The Duchess of Rosemary Lane - B. L. Farjeon - ebook

As in a theatre, after the overture is played, the first thing shown to the audience is the scene in which the action of the drama commences, so let our first words be devoted to the locality in which the story opens.I doubt whether the pretty shrub from which Rosemary Lane derived its name was ever seen in the locality, or whether, being seen, it would have been recognised as a familiar sign. Rosemary has a peculiarly sweet odour; Rosemary Lane had not. In one sense there was fitness in the name; for as the flower of rosemary has frequently been used as an emblem of constancy and fidelity, so in Rosemary Lane, poor and humble as it was, might be found living proofs of the existence of those qualities.It was in this locality that our heroine was reared.Where she came from, whether she had a relative in the world, and what was her real name, were sealed mysteries to the inhabitants of Rosemary Lane.

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B. L. Farjeon

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Table of contents

The Prologue.

Part the First.THE CHILD.




















Part the Second. THE WOMAN.













The Prologue.

"We seeThe seasons alter: hoary-headed frostsFall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;And on old Hymen's chin and icy crownAn odorous chaplet of sweet summer budsIs, as in mockery, set."SPRING.It is a lovely morning in April. The last drops of a radiant shower have fallen, and Nature is smiling through her tears, as might a happy maiden in the sparkling face of her lover, who, suddenly and unexpectedly, has brought her joyful tidings. The titlark and the whitethroat, and other feathered visitors of spring, are flying hither and thither in glad delight, singing their blithest songs, and carrying rays of sunlight on their wings to illumine the summer nests which they are building. Joyously busy are these graceful citizens of the woods, and proud of their work; they chirp, and twitter, and exchange glad greetings, as they fly hither and thither, and when they rest from their labour of love on the sprays of the common beech, they seem to be sitting in bell-shaped thrones of emerald, while the dew upon the flowers of the silver birch glitters like drops of molten gold in the eye of the sun.Surrounded by these and myriad other evidences of spring, stands a fair and beautiful girl, herself in the spring of life. The name of the place is appropriate to her and to the season. Springfield is an enclosed park of forty acres, the beauties of which are jealously hidden from vulgar gaze. It is the most picturesque portion of an important estate, at present in the possession of Lady Josephine Temple, who lies sick in the quaint old house yonder, built in the Elizabethan style, the designs for which are said to have been prepared by John of Padua. But John of Padua and all the historical associations of the house are as dead letters to Lady Temple, who has sufficient food for contemplation in her own immediate affairs and condition. The blinds of the room in which she lies are drawn down for the express purpose of shutting out the day, in accordance with the ancient formula, which provided that the sick should be depressed and weakened by dim light and silence, instead of cheered and strengthened by sunlight and cheerfulness.To beautiful Nelly Marston, as she stands by the quaint old windows in the laughing sunlight, with diamond drops of rain glistening in her bonny brown hair, and on her lashes,--"The April in her eyes; it is love's spring,And these the showers to bring it on,"--to her comes, with a bashful air upon him, the son of the head gardener of Springfield, a young man of twenty-five or thereabouts, fairly handsome, fairly well-made, and, through the long services of his father, fairly well-to-do in the world. He has in his hand some loose flowers, and a small bouquet of lilies of the valley, arranged in good taste, and looking, with their white petals and their background of exquisitely green leaves, like turrets of ivory carved out one above another, built up on emerald mountains. The young man, with a world of admiration expressed in his manner, holds out the lilies to Miss Nelly Marston, with a shyness that would have been comical in one so strong had his earnestness allowed scope for any quality less strong than itself."May I offer you these, miss?"As though he were offering her his heart, which, indeed, he was ready and eager to do, but lacked the courage."Thank you, John," she says, turning the flowers this way and that, with as dainty a coquetting with man and flower--though she does not look at him--as well could be. Then she selects two or three of the lilies, and places them in her brown hair, where they rest like white doves in an autumn forest. John's heart is full as he sees his flowers thus disposed. Nelly, then, inhales the fresh air, demonstratively, as though it were nectar. "What a lovely morning! And yet it was blowing last night, almost like winter.""Ah, you heard the wind, miss," responds the young gardener, delighted at the opportunity of exchanging a few words with the girl who had but lately come to Springfield, and who had taken his heart captive the moment his eyes rested on her fair face. A thrill actually runs through his foolish heart at the thought that he and she were awake at the same moment listening to the wind. "It is a good sign, miss, for harvest.""I have heard you are weather-wise, John," says Nelly Marston, with a little laugh sweeter to the young fellow than the sweetest chime of bells, or the sweetest music of birds. "Harvest-time is far off. In what way is it a good sign?""When April blows his horn, it's good for hay and corn. An old saying, miss.""As old, I dare say, as that April showers make May flowers." (Nelly Marston is almost as pleased as the young gardener himself at the opportunity for conversation. She finds Springfield very dull. Every soul in it, with the exception of the mistress, is a servant, and Lady Temple, a childless widow, is not remarkable for cheerfulness or lively manners. There is no one at Springfield with whom the girl can associate.) "These lilies are very, very pretty, John! What is that flower you have in your hand, that one with the spotted leaves?""This, miss? It isn't very handsome, but I can't resist picking a bit when I first catch sight of it in the spring hedges, because it reminds me of the time when I was a little un, and when me and the others used to play at lords-and-ladies with it. It's almost a medicine flower, too, miss, the cuckoo-pint.""The cuckoo-pint! Is lords-and-ladies another name for it?""Not a proper name, miss, but that's what we used to call it. It's come down to us in that way.""And the cuckoo flower, too! I have heard of the cuckoo flower, of course, but never of the cuckoo-pint. Lords-and-ladies! Give it to me, John, will you?""With pleasure, miss," answers the delighted and palpitating John. "I'll pick you a bunch of them, if you like, miss.""Yes, do! But--I am a very curious person, John, always wanting to know things--why is it called lords-and-ladies?""I don't exactly know, miss, except, perhaps, that it changes more than any other flower.""And lords-and-ladies do that?""It isn't for me to say, miss. I only repeat what I have heard. There's other names for it. If you'll allow me, miss." John's nerves tingle as he takes the flower from the girl's hand, and in doing so, touches her fingers. The contact of her soft flesh with his is a concentrated bliss to him, and sets his sensitive soul on fire. "You see, I pull down this hood"--(he suits the action to the word, and turns down the outer leaf)--"and here's the Parson in his Pulpit. You might fancy 'twas something like it, miss.""You must not make fun of parsons, John. My father was one."John, who is a staunch church-goer, and by no means irreverently inclined, is instantly imbued with a deeper reverence than ever for parsons, and says apologetically,"Tis not making fun of them, miss, to liken them to flowers. If I was to liken them to medicine bottles, now, with the white labels tied round their necks, 'twould be different; but I wouldn't go so far as that."Nelly Marston laughs, the likeness of medicine bottles to the clergy is so clearly apparent."It is a long stretch either way, John. I must go in now. Don't forget to pick me a bunch of lords-and-ladies!""I'll not forget, miss."The happy young gardener touches his cap, and walks away with a blithe heart, to search at once among the hedges for this particular species of the arum. Be sure that none but the very finest specimens will meet with his approval. From this day forth the cuckoo-pint holds a curiously-tender place in his memory, and the season"When daisies pied, and violets blue,And lady-smocks, all silver-white,And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue,Do paint the meadows with delight,"never comes round without bringing with it a vision of himself and a fair and beautiful girl by the old house at Springfield, she with white lilies and cuckoo flowers in her hands, and he standing before her, with a heart pulsing with love and adoration.Nelly Marston would have stopped a longer time conversing with him, had she not seen a maid approaching her from the house to summon her to Lady Temple's room."I have been waiting for you, Miss Marston," says the sick lady, in a peevish tone, as the girl enters, "and wondering where you were. What have you in your hand? Flowers! Send them away. You know I am expressly forbidden to have flowers about me. Stay. What are they? Don't bring them too close.""Only a few lilies of the valley, Lady Temple, that the gardener's son gave me.""And you have some in your hair, too--that the gardener's son gave you! And those other flowers, the yellow ones?""This is the cuckoo flower--the cuckoo pint, rather. Lords-and-ladies, he called it.""And that's why you choose it, I suppose. So you have been gossiping with the gardener's son! You are like your mother, I am afraid.""My mother, Lady Temple," says the girl proudly, straightening her slight figure, "during her lifetime, always spoke of you with respect and affection. I shall be glad if you will explain the meaning of your words--if they have a meaning.""There, there, don't worry me, Miss Marston. I am not strong enough for scenes. It seems to be a bright morning.""It is very fresh and lovely out of doors. Spring is come in real earnest. The apple-blossoms look beautiful----""And I lie here," interrupts Lady Temple querulously, "shut out from it all, shut out from it all! I have never had any happiness in my life, never! Shall I never rise from this horrible bed?" She gazes at Nelly Marston, envious of the girl's youth and brightness. "I suppose, Miss Marston, if you were mistress of this house and grounds, you think you could be very happy?""I think so, Lady Temple. I should not require much else.""You would!" cried Lady Temple, fiercely. "One thing. Love! That is what your mother sacrificed herself for, the fool!""Why speak of her in that way," asks the girl, in a quiet tone, but with a bright colour in her face which shows how deeply she resents the words of her mistress, "before her daughter? She was your friend, remember. You say you have never had happiness in your life. I am sorry for you, and I am glad to think that my mother had much.""There, there! Be still. Your mother was a good creature, and no one's enemy but her own. What are those shadows on the blind?""Swallows, Lady Temple. I lay awake for a long time this morning, watching them. They are building nests just outside my window.""Never mind them," says Lady Temple, fretfully. "Listen to me, Miss Marston. I am not quite alone in the world. I have relatives who love me very much just now--oh, yes, very much just now, when they think I have not long to live! But only one shall darken my doors. My nephew, Mr. Temple, will be here in a few days; you must see that his rooms are ready for him when he arrives. Give me his letter. There it is, on my dressing-table. What have you dropped? What are you looking at?""A portrait, Lady Temple. It slipped from the envelope. Is it Mr. Temple's picture?""Yes, yes; give it to me. It is a handsome face, is it not, Miss Marston? Now sit down, and do not annoy me any longer. When I am asleep, go softly, and see to Mr. Temple's rooms. He will have this house when I am gone, if he does not thwart me. But I will take care--I will take care----"The sentence is not finished, and there is silence in the sick room. Lady Temple dozes, and Nelly Marston sits quietly by the window, stealthily raising a corner of the blind now and then, to catch a glimpse of the sun and the beautiful grounds upon which it shines.SUMMER.The moon shines on a rippling brook in Springfield, and the summer flowers are sleeping. But even in sleep the foxglove lights up the underwood, and the clover retains the sunset's crimson fire. It is a beautiful and peaceful night; an odorous stillness is in the air, and"the floor of heavenIs thick inlaid with patines of bright gold."The shadows of gently-undulating branches and the delicate traceries of the feather-grass--so subtly sensitive that in the stillest night its bells are tremulous; mayhap in response to fairy whisperings--are reflected in the stream which reflects also the shadow of Nelly Marston, who is bending low to look at her fair face in the depths made luminous by stars. As with sparkling eyes she stoops lower and lower in half-sportive, half-earnest admiration of herself, her face rises in the water to greet her, until the smiling lips of flesh almost kiss their shadow.As she gazes, another shadow bends over hers, blotting the fairer vision, and a strong arm is thrown around her waist."Why, Nelly--Miss Marston! Are you about to play Ophelia in my aunt's pretty brook?"The girl starts to her feet, and swiftly releases herself from his embrace. Not far from them, but unseen by either, stands the gardener's son, watching them. Their breasts are stirred by emotions which bring an agitated pleasure to them; his is stirred by darker passions."I was simply," replies Nelly, with burning blushes in her face, "bending over the water to--to----"And pauses for lack of words.Mr. Temple assists her."To look at your pretty face, or perhaps to kiss yourself, as a spirit might. Labour thrown away, Miss Marston, and most certainly unprofitable, if what the poet says is true:"Some there be that shadows kiss;Such have but a shadow's bliss."Nelly Marston regains her composure."We did not expect you to-night, Mr. Temple.""Then I should be all the more welcome," he answers gaily. "I am starving, Nelly----"She checks him by a look."I beg your pardon. Miss Nelly Marston, I am starving with hunger. I have not had a morsel of food in my mouth since the morning.""There will be no difficulty in reviving your fainting soul, Mr. Temple," she says, with a desperate attempt to imitate his light manner; "but Lady Temple must not know you are here. 'Miss Marston,' she said to me this afternoon, my nephew will be absent for some time. He will write to me regularly. Directly his letters arrive, let me have them. If I am asleep place them at once by my side.'"Mr. Temple, a handsome, graceful man, not less than thirty-five years of age, interposes with a merry laugh."I posted one to her ladyship three hours ago, twenty miles from this spot.""All the more reason," says Nelly Marston seriously, "why she should not know you are in Springfield."He tries to stop her remonstrance by, "Now, my dear Mother Hubbard!" but she will not listen to him."Lady Temple unfortunately magnifies the smallest trifles into serious vexations. She is very, very fretful"--this with a little weary sigh--"and the doctor says it is most important she should not be annoyed in any way. Mr. Temple, if she suspects you are in the house to-night, she will never forgive you.""And houses, lands, and money," he rejoins, with a careless shrug of his shoulders, "would melt away into such airy distances that, though my limbs were quickened with mercury, I should never be able to overtake them. But what are all these when weighed against love----"Flushed and palpitating, Nelly finds strength to interrupt him."Mr. Temple, I must not listen to you. I am not ignorant of the reason why your aunt sent you away--for you were sent, you know!" she adds, somewhat saucily."Oh, yes, I know I was sent away. I am sure I did not want to go.""Twice to-day Lady Temple has spoken seriously to me--I leave you to guess upon what subject. Mr. Temple, you know what my position is. I am a dependent, without parents, without friends, without money. Sometimes when I look into the future, and think of what would become of me if I were thrown upon the world, I tremble with fear.""And yet you have a strong will of your own," he mutters, not in the most amiable tone; but in another instant he relapses into his lighter mood.There is a moment's hesitation on her part, as though her strong will were about to desert her; but she, also, succeeds in controlling herself."No, I am weak, very, very weak; but for my own sake I must strive to be strong. And now I will leave you, please. No; do not walk with me to the house. We shall be seen, and the servants will talk.""Let them talk!" he cries impetuously.She looks him steadily in the face."If they do, Mr. Temple, who will suffer--you or I?""You don't understand me, Nelly--nay, I will call you Nelly when no one is by to hear!--I will answer for their discretion; but indeed and indeed, we shall not be seen!"While he speaks, she is walking towards the house, and he is by her side. After them, through the path where the shadows lie, steals the gardener's son, quivering with excitement. If he could but hear what these two were saying to each other! He loves Nelly Marston with all the strength of his nature. He not only loves her; he respects her. The very ground she walks upon is sacred in his eyes. Until lately he had fed hopefully upon small crumbs of comfort which the girl, wittingly or unwittingly, had given him. Nelly had spoken pleasantly to him; Nelly had smiled upon him as she tripped past him; Nelly wore a flower he gave her. But he had never found the courage to open his heart to her, she being in his estimation so far above him, and now he fears that a rival has stepped in, and that what he yearns for with all his soul is slipping from him."Mr. Temple," says Nelly, when they are near the house, "you said just now that you were starving of hunger. You had best bribe one of the servants, and get something to eat. Then I should advise you to quit Springfield, and not return till you are sent for.""Should you!" he replies, defiantly and yet beseechingly. "Advice is a cheap gift. You would not send for me, I warrant.""By what right should I?""Hungry for food I am," he says, "but I have another kind of hunger upon me which makes me regardless of that.""Indeed!" she exclaims, with a pretty gesture of surprise."Nelly, you are merciless. You see that I am starving of love for you, and you systematically----"She stays to hear no more, and gliding from him, passes into the house. But he, stung by her avoidance of him, steps swiftly after her, and before she is aware of his presence, stands with her in the sick chamber, where Lady Temple lies sleeping.Within this man is working the instinct of our common nature. The more difficult to win becomes the prize--without question of its worth: the measure of difficulty gauges that--the more ardent is he in its pursuit, and the greater value it assumes. And being piqued in this instance, all the forces of his intellect come to his aid.And Nelly? Well, loving him already, she loves him the more because of his persistence, and because of the value he by his recklessness appears to place upon her."O Mr. Temple," she whispers, deeply agitated, "how can you so compromise me? Go, for Heaven's sake, before she wakes!'"On one condition," he answers, lowering his voice to the pitch of hers; "that you meet me by the brook in an hour from this.""Anything--anything!--but go!""You promise, then?""Yes, yes--I promise."He is about to seal the promise, she being at his mercy, when Lady Temple moves restlessly, and opens her eyes. He has barely time to slip behind the curtains at the head of the bed before the sick lady speaks."Is that you, Miss Marston?""Yes, Lady Temple.""I thought I heard voices!""I have this moment come in.""I went to sleep without taking my medicine, Miss Marston. Why did you let me go to sleep without it?""You fell asleep suddenly, Lady Temple, and I thought it best not to wake you.""Give it to me now."Nelly takes a bottle from a table at the head of the bed, pours out the medicine, and gives it to the sick lady. As she replaces the bottle, Mr. Temple, with unthinking and cruel audacity, seizes her hand, and kisses it. Lady Temple, with the medicine at her lips does not drink, but gazes suspiciously at Nelly, who cannot keep the colour from her cheeks."What sound is that?" asks Lady Temple. "What makes your face so red, Miss Marston?"Nelly busies herself--her hand being released--about the pillows, and replies:"You should not gaze at me so strangely. You are full of fancies to-night, Lady Temple.""Maybe, maybe. Hold up the candle, so that I may see the room--higher, higher!"Her inquisitive eyes peer before her, but she sees nothing to verify her suspicions, Mr. Temple being safely concealed behind the curtains."That will do, Miss Marston. Put down the candle--the glare hurts my eyes. Full of fancies!" she murmurs. "It is true I see shadows; I hear voices: I am not certain at times whether I am awake or asleep. But what I said to you to-day," she exclaims in a louder tone, "is no fancy, Miss Marston.""There is no occasion for you to repeat it, Lady Temple.""I am the best judge of that, Miss Marston, and I do not intend to be misunderstood. I tell you now, plainly, that I sent my nephew away because I saw what was going on between you.""Lady Temple!" cries Nelly indignantly."You must not agitate me, Miss Marston. Oblige me by holding this glass while I speak. If you wish to leave the house, you may do so.""It is so generous and good of you to threaten me!" says the girl scornfully; "knowing my position. If I had any shelter but this, I would not stop with you another day.""You are only showing your ingratitude, Miss Marston, I do not threaten you, and I will not be contradicted. I promised your mother before she died that you should have a home here while I live, and I will not turn you away. If you go, you go of your own accord. I tell you again I know perfectly well what is stirring within that busy head of yours. You are like your mother, no better, and no worse, and I knew her well enough; never content, never content unless every man she saw was at her feet.""And yet," says Nelly more quietly, "you have spoken slightingly of her more than once because she sacrificed herself, as you term it, for love.""Yes, she was caught at last, and was punished.""It was a happy punishment, then. She would not have changed her lot with yours, Lady Temple.""She was punished, I tell you. As you will be, if you do not take care. You will live to prove it, if you are not mindful of yourself. You have a pretty face--psha! we are women and no one but ourselves hears what I say. I had a pretty face once, and I knew its power, and used it as you wish to do. But not with my nephew, Miss Marston, mark that! You have all the world to choose from, with the exception of my nephew. And you fancy you know him, I have no doubt--simpleton! You know as much as a baby of the world and of men of the world. Take an old woman's counsel--marry in your own station----""My mother was a lady," interrupts Nelly, with a curl of her lip, "and I am one.""Pooh! Nonsense! You have no money. You are a poor girl, and no lady--as ladies go," she adds unconsciously uttering a truism in her attempt to soften the effect of her words. "There's the gardener's son. You can't do better than marry him. His father has been all his life at Springfield, and has saved money I hear. He is continually making you presents of flowers, and the housekeeper tells me----"With a burning consciousness that these words are reaching other ears than her own, Nelly again interrupts her mistress:"When you have finished insulting me, Lady Temple, I shall be glad to leave the room.""You shall not leave the room till I am asleep. Marry whom you like except my nephew. If he marries you he is a beggar by it. I am tired of talking. I will take my medicine."She empties the glass, and sinks back on her pillow. The medicine is an opiate, but even while she yields to its influence, she continues to murmur, in a tone so low that only Nelly now can hear her."Marriage, indeed! As if he means it, and as if, meaning it even, he dared to thwart me! A pair of fools! They will rue the day!"Thus she mutters until sleep overpowers her, and she takes her theme with her into the land of dreams.Mr. Temple steals from his hiding-place."She is in a sweet temper," he says in a whisper, placing his hands on Nelly's shoulders, and drawing her to him. "I was very nearly coming forward and spoiling everything; but I couldn't afford to do it. Nelly, I want to know about that gardener's son."She yields to his embrace for a moment, then draws away."I can tell you nothing now. Go, for my sake, lest she should awake.""For your sake, then. Do not forget. In an hour, by the brook.""I ought not to come.""You have promised," he says, in a louder tone."Hush--hush!" she entreats. "Yes, I will come."Before the hour has passed, he has appeased his hunger, and is standing by the brook, waiting for Nelly. The night is most peaceful and lovely, and Mr. Temple, as he smokes his cigar, pays homage to it in an idle way, and derives a patronising pleasure from the shadows in the starlit waters. His thoughts are not upon the graceful shapes, although his eyes behold them. What, then, does he see in their place? Do the floating reflections bear a deeper meaning to his senses than they would convey under ordinary conditions? Does he see any foreshadowing of the future there? No. His thoughts are all upon the present, and what he beholds is merely tinged with such poetry as springs from animal sentiment. He may trick himself into a finer belief, but he cannot alter its complexion. He is in an ineffably pleasant mood, and his pulses are stirred by just that feeling of pleasurable excitement which sheds a brighter gloss on all surrounding things. At the sound of a step behind him he smiles and his heart beats faster. "It is Nelly," he whispers. But when he turns, and confronts the gardener's son, the smile leaves his face."I ask your pardon, sir," says the young man, "can I have a word with you?""Ah!" says Mr. Temple, with a look of curiosity at the young fellow, "you are the gardener's son.""Yes, sir."Mr. Temple regards the intruder attentively, and says, rather haughtily:"You have selected a singular time for a conference.""I must speak to you now, sir.""Must?""If you please, sir.""By-and-by will not do?""By-and-by may be too late, sir."Mr. Temple looks at the gardener's son still more earnestly."Attend to what I am about to say, young man. You have lived all your life at Springfield, I believe?""I was born here, sir.""Have you an idea as to who will be the next master of this estate?""Yes, sir.""Do you wish to continue on it?""That's as it may be, sir."These questions have been asked with a perfect consciousness of the subject which the gardener's son wishes to approach, and have been so worded as to have an indirect bearing upon it. The answer to the last, spoken with manly independence, conveys to Mr. Temple the knowledge that the gardener's son is not ignorant of their bearing, and the tone in which it is given, although perfectly respectful, does not please him."I must request you," he says, with a masterful wave of his hand, "to choose some other time for your confidence.""You expect some one, perhaps, sir."Mr. Temple smiles complacently. In the few words that have passed, the battle has been fairly opened. He determines that it shall be short."As you seem resolved," he says, taking out his watch and consulting it, "to force yourself upon me, I will give you just five minutes. Now, what have you to say?"He is aware that he is taking the young fellow at a disadvantage by his abrupt method; but, being a lawyer, he is not nice as to the means of gaining an advantage."It is about Miss Marston," says the gardener's son, after a slight pause."What of that young lady?""I don't know whether I have a right to speak----""That is candid of you."The arrow misses its mark."But it may be," proceeds the young fellow, "that I have, for the reason that I love her."His voice trembles, but his earnestness imparts power to it."I am obliged to you for your confidence," observes Mr. Temple, watching for Nelly Marston as he speaks, "unsolicited as it is. A pretty young lady generally inspires that passion in many breasts.""But not in all alike," quickly retorts the gardener's son."That is fair philosophy. Proceed.""You speak lightly, sir, while I am serous. It stands in this way, sir. People are beginning to talk----""People will talk," interrupts Mr. Temple, with malicious relish; "as in the present instance.""And Miss Marston's name and yours have got mixed up together in a manner it would grieve her to know.""You forget, in the first place," says Mr. Temple haughtily, with an ominous frown on his face, "that Miss Marston is a lady; and in the second, you forget to whom you are speaking.""Truly I am not thinking of you, sir," replies the gardener's son quietly and simply, "I am thinking of her. A young lady's good name is not a thing to be lightly played with.""Therefore," says Mr. Temple impatiently, "I would advise you to take that very lesson to heart, and to tell those persons who are, as you say, making light of her good name--you are evidently acquainted with them--that it will be wise for them to choose other topics of gossip. I cannot acknowledge your right to address me on this matter, and this conversation must come to an end. Young ladies nowadays are perfectly well able to take care of themselves, and as a rule choose for themselves. We rougher creatures are often more sensitive than they, and more particular on certain points. And now let me tell you, my man, it is a dangerous thing for you to seek me out at night and address me on such a subject in the tone and manner you have assumed. You are speaking to a gentleman, remember. You----""Are not one," interposes the gardener's son, with sad significance; "I know it, sir.""I will waive that, however, and say this much to you. If Miss Marston had constituted you her champion and had authorised you to speak, I should be willing to listen to you. But that is not the case, I presume, and I wish you goodnight."The gardener's son twines his fingers convulsively. Were Mr. Temple his equal in station, it would have fared ill with him, smarting as the man is with passionate jealousy and the sting of unrequited love. He controls himself sufficiently to say,"I must ask you one question, sir. Do you remain at Springfield?""No; I leave to-night, and I shall probably be absent for weeks. Ah, I perceive that answer is satisfactory to you. I see a lady approaching. Shall you or I retire?"The gardener's son, casting one glance at the advancing form, walks slowly away, and his shadow is soon swallowed up by other shadows, among which he walks in pain and grief.Nelly Marston is in no holiday humour; she is trembling with shame at the thought of what passed in the sick-chamber of her peevish mistress, and she approaches Mr. Temple with downcast head. Love and humiliation are fighting a desperate battle within her breast, and she does not respond sympathetically to her lover's glad greeting. He uses his best arts to soothe and comfort her; he addresses her by every endearing title, saying she is dearer to him than all the world, and beseeching her to throw all the rest aside. She listens in silence at the first, as he pours this sweet balm of Gilead upon her troubled soul. He is in his brightest mood, and his speech which tells the oft-told tale flows sweetly and tenderly. They stand beneath the stars, and he calls upon them to witness his love, his truth, his honour. Every word that falls from his lips sinks into her soul, and her heart is like a garden filled with unfading flowers. Humiliation and unrest melt into oblivion, never more to rise and agonise her. He loves her; he tells her so a hundred times and in a hundred ways. He will be true to her; he swears it by all the beautiful signs around them. Fairer and more lovely grows the night as he kisses away her tears. The moon rises higher in the heavens and bathes them in light. Softly, more tenderly he speaks, and she, like a child listens, listens--listens and believes, and hides her blushing face from him. Ah, if truth lives, it lives in him--in him, the symbol of all that is good and manly, and noble! She is so weak, he so strong! She knows so little, he so much! The sweet and enthralling words he whispers into her ears as her head lies upon his breast, form the first page of the brightest book that life can open to her; and the sighing of the breeze, the sleeping flowers, the hushed melody of the waving grass, the laughing, flashing lights of heaven playing about the dreamy shadows in the waters of the brook, are one and all delicious evidences of his truth, his honour, and his love."I love you--I love you--I love you!" he vows and vows again. "Put your arms about my neck--so! and whispers to me what I am dying to hear.""You are my life!" she sighs, and their lips meet; and then they sit and talk, and, as she gazes into the immeasurable distances of the stars, she sees, with the eyes of her soul, a happy future, filled with fond and sweet imaginings,AUTUMN.The season of England's loveliest sunsets is here. The golden corn, ripe and ready for the sickle, bows gracefully beneath the lavender-perfumed breeze, and whispers to bountiful earth, "My time has come. Farewell!"In a garden attached to a cottage situated twenty miles from Springfield stands Nelly Marston, by the side of an old apple-tree loaded with fair fruit, and looking, with the white moss gathered about its limbs, like an ancient knight clothed in silver armour. The cottage has many rooms of delightfully odd shapes, is tastefully furnished, and is built in the centre of an acre of land so prettily laid out and so bright with colour that few strangers see it without pausing a while to admire.Nelly Marston is more beautiful than when we saw her last at Springfield, and to the poetical mind presents a fine contrast to the gnarled and ancient tree, which, could it speak, might honestly say, "Old I am, but am yet fair to the eye and can produce good things. Come, my girl, gather sweetness from me, and wisdom too, if you need it."She gathers sweetness and that is enough for her. From where she stands, she has a broken view of the winding lane which, from distant wider spaces, leads to the front of the cottage. Often and again her eyes are directed towards this lane, with a look which denotes that her heart is in them. She is like fair Rosamond waiting for her prince. He comes! A horseman turns into the winding path and waves his hand to her. She replies with the gladdest of smiles and with a waving of her own pretty hand, and her heart beats joyfully to the music of the horse's hoof. Her prince draws rein at the cottage-door, and she is there to meet him. A lad with face deeply pock-marked takes the horse to the stable, casting as many admiring glances towards Nelly as time will permit of."Now, Nelly," says the prince gaily, as he throws his arms about her and kisses her again and again, "was ever lover more punctual than I?""How can I tell?" she answers, "I never had but one.""Ah, Nelly, Nelly!" he exclaims, with uplifted finger and an arch smile; "do you forget the gardener's son?""No, I do not forget him; he was very good to me. But I do not mean in that way.""In what way, then, puss?""You'll tease me till I tell you. I don't know how to say it.""Say it you must, though, my queen.""Of course I must. You have got what you call a strong will. Isn't that it?""That is it," he assents, with a nod which is both careless and determined."And are never to be turned from your purpose?""Never. That is the only way to get on in life, and I mean to get on.""Nothing can prevent that. You are so clever that I am half inclined to be frightened of you. And I should be, if I were not sure you loved me."He kisses her as he observes, "Put the strongest will into the crucible of love, and it melts like lead in a furnace. In such a test steel would become as pliant as running water. Love is the most intoxicating poison, my darling.""I don't like the word," she says."The word 'darling'?" he inquires."No, the word 'poison.' Love is not a poison; it is an elixir." She winds her arms round his neck, and murmurs, "It has given me a new life. The world is more beautiful than it used to be I am sure."He smiles at her sentiment. "I remember telling you once that you had a strong will of your own, Nelly.""I haven't that much," she says, placing the nail of her thumb to the tip of her little finger. "Not that much!""But you are a cunning puss, for all that," he says, as he draws her face to his. They are in the cottage now, and she is sitting on his knee. "You want to fly away from the subject we were speaking of, so my strong will must bring you back to it. Well, I'll be content with a compromise. Who is this lover that so limits your knowledge?""I shall not tell you that, sir. You must guess it--if you can! As if you could! No, I'll not say! I can keep a secret. Oh, you may laugh, but I can!""Well, then, where is he?""Where? Why, thousands of miles away of course!""Let me not catch him!" he cries gaily. "Well, now, pet, to spite that person, who I hope will not suffer very much in consequence, I intend to stop with you a whole fortnight."Her face lights up with joy."I have important business in London," he continues, with a sly laugh; "oh, most important! My presence is imperatively required in the great city. The interests of an influential client depend personally upon me, so Lady Temple has given me leave of absence. Confiding old soul!""Lady Temple is the same as ever?""The same as ever. No change. Fretful and peevish, throwing out all sorts of dark innuendoes one minute, and smiling upon me the next. Now a lamb, now a tigress. I have the temper of an angel, Nell, or I could never stand it. But I humour her--for your sake, pet, as well as my own. Our future depends upon her."Does she speak of me?""She mentioned your name once last week, and not amiably. But enough of her. Goodbye, my worthy aunt, for a happy fortnight. If she guessed how matters stood, Nell, between me and you, I should be----well, best not think of that. The prospect is not a pleasant one. Now tell me how you have passed the time, how many new laid-eggs you get a day, and how the chickens are, whether the new little pig has any idea of its ultimate fate, how the fruit is getting on, and how you like the new boy I sent to look after the stable. You did not want him you wrote to me; but thereby hangs a tale, which you shall hear presently. Upon my word, Nell, I suspect he is in love with you, like everybody else who sees you. I have a kind of belief that you are a love-witch. He never took his eyes off you, all the time he was waiting for my nag. Now for the reason of his being here. Nelly, to-morrow morning, before you are up, there will arrive at this little cottage the prettiest basket-carriage and the prettiest pair of ponies in England. A present for you, pet, from your lover thousands of miles away. Ah, you kiss me for that, do you! Then I take it, you are pleased with this mysterious lover of yours!""I believe no woman in the world was ever half so happy as I. When you are with me, there is not a cloud on my life.""That's a good hearing," he says, heartily. "Why, Nelly, you are a living wonder! A satisfied woman! I shall scarcely be surprised to hear you say you have not a wish ungratified.""Not quite that. I have one wish.""To wit," he prompts.She whispers it to him."That the next fortnight would last for ever, so that you would never have to leave me!""A woman's wish all over," he says. "But the old man with the scythe will not be denied, my pet. While lovers dream, time flies the faster, I can't imagine you with white hair, Nell; yet you would look lovely anyway."" Your hair will be white, too, remember," she says, in a tone of tender jesting. "It will be strange to look back so many years, and think and talk of the past. But we shall be to each other then what we are now. Say that we shall.""Say it! I swear it, my pet! Let Time do his worst, then. You shall not pluck another white hair out of my head. Nelly, I love you more and more every day of my life.""And nothing shall ever part us!""Nothing, my darling!"She is, indeed, supremely happy. The springtime of youth and love is hers, and no deeper heresy could have been whispered to her than the warning such a springtime resembles"The uncertain glory of an April day,Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,And by-and-by a cloud takes all away."The minutes fly all too quickly, and Love, with magic brush, paints the present and the time to come.WINTER.Fifteen months have passed. It is winter, and the snow is falling; weather-wise men say that it will continue to fall for days. Peaceful and solemn are the fields, with Nature's carpet of virgin snow covering and protecting the seedlings in the soil beneath. White and graceful devices beautify the woods, the traceries of which are so wonderfully delicate and exquisite that none but spirit fingers could have shaped them, and every little branch stands out bright and clear in the life-giving air.The scene is the same as the last, but the pretty cottage shows signs of neglect. Our Nelly is there, and there is also a change in her. She is no longer the bright and winsome girl we looked upon a short time since. Her face is thin and haggard, and the expression on her features is one of despair and agony. In the clear light of the healthy winter's day she walks up and down, and round and round the little room where love once dwelt, and where she called up fair visions. Her fingers are tightly interlaced, her lips are white and trembling, her eyes dilate with fear and helpless bewilderment. She does not speak, and for an hour at least she walks about the room with tumultuous agony at her breast.Watching her from without, with sympathising eyes, and with an air which denotes that he bears magnetically a share in her pain, is the stable-lad who was hired to look after the prettiest pair of ponies in the world, a present to her from her lover, who vowed that nothing should ever part them--from her lover, who had stolen "her soul with many vows of love, and ne'er a true one." And ne'er a true one! Ah, kind Heaven, can it be possible? Can such treachery exist in a world where goodness is? No, she will not believe it. She strives to shake the doubt from her, feebly she wrestles with it, but it clings to her with the tenacity of truth, and inflicts unspeakable torture upon her."If she'd only set down!" muttered the stable-boy. "If she'd only be still a bit! If she'd only drop off asleep!"But her whole soul is quivering; as her flesh might under the influence of a keen, palpable torture. Pale as she is, a fire is burning within her which almost maddens her, and a thousand feverish pulses in her being are beating in cruel sympathy. Is love left in the world? Is faithfulness? Is manliness? No. The world is filled with shame, and dishonour, and treachery, and she stands there, their living, suffering symbol.Why the stable-lad is near her no one but himself could explain, and he perhaps would have been puzzled to do so. He was dismissed from his service months ago, when the ponies and basket-carriage were sold; but he refused to leave. He lingers about the house, picks up his food anyhow, sleeps anywhere, and during the daylight hours is always ready to Nelly's call. She has sometimes, from the despair born of loneliness, made a companion of him. She has no other now.He experiences a feeling of relief when, after more than an hour has passed, he observes a change in her movements. She throws on her hat hurriedly, and passes out of the house. The lad follows her at a distance. She does not know that she has forgotten her cloak, and she heeds not the snow. The fire burning within her warms her with a terrible, dangerous warmth. To all external impressions she seems to be absolutely dead. She walks for a mile into the village, and enters a stationer's shop, where the post-office is kept."Have you any letters for me?" she asks.She is evidently known to the woman behind the counter, who replies with small courtesy, "There is nothing for you."Nelly holds out her hand with eager imploring. She has not heard the answer."I told you there are no letters," says the woman."I beg your pardon," sighs Nelly, humbly; and looking round the shop, as though to find some other excuse for having entered, picks up a paper, pays for it, and retraces her steps home. Home! Alas!The stable-lad follows her and is presently aware that somebody is following him. It is a man, and the lad turns and confronts him. The stranger takes no notice of the lad, and strives to pass."Where are you pushing to?" cries the lad, being himself the obstructive party."Out of my way, my lad," says the man, adding under his breath, "I must not lose her now.""What are you following that lady for?" demands the lad.The question is answered by another."You have something to do with her, then?""I should think I have.""I want to know where she lives. I am a friend of hers.""She wants 'em, I should say--badly."This remark is made after a keen observance of the stranger's face. It is a well-looking, honest, ruddy face, and the examination appears to satisfy the lad."Wants what?" asks the stranger."Friends.""I thought she had--rich ones.""If she had," answers the lad, "and mind, I don't say she hadn't--if she had, she hasn't got 'em now.""Ah," says the stranger, drawing a deep breath, "he has left her, then. Poor Nelly!"The last two words, uttered with feeling, and in a low tone not intended to be heard, reach the lad's sharp ears, and dispose him still more favourably towards the stranger."Look here," he blurts out, "are you a gentleman?""Does that mean, am I rich?"The lad looks dubious, not being quite sure."Am I a gentleman?" continues the stranger. "That's as it may be. Every true man is a gentleman; every gentleman is not a true man." The lad grins. Some understanding of the aphorism penetrates his uneducated mind. "Best ask me if I'm a true man, my lad.""Well, then, are you?""I think so. So far as regards that lady, I am sure so.""A true man, and a friend," says the lad. "That's just what she wants. No more gentlemen; she's had enough of them, I should say. I ain't a bit of use to her--was turned off when the ponies was sold, but couldn't go. Thought she might make use of me in some way, you see. She never give me a hard word--never. Not like him; he was as hard as nails--not to her; oh, no; he was always soft to her with his tongue, as far as I could see, and I kept my eyes open, and my ears too!"By this time they have reached the cottage, and Nelly enters, without turning her head."There," says the lad, "that's where she lives, and if she ain't caught her death of cold, coming out without her shawl, I'll stand on my head for a week. But I can't do anything for her. She wants a man to stand by her, not a poor beggar like me."The stranger looks kindly at the lad."My boy," he says, "if you have sisters, look sharp after them, and never let them play the game of lords and ladies. Now come with me, and tell me what I want to know."It is a few hours later, and the snow is still falling. A candle is alight in the little room in which Nelly restlessly sits or walks. The paper she bought at the post-office lies unfolded on the table. Suddenly a moan escapes her lips; an inward pain has forced it from her. She grasps the table convulsively, and her fingers mechanically clutch the paper. The pain dies away, and she sits exhausted on her chair. Listlessly and without purpose she looks at the paper, seeing at first but a dim confusion of words; but presently something in the column she is gazing at presents itself to her mind in a coherent form. She passes her hands across her eyes, to clear the mist from them, bends eagerly down to the paper, and reads the words that have attracted her attention. Starting to her feet, with the paper in her hand, she is hurrying to the door, when it opens from without, and the stranger who had followed her home appears."John!" she cries, with her hand to her heart. "Ah, he has sent you, then! Thank God! He has sent you!""No one has sent me," says the gardener's son, who played his part in the Spring and Summer of our Prologue. "I am here of my own accord.""What for?" she asks, shrinkingly, imploringly. It is remarkable in her that every word she speaks, every movement she makes, implies fear. She bears the appearance of a hunted animal, in dread of an unknown, unseen torture. "Why are you here?""I come to ask if I can serve you.""You! You!""I--in truth and sincerity. I will not insult you by telling you that my feelings are unchanged--Good heavens! you are in pain!""Don't touch me! Don't come near me!" Two or three minutes pass in silence. Then the lines about her lips relax, and she speaks again, with a strange mingling of timidity and recklessness. "Do you know anything?""Much. Enough. Believe me, I wish to know nothing from you.""And you come to ask me if you can serve me? Meaning it, in truth and sincerity?""Meaning it, in truth and sincerity."She gazes at him, striving to discover whether his face bears truthful witness to the evidence of his lips, and, failing, makes a despairing motion with her hands."God help me!" she cries. "I cannot see. I do not know. But I believe you. I must, or I shall go mad. If you do not mean me to take you simply at your word, leave me at once without a sign.""I will stop and serve you."Her lips quiver at this exhibition of fidelity. Silently she hands him the paper, and points to the passage which appears to have aroused her to life. His eyes glitter as he reads the paragraph, which announces that on this evening Mr. Temple will take the chair at a lecture on "Man's Duty," to be delivered at a certain institution in a small town twenty miles away."I must go to that place," she says."To-night?""To-night. I must see him. I must speak to him to-night.""You are not well; you are not fit to travel. To-morrow----""To-morrow I may not be able to travel. To-morrow will be too late. What I have said, I must do. You don't know what hangs upon it." Her lips contract with pain again. "If you leave me alone, and I do not see him to-night, I--I----"Her eyes wander as her tongue refuses to shape the thought which holds her enthralled with fear and horror."A word first," says the gardener's son. "How long is it since you have seen him?""Three months.""You have written to him?""Yes--yes. Ask me nothing more, for God's sake!""The place is twenty miles away. It is now six o'clock. In four hours the lecture will be over. It is snowing hard."She comes close to his side; she looks straight into his eyes."John, your mother is dead.""Yes.""I heard of her at Springfield"--she shudders at the name--"and of your devotion to her. You loved her.""I loved her.""You stood at her deathbed.""I held her in my arms when she died.""Did she speak to you then?""A few words.""They are sacred to you.""Ay."She pauses but for a moment; he looks at her wonderingly."John, you loved me!