This was the letter which woke all the slumbering forces

Colin found a letter on the breakfast-table next morning, which gave a new development to his mental struggle. It was from the Professor in Glasgow in whose class he had won his greatest laurels. He was not a correspondent nor even a friend of Colin’s, and the effect of his letter was increased accordingly. “One of our exhibitions to Balliol is to be competed for immediately after Christmas,” wrote the Professor. “I am very anxious that you should be a candidate. From all I have seen of you, I am inclined to augur a brilliant career for your talents if they are fully cultivated; and for the credit of our University, as well as for your own sake, I should be glad to see you the holder of this scholarship. Macdonald, your old rival, is a very satisfactory scholar, and has unbounded perseverance and steadiness—doggedness, I might almost say; but he is not the kind of man—I speak to you frankly—to do us any credit at Oxford, nor indeed to do himself any particular advantage. His is the commonly received type of Scotch intelligence—hard, keen, and unsympathetic—a form as little true to the character of the nation as conventional types usually are. I don’t want, to speak the truth, to send him to my old college as a specimen of what we can produce here. It would be much more satisfactory to myself to send you, and I think you could make better use of the{134} opportunities thus opened to you. Lauderdale informs me that Sir Thomas Frankland is an old friend and one under obligations to you or your family: probably, in the circumstances, he would not object to release you from your engagement. The matter is so important, that I don’t think you should allow any false delicacy in respect to your present occupation to deter you from attending to your own interests. You are now just at the age to benefit in the highest degree by such an opportunity of prosecuting your studies.”

This was the letter which woke all the slumbering forces of Colin’s mind to renew the struggle against his heart and his fancy which he had already waged unsuccessfully. He was not of much use to Charley for that day at least; their conjugations, negative or affirmative, made but small progress, and the sharp-witted boy gave his tutor credit for being occupied with Matty, and scorned him accordingly—of which fact the young man was fortunately quite unaware. When it became possible for Colin to speak to Sir Thomas on the subject, he had again lost himself in a maze of conflicting inclinations. Should he leave this false position, and betake himself again, in improved and altered circumstances, to the business of his life? But Colin saw very clearly that to leave his present position was to leave Matty—to relinquish his first dream; to give up the illusion which, notwithstanding all its drawbacks, had made life lovely to him for the past year at least. Already he had so far recovered his senses as to feel that, if he left her now, he left her for ever, and that no new tie could be woven between his humble fortunes and those of the little siren of Wodensbourne. Knowing this, yet all the while subject to her witcheries—hearing the song that lured him on—how was he to take a strenuous resolution, and leap back into the disenchanted existence, full of duty but deprived of delights, which awaited him in his proper sphere? He had gone out to the terrace again in the afternoon to argue it out with himself, when he encountered Sir Thomas, who had a cold, and was taking his constitutional discreetly for his health’s sake, not without an eye to the garden in which Lady Frankland intended sundry alterations which were not quite satisfactory to her lord. “Of course I don’t mean to interfere with my lady’s fancies,” said the baronet, who was pleased to find some one to whom he could confide his griefs; “a flower-garden is a woman’s department, certainly, if anything is; but I won’t have this terrace disturbed. It used to be my mother’s favourite walk,” said Sir Thomas. The good man went on, a little moved by this{135} particular recollection, meditating his grievance. Sir Thomas had got very nearly to the other end of that table-land of existence which lies between the ascent and the descent—that interval in which the suns burn hottest, the winds blow coldest, but upon which, when it is fair weather, the best part of life may be spent. By right of his extended prospect, he was naturally a little contemptuous of those griefs and struggles of youth which cloud over the ascending way. Had any one told him of the real conflict which was going on in Colin’s mind, the excellent middle-aged man would but have laughed at the boy’s folly—a laughter softened yet confirmed by the recollection of similar clouds in his own experience which had long dispersed into thin air. He was a little serious at the present moment, about my lady’s caprice, which aimed at altering the smooth stretch of lawn to which his eyes had been accustomed for years—and turned to listen to Colin, when the young man addressed him, with a slight air of impatience, not knowing anything of importance which the youth could have to say.

“I should be glad to know,” said Colin, with hesitation, “how long you think Charley will want my services. Lady Frankland was speaking the other day of the improvement in his health—”

“Yes,” said the baronet, brightening up a little, for his invalid boy was his favourite. “We are greatly obliged to you, Campbell. Charley has brightened and improved amazingly since you came here.”

This was an embarrassing way of receiving Colin’s attempt at disengaging himself from Charley. The youth hesitated and stammered, and could not well make up his mind what to say next. In his perplexity he took out the letter which had stimulated him to this attempt. Sir Thomas, who was still a little impatient, took it out of his hands and read it. The baronet whistled under his breath with puzzled astonishment as he read. “What does it mean?” said Sir Thomas. “You declined to go to Oxford under my auspices, and now here is something about a scholarship and a competition. You want to go to the University after all—but why then reject my proposal when I made it?” said Colin’s patron, who thought his protégé had chosen a most unlucky moment for changing his mind.

“I beg your pardon,” said Colin, “but I could not accept your offer at any time. I could not accept such a favour from any man; and I know no claim I have upon you to warrant—”

“Oh, stuff!” said Sir Thomas; “I know very well what are the obligations I am under to you, Campbell. You saved my{136} son Harry’s life—we are all very sensible of your claims. I should certainly have expected you to help Harry as far as was possible—for he is like myself—he is more in the way of cricket and boating, and a day with the hounds when he can get it, than Greek; but I should have felt real pleasure,” said the baronet blandly, “in helping so deserving a young man, and one to whom we all feel so much indebted—”

“Thank you,” said Colin, who at that moment would have felt real pleasure in punching the head, or maltreating the person of the heir of Wodensbourne—“I suppose we have all some pride in one way or another. I am obliged to you, Sir Thomas, but I could not accept such a favour from you; whereas, a prize won at my own university,” said the young man, with a little elevation, “is no discredit, but—

“Discredit!” said Sir Thomas; “you must have a very strange idea of me, Mr. Campbell, if you imagine it discreditable to accept a kindness at my hands.”

“I beg your pardon,” again said Colin, who was at his wit’s end; “I did not mean to say anything uncivil; but I am Scotch. I dislike receiving favours. I prefer—”

Sir Thomas rubbed his hands. The apology of nationality went a long way with him, and restored his temper. “Yes, yes; I understand,” he said, with good-humoured superiority: “you prefer conferring favours—you like to keep the upper hand. I know a great deal of you Scotchmen; I flatter myself I understand your national character. I should like to know now,” said the baronet, confidentially, “if you are set upon becoming a Scotch minister, as you once told me, what good it will do you going to Oxford? Supposing you were to distinguish yourself, which I think very possible; supposing you were to take a—a second-class, or even a first-class, for example, what would be the good? The reputation and the—the prestige and that sort of thing would be altogether lost in Scotland. All the upper classes you know have gone from the old Kirk, and you would not please the peasants a bit better for that—indeed, the idea of an Oxford first-class man spending his life preaching to a set of peasants is absurd,” said Sir Thomas. “I know more about Scotland than most men: I paid a great deal of attention to that Kirk question. If you go to Oxford I shall expect you to change your mind about your profession. If you don’t take to something more ambitious, at least you’ll go in for the Church.”

“I have always intended so,” said Colin, with his grand air, ignoring the baronet’s meaning. “To preach, if it is only to{137} peasants, is more worth a man’s while than leading prayers for ever, like your curate here. I am only Scotch; I know no better,” said Colin. “We want changes in Scotland, it is true; but it is as good to work for Scotland as for England—better for me—and I should not grudge my first-class to the service of my native Church,” said the youth, with a movement of his head which tossed his heavy brown locks from his concealed forehead. Sir Thomas looked at him with a blank amazement, not knowing in the least what he meant. He thought the young fellow had been piqued somehow, most probably by Matty, and was in a heroical mood, which mood Colin’s patron did not pretend to understand.

“Well, well,” he said, with some impatience, “I suppose you will take your own way; but I must say it would seem very odd to see an Oxford first-class man in a queer little kirk in the Highlands, preaching a sermon an hour long. Of course, if you like it, that’s another matter; and the Scotch certainly do seem to like preaching,” said Sir Thomas, with natural wonder; “but we flattered ourselves you were comfortable here. I am sorry you want to go away.”

This was taking Colin on his undefended side. The words brought colour to his cheeks and moisture to his eye. “Indeed, I don’t want to go away,” he said, and paused, and faltered, and grew still more deeply crimson. “I can never forget; I can never think otherwise than with—with gratitude of Wodensbourne.” He was going to have said tenderness, but stopped himself in time; and even Sir Thomas, though his eyes were noway anointed with any special chrism of insight, saw the emotion in his face.

“Then don’t go,” said the straightforward baronet; “why should you go if you don’t want to? We are all most anxious that you should stay. Indeed, it would upset my plans dreadfully if you were to leave Charley at present. He’s a wonderful fellow, is Charley. He has twice as much brains as the rest of my boys, sir; and you understand him, Campbell. He is happier, he is stronger, he is even a better fellow—poor lad, when he’s ill he can’t be blamed for a bit of temper—since you came. Indeed, now I think it over,” said Sir Thomas, “you will mortify and disappoint me very much if you go away. I quite considered you had accepted Charley’s tutorship for a year at least. My dear, here’s a pretty business,” he said, turning round at the sound of steps and voices, which Colin had already discerned from afar with a feeling that he was now finally{138} vanquished, and could yield with a good grace; “here’s Campbell threatening to go away.”

“To go away!” said Lady Frankland. “Dear me, he can’t mean it. Why, he only came the other day; and Charley, you know”—said the anxious mother; but she recollected Harry’s objection to the tutor, and did not make any very warm opposition. Colin, however, was totally unconscious of the lukewarmness of the lady of the house. The little scream of dismay with which Miss Matty received the intelligence might have deluded a wiser man than he.

“Going away! I call it downright treachery,” said Miss Matty. “I think it is using you very unkindly, uncle; when he knows you put such dependence on him about Charley; and when we know the house has been quite a different thing since Mr. Campbell came,” said the little witch, with a double meaning, of which Colin, poor boy, swallowed the sweeter sense, without a moment’s hesitation. He knew it was not the improvement in Charley’s temper which had made the house different to Matty; but Lady Frankland, who was not a woman of imagination, took up seriously what seemed to be the obvious meaning of the words.

“It is quite true. I am sure we are much obliged to Mr. Campbell,” she said; “Charley is quite an altered boy; and I had hoped, you were liking Wodensbourne. If we could do anything to make it more agreeable to you,” said Lady Frankland, graciously, remembering how Charley’s “temper” was the horror of the house. “I am sure Sir Thomas would not grudge—”

“Pray do not say any more,” said Colin, confused and blushing; “no house could be more—no house could be so agreeable to me. You are all very kind. It was only my—my own—”

What he was going to say is beyond the reach of discovery. He was interrupted by a simultaneous utterance from all the three persons present, of which Colin heard only the soft tones of Matty. “He does not mean it,” she said; “he only means to alarm us. I shall not say good-bye, nor farewell either. You shall have no good wishes if you think of going away. False as a Campbell,” said the siren under her breath, with a look which overpowered Colin. He never was quite sure what words followed from the elder people; but even Lady Frankland became fervent when she recalled what Charley had been before the advent of the tutor. “What we should do with him now, if Mr. Campbell was to leave and the house full of people, I tremble to think,” said the alarmed mother. When Colin returned to the house it was with a slightly flattered sense of{139} his own value and importance new to him—with a sense too that duty had fully acquitted and justified inclination, and that he could not at the present moment leave his post. This delicious unction he laid to his soul while it was still thrilling with the glance and with the words which Matty, in her alarm, had used to prevent her slave’s escape. Whatever happened, he could not, he would not, go; better to perish with such a hope, than to thrive without it; and, after all, there was no need for perishing, and next year Oxford might still be practicable. So Colin said to himself, as he made his simple toilette for the evening, with a face which was radiant with secret sunshine, “It was only my—my own—.” How had he intended to complete that sentence which the Franklands took out of his mouth? Was he going to say interest, advantage, peace? The unfinished words came to his mind involuntarily when he was alone. They kept flitting in and out, disturbing him with vague touches of uneasiness, asking to be completed. “My own—only my own,” Colin said to himself as he went downstairs. He was saying over the words softly as he came to a landing, upon which there was a great blank staircase-window reaching down to the floor, and darkly filled at this present moment with a grey waste of sky and tumbling clouds, with a wild wind visibly surging through the vacant atmosphere, and conveying almost to the eye in palpable vision the same demonstration of its presence as it did to the ear. “My own—only my own. I wonder what you mean; the words sound quite sentimental,” said Miss Matty, suddenly appearing at Colin’s side, with a light in her hand. The young man was moved strangely; he could not tell why. “I meant my own life, I believe,” he said with a sudden impulse, unawares; “only my own life,” and went down the next flight of stairs before the young lady, not knowing what he was about. When he came to himself, and stood back, blushing with hot shame, to let her pass, the words came back in a dreary whirl, as if the wind had taken them up and tossed them at him, but of that wild windowful of night. His life—only his life; was that what he had put in comparison with Charley’s temper and Matty’s vanity, and given up with enthusiasm? Something chill, like a sudden cold current through his veins, ran to Colin’s heart for a moment. Next minute he was in the room, where bright lights, and lively talk, and all the superficial cordiality of prosperity and good-humour filled the atmosphere round him. Whatever the stake had been, the cast was over and the decision made.

The Christmas guests began to arrive at Wodensbourne on the same day that Colin concluded this sacrifice; and for some days the tutor had scant measure of that society which had lured him to the relinquishment even of his “life.” When the house was full of people, Matty found a thousand occupations in which of necessity Colin had no share,—not to say that the young lady felt it a matter of prudence, after she had accepted his sacrifice, to be as little as possible in his society. It was pleasant enough to feel her power, and to know that for her invaluable smile the boy had bartered his independent career; but to put him in the way of claiming any reward for his offering would have been exceedingly inconvenient to Matty. He paid the full penalty accordingly for at least a week thereafter, and had abundant opportunity of counting the cost and seeing what he had done. It was not exhilarating to spend the mornings with Charley, to answer his sharp questions, to satisfy his acute but superficial mind—in which curiosity was everything, and thought scarcely existed—and to feel that for this he had given up all that was individual in his life. He had left his own University, he had given up the chance of going to Oxford, he had separated himself from his companions and given up his occupations—all for the pleasure of teaching Charley, of standing in a corner of the Wodensbourne drawing-room, and feeling acutely through every fibre of his sensitive Scotch frame that he was the tutor, and stood accordingly in about as much relationship to the society in which he found himself as if he had been a New Zealand chief. Colin, however, had made up his mind, and there was nothing for it now but to consent and accept his fate. But it was astonishing how different things looked from that corner of the drawing-room—unspeakably different from the aspect they bore when Colin himself was the only stranger present, and even different from the state of affairs after Harry came home, when he had been thrown into the shade, and a fever of excitement and jealousy had taken possession of Colin’s breast. He was very young, and was not used to society. When Matty addressed to her cousin the same witcheries which she had expended on her worshipper, the young man was profoundly wretched and jealous beyond description. But when he saw her use the same wiles with others, lavishing{141} freely the smiles which had been so precious to his deluded fancy upon one and another, a painful wonder seized the mind of Colin. To stand in that corner possessed by one object was to be behind the scenes. Colin was mortal; he had made a great sacrifice, and he was glad to have made it; but he could not forget it, nor stand at his ease, accepting the civilities that might be offered to him as to another. At first he expected the equivalent which he imagined had been pledged to him, and when he found out his mistake in that, he discovered also how impossible it was to refrain from a feeling of injury, a jealous consciousness of inadequate appreciation. He himself knew, if nobody else did, the price at which he had bought those siren smiles, and under these circumstances to stand by and see them bestowed upon others, was an experience which conveyed wonderful insight to Colin’s inexperienced eyes. If Miss Matty saw him at all, she saw him in the corner, and gave him a nod and a smile in passing, which she thought quite enough to keep him happy for the time being. For, unluckily, the professors of this art of fascination, both male and female, are apt now and then to deceive themselves as to the extent of their own powers. While Matty was so perfectly easy in her mind about the tall figure in the corner, he, for his part, was watching her with feelings which it would be very hard to describe. His very admiration, the sincerity of his love, intensified the smouldering germs of disappointment and disgust of which he became uneasily conscious as he stood and watched. He saw by glimpses “the very heart of the machine” from that unnoticed observatory. He saw how she distributed and divided her bright looks, her playful talk; he perceived how she exerted herself to be more and more charming if any victim proved refractory, and was slow to yield. Had Colin been kept more perfectly in hand himself, had she devoted a little more time, a little more pains to him, it is probable that the sweet flattery would have prevailed, and that he might have forgiven her the too great readiness she showed to please others. But, as it was, the glamour died out of Colin’s eyes ray by ray, and bitter in the consciousness of all he had sacrificed, he began to find out how little the reward, even could he have obtained it, was worth the price. The process was slow, but it went on night by night—and night by night, as the disenchantment progressed, Colin became more and more unhappy. It was wretchedto see the sweet illusion which had made life so beautiful disappearing under his very eyes, and to feel that the enchantment, which had to him been so irresistible, was a conscious and studied art,{142} which could be used just when the possessor pleased, with as much coolness as if it had bean the art of embroidery or any other feminine handicraft. A wise spectator might, and probably would, have said, that to learn this lesson was the best thing possible for Colin; but that did not make it the less cruel, the less bitter. In his corner the young man gradually drew nearer and nearer to the fierce misanthropy of outraged youth, that misanthropy which is as warm a protest against common worldliness as the first enthusiasm. But his heart was not yet released, though his eyes were becoming enlightened; reason works slowly against love—and bitter at the bottom of all lay the sense of the sacrifice, which was only his life.

A few days after Christmas, a party of the young men staying at Wodensbourne were bound upon a boating expedition, to decide some bet which bore remotely upon one of the greatest events of the University year—the great match between Oxford and Cambridge. Harry Frankland, who was an Oxford man, though the spires of Cambridge might almost have been visible from his father’s park, had there been any eminence high enough to afford a view, was deeply interested on the side of his own University; and some unfortunate youths belated at Cambridge during the holidays for want of friends, or money, or some other needful adjunct of festival-keeping, were but too glad to seize the opportunity of a day’s pleasure. Colin never knew how it was that he came to be asked to join the party. Though Harry’s jealousy was gone, for the moment at least, there was not even a pretence of friendship between the tutor and the heir. Nor could Colin ever explain how it was that he consented to go, for scores of objections naturally presented themselves at the first proposal. He was sensitive, affronted, feeling deeply his false position, and ready to receive with suspicion any overtures of friendliness from any man possessed by a benevolent wish to be kind to the tutor. It was, however, his fate to go, and the preliminaries arranged themselves somehow. They started on a frosty bright morning, when the trees of the park were still only emerging from mists tinted red by the sunshine, a joyous, rather noisy party; they were to walk to the river, which was about six miles off, and when their business was decided, to lunch at a favourite haunt of the Cambridge undergraduates. Lady Frankland, who did not much approve of the expedition, gave them many counsels about the way. “I wish you would drive and get back by daylight,” she said; “otherwise I know you will be taking that path across the fields.{143}”

“What path?” said some one present; “if there is one specially objectionable we will be sure to take it.”

“I would not if I were you,” said Miss Matty. “There is a nasty canal in the way; if you pass it after dark, some of you will certainly fall in. It would be a pity to be drowned in such a slimy, shabby way. Much better have all sorts of dog-carts and things, and drive back in time for a cup of tea.”

At which speech there was a general laugh. “Matty would give her soul for a cup of tea,” said her cousin. “What a precious fright you’ll all be in if we’re late for dinner. I ought to know all about the canal by this time. Come along. It’s too cold to think of drowning,” said Harry Frankland, with a filial nod of leave-taking to his mother. As for Matty, she went to the door with them to see them go off, as did some others of the ladies. Matty lifted her pretty cheek sideways and stretched out her hand into the frosty atmosphere as if to feel for rain.

“I thought I saw some drops,” she said; “it would be frightful if it came on to rain now, and spoiled our chances of skating. Good morning, and, whatever you do, I beg of you don’t get drowned in the canal. It would be such a shabby way of making an end of one’s self,” said Matty. When she looked up she caught Colin’s eye, who was the last to leave the house. She was in the humour to be kind to him at that moment. “Shall I say good-bye, or farewell?” she said softly, with that confidential air which Colin, notwithstanding his new enlightenment, had no heart to resist.

“You shall say what you please,” said Colin, lingering on the step beside her. The young man was in a kind of desperate mood. Perhaps he liked to show his companions that he too could have his turn.

“Good-bye—farewell,” said Matty, “but then that implies shaking hands,” and she gave him her pretty hand with a little laugh, making it appear to the group outside that the clownish tutor had insisted upon that unnecessary ceremony. “But whatever you please to say, I like au revoir best,” said Miss Matty; “it does not even suggest parting.” And she waved her hand as she turned away. “Till we meet again,” said the little enchantress. It might be to him especially, or it might be to all, that she made this little gesture of farewell. Anyhow, Colin followed the others with indescribable sensations. He no longer believed in her, but her presence, her looks, her words, had still mastery over him. Ha had walked half the way before the fumes of that leave-taking had gone out of his brain; though{144} most part of the time he was keeping up a conversation about things in general with the stupidest of the party, who kept pertinaciously by the tutor’s side.

The day went off with considerable satisfaction to all the party, and, as Colin and Frankland did not come much in contact, there was little opportunity for displaying the spirit of opposition and contradiction which existed between them. Fortunately, Colin was not at hand to hear Harry’s strictures upon his method of handling the oars, nor did Frankland perceive the smile of contemptuous recollection which came upon the tutor’s face as he observed how tenderly the heir of Wodensbourne stepped into the boat, keeping clear of the wet as of old. “That fellow has not a bit of science,” said young Frankland; “he expects mere strength to do everything. Look how he holds his oar. It never occurs to him that he is in anything lighter than a Highland fishing cobble. What on earth, I wonder, made us bring him here?”

“Science goes a great way,” said the most skilled oarsman of the party, “but I’d like to have the training of Campbell all the same. He talks of going to Balliol, and I shall write to Cox about him. What a chest the fellow has,” said the admiring spectator. Meanwhile Colin had not hesitated to explain his smile.

“I smile because I recollect smiling years ago,” said Colin. “See how Frankland steps into the boat. When he was a boy he did the same. I remember it, and it amused me; for wet feet were a new idea to me in those days;” and Colin laughed outright, and the eyes of the two met. Neither knew what the other had been saying, but the spectators perceived without more words that the young men were not perfectly safe companions for each other, and took precautions, with instinctive comprehension of the case.

“Those two don’t get on,” said one of the party, under his breath. “It is hard upon a fellow, you know, to have another fellow stuck up at his side who saved his life, and that sort of thing. I shouldn’t like it myself. Somebody keep an eye on Frankland—and on the Scotch fellow, too,” said the impartial peace-maker. Luckily, neither of the two who were thus put under friendly surveillance was at all aware of the fact, and Colin submitted with as good a grace as possible to the constant companionship of the stupidest and best-humoured of the party, who had already bestowed his attentions and society upon the tutor. This state of things, however, did not endure after the luncheon, at which{145} it was not possible for Colin to remain a merely humble spectator and sharer of the young men’s entertainment. He had not been broken in to such duty; and, excited by exercise and the freedom round him, Colin could no more help talking than he could help the subsequent discovery made by his companions that “the Scotch fellow” was very good company. The young men spent—as was to be expected—a much longer time over their lunch than was at all necessary; and the short winter day was just over when they set out on their way home through the evening mists, which soon deepened into darkness, very faintly lighted by a few doubtful stars. Everybody declared, it is true, that there was to be a moon; indeed, it was with the distinct understanding that there was to be a moon that the party had started on foot from Wodensbourne. But the moon showed herself lamentably indifferent to the arrangements which depended on her. She gave not the least sign of appearing anywhere in that vast, windy vault of sky, which indeed had a little light in itself, but could spare scarcely any to show the wayfarers where they were going through the dreary wintry road and between the rustling leafless hedges. When they got into the fields matters grew rather worse. It was hard to keep the path, harder still to find the stiles and steer through gaps and ditches. The high road made a round which would lead them three or four miles out of their way, and Frankland insisted upon his own perfect knowledge of the by-way by which they could reach Wodensbourne in an hour. “Mind the canal we were warned of this morning,” suggested one of the party, as they paused in the dark at the corner of a black field to decide which way they should go. “Oh, confound the canal; as if I didn’t know every step of the way,” said young Frankland. “It’s a settled principle in the female mind that one is bent upon walking into canals whenever one has an opportunity. Come along; if you’re afraid, perhaps Campbell will show you the other way.”

“Certainly,” said Colin, without the least hesitation. “I have no wish to walk into the canal, for my part;” upon which there was a universal protest against parting company. “Come along,” said one, who thrust his arm through Colin’s as he spoke, but who was no longer the stupid member of the party, “we’ll all take our chance together;” but he kept the tutor as far as possible from the heir of Wodensbourne. “Frankland and you don’t seem to get on,” said Colin’s companion; “yet he’s a very nice fellow when you come to know{146} him. I suppose you most have had some misunderstanding, eh? Wasn’t it you who saved his life?”

“I never saved any one’s life,” said Colin, a little sharply; “and we get on well enough—as well as is necessary. We have no call to see much of each other.” After this they all went on through the dark as well as they could, getting into difficulties now and then, sometimes collecting together in a bewildered group at a stile or turning, and afterwards streaming on in single file—a succession of black figures which it was impossible to identify except by their voices. Certainly they made noise enough. What with shouts from the beginning to the end of the file, what with bursts of song which came occasionally from one or another or were taken up in uproarious chorus, the profound stillness which enveloped and surrounded them was compelled to own their human presence to the ear at least. In the natural course of their progress Colin and his immediate companion had got nearly to the front, when the laughter and noise was suddenly interrupted. “I don’t quite see where we are going,” said Harry. “Stop a bit; I shouldn’t mind going on myself, but I don’t want to risk you fellows who are frightened for canals. Look here; the road ought to have gone on at this corner, but here’s nothing but a hedge. Keep where you are till I look out. There’s a light over there, but I can’t tell what’s between.”

“Perhaps it’s the canal,” said some one behind.

“Oh, yes, of course it’s the canal,” said Frankland, with irritation. “You stand back till I try; if I fall in, it’s my own fault, which will be a consolation to my friends,” cried the angry guide. He started forward impatiently, not, however, without being closely followed by two or three, among whom was Colin.

“Don’t be foolish, Frankland,” said one voice in the darkness; “let us all go together—let us be cautious. I feel something like gravel under my feet. Steady, steady; feel with your foot before you put it down. Oh! good heavens, what is it?” The voice broke off abruptly; a loud splash and a cry ensued, and the young men behind saw the figures in advance of them suddenly drop and disappear. It was the canal, upon which they had been making unawares. Two out of the four had only stumbled on the bank, and rose up again immediately; and as those behind, afraid to press forward, not knowing what to do, stood watching appalled, another and another figure scrambled up with difficulty, calling for help, out of the water,{147} into which they had not, however, plunged deeply enough to peril their lives. Then there was a terrible momentary pause.

“Are we all here?” said Colin. His voice sounded like a funeral bell pealing through the darkness. Hehe knew they were not all there. He, with his keen eyes, rendered keener by opposition and enmity, had seen beyond mistake that the first of all went down and had not risen again. The consciousness made his voice tragic as it rang through the darkness. Somebody shouted, “Yes, yes, thank God!” in reply. It was only a second, but years of life rolled up upon Colin in that moment of time—years of sweet troublous existence behind; years of fair life before. Should he let him die? It was not his fault; nobody could blame him. And what right had he to risk his life a second time for Harry Frankland? All that a murderer, all that a martyr could feel rushed through Colin’s mind in that instant of horrible indecision. Then somebody said, “Frankland, Frankland! where is Frankland?” That voice was the touch of fate. With a strange shout, of which he was unconscious, Colin plunged into the black invisible stream. By this time the others of the party saw with unspeakable relief lights approaching, and heard through the darkness voices of men coming to their assistance. They were close by one of the locks of the canal; and it was the keeper of it, not unused to such accidents, who came hurrying to give what help was possible. His lantern and some torches which the anxious young men managed to light threw a wild illumination over the muddy, motionless stream, in which two of their number, lately as gay and light-hearted as any, were now struggling for their life. The same light flared horribly over the two motionless figures, which, after an interval which seemed like years to the bystanders, were at length brought out of the blackness; one of them still retaining strength and consciousness to drag the other with him up the stony margin before his senses failed. They lay silent both, with pallid faces, upon the hard path; one as like death as the other, with a kind of stony, ghostly resemblance in their white insensibility, except that there was blood on the lips of one, who must have struck, the lockman said, upon some part of the lock. They were carried into the cottage, and hurried messengers sent to the nearest doctor and to Wodensbourne. Meanwhile the two lay together, pallid and motionless, nobody knowing which was living and which dead.

Colin never ascertained what were the events immediately succeeding his plunge into the canal; all he could recall dimly of that strange crisis in his life was a sense of slow motion in which he himself was passive, and of looking up at the stars in a dark-blue, frosty, winterly sky, with a vague wonder in his mind how it was that he saw them so clearly, and whether it was they or he that moved. Afterwards, when his mind became clear, it grew apparent to him that he must have opened his eyes for a moment while he was being carried home; but there intervened a period during which he heard nothing distinctly, and in which the only clear point to him was this gleam of starlight, and the accompanying sense of motion, which perplexed his faculties in his weakness. While he lay feverish and unconscious he kept repeating, to the amazement of the bystanders, two stray lines which had no apparent connexion with any of the circumstances surrounding him.

“Each with its little span of sky,
And little lot of stars,”
poor Colin said to himself over and over, without knowing it. It had been only for a moment that he opened his eyes out of the torpor which was all but death, but that moment was enough to colour all the wanderings of his mind while still the weakness of the body dominated and overpowered it. Like a picture or a dream, he kept in his recollection the sharp frosty glimmer, the cold twinkling of those passionless, distant lights, and with it a sense of rushing air and universal chill, and a sound and consciousness of wending his way between rustling hedges, though all the while he was immovable. That feeling remained with him till he woke from a long sleep one afternoon when the twilight was setting in, and found himself in a room which was not his own room, lying in a great bed hung with crimson curtains, which were made still more crimson by a ruddy glow of fire-light which flashed reflections out of the great mirror opposite the end of the bed. Colin lay a while in a pause of wonder and confusion when he woke. The starlight went out of his eyes and the chill out of his frame, and a certain sense of languid comfort came over him. When he said, “Where am I?” faintly, in a voice which he could scarcely recognise for his own, two{149} women rose hastily and approached him. One of these was Lady Frankland, the other a nurse. While the attendant hurried forward to see if he wanted anything, Lady Frankland took his hand and pressed it warmly in both hers.

“You shall hear all about it to-morrow,” she said, with the tears in her eyes; “you will do well now, but you must not exert yourself to-night. We have all been so anxious about you. Hush, hush! You must take this; you must not ask any more questions to-night.”

What he had to take was some warm jelly, of which he swallowed a little, with wonder and difficulty. He did not understand what had befallen him, or how he had been reduced to this invalid condition. “Hush, hush! you must not ask any questions to-night,” said Lady Frankland; and she went to the door as if to leave the room, and then came back again and bent over Colin and kissed his forehead, with her eyes shining through tears. “God bless you and reward you!” she said, smiling and crying over him; “you will do well now—you have a mother’s blessing and a mother’s prayers,” and with these strange words she went away hastily, as if not trusting herself to say more.

Colin lay back on his pillow with his mind full of wonder, and, catching at the clue she had given him, made desperate feeble efforts to piece it out, and get back again into his life. He found it so hard fighting through that moment of starlight which still haunted him, that he had to go to sleep upon it, but by-and-by woke up again when all was silent—when the light was shaded, and the nurse reclining in an easy chair, and everything betokened night—and lying awake for an hour or two, at last began to gather himself up, and recollect what had happened. He had almost leaped from his bed when he recalled the scene by the canal—his conviction that Frankland had gone down, his own desperate plunge. But Colin was past leaping from his bed, for that time at least. He followed out this recollection, painfully trying to think what had occurred. Was Harry Frankland alive or dead? Had he himself paused too long on the brink, and was the heir of Wodensbourne gone, out of all his privileges and superiorities? This was the interpretation that appeared most likely to Colin. It seemed to him to explain Lady Frankland’s tears and pathos of gratitude. The tutor had suffered in his attempt to save the son, and the parents, moved by the tenderness of grief, were thankful for his ineffectual efforts. As he lay awake in the silence, it appeared to him that this was the explanation; and he too thought with a certain{150} pathos and compunction of Harry—his instinctive rival, his natural opponent. Was it thus he had fallen, so near the beginning of the way—snatched out of the life which had so many charms, so many advantages for him? As Colin lay alone in the silence, his thoughts went out to that unknown life into which he could not but imagine the other young man, who was yesterday—was it yesterday?—as strong and life-like as himself, had passed so suddenly. Life had never seemed so fair, so bright, so hopeful to himself as while he thus followed with wistful eyes the imaginary path of Harry into the unknown awe and darkness. The thought touched him deeply, profoundly, with wistful pity, with wonder and inquiry. Where was he now, this youth who had so lately been by his side? Had he found out those problems that trouble men for their life long? Had existence grown already clear and intelligible to the eyes which in this world had cared but little to investigate its mysteries?

While Colin’s mind was thus occupied, it occurred to him suddenly to wonder why he himself was so ill and so feeble. He had no inclination to get up from the bed on which he lay. Sometimes he coughed, and the cough pained him; his very breathing was a fatigue to him now and then. As he lay pondering this new thought, curious half-recollections, as of things that had happened in a dream, came into Colin’s mind; visions of doctors examining some one—he scarcely knew whether it was himself or another—and of conversations that had been held over his bed. As he struggled through these confusing mazes of recollection or imagination, his head began to ache and his heart to beat; and finally his uneasy movements woke the nurse, who was alarmed and would not listen to any of the questions he addressed to her. “My lady told you as you’d hear everything to-morrow,” said Colin’s attendant; “for goodness gracious sake take your draught, do, and lie still; and don’t go a-moidering and a-bothering, and take away a poor woman’s character, as was never known to fall asleep before, nor wouldn’t but for thinking you was better and didn’t want nothing.” It was strange to the vigorous young man, who had never been in the hands of a nurse in his life, to feel himself constrained to obey—to feel, indeed, that he had no power to resist, but was reduced to utter humiliation and dependence, he could not tell how. He fell asleep afterwards, and dreamed of Harry Frankland drowning, and of himself going down, down through the muddy, black water—always down, in giddy circles of descent, as if it were bottomless. When he woke again it was morning, and his{151} attendant was putting his room to rights, and disposed to regard himself with more friendly eyes. “Don’t you go disturbing of yourself,” said the nurse, “and persuading of the doctor as you ain’t no better. You’re a deal better, if he did but know it. What’s come to you? It’s all along of falling in the canal that night along of Mr. Harry. If you takes care, and don’t get no more cold, you’ll do well.”

“Along with Mr. Harry—poor Harry!—and he—?” said Colin. His own voice sounded very strange to him, thin and far-off, like a shadow of its former self. When he asked this question, the profoundest wistful pity filled the young man’s heart. He was sorry to the depths of his soul for the other life which had, he supposed, gone out in darkness. “Poor Frankland!” he repeated to himself, with an action of mournful regret. He had been saved, and the other lost. So he thought, and the thought went to his heart.

“Mr. Harry was saved, sir, when you was drownded,” said the nurse, who was totally unconscious of Colin’s feelings; “he’s fine and hearty again, is Mr. Harry. Bless you, a ducking ain’t nothing to him. As for you,” continued the woman, going calmly about her occupations—“they say it wasn’t the drowning, it was the striking against——”

“I understand,” said Colin. He stopped her further explanations with a curious sharpness which he was not responsible for, and at which he himself wondered. Was not he glad that Harry Frankland lived? But then, to be sure, there came upon him the everlasting contrast—the good fortune and unfailing luck of his rival, who was well and hearty, while Colin, who would have been in no danger but for him, lay helpless in bed! He began to chafe at himself, as he lay, angry and impotent, submitting to the nurse’s attentions. What a poor weakling anybody must think him, to fall ill of the ducking which had done no harm to Harry! He felt ridiculous, contemptible, weak—which was the worst of all—thinking with impatience of the thanks which presently Lady Frankland would come to pay him, and the renewed obligations of which the family would be conscious. If he only could get up, and get back to his own room! But, when he made the attempt, Colin was glad enough to fall back again upon his pillows, wondering and dismayed. Harry was well, and had taken no harm; what could be the meaning of his sudden and unlooked-for weakness?

Lady Frankland came into the room, as he had foreseen, while it was still little more than daylight of the winter morning.{152} She had always been kind to Colin—indifferently, amiably kind, for the most part, with a goodness which bore no particular reference to him, but sprang from her own disposition solely. This time there was a change. She sat down by his side with nervous, wistful looks, with an anxious, almost frightened expression. She asked him how he was with a kind of tremulous tenderness, and questioned the nurse as to how he had slept. “I am so glad to hear you have had a refreshing sleep,” she said, with an anxious smile, and even laid her soft white hand upon Colin’s and caressed it as his own mother might have done, whilst she questioned his face, his aspect, his looks, with the speechless scrutiny of an anxious woman. Somehow these looks, which were so solicitous and wistful, made Colin more impatient than ever.

“I am at a loss to understand why I am lying here,” he said, with a forced smile; “I used to think I could stand a ducking as well as most people. It is humiliating to find myself laid up like a child by a touch of cold water——”

“Oh, Mr. Campbell, pray don’t say so,” said Lady Frankland; “it was not the cold water; you know you struck against—— Oh, how can we thank you enough!—how can I ever express my gratitude!” said the poor lady, grasping his hands in both hers, while her eye filled unawares with tears.

“There is no need for gratitude,” said Colin, drawing away his hand with an impatience which he could not have explained. “I am sorry to find myself such a poor creature that I have to be nursed, and give you trouble. Your son is all right, I hear.” This he said with an effort at friendliness which cost him some trouble. He scorned to seem to envy the young favourite of fortune, but it was annoying to feel that the strength he was secretly proud of had given way at so slight a trial. He turned his face a little more towards the wall, and away from Harry’s mother, as he spoke.

“Oh, yes,” said Lady Frankland, “he is quite well, and he is very, very grateful to you, dear Mr. Campbell. Believe me, we are all very grateful. Harry is so shy; and he has never once had an opportunity to pay you that—that attention which you deserve at his hands; and it showed such noble and disinterested regard on your part——”

“Pray don’t say so,” said Colin, abruptly; “you make me uncomfortable; there was no regard whatever in the case.”

“Ah, yes! you say so to lighten our sense of obligation,” said Lady Frankland. “It is so good, so kind of you. And{153} when I think what it has made you suffer—but I am sure you will believe that there is nothing we would not do to show our gratitude. If you were our own son neither Sir Thomas nor I could be more anxious. We have sent for Sir Apsley Wendown, and I hope he will arrive to-day; and we have sent for your dear Mother, Mr. Campbell——”

“My mother?” said Colin. He was so much startled that he raised himself up on his pillows without thinking, and as he did so was seized by a horrible pain which took away his breath. “Sir Apsley Wendown and my mother? What does it mean?” the young man said gasping, as he managed to slide down again into his former recumbent position. “Am I ill? or does all this commotion arise simply from an unlooked-for ducking and a knock against the side of the canal.” He got this out with difficulty, though he strove with all his might to conceal the trouble it gave him; then he turned his eyes to Lady Frankland, who sat wringing her hands and full of agitation by his bedside. The poor lady had altogether lost her good-natured and amiable composure. Whatever she had to say to him, whatever the character of the communication might be, it disturbed her greatly. She wrung her hands, and gave him a painful hurried glance, and then withdrew her eyes from his inquiring looks. All this time Colin lay impatient, looking at her, wondering, with a sharp sensation of anger, what she could have to say.

“Dear Mr. Campbell,” she said at length, “you are ill; you have been wandering and insensible. Oh, it is hard to think you are suffering for your goodness, suffering for us! We could not trust you to our doctor here after we knew; we thought it best to have the best advice, and we thought you would prefer to have your mother. I would have nursed you myself and tended you night and day,” said Lady Frankland, with enthusiasm; “I owe you that and a great deal more; you who have saved my dear boy.”

“What is the matter with me?” said Colin. It appeared to him as if a great cloud was rolling up over the sky, throwing upon him a strange and ominous shadow. He scarcely heard what she said. He did not pay any attention to her. What was Henry Frankland’s mother to him, or her thanks, or the things she was willing to do to show her gratitude? He wanted to know why he was lying there powerless, unable to move himself. That was the first thing to be thought of. As for Lady Frankland, she wrung her hands again, and hesitated more and more.{154}

“I hope God will reward you,” said the agitated woman; “I would give everything I have in the world to see you well and strong as you were when you came here. Oh, Mr. Campbell, if you only could know the feeling that is in all our hearts!” It was her kindness, her reluctance to give him pain, her unfeigned distress, that made her prolong Colin’s suspense, and drive him frantic with these exasperating professions of regard, for which, true as they doubtless were, he did not care.

“I suppose I’ve broken some of my bones,” said Colin; “it would be real kindness if you would tell me what is the matter. Will it take a long time to mend me? I should be glad to know, at least, what it is.”

Impelled by his looks and his tone, Lady Frankland burst into her statement at last. “You have broken some of your ribs,” she said, “but I don’t think that is of so much importance; Sir Apsley, when he comes, will tell us. He is coming to-day and you are looking so much better. It was old Mr. Eyre who gave us such a fright yesterday. He said your lungs had been injured somehow, and that you might never—that it might be a long time—that it might keep you delicate; but even if that were the case, with care and a warm climate—oh, Mr. Campbell! I think he is mistaken; he is always such a croaker. I think—I hope—I am almost sure Sir Apsley will set you all right.”

Again Colin had risen in his bed with a little start. This time he was scarcely sensible of the pain which every motion caused him. He fancied afterwards that for that moment his heart stood still in his bosom, and the pulses in his veins stopped beating. The shock was so strange, so sudden, so unlooked-for. He sat up—struggled up—upon his pillows, and instinctively and unawares faced and confronted the new Thing which approached him. In that moment of strange consciousness and revelation he felt as if the intimation was true—as if his doom was sealed and his days numbered. He did not look at the anxious woman who was wringing her arms by his bedside, nor at any external object; but with an irresistible impulse confronted dumbly the new world—the changed existence. When he laid himself down again it seemed to Colin as if years had passed over his head. He said some vague words of thanks, without being very well aware what he was saying, to Lady Frankland, and then lay silent, stunned and bewildered, like a man who had received a blow. What she said to him afterwards, or how long she remained in the room, he was scarcely{155} aware of. Colin belonged to a race which had no weak members; he had been used to nothing but strength and health—wholesome rural life and vigour—all his days. He had even learned, without knowing it, to take a certain pride in his own physical gifts, and in those of his family, and to look with compassionate contempt on people who were “delicate” and obliged to take care of themselves. The idea that such a fate might by any possibility fall to himself had never once occurred to him. It was an impossible contingency at which, even a week ago, the strong young man, just entering upon the full possession of his powers, would have laughed, as beyond the range of imagination. He might die, no doubt, like any other man—might be snatched out of the world by violent disease or sudden fever, as other strong men had been; but to have his strength stolen from him while still his life remained, had appeared a thing beyond the bounds of possibility until now.

But as Colin lay helpless, stunned by this unlooked-for downfall, there came before his eyes, as vividly as if he saw them in actual presence, the sick people of his native district—the young men and the young women who now and then paid, even on the sweet shores of the Holy Loch, the terrible toll which consumption takes of all the nations of the north. One of them, a young man about his own age, who like himself had been in training for the Scotch Church, whom Colin had pitied with all his kind heart—with the deepest half-remorseful sense of his own superior happiness—came before him with intense distinctness as he lay struck silent by the cold shadow of fate. He could almost have thought that he saw the spectral attenuated form, with its hectic cheeks, its thin, long, wasted hands, its preternatural length of limb, seated in the old, high-backed easy-chair in the farmhouse parlour. All the invalid’s life appeared to him in a sudden flash of recollection; the kindly neighbours’ visits; the books and papers which were lent him; the soup and jellies which the minister’s wife and the other ladies of the parish, few in number as they were, kept him provided with. Colin could even remember his own periodical visits; his efforts to think what would interest the sick man; his pity, and wonder, and almost contempt, for the patience which could endure, and even take a pleasure in, the poor comforts of the fading life. God help him! was this what he himself was coming to? was this all he had to anticipate? Colin’s heart gave a strange leap in his breast at the thought. A sudden wild throb, a sense of something intolerable, a cry against the fate which was too hard,{156} which could not be borne, rose within him, and produced a momentary sickness which took the light out of his eyes, and made everything swim round him in a kind of dizzy gloom. Had he been standing he would have fallen down, and the bystanders would have said he had fainted. But he had not fainted; he was bitterly, painfully conscious of everything. It was only his heart that fluttered in his breast like a wounded bird; it was only his mind that had been struck, and reeled. So much absorbed was he that he did not hear the voice of the nurse, who brought him some invalid nourishment, and who became frightened when she got no answer, and shook him violently by the arm. “Lord bless us, he’s gone,” exclaimed the woman; and she was but little reassured when her patient turned upon her with dry lips and a glittering eye. “I am not gone yet,” said Colin; “there is no such luck for me;” and then he began once more to picture out to himself the sick man at the Holy Loch, with the little tray on the table beside him, and his little basin of soup. God help him! was this how he was to be for all the rest of his life?

This was how he sustained the first physical shock of the intimation which poor Lady Frankland had made to him with so much distress and compunction. It is hard enough at any time to receive a sentence of death; yet Colin could have died bravely had that been all that was required of him. It was the life in death thus suddenly presented before his eyes that appalled his soul and made his heart sick. And after that, Heaven knows, there were other considerations still more hard to encounter. If we were to say that the young man thus stopped short in the heyday of his life bethought himself immediately of what is called preparation for dying, it would be false and foolish. Colin had a desperate passage to make before he came to that. As these moments, which were like hours, passed on, he came to consider the matter in its larger aspects. But for Harry Frankland he would have been in no danger, and now Harry Frankland was safe, strong, and in the full enjoyment of his life, while Colin lay broken and helpless, shipwrecked at the beginning of his career. Why was it? Had God ordained this horrible injustice, this cruel fate? As Colin looked at it, out of the clouds that were closing round him, that fair career which was never to be accomplished stretched bright before him, as noble a future as ever was contemplated by man. It had its drawbacks and disadvantages when he looked at it a week before, and might, perhaps, have turned out a common-place life{157} enough had it come to its daily fulfilment; but now, when it had suddenly become impossible, what a career it seemed! Not of selfish profit, of money-making, or personal advantage—a life which was to be for the use of his country, for the service of his Church, for the furtherance of everything that was honest and lovely, and of good report. He stood here, stayed upon the threshold of his life, and looked at it with wonder and despair. This existence God had cut short and put an end to. Why? That another man might live and enjoy his common-place pleasures—might come into possession of all the comforts of the world, might fill a high position without knowing, without caring for it; might hunt, and shoot, and fall asleep after dinner as his father had done before him. In the great darkness Colin’s heart cried out with a cry of anguish and terrible surprise to the invisible, inexorable God, “Why? Why?” Was one of His creatures less dear, less precious to Him than another, that He should make this terrible difference? The pure life, the high hopes, the human purpose and human happiness, were they as nothing to the great Creator who had brought them into being and suffered them to bud and blossom only that He might crush them with His hands? Colin lay still in his bed, with his lips set close and his eyes straining into that unfathomable darkness. The bitterness of death took possession of his soul—a bitterness heavier, more terrible than that of death. His trust, his faith, had given way. God sat veiled upon his awful throne, concealed by a horrible cloud of disappointment and incomprehension. Neither love nor justice, neither mercy nor equal dealing, was in this strange, unintelligible contrast of one man’s loss and another man’s gain. As the young man lay struggling in this hour of darkness, the God of his youth disappeared from him, the Saviour of his childhood withdrew, a sorrowful shadow, into the angry heavens. What was left? Was it a capricious Deity, ruled by incomprehensible impulses of favour and of scorn? Was it a blind and hideous Chance, indifferent alike to happiness and misery? Was it some impious power, owning no everlasting rule of right and wrong, of good and evil, who trampled at its will upon the hearts and hopes of men? Colin was asking himself these terrible questions when the curtain was softly drawn, and a face looked down upon him, in which tenderness and grief and pity had come to such a climax as no words could convey any impression of. It was his mother who stood beside him, stretching out her arms like a pitying angel, yearning over him with the anguish and the impatience of love.{158} Sometimes, surely, the Master gives us in the fellowship of His sufferings a human pang beyond His own—the will to suffer in the stead of those we love, without the power.

“They’re awfu’ grateful, Colin—I canna but say that for them,” said Mrs. Campbell; “and as anxious as if you were their own son. I’ll no undertake to say that I havena an unchristian feeling myself to Harry Frankland; but, when you’re a’ weel and strong, Colin,”—

“And what if I am never well and strong?” said the young man. His mother’s presence had subdued and silenced, at least, for a time, the wild questions in his heart. She had taken them upon herself, though he did not know it. So far human love can stretch its fellowship in the sufferings of its Master,—not to the extent of substitution, of salvation temporal or spiritual, but, at least, to a modified deliverance. She had soothed her son and eased him of his burden, but in so doing had taken it to herself. The eagle that had been gnawing his heart had gone to fix its talons in hers; but she carried it like the Spartan, under her mantle, and smiled while it rent her in twain.

“Whisht, whisht!” she said, in her martyrdom of composure and calm looks, and took her boy’s hand and held it between hers—God only could tell how fondly—with a firm, warm grasp that seemed to hold him fast to life. “Colin, my man, it’s a’ in God’s hands,” said the Mistress of Ramore; “whiles His ways are awfu’ mysterious. I’m no one that pretends to read them, or see a’thing plain, like some folk; but I canna think He ever makes a mistake or lets anything go by hazard. We’ll bide His time, Colin; and who can tell what mercy and goodness he may have in His hand?”

“Mercy and goodness, or, perhaps, the contrary,” said Colin. If he had not been a little comforted and eased in his heart, he would not have given utterance to words which he felt to be unchristian. But now, with his longing to be soothed and to accept the softening influence which surrounded him, came an impulse to speak,—to use words which were even more strong than his feelings. As for his mother, she was too thoughtful{159} a woman, and had in her own heart too heavy a burden, to be shocked by what he said.

“Maybe what appears to us the contrary,” she said, “though that maun be but an appearance, like most things in this life. I’m no one to deny my ain heart, or make a show as if I understood the ways of the Lord, or could, aye, in my poor way, approve of them, if a mortal creature might daur to say so, Colin. There’s things He does that appear a’ wrang to me—I canna but say it. I’m no doubting His wisdom nor yet His love, but there’s mony a thing He does that I canna follow, nor see onything in but loss and misery. But oh, Colin, my bonnie man, that’s nae cause for doubting Him! He maun have His ain reasons, and they maun be better reasons than ours. If you’ll close your eyes, and try and get a sleep, I’ll take a breath of air to myself before night sets in. I was aye an awfu’ woman for the air; and eh, laddie! I think ye’ll be thankful to get back to Ramore after this dreary country, where there’s neither hill nor glen—though maybe it might be cauld for you in the spring, when there’s so much soft weather,” said the tender woman, smoothing his pillows, and bending over him with her anxious smile. “It minds me o’ the time when you were my baby, Colin, to get you into my hands again. They say a woman’s aye a queen in a sick room,” said the Mistress. Her smile was such that tears would have been less sad; and she was impatient to be gone—to leave her son’s bedside—because she felt herself at the furthest stretch of endurance, and knew that her strained powers must soon give way. Perhaps Colin, too, understood what it was that made his mother so anxious to leave him, for he turned his face to the waning evening light, and closed his eyes, and after a while seemed to sleep. When he had lain thus quietly for some time, the poor mother stole downstairs and out into the wintry twilight. Her heart was breaking in her tender bosom; her strength had been strained to the utmost bounds of possibility; and nature demanded at least the relief of tears.

Two days before the Mistress had been tranquil and content in her peaceful life at home. When Sir Thomas Frankland’s telegram came late at night, like a sudden thunderbolt into the quiet house, the Holy Loch was asleep and at rest, cradled in sweet darkness, and watched by fitful glances of that moon for which Colin and his friends had looked to guide them on the night of the accident; and no means of communicating with the world until the morning was possible to the inhabitants of{160} Ramore. The anxious mother, whose eyes had not been visited with sleep through all the lingering winter night, set off by dawn to thread her weary unaccustomed way through all the mazes of the railways which were to convey her to Wodensbourne. She had neither servant nor friend to manage for her; and no fine lady, accustomed to the most careful guardianship, could be more unused to the responsibilities of travelling than Mrs. Campbell. When she arrived, it was to find her boy, her firstborn, stretched helpless upon his bed, to see the examination made by the great doctor from London, to hear his guarded statements, his feebly-expressed hopes, which conveyed only despair—and with that sudden arrow quivering in her heart to undertake the duties of a cheerful nurse—to keep smiling upon Colin, telling him the news of the parish, and the events of the countryside, as if her coming here had been a holiday. All this, put together—though so many women have borne it, and though the Mistress of Ramore was able to bear it, and more, for her boy’s sake—was a hard strain upon her. When she got downstairs into the air, the first thing she did was to sit down on the steps of the glass door which led into the terrace and cry bitterly and silently. She was alone among strangers, with scarcely even a friendly feature of familiar nature to give her a little confidence. The aspect of the great house, stretching its long wings and solemn front into the twilight, containing a whole community of people unknown to her, whose very voices were strange and sounded like a foreign tongue, completed the forlorn sense she had of absence from everything that could help or console; and when, in the restlessness of her musing, she got up and began to walk about upon that deserted terrace which Colin had paced so often, all Colin’s questions, all his doubts, rushed with double force and feminine passion into his mother’s mind.

As she pursued her uncertain way, her eye was attracted by the lights in the windows. One of them was large and low, and so close upon the terrace that she could not help seeing the interior, and what was passing there. Harry Frankland was standing by the fire with his cousin. The long billiard-table behind them, and the cue which Miss Matty still held in her hand, did not enlighten Mrs. Campbell as to what they had been doing. Matty had laid her disengaged hand on her cousin’s shoulder, and was looking up, as if pleading for something, into his face; and the fire-light which gleamed upon them both, gave colour and brightness to the two young faces, which seemed to the{161} sorrowful woman outside to be glowing with health and love and happiness. When Mrs. Campbell looked upon this scene her heart cried out in her breast. It was Colin’s question that came to her lips as she hurried past in the cold and the gathering darkness—“Why? Oh God! why?” Her son struck to the earth in the bloom of his young life—rooted up like a young tree, or a silly flower—and this youth, this other woman’s son, taking the happiness which should have been for Colin. Why was it? The poor woman called in her misery upon the heavens and the earth to answer her. One deprived of all, another possessed of everything that soul of man could desire; one heart smitten and rent asunder, and another filled to overflowing with safety and happiness.

As she went on in her haste, without knowing where she went, another window caught the Mistress’s eye. It was the nursery window where all the little ones were holding high carnival. Little boys and little girls, the younger branches of the large happy family, with again the light gleaming rosy over their childish faces. One of them was having her toilette made for presentation in the drawing-room, and at sight of her another blow, keen and poignant, went to Mrs. Campbell’s heart. Just such a child had been the little maiden, the little daughter who once made sunshine in the homely house of Ramore. It came upon the poor mother in the darkness to think what that child would have been to her now had she lived—how her woman child would have suffered with her, wept with her, helped to bear the burden of her woe. Her heart yearned and longed in her new grief over the little one who had been gone so many years. She turned away hastily from the bright window and the gay group and sank down upon her knees on the ground with a sob that came from her heart—“Why? oh why?” God had His reasons, but what were they? The agony of loss, in which there seemed no possible gain; the bitterness of suffering, without knowing any reason for it, overpowered her. The contrast of her own trouble with the happiness, the full possession, the universal prosperity and comfort which she saw, struck her sharply with something which was not envy of her neighbour, but the appeal of an amazed anguish to God. “The ways of the Lord are not equal,” she was saying in her soul. Was it, as Nature suggested, with natural groans, because He loved her less—or, as the minister said, because He loved her more, that God sent upon her those pangs, and demanded from her those sacrifices? Thus she cried out of the depths, not knowing what{162} she said. “If I had but had my Jeanie!” the poor woman moaned to herself, with a vision of a consoling angel, a daughter, another dearer, fairer self, who would have helped to bear all her burdens. But God had not afforded her that comfort, the dearest consolation to a woman. When she had wept out those few bitter tears, that are all of which the heart is capable when it is no longer young, she gathered herself up out of the darkness and prepared to go back again to Colin’s bedside. Though she had received no answer to her question—though neither God Himself nor His angels, nor any celestial creature, had gleamed through the everlasting veil, and given her a glimpse of that Divine meaning which it is so hard to read—there was a certain relief in the question itself, and in the tears that had been wrung out of her heart. And so it was that, when Matty Frankland came lightly out of the billiard-room, on her way to dress for dinner, Mrs. Campbell, whom she met coming in from the terrace, did not appear to her to bear a different aspect from that which the Mistress of Ramore had borne in other days.

Matty did not lose a minute in making her advances to Colin’s mother. She was, indeed, extremely sorry, and had even been conscious of a passing thought similar to that which had struggled passionately into being, both in Colin’s mind and in his mother’s—a passing sense of wonder why Harry, who was good for nothing in particular, should have been saved, and Colin, who was what Miss Matty called “so very clever,” should have been the sufferer. Such a doubt, had it gone deep enough—had it become an outcry of the soul, as it was with the others—would have made an infidel of that little woman of the world. She ran to Mrs. Campbell, and took her hand, and led her into the billiard-room, the door of which stood open. “Oh, dear Mrs. Campbell, come and tell me about him,” she said; and, as it had been the conjunction of a little real feeling with her habitual wiles that brought Colin under her influence, the same thing moved his mother at least to tolerate the inquiry. She drew away her hand with some impatience from the little enchantress, but her tender heart smote her when she saw an involuntary tear in Matty’s eye. Perhaps, after all, it was less her fault than her misfortune; and the Mistress followed the girl into the room with less dislike, and more toleration, than she could have supposed possible. It might be, after all, the older people—to whom worldliness came by nature, as she was disposed to think—who were to blame.

“Oh, Mrs. Campbell, I am so sorry; I cannot tell you how{163} sorry I am,” cried Matty—- and she spoke only the truth, and had real tears in her eyes—“to think that he should save my cousin again, and suffer so for his goodness. Don’t be angry with us—though, indeed, I should not wonder if you could not bear our very name—I am sure I could not, if I were you.”

“Na, God forbid,” said the Mistress. She was but half-satisfied of the reality of the young lady’s professions, and this suspicion, so unusual to her, gave dignity to her speech. “It wasna you nor ony mortal person, but his own heart that moved my Colin. You could do an awfu’ deal,” said Colin’s mother, looking with a woman’s look of disapproving admiration on Matty’s pretty face, “but you couldna move my son like his ain generous will. He never was one to think of his ain—comfort—” continued Mrs. Campbell with a little shudder, for something in her throat prevented her from saying his life—“when a fellow creature was in danger. It was his ain heart that was to blame—if anything was to blame—and not you.”

And the homely woman’s eyes went beyond her questioner with that same look which in Colin had so often baffled Miss Matty, showing that the higher spirit had gone past the lesser into its own element, where only its equals could follow. The girl was awed for the moment and humbled. Not for her poor sake, not for Harry Frankland, who was of no great account to anybody out of his immediate family—but because of his own nature, which would not permit him to see another perish, had Colin suffered. This thought, imperfectly as she understood it, stopped the voluble sympathy, pity and distress on Matty’s lips. She no longer knew what to say, and, after an awkward pause, could only stammer over her old common-places. “Oh, dear Mrs. Campbell, I am so sorry; I would give anything in the world to make him well again; and I only hope you won’t be angry with us,” said Matty, with a suppressed sob, which was partly fright and partly feeling. The Mistress came to herself at the sound of the girl’s voice.

“I’m no angry,” she said—“God forbid; though I might have something to say to you if my heart could speak. The like of you whiles do mair harm in this world, Miss Frankland, than greater sinners. I’m no saying you kent what you were doing; but, if it had not been for you, my Colin would never have come near this place. You beguiled my son with your pleasant words and your bonnie face. He had nae mair need to come here to be tutor to yon bit crooked callant,” said the Mistress, with involuntary bitterness, “than Maister Frankland{164} himself. But he thought to be near you, that had beguiled him and made him give mair heed to your fables than to anything that was true in life. I’m no blaming my Colin,” said the Mistress, with an unconscious elevation of her head; “he never had kent onything but truth a’ his days, and, if he wasna to believe in a woman that smiled on him and enticed him to her, what was he to believe in at his years? Nor I’m no to call angry at you,” said Colin’s mother, looking from the elevation of age and nature upon Miss Matty, who drooped instinctively, and became conscious what a trifling little soul she was. “We a’ act according to our ain nature, and you wasna capable of perceiving what harm you could do; but, if you should ever encounter again one that was true himself and believed in you——”

Here Matty, who had never been destitute of feeling, and who, in her heart, was fond of Colin in her way, and had a kind of understanding of him, so far as she could go, fell into such an outburst of natural tears as disarmed the Mistress, who faltered and stopped short, and had hard ado to retain some appearance of severity in sight of this weeping, for which she was not prepared. Colin’s mother understood truth, and in an abhorring, indignant, resentful way, believed that there was falsehood in the world. But how truth and falsehood were mingled—how the impulses of nature might have a little room to work even under the fictions of art or the falseness of society—was a knowledge unimagined by the simple woman. She began to think she had done Matty injustice when she saw her tears.

“Oh, Mrs. Campbell, I know how good he is! I—I never knew any one like him. How could I help——? But, indeed—indeed, I never meant any harm!” cried Matty, ingeniously taking advantage of the truth of her own feelings, so far as they went, to disarm her unconscious and singleminded judge. The Mistress looked at her with puzzled, but pitiful eyes.

“It would be poor comfort to him to say you never meant it,” she said; and in the pause that followed Matty had begun to recollect that it was a long time since the dressing-bell rang, though she still had her face hid on the table, and the tears were not dried from her cheeks. “And things may turn out more merciful than they look like,” said the Mistress, with a sigh and a wistful smile. Perhaps it occurred to her that the gratitude of the Franklands might go so far as to bestow upon Colin the woman he loved. “I’ll no keep you longer,” she continued, laying her tender hand for a moment on Matty’s head. “God{165} bless you for every kind thought you ever had to my Colin. He’s weel worthy of them all,” said the wistful mother.

Matty, who did not know what to say, and who, under this touch, felt her own artifice, and was for a moment disgusted with herself, sprang up in a little agony of shame and remorse, and kissed Mrs. Campbell as she went away. And Colin’s mother went back to her son’s room to find him asleep, and sat down by his side, to ponder in herself whether this and that might not still be possible. Love and happiness were physicians in whom the simple woman had a confidence unbounded. If they came smiling hand in hand to Colin’s pillow, who could tell what miracle of gladness might yet fall from the tender heavens?

But, though Mrs. Campbell’s heart relented towards Matty, and was filled with vague hopes which centred in her, it was very hard to find out what Colin’s thoughts were on the same subject. He scarcely spoke of the Franklands at all, and never named or referred to the ladies of the house. When his mother spoke, with natural female wiles to tempt him into confidence, of special inquiries made for him, Colin took no notice of the inference. She even went so far as to refer specially to Miss Matty with no greater effect. “There’s one in the house as anxious as me,” said the Mistress, with tender exaggeration, as she smoothed his pillow and made her morning inquiries; but her son only smiled faintly, and shook his head with an almost imperceptible movement of incredulity. He asked no questions, showed no pleasure at the thought, but lay most of the day in a silence which his mother could find no means of breaking.

The first horror, the first resistance, had gone out of Colin’s mind; but he lay asking himself inevitable questions, facing the great problem for which he could find no solution, which no man has been able to explain. Had the thoughts of his mind been put into words, the chances are that to most people who have never themselves come to such a trial Colin would have seemed a blasphemer or an infidel. But he was neither the one nor the other, and was indeed incapable by nature either of scepticism or of profanity. The youth had been born of a sternly-believing{166} race, which recognised in all God’s doings an eternal right, beyond justice and beyond reason, a right to deal with them and theirs as he might please; but Colin himself was of the present age, and was fully possessed by all those cravings after understanding and explanation which belong to the time. Without any doubt of God, he was arrested by the wonderful mystery of Providence, and stood questioning, in the face of the unanswering silence, “Why?” The good God, the God of the Gospels, the Father of our Lord, was the Divine Ruler whom Colin recognised in his heart; but the young man longed and struggled to find reasonableness, coherence, any recognisable, comprehensible cause, for the baffling arrangements and disarrangements, the mysterious inequalities and injustices of life. He wanted to trace the thread of reason which God kept in His own hand; he wanted to make out why the Father who loved all should dispense so unequally, so differently, His gifts to one and another. This awful question kept him silent for days and nights; he could not make anything of it. Social inequalities, which speculatists fret at, had not much disturbed Colin. It had not yet occurred to him that wealth or poverty made much difference; but why the life of one should be broken off incomplete and that of another go on—why the purposes of one should end in nothing, why his hopes should be crushed and his powers made useless, while another flourished and prospered, confounded him, in the inexperience of his youth. And neither heaven nor earth gave him any answer. The Bible itself seemed to append moral causes, which were wanting in his case, to the perennial inequalities of existence. It spoke of the wicked great in power, nourishing like the green bay-tree, and of the righteous oppressed and suffering for righteousness’ sake; which was, in its way, a comprehensible statement of the matter. But the facts did not agree in Colin’s case. Harry Frankland could not, by any exertion of dislike, be made to represent the wicked, nor was Colin, in his own thinking, better than his neighbour. They were two sons of one Father, to whom that Father was behaving with the most woeful, the most extraordinary partiality; and nothing in heaven or earth was of half so much importance as to prove the proceedings of the Father of all to be everlastingly just and of sublime reason. What did it mean? This was what Colin was discussing with himself as he lay on his bed. It was not wonderful that such thoughts should obliterate the image of Miss Matty. When she came into his mind at all, he looked back upon her with a pensive sweetness as on somebody he had{167} known a lifetime before. Sterner matters had now taken the place of the light love and hopes of bountiful and lavish youth. The hopes had grown few, and the abundance changed into poverty. If the author of the change had chosen to reveal the cause for it, the young soul thus stopped short in his way could have consented that all was well.

And then Lady Frankland came every day to pay him a visit of sympathy, and to express her gratitude. “It is such a comfort to see him looking so much better,” Lady Frankland said; “Harry would like so much to come and sit with you, dear Mr. Campbell. He could read to you, you know, when you feel tired; I am sure nothing he could do would be too much to show his sense of your regard——”

At which words Colin raised himself up.

“I should be much better pleased,” said Colin, “if you would not impute to me feelings which I don’t pretend to. It was no regard for Mr. Frankland that induced me——”

“Oh, indeed! I know how good you are,” said Harry’s mother, pressing his hand, “always so generous and disposed to make light of your own kindness; but we all know very well, and Harry knows, that there is many a brother who would not have done so much. I am sure I cannot express to you a tenth part of what I feel. Harry’s life is so precious,” said my Lady, with a natural human appreciation of her own concerns, and unconscious, unintentional indifference to those of others. “The eldest son; and Sir Thomas has quite commenced to rely upon him for many things—and I am sure I don’t know what I should do without Harry to refer to,” Lady Frankland continued, with a little smile of maternal pride and triumph. When she came to this point, it chanced to her to catch a side glimpse of Mrs. Campbell’s face. The Mistress sat by her son’s bedside, pale, with her lips set close, and her eyes fixed upon the hem of her apron, which she was folding and refolding in her hands. She did not say anything, nor give utterance in any way to the dumb remonstrance and reproach with which her heart was bursting; but there was something in her face which imposed silence upon the triumphant, prosperous woman beside her. Lady Frankland gave a little gasp of mingled fright and compunction. She did not know what to say to express her full sense of the service which Colin had done her; and there was nothing strange in her instinctive feeling, that she, a woman used to be petted and tended all her life, had a natural claim upon other people’s services. She was very sorry, of course,{168} about Mr. Campbell; if any exertion of hers could have cured him, he would have been well in half-an-hour. But, as it was, it appeared to her rather natural than otherwise that the tutor should suffer and that her own son should be saved.

“I felt always secure about Harry when you were with him,” she said, with an involuntary artifice. “He was so fond of you, Mr. Campbell—and I always felt that you knew how important his safety was, and how much depended—”

“Pardon me,” said Colin; he was angry in his weakness at her pertinacity. “I have no right to your gratitude. Your son and I have no love for each other, Lady Frankland. I picked him out of the canal, not because I thought of the importance of his life, but because I had seen him go down, and should have felt myself a kind of murderer had I not tried to save him. That is the whole. Why should I be supposed to have any special regard for him? Perhaps,” said Colin, whose words came slowly and whose voice was interrupted by his weakness—“I would have given my life with more comfort for any other man.”

“Oh Mr. Campbell! don’t be so angry and bitter. After all, it was not our fault,” said Lady Frankland, with a wondering offence and disappointment—and then she hurriedly changed her tone, and began to congratulate his mother on his improved looks. “I am so glad to see him looking so much better. There were some people coming here,” said my lady, faltering a little; “we would not have them come so long as he was so ill. Neither Harry nor any of us could have suffered it. We had sent to put them off; but, now that he is so much better—” said Lady Frankland, with a voice which was half complaint and half appeal. She thought it was rather ill-tempered of the mother and son to make so little response. “When I almost asked their permission!” she said, with a little indignation, when she had gone downstairs; “but they seem to think they should be quite masters, and look as black as if we had done them an injury. Send to everybody, and say it is to be on Wednesday, Matty; for Henry’s interests must not be neglected.” It was a ball, for which Lady Frankland had sent out her invitations some time before the accident; for Harry Frankland was to ask the suffrages of the electors of Earie at the approaching election. “I don’t mean to be ungrateful to Mr. Campbell,” said the Lady of Wodensbourne, smoothing her ruffled plumes. “I am sure nobody can say I have not been grateful; but, at the same time, I can’t be expected to sacrifice my own son.” Such were{169} the sentiments with which Lady Frankland came downstairs. As for the other mother, it would be hard to describe what was in her mind. In the bitterness of her heart she was angry with the God who had no pity upon her. If Harry Frankland’s life was precious, what was Colin’s? and the Mistress, in her anguish, made bitter comparisons, and cried out wildly with a woman’s passion. Downstairs, in the fine rooms which her simple imagination filled with splendour, they would dance and sing unconcerned, though her boy’s existence hung trembling in the balance: and was not Heaven itself indifferent, taking no notice? She was glad that twilight was coming on to conceal her face, and that Colin, who lay very silent, did not observe her. And so, while Lady Frankland, feeling repulsed and injured, managed to escape partially from the burden of an obligation which was too vast to be borne, and returned to the consideration of her ball, the two strangers kept silence in the twilight chamber, each dumbly contending with doubts that would not be overcome, and questions which could not be answered. What did God mean by permitting this wonderful, this incomprehensible difference between the two? But the great Father remained silent and made no reply. The days of revelation, of explanation were over. For one, joy and prosperity; for another, darkness and the shadow of death—plain facts not to be misconceived or contested—and in all the dumb heavens and silent observant earth no wisdom nor knowledge which could tell the reason why.

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