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Cobwebs and cables


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Title:CobwebsandCables
Author:HesbaStretton
ReleaseDate:November13,2006[EBook#19802]
Language:English

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COBWEBS
AND



CABLES.
BY


HESBASTRETTON,
AUTHOROF"THROUGHANEEDLE'SEYE,""INPRISON
ANDOUT,""BEDE'SCHARITY,"ETC.
NEWYORK:DODD,MEAD&COMPANY,PUBLISHERS.

AUTHOR'SCARD.
It is my wish that Messrs. Dodd, Mead & Company alone should publish this
storyintheUnitedStates,andIappealtothegenerosityandcourtesyofother
Publishers,toallowmetogainsomebenefitfrommyworkontheAmericanas
wellasEnglishsideoftheAtlantic.
HESBASTRETTON.


CONTENTS.
PARTI.
CHAPTERI.ABSCONDED
CHAPTERII.PHEBEMARLOWE
CHAPTERIII.FELICITA
CHAPTERIV.UPFOLDFARM
CHAPTERV.ACONFESSION
CHAPTERVI.THEOLDBANK
CHAPTERVII.ANINTERRUPTEDDAY-DREAM
CHAPTERVIII.THESENIORPARTNER
CHAPTERIX.FASTBOUND
CHAPTERX.LEAVINGRIVERSBOROUGH
CHAPTERXI.OLDMARLOWE
CHAPTERXII.RECKLESSOFLIFE
CHAPTERXIII.SUSPENSE
CHAPTERXIV.ONTHEALTARSTEPS
CHAPTERXV.ASECONDFRAUD
CHAPTERXVI.PARTINGWORDS
CHAPTERXVII.WAITINGFORTHENEWS
CHAPTERXVIII.THEDEADAREFORGIVEN
CHAPTERXIX.AUTHORANDPUBLISHER


CHAPTERXX.ADUMBMAN'SGRIEF
CHAPTERXXI.PLATOANDPAUL
CHAPTERXXII.AREJECTEDSUITOR
CHAPTERXXIII.ANOTHEROFFER
CHAPTERXXIV.ATHOMEINLONDON
CHAPTERXXV.DEADTOTHEWORLD
PARTII.
CHAPTERI.AFTERMANYYEARS
CHAPTERII.CANONPASCAL
CHAPTERIII.FELICITA'SREFUSAL
CHAPTERIV.TAKINGORDERS


CHAPTERV.ALONDONCURACY
CHAPTERVI.OTHERPEOPLE'SSINS
CHAPTERVII.ANOLDMAN'SPARDON
CHAPTERVIII.THEGRAVEATENGELBERG
CHAPTERIX.THELOWESTDEEPS
CHAPTERX.ALICEPASCAL
CHAPTERXI.COMINGTOHIMSELF
CHAPTERXII.AGLIMPSEINTOPARADISE
CHAPTERXIII.ALONDONGARRET
CHAPTERXIV.HISFATHER'SSIN
CHAPTERXV.HAUNTINGMEMORIES
CHAPTERXVI.THEVOICEOFTHEDEAD
CHAPTERXVII.NOPLACEFORREPENTANCE
CHAPTERXVIII.WITHINANDWITHOUT
CHAPTERXIX.INHISFATHER'SHOUSE
CHAPTERXX.ASAHIREDSERVANT
CHAPTERXXI.PHEBE'SSECRET
CHAPTERXXII.NEARTHEEND
CHAPTERXXIII.THEMOSTMISERABLE
CHAPTERXXIV.FORONEMOMENT
CHAPTERXXV.THEFINALRESOLVE
CHAPTERXXVI.INLUCERNE
CHAPTERXXVII.HISOWNCHILDREN
CHAPTERXXVIII.ANEMIGRATIONSCHEME
CHAPTERXXIX.FAREWELL
CHAPTERXXX.QUITEALONE
CHAPTERXXXI.LASTWORDS


COBWEBSANDCABLES


PARTI.


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."


SeveraltimesPhebeknocked,moreloudlyeachtime,untilatlastalowvoice,
soundingfaraway,badethemgoin.Veryquietly,asifindeedtheywerestepping
intosomeholyplacebarefooted,theycrossedthethreshold.


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


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