In Later Years

Ellen Wood

First published in The Argosy, December 1887.

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In later years


I think it must have been the illness he had in the summer that tended to finally break down Valentine Chandler. He had been whirling along all kinds of doubtful ways before, but when a sort of low fever attacked him, and he had to lie by for weeks, he was about done for.

That’s how we found it when we got to Crabb Cot in October. Valentine, what with illness, his wild ways and his ill-luck, had come to grief and was about to emigrate to Canada. His once flourishing practice had run away from him; no prospect seemed left to him in the old country.

“It is an awful pity!” I remarked to Mrs. Cramp, having overtaken her in the Islip Road, as she was walking towards home.

“Ay, it is that, Johnny Ludlow,” she said, turning her comely face to me, the strings of her black bonnet tied in a big bow under her chin. “Not much else was to be expected, taking all things into consideration. George Chandler, Tom’s brother, makes a right good thing of it in Canada, farming, and Val is going to him.”

“We hear that Val’s mother is leaving North Villa.”

“She can’t afford to stay in it now,” returned Mrs. Cramp, “so has let it to the Miss Dennets, and taken a pretty little place for herself in Crabb. Georgiana has gone out as a governess.”

“Will she like that?”

“Ah, Master Johnny! There are odd moments throughout all our lives when we have to do things we don’t like any more than we like poison—I hate to look at the place,” cried Mrs. Cramp, energetically. “When I think of Mrs. Jacob’s having to turn out of it, and all through Val’s folly, it gives me the creeps.”

This applied to North Villa, of which we then were abreast. Mrs. Cramp turned her face from it, and went on sideways, like a crab.

“Why, here’s Jane Preen!”

She was coming along quietly in the afternoon sunshine. I thought her altered. The once pretty blush-rose of her dimpled cheeks had faded; in her soft blue eyes, so like Oliver’s, lay a look of sadness. He had been dead about a year now. But the blush came back again, and the eyes lighted up with smiles as I took her hand. Mrs. Cramp went on; she was in a hurry to reach her home, which lay between Islip and Crabb. Jane rang the bell at North Villa.

“Shall I take a run over to Duck Brook tomorrow, Jane, and sit with you in the Inlets, and we’ll have a spell of gossip together?”

“I never sit in the Inlets now,” she said, in a half whisper, turning her face away.

“Forgive me, Jane,” I cried, repenting my thoughtlessness; and she disappeared up the garden path.

Susan opened the door. Her mistress was out, she said, but Miss Clementina was at home. It was Clementina that Jane wanted to see.

Valentine, still weak, was lying on the sofa in the parlour when Jane entered. He got up, all excitement at seeing her, and they sat down together.

“I brought this for Clementina,” she said, placing a paper parcel on the table. “It is a pattern which she asked me for. Are you growing stronger?”

“Clementina is about somewhere,” he observed; “the others are out. Yes, I am growing stronger; but it seems to me that I am a long while about it.”

They sat on in silence, side by side, neither speaking. Valentine took Jane’s hand and held it within his own, which rested on his knee. It seemed that they had lost their tongues—as we say to the children.

“Is it all decided?” asked Jane presently. “Quite decided?”

“Quite, Jane. Nothing else is left for me.”

She caught her breath with one of those long sighs that tell of inward tribulation.

“I should have been over to see you before this, Jane, but that my legs would not carry me to Duck Brook and back again without sitting down by the wayside. And you—you hardly ever come here now.”

A deep flush passed swiftly over Jane’s face. She had not liked to call at the troubled house. And she very rarely came so far as Crabb now: there seemed to be no plea for it.

“What will be the end, Val?” she whispered.

Valentine groaned. “I try not to think of it, my dear. When I cannot put all thought of the future from me, it gives me more torment than I know how to bear. If only——”

The door opened, and in came Clementina, arresting what he had been about to say.

“This is the pattern you asked me for, Clementina,” Jane said, rising to depart on her return home. For she would not risk passing the Inlets after sunset.

A week or two went by, and the time of Valentine Chandler’s departure arrived. He had grown well and strong apparently, and went about to say Good-bye to people in a subdued fashion. The Squire took him apart when Val came for that purpose to us, and talked to him in private. Tod called it a “Curtain Lecture.” Valentine was to leave Crabb at daybreak on the Saturday morning for London, and go at once on board the ship lying in the docks about to steam away for Quebec.

It perhaps surprised none of us who knew the Chandler girls that they should be seen tearing over the parish on the Friday afternoon to invite people to tea. “It will be miserably dull this last evening, you know, Johnny,” they said to me in their flying visit; “we couldn’t stand it alone. Be sure to come in early: and leave word that Joseph Todhetley is to join us as soon as he gets back again.” For Tod had gone out.

According to orders, I was at North Villa betimes: and, just as on that other afternoon, I met Jane Preen at the gate. She had walked in from Duck Brook.

“You are going to spend the evening here, Jane?”

“Yes, it is the last evening,” she sighed. “Valentine wished it.”

“The girls have been to invite me; wouldn’t let me say No. There’s to be quite a party.”

“A party!” exclaimed Jane, in surprise.

“If they could manage to get one up.”

“I am sure Valentine did not know that this morning.”

“I daresay not. I asked the girls if Valentine wanted a crowd there on his last evening, and they exclaimed that Valentine never knew what was good for him.”

“As you are here, Johnny,” she went on, after a silence, “I wonder if you would mind my asking you to do me a favour? It is to walk home with me after tea. I shall not be late this evening.”

“Of course I will, Jane.”

“I cannot go past the Inlets alone after dark,” she whispered. “I never do so by daylight but a dreadful shiver seizes me. I—I’m afraid of seeing something.”

“Have you ever seen it since that first evening, Jane?”

“Never since. Never once. I do not suppose that I shall ever see it again; but the fear lies upon me.”

She went on to explain that the gig could not be sent for her that evening, as Mr. Preen had gone to Alcester in it and taken Sam. Her mode and voice seemed strangely subdued, as if all spirit had left her for ever.

In spite of their efforts, the Miss Chandlers met with little luck. One of the Letsom girls and Tom Coney were all the recruits they were able to pick up. They came dashing in close upon our heels. In the hall stood Valentine’s luggage locked and corded, ready for conveyance to the station.

There’s not much to relate of that evening: I hardly know why I allude to it at all—only that these painful records sometimes bring a sad sort of soothing to the weary heart, causing it to look forward to that other life where will be no sorrow and no parting.

Tod came in after tea. He and Coney kept the girls alive, if one might judge by the laughter that echoed from the other room. Tea remained on the table for anyone else who might arrive, but Mrs. Jacob Chandler had turned from it to put her feet on the fender. She kept me by her, asking about a slight accident which had happened to one of our servants. Valentine and Jane were standing at the doors of the open window in silence, as if they wanted to take in a view of the garden. And that state of things continued, as it seemed to me, for a good half-hour.

It was a wild night, but very warm for November. White clouds scudded across the face of the sky; moonlight streamed into the room. The fire was low, and the green shade had been placed over the lamp, so that there seemed to be no light but that of the moon.

“Won’t you sing a song for the last time, Valentine?” I heard Jane ask him with half a sob.

“Not to-night; I’m not equal to it. But, yes, I will; one song,” he added, turning round. “Night and day that one song has been ever haunting me, Jane.”

He was sitting down to the piano when Mrs. Cramp came in. She said she would go up to take her bonnet off, and Mrs. Chandler went with her. This left me alone at the fire. I should have made a start for the next room where the laughing was, but that I did not like to disturb the song then begun. Jane stood listening just outside the open window, her hands covering her bent face.

Whether the circumstances and surroundings made an undue impression on me, I know not, but the song struck me as being the most plaintive one I had ever heard and singularly appropriate to that present hour. The singer was departing beyond seas, leaving one he loved hopelessly behind him.

“Remember me, though rolling ocean place its bounds ’twixt thee and me,

Remember me with fond emotion, and believe I’ll think of thee.”

So it began; and I wish I could recollect how it went on, but I can’t; only a line here and there. I think it was set to the tune of Weber’s Last Waltz, but I’m not sure. There came a line, “My lingering look from thine will sever only with an aching heart;” there came another bit towards the end: “But fail not to remember me.”

Nothing in themselves, you will say, these lines; their charm lay in the singing. To listen to their mournful pathos brought with it a strange intensity of pain. Valentine sang them as very few can sing. That his heart was aching, aching with a bitterness which can never be pictured except by those who have felt it; that Jane’s heart was aching as she listened, was all too evident. You could feel the anguish of their souls. It was in truth a ballad singularly applicable to the time and place.

The song ceased; the music died away. Jane moved from the piano with a sob that could no longer be suppressed. Valentine sat still and motionless. As to me, I made a quiet glide of it into the other room, just as Mrs. Cramp and Mrs. Jacob Chandler were coming in for some tea. Julietta seized me on one side and Fanny Letsom on the other; they were going in for forfeits.

Valentine Chandler left the piano and went out, looking for Jane. Not seeing her, he followed on down the garden path, treading on its dry, dead leaves. The wind, sighing and moaning, played amidst the branches of the trees, nearly bare now; every other minute the moon was obscured by the flying clouds. Warm though the night was, and grand in its aspect, signs might be detected of the approaching winter.

Jane Preen was standing near the old garden arbour, from which could be seen by daylight the long chain of the Malvern Hills. Valentine drew Jane within, and seated her by his side.

“Our last meeting; our last parting, Jane!” he whispered from the depth of his full heart.

“Will it be for ever?” she wailed.

He took time to answer. “I would willingly say No; I would promise it to you, Jane, but that I doubt myself. I know that it lies with me; and I know that if God will help me, I may be able to——”

He broke down. He could not go on. Jane bent her head towards him. Drawing it to his shoulder, he continued:

“I have not been able to pull up here, despite the resolutions I have made from time to time. I was one of a fast set of men at Islip, and—somehow—they were stronger than I was. In Canada it may be different. I promise you, my darling, that I will strive to make it so. Do you think this is no lesson to me?”

“If not——”

“If not, we may never see each other again in this world.”

“Oh, Valentine!”

“Only in Heaven. The mistakes we make here may be righted there.”

“And will it be nothing to you, never to see me again here?—no sorrow or pain?”

No sorrow or pain!” Valentine echoed the words out of the very depths of woe. Even then the pain within him was almost greater than he could bear.

They sat on in silence, with their aching hearts. Words fail in an hour of anguish such as this. An hour that comes perhaps but once in a lifetime; to some of us, never. Jane’s face lay nestled against his shoulder; her hand was in his clasp. Val’s tears were falling; he was weak yet from his recent illness; Jane’s despair was beyond tears.

We were in the height and swing of forfeits when Valentine and Jane came in. They could not remain in the arbour all night, you see, romantic and lovely though it might be to sit in the moonlight. Jane said she must be going home; her mother had charged her not to be late.

When she came down with her things on, I, remembering what she had asked me, took my hat and waited for her in the hall. But Valentine came out with her.

“Thank you all the same, Johnny,” she said to me. And I went back to the forfeits.

They went off together, Jane’s arm within his—their last walk, perhaps, in this world. But it seemed that they could not talk any more than they did in the garden, and went along for the most part in silence. Just before turning into Brook Lane they met Tom Chandler—he who was doing so much for Valentine in this emigration matter. He had come from Islip to spend a last hour with his cousin.

“Go on, Tom; you’ll find them all at home,” said Valentine. “I shall not be very long after you.”

Upon coming to the Inlets, Jane clung closer to Valentine’s arm. It was here that she had seen her unfortunate brother Oliver standing, after his death. Valentine hastily passed his arm round her to impart a sense of protection.

At the gate they parted, taking their farewell hand-shake, their last kiss. “God help you, my dear!” breathed Valentine. “And if—if we never meet again, believe that no other will ever love you as I have loved.”

He turned back on the road he had come, and Jane went in to her desolate home.


“Aunt Mary Ann, I’ve come back, and brought a visitor with me!”

Mrs. Mary Ann Cramp, superintending the preserving of a pan of morella cherries over the fire in her spacious kitchen, turned round in surprise. I was perched on the arm of the old oak chair, watching the process. I had gone to the farm with a message from Crabb Cot, and Mrs. Cramp, ignoring ceremony, called me into the kitchen.

Standing at the door, with the above announcement, was Julietta Chandler. She had been away on a fortnight’s visit.

“Now where on earth did you spring from, Juliet?” asked Mrs. Cramp. “I did not expect you today. A visitor? Who is it?”

“Cherry Dawson, Aunt Mary Ann; and I didn’t think it mattered about letting you know,” returned Juliet. They had given up the longer name, Julietta. “You can see her if you look through the window; she is getting out of the fly at the gate. Cherry Dawson is the nicest and jolliest girl in the world, and you’ll all be in love with her—including you, Johnny Ludlow.”

Sure enough, there she was, springing from the fly which had brought them from Crabb station. A light, airy figure in a fresh brown-holland dress and flapping Leghorn hat. The kitchen window was open, and we could hear her voice all that way off, laughing loudly at something and chattering to the driver. She was very fair, with pretty white teeth, and a pink colour on her saucy face.

Mrs. Cramp left Sally to the cherries, went to the hall door and opened it herself, calling the other maid, Joan, to come down. The visitor flew in with a run and a sparkling laugh, and at once kissed Mrs. Cramp on both cheeks, without saying with your leave or by your leave. I think she would not have minded kissing me, for she came dancing up and shook my hand.

“It’s Johnny Ludlow, Cherry,” said Juliet.

“Oh, how delightful!” cried Miss Cherry.

She was really very unsophisticated; or—very much the other way. One cannot quite tell at a first moment. But, let her be which she might, there was one thing about her that took the eyes by storm. It was her hair.

Whether her rapid movements had unfastened it, or whether she wore it so, I knew not, but it fell on her shoulders like a shower of gold. Her small face seemed to be set in an amber aureole. I had never before seen hair so absolutely resembling the colour of pure gold. As she ran back to Mrs. Cramp from me, it glittered in the sunlight. The shower of gold in which Jupiter went courting Danaë could hardly have been more seductive than this.

“I know you don’t mind my coming uninvited, you dear Mrs. Cramp!” she exclaimed joyously. “I did so want to make your acquaintance. And Clementina was growing such a cross-patch. It’s not Tim’s fault if he can’t come back yet. Is it now?”

“I do not know anything about it,” answered Mrs. Cramp, apparently not quite sure what to make of her.

With this additional company I thought it well to come away, and wished them good morning. At the gate stood the fly still, the horse resting.

“Like to take a lift, Mr. Johnny, as far as your place?” asked the man civilly. “I am just starting back.”

“No, thank you, Lease,” I answered. “I am going across to Duck Brook.”

“Curious young party that, ain’t it, sir?” said Lease, pointing the whip over his shoulder towards the house. “She went and asked me if Mrs. Cramp warn’t an old Image, born in the year One, and didn’t she get her gowns out of Noah’s Ark? And while I was staring at her saying that, she went off into shouts of laughter enough to frighten the horse. Did you see her hair, sir?”

I nodded.

“For my part, I don’t favour that bright yaller for hair, Mr. Johnny. I never knew but one woman have such, and she was more deceitful than a she-fox.”

Lease touched his hat and drove off. He was cousin in a remote degree to poor Maria Lease, and to Lease the pointsman who had caused the accident to the train at Crabb junction and died of the trouble. At that moment, Fred Scott came up; a short, dark young fellow, with fierce black whiskers, good-natured and rather soft. He was fond of playing billiards at the Bell at Islip; had been doing it for some years now.

“I say, Ludlow, has that fly come with Juliet Chandler? Is she back again?”

“Just come. She has brought some one with her: a girl with golden hair.”

“Oh, bother her!” returned Fred. “But it has been as dull as ditchwater without Juliet.”

He dashed in at Mrs. Cramp’s gate and up the winding path. I turned into the Islip Road, and crossed it to take Brook Lane. The leaves were beginning to put on the tints of autumn; the grain was nearly all gathered.

Time the healer! As Mrs. Todhetley says, it may well be called so. Heaven in mercy sends it to the sick and heavy-laden with healing on its wings. Nearly three years had slipped by since the departure for Canada of Valentine Chandler; four years since the tragic death of Oliver Preen.

There are few changes to record. Things and people were for the most part going on as they had done. It was reported that Valentine had turned over a new leaf from the hour he landed over yonder, becoming thoroughly staid and steady. Early in the summer of this year his mother had shut up her cottage at North Crabb to go to Guernsey, on the invitation of a sister from whom she had expectations. Upon this, Julietta, who lived with her mother, went on a long visit to Mrs. Cramp.

Clementina had married. Her husband was a Mr. Timothy Dawson, junior partner in a wholesale firm of general merchants in Birmingham; they had also a house in New York. Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Dawson lived in a white villa at Edgbaston, and went in for style and fashion. At least she did, which might go without telling. The family in which her sister Georgiana was governess occupied another white villa hard by.

Close upon Juliet’s thus taking up her residence with her aunt, finding perhaps the farm rather dull, she struck up a flirtation with Fred Scott, or he with her. They were everlastingly together, mooning about Mrs. Cramp’s grounds, or sauntering up and down the Islip Road. Juliet gave out that they were engaged. No one believed it. At present Fred had nothing to marry upon: his mother, just about as soft as himself, supplied him with as much pocket-money as he asked for, and there his funds ended.

Juliet had now returned from a week or two’s visit she had been paying Clementina, bringing with her, uninvited, the young lady with the golden hair. That hair seemed to be before my eyes as a picture as I walked along. She was Timothy Dawson’s young half-sister. Both the girls had grown tired of staying with Clementina, who worried herself and everyone about her just now because her husband was detained longer than he had anticipated in New York, whither he had gone on business.

Mr. Frederick Scott had said “Bother” in contempt when he first heard of the visitor with the golden hair. He did not say it long. Miss Cherry Dawson cast a spell upon him. He had never met such a rattling, laughing girl in all his born days, which was how he phrased it; had never seen such bewildering hair. Cherry fascinated him. Forgetting his allegiance to Juliet, faithless swain that he was, he went right over to the enemy. Miss Cherry, nothing loth, accepted his homage openly, and enjoyed the raging jealousy of Juliet.

In the midst of this, Juliet received a telegram from Edgbaston. Her sister Clementina was taken suddenly ill and wanted her. She must take the first train.

“Of course you are coming with me, Cherry!” said Juliet.

“Of course I am not,” laughed Cherry. “I’m very happy here—if dear Mrs. Cramp will let me stay with her. You’ll be back again in a day or two.”

Not seeing any polite way of sending her away in the face of this, Mrs. Cramp let her stay on. Juliet was away a week—and a nice time the other one and Fred had of it, improving the shining hours with soft speeches and love-making. When Juliet got back again, she felt ready to turn herself into a female Bluebeard, and cut off Cherry’s golden head.

Close upon that Mrs. Cramp held her harvest-home. “You may as well come early, and we’ll have tea on the lawn,” she said, when inviting us.

It was a fine afternoon, warm as summer, though September was drawing to its close. Many of the old friends you have heard of were there. Mary MacEveril and her cousin Dick, who seemed to be carrying on a little with one another, as Tod called it; the Letsoms, boys and girls; Emma Chandler, who looked younger than ever, though she could boast of two babies: and others. Jane Preen was there, the weary look which her mild and pretty face had gained latterly very plainly to be seen. We roamed at will about the grounds, and had tea under the large weeping elm tree. Altogether the gathering brought forcibly to mind that other gathering; that of the picnic, four summers ago, when we had sung songs in light-hearted glee, and poor Oliver Preen must have been ready to die of mortal pain.

The element of interest today lay in Miss Cherry Dawson. In her undisguised assumption of ownership in Fred Scott, and in Juliet Chandler’s rampant jealousy of the pair. You should have seen the girl flitting about like a fairy, in her white muslin frock, the golden shower of curls falling around her like nothing but threads of transparent amber. Fred was evidently very far gone. Juliet wore white also.

Whether things would have come that evening to the startling pass they did but for an unfortunate remark made in thoughtless fun, not in malice, I cannot tell. It gave a sting to Juliet that she could not bear. A ridiculous pastime was going on. Some of them were holding hands in a circle and dancing round to the “House that Jack Built,” each one reciting a sentence in turn. If you forgot your sentence, you paid a forfeit. The one falling to Juliet Chandler was “This the maiden all forlorn.” “Why, that’s exactly what you are, Juliet!” cried Tom Coney, impulsively, and a laugh went round. Juliet said nothing, but I saw her face change to the hue of death. The golden hair of the other damsel was gleaming just then within view amidst the trees, accompanied by the black head and black whiskers of Mr. Fred Scott.

“That young man must have a rare time of it between the two,” whispered Tod to me. “As good as the ass between the bundles of hay.”

At dusk began the fun of the harvest-home. Mrs. Cramp’s labourers and their wives sat in the large kitchen at an abundant board. Hot beef, mutton and hams crowded it, with vegetables; and of fruit pies and tarts there was a goodly show. Some of us helped to wait on them, and that was the best fun of all.

They had all taken as much as they could possibly eat, and were in the full flow of cider and beer and delight; a young man in a clean white smock-frock was sheepishly indulging the table with a song: “Young Roger of the Valley,” and I was laughing till I had to hold my sides; when Mrs. Cramp touched me on the back. She sat with the Miss Dennets in the little parlour off the kitchen, in full view of the company. I sat on the door-sill between them.

“Johnny,” she whispered, “I don’t see Juliet and Cherry Dawson. Have they been in at all?”

I did not remember to have seen them; or Fred Scott either.

“Just go out and look for the two girls, will you, Johnny. It’s too late for them to be out, though it is a warm night. Tell them I say they are to come in at once,” said Mrs. Cramp.

Not half a stone’s throw from the house I found them—quarrelling. Their noisy voices guided me. A brilliant moon lighted up the scene. The young ladies were taunting one another; Juliet in frantic passion; Cherry in sarcastic mockery. Fred Scott, after trying in vain to throw oil upon the troubled waters, had given it up as hopeless, and stood leaning against a tree in silent patience.

“It’s quite true,” Cherry was saying tauntingly when I got up. “We are engaged. We shall be married shortly. Come!”

“You are not,” raved Juliet, her voice trembling with the intense rage she was in. “He was engaged to me before you came here; he is engaged to me still.”

Cherry laughed out in mockery. “Dear me! old maids do deceive themselves so!”

Very hard, that, and Juliet winced. She was five or six years older than the fairy. How Fred relished the bringing home to him of his sins, I leave you to judge.

“I say, can’t you have done with this, you silly girls?” he cried out meekly.

“In a short time you’ll have our wedding-cards,” went on Cherry. “It’s all arranged. He’s only waiting for me to decide whether it shall take place here or at Gretna Green.”

Juliet dashed round to face Fred Scott. “If this be true; if you do behave in this false way to me, I’ll not survive it,” she said, hardly able to bring the words out in her storm of passion. “Do you hear me? I’ll not live to see it, I say; and my ghost shall haunt her for her whole life after.”

“Come now, easy, Juliet,” pleaded Fred uncomfortably. “It’s all nonsense, you know.”

“I think it is; I think she is saying this to aggravate me,” assented Juliet, subsiding to a sort of calmness. “If not, take you warning, Cherry Dawson, for I’ll keep my word. My apparition shall haunt you for ever and ever.”

“It had better begin to-night, then, for you’ll soon find out that it’s as true as gospel,” retorted Cherry.

Managing at last to get in a word, I delivered Mrs. Cramp’s message: they were to come in instantly. Fred obeyed it with immense relief and ran in before me. The two girls would follow, I concluded, when their jarring had spent itself. The last glimpse I had of them, they were stretching out their faces at each other like a couple of storks. Juliet’s straw hat had fallen from her head and was hanging by its strings round her neck.

“Oh, they’re coming,” spoke up Fred, in answer to Mrs. Cramp. “It’s very nice out there; the moon’s bright as day.”

And presently I heard the laugh of Cherry Dawson amidst us. Her golden hair, her scarlet cheeks and her blue eyes were all sparkling together.


It was the next morning. We were at breakfast, answering Mr. and Mrs. Todhetley’s questions about the harvest home, when old Thomas came in, all sad and scared, to tell some news. Juliet Chandler was dead: she had destroyed herself.

Of course the Squire at once attacked Thomas for saying it. But a sick feeling of conviction arose within me that it was true. One of the servants, out of doors on an errand, had heard it from a man in the road. The Squire sat rubbing his face, which had turned hot.

Leaving the breakfast table, I started for Mrs. Cramp’s. Miss Susan Dennet was standing at her gate, her white handkerchief thrown over her head, her pale face limp with fright.

“Johnny,” she called to me, “have you heard? Do you think it can be true?”

“Well, I hope not, Miss Susan. I am now going there to see. What I’m thinking of is this—if it is not true, how can such a report have arisen?”

Tod caught me up, and we found the farm in distress and commotion. It was all true; and poor Mrs. Cramp was almost dumb with dismay. These were the particulars: The previous evening, Juliet did not appear at the late supper, laid in the dining-room for the guests; at least, no one remembered to have seen her. Later, when the guests had left, and Mrs. Cramp was in the kitchen busy with her maids, Cherry Dawson looked in, bed-candle in hand, to say good-night. “I suppose Juliet is going up with you,” remarked Mrs. Cramp. “Oh, Juliet went up ages ago,” said Cherry, in answer.

The night passed quietly. Early in the morning one of the farm men went to the eel-pond to put in a net, and saw some clothes lying on the brink. Rushing indoors, he brought out Sally. She knew the things at once. There lay the white dress and the pink ribbons which Juliet had worn the night before; the straw hat, and a small fleecy handkerchief which she had tied round her neck at sundown. Pinned to the sash and the dress was a piece of paper on which was written in ink, in a large hand—Juliet’s hand:


Of course she had taken these things off and left them on the bank, with the memorandum pinned to them, to make known that she had flung herself into the pond.

“I can scarcely believe it; it seems so incredible,” sighed poor Mrs. Cramp, to the Squire, who had come bustling in. “Juliet, as I should have thought, was one of the very last girls to do such a thing.”

The next to appear upon the scene, puffing and panting with agitation, was Fred Scott. He asked which of the two girls it was, having heard only a garbled account; and now learned that it was Juliet. As to Cherry Dawson, she was shut up in her bedroom in shrieking hysterics. Men were preparing to drag the pond in search of——well, what was lying there.

The pond was at the end of the garden, near the fence that divided it from the three-acre field. Nothing had been disturbed. The white frock and pink ribbons were lying with the paper pinned to them; the hat was close by. A yard off was the white woollen handkerchief; and near it I saw the faded bunch of mignonette which Juliet had worn in her waistband. It looked as if she had flung the things off in desperation.

Standing later in the large parlour, listening to comments and opinions, one question troubled me—Ought I to tell what I knew of the quarrel? It might look like treachery towards Scott and the girl upstairs; but, should that poor dead Juliet——

The doubt was suddenly solved for me.

“What I want to get at is this,” urged the Squire: “did anything happen to drive her to this? One doesn’t throw oneself into an eel-pond for nothing in one’s sober senses.”

“Miss Juliet and Miss Dawson had a quarrel out o’ doors last night,” struck in Joan, for the two servants were assisting at the conference. “Sally heard ’em.”

“What’s that?” cried Mrs. Cramp. “Speak up.”

“Well, it’s true, ma’am,” said Sally, coming forward. “I went out to shake a tray-cloth, and heard voices at a distance, all in a rage like; so I just stepped on a bit to see what it meant. The two young lasses was snarling at one another like anything. Miss Juliet was——”

“What were they quarrelling about?” interrupted the Squire.

“Well, sir, it seemed to be about Mr. Scott—which of ’em had him for a sweetheart, and which of ’em hadn’t. Mr. Johnny Ludlow ran up as I came in: perhaps he heard more than I did.”

After that, there was nothing for it but to let the past scene come out; and Mrs. Cramp had the pleasure of being enlightened as to the rivalry which had been going on under her roof and the ill-feeling which had arisen out of it. Fred Scott, to do him justice, spoke up like a man, not denying the flirtation he had carried on, first with Juliet, next with Cherry, but he declared most positively that it had never been serious on any side.

The Squire wheeled round. “Just say what you mean by that, Mr. Frederick. What do you call serious?”

“I never said a word to either of them which could suggest serious intentions, sir. I never hinted at such a thing as getting married.”

“Now look here, young man,” cried Mrs. Cramp, taking her handkerchief from her troubled face, “what right had you to do that? By what right did you play upon those young girls with your silly speeches and your flirting ways, if you meant nothing?—nothing to either of them?”

“I am sorry for it now, ma’am,” said Scott, eating humble pie; “I wouldn’t have done it for the world had I foreseen this. It was just a bit of flirting and nothing else. And neither of them ever thought it was anything else; they knew better; only they became snappish with one another.”

“Did not think you meant marrying?” cried the Squire sarcastically, fixing Scott with his spectacles.

“Just so, sir. Why, how could I mean it?” went on Scott in his simple way. “I’ve no money, while my mother lives, to set up a wife or a house; she wouldn’t let me. I joked and laughed with the two girls, and they joked and laughed back again. I don’t care what they may have said between themselves—they knew there was nothing in it.”

Scott was right, so far. All the world, including the Chandlers and poor Juliet, knew that Scott was no more likely to marry than the man in the moon.

“And you could stand by quietly last night when they were having, it seems, this bitter quarrel, and not stop it?” exclaimed Mrs. Cramp.

“They would not listen to me,” returned Scott. “I went between them; spoke to one, spoke to the other; told them what they were quarrelling about was utter nonsense—and the more I said, the more they wrangled. Johnny Ludlow saw how it was; he came up at the end of it.”

Cherry Dawson was sent for downstairs, and came in between Sally and Joan, limp and tearful and shaking with fright. Mrs. Cramp questioned her.

“It was all done in fun,” she said with a sob. “Juliet and I teased one another. It was as much her fault as mine. Fred Scott needn’t talk. I’m sure I don’t want him. I’ve somebody waiting for me at Edgbaston, if I choose. Scott may go to York!”

“Suppose you mind your manners, young woman: you’ve done enough mischief in my house without forgetting them,” reproved Mrs. Cramp. “I want to know when you last saw Juliet.”

“We came in together after the quarrel. She ran up to her room; I joined the rest of you. As she did not come down to supper, I thought she had gone to bed. O-o-o-o-o!” shivered Cherry; “and she says she’ll haunt me! I shall never dare to be alone in the dark again.”

Mr. Fred Scott took his departure, glad no doubt to do so, carrying with him a hint from Mrs. Cramp that for the present his visits must cease, unless he should be required to give evidence at the inquest. As he went out, Mr. Paul and Tom Chandler came in together. Tom, strong in plain common-sense, could not at all understand it.

“Passion must have overbalanced her reason and driven her mad,” he said aside to me. “The taunts of that Dawson girl did it, I reckon.”

“Blighted love,” said I.

“Moonshine,” answered Tom Chandler. “Juliet, poor girl, had gone in for too many flirtations to care much for Scott. As to that golden-haired one, her life is passed in nothing else: getting out of one love affair into another, month in, month out. Her brother Tim once told her so in my presence. No, Johnny, it is a terrible calamity, but I shall never understand how she came to do it as long as I live.”

I was not sure that I should. Juliet was very practical: not one of your moaning, sighing, die-away sort of girls who lose their brains for love, like crazy Jane. It was a dreadful thing, whatever might have been the cause, and we were all sorry for Mrs. Cramp. Nothing had stirred us like this since the death of Oliver Preen.

Georgiana Chandler came flying over from Birmingham in a state of excitement. Cherry Dawson had gone then, or Georgie might have shaken her to pieces. When put up, Georgie had a temper of her own. Cherry had disappeared into the wilds of Devonshire, where her home was, and where she most devoutly hoped Juliet’s ghost would not find its way.

“It is an awful thing to have taken place in your house, Aunt Mary Ann. And why unhappy, ill-fated Juliet should have—but I can’t talk of it,” broke off Georgie.

“I know that I am ashamed of its having happened here, Georgiana,” assented Mrs. Cramp. “I am not alluding to the sad termination, but to that parcel of nonsense, the sweethearting.”

“Clementina is more heartless than an owl over it,” continued Georgie, making her remarks. “She says it serves Juliet right for her flirting folly, and she hopes Cherry will be haunted till her yellow curls turn grey.”

The more they dragged, the less chance there seemed of finding Juliet. Nothing came up but eels. It was known that the eel-pond had a hole or two in it which no drags could penetrate. Gloom settled down upon us all. Mrs. Cramp’s healthy cheeks lost some of their redness. One day, calling at Crabb Cot, she privately told us that the trouble would lie upon her for ever. The best word Tod gave to it was—that he would go a day’s march with peas in his shoes to see a certain lady hanging by her golden hair on a sour apple tree.

It was a bleak October evening. Jane Preen, in her old shawl and garden hat, was hurrying to Dame Sym’s on an errand for her mother. The cold wind sighed and moaned in the trees, clouds flitted across the face of the crescent moon. It scarcely lighted up the little old church beyond the Triangle, and the graves in the churchyard beneath, Oliver’s amidst them. Jane shivered, and ran into Mrs. Sym’s.

Carrying back her parcel, she turned in at the garden gate and stood leaning over it for a few moments. Tears were coursing down her cheeks. Life for a long time had seemed very hard to Jane; no hope anywhere.

The sound of quick footsteps broke upon her ear, and a gentleman came into view. She rather wondered who it was; whether anyone was coming to call on her father.

“Jane! Jane!”

With a faint cry, she fell into the arms opened to receive her—those of Valentine Chandler. He went away, a ne’er-do-well, three years ago, shattered in health, shaken in spirit; he had returned a healthy, hearty man, all his parts about him.

Yes, Valentine had turned over a new leaf from the moment he touched the Canadian shores. He had put his shoulder to the wheel in earnest, had persevered and prospered. And now he had a profitable farm of his own, and a pretty house upon it, all in readiness for Jane.

“We have heard from time to time that you were doing well,” she said, with a sob of joy. “Oh, Valentine, how good it is! To have done it all yourself!”

“Not altogether myself, Jane,” he answered. “I did my best, and God sent His blessing upon it.”

Jane no longer felt the night cold, the wind bleak, or remembered that her mother was waiting for the parcel. They paced the old wilderness of a garden, arm locked within arm. There was something in the windy night to put them in mind of that other night: the night of their parting, when Valentine had sung his song of farewell, and bade her remember him though rolling ocean placed its bounds between them. They had been faithful to one another.

Seated on the bench, under the walnut tree, the very spot on which poor Oliver had sat after that rush home from his fatal visit to Mr. Paul’s office at Islip, Jane ventured to say a word about Juliet, and, to her surprise, found that Valentine knew nothing.

“I have not heard any news yet, Jane,” he said. “I came straight to you from the station. Presently I shall go back to astonish Aunt Mary Ann. Why? What about Juliet?”

Jane enlightened him by degrees, giving him one particular after another. Valentine listening in silence to the end.

“I don’t believe it.”

“Don’t believe it!” exclaimed Jane.

“Not a syllable of it.”

“But what do you mean? What don’t you believe?”

“That Juliet threw herself into the pond. My dear, she is not the kind of girl to do it; she’d no more do such a thing than I should.”

“Oh, Val! It is true the drags brought up nothing but eels; but——”

“Of course they didn’t. There’s nothing but eels there to bring up.”

“Then where can Juliet be?—what is the mystery?” dissented Jane. “What became of her?”

“That I don’t know. Rely upon it, Janey, she is not there. She’d never jump into that cold pond. How long ago is this?”

“Nearly a month. Three weeks last Thursday.”

“Ah,” said Valentine. “Well, I’ll see if I can get to the bottom of it.”

Showing himself indoors to Mr. and Mrs. Preen for a few minutes, Valentine then made his way to Mrs. Cramp’s, where he would stay. He knew his mother was away, and her house shut up. Mrs. Cramp, recovering from her surprise, told him he was welcome as the sun in harvest. She had been more grieved when Valentine went wrong than the world suspected.

Seated over the fire, in her comfortable parlour, after supper, Valentine told her his plans. He had come over for one month; could not leave his farm longer; just to shake hands with them all, and to take Jane Preen back with him. That discussed, Mrs. Cramp entered gingerly upon the sad news about Juliet—not having thought well to deluge him with it the moment he came in. Valentine refused to believe it—as he had refused with Jane.

“Bless the boy!” exclaimed Mrs. Cramp, staring. “What on earth makes him say such a thing?”

“Because I am sure of it, Aunt Mary Ann. Fancy strong-minded Juliet throwing herself into an eel pond! She is gadding about somewhere, deep already, I daresay, in another flirtation.”

Mrs. Cramp, waiting to collect her scattered senses, shook her head plaintively. “My dear,” she said, “I don’t pretend to know the fashion of things in the outlandish world in which you live, but over here it couldn’t be. Once a girl has been drowned in a pond—whether eel, duck, or carp pond, what matters it?—she can’t come to life again and go about flirting.”

To us all Valentine was, as Mrs. Cramp had phrased it, more welcome than the sun in harvest, and was made much of. When a young fellow has been going to the bad, and has the resolution to pull up and to persevere, he should be honoured, cried the Squire—and we did our best to honour Val. For a week or two there was nothing but visiting everywhere. He was then going to Guernsey to see his mother, when she wrote to stop him, saying she was coming back to Crabb for his wedding.

And while Valentine was reading his mother’s letter at the tea-table—for the Channel Islands letters always came in by the second post—Mrs. Cramp was opening one directed to her. Suddenly Valentine heard a gurgle—and next a moan. Looking up, he saw his aunt gasping for breath, her face an indescribable mixture of emotions.

“Why, Aunt Mary Ann,” he cried; “are you ill?”

“If I’m not ill, I might be,” retorted Mrs. Cramp. “Here’s a letter from that wretched girl—that Juliet! She’s not dead after all. She has been in Guernsey all this time.”

Valentine paused a moment to take in the truth of the announcement, and then burst into laughter deep and long. Mrs. Cramp handed him the letter.

“DEAR AUNT MARY ANN,—I hope you will forgive me! Georgie writes word that you have been in a way about me. I thought you’d be sure to guess it was only a trick. I did it to give a thorough fright to that wicked cat; you can’t think how full of malice she is. I put on my old navy-blue serge and close winter bonnet, which no one would be likely to miss or remember, and carried the other things to the edge of the pond and left them there. While you were at supper I stole away, caught the last train at Crabb Junction, and surprised Clementina at Edgbaston. She promised to be secret—she hates that she-cat—and the next morning I started for Guernsey. Clementina did not tell Georgie till a week ago, after she heard that Valentine would not believe it, and then Georgie wrote to me and blew me up. I am enchanted to hear that the toad passes her nights in horrid fear of seeing my ghost, and that her yellow hair is turning blue; Georgie says it is.—Your ever affectionate and repentant niece,


“P.S.—I hope you will believe I am very sorry for paining you, dear Aunt Mary Ann. And I want to tell you that I think it likely I shall soon be married. An old gentleman out here who has a beautiful house and lots of money admires me very much. Please let Fred Scott know this.”

And so, there it was—Julietta was in the land of the living and had never been out of it. And we had gone through our fright and pain unnecessarily, and the poor eels had been disturbed for nothing.

They were married at the little church at Duck Brook; no ceremony, hardly anyone invited to it. Mr. Preen gave Jane away. Tom Chandler and Emma were there, and Mrs. Jacob Chandler and Mrs. Cramp. Jane asked me to go—to see the last of her, she said. She wore a plain silk dress of a greyish colour, and a white straw bonnet with a bit of orange blossom—which she took off before they started on their journey. For they went off at once to Liverpool—and would sail the next day for their new home.

And Valentine is always steady and prospering, and Jane says Canada is better than England and she wouldn’t come back for the world.

And Juliet is married and lives in Guernsey, and drives about with her old husband in his handsome carriage and pair. But Mrs. Cramp has not forgiven her yet.

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