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will only regard the fact as I have now stated it-that I have no hope for myself, that, on the contrary, I take the position, with all its obloquy, of the bringer of unwelcome tidings-you will, however you may regard me, be a little more ready to listen to what I have to communicate. From one of a certain gentleman's companions, of such unquestionable character that he refused information until I bribed him with the paltry sum of two pounds-(I at least am open, you see)- I learned that he had again parted with the ring the possession of which he had apparently recovered only for the sake of producing it upon occasion of his late interview with you. You will say such testimony is no proof ; but I will describe the ring which I found in the possession of the man to whom I was directed, leaving you to judge whether it is yours or not: A good-sized rose diamond, of a pale straw colour, with the figures of two serpents carved on the ring, the head of each meeting the body of the other round opposite sides of the diamond. Do not take the trouble to answer this letter, except I can be of service to you. All that it remains possible for me to request of you now is, that you will believe it is for your sake, and not for my own, that I write this letter. In God's name I beg that you will not give yourself into the power of a man whose behaviour after marriage has not the benefit of even a doubt when regarded in the light of his behaviour before it. If you will not grant me the justice of believing in my true reasons for acting as I do, I yet prefer to bear the consequences of so doing to the worse suffering of knowing that there was one effort I might have made and did not make for your rescue from the worst fate that can befall the innocent.Your obedient servant,
Lucy gave a little laugh to herself when she read the letter. There was no doubt about the ring being hers; but if Thomas had set out on the supposed errand it was easy to see that the poor fellow having no money, must have parted with her ring for the sake of procuring the means of doing her justice. But if this was so plain, why was it that Lucy sat still and pale for an hour after, with the letter in her hand, and that when she rose it was to go to Mr. Fuller with it? It was the source alone of Mr. Sargent's information that occasioned her the anxiety. If he had been as explicit about that as he was about the ring, telling how Molken had watched and followed Thomas, she would not have been thus troubled. And had Mr. Sargent been as desirous of being just to Thomas as of protecting Lucy, perhaps he would have told her more. But there are a thousand ways in which a just man may do injustice.
My reader must not suppose, however, that Lucy really distrusted Thomas. The worst that she feared was that he had not quite Lroken with his bad companions; and the very thought of Molken, returning upon her as she had seen him that night in the thunderstorm, and coming along with the thought of Thomas, was a distress to her. To be made thus unhappy it is not in the least necessary that one should really doubt, but that forms, ideas of doubt, should present themselves to the mind. They cannot always be answered in a quite triumphant fashion, for women have been false and men have been hypocrites in all ages ; and the inind keeps seeking the triumphant answer and cannot find it.
In something of this mood, and yet more vexed that such disquietude should have any place in her mind, regarding it as vile unfaithfulness on her part, she rose, and for the sake of hearing Mr. Fuller's answer justify her own confidence, took him the leiter.
Having read it, the first words Mr. Fuller spoke, were :-
“What he tells as fact, no doubt is fact," answered Mr. Fuller. “ It does not follow, however, that his conclusions are in the least correct. The most honest man is, if not as liable, yet as certainly liable to mistake as the most dishonest. It is indubitably out of regard for your welfare that he has written the letter ; but you know all the other side of which he knows nothing. You don't believe it yourself, Lucy--the inference of Thomas's hypocrisy, I mean?" “No, no," cried Lucy. “I do not.”
“ Facts are certainly stubborn things, as people say. But it is equally certain that they are the most slippery things to get a hold of. And even when you have got a hold of them, they can be used with such different designs-after such varying fashions, that no more unlike buildings can be constructed of the same bricks or hewn stones, than conclusions arrived at from precisely the same facts. And this because all the facts round about the known facts, and which keep those facts in their places, compelling them to combine after a certain fashion, are not known, or perhaps are all unknown. For instance, your correspondent does not know-at least he does not give you to understand that he knows how his informant arrived at the knowledge of the facts upon which he lays such stress. When I recall Thomas's whole bearing and conduct I cannot for a moment accept the conclusions arrived at by him, whatever may be the present appearance of the facts he goes upon. Facts are like faces-capable of a thousand expressions and meanings. Were you satisfied entirely with Thomas's behaviour in the talk you had with him ?”
“ Entirely. It left nothing to wish more, or different."
“ Then you have far deeper ground to build upon than any of those facts. They can no more overturn your foundation than the thickest fog can remove the sun from the heavens. You cannot prove that the sun is there. But neither can you have the smallest
real doubt that he is there. You must wait with patience, believing all things, hoping all things.”
“ That is just what I have been saying to myself. Only I wanted to hear you say it too. I wanted it to come in at my ears as well as out of my heart."
When a month had passed away, however, bringing no news of Thomas ; when another month had passed, and still he neither came nor wrote, hope deferred began to work its own work and make Lucy's heart sick. But she kept up bravely, through the help of her daily labour. Those that think it hard to have to work hard as well as endure other sore trials, little know how much those other trials are rendered endurable by the work that accompanies them. They regard the work as an additional burden, instead of as the prop which keeps their burdens from crushing them to the earth. The same is true of pain-sometimes of grief, sometimes of fear. And all of these are of the supports that keep the weight of evil within us, of selfishness, and the worship of false gods, from sinking us into Tophet. They keep us in some measure from puting our trust in that which is weak and bad, even when they do but little to make us trust in God.
Nor did this season of trial to Lucy pass by without bringing some little measure of good to the poor, disappointed, fretful soul of her grandmother. How much Widdles had to do with it—and my reader must not despise Widdles : many a poor captive has been comforted by a mouse, a spider, a rat even ; and I know a lady who, leading a hard life while yet a child, but possessing one little garret-room as her own, with a window that opened on the leads, cultivated green things there enough to feed a few pet snails, to each of which she gave the name of one of her best friends, great names, too, and living names, so that I will not, as she most innocently and lovingly did, associate them with snails, though even thus they were comforters to her brave heart ;-how much Widdles had to do with it, I say, and how much the divine help of time, and a sacred deprivation of that hope in chance which keeps man sometimes from hoping in God, I cannot tell : it was the work of the all-working Spirit, operating in and on her mind, mediately or immediately. She grew calmer, and began to turn her thoughts a little away from what she fancied might have been it things had not gone wrong so perversely, and to reflect on the fact, which she had often expressed in words, but never really thought about before-that it would be all the same a hundred years after -a saying which, however far from true-although, in fact, taken logically as it stands, absolutely false—yet has, wrapt up in it, after a clumsy fashion, a very great and important truth. By slow degrees her former cheerfulness began to show a little light over her hitherto gloomy horizon ; her eyes became less turbid; she would smile occasionally, and her communications with Widdles grew
more airy. I do most potently believe that Widdles was, not only in the similarity, but in the infinitesimality (I am sorry to have to coin a word) of his influence, homeopathically operative in working a degree of cure in the troubled nature of the old woman.
“Ah, Widdles, Widdles !” she would say, as she rubbed the unavailing Balm of Columbia on his blue back, "you and I know what trouble is ! Don't we, old bird ? "
She began to have a respect for her own misfortunes, which indicated that they had begun to recede a little from the point of her vision. To have had misfortunes is the only distinction some can claim. How much that can distinguish one man from another, judge, O Humanity. But the heart that knows its own bitterness too often forgets that there is more bitterness in the world than that.
Widdles would cock his magnificent head and whiskers on one side, and wink with one eye, as much as to say, “I believe you, old girl.” Then he would turn his denuded, featherless back upon her, as much as to add with more solemnity : “ Contemplate my condition, madam. Behold me. Imagine what I once was, that you may understand the spite of fortune which has reduced me to my present bareness. Am I not a spectacle to men and angels ? And am I not therefore distinguished above my fellows ?” Perhaps, however, I am all wrong in giving this interpretation to the actions of the bird. Perhaps the influence that Howed from him into the heart of Mrs Boxall was really such as, put in words, would amount to this : “Here I am without a feather to hide my somewhat skinny proportions ; but what the worse am I ? Who cares? So long as you don't, I don't. Let's turn about once more. My 'dancing days are over ; but life is life, even without feathers."
If Mrs. Boxall had had her way with Widdles, he would have turned out a resplendent bird in spite of fate. But if you had told her not to be distressed at his nakedness, for God cared for Widdles, not as much, but as well as for her, she would have judged you guilty of something like blasphemy. Was it because the bird was comical, as even she admitted, that you must not speak of God's care in relation to him ? Certainly, however, he sowed not, neither did he reap; and as for a barn to store his winter-grain in-poor Widdles! Yet, was he forgotten ? Mrs. Boxall was the last person who could say so, with her sugar, her nuts, her unguents of price--though the latter, clearly a striving against Providence, were not of so much account in the eyes of the bird. I dare say he found them soothing, though.
However all these things may have been, one thing is certain, that Mrs. Boxall began to recover her equanimity, and at length even her benevolence towards men in general-with one class exception, that of lawyers, and two individual exceptions, those of old Worboise and young Worboise. I believe she had a vague conviction that it was one of the malignant class above mentioned that had plucked Widdles. “Ah, my poor Widdles! Them lawyers !" she would say. “You would have been a very different person, indeed, Widdles, if it hadn't been for them. But it'll be all the same in a hundred years, Widdles. Keep up heart, old bird. It'll all be over soon. If you die before me, I'll put you on a winding-sheet that'll be a deal more comfortable than dead feathers, and I'll bury you with my own hands. But what'll you do for me, if I die first, you little scarecrow? You'll look about for me, won't you? That's about all you can do. And you'll miss the bits of sugar.-Mattie, my dear, mind that Widdles has his sugar, and everything regular after I'm dead and gone."
She began to take to Mattie again, and even to make her read to her of a Sunday. But this, as of old, gave rise to much difference of opinion between them, which, however, resulted in the old woman's learning something from the child, if not in the immediate case, yet in the next similar case. For it often happens that a man who has opposed another's opinion bitterly in regard to the individual case that occasioned the difference, will act entirely according to that other's judgment in the next precisely similar case that occurs ; although if you were to return to the former, he would take up his former position with an access of obstinacy in the reaction from having yielded to argument. Something like this took place between Grannie and Mattie. It was amusing to hear how the former would attribute all the oddities of the latter to the fact that she belonged to the rising generation, never seeming to suspect that Mattie was an exception to children in general, as peculiar as Widdles in relation to birds.
GRANNIE APPEALS TO WIDDLES.
ONE sultry evening in summer, Lucy was seated at her piano, which had its place in Mr. Kitely's back parlour, near the black oak cabinet, but she was not playing. She had just been singing a little song from some unknown pen, which she had found with music of her father's in the manuscripts he had left her. This was the song :
I sit apart
By the hearth
Of my heart
In the dark
Dost thou mark
How I sit
In the dark,