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my temper. Mary will be pleased to see you.—I am ever yours sincerely,
" JANE BOXALL." Tom received this letter before he left for town in the morning. What was he to do? Of course, he must go and call there, as he styled it, but he pronounced it a great bore. He was glad the poor girl was better ; but he couldn't help it, and he had no fancy for being hunted up after that fashion. What made him yet more savage was, that Mr. Boxall was absolutely surly-he had never seen him so before—when he went into his room upon some message from Mr. Stopper. He did not go that day nor the next.
On the third evening he went ;—but the embarrassment of feeling that he ought to have gone before was added to the dislike of going at all, and he was in no enviable condition of mind when he got off the Clapton omnibus. Add to this that an unrelenting east wind was blowing, and my reader will believe that Tom Worboise was more like a man going to the scaffold than one going to visit a convalescent girl.
There was something soothing, however, in the glow of warmth and comfort which the opening door revealed. The large hall carpeted throughout, the stove burning in it most benevolently, the brightness of the thick stair-rods, like veins of gold in the broad crimson carpeting of the generously wide staircase-all was consoling to Thomas, whose home was one of the new straight-up-anddown stucco-faced abominations which can never be home-like except to those who have been born in them-and no thanks to them then, for in that case a rabbit-hutch will be home-like. Mrs. Boxall was one of those nice, stout, kindly, middle-aged women who have a positive genius for comfort. Now there is no genius in liking to be comfortable ; but there is some genius in making yourself comfortable, and a great deal more in making other people comfortable. This Mrs. Boxall possessed in perfection ; and you felt it the moment you entered her house, which, like her person, summer and winter, was full of a certain autumnal richness-the bloom of peaches and winter apples. And what was remarkable was that all this was gained without a breath of scolding to the maids. She would ring the bell ten times an hour for the same maid, if necessary. She would ring at once-no matter how slight the fault-a scrap of paper-a cornerful of dust -a roll of fue upon that same stair-carpet-but not even what might make an indulgent mistress savage-a used lucifer match-would upset the temper of Mrs. Boxall.—Why do I linger on these trifles, do you ask, reader ? Because I shall have to part with Mrs. Boxall soon; and-shall I confess it ?--because it gives me a chance of reading a sly lecture to certain ladies whom I know, but who cannot complain when I weave it into a history. My only trouble about Mrs. Boxall is, to
think in what condition she must have found herself when she was no longer in the midst of any of the circumstances of life-had neither house nor clothes, nor even the body she had been used to dress with such matronly taste, to look after.
It was with a certain tremor that Tom approached the door of Mary Boxall's room. But he had not time to indulge it, as I fear he might have done if he had had time, for, as I have said, he prized feelings, and had not begun even to think about actions.
What a change from the Mary of the snowstorm! She lay on a couch near the fire, pale and delicate, with thin white hands, and altogether an altered expression of being. But her appearance of health had always been somewhat boastful. Thomas felt that she was far lovelier than before, and approached her with some emotion. But Mary's illness had sharpened her perceptions. There was no light in the room but that of the fire, and it lightened and gloomed over her still face, as the clouds and the sun do over a landscape. As the waters shine out and darken again in the hollows, so her eyes gleamed and vanished, and in the shadow Thomas could not tell whether she was looking at him or not. But then Mary was reading his face like a book in a hard language, which yet she understood enough to read it. Very little was said between them, for Mary was sad and weak, and Thomas was sorrowful and perplexed. She had been reckoning on this first visit from Thomas ever since she had recovered enough to choose what she would think about; and now it was turning out all so different from what she had pictured to herself. Her poor heart sank away somewhere, and left a hollow place where it had used to be. Thomas sat there, but there was a chasm between them, not such as she any longer sought to cross, but which she would have wider still. She wished he would go. A few more common-places across the glimmering fire, and it sank, as if sympathetic, into a sullen gloom, and the face of neither was visible to the other. Then Thomas rose with the effort of one in a nightmare-dream. Mary held out her hand to him. He took it in his, cold to the heart. The fire gave out one flame which flickered and died. In that light she looked at him—was it reproachfully? He thought so, and felt that her eyes were like those of one trying to see something at a great distance. One pressure of her hand, and he left her. He would gladly have shrunk into a nut-shell.“ Good-bye, Thomas,” “ Good-bye, Mary," were the last words that passed between them.
Outside the room he found Mrs. Boxall.
“Are you going already, Mr. Thomas ?" she said, in an uncertain kind of tone.
“ Yes, Mrs. Boxall,” was all Tom had to reply with. Mrs. Boxall went into her daughter's room, and shut the door. Thomas let himself out, and walked away.
She found Mary lying staring at the fire, with great dry eyes, lips pressed close together, and face even whiter than before.
“My darling child!” said the mother.
“ It's no matter, mother. It's all my own foolish fault. Only bed again will be so dreary now.”
The mother made some gesture, which the daughter understood.
“No, mother ; don't say a word. I won't hear a word of that kind. I'm a good deal wiser already than I used to be. If I get better, I shall live for you and papa.'
A dreadful fit of coughing interrupted her.
“ Don't fancy I'm going to die for love,” she said, with a faint attempt at a smile. “ I'm not one of that sort. If I die, it'll be of a good honest cough, that's all. Dear mother, it's nothing, I declare."
Thomas never more crossed that threshold. And ever after Mr. Boxall spoke to him as a paid clerk, and nothing more. So he had to carry a certain humiliation about with him. Mr. Stopper either knew something of the matter, or followed the tone of his principal. Even Charles Wither was short with him after a while. I suppose Jane told him that he had behaved very badly to Mary. So Tom had no friend left but Lucy, and was driven nearer to Mr. Molken. He still contrived to keep his visits at Guild Court, except those to Mr. Molken, a secret at home. But I think Mr. Stopper had begun to suspect, if not to find him out.
I have not done with the Boxalls yet, though there is henceforth an impassable guif between Tom and them.
As the spring drew on, Mary grew a little better. With the first roses Uncle John Boxall came home from the Chinese Sea, and took up his residence for six weeks or so with his brother. Mary was fond of Uncle John, and his appearance at this time was very opportune. A more rapid improvement was visible within a few days of his arrival. He gave himself up almost to the invalid ; and as she was already getting over her fancy for Tom, her love for her uncle came in to aid her recovery.
“ It's the smell of the salt-water,” said he, when they remarked how much good he had done her ; "and more of it would do her more good yet.”
They thought it better not to tell him anything about Tom. But one day after dinner, in a gush of old feelings, brought on by a succession of reminiscences of their childhood, Richard told John all about it, which was not much. John swore, and kept pondering the matter over.
MATTIE FOR POPPIE.
ONE bright morning, when the flags in the passage were hot to her feet, and the shoes she had lost in the snowstorm had not the smallest chance of recurring to the memory of Poppie, in this life at least, Mattie was seated with Mr. Spelt in his workshop, which seemed to the passer-by to be supported, like the roof of a chapterhouse, upon the single pillar of Mr. Dolman, with his head for a capital--which did not, however, branch out in a great many directions. She was not dressing a doll now, for Lucy had set her to work upon some garments for the poor, Lucy's relation with whom I will explain by-and-by.
" I've been thinking, mother,” she said-to Mr. Spelt, of course“ that I wonder how ever God made me. Did he cut me out of something else, and join me up, do you think? If he did, where did he get the stuff? And if he didn't, how did he do it ?”
“Well, my dear, it would puzzle a wiser head than mine to answer that question,” said Mr. Spelt, who plainly judged ignorance a safer refuge from Mattie than any knowledge he possessed upon the subject. Her question, however, occasioned the return, somehow or other, of an old suspicion which he had not by any means cherished, but which would force itself upon him now and then, that the splendid woman, Mrs. Spelt, “had once ought” to have had a baby, and, somehow, he never knew what had come of it. She got all right again, and the baby was nowhere.
“I wish I had thought to watch while God was making of me, and then I should have remembered how he did it,” Mattie resumed. “Ah! but I couldn't,” she added, checking herself, “ for I wasn't made till I was finished, and so I couldn't remember.”
This was rather too profound for Mr. Spelt to respond to in any way. Not that he had not a glimmering of Mattie's meaning, but that is a very different thing from knowing what to answer. So he said nothing, except what something might be comprised in a bare assent. Mattie, however, seemed bent on forcing conversation, and, finding him silent, presently tried another vein.
“Do you remember a conversation we had, in this very place" —that was not wonderful, anyhow_" some time ago-before my last birthday-about God being kinder to some people than to other people ?" she asked.
“Yes, I do,” answered Mr. Spelt, who had been thinking about the matter a good deal since. “ Are you of the same mind still, Mattie ?"
“Well, yes, and no,” answered Mattie. “I think now there
may be something in it I can't quite get at the bottom of. Do you know, mother, I remembered all at once the other day, that when I was a little girl, I used to envy Poppie. Now, where ever was there a child that had more of the blessings of childhood than
“ What made you envy Poppie, then, Mattie ?”
“Well, you see my father's shop was rather an awful place, sometimes. I never told you, mother, what gained me the pleasure of your acquaintance. Ever since I can remember--and that is a very long time ago now-I used now and then to grow frightened at father's books. Sometimes, you know, they were all quiet enough: you would generally expect books to be quiet, now wouldn't you? But other times-well, they wouldn't be quiet. At least, they kept thinking all about me, till my poor head couldn't bear it any longer. That always was my weak point, you know.”
Mr. Spelt looked with some anxiety at the pale face and great forehead of the old little woman, and said,
“Yes, yes, Mattie. But we've got over all that, I think, pretty well by now."
“Well, do you know, Mr. Spelt, I have not even yet got over my fancies about the books. Very often, as I am falling asleep, I hear them all thinking :-they can hardly help it, you know, with so much to think about inside them. I don't hear them exactly, you know, for the one thinks into the other's thinks--somehow, I can't tell and they blot each other out like, and there is nothing but a confused kind of a jumble in my head till I fall asleep. Well, it was one day, very like this day-it was a hot summer forenoon, wasn't it, mother ?- I was standing at that window over there. And Poppie was playing down in the court. And I thought what a happy little girl she was, to go where she pleased in the sunshine, and not need to put on any shoes. Father wouldn't let me go where I liked. And there was nothing but books everywhere. That was my nursery then. It was all round with books. And some of them had dreadful pictures in them. All at once the books began taking so loud as I had never heard them talk before. And I thought with myself: 'I won't stand this any longer. I will go away with Poppie.' So I ran downstairs, but because I couldn't open the door into the court, I had to watch and dodge father amongst the bookshelves. And when I got out, Poppie was gone —and then, what next, mother ?”
“ Then my thread knotted, and that always puts me out of temper, because it stops my work. And I always look down into the court when I stop. Somehow that's the way my eyes do of themselves. And there I saw a tiny little maiden staring all about her as if she had lost somebody, and her face looked as if she was just going to cry. And I knew who she was, for I had seen her in