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With her teaching and scribbling combined,
she was sure she could help her, and be
no burden at all. But Mrs Hesketh con-
sistently declined to put her trust In that

* What does your friend Miss Denham say ? '
was her final query=

WInny did not deny that Miss Denham
was of the same opinion as Aunt Agnes —
for herself Georgie claimed and took as much


liberty as her brothers, but for her sisters
she was exceedingly strait-laced.

' Everybody is of that opinion/ said her
mother conclusively. ' Everybody — Miss
Baxter, Mrs Knox, Mrs Brunton. In short,
Winny, it will not do, and I will not have it.
Even Mr Nicholls tells me when it is a bad
day to be out, and watches your goings and

* I wish Mr Nicholls would mind his own
business,' Winny replied curtly. She knew
that the battle was lost, and gave in.

Mr Nicholls was not high in Miss Hesketh's
favour. The widow in her dearth of masculine
counsellors had confided to him the literary
aspirations of her daughter. There could be
no doubt that she disliked and reprobated
Winny's scribbling as vain, and silly, and
tending towards that undesirable publicity
which is of all things by women to be avoided.
Mr Nicholls agreed with her, and undertook
to administer an authoritative admonition to
the foolish girl. They had never met, when
one fine day her mother said to Winny that


Mr Nicholls would be glad to see her some-
times. Winny would assuredly not have gone
had she guessed what awaited her, but the
invalid had many lonely hours, and she could
not refuse to cheer them, now and then, if he
asked for her society. So she went upstairs,
knocked at his door, and, at his bidding,
walked in.

Apparently they were a surprise to one
another, for they both blushed. Winny
Hesketh was struck with an instant, great
compassion. The happy young look askance
at death, as a foe not to be propitiated, invin-
cible, terrible; and his shadow w^as in this
room. Mr Nicholls stretched out a lean white
hand to his visitor, and signed where she was
to sit, then leant back in his own chair, and
was silent for some minutes, breathing with
pain and difficulty. Winny turned her pitiful
face to the window. The approach of dissolu-
tion does not much affect a strong character.
Mr Nicholls was a gentleman of a naturally
arbitrary temper, and belonged to that type of
churchmen who would have the priesthood


regarded as a sacred caste, invested with a
spiritual power to which the laity must bow.
Sickness had not humbled him. He had been
a most conscientious and laborious worker for
small reward, and his work had broken him
down, but not his spirit. That was eager as
ever to direct and control, to command and
forbid, to bind and loose.

Winny Hesketh had never been brought
into professional contact with a clergyman
except when Mr Musty baptized and the bishop
confirmed her. Theoretically she reverenced
the whole body of the clergy, as her pastors and
masters, according to the catechism ; but it was
a severe shock and surprise when this young
man (Mr Nicholls was under thirty) began to tax
her with filial disrespect, and disregard for her
mother's feelings, and to lay it to her conscience
whether she had anything new to teach the
world that she presumed to take pen in hand
to write for the public press. She found not a
word to say.

Teach the world! She had never thought
but of indulging her fancy and gratifying her


artistic taste when she made a sketch or wove a
story — dehberately she had not so much as
planned to amuse the world. It did not occur
to her to bring forward the famous editor's
testimonial to her merits, and the argument of
pecuniary reward she would not have held as
sound herself — for wrong things bring money as
often as right things — and that she earned
money by taking pen In hand could not convert
the presumptuous act into a good deed If It
w^ere Inherently bad and Impertinent. So she
held her peace — with an expressive face.

Mr Nicholls was intently gazing into the
embers, and took her silence for consent to
what he said. He proceeded to mention his
hope that she would reflect upon It, and
abandon the pursuit of a notoriety which was
vanity, and conform her mind and conduct to
the unobtrusive work of teaching, for which she
had been educated. As she still did not speak,
he looked round, and as her Uncle Hayland had
done on a former occasion of spiritual remon-
strance, he judged it wise to drop the subject.
There was a little volume of translated German


hymns on the table which furnished another
theme, and the visit was not prolonged. It
was repeated on Mr Nicholls invitation, but
Winny did not find him congenial, either first
or last.

She followed his advice, however, so far as
to reflect upon it, and the consequences could
not fail to be satisfactory both to him and to her
mother. Shortly afterwards she made an
agreement to go at Midsummer to a family in
the dales — a very ancient family — the Peregrine-
Harts of Hauxwell — a submission upon which
she was generally congratulated.

Meanwhile, in the first week of June came
on Miss Hutton's marriage.



WiNNY Hesketh had many searchings of
heart before she obeyed the summons to
Foston for Mildred Hutton's wedding. If
an easy way of escape had been shown her,
it is possible that she might have made
excuses to Mildred, and have stayed away.
But there was no reason that she could allege
either to her friend or her mother. Miss
Dalby made her bridesmaid's dress with much
taste, and expressed a hope that some day
before long she might have the pleasure of
making her another dress for a similar
occasion, when she would play one of the
two chief parts in the marriage.

* I don't belifeve you ever will,' Winny said

The widow Hesketh was sitting by. 'You


are very well off as you are, Winny/ said
she. ' Be thankful. You have nothing to

Winny was silent. Her affections were
not discursive. She had no hankering to
be married for curiosity, or pride, or idleness ;
but through Mr Durant's kindness she had
come to a knowledge of the truth that there
is a lot more desirable than to be sufficient to
one's self. She had thought of him too much.
And now, when she expected to see him
again, she was afraid. However, the ordeal
had to be encountered, and she had to
trust that, as he was a gentleman, she would
come through it without deeper hurt. Winny
confided in Durant for herself, and not the
less that, as Mildred Hutton phrased it, he
was fond of -her. He was much older and
wiser than she was, and being fond of her,
would not make his amusement out of her
weakness. There was a goodness of nature
in his kindness ; perhaps her love never could
have fixed where an unconscious faith did
not go before. To casual observers she


seemed cold ; but one or two who knew her well
discerned a latent Intensity in her character
that might be the ruin of her peace. Durant
felt it. The same quality in himself had read
him that secret — which might remain, perhaps,
a secret always, If he did not reveal it to her
himself. Would he use his power or would
he forbear ? Alone he, unfortunate, had the
magic touch that could waken the music of
the silent love-notes in her heart, which might
be silent ever, and have no thrill of joy, no
echo of pain in all her life, if he held his hand.
There was temptation ; for he had taken her
pretty image Into his heart to worship — could
dwell upon It with warm and tender desires,
and be not ashamed. She was, indeed, the
first love of his whole soul.

And here, perhaps, it Is time to say how
this Mr Durant came to be married, and
living In the esteem of his neighbours without
a wife.

That very propensity to be kind to the

weak which had misled WInny Hesketh had

been his own original undoing. It befell when
VOL. n. I


he was three-and-twenty, and roaming in
Wales. The accidents of travel brought him
indebted to a widow and her daughter, poor,
and hardly knowing how to live. He suc-
coured them with the easy generosity of his
disposition. The girl repaid him with her
love. She was a beautiful, impetuous young
animal, perfectly ignorant and innocent.
When Durant talked of leaving her she was
for drowning herself in the mill-stream. This
desperate act fired his imagination, enlisted
his pity, touched, perhaps, his sense of honour.
He took no thought for the morrow, but
married her. Behold them coupled — a gradu-
ate of Cambridge, with considerable learning
and a fastidious taste, and a Welsh damsel of
warm passions and numerous aversions. For
a few irksome months they lived together as
man and wife. He had the most patience.
She wearied very soon. When he tried to
tame her, and teach her the tricks of society,
she cried or yawned in his face. One day,
while he was contemplating the indissolubility
of the bond that united them, she left him,


and went back to the Welsh hills and her
mother. He followed her. She would not be
reclaimed to her cage — she threatened the
mill-stream again. Here was a perplexity,
indeed. Durant consulted the parson of the
parish, who advised him to leave her where
she was, and promised to keep an eye upon
her. For two years the girl worked in her
mother's house, and grew a woman. Durant
spent the time partly at Rushmead, but chiefly
abroad. He was abroad when he got the
news that his wild bird had paired again ; this
time with a mate of her own condition, a
champion quarry-man, who had carried her
away somewhere beyond Shrewsbury. Durant
blamed himself most. He could not punish
her — he just let her go. With the great
stone-hewer she lived laborious days, and
became the mother of children. She was his
wife by the law of natural selection — their
morality would not square with the law of the
land, but that did not trouble their toil or their
repose. His friends urged Durant to get a
release, but it was a less simple matter then


than now ; besides it was given him in very deed.
He avoided useless and needless publicity, and
lived to all appearance, a contented bachelor.
His intimates knew the story, but it had all
happened a good while ago, and was not often
talked about. Probably few of the rising
generation or the new-comers into the district
had heard it ; and old friends were in the habit
of checking inquiry and evading explanation
with the careless statement that Mr Durant
was too much of a rover to marry. Winny
Hesketh had heard Mrs Brett say so to one of
the engineers in the garden at Rushmead at
the harvest-festival.

In the humiliation of being repudiated by
one wife Mr Durant had not anticipated that
he would ever wish to take another. And he
never did wish it until he looked down on Miss
Hesketh from the organ-loft of St Stephen's
Church last Christmas Day. Then he dis-
covered that passionate love had stolen a
march on his cool reason, and for the first
time the longing to appropriate and possess


what was out of his reach became urgent,
ardent, otherwise unappeasable.

To go through the parody of a formal
divorce after he had been practically divorced
for a dozen years was an expedient that he
hated. The stone-hewer and his wife were
settled now in the north country. He was a
Tynedale man of primitive feelings and pro-
digious strength. Durant had seen him and
his children, fair, ruddy young sons of Anak ;
and he had seen and talked with their mother
since Christmas — never havinof seen her before
since their separation. She had matured into
a grand rustic matron, fiercely tender of her
progeny, and loving her master with a whole-
some fear. She let Durant know that the
episode in her life that belonged to him was
her one sin against her husband.

' He'd kill me if he heard you'd been about
here,' she said with an air of stern conviction.

Durant reproached himself for having gone
near her — ^that episode had dwindled to a
poor light-o'-love shadow on her memory
against all the sweet years of contented


labour that she had lived since with husband
and children. He could not harm her, could
not bring any trouble upon her for his own
old fault — a generous folly, but not the less a

He left her, and had given himself to the
investigation of the marriage-laws in foreign
countries since, taking no one into his con-
fidence. He had not much Insight Into Miss
Hesketh's acquired principles. He felt that
she was good Ingrain — whether conventional
right was inwrought with her native integrity
beyond the wit and wiles of love to disen-
tangle them, he had no means of judging.
But he greatly feared It. Then came a
brave determination to see her no more —
for her sake too : why should he teach her
to be most unhappy ? — succeeded by a re-
lapse into the enervating temptation of seduc-
tive hopes. A relapse so perilously deep
that whether he would be ever recovered
out of it depended much less upon his own
good-will than on the degree of controlling
force in the object beloved.


That man is an accountable being is a copy-
book morality taught us in text-hand. Whether
he is an accountable being when in love, poets,
philosophers, and jurists are not agreed ; but
only the severest call him to strict account in
those moving circumstances. Mr Durant was
a man in love, and his friends and neighbours
were blind to his vagaries.

About a week before the wedding he men-
tioned to Mrs Hutton the elder that he had
an errand in London, and was sadly afraid
that he might not be able to be present at
the happy event — this was during his fit of
self-denying fortitude. Mrs Hutton did not
entreat him. She guessed at another reason
besides that errand to London, and sincerely
washed him perseverance. He had not made
her any confession or required of her any
counsel, but she knew enough to sympathise
with him, and was prepared to be very com-
fortable to Miss Hesketh under the disappoint-
ment of his absence. But she expected to hear
what she did hear : that when the Foston phae-
ton passed above Rushmead, bringing the young


lady to the House in the after-glow of a June
evening, he was waiting at the stile for a first
glimpse of her.

The young lady arrived with a countenance
none the less sunny for his indiscretion. Winny s
self-denying ordinances (like his) took all to
flight the instant she saw him — his kind brown
face, bright eyes and mirthful mouth, were utter
foes to fear and dismal fancies. Nature had
constituted them for happiness, and blithe mo-
ments, intervening amidst clouds and vapours,
found them ever ready to avail themselves of
the favours of fortune. Durant had the grace
not to follow her to the House that night, and
Winny had enough of joy with Mildred — so
much to talk about with the wedding only three
days off, and Winny the earliest of the guests
upon the bustling scene.

' You will have to be very busy,' Mildred told
her. * All the decorations and flowers are to
be left to you and the Cranby girls. They are
making the wedding-favours. Frank is to stay
at Rushmead : he comes to-morrow.'

It was to be quite a grand wedding. Grand-


mamma Jarvis had been prevailed on to pro-
mise the lustre of her presence, and so had the
great men of both families and their wives —
Sir Rolf Jarvis, a knight of renown in Bristol,
and Sir Joseph Hutton who, as Mayor of Hull,
had presented an address to a royal personage
visiting the town. Mrs Brett also was amongst
the expected and most honoured guests, her
gift to the bride being a hundred pounds' worth
of silver plate, and an admonition to use it ; for
it would last her her life. This present ap-
peared to much advantage amongst heaps of
futilities ; so did also the offering of Mr Mel-
huish : a satin-wood case of handsome table
cutlery, with his own name upon it — the name
of the maker as well. He came of a rich
Hallamshire family, and was proud of his

' Poor Melhuish has taken himself off to
Sheffield out of the way, but he has placed his
house at our disposal, and the grandees are
going there,' Mildred said. Though she used
a pitiful word to describe Mr Melhuish's state
of mind, she smiled as she uttered it. Winny


Hesketh said she was very unfeeling. ' That
is unfair,' cried her friend. * You were his only
adversary when he had a chance. If I had
been more ''feeling," perhaps I should have
made the fatal mistake of taking pity on him,
and be repenting It now. I am happy, I
cannot tell you how happy, in my dear
Frank ! '

* Don't try to express it — I see.' Winny's
voice had a slight bitter in its sweetness.
Mildred came across the room, and kissed her
with a murmurous, cooing, tender compassion.
' What does that mean ? ' inquired the recipient
with feigned anger, yet trembling.

Mildred turned over gloves and laces, and
gave her no answer. They were in their room
for the night, secure from intrusion. A silence
of five minutes ensued. Winny broke It by
asking what was that faint perfume that Mil-
dred's white things exhaled.

' Cassia. How it lasts ! Durant brought it
from Syria ever so long ago.'

Another silence ensued. Mildred's pretty
chattels had been all passed in review. There


was a sigh somewhere. Mildred spoke. ' I
am not sleepy, Winny — are you ? I've been
thinking it will never be quite the same with us
two when I am married. A married woman
belongs to her husband.'

* I have always understood so.'

It appeared that Winny desired to keep on
the cool side of sentiment, amongst bracing

' You are in one of your odd, sarcastic tem-
pers, Winny; there is no knowing where to
have you,' remonstrated her blessed friend.
' And I had a true, pathetic history to narrate —
but you will not have patience to hear jt. You
don't care.'

* I was always a good listener, Milly ; unfold
your tale.'

At first Mildred said she would not — then
she would — she must — she had promised.
Finally she opened her story with the informa-
tion that Durant had fallen quite out of spirits
lately, had fallen into the slough of despond.

* The base pretender ! I assure you, Mildred,
he was at the stile this evening as gay as pos-


sible, and, unless my senses deceived me, he
was smoking a capital cigar. You have been
cruelly imposed upon.'

'Did he mention whether he would be able
to defer his business in London until after the
wedding ? '

This was a very cunning, suggestive question
of Mildred's, and brought Winny to her bear-

* No, he did not mention anything.' She
waited with sedateness for the development of
the true, pathetic history.

Mildred took her time. But when it was
told, It was the same tale of Mr Durant's mar-
riage that has been told already. Every word of
it was new to the absorbed listener. Mildred
tagged a moral to the conclusion : ' And now
you see, Winny, what mischief comes of being
too feeling. If Durant had been a trifle harder-
hearted he would be a free man this day. And
now he will never be free.' And she gave
Winny another of her compassionate, caressing

Winny seemed scarcely conscious of it :


* He did not love her. She could not have
left him if he had loved her — do you think she
could, Milly ? ' was her impressive inquir}^
The restraining might of love Winny believed
in vehemently.

* I have given you the facts of the case,
you must make out the metaphysics for your-
self, Winny. He did not love her, and her love
was more passionate than permanent. When it
tired they must have bored each other to

Winny reflected a little : ' It is not against
him,' she said. * I rather like him for being so

* My mother is of the same opinion. It is
almost a pity he cannot repeat the folly — on be-
half of some one he does love.' Mildred dropt
her voice at the last words. Winny could
either hear them or not. She heard them, but
made no sign.

The next morning Winny Hesketh and
Bella from Cranby were in the arbour in the
walled-garden whither they had been exiled


to construct their floral decorations, that the
house might be kept clear of litter. Grand-
mother Hutton had sat with them a short while
after breakfast, but had now gone off to the
more important duty of superintending the

Suddenly, his approach unheard, Mr Durant
appeared in the entrance of the bower, lifted
his hat, and asked if he might come in.

Bella said : * Oh yes, come in. If you cannot
help us, perhaps you may amuse us. And we
want to know — are the myrtles in blossom in
your greenhouse yet ? Your myrtles are
famous — they pay toll to all the weddings

' I have been cherishing them for the purpose.
They are full of buds, some half open. Who
makes the bouquets ? ' the gentleman asked.

' I do,' Winny Hesketh said, looking up
brightly for an instant, and then at the wreath
of box again, that her fingers were entwining.

'Shall I send you my contribution the
evening before or early in the morning?'
Durant inquired


' Early in the morning, please — the wire,

' The wire ! the wire ! Oh, it is all done.
Mr Durant, would you go to the house, and
ask if they have any more wire ? If you come
here, you must condescend to be made useful.'

Mr Durant obeyed, but returned empty-
handed. There was wire, but nobody was at
leisure to seek it for him. Bella must ofo

' Let me go,' Winny proposed with a certain

' No, stay where you are. You don't know
my sister's store-room — I shall be back in five

During those five minutes Mr Durant and
Winny Hesketh were alone. Fully two of
them elapsed in silence. Winny felt Durant's
questioning gaze upon her, and her colour
deepened. She was compelled to raise her
eyes, at last, and glancing at him with a smile
that no effort could prevent being rueful, she
said interrogatively : ' Well ? '

* Am I to be a stranger, Miss Hesketh ? You


see me in a new character — Benedict, the married

* Not unless you wish it.' Winny laughed,
and held out her hand — he signified that she
had omitted the ceremony before.

' You are amused. May I know why ? '

'You should, if I could tell you. But the
why is complex. I am very sorry for you.'

Durant asked nothing more than that she
should be sorry for him. That she should
avow It went beyond his expectations. But
It was only WInny's way. She meant to be
frank with him upon the story that had been
told her by his wish, and to give no opening
to false, misguiding sentiment.

Bella returned with the wire, singing as she

' We shall want you by-and-by to help us in
the cheese-room,' she said to the Intruder. ' It
is being all cleared out for the dance. The
floor is like a springboard, but we must contrive
to hide the white walls. Grandma is beginning
to grieve already at our robbery of the ever-
greens — what will she do before the day is


over ! You might give us some clippings from
your overgrown shrubs at Rushmead, ]\Ir

* A cart-load, if you like.'

* Would it be too much to beg you to go,
and order it to be brought over immediately ? '

' Yes, it would, indeed, unless you both pro-
pose to bear me company ! Then ]\IIss
Hesketh can instruct me how to cut the

Bella shook her head : ' I am afraid, sir, you
must go by yourself, and that the cutting of
the myrtle must be trusted to your discretion.
We have no idle time to spare.'

Mr Durant evaded the performance of the
commission by sending over a boy with a
written message. He was on the spot, there-
fore, when the answer to it came in a profuse
supply of prunings. All the afternoon he was
retained to assist the girls with his taste,
advice, and long arms, and when permitted,
at length, to consider his labours over, he was
heard to remark that weddings were a toil



of a pleasure, and ought not to happen every

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Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 13)