AUTHOR'SCARD. It is my wish that Messrs. Dodd, Mead & Company alone should publish this storyintheUnitedStates,andIappealtothegenerosityandcourtesyofother Publishers,toallowmetogainsomebenefitfrommyworkontheAmericanas wellasEnglishsideoftheAtlantic. HESBASTRETTON.
CHAPTERI. ABSCONDED. Late as it was, though the handsome office-clock on the chimney-piece had alreadystruckeleven,RolandSeftondidnotmove.Hehadnotstirredhandor foot for a long while now; no more than if he had been bound fast by many strongcords,whichnoeffortcouldbreakoruntie.Hisconfidentialclerkhadleft him two hours ago, and the undisturbed stillness of night had surrounded him eversincehehadlistenedtohisretreatingfootsteps."PoorActon!"hehadsaid halfaloud,andwithaheavysigh. As he sat there, his clasped hands resting on his desk and his face hidden on them,allhislifeseemedtounfolditselfbeforehim;notinpainfulmemoriesof thepastonly,butinterrifiedprevisionoftheblackfuture. How dear his native town was to him! He had always loved it from his very babyhood.Thewideoldstreets,withancienthousesstillstandinghereandthere, risingorfallingingentleslopes,andcalledbyquaintoldnamessuchashenever heardelsewhere;thefineoldchurchescrowningthehills,andliftingupdelicate tallspires,visibleascoreofmilesaway;thegrammarschoolwherehehadspent the happiest days of his boyhood; the rapid river, brown and swirling, which sweptpastthetown,andcamebackagainasifitcouldnotleaveit;theancient bridgesspanningit,andthesharp-corneredrecessesonthemwherehehadspent manyanidlehour,watchingtheboatsrowinandoutunderthearches;hesaw everyfamiliarnookandcornerofhisnativetownvividlyandsuddenly,asifhe caughtglimpsesofthembythecapriciousplayoflightning. And this pleasant home of his; these walls which inclosed his birth-place, and the birth-place of his children! He could not imagine himself finding true rest and a peaceful shelter elsewhere. The spacious old rooms, with brown wainscoted walls and carved ceilings; the tall and narrow windows, with deep window-sills, where as a child he had so often knelt, gazing out on the wide green landscape and the far distant, almost level line of the horizon. His boy, Felix,hadkneltinoneofthemafewhoursago,lookingoutwithgravechildish eyesonthesunset.Thebroad,shallowstepsoftheoakenstaircase,troddenso manyyearsbythefeetofallwhoweredearesttohim;thequietchambersabove
where his mother, his wife, and his children were at this moment sleeping peacefully.Howunutterablyandpainfullysweetallhishomewastohim! Veryprosperoushislifehadbeen;hardlyovershadowedbyasinglecloud.His father,whohadbeenthethirdpartnerintheoldestbankinRiversborough,had lived until he was old enough to step into his place. The bank had been establishedinthelastcentury,andwaslookeduponasbeingassafeastheBank ofEngland.Thesecondpartnerwasdead;andtheeldest,Mr.Clifford,hadleft everythinginhishandsforthelastfiveyears. NomaninRiversboroughhadledamoreprosperouslifethanhehad.Hiswife was from one of the county families; without fortune, indeed, but with all the advantages of high connections, which lifted him above the rank of mere business men, and admitted him into society hitherto closed even to the head partnerintheoldbank;inspiteevenofthefactthathestilloccupiedthefineold house adjoining the bank premises. There was scarcely a townsman who was heldtobehisequal;notonewhowasconsideredhissuperior.Thoughhewas littleoverthirtyyet,hewasattheheadofallmunicipalaffairs.Hehadalready heldtheofficeofmayorforoneyear,andmighthavebeenre-elected,ifhiswife had not somewhat scorned the homely bourgeois dignity. There was no more popularmaninthewholetownthanhewas. Buthehadbeenbuildingonthesands,andthestormwasrising.Hecouldhear the moan of the winds growing louder, and the rush of the on-coming floods drawingnearer.Hemustmakegoodhisescapenow,ornever.Ifheputoffflight tillto-morrow,hewouldbecrushedwiththefallingofhishouse. He lifted himself up heavily, and looked round the room. It was his private office,atthebackofthebank,handsomelyfurnishedasabankparlorshouldbe. Overthefire-placehungtheportraitofoldClifford,theseniorpartner,faithfully paintedbyalocalartist,whohadnotattemptedtosoftenthehard,sternface,and thefixedstareofthecoldblueeyes,whichseemedfastenedpitilesslyuponhim. He had never seen the likeness before as he saw it now. Would such a man overlook a fault, or have any mercy for an offender? Never! He turned away fromit,feelingcoldandsickatheart;andwithaheavy,andverybittersighhe lockedthedoorupontheroomwherehehadspentsolargeaportionofhislife. Theplacewhichhadknownhimwouldknowhimnomore. Asnoiselesslyandwarilyasifhewasathiefbreakingintothequiethouse,he stole up the dimly-lighted staircase, and paused for a minute or two before a
door,listeningintently.Thenhecreptin.Alowshadedlampwasburning,giving lightenoughtoguidehimtothecotwhereFelixwassleeping.Itwouldbehis birthday to-morrow, and the child must not lose his birthday gift, though the relentlessfloodswererushingontowardhimalso.Closebywasthecotwhere his baby daughter, Hilda, was at rest. He stood between them, and could lay a handoneach.Howsoundlythechildrensleptwhilehisheartwasbreaking!Dear astheyhadbeentohim,hehadneverrealizedtillnowhowpricelessbeyondall words such little tender creatures could be. He had called them into existence; and now the greatest good that could befall them was his death. It was unutterableagonytohim. His gift was a Bible, the boy's own choice; and he laid it on the pillow where Felixwouldfinditassoonashiseyesopened.Hebentoverhim,andkissedhim with trembling lips. Hilda stirred a little when his lips touched her soft, rosy face, and she half opened her eyes, whispering "Father," and then fell asleep againsmiling.Hedarednotlingeranothermoment,butpassingstealthilyaway, hepausedlisteningatanotherdoor,hisfacewhitewithanguish."Idarenotsee Felicita," he murmured to himself, "but I must look on my mother's face once again." Thedoormadenosoundasheopenedit,andhisfeetfellnoiselesslyonthethick carpet;butashedrewnearhismother'sbed,hereyesopenedwithaclearsteady gazeasifshehadbeenawaitinghiscoming.Therewasalightburninghereas wellasinthenight-nurseryadjoining,foritwashismotherwhohadchargeof thechildren,andwhowouldbethefirstthenursewouldcallifanythingwasthe matter. She awoke as one who expects to be called upon at any hour; but the lightwastoodimtobetraythemiseryonherson'sface. "Roland!"shesaid,inaslightlyforeignaccent. "Wereyoucalling,mother?"heasked."Iwaspassingby,andIcameinhereto seeifyouwantedanything." "Ididnotcall,myson,"sheanswered,"butwhathaveyouthematter?IsFelicita ill?orthebabies?Yourvoiceissad,Roland." "No, no," he said, forcing himself to speak in a cheerful voice, "Felicita is asleep, I hope, and the babies are all right. But I have been late at bank-work; andIturnedinjusttohavealookatyou,mother,beforeIgotobed." "That'smygoodson,"shesaid,smiling,andtakinghishandbetweenherownin
afondclasp. "AmIagoodson?"heasked. His mother's face was a fair, sweet face still, the soft brown hair scarcely touched with white, and with clear, dark gray eyes gazing up frankly into his own.Theywereeyeslikethese,with theirtruthfullightshiningthrough them, inherited from her, which in himself had won the unquestioning trust and confidence of those who were brought into contact with him. There was no warningsignalofdisloyaltyinhisfacetosetothersontheirguard.Hismother lookedupathimtenderly. "Always a good son, the best of sons, Roland," she replied, "and a good husband,andagoodfather.Onlyonelittlefaultinmygoodson:toospendthrift, toolavish.Youarenotafine,richlord,withlargelands,andmuch,verymuch money, my boy. I do my best in the house; but women can only save pennies, whilemenflingaboutpounds." "Butyoulovemewithallmyfaults,mother?"hesaid. "Asmyownsoul,"sheanswered. Therewasaprofoundsolemnityinhervoiceandlook,whichpenetratedtohis very heart. She was not speaking lightly. It was in the same spirit with which. Paul wrote, after saying, "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels,norprincipalities,norpowers,northingspresent,northingstocome,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the loveofGod,whichisinChristJesusourLord;""Icouldwishthatmyselfwere separate fromChristformybrethren, mykinsmenaccordingto theflesh." His motherhadreachedthatsublimeheightofloveforhim. Hestoodsilent,lookingdownonherwithdull,achingeyes,ashesaidtohimself itwasperhapsforthelasttime.Itwasthelasttimeshewouldeverseehimas hergoodson.Withher,inherheartandmemory,allhislifedwelt;sheknewthe whole of it, with no break or interruption. Only this one hidden thread, which hadbeenwovenintothewebinsecret,andwhichwasabouttostandoutwith suchclearandopendisclosure;ofthisshehadnofaintsuspicion.Foraminute ortwohefeltasifhemusttellherofit;thathemustrolloffthishorribleweight fromhimself,andcrushherfaithfulheartwithit.Butwhatcouldhismotherdo? Herlovecouldnotstaythestorm;shehadnopowertobidthewindsandwaves bestill.Itwouldbebestforallofthemifhecouldmakehisescapesecretly,and
bealtogetherlostinimpenetrabledarkness. Atthatmomentaclockinthehallbelowstruckone. "Well," he said wearily, "if I'm to get any sleep to-night I must be off to bed. Good-by,mother." "Good-by?"sherepeatedwithasmile. "Good-night,ofcourse,"hereplied,bendingoverherandkissinghertenderly. "God bless you, my son," she said, putting both her hands upon his head, and pressing his face close to her own. He could not break away from her fond embrace;butinafewmomentsshelethimgo,biddinghimgetsomerestbefore thenightwaspassed. Once more he stood in the dimly-lighted passage, listening at his wife's door, withhisfingersinvoluntarilyclaspingthehandle.Buthedarednotgoin.Ifhe lookeduponFelicitaagainhecouldnotleaveher,eventoescapefromruinand disgrace. An agony of love and of terror took possession of him. Never to see heragainwashorrible;buttoseehershrinkfromhimasabaseanddishonest man,hisnameaninfamytoher,wouldbeworsethandeath.Didshelovehim enoughtoforgiveasincommittedchieflyforhersake?Inthedepthsofhisown soultheanswerwasno. Hestoledownstairsagain,andpassedoutbyasidedoorintothestreets.Itwas rainingheavily,andthewindwasmoaningthroughthedesertedthoroughfares, wherenosoundoffootstepscouldbeheard.Behindhimlayhispleasanthome, never so precious as at this moment. He looked up at the windows, the two faintlylitup,andthatotherdarkenedwindowofthechamberhehadnotdaredto enter. In a few hours those women, so unutterably dear to him, would be overwhelmed by the great sorrow he had prepared for them; those children would become the inheritors of his sin. He looked back longingly and despairingly,asifthereonly waslifeforhim;andthenhurryingonswiftlyhe lostsightoftheoldhome,andfeltasadrowningwretchatseafeelswhenthe heaving billows hide from him the glimmering light of the beacon, which, however,canoffernoharborofrefugetohim.
CHAPTERII. PHEBEMARLOWE. Though the night had been stormy, the sun rose brightly on the rain-washed streets, and the roofs and walls stood out with a peculiar clearness, and with a more vivid color than usual, against the deep blue of the sky. It was May-day, and most hearts were stirred with a pleasant feeling as of a holiday; not altogether a common day, though the shops were all open, and business was going on as usual. The old be-thought themselves of the days when they had gonea-Maying;andtheyoungfeltlessdisposedtowork,andwereinclinedto wanderoutinsearchofMay-flowersinthegreenmeadows,oralongthesunny banksoftheriver,whichsurroundedthetown.Early,veryearlyconsideringthe ten miles she had ridden on her rough hill-pony, came a young country girl acrossoneoftheancientbridges,withalargemarket-basketonherarm,brimful ofgoldenMay-flowers,setoffwellbytheirownglossyleaves,andbythedark blueofherdress.Shecheckedherponyandlingeredforafewminutes,looking overtheparapetattheswiftrushingofthecurrentthroughthenarrowarches.A thinlineofaldersgrewalongthemarginoftheriver,withtheirpalegreenleaves half unfolded; and in the midst of the swirling waters, parting them into two streams,layanarrowisletonwhichtallwillowwandswerespringing,withsoft, white buds on every rod, and glistening in the sunshine. Not far away a lofty avenueoflime-treesstretchedalongthebanks,castingwaveringshadowsonthe brown river; while beyond it, on the summit of one of the hills on which the town was built, there rose the spires of two churches built close together, with thegildedcrossesontheirtaperingpointsglitteringmorebrightlythananything else in the joyous light. For a little while the girl gazed dreamily at the landscape,hercolorcomingandgoingquickly,andthenwithadeep-drawnsigh ofdelightsherousedherselfandherpony,andpassedonintothetown. The church clocks struck nine as she turned into Whitefriars Road, the street where the old bank of Riversborough stood. The houses on each side of the broadandquietstreetwerehandsome,old-fashioneddwelling-places,notoneof whichhadasyetbeenturnedintoashop.Themosteminentlawyersanddoctors livedinit;andtherewasmorethanonefrontagewhichdisplayedahatchment, left to grow faded and discolored long after the year of mourning was ended.
Here too was the judge's residence, set apart for his occupation during the assizes.Buttheoldbankwasthemosthandsomeandmostancientofallthose urbanmansions.Ithadoriginallystoodaloneonthebrowofthehilloverlooking the river and the Whitefriars Abbey. Toward the street, when Ronald Sefton's forefathers had realized a fortune by banking, now a hundred years ago, there hadbeenanewfrontagebuilttoit,withthemassiveredbrickworkmanshipand tallnarrowwindowsoftheeighteenthcentury.Butontheriversideitwasstill an old Elizabethan mansion, with gabled roofs standing boldly up against the sky;andlowbroadcasements,latticedandfilledwithlozenge-shapedpanes;and half-timber walls, with black beams fashioned into many forms: and with one story jutting out beyond that below, until the attic window under the gable seemedtohanginmid-air,withoutvisiblesupport,overthegardenslopingdown asteepbanktotheriver-side. Phebe Marlowe, in her coarse dark blue merino dress, and with her marketbasketofgoldenblossomsonherarm,walkedwithaquickstepalongthequiet street,havingleftherponyatastableneartheentrancetothetown.Therewere fewpersonsabout;butthosewhomshemetshelookedatwithapleasant,shy, slight smile on her face, as if she almost claimed acquaintance with them, and wasready,evenwishful,tobidthemgood-morningonadaysofineandbright. Two or three responded to this inarticulate greeting, and then her lips parted gladly,andhervoice,clearthoughlow,answeredthemwithasweetgood-humor thathadsomethingatoncepeculiarandpatheticinit.Shepassedunderabroad archwayatonesideofthebankoffices,leadingtothehouseentrance,andtothe slopinggardenbeyond.Aprivatedoorintothebankwasajar,andadark,sombre face was peering out of it into the semi-darkness. Phebe's feet paused for an instant. "Good-morning,Mr.Acton,"shesaid,withalittlerusticcourtesy.Buthedrew back quickly, and she heard him draw the bolt inside the door, as if he had neitherseennorheardher.Yettheface,withitseagerandscaredexpression,had been too quickly seen by her, and too vividly impressed upon her keen perception;andshewenton,chilledalittle,asifsomecloudhadcomeoverthe clearbrightnessofthemorning. Phebewassomuchathomeinthehouse,thatwhenshefoundthehousemaidon herkneescleaningthehallfloor,shepassedonunceremoniouslytothediningroom,whereshefeltsureoffindingsomeofthefamily.Itwasaspaciousroom, with a low ceiling where black beams crossed and recrossed each other; with wainscoted walls, and a carved chimney-piece of almost black oak. A sombre
placeingloomyweather,yetsodecoratedwitholdchinavases,andgreatbrass salvers,andsilvercupsandtankardscatchingeveryrayoflight,thatthewhole roomglistenedinthisbrightMay-day.Inthebroadcushionedseatformedbythe silloftheorielwindow,whichwasalmostaslargeasaroomitself,theresatthe elder Mrs. Sefton, Roland Sefton's foreign mother, with his two children standingbeforeher.Theyhadtheirhandsclaspedbehindthem,andtheirfaces were turned toward her with the grave earnestness children's faces often wear. ShewasgivingthemtheirdailyBiblelesson,andshehelduphersmallbrown handasasignaltoPhebetokeepsilence,andtowaitamomentuntilthelesson wasended. "Andso,"shesaid,"thosewhoknowthewillofGod,anddonotkeepit,willbe beatenwithmanystripes.Rememberthat,mylittleFelix." "Ishallalwaystrytodoit,"answeredtheboysolemnly."I'mnineyearsoldtoday; and when I'm a man I'm going to be a pastor, like your father, grandmamma;mygreat-grandfather,youknow,intheJura.Tellushowheused to go about the snow mountains seeing his poor people, and how he met with wolvessometimes,andwasneverfrightened." "Ah!mylittlechildren,"sheanswered,"youhavehadagoodfather,andagood grandfather,andagoodgreat-grandfather.Howverygoodyououghttobe." "Wewill,"criedboththechildren,clingingroundherassherosefromherchair, until they caught sight of Phebe standing in the doorway. Then with cries of delight they flew to her, and threw themselves upon her with almost rough caresses,asiftheyknewshecouldwellbearit.Shereceivedthemwithmerry laughter,andkneltdownthattheirarmsmightbethrownmoreeasilyroundher neck. "See,"shesaid,"Iwasupsoearly,whileyouwereallinbed,findingMay-roses foryou,withtheMay-dewonthem.Andifyourfatherandmotherwillletusgo, I'lltakeyouuptherivertotheosierisland;oryoushallridemyRuby,andwe'll go off a long, long way into the country, us three, and have dinner in a new place,whereyouhaveneverbeen.Becauseit'sFelix'sbirthday." She was stillkneelingonthefloor,withthechildrenabouther,whenthedoor opened,andthesametroubledandhaggardface,whichhadpeeredoutuponher underthearchway,lookedintotheroomwithrestlessandbloodshoteyes.Phebe feltasuddenchillagain,andrisingtoherfeetputthechildrenbehindher,asif shefearedsomedangerforthem.
"Where is Mr. Sefton?" he asked in a deep, hoarse voice; "is he at home, Madame?" EversincetheelderMr.Seftonhadbroughthisyoungforeignwifehome,now morethanthirtyyearsago,thepeopleofRiversboroughhadcalledherMadame, givingtohernoothertitleorsurname.Ithadalwaysseemedtosetherapart,and at a distance, as a foreigner, and so quiet had she been, so homely and domesticated,thatshehadremainedastranger,keepingheroldhabitsoflifeand thought,andoftenyearningfortheoldpastor'shomeamongtheJuraMountains. "Butyes,"sheanswered,"mysonislatethismorning;butalltheworldisearly, I think. It is not much beyond nine o'clock, Mr. Acton. The bank is not open yet." "No, no," he answered hurriedly, while his eyes wandered restlessly about the room;"heisnotill,Madame?" "Ihopesonot,"shereplied,withsomevagueuneasinessstirringinherheart. "Nordead?"hemuttered. "Dead!"exclaimedbothMadameandPhebeinonebreath;"dead!" "Allmendie,"hewenton,"anditisapleasantthingtoliedownquietlyinone's owngrave,wherethewickedceasefromtroubling,andthewearyareatrest.He couldrestsoundlyinthegrave." "Iwillgoandsee,"criedMadame,catchingPhebebythearm. "PrayGodyoumayfindhimdead,"heanswered,withalow,miserablelaugh, endinginasob.Hewasmad;neitherMadamenorPhebehadadoubtofit.They putthechildrenbeforethem,andbadethemrunawaytothenursery,whilethey followedupthebroadoldstaircase.Madamewentintoherson'sbedroom;butin afewsecondsshereturnedtoPhebewithananxiousface. "Heisnotthere,"shesaid,"norFelicita.Sheisinherownsitting-room,where shelikesnottobefollowed.Itishersacredplace,andIgotherenever,Phebe." "But she knows where Mr. Sefton is," answered Phebe, "and we must ask her. WecannotleavepoorMr.Actonalone.Ifnobodyelsedaredisturbher,Iwill." "She will not be vexed with you," said Madame Sefton. "Knock at this door, Phebe;knocktillsheanswers.Iammiserableaboutmyson."
CHAPTERIII. FELICITA. Theroomwasasmallone,withadim,many-coloredlightpervadingit;forthe upperpartofthemullionedcasementwasfilledwithpaintedglass,andeventhe panesofthelowerpartwereoffaintlytintedgreen.Likealltherestoftheold house,thewallswerewainscoted,butheretherewasnopieceofchinaorsilver to sparkle; the only glitter was that of the gilding on the handsomely bound booksarrangedintwobookcases.InthisgreengloomsatFelicitaSefton,leaning backinherchair,withherheadrestinglanguidlyonthecushions,andherdark eyesturneddimlyanddreamilytowardthequietlyopeningdoor. "PhebeMarlowe!"shesaid,hereyesbrighteningalittle,asthefresh,sweetface of the young country girl met her gaze. Phebe stepped softly forward into the dim room, and laid the finest of the golden flowers she had gathered that morninguponFelicita'slap.Itbroughtagleamofspringsunshineintothegloom whichcaughtFelicita'seye,andsheutteredalowcryofdelightasshetookitup inhersmall,delicatehand.Phebestoopeddownshylyandkissedthesmallhand, herfaceallaglowwithsmilesandblushes. "Felicita," said Madame, her voice altering a little, "where is my son this morning?" "Roland!"sherepeatedabsently;"Roland?Didn'thesaylastnighthewasgoing toLondon?" "ToLondon!"exclaimedhismother. "Yes,"sheanswered,"hebademegood-bylastnight;Iremembernow.Hesaid hewouldnotdisturbmeagain;hewasgoingbythemail-train.Hewassorryto beawayonpoorlittleFelix'sbirthday.Irecollectquitedistinctlynow." "Hesaidnotonewordtome,"saidMadame."Itisstrange." "Verystrange,"assertedFelicitalanguidly,asifshewerewanderingawayagain intothereverietheyhadbrokeninupon. "Didhesaywhenhewouldbeback?"askedhismother.
"Inafewdays,ofcourse,"sheanswered. "ButhehasnottoldActon,"resumedMadame. "Whodidyousay?"inquiredFelicita. "Theheadclerk,themanagerwhenRolandisaway,"shesaid."Hehasnotsaid anythingtohim." "Verystrange,"saidFelicitaagain.Itwasplainlyirksometohertobedisturbed by questions like these, and she was withdrawing herself into the remote and unapproachable distance where no one could follow her. Her finely-chiselled featuresandcolorlessskingaveherasingularresemblancetomarble;andthey mightalmostaswellhaveaddressedthemselvestoamarbleimage. "Come,"saidMadame,"wemustseeActonagain." Theyfoundhiminthebankparlor,whereRolandwasusuallytobemetwithat thishour.Therewasanunspokenhopeintheirheartsthathewouldbethere,and sodeliver them fromtheundefined troubleandterror they weresuffering.But onlyActonwasthere,seatedatRoland'sdesk,andturningoverthepapersinit witharapidandrecklesshand.Hisfacewashiddenbehindthegreatflapofthe desk, and though he glanced over it for an instant as the door opened he concealedhimselfagain,asiffeigningunconsciousnessofanyone'spresence. "MysonisgonetoLondon,"saidMadame,keepingatasafedistancefromhim, withthedooropenbehindherandPhebetosecureaspeedyretreat.Theflapof thedeskfellwithaloudcrash,andActonflunghisarmsabovehisheadwitha gestureofdespair. "I knew it," he exclaimed. "Oh, my dear young master! God grant he may get awaysafe.Allislost!" "What do you mean?" cried Madame, forgetting one terror in another, and catchinghimbythearm;"whatislost?" "Heisgone!"heanswered,"anditwasmoremyfaultthanhis—mineandMrs. Sefton's.Whateverwronghehasdoneitwasforher.Rememberthat,Madame, andyou,PhebeMarlowe.Ifanythinghappens,rememberit'smyfaultmorethan his,andMrs.Sefton'sfaultmorethanmine." "Tellmewhatyoumean,"urgedMadamebreathlessly.
"You'll know when Mr. Sefton returns, Madame," he answered, with a sudden returntohisusuallycalmtoneandmanner,whichwasasstartlingashisformer vehemencehadbeen;"he'llexplainallwhenhecomeshome.Wemustopenthe banknow;itisstrikingten." Helockedthedeskandpassedoutofthecomfortably-furnishedparlorintothe officebeyond,leavingthemnothingtodobuttoreturnintothehousewiththeir curiosityunsatisfied,andthemother'svaguetroubleunsoothed. "Phebe, Phebe!" cried Felix, as they slowly re-entered the pleasant home, "my mothersayswemaygouptherivertotheosierisland;and,oh,Phebe,shewill gowithusherownself!" He had run down the broad staircase to meet them, almost breathless with delight, and with eyes shining with almost serious rapture. He clasped Phebe's arm,and,leaningtowardher,whisperedintoherear, "Shetookmeinherarms,andsaid,'Iloveyou,Felix,'andthenshekissedmeas ifshemeantit,Phebe.Itwasbetterthanallmybirthdaypresentsputtogether. Myfathersaidtomeonedayheadoredher;andIadoreher.Sheismymother, youknow—themotherofme,Felix;andIliedownonthefloorandkissherfeet everyday,onlyshedoesnotknowit.Whenshelooksatmehereyesseemtogo throughme;but,oh,shedoesnotlookatmeoften." "Sheissodifferent;notlikemostpeople,"answeredPhebe,withherarmsround theboy. Madamehadgoneonsadlyenoughup-stairstoseeifshecouldfindoutanything aboutherson;andPhebeandFelixhadturnedintotheterracedgardenwherethe boat-housewasbuiltcloseunderthebankoftheriver. "I should be sorry for my mother to be like other people," said Felix proudly. "Sheisliketheeveningstar,myfathersays,andIalwayslookoutatnighttosee ifitisshining.Youknow,Phebe,whenwerowheruptheriver,myfatherand me,wekeepquitequiet,onlynoddingatoneanotherwhichwaytopull,andshe sitssilentwitheyesthatshinelikestars.Wewouldnotspeakforanything,not onelittleword,lestweshoulddisturbher.Myfathersayssheisagreatgenius; not at all like other people, and worth thousands and thousands of common women.ButIdon'tthinkyouareacommonwoman,Phebe,"headded,liftingup hiseagerfacetohers,asifafraidofhurtingherfeelings,"andmyfatherdoesnot thinkso,Iknow."
"Your father has known me all my life, and has always been my best friend," saidPhebe,withapleasantsmile."ButIamaworking-woman,Felix,andyour motherisaladyandagreatgenius.ItisGodwhohasordereditso." Shewouldhavelaughedifshehadbeenlesssimple-heartedthanshewas,atthe anxiouscarewithwhichtheboyarrangedtheboatforhismother.Nocushions weresoftenoughandnoshawlswarmenoughforthepreciousguest.Whenat lengthallwasready,andhefetchedherhimselffromthehouse,itwasnotuntil she was comfortably seated in the low seat, with a well-padded sloping back, against which she could recline at ease, and with a soft, warm shawl wrapped roundher—nottillthendidtheslightcloudofcarepassawayfromhisface,and thelittlepuckerofanxietywhichknittedhisbrowsgrowsmooth.Thelittlegirl offive,Hilda,nestleddownbyhermother,andFelixtookhispostatthehelm. In unbroken silence they pushed off into the middle of the stream, the boat rowed easily by Phebe's strong young arms. So silent were they all that they couldhearthe rustlingoftheyoungleavesonthe trees,underwhose shadows theypassed,andthejoyoussingingofthelarksinthemeadowsoneachsideof thesunnyreachesofwater,downwhichtheyfloated.Itwasnotuntiltheylanded thechildrenontheosierisland,andbadethemrunabouttoplay,andnotthen untiltheyweresomedistanceaway,thattheirmerryyoungvoiceswereheard. "Phebe,"saidFelicita,inherlow-toned,softly-modulatedvoice,alwayslanguid anddeliberate,"talktome.Tellmehowyouspendyourlife." Phebewassittingfacetofacewithher,balancingtheboatwiththeoarsagainst the swift flowing of the river, with smiles coming and going on her face as rapidlyastheshadowsandthesunshinechasingeachotheroverthefieldsthis Maymorning. "Youknow,"sheansweredsimply,"weliveamileawayfromthenearesthouse, andthatisonlyacottagewhereanoldfarmlaborerliveswithhiswife.It'svery lonesomeupthereonthehills.Daysanddaysgo by,andIneverhearavoice speaking,andIfeelasifIcouldnotbearthesoundofmyownvoicewhenIcall the cattle home, or the fowls to come for their corn. If it wasn't for the living thingsaroundme,thatknowmeaswellastheyknowoneanother,andloveme more,IshouldfeelsometimesasifIwasdead.AndIlongsotohearsomebody speak—tobenearmoreofmyfellow-creatures.Why,whenItouchthehandof anyoneIlove—yours,orMr.Sefton's,orMadame's—it'salmostapaintome;it seemstobringmesoclosetoyou.IalwaysfeelasifIbecameapartoffather whenItouchhim.Oh,youdonotknowwhatitistobealone!"
"No,"saidFelicita,sighing;"neverhaveIbeenalone,andIwouldgiveworlds tobeasfreeasyouare.Youcannotimaginewhatitis,"shewenton,speaking rapidlyandwithintenseeagerness,"nevertobelongtoyourself,ortobealone; for it is not being alone to have only four thin walls separating you from a husband and children and a large busy household. 'What are you thinking, my darling?'Rolandisalwaysaskingme;andthechildrenbreakinuponme.Body, soul,andspirit,Iamhelddownacaptive;Ihavebeeninbondageallmylife.I havenevereventhoughtasIshouldthinkifIcouldbefree." "ButIcannotunderstandthat,"criedPhebe."IcouldneverbetoonearthoseI love. I should like to live in a large house, with many people all smiling and talkingaroundme.Andeverybodyworshipsyou." Sheutteredthelastwordsshyly,partlyafraidofbringingafrownonthelovely faceoppositetoher,whichwasquicklylosingitsvividexpressionandsinking backintostatuesquecoldness. "Itissimplywearinesstomeandvexationofspirit,"sheanswered."IfIcouldbe quitealone,asyouare,withonlyafatherlikeyours,IthinkIcouldgetfree;but Ihaveneverbeenleftalonefrommybabyhood;justasFelixandHildaarenever leftalone.Oh,Phebe,youdonotknowhowhappyyouare." "No,"shesaidcheerfully,"sometimeswhenIstandatourgarden-gate,andlook round me for miles and miles away, and the sweet air blows past me, and the bees are humming, and the birds calling to one another, and everything is so peaceful,withfatherhappyoverhisworknotfaroff,IthinkIdon'tknowhow happy I am. I try to catch hold of the feeling and keep it, but it slips away somehow.OnlyIthankGodIamhappy." "IwasneverhappyenoughtothankGod,"Felicitamurmured,lyingbackinher seat and shutting her eyes. Presently the children returned, and, after another silentrow,slowerandmoretoilsome,asitwasuptheriver,theydrewnearhome again,andsawMadame'sanxiousfacewatchingforthemoverthelowgarden wall.Herhearthadbeentooheavyforhertojointhemintheirpleasure-taking, anditwasnolighternow.
CHAPTERIV. UPFOLDFARM. Pheberodeslowlyhomewardintheduskoftheevening,herbraintoobusywith thevariedeventsofthedayforhertobeinanyhastetoreachtheend.Forthe last four miles her road lay in long by-lanes, shady with high hedgerows and treeswhichgrewlessfrequentandmorestuntedassherosegraduallyhigherup thelongspursofthehills,whoseroundedoutlinesshoweddarkagainsttheclear orangetintofthewesternsky.Shecouldhearthebrowncattlechewingthecud, and the bleating of some solitary sheep on the open moor, calling to the flock fromwhichithadstrayedduringthedaytime,withtheangryyelpingofadogin answertoitscryfromsomedistantfarm-yard.Theairwasfreshandchillywith dew,andthelowwind,whichonlyliftedthebranchesofthetreesalittleinthe lower land she had left, was growing keener, and would blow sharply enough acrosstheunshelteredtable-landshewasreaching.Butstillsheloitered,letting herroughponysnatchtuftsoffreshgrassfromthebanks,andshambleleisurely alongashestrayedfromonesideoftheroadtoanother. Phebe was not so much thinking as pondering in a confused and unconnected manneroverallthecircumstancesoftheday,whensuddenlythetallfigureofa man rose from under the black hedgerow, and laid his arm across the pony's neck, with his face turned up to her. Her heart throbbed quickly, but not altogetherwithterror. "Mr.Roland!"shecried. "Youknowmeinthedarkthen,"heanswered."Ihavebeenwatchingforyouall day,Phebe.Youcomefromhome?" Sheknewhemeanthishome,nothers. "Yes,itwasFelix'sbirthday,andwehavebeendowntheriver,"shesaid. "Isanythingknownyet?"heasked. ThoughitwassosolitaryaspotthatPhebehadpassednooneforthelastthree miles, and he had been haunting the hills all day without seeing a soul, yet he