BETA

Edith.


Part II.—Chapter III.—Little Ethel.(Continued.)

Thus the noon wore on ; and by and bye little Ethel1
Thought of home. She said, “ I must go, now. Are you sorry ?2
I believe you are. And I am, too.—Are you going ?3
Which way ?  This ?  Come, then.” She took the hand of the curate ;4
And, beside him skipping, never silent a moment,5
Led him down the hill. And when they came to the houses,6
Down the street she pointed :— “ That is where we are living,”7
Ethel said, “ three steps, and such a crazy old window.8
It is poor, you know ; but we shall live in a better,9
When mamma grows rich. I wonder, when.” So he kiss’d her10
On the thin small lips, and made as though he would leave her.11
Good-bye, then,” she said, “ but come again in the morning.12
Will you ?”  “Yes,” he promised, and yet the promise was broken.13
Why ?  Well, hear. He follow’d. It was a whim or a fancy ;14
Idle. Yet he follow’d. She disappear’d through the doorway.15
He was sadder, then ; yet but as one who is sadder16
When the sunshine hides too soon in rainy November.17
Not a thought had he of nearing change, of the blossom18
Of his fate, to open into flower in a moment.19
Not a pulse beat faster, not a stir or a tremor20
Of the soul, fore-hinting. All was cloud in his future,21
Not a touch of colour relieved the gray of existence,22
As he saw by chance the sidelong face through the window.23
Yet he knew it,—well. How many changes of seasons,24
Pass’d o’er it ! what care ! what unread pain !  Yet he knew it.25
White his lips as ashes, as fast he fled, with the terror26
Of a strange new fear,—lest she should flee, and escape him.27
But she did not see him. And now he knew little Ethel,—28
All the mournful story. It flash’d on him as the lightning.29
Yea, perchance he wrong’d her, who in soul was as spotless30
As the Maiden Mother. But in his heart he forgave her31
All things, done and undone. Love is a god in forgiveness.32
So this letter sped, neath stars and moon, o’er the billows,33
Like a flame to thrill the weary silence of Orton :—34
She is here. Come quickly. She does not know I have seen her.”35
Thus it was that the curate broke the word of his promise.36
Much he long’d to go ; he long’d to see little Ethel ;37
Long’d to hear her prattle, and in its sound to remember38
Sounds of other days ; to see again, in the glitter39
Of her sad sweet eyes, a light now faded for ever.40
But he dared not ; thinking, “ it may be that the mother41
May come, too, to look at this mysterious stranger.”42
So all day, till even, along the shore of the river43
Roam’d he, southward, shunning any chance of a meeting.44
On the shingly beach he sat, and play’d with the pebbles,45
Like a child, content, and watch’d the curve of the ripple,46
Dreaming happy dreams of better days in the future.47
But at night, when darkness screened him well,—as a lover48
Is more happy, knowing he is near to his mistress,—49
Paced he, breathing quicker, to and fro by the window :50
Yet in soul was loyal, never pausing a moment51
By the ill-drawn blind, bright with the flare of the lamplight.52
What would he have seen ?  He would have seen little Ethel,53
Watching woodlogs blaze upon the hearth, with her elbows54
On her knees, her face between her hands, and her forehead55
Hid with dark brown hair; there, on her stool in the corner,56
Deeply pondering why he did not hold to his promise ;57
Sad for love so flouted, and hardly learning endurance :58
And the mother sitting, with a tear on her eyelid,59
As she work’d, with thinking of the Spring in the village,60
Making glad the woods around the home of her girlhood.61
Morn once more, and noon, and sailors’ cries, and the vessel62
From Le Havre, bringing all the curious faces :63
So, wayworn, sad-hearted, the rector landed in Honfleur.64
Till the dark they waited; but when the tide in the harbour65
Lapp’d the piers, fast-rising, and now the lights of the vessel,66
Mix’d with moonlight, shone, and made a show of departure,67
Then the rector, quickly, pass’d alone by the houses ;68
Found the one, and enter’d, and at the door of the lodger69
Paused, and held his breath ; then, gently turning the handle,70
Unannounced, pass’d in ; and stood there, smiling, and looking71
Like some heavenly saint, with mild wide eyes, in a picture ;72
Stood there, saying only, softly murmuring, “ Edith.”73
Starting up to her feet, as if a moment she doubted,74
One wild look she gave him, full of strangeness and terror,75
Then a sudden change pass’d o’er her face, as she saw him76
Moving towards her, smiling, very silent, and holding77
Both hands wide, to clasp her as a child to his bosom,78
She, with joyful cry, fell on her knees by the father ;79
Hid her face in her hands, and sobb’d “ I pray you forgive me !”80
And the deep sobs shook her, and she trembled and shiver’d,81
As one out of whom goes forth a demon of evil.82
Gently then he raised her, and kiss’d her, tenderly saying,—83
I am come for you. The steamer stays in the harbour.84
Come, the tide is full. You must not linger a minute.”85
Edith did not speak, but calm’d herself with an effort.86
Now once more she put a little bundle together ;87
Drew some money forth, and, from a niche by the curtain88
Of the bed, a brooch, and folded all in a letter ;89
Then, with pencil, quickly, wrote the name of the woman90
Of the house, who loved her, and left it there on the table ;91
Quickly clad herself, and clad the child, and was ready.92
Softly forth they stole, and crept along through the shadows.93
Moonlight on the sea ; the stars are fair, and a softness94
In the air broods light and full of promise of summer.95
Berthold leans, and dreams, and still beside him, in silence,96
Little Ethel wonders at the roll of the water.97
Edith sleeps below, while the rector silently watches.98
Berthold has not seen her, and yet she knows he is with them.99
Speak now,” Ethel whisper’d, “ tell me, where are we going ?”100
Berthold said, “ to England.” In a moment she answer’d,101
O I am so glad ! for I have wanted so often102
To see England. Shall we,—do you know ? will you tell me ?—103
Shall we see the church, and pretty graves, and the lady,104
In the little village where mamma was so happy ?”105
Yes,” he said. Then, Ethel,— “ Shall we see uncle Berthold ?”106
What a sweet surprise ran through his veins as he listen’d !107
Weeping fast, he answer’d, with a quiver of pleasure,108
I am uncle Berthold ;” —sobbing low, in the darkness.109
She, in France, unfriended, had thought of him as a brother.110