desired. He did not trouble her
to talk, yet if she wished to converse about Lancelot, he
was full of sympathy and hope.

There was no sunshine when they left Idleholme
only a mild, hazy, diffused light ; and just as they
reached Leigh House a soft rain began to fall. Fran-
cesca looked at Dick, and he smiled assuringly back,
as he said :

" I am not afraid of rain. I will do as we proposed
ride on to Crossley Hall. I want to talk a coupk of



194 LOl'E FOR AX HOUR.

hours there ; then I will call at Leigh for you. Is that
what you wish ? "

She said it was, but her heart fell as she entered the
farmyard of Leigh. There were several men busy in
its precincts, and one of them assisted her from her sad-
dle. He said Mrs. Leigh was at home, and opened a
half -door which was on that side of the house, and told
her to go to the room at the end of the passage. She
followed his directions, treading as softly as if she wished
to conceal her presence. At the door indicated she
stood still ; she was sick with uncertainty and fear. She
was afraid now to provoke the answer of her doubts.
Perhaps suspense with hope might be easier to bear
than the certainty she had come to ask for.

In a few moments she tapped at the door, and then
opened it. There was no one in the room, and she sat
down. The place was familiar to her. She had been
warmed and refreshed there on the day the snow-storm
drove her to refuge in Leigh. The very same parlor,
.and yet there were changes. The big oak chair of the
master was not on the hearth. It was set back against
the wall in a corner of the room. His slippers and pipe
were not visible ; the dogs he loved were no longer
stretched on their sheepskin rug; one was dead, the
other had voluntarily left his home and gone over to
-Crossley's to live. The violin and books that had been
Lancelot's special tokens were removed. Excepting the
big Bible on the folded-down table, there was not a book
visible. No pile of newspapers, no guns in the corner
or. trout-rods against the walls. The room, in short,
had the air of a room into which men never came.

Francesca was glad of a few moments' reprieve. A



FORTUNATE GOLD. 195

depressing sense of sorrow stole over her. She could
not escape its penetrating influence. It was as much in
the air as the moisture was. She felt ill at ease, half-in-
clined to run away and abandon her intention. But the
fear was not positive, and her intention was. So she sat
still opposite an open casement, watching the slow, per-
sistent rain. It made little ado, but it was drenching
everything. The birds sitting droopy and silent on the
ivy boughs were already draggled and miserable in it.

When Martha Leigh entered the room, she went
straight to the open window and closed it. Her move-
ments were hasty and irritable, and she turned angrily
to Francesca, and said :

" Thou might hev hed the sense to shut the window
when it was raining, I do think. Whativer does ta want
here ? And who art thou ? "

Francesca's first feeling was one of proud resentment,
but when Martha turned her face and she saw the mis-
ery it reflected, she was humbled before such sorrow.
Rising gently, she went close to Mrs. Leigh, and said :

" I do not wonder you have forgotten me. I am so
much changed."

" I see. Poor lass ! What has been the matter with
thee ? Why-a! Thou art Squire Atherton's daughter.
I do believe thou art."

"Yes."

" And whativer does thou want here ? "

" I want to know where Lancelot is."

" I can't tell thee. I don't know where he is."

There was a tone in her voice that shocked Fran-
cesca, it was so final and so broken-hearted.

" Have pity on me. You are his mother, you must



196 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

have a kind heart. You are his mother, you must know-
where he is. Have pity on me. I am so miserable."

" I cannot help thee any."

" You can tell me where he is if he is alive if he
is well if he still thinks of me."

She was holding Martha's arm ; she was trying to
make the wretched woman meet her imploring eyes.
Martha would not look at her. She removed Fran-
cesca's hand and led her to a chair.

" Sit thee down," she said. " I cannot tell where he
is. I don't know whether he is alive or dead, well or
sick ; and if he hes forgotten his awn mother, is it likely
he thinks about thee ? What did ta come here for ?
Crying and taking on in such a way! Thou oughtn't
to do it. Will ta hev a cup of tea ? "

" I want nothing but a word or two you will not give
me. Do you not see I am dying of grief? "

" Don't thee talk to me about dying of grief. I bore
the lad. I nursed him at my breast. I lived and
moved and hed my being in him for seven and twenty
years afore thou iver put eyes on him. Dying! What-
iver are women made of now ? If I can bide his loss,
I think thou may make shift to live without him. He
was none of thy lad, anyway."

"He was! He was! He loved me, and I loved
him. I love him yet, better than my life." She covered
her face with her hands, and sobbed as a child in over-
whelming distress might sob.

Martha was not much touched. She had a con-
tempt for a weeping woman. She did not know
what to do in such cases. Petting, coaxing, consoling,
treating them as wounded, suffering babies, was quite



FORTUNATE GOLD. 197

out of her power. She went restlessly about the room,
moving a chair here and there, putting things out of
and then into their place, scarcely knowing the motive
of her movements. Only she was annoyed. The sob-
bing girl whom she could not comfort whom, indeed,
she did not want to comfort worried and vexed her
patient mind. She could think of nothing but a cup of
tea, and she made one and set it before Francesca, say-
ing:

" There, now. Thou art nervous and fractious. Take
a drink of tea. It's a good thing for crying women."

Francesca pushed it away. And in the act she caught
Martha's eyes, and compelled the woman to look at her,
as she said :

" I ask you, by God's pity, to give me a word from
Lancelot, and you offer me a cup of tea. It is a shame
of you ! What a cruel heart you must have ! Lancelot
was his father's son, not yours not yours."

Francesca had got beyond tears now. She felt
wronged and insulted, and she spoke with an indignant
reproach that brought color into her cheeks and fire into
her eyes. Martha was angry, but the mood suited her
better. And she noticed then how really ill Francesca
looked how her pretty face had paled and thinned
how slight her figure had become what general ravage
corroding, sorrowful suspense had made.

" Is that the way ladies talk nowadays ? " she asked
scornfully. "My word! When I was a girl, I would
hev ' got it ' if I hed spoke to any older than mysen in
such fashion."

" Forgive me mother. I was to have been Lance-
lot's wife. May I call you mother?"



198 LOVE FOR AN HOUR,

"Nay, I think not. I am sure not. Thou hes just
said Lancelot was not my son."

" I did not mean it. I was angry. I was wrong.
Let me call you mother. I have no real mother;
only a stepmother."

"A 'stepmother'! Niver! Hes thy father got wed
again ? "

" Yes, many months ago."

" Poor lass ! "

" Why do you not want me to marry Lancelot ! Tell
me, mother."

"I will! I will! Because Lancelot would leave his
own house and land for thy house and land. He would
go to live at Atherton Court, and this dear house be let
to strangers or go to empty ruin. And there is them
that would not like it"

" But I like this house. I would come here and live
with Lancelot. I would like to come and stay with
you sometimes. May I ? "

" No. Thou hed better keep away from here. But
if ta married Lancelot, would ta live part of thy time
here, and keep the house open and in fair order ? " asked
Martha.

" I would like to do so ! Mother! Mother! If you
know where Lancelot is, for Lancelot's dear sake tell
me. He would like you to tell me. I am sure he
would."

" I don't know where he is. I hed a line or two
from him when he landed in Vera Cruz. He said he
was going into the ' interior,' wherever that is, and he
would write again when he got there. He hes niver
written me another line."



FORTUNATE GOLD. 1 99

" What did he go away for, mother ? "
" It was said he went to buy cotton."
" Do you think he went to buy cotton ? "
" My lass! Don't thee ask me for my thoughts."
Then there was a pause. Both women were silent.
Both were thinking and feeling intensely. The day had
grown darker and darker. The rain poured now.
There was npt a breath of wind. It was one of those
lifeless, motionless storms which are such dead-weights
on the mind. And the gray light in the room made
everything gray, except Francesca's face, which had a
kind of shining pallor that attracted Martha's attention,
in spite of herself. Its expression was so hopeless, and
full of that sense of " bearing " which women understand.
This mood Martha could sympathize with ; at least she
was not made angry by its still endurance. After a few
minutes' thought she said :

" Would ta like to see my big picture of Lancelot ? "
" You could show me nothing I would like better, ex.
cept himself."
" Come, then."

She led the way to the new wing, and with a trifling
hesitation turned the key of Lancelot's room. It was
quite dark. She groped her way to a window and
opened the wooden shutters, and the gray light looked
in upon the deserted place. The furniture was still in
its proper positions. Lancelot had only removed a few
small souvenirs. The walls were covered with pictures,
but one stood against the wall unhung. It was an oil
painting of Lancelot, taken at his majority. Its place
was in one of the usual sitting-rooms, but Martha had
been unable to bear its presence, and she had removed it.



2OO LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

The lifelike presentment was like the opening of the
flood-gates of sorrow to Francesca. She stood before
it gazing as if her gaze could force the silent lips to
speak to her ; then she knelt down, and kissed the face
with flowing tears and words of fond endearment.
Martha turned away from grief so poignant ; she occu-
pied herself in opening the other windows ; in altering
the position of chairs ; in a kindly and rather noisy dis-
traction, not devoid of sympathy, though expressed so
strangely. And she neither hurried nor interfered with
the passionate sorrow of the distressed girl. And per-
haps that was the best of all sympathy, for in a short
time Francesca's bitterly sweet orison was made. She
took from her throat a square of white silk, and covered
the dear face with it. Then she went to Martha and
said simply :

" Thank you."

She would have liked to kiss the cold, gray face above
her. To her it was not repellant. But Martha held
herself away from any such demonstrations. She only
said:

" If ta hes done, we can go downstairs again. I
can't ask thee to stay any longer. I hev a lot to do to-
day."

Francesca was standing by the piano. She opened it
and touched the notes with a slow, uncertain hand.
They fell thin and strange into the empty air. Yet the
melody was a familiar one to both women. Mrs. Leigh
had often paused at her work, or sat still with her sew-
ing in her hand, to listen to it. She stood watching the
girl at the instrument, her face catching color, her eyes
light ; the notes growing stronger, sweeter, firmer, till at



FORTUNATE GOLD, 2OI

the last strain she found strength in her heart to voice
the melody

' ' Oh, so -white ! Ok, so soft ! Oh, so sweet is she ! "

The words fell one by one, with all the festive magnifi-
cence of accompaniment that love had given them.
Martha had heard Lancelot ring them out in such clear,
happy tones, as only birds in spring can reach. Fran-
cesca's voice was but their thin, far-away echo. But
something in the effort had comforted her. She rose,
and Martha put her gently aside, and began to close
and cover up the instrument.

" I wouldn't hev let any one but thee put a finger on
it," she said ; " no, not even Queen Victoria hersen."

Francesca was standing at a table on which lay a
book open, and turned face downward. She thanked
Martha, and then lifted the book. It was a compilation
of poems from various sources, but one was broadly
marked, and looked as if it had been purposely left to
attract attention.

" What is it ? " asked Martha.

" A book of poetry."

" He was always reading such nonsense. It did him
a deal of harm. Love! Love! Love! As if life
was nothing but a kiss and a song and such miff-maff ! "

" The poem he has marked so broadly look at it
it is not about love. It is about ' Haunted Houses.' "

"Niver!"

"It is, really. See how he has penciled those four
verses. Read them."

" I hevn't my spectacles. I don't believe I could
read poetry, unless it was maybe a hymn of Bishop



2O2 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Ken's. 'Haunted Houses! ' I niver heard of poetry
like that. I wish ta would read it to me. It must be
varry queer stuff."

Then Francesca lifted the book again and read in a
soft, solemn voice the verses marked by Lancelot :

" All houses wherein men hare lived and died

Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

" We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,

Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,

A sense of something moving to and fro.

" There are more guests at table than the hosts

Invited ; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

" We have no title deeds to house or lands ;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates,
From graves forgotten, stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates." *

"That beats all!" said Martha. "Is that poetry?
My lass, it is true as gospel! I know! I know!
'Hold in mortmain! ' Of course. Leigh Farm is held
in dead hands, and no living ones can alienate it. That
is the truth. Give me the book. I wouldn't wonder
but it was put there for me by them that know. I am
obliged to thee for showing me such a bit of comfort.
Come ; we will go now."

She was averse to speak after this incident, though
she clasped the book tightly and took it away with her.
* Longfellow.



FORTUNATE GOLD. 2 03

And Dick was waiting ; there was no excuse for longer
delay. But Francesca felt that she had gained a little
good will, and she ventured to ask, as she said " Good-
by":

" Mother, if you do hear anything will you let me
know ? "

"I shall not hear. Don't thee hev any such false
hope."

" But if you do ? He may write. Can we not at
least hope he will ? "

" To be sure, if we are set on that kind of folly we
can hope to catch larks if ever the heavens should fall.
Thou wilt get a wetting ; take care and not get a cold.
That will be worse than love I can tell thee that!"

And she turned dourly in, seeming almost to leave a
shadow where she had stood.



CHAPTER XII.

HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN.

Ah, who shall help us from overtelling

That sweet, forgotten, forbidden lore!

E'en as we doubt in our hearts once more,
With a rush of tears to our eyelids welling,
Love comes back to his vacant dwelling. Austin Dobson.

Going to die! For who shall waste in sadness,
Shorn of the sun, the very warmth and light,

Miss the green welcome of the sweet earth's gladness,
Lose the round life that only love makes bright ;

There is no succor if these things are taken ;
None but Death loves the lips by love forsaken.

Austin Dobson.

A BOUT the middle of September the squire and his
1\ bride returned to Atherton Court. Great prepara-
tions were made for this event, and Loida took a special
pride in delivering up her household charge with that
kind of eclat which spotless purity and elaborate adorn-
ment can give. The new mistress of Atherton stepped
across a threshold whose antique beauty was radiant
with the flowers gathered that morning dahlias and
asters, lavender and marigold, and all the treasures of
bronzing ferns and the autumn amaryllis.

She stepped across it with a smile of irresistible at-
traction a smile that deprecated premature judgment,
that asked for affection, and insinuated all it asked.
She was a very pretty woman, quite forty years of age,



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 205

but looking much younger. Her dress was the perfec-
tion of taste dark, rich, and of faultless fit. She was
exquisitely booted and gloved, and her hat was piquant
and becoming ; altogether she gave the idea of a dainty
bird in its fresh spring plumage.

Francesca and Miss Loida were in full dinner dress,
and there was the stir and air of a festival throughout
the house. Mrs. Atherton was charmed and charming,
and the squire happy because she was happy. They
came to the dinner-table together as radiant and as mag-
nificently dressed as a bride and bridegroom ought to be.
Indeed, the squire had renewed his youth. Instead of
the slippered, indolent gentleman who had reluctantly
gone to London, there was an alert, handsome man,
quick at every point, appreciative of his fine wines and
good cook, anticipating changes he had already pro-
jected. In fact, a man full of the reserved strength
of many years, who had been suddenly awakened and
vitalized by an absorbing affection.

He was, indeed, too happy himself and too much ab-
sorbed in his plans to notice much change in his daugh-
ter. Francesca was beautifully dressed in a pink silk
frock, and its glow and shimmer gave to the fading
beauty of the girl a fictitious color, which the squire did
not analyze. He thought his daughter looked very well
and very lovely ; he thought Loida looked ten years
younger, and he had become learned enough in toilet
matters to know that she was a trifle old-fashioned in
her style of dress. He bantered her about it, and was
answered with a shade of offense : " Dick liked her
dress, and she had the pleasure of dressing for Dick



206 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Perhaps neither Francesca nor Loida thought the
squire was quite as fine a gentleman as when he left
them. He used to think for every one but himself, and
now

" He cares only for his new wife," said Francesca.
" He used to be so quiet, so restful, so easy to please ;
now I am tired of the laughing and talking and dress-
ing, and going out, and he is as particular about our
dress and the sen-ing of the table as if he had a dinner-
party every day."

Which complaint was true enough. The careful state
of the home-coming dinner was not relaxed; and if
Francesca did not attire herself in accordance with it,
she was made to feel that her father disapproved her
carelessness. Mrs. Atherton was the keynote of the
house, and she kept it up to its highest pitch of elegant
order. And the marvelous thing was, the servants
made no complaints. Under Miss Loida's authority
the least extra work was done under protest ; the extra
work under Mrs. Atherton became regular work, and
they did it with alacrity and cheerfulness.

The very morning after her arrival she went into the
conservatory and ordered the gardener to cut a large
quantity of his finest flowers for the house. Loida was
amused at the man's face. He had always been stingy
to the last degree of the conservatory treasures ; Mrs.
Atherton ordered them with lavish prodigality. The
man gave her a look which had been wont to abash
Miss Loida and Francesca, and even the squire ; but
Mrs. Atherton appeared quite unconscious of his disap-
proval. She went about the guarded walks, snipping
here and snipping there, and laughing lowly, and mak-



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 2O/

ing merry asides to Francesca as she cut the rarest and
loveliest blooms.

It was a just retribution for long-continued oppres-
sion, and Loida and Francesca could not help feeling a
certain satisfaction in it.

" That man is a boor," said Mrs. Atherton, as they
returned to the house ; " and he will have to learn good
manners or go."

And Francesca answered :

"You have cut more flowers this morning than he
ever parted with before. He would scarcely give us
any for the table the day you came home. If we should
go back now, you would find him crying or in a pas-
sion."

Mrs, Atherton went back. The man was in both
conditions.

" Send the flowers I cut to the house at once, Barker,"
she said.

" Yes, ma'am. Excuse me. You have spoiled the
conservatory, ma'am."

"That is of no importance, for the house will be
lovely, and the conservatory is to supply the house. I
shall want more flowers in two days. I hope you will
have them for me."

She did not notice either his distress or his temper ;
and the flowers were cut again on the second day.

With equally capable hands she took hold of the
somewhat neglected village. Guided by her the squire
found work for idle men, in ways he had never dreamed
of. Mrs. Atherton saw fields that required draining;
young plantations that required thinning; old timber
that ought to be removed and cut up for use ; cottages



208 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

on the estate that wanted whitewashing and thatching,
and she said :

" What is the use, Rashleigh, of charity, when you
can give work? Work is like mercy; it blesses him
that gives and him that takes."

In October Loida was married. There was a little
discussion about the place proper for the ceremony, but
it was speedily settled in favor of Alderson Bars. It was
impossible for Dick's mother to come to Atherton Court ;
she found any number of reasons rendering it impossi-
ble ; and yet it was surely right she should be present
at her son's marriage with Loida. The two women had
worked and hoped together for Dick, and Loida wished
her to share in all the results so patiently and lovingly
waited for.

And at Atherton Dick was not enthusiastically wel-
come. The squire was not proud of his alliance. He
would rather that the sister of his first wife had married
a man whose past could give an enemy no advantage.
He thought Loida was throwing herself away, and Dick
was sensitive to the feeling. Besides, Tipham Market
church was Loida's own parish church, and the friends
of both families worshiped there.

So Loida went to Alderson Bars a week before the
wedding, and Francesca went with her. The squire
and Mrs. Atherton arrived in time to take part in the
actual ceremony, and they did not remain long after it.
In some respects there was an air of disappointment
about the festival. Dick and Loida were too quietly,
solemnly happy for the typical idea. People do not
work and wait ten years for a joy, and then take it with
the careless enthusiasm of children. But Dick's face



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 2OQ

shone with rapture, and Loida, in her bridal white, was
like a fair lily, serene and still, and sweet as a lily from
the gardens of Paradise.

It was while the bridal party stood around the altar
of the ancient church that Mrs. Atherton was first for-
cibly struck by the appearance of Francesca. She was
smiling, but Mrs. Atherton had a glimpse of the heart
behind the smile.

" That little girl is miserable," the shrewd woman said
to herself, " and I suppose it is that lover Rashleigh told
me about. What was it he said ? Did he not go away
from her without a word ? Something shabby of that
kind I know it was. It is time I looked after that affair."

But she never found it easy to look after Francesca.
She was sick and in trouble, and she took every oppor-


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 13 of 20)