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B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

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life at Springfield, and has saved money I hear. He is continually
making you presents of flowers, and the housekeeper tells me - - "

With a burning consciousness that these words are reaching other ears
than her own, Nelly again interrupts her mistress:

"When you have finished insulting me, Lady Temple, I shall be glad to
leave the room."

"You shall not leave the room till I am asleep. Marry whom you like
except my nephew. If he marries you he is a beggar by it. I am tired
of talking. I will take my medicine."

She empties the glass, and sinks back on her pillow. The medicine is
an opiate, but even while she yields to its influence, she continues
to murmur, in a tone so low that only Nelly now can hear her.

"Marriage, indeed! As if he means it, and as if, meaning it even, he
dared to thwart me! A pair of fools! They will rue the day!"

Thus she mutters until sleep overpowers her, and she takes her theme
with her into the land of dreams.

Mr. Temple steals from his hiding-place.

"She is in a sweet temper," he says in a whisper, placing his hands on
Nelly's shoulders, and drawing her to him. "I was very nearly coming
forward and spoiling everything; but I couldn't afford to do it.
Nelly, I want to know about that gardener's son."

She yields to his embrace for a moment, then draws away.

"I can tell you nothing now. Go, for my sake, lest she should awake."

"For your sake, then. Do not forget. In an hour, by the brook."

"I ought not to come."

"You have promised," he says, in a louder tone.

"Hush - hush!" she entreats. "Yes, I will come."

Before the hour has passed, he has appeased his hunger, and is
standing by the brook, waiting for Nelly. The night is most peaceful
and lovely, and Mr. Temple, as he smokes his cigar, pays homage to it
in an idle way, and derives a patronising pleasure from the shadows in
the starlit waters. His thoughts are not upon the graceful shapes,
although his eyes behold them. What, then, does he see in their place?
Do the floating reflections bear a deeper meaning to his senses than
they would convey under ordinary conditions? Does he see any
foreshadowing of the future there? No. His thoughts are all upon the
present, and what he beholds is merely tinged with such poetry as
springs from animal sentiment. He may trick himself into a finer
belief, but he cannot alter its complexion. He is in an ineffably
pleasant mood, and his pulses are stirred by just that feeling of
pleasurable excitement which sheds a brighter gloss on all surrounding
things. At the sound of a step behind him he smiles and his heart
beats faster. "It is Nelly," he whispers. But when he turns, and
confronts the gardener's son, the smile leaves his face.

"I ask your pardon, sir," says the young man, "can I have a word with
you?"

"Ah!" says Mr. Temple, with a look of curiosity at the young fellow,
"you are the gardener's son."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Temple regards the intruder attentively, and says, rather
haughtily:

"You have selected a singular time for a conference."

"I must speak to you now, sir."

"Must?"

"If you please, sir."

"By-and-by will not do?"

"By-and-by may be too late, sir."

Mr. Temple looks at the gardener's son still more earnestly.

"Attend to what I am about to say, young man. You have lived all your
life at Springfield, I believe?"

"I was born here, sir."

"Have you an idea as to who will be the next master of this estate?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you wish to continue on it?"

"That's as it may be, sir."

These questions have been asked with a perfect consciousness of the
subject which the gardener's son wishes to approach, and have been so
worded as to have an indirect bearing upon it. The answer to the last,
spoken with manly independence, conveys to Mr. Temple the knowledge
that the gardener's son is not ignorant of their bearing, and the tone
in which it is given, although perfectly respectful, does not please
him.

"I must request you," he says, with a masterful wave of his hand, "to
choose some other time for your confidence."

"You expect some one, perhaps, sir."

Mr. Temple smiles complacently. In the few words that have passed, the
battle has been fairly opened. He determines that it shall be short.

"As you seem resolved," he says, taking out his watch and consulting
it, "to force yourself upon me, I will give you just five minutes.
Now, what have you to say?"

He is aware that he is taking the young fellow at a disadvantage by
his abrupt method; but, being a lawyer, he is not nice as to the means
of gaining an advantage.

"It is about Miss Marston," says the gardener's son, after a slight
pause.

"What of that young lady?"

"I don't know whether I have a right to speak - - "

"That is candid of you."

The arrow misses its mark.

"But it may be," proceeds the young fellow, "that I have, for the
reason that I love her."

His voice trembles, but his earnestness imparts power to it.

"I am obliged to you for your confidence," observes Mr. Temple,
watching for Nelly Marston as he speaks, "unsolicited as it is. A
pretty young lady generally inspires that passion in many breasts."

"But not in all alike," quickly retorts the gardener's son.

"That is fair philosophy. Proceed."

"You speak lightly, sir, while I am serous. It stands in this way,
sir. People are beginning to talk - - "

"People _will_ talk," interrupts Mr. Temple, with malicious relish;
"as in the present instance."

"And Miss Marston's name and yours have got mixed up together in a
manner it would grieve her to know."

"You forget, in the first place," says Mr. Temple haughtily, with an
ominous frown on his face, "that Miss Marston is a lady; and in the
second, you forget to whom you are speaking."

"Truly I am not thinking of you, sir," replies the gardener's son
quietly and simply, "I am thinking of her. A young lady's good name is
not a thing to be lightly played with."

"Therefore," says Mr. Temple impatiently, "I would advise you to take
that very lesson to heart, and to tell those persons who are, as you
say, making light of her good name - you are evidently acquainted with
them - that it will be wise for them to choose other topics of gossip.
I cannot acknowledge your right to address me on this matter, and this
conversation must come to an end. Young ladies nowadays are perfectly
well able to take care of themselves, and as a rule choose for
themselves. We rougher creatures are often more sensitive than they,
and more particular on certain points. And now let me tell you, my
man, it is a dangerous thing for you to seek me out at night and
address me on such a subject in the tone and manner you have assumed.
You are speaking to a gentleman, remember. You - - "

"Are not one," interposes the gardener's son, with sad significance;
"I know it, sir."

"I will waive that, however, and say this much to you. If Miss Marston
had constituted you her champion and had authorised you to speak, I
should be willing to listen to you. But that is not the case, I
presume, and I wish you goodnight."

The gardener's son twines his fingers convulsively. Were Mr. Temple
his equal in station, it would have fared ill with him, smarting as
the man is with passionate jealousy and the sting of unrequited love.
He controls himself sufficiently to say,

"I must ask you one question, sir. Do you remain at Springfield?"

"No; I leave to-night, and I shall probably be absent for weeks. Ah, I
perceive that answer is satisfactory to you. I see a lady approaching.
Shall you or I retire?"

The gardener's son, casting one glance at the advancing form, walks
slowly away, and his shadow is soon swallowed up by other shadows,
among which he walks in pain and grief.

Nelly Marston is in no holiday humour; she is trembling with shame at
the thought of what passed in the sick-chamber of her peevish
mistress, and she approaches Mr. Temple with downcast head. Love and
humiliation are fighting a desperate battle within her breast, and she
does not respond sympathetically to her lover's glad greeting. He uses
his best arts to soothe and comfort her; he addresses her by every
endearing title, saying she is dearer to him than all the world, and
beseeching her to throw all the rest aside. She listens in silence at
the first, as he pours this sweet balm of Gilead upon her troubled
soul. He is in his brightest mood, and his speech which tells the
oft-told tale flows sweetly and tenderly. They stand beneath the
stars, and he calls upon them to witness his love, his truth, his
honour. Every word that falls from his lips sinks into her soul, and
her heart is like a garden filled with unfading flowers. Humiliation
and unrest melt into oblivion, never more to rise and agonise her. He
loves her; he tells her so a hundred times and in a hundred ways. He
will be true to her; he swears it by all the beautiful signs around
them. Fairer and more lovely grows the night as he kisses away her
tears. The moon rises higher in the heavens and bathes them in light.
Softly, more tenderly he speaks, and she, like a child listens,
listens - listens and believes, and hides her blushing face from him.
Ah, if truth lives, it lives in him - in him, the symbol of all that is
good and manly, and noble! She is so weak, he so strong! She knows so
little, he so much! The sweet and enthralling words he whispers into
her ears as her head lies upon his breast, form the first page of the
brightest book that life can open to her; and the sighing of the
breeze, the sleeping flowers, the hushed melody of the waving grass,
the laughing, flashing lights of heaven playing about the dreamy
shadows in the waters of the brook, are one and all delicious
evidences of his truth, his honour, and his love.

"I love you - I love you - I love you!" he vows and vows again. "Put
your arms about my neck - so! and whispers to me what I am dying to
hear."

"You are my life!" she sighs, and their lips meet; and then they sit
and talk, and, as she gazes into the immeasurable distances of the
stars, she sees, with the eyes of her soul, a happy future, filled
with fond and sweet imaginings,




PART THE THIRD.
AUTUMN.


The season of England's loveliest sunsets is here. The golden
corn, ripe and ready for the sickle, bows gracefully beneath the
lavender-perfumed breeze, and whispers to bountiful earth, "My time
has come. Farewell!"

In a garden attached to a cottage situated twenty miles from
Springfield stands Nelly Marston, by the side of an old apple-tree
loaded with fair fruit, and looking, with the white moss gathered
about its limbs, like an ancient knight clothed in silver armour. The
cottage has many rooms of delightfully odd shapes, is tastefully
furnished, and is built in the centre of an acre of land so prettily
laid out and so bright with colour that few strangers see it without
pausing a while to admire.

Nelly Marston is more beautiful than when we saw her last at
Springfield, and to the poetical mind presents a fine contrast to the
gnarled and ancient tree, which, could it speak, might honestly say,
"Old I am, but am yet fair to the eye and can produce good things.
Come, my girl, gather sweetness from me, and wisdom too, if you need
it."

She gathers sweetness and that is enough for her. From where she
stands, she has a broken view of the winding lane which, from distant
wider spaces, leads to the front of the cottage. Often and again her
eyes are directed towards this lane, with a look which denotes that
her heart is in them. She is like fair Rosamond waiting for her
prince. He comes! A horseman turns into the winding path and waves his
hand to her. She replies with the gladdest of smiles and with a waving
of her own pretty hand, and her heart beats joyfully to the music of
the horse's hoof. Her prince draws rein at the cottage-door, and she
is there to meet him. A lad with face deeply pock-marked takes the
horse to the stable, casting as many admiring glances towards Nelly as
time will permit of.

"Now, Nelly," says the prince gaily, as he throws his arms about her
and kisses her again and again, "was ever lover more punctual than I?"

"How can I tell?" she answers, "I never had but one."

"Ah, Nelly, Nelly!" he exclaims, with uplifted finger and an arch
smile; "do you forget the gardener's son?"

"No, I do not forget him; he was very good to me. But I do not mean in
that way."

"In what way, then, puss?"

"You'll tease me till I tell you. I don't know how to say it."

"Say it you must, though, my queen."

"Of course I must. You have got what you call a strong will. Isn't
that it?"

"That is it," he assents, with a nod which is both careless and
determined.

"And are never to be turned from your purpose?"

"Never. That is the only way to get on in life, and I mean to get on."

"Nothing can prevent that. You are so clever that I am half inclined
to be frightened of you. And I should be, if I were not sure you loved
me."

He kisses her as he observes, "Put the strongest will into the
crucible of love, and it melts like lead in a furnace. In such a test
steel would become as pliant as running water. Love is the most
intoxicating poison, my darling."

"I don't like the word," she says.

"The word 'darling'?" he inquires.

"No, the word 'poison.' Love is not a poison; it is an elixir." She
winds her arms round his neck, and murmurs, "It has given me a new
life. The world is more beautiful than it used to be I am sure."

He smiles at her sentiment. "I remember telling you once that _you_
had a strong will of your own, Nelly."

"I haven't that much," she says, placing the nail of her thumb to the
tip of her little finger. "Not that much!"

"But you are a cunning puss, for all that," he says, as he draws her
face to his. They are in the cottage now, and she is sitting on his
knee. "You want to fly away from the subject we were speaking of, so
my strong will must bring you back to it. Well, I'll be content with a
compromise. Who is this lover that so limits your knowledge?"

"I shall not tell you that, sir. You must guess it - if you can! As
_if_ you could! No, I'll not say! I can keep a secret. Oh, you may
laugh, but I can!"

"Well, then, where is he?"

"Where? Why, thousands of miles away of course!"

"Let me not catch him!" he cries gaily. "Well, now, pet, to spite that
person, who I hope will not suffer _very_ much in consequence, I
intend to stop with you a whole fortnight."

Her face lights up with joy.

"I have important business in London," he continues, with a sly laugh;
"oh, most important! My presence is imperatively required in the great
city. The interests of an influential client depend personally upon
me, so Lady Temple has given me leave of absence. Confiding old soul!"

"Lady Temple is the same as ever?"

"The same as ever. No change. Fretful and peevish, throwing out all
sorts of dark innuendoes one minute, and smiling upon me the next. Now
a lamb, now a tigress. I have the temper of an angel, Nell, or I could
never stand it. But I humour her - for your sake, pet, as well as my
own. Our future depends upon her.

"Does she speak of me?"

"She mentioned your name once last week, and not amiably. But enough
of her. Goodbye, my worthy aunt, for a happy fortnight. If she
guessed how matters stood, Nell, between me and you, I should
be - - well, best not think of that. The prospect is not a pleasant
one. Now tell me how you have passed the time, how many new laid-eggs
you get a day, and how the chickens are, whether the new little pig
has any idea of its ultimate fate, how the fruit is getting on, and
how you like the new boy I sent to look after the stable. You did not
want him you wrote to me; but thereby hangs a tale, which you shall
hear presently. Upon my word, Nell, I suspect he is in love with you,
like everybody else who sees you. I have a kind of belief that you are
a love-witch. He never took his eyes off you, all the time he was
waiting for my nag. Now for the reason of his being here. Nelly,
to-morrow morning, before you are up, there will arrive at this little
cottage the prettiest basket-carriage and the prettiest pair of ponies
in England. A present for you, pet, from your lover thousands of miles
away. Ah, you kiss me for that, do you! Then I take it, you are
pleased with this mysterious lover of yours!"

"I believe no woman in the world was ever half so happy as I. When you
are with me, there is not a cloud on my life."

"That's a good hearing," he says, heartily. "Why, Nelly, you are a
living wonder! A satisfied woman! I shall scarcely be surprised to
hear you say you have not a wish ungratified."

"Not quite that. I have one wish."

"To wit," he prompts.

She whispers it to him.

"That the next fortnight would last for ever, so that you would never
have to leave me!"

"A woman's wish all over," he says. "But the old man with the scythe
will not be denied, my pet. While lovers dream, time flies the faster,
I can't imagine you with white hair, Nell; yet you would look lovely
anyway."

"_Your_ hair will be white, too, remember," she says, in a tone of
tender jesting. "It will be strange to look back so many years, and
think and talk of the past. But we shall be to each other then what we
are now. Say that we shall."

"Say it! I swear it, my pet! Let Time do his worst, then. You shall
not pluck another white hair out of my head. Nelly, I love you more
and more every day of my life."

"And nothing shall ever part us!"

"Nothing, my darling!"

She is, indeed, supremely happy. The springtime of youth and love is
hers, and no deeper heresy could have been whispered to her than the
warning such a springtime resembles


"The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by-and-by a cloud takes all away."


The minutes fly all too quickly, and Love, with magic brush, paints
the present and the time to come.




PART THE FOURTH.
WINTER.


Fifteen months have passed. It is winter, and the snow is falling;
weather-wise men say that it will continue to fall for days. Peaceful
and solemn are the fields, with Nature's carpet of virgin snow
covering and protecting the seedlings in the soil beneath. White and
graceful devices beautify the woods, the traceries of which are so
wonderfully delicate and exquisite that none but spirit fingers could
have shaped them, and every little branch stands out bright and clear
in the life-giving air.

The scene is the same as the last, but the pretty cottage shows signs
of neglect. Our Nelly is there, and there is also a change in her. She
is no longer the bright and winsome girl we looked upon a short time
since. Her face is thin and haggard, and the expression on her
features is one of despair and agony. In the clear light of the
healthy winter's day she walks up and down, and round and round the
little room where love once dwelt, and where she called up fair
visions. Her fingers are tightly interlaced, her lips are white and
trembling, her eyes dilate with fear and helpless bewilderment. She
does not speak, and for an hour at least she walks about the room with
tumultuous agony at her breast.

Watching her from without, with sympathising eyes, and with an air
which denotes that he bears magnetically a share in her pain, is the
stable-lad who was hired to look after the prettiest pair of ponies in
the world, a present to her from her lover, who vowed that nothing
should ever part them - from her lover, who had stolen "her soul with
many vows of love, and ne'er a true one." And ne'er a true one! Ah,
kind Heaven, can it be possible? Can such treachery exist in a world
where goodness is? No, she will not believe it. She strives to shake
the doubt from her, feebly she wrestles with it, but it clings to her
with the tenacity of truth, and inflicts unspeakable torture upon her.

"If she'd only set down!" muttered the stable-boy. "If she'd only be
still a bit! If she'd only drop off asleep!"

But her whole soul is quivering; as her flesh might under the
influence of a keen, palpable torture. Pale as she is, a fire is
burning within her which almost maddens her, and a thousand feverish
pulses in her being are beating in cruel sympathy. Is love left in the
world? Is faithfulness? Is manliness? No. The world is filled with
shame, and dishonour, and treachery, and she stands there, their
living, suffering symbol.

Why the stable-lad is near her no one but himself could explain, and
he perhaps would have been puzzled to do so. He was dismissed from his
service months ago, when the ponies and basket-carriage were sold; but
he refused to leave. He lingers about the house, picks up his food
anyhow, sleeps anywhere, and during the daylight hours is always ready
to Nelly's call. She has sometimes, from the despair born of
loneliness, made a companion of him. She has no other now.

He experiences a feeling of relief when, after more than an hour has
passed, he observes a change in her movements. She throws on her hat
hurriedly, and passes out of the house. The lad follows her at a
distance. She does not know that she has forgotten her cloak, and she
heeds not the snow. The fire burning within her warms her with a
terrible, dangerous warmth. To all external impressions she seems to
be absolutely dead. She walks for a mile into the village, and enters
a stationer's shop, where the post-office is kept.

"Have you any letters for me?" she asks.

She is evidently known to the woman behind the counter, who replies
with small courtesy, "There is nothing for you."

Nelly holds out her hand with eager imploring. She has not heard the
answer.

"I told you there are no letters," says the woman.

"I beg your pardon," sighs Nelly, humbly; and looking round the shop,
as though to find some other excuse for having entered, picks up a
paper, pays for it, and retraces her steps home. Home! Alas!

The stable-lad follows her and is presently aware that somebody is
following _him_. It is a man, and the lad turns and confronts him. The
stranger takes no notice of the lad, and strives to pass.

"Where are you pushing to?" cries the lad, being himself the
obstructive party.

"Out of my way, my lad," says the man, adding under his breath, "I
must not lose her now."

"What are you following that lady for?" demands the lad.

The question is answered by another.

"You have something to do with her, then?"

"I should think I have."

"I want to know where she lives. I am a friend of hers."

"She wants 'em, I should say - badly."

This remark is made after a keen observance of the stranger's face. It
is a well-looking, honest, ruddy face, and the examination appears to
satisfy the lad.

"Wants what?" asks the stranger.

"Friends."

"I thought she had - rich ones."

"If she had," answers the lad, "and mind, I don't say she hadn't - if
she had, she hasn't got 'em now."

"Ah," says the stranger, drawing a deep breath, "he has left her,
then. Poor Nelly!"

The last two words, uttered with feeling, and in a low tone not
intended to be heard, reach the lad's sharp ears, and dispose him
still more favourably towards the stranger.

"Look here," he blurts out, "are you a gentleman?"

"Does that mean, am I rich?"

The lad looks dubious, not being quite sure.

"Am I a gentleman?" continues the stranger. "That's as it may be.
Every true man is a gentleman; every gentleman is not a true man." The
lad grins. Some understanding of the aphorism penetrates his
uneducated mind. "Best ask me if I'm a true man, my lad."

"Well, then, are you?"

"I think so. So far as regards that lady, I am sure so."

"A true man, and a friend," says the lad. "That's just what she wants.
No more gentlemen; she's had enough of them, I should say. I ain't a
bit of use to her - was turned off when the ponies was sold, but
couldn't go. Thought she might make use of me in some way, you see.
She never give me a hard word - never. Not like him; he was as hard as
nails - not to her; oh, no; he was always soft to her with his tongue,
as far as I could see, and I kept my eyes open, and my ears too!"

By this time they have reached the cottage, and Nelly enters, without
turning her head.

"There," says the lad, "that's where she lives, and if she ain't
caught her death of cold, coming out without her shawl, I'll stand on
my head for a week. But _I_ can't do anything for her. She wants a man
to stand by her, not a poor beggar like me."

The stranger looks kindly at the lad.

"My boy," he says, "if you have sisters, look sharp after them, and
never let them play the game of lords and ladies. Now come with me,



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