Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Love for an hour is love forever online

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to take his horse, and he led it to 'the nearest stable.
Then he entered the house by an open door. He
could hear footsteps in the room above, but there was
not a sound in the lower part of the house except the
humming of the bumble-bees flying in and out of the
open windows. He saw the dead man's empty chair
on the hearthstone. His pipe was across the rack in
the chimney-corner, his tobacco-jar and almanac lay on
a little shelf beside it. The senseless objects had an
uncomfortable and pathetic eloquence. He disliked a
solitude so full of voices, and he touched a hand-bell
upon the sideboard very sharply.

The resonant call was answered by a heavy footstep
upon the stairs. It came toward him with a slow, fate-
ful sound a sound full of unhappy presentiment. He
had a moment's irresolution about remaining to answer
his own call, but as he hesitated Martha Leigh opened
the door and came into the room.

He was shocked by her gray, stony face, and dark,
glowing eyes. Her stare of inquiry frightened him.
But he understood at once that it was the widow, and
he respected a grief so evident and so awful.

" Mrs. Leigh," he said gently, " I am Squire Ather-
ton. I called to see Lancelot."

" He hasn't come from the funeral yet."

" He will be here soon, I suppose ? "

" I can't tell thee. He was feeling badly, and spoke
of going to see Dr. Thorpe."


" I am very sorry for your affliction, madam."

" I am sure I don't know why thou should be."

" I supposed you were aware that your son Lance-

Then the squire stopped; he had a sudden dislike
to naming his daughter.

" I know that Lance hes thought hissen in love with
Miss Atherton, but as for wedding with her "

" Madam, the days of death and burial are not for
the discussion of love and marriage. That subject can
wait its season."

" I was going to say a few words that wiil suit all
seasons going to say that there is now a reason why
my son can never marry Miss Atherton. He knows!
He knows! Find another husband for thy lass, squire.
She can never wed my Lance. If ta knew all Lance
knows, thou would put her in her winding-sheet before
thou would see her don wedding-clothes to be his

She stood with one hand upon tke large center-table,
looking straight into the squire's face, and she spoke
with a still passion that was terrible. A suspicion that
she was "not herself" was forced upon the squire.
He answered her accordingly with some indifferent
words, which he meant to be soothing and conciliating.
She listened to them with scornful temper, and
answered promptly:

"Thou needn't think I am out of my senses. I
niver had better hold of them all. I know right well
that thou niver wanted Lance in thy family. I don't
blame thee. I don't want thy fine daughter among the
Leighs. Well, then, thou can go thy ways home with


a light heart. Thou hated Stephen Leigh, and thou
hes hed the pleasure of seeing him put under clay ; and
thou hated the thought of Lance Leigh coming courting
Miss Francesco,. Now I tell thee he niver can do so
any more."

" You ought to give me some reason for your asser-
tions, Mrs. Leigh."

"Ask me no questions. I shall mebbe tell thee ties
if ta does. Lance knows 'why.' But Lance will niver
tell thee. Niver! Get thee home, now. What does ta
come here for, anyway ? If I was only thy match in
size and strength, I'd know 'why.' What does ta
come here for?"

She asked the question with such hatred and passion
the squire was really terrified. He was sure now that
the woman was insane, and his anger turned to pity.
He regarded the tall, comely widow, stricken with so
sad and lonely a visitation, as something sacred. She
had felt the finger of God, and had not been able to
mentally survive that mighty touch. Instead of answer-
ing her question, he bowed slightly, and made as if he
would leave the room.

She watched his movements with satisfaction. She
went before him to the door and held it open.

" Don't thee come here any more," she said. " I
want nothing to do with* thee, nor with any one belong-
ing to thee. I hev seen thy daughter. She is none of
our kind. And I'll dare Lance to talk of wedding her.
Make thysen easy on that score. He'll niver do it now.

" Madam, your misfortune insures my sympathy and
respect. Good-afternoon."


" When I ask thee for sympathy or respect, then thou
can give them to me. And my misfortune, as ta calls
it, is mine, and I can bear it without thy help. Go thy
ways, and a ' good-afternoon ' to thee, if ta calls this

Never in all his life had Squire Atherton been treated
with such painful freedom. Anger and pity strove to-
gether in his heart, but anger was doubtless the most
lasting of the two feelings. He was muttering his an-
noyance and offense all the time he unfastened his horse,
and he rode away from Leigh Farm full of wrath and
indignant protest.

"Just what I deserve! Just what I deserve! Why
did I trouble myself about Stephen Leigh? I have
always had annoyance, and nothing but annoyance, with
him and with his. It is enough to make a man vow
never to do a kind thing again. I came with a pitiful
heart, and that n .woman told me I came for the
pleasure of seeing Stephen Leigh put under clay. My
word! It is hard to do right. Dal it! I have let my
soft heart lead me on a fool's errand. But thanks be !
I'm not bound to go that road again. And as for my
little lass God love her! I will see her in her winding-
sheet ere I'll let her take a husband out of such a railing

Burning with chagrin and a sense of injury, he pur-
sued his way. On the moor he met Lancelot. He
was quite alone and riding very slowly, with his head
bent and reins dropped loosely down. He looked com-
pletely worn out and exceedingly sorrowful. As the
squire drew near, Lancelot recognized him ; and he
stopped his horse altogether. But in spite of a certain


pity for the youth, the squire was intensely angry. He
made no attempt to stop, but touching his hat in pass-
ing, went rapidly onward ; apparently indifferent to the
lonely figure gazing after him, with eyes dilating with
wonder and wounded feeling.

Lancelot had a letter from Francesca over his heart,
which he had just received. It was full of tender love
and sympathy. It spoke of her father's sorrow and of
the genuine respect which had moved him to attend the
funeral. What, then, did that formal recognition mean ?
It was such a greeting as might have been given to the
most indifferent stranger. Lancelot felt the sting and
humiliation of this worry, even in the deep sorrow and
the awful doubts that gathered like thick clouds across
his hopes and his love.

His mother met him with a strange timidity. She
was not aware of it, indeed ; she was nursing purposes
in her heart which were at total variance with the feel-
ing. But when Lancelot entered the parlor, she looked
stealthily at him. His miserable face and his silent,
restrained manner troubled and yet irritated her. For
his sake and his interests she had robbed herself of love
and love's companionship, and bespoke life-long sor-
row and remorse. Right or wrong, she felt that her
self-denial ought to be recognized and appreciated.
For she reasoned only from her own standpoint, and
quite forgot that Lancelot, both by nature and educa-
tion, was not only incapable of reasoning with her, but
was firmly convinced on views taken from an entirely
different standpoint.

She motioned to his father's chair and drew it toward
the table, on which a frugal meal was laid. Lancelot


shrank with visible pain from the empty seat. With
gentle hands he lifted the chair back to its place. Tears
dropped upon the cushion, and oh, what bitter-sweet
memories crowded around that old empty chair!

Martha Leigh watched him with gathering anger.

"Take the chair," she said in a shrill voice, full of
stifled feeling " take thy father's chair ; it is surely
good enough for thee to fill. It is thine now."

" It is not mine."

" All that was his is thine. I hev said that before."

" Nothing that was his is mine. I will not touch a
penny's worth. I have told you that before."

" Hes ta lost thy senses ? "

" I have at least the fullest sense of my duty to my
father. Father went away or was sent away before
his time. Whatever was his is still his ; not mine."

" It is thine."

" I swear before God it is not mine ! Nor will I
touch a farthing of it, nor put myself in his place for
one moment ! My dear, good father, who never wronged
me by one thought ! Shall i wrong him in all that per-
tained to him honor, place, land, house, and money?
May God slay me first! I should well deserve it."

" Thou art an ungrateful son ; a miserable Leigh. If
ta has any manhood in thee, speak plainly to me, and
not in snaffling words and riddles."

" Very well. I will ask you some plain questions
answer me as plainly: Did you purposely keep back
the proper medicines from father ? "

" Ay, I did. I was sorry I hed to do so, but it hed
to be done."

" And he died in consequence ? "


" He may, and he may not. I left it all in God's
hands. Surely to Heaven! your father was as well
there as in old Dr. Thorpe's hands."

" I can only hope that you were and are insane,

" Nay, my lad, I hev all my senses. I am as sane,
and a good bit saner, than either thy father was or thou
art. My word! Any Leigh must hev been stark crazy
who was standing, pen in hand as one may say, to sign
away house and land. And that is what thy father
would hev done, hed not the fever put a stop to such
wickedness. I hev always been told that sickness comes
from the hand of God. Well, then, I left thy father to
the will of Him that sent the fever. I didn't interfere
one way or t'other. God hed His awn will. Does ta
think old Thorpe's medicines were stronger than His
will ? "

" Mother, such reasoning is wicked. You know you
did wrong."

" I did quite right! I'll stand to that, alive of dead!
I saved house and land for thee. Ay, and for all that
follow thee."

" I will have neither house nor land. I am going
away from England. How could I bear to stop here ? "

" Thou wilt stop here. If ta goes away, whativer is
to become of the property ? "

" Do as you wish with it. If the dead Leighs are
more to you than your living husband and son, give
them the house. I will not share it with them."

" Thou art not worthy to do it."

"And if I stayed here, I should stay to carry out
father's desire. I would mortgage I would sell Leigh


House and land and keep the mill going, for that would
keep a thousand families in bread."

"My word! Thou art a reprobate! Out of my
sight! Out of my hearing! I'll niver own thee again!
I know what thou is after. Thou wants to be lord
and master at Atherton Court. And the Leighs' place
may fall into anybody's or nobody's hands. Thou art
a wicked one, and no mistake."

" I shall never now ask Miss Atherton to come into
our family. How could I ? "

" Thou hed better not. I told her father an hour
ago she niver could marry thee. I gave the proud old
fellow a set-down he won't forget in a hurry."

"O mother! mother! How could you shame me
so? You have broken my heart twice over! How
could you shame me so ? "

" If ta can do nothing but cry, go to thy room. I
hev my awn sorrow, and it is as much as I can bear.
Does ta think I hev no feelings ? Does ta think that
doing Tny duty pays me for all I hev hed to give up ?
I tell thee there is a worm at my heart and a fire in my
brain, and they will worry and burn me into my grave
before they'll stop a moment ! "

She swept the table clear with passionate haste as
she spoke, locked the doors, and taking the candle off
the table, went upstairs. Lancelot remained in the large,
dark sitting-room. He wondered where his mother would
go. She went straight to the room in which her hus-
band had died. She had occupied it all her married
life ; she was evidently not going to resign her right to
it because Death had taken her place there for a little
while. Lancelot heard her close the windows ; he heard


her heavy footfalls, her movements about the ambries
and drawers, just as the squire had heard them a few
hours before. She had been preparing the chamber for
her use then ; she was now preparing herself to lie down
in it, and sleep such sleep as was possible to her.

Lancelot sat still thinking. However hopeless a man
may be, he must still think and still plan ; for life, some-
how, must be got over, and a grave fairly and honestly
earned. At this hour all else had vanished ; hope for
better days seemed hopeless. He could not bear to
contemplate taking one penny from his father's estate.
He could not think of the estate as belonging in any
shape to him. His father's unnatural death, whether it
was known to others or not, was known to him. He
would have felt base beyond contemplation to have
profited himself in any way by it.

But this was only the beginning of sorrows. He
knew that Francesca must be given up. He compelled
himself to face this terrible fact. His mother was in-
sane, or she was in full intent a He could not say
the word; he tried not to be conscious of the letters
that spelled it, but they would come before his eyes as
if they were written in fire.

How could he tell Squire Atherton the real facts?
And yet how shameful it would be to continue his
engagement with his daughter, hiding them! How
could he tell them to Francesca ? It would be impos-
sible. Then what should he say to account for the
silence and desertion that must now cancel all their
sweet hopes! Every explanation he thought of only
made things worse ; for at the last it came to these ques-
tions :


" Can I accuse my mother to Francesca ? Can I ac-
cuse her to Francesca's father ? Would they be willing
to risk the awful dread of inheritable insanity? Would
they be willing to ignore the suspicion of a crime still
more terrible ? " In any case, was it his duty to betray
either the misfortune or the crime of his mother ? He
could not feel in himself any particle of that Brutus-con-
science which took the public into confidence or con-
sideration. His mother was still his mother. He could
find excuses for her no stranger would allow. He knew
that her punishment had already begun. His desertion
of her was a part of it.

Yes, in spite of his own overwhelming sorrow, even
with the thought of sweet Francesca breaking his tender
heart, he sobbed out with an almost divine compassion :

" My poor, wretched mother! God be pitiful to her! "



" A little sorrow, a little pleasure,
Fate metes us from the dusty measure
That holds the date of all of us."

"Ah, but alas! for the smile of smiles that never but one face


Ah, for the voice that has flown away, like a bird, to an un-
known shore!"

" Welcome fortitude, and patient cheer,
And frequent sights of what is to be borne;
Not without hope we suffer and we mourn."

IT is very hard to believe what goes against our
wishes ; and it was almost impossible for Francesca
to believe that Lancelot would now really leave Eng-
land. There seemed to be such good and valid reasons
for his remaining at home, that, in spite of his melan-
choly letters and their certain air of change, Francesca
would not consider his exile as a likelihood.

One morning in October, Miss Loida and her niece
were in the garden together. It was a fresh, frosty
morning, with plenty of sunshine. The squire had gone
into the village on electioneering business, and the
ladies, in spite of the contradiction in their love affairs,
were not unhappy. Miss Loida was talking with the
gardener, and she had her hands full of the latest asters.


} rancesca stood on the terrace steps feeding her pigeons
and laughing at the melting eyes they made to their
perpetual song of "Love! Love! Love!" She was
dressed in a gown of dark-blue cloth ; it had little
turned-over cuffs and collar of white linen, and the
bright-brown ribbons of her straw hat fluttered about in
the glancing sunlight. Her whole appearance, indeed,
indicated a mood of serene pleasure that delightful air
of cheerful happiness which surrounds those who can
enjoy ordinary life without the excitement of passion or

Now, as Francesca scattered the wheat, she looked
toward the house, and saw a servant approaching her.
He had the morning's mail on a salver, and he gave
Francesca a letter, and then carried one to Miss Loida.
Francesca's was from Lancelot. She finished giving the
pigeons their breakfast with a little conscious hurry, and
then went to the clematis arbor. Miss Loida had taken
her letter into the house to read ; Francesca was glad
not to anticipate any interruption.

She sat down with the fateful square of paper in her
hand and suffered her eyes to dally with her anticipated
pleasure. She had been sure that every letter would
bring her information of Lancelot's change of plans;
she was quite sure this particular one was to set her
heart at rest. In all her life she had no sorrows to an-
ticipate, and she had been accustomed to have all her
desires granted. It was inconceivable to her that
Lancelot should not manage to make her happy in the
way she desired. She had even begun to feel that he
had carried delay in the matter quite long enough for
her patience and pleasure. So she opened the envelope


finally with that air of decision which contains in it a
certain demand that expectation shall be satisfied, and
these were the words she read :

" Farewell, adorable Francesca ! Farewell ! Farewell for-
ever! In an hour I shall leave England, certainly for some years,
perhaps for the remainder of life. I do not ask for your remem-
brance; let me be forgotten as soon as possible. For a great mis-
fortune has come to me; one utterly inconceivable and unfore-
seen ; and I would die rather than make you a sharer in it. Only
believe that, though I suffer, I am innocent of all wrong in
thought, word, or deed. It is misfortune that I can neither avert
nor explain. If I say that I am broken-hearted, I say too little.
I am compelled to put love from me. I am compelled to abandon
hope. I retain life, only because it would be cowardly to resign
it. Forget one so miserable. Forget the sweet hours we have
passed together ; all our innocent dreams ; all our blessed hopes
for the future. I am too wretched a man to remain in your
thoughts. O beloved Francesca! My heart bleeds and breaks.
Farewell forever. LANCELOT."

She read the letter through, at first rapidly, then with
a forced and rigid deliberation, letting her eyes take in,
with clear and positive certainty, every word and letter.
She did not cry or faint, or evince any passionate sense
of the crushing sorrow that had come to her. Some
hot tears filled her soft, shining eyes, but they were not
shed. She sat still, letting every miserable word smite
her like a blow. Only yesterday she had wept with
angry impatience because a careless servant had let
loose into a cruel world of cats and boys a cage-bred
canary. But to-day she had no tears for the anguish
which had come to her own heart.

It was at first almost an impossible sorrow. She did
not, she could not believe in it. Why should such grief


come to her ? " Am I awake ? " she asked, with amazed
and almost indignant incredulity.

She had, also, a kind of painful shame in being so
cruelly deserted. Why had not Lancelot come to bid
her " Good-bye " ? Surely there was no misfortune he
could not tell her about. She felt that she was strong
enough and loving enough to bear any misfortune, how-
ever great it might be, with him. Why had he not, then,
trusted her ?

Besides, there was an uncertainty about the letter
which tortured her most of all. Lancelot said he was
leaving England, but he did not say to what part of the
world he was going. He did not ask her to write to him ;
he had even made it impossible for her to send him a
letter. He said he was going away for years that he
might never come back. What conceivable misfortune
could there be to drive a lover, a young man of family
and wealth and fine prospects, forever from his home
and his native land, especially when he declared himself
to be an innocent and irresponsible victim ?

She could not imagine one. Indeed, Francesca was
singularly unable to imagine situations of sorrow or of
evil fortune. The world had been such a happy
world to her. She had never supposed circumstances
in the which love could fail to comfort her, or hope be
turned into despair. The first hour of the experience
was stunning and stupefying, and she was only con-
scious of a dumb rebellion against some terrible suffer-
ing and deprivation.

When Miss Loida came to seek her niece, Francesca
had for the first moment or two a sense of anger at any
intrusion into the bitterness of her grief. But the real


sweetness of her nature soon prevailed, for Loida was
no silly intermeddler with another's trouble. She al-
lowed the sorrowful girl to be still until she chose to
speak. She knew that it was sufficient for Frances<:a
to feel her at her side, and to be sure of her sympathy.

" I have had a bad letter, Aunt Loida a cruel letter,
I think."

Then she put it into her aunt's hand, and watched her
read it.

" It is a cruel letter, Francesca. And if it hurts you
to get it, what must poor Lancelot have suffered in the
writing of it! Yes, indeed! One can feel the heart-
break in every line."

" What can be the reason for it, aunt ? "

" I cannot tell you. But I am sure Lancelot is not
to blame in any way. Poor fellow ! How he must be
suffering ! God help him ! "

" I am suffering also, aunt."

"I know you are. Oh, I know you are! But you
have your dear father to love and comfort you, and you
have Aunt Loida to suffer every pang with you ; and
you have a good home and plenty of money, and many
friends. Lancelot has just buried a father whom he
idolized. He has no friends but you and me. For
some reason I am sure a good one, as far as he is
concerned he is homeless, friendless, without much
money, and an exile from his own land and people, and,
above all, obliged by his love and honor to give back
your love and allegiance. Can you conceive of a man
in a more pitiable condition, of a man more worthy of
sympathy and love ? Yes, dear, I say love. If I were
in your place I should love him ten thousand times


more for his noble resignations and resolutions ; I am
sure they are noble. I would not believe the whole
world against Lancelot's simple assertion, that he has
done nothing worthy of his suffering. Would you,

" No, I would not."

" That is right. Then the sting is out of your sorrow.
To love worthily, that is everything."

" But when he tells me not to love him tells me to
forget him when he has hid himself away from me so
that I cannot even send him a letter, what am I to do ? "

" Go on loving him all the more. Go on thinking
about him all the more. Do everything possible to find
out where he has gone to, and then send him the sweet-
est, tenderest messages you can write. That is what
you ought to do, dear. I dare be sure that we shall
find him out. His mother will certainly know in a little
time. Then, of course, she would tell you, because she
would hope that you could bring him home ; and, of
course, she will want him home."

" She is a very strange woman, Loida."

" I dare say she is a very awkward and disagreeable
woman ; but, then, it is the motJier in the woman you
will have to deal with. All mothers are gentle and
kind, I am sure. Everything will come right, Fran-
cesca I am sure it will and you will love each other
when Lancelot comes back as you never could have
loved had you not been separated. Ah, Francesca, all
women, in one way or other, have to find out that of all
the sorrowful things in life the hardest of all is loving."

And the girl was for the time consoled, because Loida
understood that in the first hours of sorrow comfort


must often consist in promising the impossible, and in
asserting whatever is the desire of the wounded heart.
Francesca wished to believe all that Loida said ; she
therefore accepted her assurances, and took what hope
they promised her. Another course might have been

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 9 of 20)