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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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escape.

In some respects Lancelot was more to be pitied than
was Francesca, for the sorrow poverty mingles is hardest
of all to bear. It might be good for him to have to
make a struggle for daily bread, but he did not realize
the good. He was altogether averse to overcoming the



"IT HAS TO BE BORNE." 97

world, in the sense of breaking into its storehouses and
getting at its gold and silver. They say in Yorkshire
that any fool can make money if he throws his soul into
it and loses his soul for it. Lancelot wanted to make
money, but he did not want to lose his soul or his honor
or his self-respect in order to make it. Whatever, then,
his prospects were, with this weak spot in his heart,
there was more to fear than to hope.

He felt also a strange despondency, one not to be
referred to his parting with Francesca. His senses were
dull, their edges rebated ; he was sure some ill, not ap-
prehended, was approaching. And the feeling was like
a lazy frost to his mind ; it locked up all the vigor to
attempt enterprise, by barely crying, "It is impossible!"

He reached home sorrowful and despondent. His
mother was standing at the door as he rode up to it.

" I saw thee coming," she said. " It is time thou
came. Thy father is very ill. I heard the ' death-pad '
last night. It walked from midnight till dawn above
his head."

Lancelot looked intently at his mother, and his heart
trembled. She was gray as ashes. Her eyes wandered.
He said, " Mother, you are ill ; " but she answered
sharply :

' Not I ! I tell thee thy father is ill. He hes been
asking for thee all day long. Go thy ways to him."



CHAPTER VII.

THE HOUSE OF DEATH.

All houses wherein men have 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.

Longfellow.

Go to thy rest. A quiet bed
Meek Mother Earth with turf shall spread,
Where I no more thy sleep may break
With fevered dream. Sigoumey.

CiNCELOT went at once to his father's chamber.
The low oaken room was nearly dark, the air heavy
with fever and the sickly odor of drugs. Stephen, flushed
and restless, had heard his son's step, and was watching
eagerly for his entrance.

" My dear lad," he said, " there is something wrong wi'
me something more than common. And the doctor
doesn't do me a bit of good. I think, mebbe, I am
going to die."

" O father! Life is such a weariness, I wish I could
go with you."

" Nay, nay, Lance ! Bide where thou art. Thou
knaws what Yorkshire is. And getting out of life before
you hev earned your grave is, mebbe, like running away
from school. Happen you'll hev to come back, and
learn your lesson over again."



THE HOUSE OF DEATH. 99

" But I am going away from Yorkshire, from England,
from all I love."

" Why-a! Whativer is ta up to ? "

Then Lancelot explained his plan, and Stephen
thought very highly of it.

" If good luck isn't here it must be somewhere in the
world, and it isn't a bad thing in thee to go and seek it.
As for me, I am fighting to the last gasp. I mean to
keep fast hold on Garsby Mill, if all else hes to go.
Peace is bound to come soon, Lance, and then a year
or two will put iverything right again. Thou must speak
to thy mother. She is varry unreasonable. She would
let the mill and all its twelve hundred looms and grand
machinery tumble down and rust to bits rather than hev
an old chair or an old china tea-cup bring a penny to
save us."

" On the subject of Leigh Farm, I am afraid, father,
she will not listen to reason."

- " I am Leigh as much as she is ; but if the Leighs
behind me know no more than to set store by things
that are no use to live by or live with, I would just as
lief hev their disapproval as their good will I would
that! I'm none afraid of them, living or dead. Thou
wilt not leave me till I am better, Lance ? "

" Not for the world, father! Not until you feel sure
it is safe to leave you."

" That is as it should be. I would stay by thee. Go
now and get a bit of supper."

"Father, would you like to see the rector?"

" What for ? Does ta think I cannot speak to my
Maker without a priest to go between us ? Nay, nay ;
I went straight to Him last night, and I said my say



IOO LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

' God be merciful to me a sinner ! ' Is there aught else I
I hev tried to do to my neighbor as I would hev him
do to me, and it's a good bit harder to love your neigh-
bor than it is to love God Almighty. Does ta think I
am feared to go to the God who made me f Not I.
He'll be no harder to me than I would be to thee ; and,
God love thee, Lance, I would lay my life down for thy
life I would indeed!"

Lance stooped and kissed the large, hot face, and
Stephen continued, with a smile :

" I hevn't been a church-goer I knaw that. My
mother took me once to get christened, and thy mother
took me once to get married ; and I hope, when I go
again, thou and a few that love me will go with me.
But I shall not be tried for eternity on that question.
If I am, I hev a text ready one my mother made me
learn when I was a little lad, and I hevn't done so bad
in setting my life to it ' And what doth the Lord thy
God require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, to
walk in all His ways, and to love Him ; and to serve the
Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.'
He can't ask me for more than to keep His awn laws, and
I hev tried to do that much I hev, I hev, indeed ! "

" I do believe you, father."

" And as for the day o' death, it is a day to be fear-
less and strong, and to put away fears, if you iver had
any. There is no ' blessed,' my lad, for the despairing ;
neither in this world nor in that beyond it."

Lancelot was astonished and troubled to hear his
father's words. He had never before seen this side of
his father's character. He had not, indeed, suspected
that such a side existed, for there are periods, especially



THE HOUSE OF DEATH. IOI

in middle age, when religious life seems to have lost all
potency, and all controlling power over the individual.
But this is no proof that religious life does not exist ;
it may merely be flowing through unseen and unsus-
pected channels channels too deep for mortal ken or
observation.

Certainly the conversation seemed to give Stephen
pleasure. He evidently, at this uncertain hour, wished
his son to know that he had never been without religious
instincts and aspirations ; and that he found the com-
forts of the God he had worshiped in secret to be suffi-
cient for his extremity. Indeed, he was far more anxious
and uneasy about the affairs of this life than about any-
thing that was to come after it. He heard his wife's
steps, and it recalled him at once to the actual.

" Go down to thy mother, Lance," he said. " She is
a bit trying these days. Thou must be patient with her.
We all hev a weak side : mine is my mill ; hers is her
house ; and thine, I'll be bound, is that bonny lass of
Atherton's. Kiss me again. Eh! Lance Lance! I
can't help thinking of the days when thou wert a baby,
and I carried thee on my shoulder, and next my heart.-
I can feel thy little hands yet about my neck," and he
lifted his large, trembling hands, and drew his son's face
down, and looked steadily into it, and said solemnly:
" God bless thee, my dear, dear Lance! "

" My dear, dear father! "

" Thou wilt come a bit after me, but I shall find thee
out in the next world. I shall know thee by thy loving
eyes and thy likeness to mysen, and by that sweet,
sweet voice of thine. Leave me now. I'd like to be
a bit by mysen."



IO2 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Lancelot met his mother on the stairs ; he took her
hand and walked to the parlor with her. As they went,
she said, in a melancholy way :

" There is a cup of tea ready for thee."

The room was as spotless and orderly as if there was
no sickness near the place. The birds twittered in the
ivy outside, and the scent of the wall-flowers came in
through the open window. The great change was in
his mother's face. It had always been a grave face ; it
was now almost a hopeless one. Lance had never con-
ceived of a human countenance so full of something that
was superhuman yet not pleasantly so.

" What do you think of your father? " she asked, with
her eyes fixed upon the floor.

" I think he is very sick. What doctor has he ? "

" Doctor Thorpe. He is as good as any."

" I would send to Leeds for the best in the town. I
will go myself to-night."

" Nay, you won't. Your father is going to die. No
one can help him."

" How can you talk so calmly of such a calamity,
mother ? "

" It will mebbe be the varry best thing that could
happen. The Bible says that no man lives or dies to
or for himsen ; he hes to live for those behind him and
those that come after him."

" What do you mean, mother? "

" If he would keep his fingers off Leigh House, them
that live in its rooms unseen would keep their hands off
him. Did he tell thee he was going to mortgage house
and land to Joshua Newby ? " Her face had become
scarlet, her eyes blazed; she was the incarnation of



THE HOUSE OF DEATH, 103

indignant wrong. " If he will worry them that are
stronger than he is, he must sup the cup they mix for
him. I hev told him I hev warned him warned him,
and better warned him."

" Mother, you let your affection for your family and
your house run away with your best part. My father's
life is worth all the old houses in the world."

" For God's sake, don't thee talk in that way ! What-
iver will I do ? Whativer will I do ? "

" Do the best possible to save father's life. I am
going for another doctor."

" Thorpe knows. Thorpe hes known him all his life."

" Still, I will have another doctor."

"As ta likes."

She was now sullen and silent, and appeared to fall
into a condition of hopeless indifference. Lance could
not eat ; he drank a cup of tea, and then rode into
Leeds for advice. The physician he brought spoke of
fever and of the man's gigantic strength, and the struggle
there might be between life and death. Indeed, the
patient was already delirious, and difficult to manage.
For many days and nights Lancelot never left his
father. In the land of the shadow of death, he kept
close by his side. Sometimes the sick man called him
frantically in cries full of suffering, and sometimes in
the fearsome whispers of agonized terror.

" I am here, father! Close by your side. I will not
leave you!"

In such assurances over and over, with exhausting
monotonous repetitions, Lancelot passed many days
of anguish and nights of anxious fear. For he had a
highly sensitive nature, responsive to all unseen in-



104 LOVE FOR A - v

fluences, and he could not escape either the one or the
other.

At midnight, when his mother wandered restlessly from
room to room, muttering indistinguishable words, falling
upon her knees in speechless anguish, and the dying
man whispered awfully from far, far off, the weight of
untold years was upon Lancelot indistinct memories
no thought embodied, but weight and power and an
obscure sense of the soul looking backward and forward
through endless vistas. Then the atmosphere of the
ancient rooms was heavy with life that breathed not ;
with powers that touched him to the quick, in moods
which he had no senses to explain ; with flashes of illu-
- mination from the inner side of life ; vague terrors of
nameless things ; vague conceptions of times before this
life began, and he seemed to miss his foothold in it and
to fall into dreams whose unutterable desolation cast a
shadow over him, even in the summer sunshine.

Steadily the strong man marched to death. There
was some wonder at the inefficiency of all remedies, and
Doctor Thorpe questioned Lancelot sharply about the
administration of them.

" Whether your father be conscious or unconscious,
they must be given him regularly," he said. "They
cannot be neglected."

" They are not neglected, sir. My mother watches
the clock, and brings them at the very moment with her
own hand."

" Your mother brings them ? "

" Yes. This room is too dark to measure them with
safety and absolute correctness. We were fearful they
would be given in wrong quantities. Mother took them



THE HOUSE OF DEATH. 105

to the parlor. No medicines could be more carefully
attended to."

The doctor said no more ; he sat down and waited.
In a short time Martha Leigh entered, with a glass in
her hand. He took it from her and put it to his lips.

" Martha, this is plain water. Have you forgotten
the drops ? They are most important ; they are life or
death!"

He gave her the cup back, and she left the room
without a word.

" Look after the medicine yourself," he said to Lance-
lot. " Your mother is troubled and weary, you ought
not to rely on her."

The words appeared to be kind and considerate words,
but they were negatived by the tone in which they were
uttered. A fear he durst not think of came into Lance-
lot's heart. He was stricken for a moment dumb and
motionless. The doctor had left the room ; he was
standing at the top of the stairs, looking, with a sorrow-
ful uncertainty, back into it, when Lancelot approached
him. Then he began to descend the steps, but the mis-
erable young man arrested him.

" Doctor," he said, " you have known me all my life.
What do you want to say ? "

" Nothing but what I have said. YoUf mother is not
fit to trust with the medicines. Drop the tinctures with
your own hand. Do not ask me any questions, Lance.
I have nothing to say to you."

" My father ? n

" Is very ill. He will probably die before sunrise. I
was going to tell your mother. I will leave the office to
you."



106 LOl'E FOR AN HOUR.

" Is there no hope, sir ? "

" It is too late to hope now. How could you be so
careless? Had I known! Had I suspected! Yet I
did wonder. How was it you never told me ? "

He asked the question suspiciously, with a certain
fierceness of manner, and then, shaking his hand free
from Lancelot's, went from the house.

For a moment Lancelot stood where he left him.
His face was scarlet. He trembled with anguish. If a
stranger had heard him accused of a crime, they would
certainly have said: "The man is guilty."

Recovering himself, he went back to the sick-room,
shielded the candle again, looked tenderly at the pros-
trate figure lying with face upturned to heaven, white as
clay, without sight, thought, or feeling, only not dead,
and then, with passionate haste, he went to the parlor.
His mother sat in a chair by the hearth. Her hands
were dropped. She was gray and cold, and unrespon-
sive to her son's entrance. He had hitherto respected
this attitude. He thought it to be his mother's way of
bearing sorrow. But, oh! if it should be remorse, and
not sorrow. He stood before her, and she looked up
and then down.

" Mother, do you know that father is dying ? He will
not live another day. O mother! mother!"

" I told thee he would die. He hed to die. It is
his awn fault."

"You want me to think that his forefathers killed
him ? "

" To be sure they did."

" Then I hate them all every one of them, man,
woman, or child, that hurt him ! The dearest father, the



THE HOUSE OF DEATH. 1 07

noblest soul that ever lived! O father! My father!
Lance would have died for you, as you would for him ! "

" Wilt thou be quiet ? It is a shame of thee. Hating
thy awn, and daring to say it, too. Don't thee speak to
me. I won't listen to thee."

." I tell you father is dying. The doctor says he
is afraid he has not had his medicines. O God!
O mother! mother!"

She had risen in her passion, but she sat down at his
appeal and laughed in a low, miserable way, muttering
to herself as she did so.

"What are you saying, mother?"

" I will tell thee, if ta wants to know. I am saying
that old Joshua Newby may come now with his papers.
Thy father's hand will never sign Leigh away to him.
He hes been here ivery day for two weeks to get thy
father's name. Thank God Almighty he will niver get
it now. Better a clay hand than a false hand ! "

" Give me my father's medicines."

"Ay, thou can take them now."

" Oh, you cruel wife ! "

" Cruel! Little thou knows. Hes thou a fire in thy
heart and thy brain burning thee up bit by bit while
thou art quick and living ? Hes thou seen what I hev
seen, or heard what I hev heard ? Hes thou sat with the
dead, and been sent to do their bidding and their will
for them ? Go thy ways, and don't thee dare to speak
to me again till ta knows what thou art talking about."

" Do you know that Doctor Thorpe suspects you of
letting my father die ? "

She did not answer him a word. Her eyes were fixed
upon his father's empty chair. A sudden breeze blew



108 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

the white shade sharply against the window and brought
into the room the scent of wall-flowers. The little blow
startled and hurt Lancelot ; he never more could endure
the woody perfume. He lifted the medicine vials and
went upstairs. There are moments when all men weep.
They may do it in secret, but, none the less, they cover
their faces, and their palms are wet with the bitter rain.
And when Lancelot sat down again in the gloom of his
father's death-bed, and saw the white, helpless figure,
and thought of the " peradventure " that might have
been, he broke utterly down. Low sobs shook him
from head to feet ; he buried his face in his hands and
knelt down by the dear father who would know him no
more in this world.

All night he kept his lonely watch, and all alone he
helplessly witnessed the last struggle of the departing
soul. He was unspeakably wretched, for he had real-
ized the wrong done only when it was too late in any
way to atone for it. The medicine vials accused him ;
he could not bear to touch them, he could not bear to
see them. An awful stillness was in the house, a still-
ness pervaded by spiritual life. Lancelot felt it press
upon him on every side, and he resented the intrusion.
With his open Bible in his hands he stood by his father's
head and recited over and over the verses of the twenty-
third Psalm. His low, clear voice, solemn and tender,
penetrated the heavy shadows of the room, and his
mother, stealing without her shoes to the shut door,
heard him say : "'I will fear no evil, for Thou art with
me.' "

Perhaps also the comfortable words went with the
departing soul, for in those ineffable moments just before



THE HOUSE OF DEATH. . 1 09

the dawn, Lancelot, looking into his father's face, saw
a flash of parting intelligence, swift, and vivid as light-
ning.

"Father! Farewell, father," he whispered close on
the dying man's lips ; and instantly, from some mysteri-
ous distance, in tones sweetly hollow, like muffled music,
came the answer :

" Lance! my dear lad! Good-bye! "
Then Lancelot was holding a clay-cold hand. He
kissed it, and laid it across the quiet heart. For a
moment he stood regarding the empty soul-case, the
massive chest, the length and strength of limb, the large
head all the noble similitude of a man prostrated in
the summer of his life. " O harmless Death!" thought
Lancelot, as he softly left the dead man's chamber

" O harmless Death! whom still the valiant brave,

The wise expect, the sorrowful invite,
And all the good embrace, who know the grave
The short dark passage to eternal light."

The words were uncalled ; they came as if sent, and
said themselves with sweet insistence, as he descended
the stairs.

The house was still as a grave, the dawn was only
breaking ; he had a thought that his mother might be
asleep in some upper room ; but yet he went on to the
parlor. She was sitting there, she was quite awake, she
looked up at Lancelot with the inquiry in her eyes.
"Yes, he is dead! He is dead! O father! father!"
" Be quiet. He hed to die. Do I make a moan
about it f Call Dinah to make thee a cup of coffee. I
am going to thy father now.



IIO LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

If he had been able to reproach her at this minute,
he would not have done so. She looked at him with
an air of defiance he had no heart to gainsay. He sat
down, and Martha Leigh went at once to her dead hus-
band. Lancelot heard her moving about, heard her
opening drawers, heard her fling wide the sashes, heard
her unlock a door little used, and go up the narrow
stairs to the garret ; and then a quick, sick fear came
into his heart. Would she end her remorse by death ?
Would she follow her husband through the great sid-
ereal spaces, and defend herself to him ? "

He was asking such questions as he sped rapidly after
her. At the foot of the garret stairs they were answered.
She had locked the door within, but he heard her im-
ploring, justifying, speaking to the dead man and the
living God in an agony of entreaty and protestation.
At length she began to weep, to sob, to cry out, like a
woman in strong physical pain might cry.

He stood still, with lips firmly set and face as white
as death. If all had been silent, he would have broken
open the lock and gone to her. Death he must prevent,
but suffering No! She ought to suffer. It was her
only chance for salvation. Yet he watched with her
watched until he heard her slowly coming down the
stair. Then he went to his own room and put away
some things he valued, and packed a small trunk which
he intended to take with him.

Among his music he founa the song he had written,
" To Francesca," rare Ben Jonson's rare love-song. He
put it to his lips with passionate longing and distress.
Never again would he hold her dear hand, and sing it
to her smiles and kisses. He was the son of a woman



THE HOUSE OF DEATH. 1 1 I

who had let her husband die. He could not say, he
could not endure to think, the one awful word which
yet lay in his deepest consciousness, which he passed
by with shut eyes and forced oblivion. He was her
son. How, then, could he be Francesca's lover ? How
could he ever hope to be her husband ? The tender-
ness, the sweetness, the purity of the one woman stood
afar off from the cruelty, the hardness, the earthliness
of the other.

Yet his mother was his mother. Her blood beat in
his heart ; she was part and parcel of his personality.
He could no more escape from her than he could alter
the color of his hair, or take an inch from his stature.
He told himself that he would not escape from her if
he could ; she was still his mother. He found it already
possible to begin looking for excuses for her; physi-
cal reasons and extremities for her act ; assuring him-
self, as a final and decisive cause, that his father still
loved her. He had now supernatural insights, he would
know the spring of her deliberate cruelty, he would have
forgiven her ; at least, he would wish him to protect her
as far as it was possible.

How far that should be was the question Lancelot
had now to answer. But his mind was in a tumult ; he
could not think. How, then, could he decide ? In an
hour his mother called him.

" There is a bit of breakfast ready," she said. " Thou
hed better eat, if ta wants to act like a sensible man."

He wondered how he could bear to sit at the table
and break bread with her. Perhaps she had thought
of this difficulty ; the table was only laid for him.

" I hev hed all I want," she said.



112 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

Then he had a moment's relenting, and he answered :

" Let me give you a cup of coffee, mother."

" I hev hed what I want. Thou knows I never was
one to eat and drink. What hes ta dressed thysen for?
Where is ta going ? "

" I am going into Leeds. There are things to attend
to."

" Yes, I know. And then ? "

" I am going away from England when I have seen
the end."

He ceased speaking ; he was visibly in the greatest
sorrow.

" Dry thy eyes. If there is crying to do, I'll do it.
And thou art not going away. Thou hes Leigh now to
look after. The varry garden would grow dazy and
lonely without a master to walk in it. Thy place is
here, and here thou must stop."

" I am going to America to Mexico. If, as you say,
the dead come back here, father shall not find me filling
his emptied place. I'll touch nothing that was his. It
would be taking stolen property worse still."

" Take care what thou says to me."

Martha Leigh was a tall, imposing woman, still hand-
some ; and as she warned Lancelot, and stood up to
do so, she appeared unnaturally tall. Her large face
was colorless, her black eyes burned with a sullen fire,
and her lace cap, with its wide, fluted borders, gave her
the air of a pythoness under excitement. She looked
her son steadily in the face, and said, with a glance of
majestic defiance:

" Be sparing of thy words to me. Whativer I hev done,


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 7 of 20)