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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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tunity to escape to the solitude in which her sorrow was
most bearable. Mrs. Atherton could not tell whether
this was a natural or an exceptional attitude, and she
felt a delicacy in discussing it with her husband. It
was so easy to appear unkind ; so difficult to gain con-
fidence against unspoken prejudice. Still she watched
Francesca, after her return from Loida's marriage, with
an interest not devoid of a sincere liking. The proud,
shy, quiet girl attracted her, because she was sure she
was neither proud nor shy, nor yet specially quiet by
nature. The character was a cloak, assumed to repel
or to conceal, and in either case she felt sorry for so
young a heart thus hiding its sorrow.

Once or twice she said to the squire :

" Do you think Francesca is quite well ? Is she as gay
and glad as an English girl in her position ought to be ? "

And the squire looked anxiously at his child and pre-



2IO LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

varicated a little in his answer. He saw the change in
Francesca, but, in the first place, he did not see its full
extent or estimate its danger, because in his presence
Francesca was at her highest point. For this was the
natural attitude of a proud girl who feels her grief is not
shared, not even sympathized with.

Then, again, the squire really believed Francesca was
mentally pouting. First, because he would not discuss
Lancelot with her ; secondly, because he had himself
found another love and married. The supposition was
a natural one ; but even if the squire admitted some
justice in it, he was a little angry at his daughter when
he considered her changed air and manner. And, at
the last, he always found the excuse which Francesca's
love for Lancelot gave him ; had she not loved so un-
wisely, so extravagantly, so regardlessly of himself and
his happiness, he never would have gone to London,
he never would have met his Clara. If, for instance,
Francesca had married Almund Idle, he would have
lived and died a widower, content with her happiness,
and finding a new youth in her children. But this
and that and the other had happened, and by the time
the squire had considered all the conditions, he was
ready to leap to his feet and emphasize his thoughts
with an impatient stamp, and so away for comfort to his
wife or his business, muttering :

"It was Lancelot here and there and everywhere.
Lancelot and the mill, Lancelot and cotton and Mexico.
It was Lancelot's father and mother ; it was a, e, i, o,
u, and sometimes w and y yea, the whole alphabet of
worries ; and I was right to get a bit of comfort to my-
self, and I am glad I did it."



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 211

One day, some time after the new year, when cotton
was beginning to be plentiful, and mills were at work
again all over the country, Mrs. Atherton said :

" Rashleigh, I have been in the village to-day ; it is
nearly deserted by the men. They have tramped off to
get spinning elsewhere and left their families until they
can send for them. The distress is very great still, and
I say now what I said at first give them work."

" But how can I, my dear Clara ? My fields and
woods are already clean as a park or garden. I cannot
make work much longer."

" Yes, you can. Open that fine mill, and set the men
and the women to spin cotton."

" I am not a cotton-spinner, and the mill is not mine,"
said the squire, in a decidedly angry voice. They were
sitting at the dinner-table, and he lifted the decanter and
poured out another glass of Chambertin, and so tried to
turn the conversation. But Clara was persistent.

" Rent the mill."

" I cannot, Clara. The fellow that owns it went off
without a word one morning. Nobody knows where he
went to."

Francesca's face flushed scarlet, and she stood up and
said:

" Father, ' the fellow ' is my intended husband. I
love 'the fellow.' I believe him to be an honorable
gentleman in every respect."

Then, with considerable passion, she pushed her chair
aside and left the room.

An hour afterward Mrs. Atherton knocked at her door.

" Francesca! My dear Francesca, let me come in,"
she pleaded.



212 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Francesca opened the door, and, holding it, stood
looking at her stepmother. She had been crying until
she was sick. Her face was piteous, her eyes hope-
less, but she had told herself as she went to the door :
" I am the daughter of Atherton and the lady of the
manor. I will not let this stranger either pity or scold
or deceive me."

The thought gave dignity to her grief. She looked
straight at her visitor, and waited for her to speak.

" Francesca, dear, let me come in. I want to talk
to you to comfort you to advise you."

The poor girl shook her head at the mention of " com-
fort " ; but she suffered Mrs. Atherton to enter. She
went to a sofa and motioned Francesca to sit beside her.
With some reluctance Francesca did so. She took her
hand. It was cold and without response. The fingers
lay limp in her own.

" I am sorry, Francesca, I named the mill. I have
made you weep, and I wish only to make you happy.
Do you believe me ? "

" Yes, mother."

" Say Clara; I do not wish you to call me ' mother.'
I am not your mother; no one ever could take a
mother's place ; but I am your friend, your true friend
Clara. Tell me what you wish me to do for you."

" There is nothing to be done. But for all that, I
am miserable. I am dying of grief, and nobody sees
it ; and I fear no one cares for me."

"My dear, I see and I do care."

" I have no one to speak to now. Even before Loida
went away she was so busy, and her heart was so full
and happy, it was not pleasant to trouble her and she



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 213

forgot if I did not speak and I was humbled and sad-
dened by every one's neglect, and I could only go away
and be silent. My heart is breaking. I feel a little
weaker constantly. I have such hopeless days such
long, weary nights. I never thought that life could be
so hard to bear. I want to shut my eyes and forget
everything. No, I do not want to forget Lancelot."

" If you would only tell me about him, then I could
talk to you, and we could consider what ought to be
done. Francesca, my dear, I was once very deep in
sorrowful love myself. I wanted to die ; and the man
came back and we were married, and in three months I
wished he had never come back, and in a year I had
left him forever. When he died I was glad."

" You cannot comfort me in that way, Clara. If an
angel stood there and said there was anything wrong,
anything unkind in Lancelot's heart, I would know he
was an evil angel full of malice and wickedness. I will
tell you what Lancelot is ; " and then she did what Clara
wanted her to do, opened her heart, told all its secret
fear and doubt, all its heart-wringing uncertainty and
suspense. "If I knew where he was! If he would
only write! If I could write to him! If I durst go
and find him!" These "ifs" were the thorns and nails
of her poor heart's crucifixion. " But I am a fine lady.
I cannot move. I cannot go anywhere."

" If we only knew where he is, Francesca, I would
find a way for you to go there."

" You would ? You really would, Clara ? "

"Indeed I would. There are few men like your
Lancelot. He ought to be found and brought home.
I am going to have his mill opened and set to work if



214 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

possible. If your father will not do it, I have lots of
money of my own. I will open it. It is a shame to
see such a fine building useless ; such wonderful ma-
chines rusting away."

And then the poor girl cried again, and hid her face
in her hands, and tried to hide her sobs in her heart ;
and Clara put her arm round the slender form trembling
and shaking in its storm of sorrow ; and after awhile
gently uncovered the wet, white face and kissed it.

" Listen, Francesca ! There are men whose business
it is to find out hidden things and to discover where lost
people go to. You say Lancelot landed in Vera Cruz
from the bark Thetis. I am going to send one of these
men across the Atlantic to Vera Cruz. I will give him
orders to find Lancelot if he be in this world. Now
you can write as long and as sweet a letter as you desire
to your lover ; this man shall take it with him. And
whatever else you say, tell Lancelot he must come home.
Tell him his honor, his mother's honor, your life, depend
upon his coming."

"His honor! I do not think that 'honor' is con-
cerned in his absence."

" My dear, do not stand upon words. You have to
use hyperboles to move a man at all. Some men care
for ' honor ' that are not touched by love or happiness,
or even death. In love and war all expedients are Idw-
ful. The . word ' honor ' seems to me a very honorable
expedient. Now, write your letter to Lancelot, and I
will go and write to Captain Benton. Both letters will
leave here to-morrow morning, and twenty-four hours
afterward Captain Benton will be on the way to Mexico.
What do you think of that plan, dear ? "



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 215

" It is so wonderful, so comforting, so quick ! I can-
not take it in. I cannot understand it all."

" Never mind about ' understanding ' now. You will
have time to understand while Benton is going about the
business. Have you pen, ink, and paper? Good.
Then go to work. When you do not know what to do
then is the very time to do something. When you can-
not bear a thing any longer, then stop bearing, and make
a move in one direction or another. The direction is
evidently Mexico. Mr. Alderson has been in Mexico ;
why did you not set him to work? He must know
people there. He could surely have written some let-
ters made some inquiries ? "

" Dick was so taken up with Loida and other things.
I did not like to trouble them. They did not know I
was suffering so much. They did not see."

" Lovers see nothing but each other. They are an
abominably selfish crowd. I know because I have been
there. There ought to be churches specially for them,
and constant sermons on ' seeking not one's own,' and a
lovers' litany, with an imploration to be delivered from
selfishness."

" Have I been selfish ? "

" Perhaps and very unselfish also. I do not think
I could have been so patient and smiling and ladylike
with other lovers as you have been. In most respects
you have behaved admirably. It takes a fine, well-bred
nature to bear. A very vulgar one can do"

However, it is very certain that the only way out of
the Slough of Despond is by action. It is like move-
ment in a nightmare ; stir under the incubus and it is
gone. And though Francesca's despairing grief was



2l6 LOVE FOR AX HOUR.

not removed by action,'it was sensibly lightened. There
was a movement made which admitted of hope's en-
trance. Something was being done for Lancelot, and
it was not all simple endurance. There was also great
comfort in Clara's sympathy. It was an active, loving
sympathy ; it resolved itself always into " what can be
done ? " If this effort fails what is the next move ? She
never thought of advising Francesca to forget her sor-
row, or even to submit to it. The idea of resistance, of
getting the better of adverse circumstances, was funda-
mental in Clara's character.

Consequently, even when Captain Benton had gone
to Mexico, she was still mentally busy in forecasting
probabilities and preparing to meet them. And she
very soon found out two weak places in their first move-
ment.

" You ought to have seen Mrs. Leigh before we sent
Benton," she said to Francesca, " and we ought to have
taken Dick Alderson into our confidence. Mrs. Leigh
may have had another letter. Dick could have given
advice worth having. However, we can send any in-
formation worth sending after the captain. When did
you see Mrs. Leigh last, Francesca ? "

" It is nearly half a year ago."

" You poor child ! No word for half a year? And
no one remembered your anxiety. What a selfish set of
barbarians we have been! It is possible Mrs. Leigh
has had several letters. And we may have sent Benton
in a wrong direction."

" How unfortunate ! "

" Not worth fretting over. If we have, then we must
send some one in the right direction immediately. Do



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 21 7

not look so hopeless and frightened. I have plenty of
money that ought to be on the move. Money is made
round in order that it may roll. The first thing is to see
Mrs. Leigh. Suppose we go to Idleholme to-morrow.
We owe Squire Idle a visit. Your father may not wish
to go. If so, the way to Leigh is plain and open. If
he is so contradictious as to feel his social obligations
pressing, and I dare say he will be so very natural, then
we must seize the best opportunity that offers."

" And if none offers ? "

"Then we must make one."

Before the subject could be further discussed, Squire
Atherton entered. He was going to covert, and was
dressed in a dashing Milton-Mowbray uniform of scarlet
and green. It was the first time he had worn it since
his marriage, and he came into the room with a little
conscious satisfaction in his own appearance. Certainly
he looked in it a very proper English squire, and Clara
was enthusiastic in her approval. He blushed like a
great, happy school-boy to her compliments, and asked
both ladies to drive to cover and see the meet.

" We shall find a good dog-fox at Ashley pasture, and
get away with him up wind. There will be some crack
riders present, Clara. Francesca knows; don't you,
little girl!"

" Yes, indeed," she answered, with a pretty flush com-
ing into her cheeks. " Who can ride like Squire Ather-
ton? Clara, there is a bullfinch hedge of fifty years'
growth on Ashley pasture. It is so high that no horse
can clear it, but Squire Atherton charges it at full speed
and gets to the other side, while the bushes close after
him and his horse as if a bird had hopped through



2l8 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

them. If the fox goes that way, would you not like to
see my father go through ? "

" No," answered Clara, with a comical shake of her
head. " I do not care about seeing your father go
through a hedge. And my sympathies are with the fox.
I think it is a pity to teach such fine hounds such bad
ways."

" Bless thee, Clara, it is as natural for dogs to hunt
foxes as it is for men to hunt them. I don't know a
much finer sight than a good pack all together, with
heads up and tails down. My word! You'd think
then that my Crafty and Gypsy and Gaylass and the
rest of them were well worth the painting. Such scent
and such sense! Fine pedigrees! Every one of them
knew by instinct that a sheep was too sacred an animal
for them even to look at ; but I shall be late if I go on
talking in this way. Will you go ? I can send Crocker
with the trap in ten minutes."

" No, Rashleigh, we will not go this morning. I
want to go to Idleholme to-morrow. We owe a visit
there that can no longer be delayed. Will you go with
us?"

" Yes. I ought to go. My friend Thomas Idle is
always glad to see me. Yes, I will go, Clara. Did you
say to-morrow ? "

" To-morrow. We shall stay all night, of course."

" Very well. To-morrow I am at' your service. To-
day "

" You hunt a dog-fox. It seems to take quite a num-
ber of men and dogs to kill one dog-fox. I should like
to see the fox better than the men. Good-morning,
Rashleigh."



HOPE AND Tll'O SAD WOMEN. 2ig

" Did I not tell you, Francesca, that the squire would
be sure to wish to see his friend Thomas Idle ? "

" I had a similar presentiment, Clara."

" My dear, there is no need of ' presentiments ' about a
man's movements. If you know him ever so little, you
may reckon upon his ' whys ' and ' wherefores ' as cer-
tainly as a sum in simple addition. How far is Leigh
Farm from Idleholme ? "

" Six miles or thereabouts. We pass it. The large
gates are on the highway."

" Then we must go direct to Idleholme, stay there all
night, and the following morning I will ask Mrs. Idle to
let a man drive you to Leigh. Your father and Squire
Idle will doubtless be in the stables or kennels ; that is
their usual after-breakfast visit. You can dismiss the
Idleholme man at Leigh, and as we shall not leave until
afternoon lunch, you will have several hours with Lance-
lot's mother."

" Then you will call for me as you return to Ather-
ton ? "

" Yes. Try and be at the gate, so that your father
may have no time to grumble and forecast darkness and
danger and tribulations of all kinds."

The plan was so simple that it was scarcely possible
for it to miscarry. The Atherton party arrived at Idle-
holme the following afternoon, and met a hearty wel-
come. Almund was at home, and there was a brilliant
evening. For the new mistress of Atherton exerted
herself to the utmost, and met in Almund a spirit bright
enough to stimulate her pleasantries and also to under-
stand them. Yet his attentions to Squire Atherton's
wife did not interfere with the young man's devotion to



220 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Francesca ; and the two old men watched it with appreci-
ative glances ; they thought no one read but themselves.

So every one was in a happy temper ; even Francesca
threw off her depression, and played accompaniments to
Clara's singing, and smiled sweetly to Almund's confi-
dences, for she was thinking of the morning, and that
possibly in a few hours she would hear something of
Lancelot.

It was fortunately a fine morning, though very cold.
There had been a little snow, but not sufficient to hinder
rapid driving ; and as soon as the two squires had trailed
off to the stables, with their pipes between their lips and
half a dozen hounds at their heels, Mrs. Atherton said a
few words to Mrs. Idle, and before Francesca was quite
ready, a light gig was waiting for her.

" We shall call for you about two o'clock ; be waiting
for us : " and Clara drew the pretty, pale face down to
her own, and with whispered good wishes kissed the
girl and sent her away. And as Almund had gone into
retirement, in order to smoke his first cigar in contem-
plative peace, no one but Clara saw Francesca depart
on her loving errand.

The horse was a fine roadster, and the man a capital
driver ; in a very short time she was at the large gates
of Leigh Farm. They were rusty with disuse, and only
moved with considerable effort ; but when they had
been opened sufficiently for her entrance, she sent the
servant back to Idleholme. His name was Jonathan
Child, and he had the reputation of being a silent, self-
ish fellow ; but when Francesca gave him a crown, the
touch of the silver went at once to his nervous center,
and awoke what good feeling he possessed.



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 221

" Miss," he said, as he gathered up his reins again .
" Miss Be you going in there, miss ? "

"Yes."

" Into t' varry house, miss ? "

"Yes."

" Well, I wouldn't, if I was you."

He even turned his head to watch the slight figure
walking quickly up the long, winding avenue. And
Francesca felt the chill of the implied warning as she
caught sight of the house. It was hardly possible to
realize the change that had taken place in half a year.
Certainly there was some allowance to be made for the
want of the summer's leaves and flowers and sunshine,
but even admitting this natural reason, there was a
change that the season was not responsible for.

The place looked deserted. The avenue was totally
neglected. Long, dead grass clung around her ankles,
and her feet sunk in the sodden masses of decaying
leaves. There are moments when matter weighs upon
us ; when it is as mysterious and unsympathetic as spirit.
The hard earth, the dead leaves, the bare, dripping
branches overhead, seemed a part of her heavy heart.
And why were they there at all ? When ? How ? What
for ? No answer. No understanding of anything. The
sadness that comes from sorrow endured without avail,
invaded and, before she reached the door, conquered her.

The great white door! How blank and cold and
unresponsive it looked ! Indeed, she had to give up all
attempts to enter by it, and go around the building to
the smaller door in the other side. It was easily moved
by an ordinary latch ; and after knocking several times
without being answered, Francesca went in. All was



222 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

silent as the grave. She went to the room with which
she was familiar. Martha Leigh was there. There
was a little fire in the grate, and she was bending over
it. She lifted her head as Francesca entered, and looked
at her with a quick inquiry ; then, divining her disap-
pointment, let her head fall down again.

" Mother, may I come to you ? "

" Ay, come thy ways in. It is a cold day."

" Have you been ill ? "

" Ay, I suffer a bit. Rheumatism. If Death would
but come and deliver me, I'd make him freely welcome.
I would that."

Then Francesca told her what Mrs. Atherton had
done ; but she listened without any enthusiasm, and she
said, with an air of despair :

" If love can't bring him home ; if such prayers and
cries as I send after him can't bring him home willing
or not willing does ta really think a bit of money can
do it ? "

" Mrs. Atherton says money can do everything."

" She is far wrong. It can promise everything, but it
is a long way between promising and heving a varry
long way indeed."

Mrs. Leigh kept her eyes upon the fire. Francesca
put her little wet feet toward its blaze. She wondered
Martha did not notice how wet they were ; wondered
that she did not offer her any refreshment. For hospi-
tality was second nature with Martha Leigh. She must
have got far off from life in some way to forget its
claims.

After a few minutes, Francesca asked if she might go
up to Lancelot's room.



HOPE AND TWO SAD WOMEN. 22$

" Does ta want to see his picture ? "

" Yes, mother."

" Here is the key. Go thy ways, poor lass. But
don't thee touch t' piano. I couldn't abide to hear it.
I hevn't got the mournful music thou made on it out of
my ears yet. Don't thee touch a note."

" I will not. I only want to see Lancelot's face."

" If ta loved him as I love him, thou wouldn't need a
bit o' painted canvas to see his face. Why-a! I see
the lad go in and out ivery hour of the day. I see him
all night long. Sleeping or waking, I see him."

She rose up, as if to go with Francesca, but sat down
again. She was suffering from rheumatism severely,
and the house was cold and damp enough to induce the
malady. So Francesca went alone. She opened the
wooden shutters of one window, and knelt down before
the pictured face. No painted saint had ever truer and
purer worship. She kissed the smiling lips as the dead
are kissed. She kissed the beaming eyes as if she was
closing them forever. She wept before her lover with
that passion of grief which comes from long suppression.
No one there could see or hear her heart breaking.
She could lament and wring her hands and cry out, as
she longed to cry :

" O Lancelot ! Lancelot ! How gladly would I have
gone with you! Oh, my love! My love! My love!"

No one interfered with her sorrowful visit. She wept
her anguish in some measure away, and went down-
stairs calmed and comforted. Martha had spread a
little table and made up the fire. She pointed to the
teapot and the loaf, and permitted her to wait upon
herself.



224 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

" I sent away all the servants at the end of the
year," she said ; " ay, a bit before it. A bad, wasteful,
grumbling lot as iver was. I was glad to be rid of
them."

" Do you live here alone ? "

" I live here but not alone. How many men and
women hev lived here before me, does ta think ? I hev
plenty of company. We are varry thick with one an-
other varry good friends. They know I have done
right to Leigh. They are satisfied. Stephen Leigh hes
found out, and Lancelot Leigh will find out. There is
no need to hurry. The ' time to come ' is a long year
it is that. I hev something to ask of thee."

" I will do anything you ask me, if it be possible."

" What for should thou ? "

" You are Lancelot's mother. I love you."

" I am a crabbed, queer old woman ; how can ta love
me?"

" I love you. What is the use of asking ' why ' or
'how'?"

" To be sure. Listen, then. I am going the way of
all the Leighs varry soon. Don't thee say ' no ' or think
I want comfort. I do not. I want to die. I'll shake
hands with Death, and welcome him. There is only
one thing I want to live for. I want to keep possession
till Lancelot comes home. If I die before he comes,
thou must try and find him ; try and hear from him ;
thou must hear from him whether or not. Dost thou un-
derstand ? whether or not"

" I shall hear from him. I feel certain of it."

" Ay, thou wilt hear for if there is no other way, /
will come and tell thee. Mind that! As sure as I am


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 14 of 20)