Copyright
Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Love for an hour is love forever online

. (page 5 of 20)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 5 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


J-/ vice. It agreed with the natural openness and
bravery of his spirit ; indeed, his acceptance of Miss
Vyner's offer of mediation had sprung from the anxious
self-depreciation of the lover and not from the timidity
of the man.

Francesca and her aunt returned to Atherton Court
toward the end of January. The holiday feeling was
then over, and life had settled into its usual placid
routine. The squire went hunting when the weather
was favorable ; when it was not, he examined his ac-
counts, wrote letters, made fishing flies, read the John
Bull newspaper and the Gentleman's Magazine.

He was very glad to have his sister and his daughter
home again. Life had been dull and lonely without
them, and the first days of their return were given over



66 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

to gossiping with him on all the events which had hap-
pened at Idleholme. Very little things had a great
interest to the quiet gentleman. He liked to look at
Francesca's new dresses, and to read what had been
said about her beauty in the local papers; and he en-
joyed her descriptions of the people she had met and
the lovers who had tried to win her favor.

" But thou says nothing at all of young Squire Idle.
Did thou not like him, Francesca ? "

" Mr. Almund Idle will not care very much whether
I like him or not, father. He will go a-wooing ac-
companied by the family lawyer and the settlements."

" Oh ! he is that kind, is he ? "

" There is nothing new and nothing true, and it does
not much signify; that is his general attitude," con-
tinued Francesca. " He told me that before he was
twenty-five years old he had found out that faith in
women was beyond his power, and that nothing could
make him love his neighbors."

" My word! Some good man ought to give such a
/conceited jackanapes a horse- whipping. I hope thou let
him see thou had no faith in him, and that nothing could
make thee think about loving him. How ever do his
neighbors bear with him ? "

"They admire him very much. He is considered
exceedingly clever, and I heard that one of the nicest
girls in Yorkshire was in love with him."

"Well, well! It is a wonder! But women, God
bless them, do love men that not even God Almighty
-can put up with. Thou has spoken of riding a great
deal. I wouldn't think that a man like that would ever
care for a horse."



A HAPPY HOUR. 67

" He does not. He says he shivers on horseback,
and that it is folly exerting one's self to keep such an
unruly animal in order doing the work a coachman is
paid to do. He likes a cushioned carriage and plenty
of fur wraps, and a man to do his driving."

"Dear me! What a trial he must be to his father.
Well, if thou did not ride with him, whom did thou ride
with ? "

" Very often I went alone with Peel ; and very often
Mr. Lancelot Leigh rode with me. He lived neighbor
to Idleholme, and the families are quite friendly."

The squire did not answer. In a moment or two he
rose from his chair, went to the window, and looked
steadily out. Loida and Francesca looked at each other.
There was a quick chill and silence. No one felt able
to continue the conversation, and the tick of the time-
piece and the crackle of the fire were the only sounds.

The garden into which the squire looked was like a
girl draped for her first communion, all in white, and he
had a sudden memory of the place when it was a glory
of perfume and color, and Francesca stood there, scat-
tering wheat to the pigeons. His heart was really
wounded by this perversity of fate. He felt as if he
had been deceived by a power which should have re-
spected his blindness and weakness. At the mention of
Lancelot's name tears sprang to his eyes he had gone
to the window to hide them. Standing there, the forlorn
feeling of a man led astray by destiny assailed him.
What could his love or prudence do against a fatality so
pitiless ?

Moments are hours in such mental conflicts ; he
seemed to lose his foothold, and to go down and down



68 LOVE FOR AN HO UK.

into an abyss of unexpected sorrow. Something to lean
upon was a necessity the floor was reeling, the window
receding, everything becoming dim and blank. He
grasped the back of a chair, and by a peremptory exer-
cise of will compelled himself to meet this consciousness
of unavoidable suffering and disappointment. And
then so wonderful are the voices of comfort a little
brown bird on a bare spray said cheerily :
! "Chuck, chuck! Have you anything for me this
morning? I am so hungry."

And he whispered :

" God bless the bird ! " and went to the sideboard
and got some bread-crumbs for it.

He was scattering them on the window-sill when foot-
steps on the crisp snow made him turn his head. It was
Lancelot Leigh. His youth and beauty were very re-
markable in the clear winter day and against the spark-
ling white background. They would have been offen-
sively so, had they not been made tolerable by the air
of modesty which deprecated such offense. He bowed,
in passing, to the squire, and stood upon his threshold.

Now the hospitable instincts of Squire Atherton were
in the depths of his nature, and they had the strength
which comes from centuries of indulgence. Though the
visitor was his enemy, his first thought was to open his
door and say :

" It is cold, come to my hearth and warm yourself! "

The words were unconsciously tempered by an air of
proud, courteous resignation, as if he had added : " You
can take advantage of my kindness and wrong me, if
you choose, but the shame will be yours, not mine."

Lancelot entered the room with an eager look at



A HAPPY HOUR. 69

Francesca, but both she and Miss Loida were unavoid-
ably cold and constrained. They felt as if the visit was
inopportune, and Loida's instant mental query had been :
"Why was he in such a hurry?" On the contrary,
Lancelot thought he had been uncommonly patient.
He was anxious to explain himself, and, with the self-
confidence of youth, he went at once to the purport of
his visit.

" I wish to speak to you privately, squire," he said,
" on a very personal matter."

" Sir ? " answered the squire. " You can have nothing
private or personal with me. What you have got to say,
say now and here. Sit still, Francesca ! Sit still, Loida !
The gentleman can have nothing to say to me you
may not both listen to."

Lancelot looked at Francesca, and hesitated. Her
face red as a rose was bent over her lace-work, but
she felt his glance and answered it with one encourag-
ing and affirmative. Then he spoke out frankly, with a
kind of bold respect :

" Squire Atherton, I have come to ask your permis-
sion to love your daughter."

" I cannot prevent your loving my daughter, sir.
But I will not give a welcome to my shame and sorrow.'*

" I am sure there is at least no ' shame ' in my love.
I give Miss Atherton the honest affection of an honest
heart. My name is unstained. My family, though not
noble, has its own record of bravery and integrity."

" There has never been a trader, sir, among the Ather-
tons. We are landed gentlemen, all of us. Miss Ather-
ton will be Lady of the Manor of Atherton. I think it
is an impertinence for a cotton-spinner to lift his desire



70 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

to her position. For I hear you are to have charge of
the mill your father is building near me an offense in
itself, sir ; a great offense."

" I am very sorry the mill offends you, squire. I am
not to blame in that matter."

" I wouldn't sneak out of a thing that way. Thou
art not above taking the good of it. Why cannot thou
say, as thy father says : ' The mill is all right, squire ;
it will be a great blessing, and some day thou wilt say
so.' If thou talked in that sort, I could, at least, believe
thou had the courage to stand by thy opinions, and I
would like thee better for it."

" Squire, I desire so much to please you."

" Please thy own father, first of all."

"I have been a good son, sir, always. My father
would declare so, under all circumstances."

" Well, then, I heard him tell thee never to marry a
proud, not-to-be-touched lady of the land. Obey him."

" He was in a passion when he said those words,
squire. He knows that I have come here to ask you
for Miss Atherton's hand. He was glad of it."

" Mr. Leigh, why should we bandy words ? You
want what I cannot find in my heart to give you. You
want what you have no reason or right to ask."

" Brother, I think Francesca has given Mr. Leigh
both right and reason to ask her hand of you ; " and
Miss Loida looked steadily at the angry squire. " We
are old, brother, and they are young, and "

" We are nothing of the kind, Loida. I am in the
prime of life. Thou art far more beautiful than thou
was ten years ago. Dost thou mean to say that because
Mr. Leigh is twenty-five and I am near forty-five, I



A HAPPY HOUR. 71

should ruin my hopes to gratify his ? That would be a
queer thing. Francesca, what has thou to say ? "

" I am your daughter. I would not give you a mo-
ment's disappointment. What do you wish me to do,
father?"

" I wish thee to tell Mr. Leigh that he must forget thy
existence. Tell him that thy father's wish is more to
thee than his wish ; that thy father's love is more to thee
than his love. O Francesca ! Francesca / "

The words were the cry of a wounded heart, and he
stretched out his arms as he uttered them. In a mo-
ment Francesca was within their embrace. Her head
was on his breast. She was close to his heart. She- was
softly crying :

"O father! father! My dear father!"

" Say thou loves me best, my dearie ? "

" I love you ! I love you better than my life, father! "

" Better than this young man, who wants to take thee
away from me ? "

Lancelot looked at his love with his soul in his eyes.
Her father claimed her by a feeling far older and far
stronger. She remained motionless, suffering an agony
of indeterminate emotions.

Miss Loida, trembling and weeping, interfered.

" Brother," she cried, "you are too cruel! You have
no right to put such a question. Let Francesca sit down.
My dear," she said, as the poor girl seated herself again,
"my dear, weep ; it will do you good." Then, turning
to the squire, she continued : " Brother, I must speak
for Francesca's mother. She would not like to have her
little girl tortured between lover and father in this way.
Look there, Rashleigh ! "



72 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Forgetful of every one, caring for nothing, Lancelot
was kneeling by Francesca's side. His arms were round
her, his cheek was against her cheek. They were weep-
ing together. She was telling Lancelot to " go away,"
murmuring amid her sobs :

" I cannot grieve him. I cannot grieve him! He is
my dear father. I love him ! I love him ! We must
wait. There is nothing else."

The squire stood irresolute, silent. Waves of passion
passed over him. He was like a great oak-tree in a
tempest. Sighs, ejaculations, moans he was not con-
scious of escaped his lips. Loida stood silently beside
him^ The lovers believed they were taking of each
other a long, long farewell.

This interlude of intense feeling, though lasting but a
few minutes, broke the strength and will of every heart
present. The squire was conquered by his own suffer-
ing. He said feebly :

" What shall I do ? Tell me, Loida."

" Give Love a little favor. Whatever comes, you
will be glad of it."

"Francesca!"

" Father ? "

She stood up as he called her. Her hand was clasped
in Lancelot's hand ; tears were on the cheeks of both ;
their eyes were shining through the mournful mist of
parting sorrow. The squire was struck by their beauty,
their youth, their sad air of surrender. His voice was
much lower. He spoke wearily, for he was exhausted
with feeling :

" Francesca. Come to me."

She dropped her lover's hand, she went straight to his



A HAPPY HOUR, 73

breast, she put her arms around his neck, she burst
into passionate weeping.

He held her close, for he was going to give her up,
and as Englishmen are apt to do he spoke gruffly,
because he was going to be kind.

" Mr. Leigh, I wish to make my daughter happy, but
when one is not sure about a thing, it is a right way to
take time to make sure. Take two years. Come and
go as you desire only, have a bit of discretion, and do
not wear welcome and father-love threadbare. When
two years are past, speak to me again. It may be,
when we know more of each other, we may think better
of each other. Now Loida, I'll go to my own -room
an hour. Send me a slice of cold roast beef and a
glass of wine. I feel a bit faint. Good-morning, Mr.
Leigh."

The favor gained so hardly was not one that could
be used without great care and self-restraint. Lance
found it difficult to do right. If he kept entirely out of
the squire's way, the unhappy father made a scornful
wonder of it ; if he visited Atherton Court in the squire's
presence, he could not avoid giving offense. It was a
position that would have killed love in any nature less
sweet and tolerant and self-forgetting than Lancelot's.

Neither had Lancelot in his own home much real
sympathy. His mother only tolerated " Lady Fran-
cesca " because her son had not only positively refused
to marry Maria Crossley, he had shown also some ad-
miration for pretty Sanna Newby, who just at this time
finished her education and returned home. And if there
were any human beings altogether hateful to Mrs.
Leigh, it was her nearest neighbors, the Newbys. The



74 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

land of Newby Farm joined the land of Leigh Farm,
and portions of the two estates had frequently changed
hands. In the bad times of Leigh, the Newbys had
bought some of the Leighs' land ; in the bad times of
the Newbys, then the Leighs had gradually redeemed
their meadows.

The haunting terror of Martha Leigh's life was the
fear that her husband would mortgage Leigh to Newby ;
for the Newbys were at this time very prosperous, and
just as greedy as they had ever been of their neighbor's
acres. And Sanna Newby was undoubtedly pretty. So
that between her desire that Lance should marry Maria
Crossley and her fear that he might fancy Sanna Newby,
Mrs. Leigh was kept in a perpetual worry. Stephen
thought she ought to be happy enough to compromise
on Miss Atherton.

" It is few people," he said, one day, in reply to a
long complaint on this subject "it is few people,
Martha, who get what they want, and so they ought to
be well suited if they miss what they do not want. Miss
Atherton is not as welcome as Maria, but she is better
than Sanna. I'd be content if I was thee."

But Miss Atherton might be Lance's wife and yet not
mistress of Leigh House, and this likelihood was Martha
Leigh's terror. She was of that order of women who love
their children passionately while infirmity or weakness
asks for their protecting care. Lance, however, no longer
came to her for consolation or advice. He bore his
own trials and ordered his own affairs. But her home!
It could not save itself from the Newbys. There was
no voice in its gray stones that asked Stephen Leigh to
spare it from usurers and loan-men. There was no one



A HAPPY HOUR. 75

but her to plan for its salvation or defend its rights, and
in so doing preserve the place of her ancestors in the
atmosphere of their influences.

For she fervently believed that strangers in Leigh
House would shut its doors against the wraiths of those
who had built its rooms and who still visited them.
She was planning and fighting, then, not only for the
living, but the dead. There was a cloud of witnesses
behind urging her to maintain their rights, and Lance's
marriage affected her mainly in this direction. Maria
would insure Leigh in the Leigh line, for she was one
of those earthly, selfish women who find connubial love
all the love they desire. She would marry Lance and
forget her own father and mother and kindred; she
would merge her own house, if need was, into the wel-
fare of his house. She would obey Lance like an In-
dian squaw, and for the bones of love he threw her
serve the house of Leigh with all her body and all her
soul.

The difference between such an animal woman and
the spiritual Francesca was very great, and the shrewd
Yorkshire woman understood at once which would aid
her purpose best. Therefore she received the news of
Lance's engagement to Miss Atherton with unreason-
able anger and disappointment, and Lance was kept
in constant irritation by the fears and predictions of
disaster that was to come through his unwise choice of
a wife.

It was some consolation that he had his father's hearty
sympathy.

" Marry the- girl thou loves, whoever she is. At the
end she is the best wife," he said. " If I hedn't loved



76 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

thy mother with all my heart, what a trial she would
hev turned out to be ! But I always manage to excuse
her tempers, and bide her ways. Why? Because,
Lance, I love her. I love her so, even yet, that it is
easy to forgive and forget. But it takes a deal of love
at the outset to bank enough for such ill days as hev
come to me, my lad ! "

So, many restless, unhappy weeks passed. Lance,
however, had consolations that were sufficient. There
were certain days when the squire was sure to be on
the magistrate's bench, and others when he was at the
hunt and at such times it was love that made the little
world at Atherton Court go round. Miss Loida was
then charmingly neglectful. She knew that love was a
poem for two only, and that a third, however sympa-
thetic, could not even be chorus to it. On wet days
she let them wander about the old rooms and corridors,
where every picture kept a story and every chair held a
dream. And as the spring came on, there was the
clematis arbor and the terrace walks.

Together the lovers watched the budding of the trees
and building of the nests. Together they saw the open-
ing of the lilies and the tulips, and the bluebells' little
censer swinging. Together they listened to the throstles'
sweet vesper, and to the delicious dissyllable of the
cuckoo-bird. And as the garden filled with roses and
with all the glory and odor of the warm summer, they
went so joyfully through it that Lancelot could not keep
Sappho's glorious wedding-song out of his mind.
Twenty times a day he found himself stepping to its
glad march, and then blushing at his own happy imag-



A HAPPY HOUR. 77

" High lift the beams of the chamber,

Workmen on high ;

Like Ares in step comes the bridegroom,
Like him of the song of Terpander,
Like him in majesty!"

And oh ! the sweet, long evenings, when the cool air
thrilled through the apple-branches, and joy and peace
flowed down upon them through the rustling leaves!
When they sat silent together, and listened to the night-
ingale, in the deep woods, singing to his mate!

They were both so young, both so fair, both so much
in love, it was impossible not to feel a certain joy in joy
so innocent and so natural. Miss Loida made little
plans for their indulgence ; there was not a servant in
the house but what gave them a smile ; the gardener
saw them coming and slipped out of sight. Something
sacred invested a love so pure ; every one shrank from
intruding on its privileges ; it was not made a joke of
by the stable boys. Perhaps, even then, it had an aura
of sorrow, which those outside felt and unconsciously
respected.

Toward September the squire perceptibly softened
toward Lancelot. For without any intent the young
man did a thing that pleased him very much. There
was a large tract of waste land on the boundaries of the
Atherton estate, and Lancelot began to buy it. That
was an investment Squire Atherton could understand.
If that ugly mill toiled, not to make calicoes only, but
that cloth might become land, he could better bear the
sight of it. For three great principles moved his life to
their dictates to love God and the church of England,
to fulfill all that pertained to his social position with



78 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

honor and integrity, and to do his duty by the land
his own land first and his whole native land after it.

He began to talk to Lancelot about the draining and
improving of these waste acres, and Lancelot perceived
the advantage he had gained. He left them to the
direction of the squire, and the squire felt them upon
his honor, and saw that they had justice. And from
land to politics was an easy transition. The squire was
pleased to find a man likely to be so near to him a stiff
Conservative in principle. Then he began to see how
he might use his influence in sending Lancelot to Parlia-
ment. The idea took permanence in his mind. He
felt already a partisan's interest in his success. And
Lancelot was pleased with the proposition ; he was in-
deed anxious to do anything which would make him
more worthy of the girl he so entirely loved.

The improvement of land and its representation was
the squire's hobby; he liked to talk about it, for he
talked well on his own side of the subject ; and Lance-
lot differed just sufficiently to give him the pleasure of
convincing his opponent. This was another favorable
point ; it is not hard to learn to love those whom we
conceive ourselves to have corrected, especially when
they are teachable and obedient. It may be suspected
that love, and not the land-owner, made Lancelot easy
of conviction ; but if so, was not that state rather en-
viable than otherwise ?

So day by day the atmosphere of Atherton lightened
and brightened and grew pleasanter. For the words
of love and of loving-kindness, the smiles and good
wishes and snatches of old-world songs breathed into it,
made it sweet and calm and full of happy influences,



A HAPPY HOUR. 79

just as words of anger and hate and sinful mirth trouble
and darken and make its waves too turbulent for peace
or restful life.

But there is a tide in love as in all other things;
some happy hour, when loving hearts touch the rapture
of perfect unison in elements that are wholly responsive
and propitious. One evening in September this full
tide of joy came to Lancelot and Francesca. The har-
vest moon filled heaven and earth with its mellow radi-
ance. The reapers were among the wheat binding it
into sheaves. They were singing, as they worked, some
old sickle song. Soft and loud, stopping and beginning
again, its burden came over the fields and through the
garden and touched everything with a sweet melan-
choly :

" We have reaped, and we have bound,
Let the year go round ;

Let the year go round. "

The squire had been in the fields all day and had
come home at evening weary but happy. There was a
noble harvest, his barns would all be full. Loida met
him with smiles, and the meal he liked best was waiting
for him. Francesca came in to give him a kiss and
put the sugar in his tea. He felt really as if his lot had
fallen to him in pleasant places.

When he had eaten, he said :

" Let us go into the garden, Loida. I'll be bound
Francesca and Lancelot are there."

He still hesitated to say " Lancelot," but at that mo-
ment he felt sorry f or his hesitation, and added, with
the intention of atoning for it :



80 LOVE FOR AX HOUR.

" He is a fine fellow ; eh, Loida ? "

" He is as good as good can be."

" To be sure he is."

Then he went slowly out, his pipe in his hand, and
Miss Loida walked at his side. She was dressed in a
light muslin gown, mostly white, but having wavering
points of light green in it. A black ribbon belt was
round her slim waist, and black lace mitts on her hands
a stately, lovely lady, whom it was good to see and
good to talk to.

The clematis arbor was empty, and they sat down
in it. A nightingale was singing far off in the woods,
and the reapers' voices came softly from the meadows.
The air was still, warm, and radiant. It tasted of the
ripe peaches and apricots, of the bergamot flowers and
the hot, sweet lavender. There was a bed of white lilies
not far away, and the star Venus hung like a great white
lamp near the horizon.

Loida dropped her hands, and sat thinking. The
squire lit his pipe, and sat thinking. They did not need
to tell each other what they thought about. They un-
derstood and respected that confidential silence which
is often the surest sign of trustful friendship. Suddenly
the delicious air was thrilled with that melody which is
beyond all other melodies a charming human voice
a voice whose living notes, joyous and entrancing, com-
pelled all influences to become a part of its witchery.

The squire was delighted. He put down his pipe and
stood up to listen.

" That is Lance," he said softly ; " but whatever is
he singing ? Wilt thou come here, Loida ? "

She rose and stood beside him. She saw what he


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 5 of 20)