Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Love for an hour is love forever online

. (page 16 of 20)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 16 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

could excuse such cruel neglect of his mother. And
oh, how cruel his silence to her was!

She did not weep. She had passed that possible
comfort. The source of her tears was dry. With the
letter in her hand, she went back to the house. Loida
was there and Clara. To one of them she must speak ;
and after a moment's thought she looked into the parlor
in search of Clara. The quick sympathy in her bright
face answered the unspoken request. In ten minutes
she was sitting by Francesca's side, listening to the last
words of the lonely woman going out into the dark
without a word of love to cheer her.

" Francesca, you must go at once to Leigh House,'*
said Clara.

" I will go as soon as possible, Clara. I must get
my father's permission."

" I will give you that. Your father has gone to Hare-
top, and may not be back until to-morrow night. I
would go at once this very hour."

Francesca smiled. " Of course you would go this
very hour, Clara. I could not do anything in such a
hurry. It would make me ill. Things have to be con-

" I had forgotten that it takes an English lady three
days to consider, and then three more to move upon


her consideration. That is a week. And the poor,
heart-broken woman has given you a week; so you
may possibly see her alive. If she had written to me,
Francesca, I should have packed a valise and been on
the way to her at this very moment."

" You have been trained to think and act as if im-
pediments did not exist, Clara. I have not. Hurry
petrifies me. I should be ill and a trouble instead of a

" If the house was on fire, you would brush your hair
and put your collar on, I have no doubt. If you saw
Lancelot coming up the terrace, you would wait until
the footman brought you his card. Francesca dear, if
you would only be in a hurry, or go into a passion, or
shriek, or say a few dreadful words, or do any other
womanly thing, you would not need the doctor. In
spite of your heart-sickness, you would get some life
and some color. Do put the house in a fuss, and send
impossible messages to the stables, and be on the way
to Leigh in forty minutes. I will help you."

" Mrs. Leigh will not expect me for a few days, and
J do not think I ought to go without father's permission.
He is so jealous wherever Lancelot is concerned."

" Very well. I often wonder if the earth going
round its axis does not put on the drag when passing
England. Life's wheels run so slowly here."

" I suppose there is nothing new to tell Mrs. Leigh ? "

" Nothing I would tell her. I had a letter from
Captain Benton this morning."

" Is there any hope, Clara ? "

" None, my dear. The captain says he easily found
traces of him at Vera Cruz, at Bocca del Rio, and at


other towns between Vera Cruz and Mexico. He
stayed at the Mercado Hotel, in the Plateros Mexico,
and his trunk remained there for many weeks."

" Then Benton supposes him to be dead ? "

" He thinks so. Assassinations are as common as
the nightfall. A stranger's life is not worth a dollar
unless he is able to 'protect himself. So Benton says."

" He found no certain trace of Lancelot's death f "

" No more than of his existence."

" Then I will believe Lancelot's mother, and she says
he is alive. A dying mother knows more than a detect-
ive. She sees further, and feels where she cannot see."'

"When you come back from Leigh, I have some-
thing to say to you."

" You can say nothing, Clara, that I will not grate-
fully listen to. All your words are good words."

" Thank you, dear! "

And Clara kissed the pale, young face, so full of sad-
ness and repressed suffering, and wondered that the
little mystery in her speech roused neither interest nor

" I will get ready to leave, Clara, and when father
returns, if I have his permission, there need be no de-

And, not unkindly, Clara expressed by a slight move-
ment of her shoulders her incomprehensibility of such
deliberate movements.

On the evening of the next day Squire Atherton re-
turned from Haretop. He had had a very pleasant
visit, he was in a particularly happy mood, and he did
think it a little hard to have his sporting adventures in-
terrupted by a discussion concerning Martha Leigh.


That night he refused to see any reason at all for Miss
Atherton visiting the dying woman. Indeed, he as-
serted that from his own observation he thought her a
very improper person to visit.

" She isn't herself at all," he said. " She gave me
such a turn as never was, and if she should go into one
of her tantrums with Francesca, there is no telling what
would happen. Why-a ! It was only last month Joshua
Newby tried to have her put in safe keeping. He
said his son had married the next heir failing the
missing one and that he was sure she would burn
the house down if things went as she did not want them
to go."

" Lancelot will come back," said Francesca, with a
quiet decision.

" I wish to goodness he would, I am sure. I would
then, mebbe, have some good of my own daughter, and
my own wife would not be bothering my very life
out to run his mill. I wish to goodness he would
come! It seems like his very name spoils a pleasant

The next morning, however, he had changed his
views on the subject ; that is, Clara had had an oppor-
tunity to reason with him, and he had adopted her
views. He had been made to see the lonely, broken-
hearted woman at the grave's mouth, and he had been
informed of the utter failure of Benton to find any trace
of Lancelot.

" He says Lancelot Leigh was last seen in the neigh-
borhood of the Necatitlan Square, a place always dan-
gerous for a man in a European dress. There was a
bull-fight in the vicinity, and it is supposed he went


there. Benton says, further, that it is a haunt of cut-
throats of men who would murder a foreigner for a
few piastres and he feels sure that the next day
Lancelot's body lay behind a certain strongly grated
window between the Alameda and the Paseo of Bucareli
the window of the Mexican morgue."

" Have you told Francesca ? "

" Not as I have told you. She still believes her lover
is alive and I think so, also."

" But why ? "

" I do not know ' why.' If I had reasons for my
belief I should not believe. Let Francesca go and see
Mrs. Leigh. It can do her no harm, it may do her
much good. She looks very frail and ill. Dick will
drive her there If she stays at all, it will be at the
Idles '."

And of course Mrs. Atherton won her plea. The
squire came downstairs next morning with the permis-
sion on his lips, and he gave it to his daughter with a
kiss full of affection.

"Thou art such a little lass as never was!" he said
fondly. " Thou hast Clara as much in thy power as
thou hast me and everybody else."

It was full eleven o'clock, however, ere Francesca
left Atherton, and it was fully four days since Martha's
letter had been -posted. In that space of time she
might be much worse, or the attack might be past and
she might be recovering. If so, it was- agreed that
Dick should see her. He could tell her many things
about Mexico, and perhaps give her some fresh hope
about her lost son. Under the circumstances, he
thought it would be a kind act to speak of his possible


journey back to Mexico as a certainty. He was going
to ask permission to see Lancelot's likeness, and he had
no doubt he could learn the face by heart and remem-
ber it.

The conversation resulting from such plans and hopes
was of course all in one direction ; but it was full of
interest to both Dick and Francesca. Dick liked to
talk of Mexico. He was in the middle of an animated
description of the Merchants' Arcades, "where the
crowd was as thick as smoke," when they came in sight
of the little churchyard on the wold Francesca had
passed the day on which she first saw Martha Leigh.
There was a crowd in the yard, and many carriages
outside the gate.

" It is a funeral," she said, laying her hand on Dick's
arm to stay his conversation. " It is Mrs. Leigh's
funeral, I am sure. Oh, why did she not send for me

In silence they drove to the church gate. Several
men were standing around watching the horses. They
were not talking, and the solemn voice of the priest at
the grave-side seemed to fill all the space around them.
Dick asked very softly whose funeral it was, and the
man questioned answered :

" It is Mistress Leigh's burying. She died Monday
night some time. It was sudden at last, I should

Then they entered the yard and joined the crowd
around the grave. Squire Idle was among them, and
he and a white-headed man, whom Francesca instinct-
ively knew to be Doctor Thorpe, assisted the rector and
the sexton in the last sad rites. The doctor was weep-


ing. In days long gone by he had loved Martha very
fondly. So also had Squire Idle. It was these two
friends of her youth that laid her in her grave. All
that her son ought to have performed they did ; and
Francesca was glad to see even this affectionate sorrow.

As the crowd dispersed, she drew closer. She loos-
ened the knot of white ribbon from her throat, kissed
it, and dropped it upon the coffin. Squire Idle had gone
away unconscious of their presence. Doctor Thorpe
remained at the grave until it was filled and the turf laid
back upon the clay. D^.ck and Francesca walked into
the church and read the gravestones, and talked softly
of what was best to be done.

They decided to return to Atherton, and were about
to enter their carriage when Doctor Thorpe approached.
He said, shortly :

" I am Doctor Thorpe, and I know you are Miss
Atherton. She was very restless to see you. I thought
of writing to Atherton a week ago. I wish I had."

" I wish so, with all my heart."

" Poor Martha ! Poor Martha ! How she suffered ! "

" Who was with her ? "

" Not a soul I mean no human friend or helper.
There are indeed a poor old man and woman in the
house poor, far-off relations, but they were asleep."

" Why did Lancelot go away ! Oh, Doctor Thorpe,
if you know, tell me ! "

" I cannot tell you ' why.' I may know ' why ' ; I
think I do know ' why ' ; but it is not my place to talk.
Far from it. I loved Martha Leigh when she was little
more than a child. If her son left her, I think he did
right. I promised Martha to take care of everything


for him. It is the last thing I can do for the woman I

" Her death was very hard ? "

"Very! Very! She longed for just one word out
of the great silence ; she never got it. She was tortured
by her conscience and tortured by her heart. She lived
in another world to ours. No one knew her. No one
can judge her. She had hopes and despairs beyond
our bearing. I hope she has peace at last, if, indeed,
to such a shade peace be any blessing."

" She must have known she was dying. Indeed, she
wrote and told me so."

" She knew right well. She had tied* a napkin care-
fully under her lower jaw to support it. She was
stretched decently in a winding-sheet. Her eyes were
closed, her hands clasped. She had, in fact, prepared
herself for her burial. A strange, strong, loving, hating,
immortal woman. For I cannot though her body lies
there I cannot think of her as dead."

" Whence come we ? Whither go we ? " Dick's face
was full of speculation and trouble. He was thinking
of many a tragic death which he had seen, but of none
so mournfully tragic as this lonely, conscious outgoing
of Martha Leigh.

" Whence come we ? Whither go we ? "

Again Dick asked the mighty questions, with a
troubled, far-off look into the wide horizon, and the
doctor repeated them after him, adding :

" There is no answer ; not even an echo from the
shores of the Unknown."

And then there was a sad pause, which was broken
by Dick saying slowly one of Sir Alfred Ly ell's verses :


' All the world over, I wonder, in lands that I never have trod,
Are the people eternally seeking for the signs and steps of a


Westward across the ocean, and northward across the snow,
Do they all stand gazing as ever? And what do the wisest

know?' "

"Ah, Dick! Ah, doctor!" cried Francesca, clasping
her hands in the fullness of her soul's enthusiasm. " We
know that we shall be satisfied. The land of our desire,
the land which we call heaven, is not a dream ; it is a

" My dear, I have seen I have seen all kinds of
souls go forth ; brave, strong ones, like Martha Leigh's,
who sent word to her dead that she was coming, and
bid them meet her ; others that lay down with as little
concern as if they were going to sleep for a little while ;
others that went dry-shod over the dark river in the
morning' light, with a vision of the waiting shining ones ;
and, again, wise, thoughtful souls, who felt at the last all
faith and hope gulfed, and in an agony of fear and
doubt groped everywhere in the universe for the black
doors of annihilation. And, in spite of all we know,
life and death are the great mystery. Sometimes I
have even thought they were synonymous terms, and
that when I stood by the dying I came to see fresh life
given, in a certain sense, to aceouch death. We are
alone. All have gone away and left poor Martha, and
we must go, also. It grows late, and you have a long
drive. Good-bye."

Francesca stayed him yet a moment while she asked :

" You will not let anv one enter Leiffh House ? J*
would grieve her even yonder."


" While I am keeper of the threshold no one shall
enter that she would bar the door against. I will live
there myself, if it be necessary. I have the power, or
can take it. Adieu! "

They watched him ride slowly away, a plain-looking,
oldish man, small, stout, and commonplace, but living
amidst the great mysteries of life, and nourishing and
cherishing his soul on them. Dick unfastened his
horses and prepared for their homeward drive, and
while he did so Francesca walked alone to the new-
made grave, and vowed a vow to the woman whose
clay image it kept.

And for a long while she was very silent, and Dick let
her think. His own mind was busy. He was thou-
sands of miles away, when he heard a low voice .singing
the saddest little wail of minor music. It was at his
side. It was Francesca. He came sharply and sor-
rowfully back to reality, and the mournful notes of the
dirge fitted his restless, solemnly wondering mood so
well, he could not choose but listen to them and anon
catch their meaning, and sing them also :

" ' They have buried her here to-day,
Set, sun, set out of my sight ;
They have buried her here to-dajr,
Come, deepening gray twilight ;
Stay, lingering gray twilight ;
And afterward come the night.' "



" Every time
Serves for the matter that is then born in V

" Hope,

Best apprehender of our joys, whieh hast
So long a reach, and yet canst hold so fast."

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie
Which we ascribe to heaven."

Strong reasons make strong actions. Shakespeare.

THE night was dark and rainy, and the ride back to
Atherton* very melancholy ; but how pleasant was
the thought of home and all its love and comfort!
From afar the lighted windows of the Court showed
them a welcome ; and the little surprise of their earlier
return added a kindlier tone to their reception. Dick
thought he had never before seen Loida look so charm-
ing ; certainly she had never before met him with such
a delightful show of her affection. For if Dick had one
fault with his beautiful wife, it was that she restrained
too much all show of the really deep love she bore him.
But this night she rose up blushing with delight at his
entrance. She took his hands ; she let her eyes seek
from his the embrace he was proud and happy to give.
Part of this sweet effusion was doubtless due to the un-


expected joy of his return that night ; but mostly it was
due to some words Clara had let fall as they sat together
that afternoon.

The squire had just left them for his usual tramp, and
perhaps there was or perhaps Clara thought there was
the faintest shadow of wonder or contempt on Loida's
face at his boyish delight in the affectionate compli-
ments and charges of his wife. " He was to be sure
and take care of himself not to get his feet wet not
to ride horses nobody else would mount if he took his
gun, not to try and hop through a hedge as if he thought
himself a bird " and so on indefinitely. And after all,
a quick following of him to the open door for a final
kiss, though Clara pretended that " she had forgotten
to look whether he had his gaiters on or not."

All this demonstrativeness of love Avas foreign to
Loida's ideas and experience, rather than it was aside
from her real disposition. Perhaps if Clara had an-
alyzed the shadow on her companion's face, she would
have found more of longing than of wonder or contempt
in it. However, it was Clara's way always to face
what annoyed her, and she said reflectively as she re-
sumed her sewing :

" Men do so love to be petted ; they are as hungry
for a few sweet words as a baby for its mother's breast.
And when it is so easy to make them happy, do you
not think, Loida, that we ought to do so ? "

" I suppose we ought."

" Rashleigh went away with such a glow in his heart,
so elated, my dear, that nothing on earth could hurt
him. He would ride like a spirit or swim like a fish,
or do any mortal thing as an immortal ought to do it.


My dear, if you can kindle such a glow in a man's
heart, you may send him into the Stock Exchange to
make a fortune out of nothing, or do any other impos-
sibility. I dare say if you had written letters to Dick
full of red-hot adjectives, he would have been home,
with his pockets full, in five years. Men are made that
way, my dear."

She said a great deal more on the same subject,
touching with a delicate, clever innuendo the fact that
Dick was a man specially needing love's loving-kind-
ness ; and as she talked, the voices of both grew more
earnest, and the one woman was brave enough to say
and the other woman was brave enough to hear words
that touched two lives with a fresh glory even to the
grave. And the first result, as far as Dick was con-
cerned, was that unusual welcome home the blush,
the kiss, the eager inquiry as to his desires, the ready
service love gives so gracefully. And Clara, with a
pretty tact, made her anxiety about Francesca a screen
for Loida's unprecedented show of tenderness. She in-
sisted on twenty practical inquiries into damp and chill
and hunger and thirst, and finally left the girl cuddled
close to her father's side, to give special orders about
supper for the travelers.

Then the squire said :

" Thou art home a deal sooner than we thought for.
Has something gone wrong ? "

" I hope not ; I think not, father. Mrs. Leigh is
dead. We were just in time to join the funeral. Squire
Idle was there, but he seemed full of thought, and he
did not see me."

" God give her soul eternal rest! She was a woman


full of whimsies and troubles. A very strange woman.
A very sorrowful woman, I think."

" In this world, father, who are quite happy ? "
" Sometimes some of us fancy we are happy ; eh,

Dick was sitting quiet, with a smile on his handsome
mouth. At that hour Dick at least was happy. But
when the squire explained his question, a quick solemnity
absorbed the dreamy light of joy, and he answered
slowly :

"As far as I have seen, every soul has trouble of
some kind."

" And for every one, Dick, there is also death."
" My dear Francesca, I do not call death sorrow. I
have seen death watched for, longed for, and prayed
for. This little earth is but a lodge in the universe, and
we are but tenants at will of our place in it ; but

" ' The heavens are measureless ; the dead are free!
With their brief day on earth, their sorrows cease.
O Grave, this is thy victory!
O Death, this is thy peace ! '

I heard a man dying, alone at the bottom of a deep
mine, say those words. He said them in a rapture^ 1
He was a young Englishman whom I tried to befriend.
I never saw a smile on his face until the hour of his
death. But if there be a true joy upon earth it springs
from love from love's labor or from love's sacrifice, or
love's pleasure shared or love's sorrow shared. All
other joys are but the shadows of joy. They fly away
and are not."

At this moment there was a simultaneous opening of


doors, and from the kitchen there came the sound of a
fiddle and laughter and interrupted strains of song.
Dick listened curiously.

" I could almost swear," he said, " that I have heard
an old Spanish gypsy sing as some one is singing in
your kitchen, squire."

" Not unlikely, Dick. It is a gypsy singing, and
doubtless he is singing a song as old as their thieving
race. My word, what thieves they are! My game-
keeper calls them ' the foxes of menkind.' Toro, who
is singing, says he respects me because he never could
pick my pocket. Have you gypsies in Mexico ? "

" Plenty of them, and never two or three together
without a horse or an ass among them. They make
fortunes there by telling those of other people. Miners
are superstitious. Well, squire, I do not believe any one
can work hundreds of feet under ground and not get
superstitious. Everything is mysterious in those living
graves. There was a man at San Rayas who was
rich, and he had never lifted a pick. He had always
the good fortune to be out of such work; he toiled
with a piece of paper and a pencil, and made more than
I did."

"Was he a gypsy?" inquired Francesca, who was
listening with a face full of interest.

" No ; he was a native of London. He had been at
Eton and Oxford, but he had what he called ' celestial
affinities,' and he lived among the stars. In other
words, he was an astrologer."

" Such nonsense ! " said the squire contemptuously.

Dick shook his head.

" If you had heard Saville talk, you would not have


answered him with / nonsense !' Answer me his first

" What was it ? "

" Admit that our world was at one time a part of the
sun. Is not that so ? "

" I do not deny it ; but what then ? "

" Admit that day and night, seasons and tides, would
be unintelligible were no account taken of the sidereai

" Well, what by that ? "

"It is contrary to all analogy that their influence
stops there. The magnetic storms which rage through
the earth synchronize with corresponding phenomena in
the sun. The rays of some planets have more power-
ful chemical action than others. When certain planets
arrive at certain points, we have earthquakes; and a
famous scientist connects the solar spots with famine,
and, consequently, with financial stringency and com-
mercial disaster ; and so, you see, sends us to the sun
for forecasts of the money market." *

" Now, Dick, thou had better stop romancing! "

" Romancing! Saville said that, with the single ex-
ception of astronomy, astrology was the most exact of
all the sciences. You see, he was sure it was a science.
He asserted that man, being a product, not only of the
earth, but of the universe, was also profoundly affected
by the telluric influences in ascendancy at the time of
his birth. He showed me published 'nativities' of
famous men who were either insane or whose genius
touched insanity, and they were all born under the same
stellar influences."

*Huth's " Life of Buckle."


" Does he mean to say that every one born at such
conjunctions is insane? What nonsense!"

" No ; he did not say that, because there are count-
less hereditary and other modifications; but he said
that insanity rarely, or never, happened without the
conjunction of Saturn or Mars with the moon or Mer-
cury. Nine notoriously insane princes were born under
this conjunction. Swift, Southey, Moore, Faraday had
the same conjunction ; it was genius in early life, it was
insanity at the close of life. The astral influences are
modified by the physical conditions waiting for them, as
the produce of a seed is modified by the soil into which
it is dropped. I tell you this as told to me ; take it for
what it is worth."

"Well, Dick, I should say it was not worth much.
Clara, come here, my dear. Thou has missed a queer
thing about the stars. Come and listen to Dick. He

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 16 of 20)