SEED-TIME AND HARVEST
"THAT boy's gone, ma'am," said cook, with
exasperation, as she entered the dining-room to receive her orders
for the day.
"Boffy, you mean?" said her mistress, looking
up from her desk.
Cook nodded acquiescence, as if afraid to trust
herself to speak on so sore a subject.
"I am very sorry," said the lady, laying down
her pen. "Since when has he been missed?"
"He hasn't been in the house all night, as far
as I can make out, ma'am," replied the servant.
"I wish you had told me sooner before Mr.
Esslemont went out," said the lady.
"I thought he was only up to some of his
tricks, ma'am; for he's not like a Christian child at all," was the
"And he is not a Christian child, Sarah" said
Mrs. Esslemont. "Do you not remember, when your master brought him
in from the doorstep, where he was nearly frozen to death, that he
asked him for his Christian name, and he answered that he hadn't got
a Christian name that his father called him Boffy, and his mother
called him Jack. He is not a Christian child; but a heathen child in
a Christian land."
"He is just a heathen, ma'am. You can't make
him understand that picking and stealing aren't right; he just
glories in them," said Sarah.
"He has been taught no better," said her
mistress. "Both father and mother are thieves."
"He wasn't fit for a respectable house, ma'am,"
said Sarah, with a satisfied air, as feeling herself part and parcel
of the respectability.
"Ah, Sarah, there's a house not made with
hands, eternal in the heavens; he may yet be fit for that," said
"I wouldn't mind," broke in Sarah, evidently
determined to make a clean breast of her objections to the
delinquent Boffy "I wouldn't mind if he wasn't such an audacious
little toad, always making faces behind your back, and tumbling like
a wheel along the kitchen floor when he ought to be cleaning the
knives and the boots."
"We knew you would have something to put up
with from the poor boy's ignorance and rudeness," said her mistress,
gently; "but we asked you to help us in the work of saving him."
"What are we to do, ma'am?" rejoined the cook,
looking somewhat ashamed.
"We must wait till Mr. Esslemont comes home,
Sarah," said her mistress; "and if the boy returns in the meantime
send him up to me."
But the boy did not return then, nor
afterwards, though Mr. Esslemont made every inquiry for him in the
neighbourhood of his former home, if home it could be called. One
fact came out, however, which was sufficient to account for his
disappearance his parents had been released the week before from a
three months' imprisonment. On learning this Mr. Esslemont desisted
from further search.
The quiet of the house remained unbroken after
that for many days. There were no altercations in the kitchen, so
loud and long that they penetrated to the upper regions, mixed with
gusts of shrill derisive laughter. There was no ominous clatter on
the stairs, telling of disaster to plates and dishes. Such sounds
had been all the more aggressive and startling that they seemed
alien to the house, which was truly a house of peace. A charmed
silence seemed to rest on all its rooms, to fall in the footsteps of
its mistress, and to brood about her where she sat. It was a house
which had an air "of duties beautifully done." It looked swept "as
for God's laws." It was all order and purity, and the perfume of
It was of the nature of a privilege to enter
that house. The very servants felt it, and stayed there in spite of
many a perverseness. Their master and mistress did not send them
lightly away; they held them committed to their care, even as their
children were. If they had faults they tried to correct them, and to
plant in them the opposite virtues. The most careless knew that they
might win their lifelong friendship, and that they had ever their
Christian love and care.
The house was not always so still, though
somehow it always preserved that atmosphere of peace the kind of
atmosphere one feels surrounding a solitary lily. Three times a year
it echoed with careless feet, and rang with blithe voices and happy
laughter. These times were when the Esslemont boys were home for
their holidays. They were coming home now Charles, Frank, and
Arthur. Mr. Esslemont had taken a house for the summer, some seven
miles out of town, that they and their mother might enjoy the season
in the country, while he came backwards and forwards from the city.
Mr. Esslemont's success in life had been
moderate. He was a merchant; not a princely, not even a great
merchant, but one with a character of the highest honour and
integrity, a character which he thoroughly deserved. He had begun
business with a small amount of money, and had married a wife with
none; and the very scrupulousness of his mind had prevented him from
making those great ventures which either enrich or ruin.
Mr. Esslemont had lately been thinking much of
the future of his sons. The eldest, after this vacation, was not
going back to school; he was now sixteen, and his father proposed to
take him into his own office. Charles knew his destination, and was
satisfied. His father would not have forced his inclination if he
had made another choice; but Charles had, it seemed, no choice. The
office was quite as acceptable to him as any other career. The only
fault his father found with him was a too easy acceptance. Frank was
far more difficult to please; even Arthur, who was only twelve, had
more mind and will than his eldest brother. It had been so from the
days when, at their nursery window in the quiet square, they had
elected to be policemen, organ-grinders, or Punches.
These boys had been, as children, singularly
good and happy; it might be owing to the pious care of a most loving
mother, watchful not only over the wants of their bodies, but over
the needs of their young souls, and losing no opportunity of sowing
the good seed there in the precious spring-time.
Charles was his mother's favourite, perhaps
from that facile disposition which had awakened his father's fears. It was a disposition exceedingly sweet and lovable on the surface;
but the sweetness did not seem to penetrate. His smiles and caressess were always ready, but they returned too soon after grave
rebuke, and the rebuke was forgotten, and the offence repeated with
equal readiness. Still his face was so fair and sunny. He was so
easily pleased, so quick to return every affectionate care, and so
open and guileless, that Mr. Esslemont sometimes caught himself
giving Charles a preference in his heart. Frank was much more
independent, cleverer, and more ambitious at his lessons; stronger
and more selfish in his play. While little Arthur he was still
called little Arthur had as yet only one prevailing
characteristic, over and above being a generous, warm-hearted,
little fellow; he was very fond of play, and he played so hard and
earnestly that it was harder than the very hardest work.
The vacation came, and the summer weeks passed
brightly with this happy circle. The time was varied by visitors, by
games, by walks, in which they gained a knowledge of the country and
country pursuits. Mr. Esslemont spared from business a day in every
week to accompany them in their excursions. He and the boys walked;
and Mrs. Esslemont, and any lady friend who might happen to be with
her, drove in the little, plain pony-carriage, which had been let
along with the house.
The weather was lovely, quite un-English
weather; cloudless skies, and not a drop of rain for weeks. It told
on the verdure, however. The farmer who was their next neighbour,
and with whom they made friends, in seeking to purchase the
delicious farm products of fresh-churned butter, new-laid eggs, &c.,
felt it severely.
"I have three fields this side the river," he
said one day to Mrs. Esslemont, "but there's only one good for
anything. I sow the same seed in all, but it won't come up the same.
You would hardly believe that this slope was treated exactly like
that field at the bottom. The slope's that stony and thin in the
soil, this six weeks' drought has burnt it as bare as the back o' my
hand. The other side is good soil enough, but I can make nothing of
it for weeds. I may rout them out again and again before they have
time to seed, but it's all to no purpose. The thistle-downs come
over in clouds from that bit of waste yonder another man's land
and next year we're as bad as ever."
"And I have three sons," said Mrs. Esslemont to
herself, as she walked thoughtfully away. "They get the same
education and the same training; they read the same books; they go
to the same school; they receive the same counsels and love; and yet
they will none of them yield the same return.
She looked up at the slope basking in the
sunshine, bare and white and cracked, with here and there a little
streak of vegetation to show what might have been; and then down
into the hollow on the fresh vivid green of a fine turnip crop. Then
she shaded her face from the bright sun that was shining alike on
both, and stood still, trembling with awe before the terrible
"Nature made me thus!" "Circumstances placed
me thus!" "God dealt with me thus!" the fields seemed to cry. The
spirit of the Christian mother took refuge in prayer; but she could not cease to think of the parable which
had been presented to her; and it returned to her mind still more vividly in the course of
the conversation which took place that very evening.
"To-morrow will be my last holiday with you,"
said Mr. Esslemont. "We shall be going into town early next week."
"And I shall be going to the office," said
Charles, in a complacent tone.
"And we are going back to school. Hooray!"
cried Arthur. But I am bound to state that he was thinking more of
the cricket-ground than of the school-room.
"It will be my turn next to leave school," said
Frank, in a deliberative way. "I hope I am not going into the
"Why do you hope so?" asked his father, gently. His mother's heart beat strangely. He was going to make one
important choice in life, either for good or evil.
"Oh, it's so slow," he answered. "I would like
to be a barrister, or a clergyman, or something of that sort. Most
of our fellows are going into the professions; and I don't care for
"In a year from this time you shall make your
choice, Frank," said his father. "I have always determined to give
each of you a choice in the matter of a future calling; only if one
or other of you choose one of the learned professions, he will have
to undergo considerable self-denial. I am not a rich man; I cannot
afford to withdraw large sums from my business. It requires all my
savings to increase my capital as my business increases. I could not
send you up to college, Frank, with the income of a gentleman of
fortune. You would have to work hard and live sparingly, as I had
once to do; and you will probably be all your life a poor and
Frank looked rather crestfallen at this.
"But," he interrupted, "men make great fortunes
at the bar, and rise to be judges, lord chancellors, and all that;
and a poor clergyman may be a bishop some day."
"I did not say that you would probably be a
poor man to frighten you, Frank. You may be considerably poor, and
very happy. But there are not many judges, nor yet many bishops, and
only one lord chancellor, and without money, influence, or
connections, you would hardly have a chance of rising."
"Then it's a great shame. If a fellow is clever
he ought to rise."
"But the men who rise are clever and have these
things besides. And, Frank, the highest and best of them have chosen
their work for the work's sake, and not for the reward. The reward
they may and do accept, work for, rejoice in, but still it is second
to the work itself, and to the love of it."
"Well, papa, you can't keep ledgers," said
clever Frank, "for the love of ledgers."
"And why not?" asked his father. "I think I
could show you that ledgers help to keep up the order of civilised
life, and that they are records of benefits given and received
records to be kept pure from every blot of falsehood and dishonesty. Let me tell you a dream a daydream I have indulged in concerning
the future of you three boys. All of you have gone into the office
one after the other, have learnt the business, and entered into
partnership. Your father has retired, or is but a sleeper. You have
had a far fairer start than he had you begin, indeed, where he
left off; and there are three of you. You can work into each other's
hands, and need leave nothing of first importance to strangers. By
your united exertions you are wealthy while still in youth. You are
men of ample leisure, for you can relieve one another; only one at a
time need absolutely be at the helm. You occupy your leisure in
study, in travel, and in public business, and add the influence of
knowledge and experience to that of wealth. And by your wealth, by
your influence, by the time at your command, you serve God in your
day and generation, and bring forth a hundredfold fruit to His
glory. That is my picture of the brothers Esslemont."
Tears stood in Mrs. Esslemont's eyes, as she
looked on the lads listening to the words of their father. Charles
was looking over his shoulder with smiles of acquiescence. Frank
turned away without speaking, and showed little emotion of any kind. Arthur looked up in his father's face with one of his eager looks,
and cried, "I am going into the office, papa. I wish I was as old as
Years passed on, and Mr. Esslemont's daydream
seemed in a fair way of being realised. The brothers had one after
the other entered their father's business. Frank had laid aside his
ambition to belong to one of the learned professions, and, strangely
enough, was far more devoted to business than either Charles or
Arthur. The latter, it is true, was younger by two years, and there
was nothing worse to be said against him than that he loved a
holiday, with plenty of sunshine and fresh air, and brisk exercise.
Charles was now twenty-one, and by all his
acquaintances, and even by his father's friends, considered quite an
exemplary young fellow; and yet there was a something his father
missed, even in worldly matters. He had the unhappy quality, too,
which brings people into money difficulties so often, and which is
neither extravagance nor vice, but an uncontrolled surface
generosity. Whatever Charlie's allowance might be, it was always
exhausted before the end of the quarter, and he was borrowing of Frank
or Arthur, generally of the former, who had always most to spend
just when he expected more. As for Arthur, he was either saving
enthusiastically for some great object, or spending upon it more
It was at this time that Mr. Esslemont began to
feel his health failing, and consulted a physician. The physician
ordered rest and change, and, if possible, a winter abroad.
Was the latter possible? Mr. Esslemont and his
wife consulted together. They were now comparatively rich, and
Charles was to become a partner in the business immediately.
"You must go, my love," said Mrs. Esslemont,
"and I shall go with you. Sarah will take care of the house and the
boys' comfort, and Mr. Cole will take care of the office."
Mr. Cole was an old and confidential clerk of
Mr. Esslemont's, and might be trusted to any extent.
"And then there is Charlie," Mrs. Esslemont,
continued, with pride.
Charlie had not lost the charm of sweetness
yet; and he was most sweet to his mother. He made her tender little
speeches, and was always ready to escort her or stay by her. She
never noticed, though others did, that he never denied himself
anything in order to please her, and that his service was
Arthur would save a whole quarter through in
order to bring her, for a Christmas gift, something utterly
unexpected and valuable no matter that his gifts were generally
useless and even troublesome. Mrs. Esslemont had a whole drawerful
of them, unwearable articles, which she could only keep for his
"I wish the boys had been a little older before
this happened," said Mr. Esslemont, with a sigh.
"Charlie will look after them," was the
mother's answer, thinking of the younger two. Her firstborn was
already a man in her eyes a man on whom she could lean, and in
whom she could trust.
"I can trust Frank better than I can Charles,"
said Mr. Esslernont. He spoke with hesitation, and a look in his
face which deprecated the pain his words would give.
"You have a strange distrust of Charles," said
Mrs. Esslemont, sorely hurt.
"A year ago you remember what hopes we had of
him, and how we rejoiced over him with the joy of his birthtime,"
rejoined Mr. Esslemont.
"Ah, yes," replied Mrs. Esslemont, tears
standing in her eyes. "It was a happy time. We thought our boy had
truly chosen the better part."
"And yet our hopes faded, we could not tell
how. His goodness was as the morning cloud or the early dew," said
the father, sadly.
"So it has seemed to us," said the pleading
mother. "But sometimes, though the rosy cloud of morning melts into
a dull grey dawn, there comes afterwards a pure and perfect day. The
first flush of heavenly love may seem to die out; but it has taken
hold of our boy's heart, and will show itself some day. Oh, my
husband, let us trust in this!"
"I wish I could," was all he answered,
"You are ill; you are depressed," she said,
soothingly. "You and I will go away together and have a long
holiday. Could we not have the boys with us, one at the time?" she
"That could easily be managed" he answered.
"And there will be such letters to write!" she
exclaimed, with something of youthful eagerness in her voice and in
her sweet eyes.
"We might take Arthur with us," said Mr.
Esslemont. "He is of least use in the office, of course."
And so it was settled that they should go to
Nice, taking Arthur with them, who was to be sent home in a month. Frank was to take the next turn, and last of all Charles, who would
accompany his parents back to England.
Alas for the plans of earthly happiness! Mr.
and Mrs. Esslemont went to Nice, and Arthur went with them. But the
first month of their stay was destined to be the last, and he for
whose sake they had gone out was never to return. He was left behind
in the resting-place where so many like him are laid who come
thither year after year, seeking life and finding death instead.
"I shall have my holiday in heaven, Agnes," he
had said to his wife, when the end became so suddenly sure and close
"Oh, my love, my love! and if you had not
worked so hard we might have had you here with us so much longer,"
she had answered, in the blindness of her anguish.
"I have enjoyed my work, and shall have my
holiday in heaven," he repeated. Then an anguish equal to her own
had possessed him. The solemn calm which had followed the Master's
summons had passed away, and he cried, "Help me, my darling! help me
to bear the parting!"
And she did help him. No moan of her coming
desolation passed her lips as she watched by his pillow; only words
of hope and faith, and future meeting in the house of many mansions.
Her house had not been left unto her desolate. She had her three bright, beautiful sons, in all the promise of
their youth, about her. Arthur, the youngest of all, the "baby" of a
few years back, had almost taken his father's place in that sad home
journey. Tears had come into strange eyes to see the tender devotion
of the boy to the widowed mother; and Frank and Charles had hastened
to meet her at Dover, and to surround her with their love.
And thus at the time when it was heaviest her
burden was lightened, and she bore it on without fainting under it. And soon she could smile upon the lads, who forgot, as youth will
forget, the dead. They had need, she thought, of the joy of their
youth, and so she smiled on them. But through the all-day silent
home there went, as she went, a sound of sighing.
She gave herself more than ever to labouring
for others not in fixed and formal ways; these too were good, but
she had her own way. It was never to lose sight of any one who had
come in contact with her life. Girls who had served her for a year
or two and got married would bring their babies and other troubles
to her, and get her advice and help. In their sickness and sorrow
she would go a journey any day to help and comfort them. It was
astonishing how much of this work had accumulated on her hands in
the course of twenty years how many little garments she had made
with her own hands for poor, toiling, sickly mothers, who expected
another little one to enter into their life with how many
cordials, bodily and spiritual, she had strengthened some who had
departed from it. Her time, and her strength, and her love, and her
life, went with the simplest gifts, and made them good.
Nor were there wanting other duties to those in
her own circle. There were friends and acquaintances in whose joy
and sorrow she shared. And, above all, there were her boys' friends;
often young strangers, alone in the great city youths whose
mothers blessed her as they read of her warm and constant welcome to
the very bosom of a Christian home, where the glow of true kindness
attracted them from the glare of false pleasure which fell upon
their path on every side.
Charles was great at making friends. His school
friendships had been legion, which is not saying much for their
lastingness. He was too ready to make acquaintance, too rash in
rushing into confidence. His father had noticed this, and also how
prone he was to let his mind be coloured by the tone of his
At the time of hope, to which Mr. Esslemont had
alluded so sadly on the eve of his departure from home, Charles's
friend had been a youth of sincere piety, who, just before Mr.
Esslemont's illness, had gone out to India, and been replaced by one
whom Mr. Esslemont had every reason to distrust and dislike. Mrs. Esslemont had hoped that, in deference to his father's wishes,
Charles would have given up George Sinclair. The wishes of a good
and tender father often have greater weight when he is gone and can
no longer enforce them; but it was not so with Charles Esslemont. During his father's absence he and George Sinclair were inseparable, and the influence of the latter
became supreme. When Mrs. Esslemont returned she found that Frank
had spent almost every evening alone, and that he often did not so
much as know the hour of his brother's return.
Deeply grieved, and yet unable to condemn her
favourite son, the mother pleaded for him.
Thus Mr. Sinclair has shown affection for
him, and he cannot bear to return it with unkindness. She was so
sympathetic, she threw herself so entirely into her boy's position,
that this seemed almost excuse enough. So evening after evening she
invited the young man, whom she did not like, and whom she would
have liked still less if she had had a young daughter by her side.
Mrs. Esslemont's society had no charm for
George Sinclair, and he soon ceased coming, preferring to wait at
the corner of the square till Charles joined him and then both would
hasten away into scenes where the face of Charles Esslemont's gentle
mother would have been as that of an avenging angel, showing to the
men and women there the height from which they had fallen.
Things went on thus for a time. At first his
mother's tearful pleadings had disturbed Charles Esslemont much, so
much that he almost dreaded to repeat the offence. But each time
that it was repeated, under the influence of George Sinclair's
laughter and sneers, they disturbed him less and less. He no longer
went about all day with an uneasy sense that something was wrong
with him; but he was glad nevertheless when his mother's remonstrances ceased. She too saw, with anguish unutterable, that
each repetition lessened their effect. Henceforth she wept and
prayed in secret for her firstborn son.
Alas, her heart was to be yet more sorely
tried! Frank had now reached his majority, and each brother on
coming of age became a partner in the business to the extent of
one-third, Mrs. Esslemont's income and the working salaries of the
brothers being deducted first. For some time Frank had been anything
but cordial with Charles. He disapproved strongly of his brother's
new companion and his set. He knew that they were extravagant,
reckless young men, frequenters of theatres and music saloons; he
knew also that they bet and gambled, smoked, and drank to excess.
No sooner, therefore, was he duly admitted as a
partner than he made a vigorous onslaught on his brother's
management and his brother's private expenditure. The stormy
discussion, repressed in the office, broke out again at home, and in
the mother's presence. Frank appealed to her directly.
"Mother, do you think it is right for Charles
to take money out of the business when he pleases?"
"What is the use of your troubling her about a
matter she can't understand?" said Charles, in a lofty tone. "I can surely do what I like with
"You must be sure it is your own first,"
"My own!" cried Charles, hotly. "Of course it's
my own. One-third of the whole concern is mine, and I could withdraw
from it tomorrow."
"You have no right to touch the capital," said
"I haven't touched the capital, you fool,"
cried Charles, with flashing eyes. "There are the profits first."
"How do we know that there will be any profits
at the year's end? The losses are heavier than they have ever been
before," resumed Frank, with quiet determination. "I don't approve
of several recent transactions."
"Oh, you don't!" sneered Charles.
"If it wasn't for old Cole, this last year or
two the business would have been ruined," returned Frank.
"I'll show you that I can do without old Cole!"
shouted Charles, in passion. "He's always siding with you. I'll give
him warning to quit to-morrow."
"You shall not," said Frank.
"My children! my children!" cried Mrs.
Esslemont, covering her face with her hands. She had looked on,
trembling, while her two sons confronted each other with flashing
eyes, and ringing tones, and looks of wrath and scorn.
"My children! my children!"
At the wailing voice Frank calmed himself and
went over to her side, where Arthur was already standing. Charles
was left alone opposite to the three, and gave no sign of
Frank's voice became at once calmly
explanatory, as he told his mother the cause of the dispute. Charles
had drawn his whole year's salary in little more than half a year,
and certain round sums were already standing debited against him in
the books. Moreover, Frank complained of days of absence, when
Charles left the office with George Sinclair, and they never saw his
face during working hours; and of other days when, as Frank
expressed it, "he might just as well have stayed away, for all the
work he did sitting yawning his head off"
"I'm not going to stop to hear myself abused at
this rate," said Charles, turning on his heel.
"Stay, Charles; stay and hear
me," cried Mrs.
Esslemont, rising and stretching out her hands.
But Charles, deaf to the entreaty, was already
What an evening that was in the once happy home
of the Esslemonts! The silence was worse than tears and
lamentations. It was like the evening that comes upon a day when
death has been in the house. Accustomed tasks are laid aside, for
nothing seems worth doing in the face of that "dire discouragement,
that end of all things." There was the narrowed circle, the vacant
chair, the hesitation in speaking the accustomed name.
Meantime, Charles had met his evil companion at
the corner of the square. "What a time you have kept me waiting! Couldn't you cut the old lady's apron-strings sooner?" was George
Charles was offended at its freedom. Just then
he was feeling that his evening's pleasure had been spoilt for him. "You forget that I am my own master, Sinclair, and that I never
speak of my mother in that way," he said, testily.
George Sinclair let it pass; but he craftily
insinuated that it was a pity to vex her that what was only the
natural liberty of the young seemed licence to the old, and that
therefore it was better that they should live apart. There was
nothing like living in lodgings; you could have your own way then
without hurting any one. He depicted his own free and easy life in
such glowing colours, that it seemed to Charles the height of human
felicity to have no one to care for him. Nothing, he knew, would
satisfy his mother, except the giving up of his present mode of
life; and he began to look upon himself as a persecuted individual,
because she would sit up for him and reproach him, not in words,
indeed, but by altered looks, by sighs, and signs of tears, and a
pale and jaded face at the breakfast table, instead of her old sweet
The end of it was that Charles betook himself
to lodgings; he took rooms in the house with his friend, Mr.
Sinclair. It was not done without pain on his part, in the midst of
the pain which he inflicted. For lack of one good reason, he of
course gave many, none of which his mother would accept. But her
reasoning, as well as her pleading, was vain, and at length she
desisted desisted, feeling that her favourite son had inflicted on
her heart an incurable wound. The wound was so sore, because she had
expected it so little. She had thought him so yielding and so soft,
and she had struck upon a very rock.
years have passed away. Mrs. Esslemont has dined with her sons,
Frank and Arthur. She lives alone in the old house with Arthur;
Frank is only a guest to-day. He is a frequent and a welcome one,
and he generally comes accompanied by his wife. But on this occasion
he is alone.
Dinner is over, and all three rise. Frank asks
leave to conduct his mother to the drawing-room.
"May I not be present?" she asked, with a
strange tremor in her voice.
mother," said Frank, firmly.
"Better not," echoed Arthur.
Frank gave her his arm, and led her away.
Arthur following, for she seems ready to faint.
At past fifty Mrs. Esslemont is still fair and
graceful, but she is very feeble, feebler than her age warrants. Her hair is grey under her pretty
lace cap, and her cheek is thin and colourless.
The wound that we know of has bled, and bled,
and bled. It is bleeding afresh to-night. This is why she is so wan and faint.
Frank sets her tenderly in her chair, and
stands by her in silence. All three are silent, burdened evidently
with grave and anxious thought. Frank is the first to break the
silence. He looked at his watch, and said, "He will be here
Mrs. Esslemont gave a little gasp. "For my
sake, deal kindly with him," she said in a whisper.
"You know we have been driven to this," said
Frank. "You yourself, mother, acknowledge the necessity." She bent
her head, and a moan of acquiescence escaped her.
Frank hurried down-stairs.
Arthur lingered. "Don't fret, little mother,"
"I will try, darling," she answered. "And do
not let him go without coming up to see me," she added.
"I will bring him to you," said Arthur, and
followed his brother. They left her there alone, and went down to a
small room at the back of the dining-room, called by courtesy the
library. It certainly contained a few books; but it was more
remarkable for its air of business than for any pretension to
literature. The meeting to take place there was certainly a business
"Unpunctual as usual," said Frank, standing on the
Arthur made no reply. He was seated at the green
leather-covered table, his head buried in his hands, his hands
buried in thick locks of chestnut hair.
Surely in these two
sons of hers Mrs. Esslemont is happy. They look so strong, so
handsome, so good, in their grave, youthful manhood. Frank's face is
a very fine one; full of energy, and determination, and keen
intelligence. It is a little too eager and anxious in expression
perhaps, though that look is not habitual, and melts into genial
kindness, and even tenderness, at home.
But it is growing
upon him, just as there is growing on Arthur's a look of repose and
A knock at the hall door, which Mrs. Esslemont hears,
and half rises as if to answer, and then sinks down fainter and
feebler than before. "There he is at last," says Frank; and Arthur
raises his face out of his hands, with that look upon his face which
tells plainly that the business, whatever it may be, has begun with
him in prayer. He is the first to greet his brother with an offered
hand, a greeting which Frank follows somewhat reluctantly.
But Charles how he has changed! The clear blue eyes are muddy and
furtive, the fair complexion blotched and smirched. He has altered
out of all knowledge. No one could recognise in the bloated, sensual
man the slender, delicate, refined-looking youth.
trembles, too, as he takes a chair, and draws towards him a bundle
The business of the meeting begins, and that
business is the compulsory withdrawal of Charles Esslemont from the
firm of Esslemont Brothers. Ten years ago his serious embarrassments
had begun. Frank had then set himself against his taking money out
of the business, borrowing Charles called it, and he had accordingly
borrowed elsewhere. He had borrowed from unscrupulous money-lenders, until he could borrow no more. Lately his dishonoured bills
had been coming into the hands of his brothers, and his disreputable
creditors had been clamouring in the office. It had come to a crisis
at last. He must be compelled to resign.
It was not without a
struggle that he had acquiesced in this necessity; but if the firm
had paid his debts it would equally have encroached on their
capital, and they had no security that there were not other debts
The meeting lasted hours, hours of agony to the poor
mother up-stairs, who knew the seeds of bitterness which must be
sown in them. At last, however, it came to an end. The deed of
separation was signed, and Charles Esslemont had agreed to receive
his share of his father's business in instalments of money, to be
paid throughout the next two years.
"We are still brothers,
Charles, though we are partners no longer," said Arthur, again
holding out his hand.
Charles rose to go, saying, "Good-bye,"
as he grasped the cordial hand.
"Come up-stairs first, and
see mother," said Arthur. "She expects you."
"Stay and have
some supper," said Frank.
"No, thank you. I would rather not. I'll come in and see mother some time soon. I'd rather not see her
to-night. I couldn't stand a scene."
"I promised to bring you
up-stairs," said Arthur, trying to detain him. "Don't disappoint
But Charles would not be detained. He turned, and
nodded to Frank a careless goodbye, shook off Arthur's friendly
grasp from his shoulder, and walked out of the house.
sound had escaped the ear of Mrs. Esslemont. The opening doors, the
voices, and not angry ones, had roused her to eager expectancy. She
trembled all over, her eyes fixed on the door. Then came the sound
of departure, and she knew her disappointment. Once more the desire
of her eyes had failed, and a sharp spasm of pain attacked her. Arthur sprang upstairs to find her, and comfort her. Her hand was on
her left side. Her breath came and went, and failed suddenly.
"It has killed her," cried Arthur in anguish, as his brother entered
"He has killed her," said Frank, as he bent over
her for a moment, and then rushed away for the nearest doctor. But
the doctor could do nothing. She had died of a longstanding disease
of the heart.
Charles came, as invited, to his mother's
funeral, but he turned away from her very grave unreconciled to his
"If Frank had not driven me to borrow from these
people I would never have got into such a mess," he said to himself.
And so he went on his way apart.
But things had not been
going smoothly for some time back with the house of Esslemont
Brothers. Many who had dealt with it in the father's time had
retired from dealing with it. Frank might have won back their
confidence, for he was a much abler man of business than Charles,
but Charles had had the start. He had not only alienated the old
friends of the firm, but he had involved it in new transactions with
new men. The new men had gone on for a time, and their trade had
been more lucrative; but some of them had failed already, and more
were failing. Esslemont Brothers were doing a far more risky
business; and to retrieve the losses that had come upon them, Frank,
with whom the real management now rested, entered upon a career more
He had married about two years after his
father's death a very beautiful girl of eighteen, the daughter of
another city merchant, who had known his father well. The marriage
had the approbation of every one connected with both parties, and
promised equal happiness to both.
As time went on the promise
seemed amply redeemed. Mrs. Frank Esslemont was still more beautiful
as a young matron than she had been as a girl. She had a perfect
temper, reflected in her clear eyes and unruffled brow. She never
fretted her husband, nor seemed fretted by him. Some wives would
have grudged his devotion to business, and would have insisted upon
his sharing their pleasures. But Mrs. Esslemont, though always
pleased to have her handsome husband by her side, went on her way
complacently, enjoying herself without him, took her drives, and
paid her visits, and went to the seaside, leaving him to a yearly
season of bachelorhood, with a docility which was a great comfort to
the busy merchant.
When he was too tired to accompany her to
an evening party, she would even be kind enough to go alone without
looking in the least sulky or out of sorts. She would, on the
contrary, delight his eyes by coming down to him in her shining
silks and sparkling jewels, and handing him his tea before she went
out, and kissing him as she had kissed the children, for good-bye.
And they had beautiful children, four of them, who had been the
delight of their grandmamma, and had delighted in her, for she never
wearied of them and sent them up-stairs as their mamma did, to tire
themselves standing on chairs in the nursery windows; but showed
them pictures, and told them stories, and answered all their
questions, and "loved them so much." They used the word love for
her long, silent caresses, so different from their mamma's brief
kisses. Grandmamma, as well as the little ones, found something
missing in those short kisses.
Frank Esslemont's household
was an expensive one, with its full nursery, and its staff of
servants, and its gay young mistress; and he found all his income
necessary to meet its expenses. And while Mrs. Esslemont seemed to
tread on air and live on nectar, so light and stately she was in
walk and dance, so radiant in bloom and beauty, her husband's face
was growing greyer and greyer, the lines of care deepening about his
lips and eyes. His tread was becoming heavy, and yet eager; and the
dry, brown hair on his handsome head thinner and thinner.
Frank Esslemont was not a man to play fast and loose with money. He
was not a man to get into debt lightly; thinking this is a bad year,
but the next will make up for it. He had been living up to his
income, and found no help for that, but he was not going to live
above it. The paying up of Charles's share of the business would
greatly reduce the income to be derived from it for a year or two,
permanently, indeed, if he, Frank, did not make it up again. And he
determined to make it up.
He lost no time in speaking to his
wife on the subject of retrenchment, and she lent him a patient
enough hearing, but on each detail remained immovable as marble. Not
a single servant could be dispensed with. Her brougham at the
livery-stable, how could she do without that? Her more fortunate
sisters had obtained West End establishments. Was she never to see
them more? Her visit to the seaside, that, of course, was
indispensable for her health and the health of the children. No; she
indulged in no extravagance. She had been thinking of a pair of more
fashionable earrings and brooch to match, for a christening party,
that she would give up; and she might make her French white silk
into an under-skirt, and so do with only half a new dress for the
Frank tried to find excuses for her. He had not
sufficiently impressed her with his necessity, and she had never
known what it was to go with a, wish ungratified. And then her
sisters were so rich, and so gay, and she did not like to appear
less rich and less gay. All this he said to himself; nevertheless,
his wife had planted the first thorn in his pillow.
and sharper thorn was the disinclination she showed to receive
Arthur into her House Arthur, who would soon be homeless, for the
old house in the square was to be given up now that Mrs. Esslemont
was dead. Sarah and another old servant were pensioned off, Frank
and Arthur paying the pensions between them; and the furniture was
to be sold, and the proceeds divided, Charles coming in for his
Under these circumstances, Arthur would have been glad
of a home with his sister-in-law, and Frank was about to offer it,
when his thorn pricked, and he thought he had better consult his
wife. He had little doubt of the result, for Arthur was a great
favourite with Mrs. Frank; and she would have taken him with her
into a round of gaieties if she could.
But he was mistaken. The house was so full. The children and the servants required so
much room. They were absolutely overcrowded. As far as the servants,
and even the children were concerned, it was true. They were
overcrowded. Two women slept in a little, airless, tireless room,
about ten feet square. Nurse and the baby had a good room to
themselves; but the other three children and the under-nurse had but
one, and that a small one, among them. These eight slept on one
floor, while, beneath, the whole space was devoted to Mrs. Esslemont's bedroom and dressing-room.
There were other two
floors, with the handsome public rooms, and each floor had a small
room to the back, one fitted as a sort of boudoir, the other as a
writing-room. Could either of those be given to Arthur? He would pay
handsomely for his board, and that would in the present state of
affairs be a consideration.
Mrs. Frank hoped she was not
going to be turned into a lodging-house keeper on the spot.
Frank Esslemont said no more, but another thorn had been planted,
nay, a whole nest of them, in his very heart.
Those lines of
care deepened yet more on Frank's handsome face. A great lust of
riches entered into his soul, all the greater that riches seemed to
have taken themselves wings from the house of Esslemont Brothers. But Frank was determined that they should be brought back at any
cost, that is, at any cost on his part. He often looked at his wife
now with a curious sensation, as if she was a stranger to him, and
the distance between them was growing instead of lessening.
Perhaps it was, for their lives were drifting more and more apart. While she sat down to her well-cooked, well-served dinner, he ate
his chop or steak now in a second-class eating-house, and went back
to his books again, often returning alone, after Arthur and the
clerks were gone. "She prefers my money to me," he said to himself
in the bitterness of his spirit, and she shall have it it, and not
me. And then, for he loved her, he would lean his head upon his
hand, and dream of a time when even she should say "It is enough
love me, my husband, give me love!" and he, withholding it for a
time, should at last be drawn to her, heart to heart.
present their separation was made complete by Frank's gradually
absenting himself from the one place to which he had ever
accompanied his wife without fail the church. At this she at first
opened her deep-set, violet eyes in a little astonishment; but she
put on her new bonnet over her elaborately-dressed hair, and went
without him. He said he was too tired to go, had too much to think
of just at present, and "you can go to heaven quite comfortably by
yourself," he added bitterly under breath.
Arthur went into
lodgings. Frank helped him to seek them out, with strong feelings of
regret and compunction, as he thought of the temptations of a
solitary life, and how one brother had already fallen a victim to
pleasure. Even though Arthur was no longer a youth, who could say
that he was safe to stand thus alone? We all of us unwittingly judge
of others by ourselves. Frank could understand the temptations of
the position, but he had no conception of a character which, instead
of finding in solitude a necessity to escape into the crowd of
pleasure-seekers, would only find in it a stimulus to devotion, an
incentive to holiness.
And this was what Arthur found in it. In realising to himself the new and strange loneliness, he realised
at the same time the presence of God, the fellowship of Christ
Jesus. That which souls like his have sought in all ages in hermits'
cells, in deserts, and on mountain tops, he had found on a sudden in
his commonplace comfortable rooms. In after life, when duties
pressed thick upon him, he would often look back upon the first year
which he spent in their complete seclusion, as a time of retreat, of
utter enjoyment and repose.
Arthur found himself in the house
of a young couple who had been highly recommended on account of
their piety and discretion. The husband was in the employment of a
great religious society, and his wife let out the apartments of the
large old-fashioned house, which they had taken for the purpose, in
order that she might add to his slender salary. They had been
married some half-dozen years, and had three children.
There were, each party being pleased with the other, gradual
advances to intimacy, both on Arthur's side and on the side of the
young couple under whose roof he had found so peaceful a seclusion.
Out of the fullness of their own domestic happiness they even pitied
the stranger, who had neither home, nor mother, nor sister, nor
wife. Then they asked him if instead of eating a solitary
meal, he would care to breakfast and sup with them, and join in
their morning and evening devotions. This last he had
sometimes longed to do, and he accepted the offer with thanks.
The pair were so simple and sincere,
and the little ones Arthur had a special fondness for children
were so pretty and winning, that the lodger became more and more one
of the family.
But at length an addition to it was expected;
not in the shape of another baby, that had already come, and had
been got over without any particular embarrassment. A young lady
from Scotland was the expected inmate, and she was to remain with
them for a few weeks, waiting to go to her future husband under the
escort of a mission party about to be sent out to one of the
stations in India. The wife of the missionary had been born and
brought up in the same northern village, and had undertaken to
escort her out. Her betrothed was a surgeon in the army, and he had
left her on the understanding that she would come to him as soon as
the death of an invalid father set her free to join him.
Grace Stuart came among them, with all the modest self-reliance
characteristic of a home-bred Scotch lassie, who fears no evil
because she thinks none. What a freshness, as of the mountain and
the loch, she brought with her into the close London rooms! The
young mistress of the house was pale and languid beside her. It was
something to see her toss the baby, whom mother and maid lugged
about with sighs of weariness, and set down with sighs of relief. She
would stand as long as his lordship pleased, bending backwards her
noble figure, light and strong, but not lithe, and holding him at
arm's length, jumping and crowing. It was a pleasure to see her
carry a heavy tray, bringing out her beautiful noble strength that
quality made so little account of in her sex, and yet so needful for
the bearing of the woman's burdens.
Everything in the house
seemed to go smoother from the time of her advent. "I don't know how
it is, but I feel ever so much stronger since she came," said Mrs.
Brown; "the very sight of her does me good." The children too looked
better. They saw a good deal more of the parks than ever they had
done before, and slept the sounder and the sweeter for it.
Nor was Grace idle on her own account. She was busy learning. Her
education had been somewhat neglected, a very uncommon thing in
Scotland; but the girl had been so well, and strong, and helpful,
that her services had been in too much demand at home, owing to the
accident which had made her father an invalid in his prime. She did
not belong to the peasant class, but to the class immediately above
it, in which there is far more of the struggle of life the upward
struggle not so much for a mere rise in the world, as it is
called, but for nobler things knowledge and use and scope of
Her youngest uncle on the mother's side he was not
older than an elder brother might be was about to begin his career
as a doctor, having been a successful student of medicine, when he
was cut off by an infectious fever, caught in ministering to the
poor in the crowded wynds of Glasgow. It was through this uncle that
Grace had become acquainted with her betrothed. Andrew Middleton
belonged to a higher class than Grace; but being poor and his own
master, nothing hindered him from making love to the noble-looking
country girl, and to bind her to him in his absence.
Andrew Middleton belonged to a far higher class, and had his
character been still higher, he had chosen a bride who was worthy of
it all. The form of her mind was both strong and simple a rare
combination. She went straight to all her ends, and these were ever
open and clearly defined. There was nothing little about her, and
she acted and spoke with a freedom in which her pure and sunny
nature seemed to revel. For instance, she was not ashamed to be seen
with a child's copy-book on the table before her, writing page after
page in order to improve her too childish hand, and bring it up to
the standard she had in her mind the smoothly-written letters of
her lover, of which one could catch a glimpse now and then, as far
as penmanship was concerned; for of their contents Grace, with the
noble reticence, so clearly defined from concealment, which she
could practice, never spoke at all. After the arrival of one she
would go about the house with a warmer smile on her perfect lips
she had the sweetest mouth and caress and fondle the baby by the
hour; that was all.
And she was spelling her way right
through an old dictionary, and doing the meanings at the same time;
and nothing hindered her accepting the help of Mr. Arthur in the
task. There was no coquetting in the clear grey eyes, raised in the
abstraction of study; in the pucker of the white forehead over some
particularly hard word. There was no simpering and blushing; the hue
on her soft cheek was deep and steady. She was in earnest in her
task, and made rapid progress in her simple studies, for she was
resolved not to shame by her ignorance the gentle breeding of her
With its preoccupation and its shield of love
and truth, Grace's heart was safe enough. Not so Arthur Esslemont's. He had reached the prime of manhood without having loved. He knew
little of` women, being without a sister, and he was in love with
Grace before he was aware.
Then he did what such a man was
sure to do, he suffered and gave no sign. He went on meeting her,
helping her, teaching her, preparing her, as it were, for another.
It was sweet, too, if it was bitter, and he shut his eyes to the
desolation that would follow. He could not think what life would be
if this soul, which had filled his with its sweet truth and purity,
should be withdrawn.
The time drew nearer and nearer, and
then there came a respite a respite which should have opened
Arthur's eyes to the danger he had incurred, it was hailed by him
with such desperate hidden eagerness. He had been prepared, not to
bid her good-bye he was unequal to that but to tear himself from
her, and to write a little farewell note accompanying a parting
gift. And now he had bought the books and written her name in each
of them, her name and the date, and tied them up in a parcel, which
he was going to leave behind him, when, as has been said, a respite
came. The missionary's wife had fallen ill, and the party was unable
It vexed Grace, the delay, it was easy to see
that. She seemed more cast down than any one seemed to think
The Indian mail was due then, and she expected a
letter from her lover. Duly it came too, and it happened to be
delivered at the breakfast table. Arthur stole a glance at her face
as she read it. Mrs. Brown was too busy to notice, and Mr. Brown had
already gone. His glance became fixed as he saw astonishment,
bewilderment, fear, grow into deadly horror. The deep bloom of
health could not fade out of her cheek, but her lips became pale,
and her hands shook and fluttered the flimsy sheet.
said not a word, and Arthur dared not ask if anything was amiss till
she rose and left the table.
"Something is wrong with Miss
Stuart," said Arthur, as he, too, prepared to go.
you think it is?" said Mrs. Brown. "I did not notice her
particularly, and there never is anything wrong with her, you know."
"She has had bad news, I think."
"In her letter?"
"Shall I go to her?"
"I should if I were you."
But Arthur had to take his departure. He could not go to her at any
rate, so he might as well go to business; and yet he might as well
have stayed where he was for all that he was able to do when he got
there. Over ledgers and letter books, and foreign letters would look
Grace's face, transfixed with horror, and he would find himself
speculating as to the cause of her distress, instead of calculating
percentages and discounts.
After a time Mrs. Brown did go up
to Grace, and on knocking once or twice gained admission. She was
shocked and grieved to find the girl so utterly sorrow-stricken. And
Grace at once revealed the cause of her grief "Read that," she said,
thrusting a letter into Mrs. Brown's hands. It was from her
betrothed, putting an end to their engagement, and offering to
compensate her for the loss of her time and money. By the date the
letter reached her and he had taken care it should reach her in
time to prevent her sailing he would be the husband of a lady, the
sister of a brother officer, to whom he had become attached almost
before he knew what he was about. Absence and other causes had
weakened his affection for her, he said, and he knew he had been to
blame; but perhaps she would some day thank him for the release.
And she had written already:
"I thank you now; and as for
compensation, I will leave that to the lady you have chosen. She has
need of all to make for what you cannot give her an honest and
"From Grace Stuart to Andrew Middleton."
It was a withering reply. Poor Mrs. Brown was aghast. She thought a
great deal more was necessary to such a conclusion, and she begged
Grace to wait, and let her husband see both letter and reply.
Grace knew her own mind quite well. She knew it was all over between
them for ever. Never another word of hers should bridge the gulf
between them. But she answered, "Yes; let Mr. Brown see them, and
Mr. Esslemont too. I have nothing to hide from them, and I scorn to
shield such a one as he." Then she rose up and went about the house
as usual, shutting up her pain in her heart, pressing it into her
very soul. But she was restless; oh, so restless. She tried to eat,
and the food seemed to choke her. She took the boy in her arms, and
carried him out; bore him away along miles and miles of street, and
square, and park, and came back restless as before. When evening
came, she looked like one who has been through fire. Her bloom
withered and parched. And yet she was so strong to bear it so
Arthur Esslemont came home he called it Home now
as early as he could; and he had not been long in his rooms before
Mrs. Brown came to him, crying out about the terrible injury which
had been done to Grace. There in the corner, on the sideboard, lay
her books, her copy, and her slate, for Grace was very thorough in
her determination to perfect the groundwork of education before she
attempted a superstructure. There was something strangely pathetic
in the simple task-books lying there. Would they be laid aside now
They met as usual in the family room. Mrs. Brown
went and came. Mr. Brown was absent, attending a meeting. Grace was
not occupied with her books to-night. She was sitting idle, the
blanched look on her lips, and a far-off gaze in her eyes. The fire
of indignation was burning low; and her face was tenderer and more
dreamy than Arthur had ever seen it.
Suddenly she roused
herself; almost with a start, to greet him. "Has she told you?"
"Yes," he answered. "I know how you have been treated, and can
scarce believe it possible."
"I was thinking just now," she
said, "how unbelievable it was, and only for a moment, you know, I
could have thought it was all a mistake. But here is the letter."
It was in her purse, or rather outside of it, clasped by a bit of
black elastic. It was not there that she had kept his letters in
days gone by. She had kept them, in her simple pious trust, between
the leaves of her Bible. She had taken them out now, and they were
tied in a bundle to be burnt.
She held the letter out to him,
and he took it with eager, trembling fingers. "You have been very
kind to me," she said " you, and all here; and it is right that you
should know that I have not been false now that all is changed?"
"I would never have thought you false," said Arthur, impulsively.
"Ah, you have never been deceived," she answered. "I think I shall
never believe any one to be true again."
Arthur read the
letter, and muttered "villain" between his teeth. "And yet it is to
himself that he is falsest, Grace," he added.
"Yes; I have
thought of that," she said. "He once was true. Once he would not
have done this for worlds. How he must have changed!"
much that if he had kept his word, Grace, and allowed you to come to
him and be his wife, you would have found no happiness."
can it have been?" she cried. "What can have changed him?"
"Life changes all of us, Grace. We share the growth of all things,
the good seed and the thorns. And now tell me what you are going to
do. You have answered the letter."
She gave him the answer
without a word.
"He deserves this. You are right to reject
his money;" and he gave her back the letter with approval.
must go home now," she said, "for I must not spend any more. I must
go home and make up my mind what to do." She was facing the future;
and it was so terrible that there came into her eyes a look, a wild
look, as if she held a wolf at bay.
"Don't go away, Grace,"
said Arthur, rising, and standing before her. "Stay;" and he
stretched out both his hands to her with a look which there was no
mistaking; a look which said plainly, "Stay with me always."
"No! no! no!" she cried, starting up in her turn.
Grace," he said. "I have struggled against my love for you, because
you belonged to another; now I have a right to ask you to be mine,
to ask you to let me make up to you for what you have suffered. Will
you let me, Grace?"
"I was his yesterday; can I be yours
today?" she cried, in the impatience of pain, and with a cheek that
flamed with indignation.
"Forgive me," he stammered, and held
out his hand; but she would not see it. Mrs. Brown came in at the
moment; and, with a great sob, Grace fled to her room, where she
sank on her knees before her little bed, not to rise again till the
great struggle was over, in which she resigned her heart to God.
Grace had been but a great beautiful flower-bud in the garden of
God. In that night of sorrow she burst into a perfect flower a
pure, tender, passionless, devoted woman.
And in the room
beneath, Arthur Esslemont, sleepless too, sat writing to her,
pleading for pardon for the hurt he had inflicted on her by his
abruptness, and asking but to be her friend in the future.
the morning they did not meet as usual, for Grace preferred to keep
her room, and that same day Arthur carried out his intention of
going away for a time. When he returned Grace was gone.
ANOTHER season of
life had passed over the Esslemonts. The promise of spring had given
place to the burden and heat of summer, and now the time of harvest
is at hand. They are men of middle age, with confirmed characters,
and settled prospects. What have they made of the life which began
so much alike for all?
Frank Esslemont is at the head of the
firm still; nay, he is the firm himself. He is also, for anything
that can be said to the contrary, the head of his father's family. Nothing has been heard of Charles for some time. Mr. Frank Esslemont
is very glad that nothing has been heard of his brother, for it had
been most unpleasant to refuse him a clerkship in the office; and
what else was to be done with one so drunken and disreputable. He
would have been a perpetual disgrace. There would have been scenes
in the office, and before the clerks. No. Mr. Frank had done the
best thing possible, had given the prodigal money, and begged that
he would go away, and not trouble the firm any more.
Frank had not told Mrs. Frank of this little incident, which, though
he had done the best thing possible, still gave him uneasiness at
times. There was not much sympathy between him and Mrs. Frank,
though they never clashed. One does not expect a feather pillow to
clash even with sword and armour. Mrs. Frank was more than ever like
a feather pillow, and Mr. Frank Esslemont was not cased in any
armour save the padding of prosperity. So they never clashed.
Mr. and Mrs. Esslemont lived in town. Mrs. Esslemont did not like
living in the country. Their house was in a fashionable West End
row, and Mrs. Esslemont, who could not have borne the crowing of a
cock in the early morning, was quite indifferent to the rattle and
roll of carriages up to the small hours.
She could rival her
sisters now, and outdo them in the costliness of her dress and
jewels, in the splendour of her home, and in the magnificence of her
entertainments and she did this. Having done it she was content,
being by nature indolent. She did not care to out-rival anybody else
to conquer new kingdoms. She was good-tempered as ever, and smooth
and obstinate; not with a contentious obstinacy, but with the
obstinacy of the pillow, which always comes back to its own shape,
however it may be patted, or punched, or sat upon.
had gone smooth with her. She was still beautiful, unwrinkled, unsprinkled with grey, fresh of flesh, tinted with rose colours. Her
violet eyes were bright as ever, but there seemed to be no soul
behind them. They were like the eyes of the waxen figures in the
hairdresser's window, made of glass. And she was growing more
self-indulgent as she grew older, and cared more for comfort even
than for display. Mr. Frank Esslemont was a rich man now, fabulously
rich; but still as devoted to business as ever. The leisure which he
once panted for, now, when it might have been his, he did not care
to take. After a terrible struggle, the house of Esslemont had risen
from its ashes a Phoenix of prosperity. Mr. Frank took the credit of
its resuscitation, and he deserved it. It was all his work. Indeed,
just when it was beginning to rise, Arthur Esslemont had been fool
enough to retire with what he was pleased to call a moderate
But even now, with all his riches, Mr. Frank
Esslemont had no thought of retiring. He was not a miser. No, he was
exceedingly liberal in spending, but in getting he was insatiable,
and he was content to go on getting gains which were spent in
vanity; content, except when something stirred in his heart far down
as if stifled, as if pining for light and air and breath of life. Mr. Esslemont had a son at Cambridge. He was coming into the
business in the course of time, but there was no hurry; and in the
meantime he might be cultivating the manners and getting the
education of polite society, seeing that he would be a man of
fortune. But that something would stir in the father's heart, not at
the young man's extravagance, he could make allowance for that, but
at his open scepticism. He, the father, told his son that such open
scepticism was unbecoming, ill-mannered, absurd. But he could not
help a memory of his own father's lessons and his mother's prayers,
like a low wind, reaching the smothered things beneath the rank
growths of the world in his soul.
So the money kept pouring
in and streaming out of Mr. Frank Esslemont's coffers, and the
rattle of it drowned the murmur of that low stir underneath. And
that wealth, how little any benefited by it; how much of it turned
to ashes. His son gambled and rioted, his daughters dressed, his
servants wasted in his household; the food of many a starving
creature went daily to the dogs. He gave in charity, but most of
that was wasted too went into the waste paper basket in summonses
which were not attended to, and reports which were never read.
On a certain Wednesday, the great London dinner day, Mr. Frank
Esslemont's mansion was blazing with light from garret to basement. The footman had drawn down the Venetians and closed the curtains on
the last of the March daylight, that he might see how the table
looked in the blaze of the chandeliers, with its glass and silver
and Bowers. Mrs. Esslemont's maid had just done the same thing, the
better to judge of her mistress's toilette, which she had begun. A
similar process had been gone through on the floor above, where two
of the young ladies were attiring themselves for the dinner-party. They were lovely girls, beautiful with the beauty of the flesh
alas! they had little of the beauty of the spirit. Their young
hearts were hard as a beaten track with vanity and worldliness. Any
chance seed of good that may have fallen upon them had been devoured
as surely as if they had been the veriest outcasts. In infancy they
had been daily and hourly instructed in their home the nursery
in idle gossip, and vanity, and evil speaking. The school had not
counteracted but increased the knowledge acquired, and now, as young
ladies, they practised these lessons, or respectfully listened to
the superior accomplishments of their mother and their mother's
"Fanny," said the eldest, "our old blue silks will
do very well to-night. There is nobody of the least consequence
"No; mamma can't ask anybody to meet Uncle Arthur
and his wife," said Fanny.
"It's a pity, for I like Uncle
Arthur," returned Fanny's sister, in a patronising tone; "but his
wife looks the schoolmistress all over."
"It's the way she
dresses in high black silks," urged Fanny. "Do you know she might be
made a great deal of, she has the most beautiful hair if she would
only dress it properly" (Fanny meant bulge it out with sofa
stuffing), "and she has such a lovely neck and arms. I was in her
dressing-room one day, and before she dressed she didn't look at
all common; only when she rolled up her hair like a very proper
nursemaid, and put on her best black silk, she looked common
"But she hasn't the least style, and mamma overheard
her telling about her school and the charity children she used to
teach; and when Mr. Bonus asked her how she could give up all her
time to it, she told him she was paid to do it, it was her work. And
mamma said he looked so puzzled, and said, 'Oh, indeed,' as if he
didn't know what to make of it."
And while the young ladies
were chattering thus, Mr. Frank Esslemont sat in his study ill at
ease. He was not dressed for dinner, and yet he was idle, sitting
over the fire in his luxurious arm-chair, with a contraction on his
brow, the sign of a still sorer contraction in his heart.
The Times was lying on the table; but it was no money-market
intelligence which affected the prosperous merchant, no loss by land
or sea, neither failure, nor misadventure, it was only a sudden
glimpse of a poor pale face in a city street, and that face would
haunt him and follow him even here. It was in the fire; it was
yonder before the heavy drawn curtain; it would meet him at the
dinner-table, perhaps keep him waking in the night. He rose and went
to dress, trying to shut it out, as he had been trying all the day.
It was the face of Charles Esslemont, but so changed and yet more
like to what it had been in youth than was the face of the bloated
dιbauchι. It was worn with suffering, and the eyes had the
pleading look of pain. He was thin and poorly clad, buttoned up from
the east wind in an overcoat which there was nothing under. His
shoes were worn like a beggar's. Was he a beggar? His eyes, out of
which the very colour seemed struck, had met those of his brother,
and finding no recognition, had been withdrawn. Charles had always
had a certain meekness and timidity. A thin hand had been pressed on
the hollow, aching chest, and the ghost of Charles Esslemont had
vanished in the crowd.
And this was what haunted the
prosperous merchant a real, veritable ghost.
He dressed and
re-entered his study. Then, as the dinner-hour drew near, he
ascended to the drawing-room. He had been expecting Arthur earlier
than the other guests, but he had not come.
those other guests an alderman and his wife, a brother merchant
and his, a middle-aged rich bachelor, and a young doctor. Five
minutes the master of the house waited ten minutes and still no
Arthur. The dinner would be spoilt. He need not stand on ceremony
with his brother, and so he rang, and in due time dinner was
announced. Two vacant places remained at the board, one of which
seemed waiting for a ghostly guest with the wan face of Charles Esslemont. The dinner went on, and that too vanished; at least it
seemed so to Frank Esslemont, who ate and drank and spoke as in a
dream. Time vanished; the guests vanished, and Arthur and his wife
had not appeared.
"I will order the brougham round, late as
it is," said Mr. Esslemont, "and go and see what has become of
"I wouldn't trouble myself, if I were you," said
Mrs. Esslemont, yawning. "It will be some trifle or the other. Mrs.
Arthur has a headache perhaps, and she doesn't feel the importance
of keeping a dinner engagement."
"You will go to bed, of
course," said her husband, without heeding her words, for he rang
the bell to order the brougham as he spoke.
On that same
evening another Mrs. Esslemont sat in the old-fashioned drawing-room
that had been Arthur's mother's. The old-fashioned square had fallen
off in the years that had elapsed since she had lived and died
The great seething waves of London life had poured
round it and had cast up mire and dirt. Still it held up its head a
little, though surrounded by poverty and squalor. One or two doctors
lived there, and one or two solicitors in criminal practice, and one
or two of the big well-built mansions had been turned into
charitable institutions. The curate of the parish lived there also,
in order to be near his work, for he was a man who, as far as means
were concerned, might have lived anywhere he had chosen. The curate
of the parish was Arthur Esslemont.
Arthur, finding himself
at leisure from business, had studied and taken orders, that he
might work among the poor of London the mighty city which the best
of her children are learning late to love, as the Jews love their
Jerusalem, chiefly because of her sorrows. He may have been mistaken; he knew many who thought so and acted differently but he felt
that he could go to them more freely as the accredited messenger of
the Church of that body of men and women who are bound to seek and
And he had a companion in his labours. Entering a
school one day, which he had learned was free, and supported by the
charity of some who had once been connected with the district
entering it in pursuance of his work, to place in it, if possible,
some orphan children, he had suddenly stood face to face with the
one woman he had ever loved and longed for. "Grace!" he exclaimed. "Mr. Esslemontl" she answered, and they shook hands with an eager
clasp, which seemed to bring together the past and the present, and
was the earnest of a union never to be broken.
was soon told. She had in her dire necessity taken her slender means
in her hand, and spent it in qualifying herself to become a teacher. Then she had found this post, and stuck to it. In a very short time
Grace had become the wife of Arthur Esslemont, and his greatest
earthly help and encouragement. They had no children. None were sent
to them, Grace said, with quiet humour, because there were so many
more in their part of the world already than could be taken care of. They had no children, and yet their house had a nursery, with more
than one little snug white bed, and a kind, motherly nurse in it
always ready in waiting.
And what is more, the little beds
were rarely empty; nor yet the great play-room above, with its
balcony level with the roof, and filled with flowers, and its toys
and pictures, and space inside. Many a wretched child was carried
away from the one room which held the dead and the living, the
cradle and the coffin, and housed there for a time, to dream of the
place ever after as a sort of earthly paradise, to remember the
morning bath, and the evening prayer, and the pure food, and the
quiet, and the beauty, in the midst of their awful contrasts
foulness, and curses, and poisonous things, and unquiet, and horror.
Sometimes a whole family were accommodated, that their noise might
not hinder the recovery of the poor weak mother, their noise and
their crying for the food which she could not rise to procure.
Sometime an ailing one was taken in for weeks, and even months, and
sent back a new creature. What friends do for friends in times of
trouble, that Arthur and Grace did for the poor. And these people
were their friends. They knew it was not alms which they received,
but love. That makes all the difference.
Grace was sitting
tranquilly awaiting the return of her husband, to go and make her
simple toilet, and proceed to the dinner-party at her
The light of the March day was dying, dying
early, in the smoke-laden atmosphere. She looked at the timepiece. Arthur was late, and perhaps she had better go and dress in
readiness for him. He was visiting in the parish, and might stay
till the last minute with some poor creature in need of his aid.
With this she rose and went to the window. There her attention was
attracted to a forlorn figure, pausing on the edge of the pavement,
and evidently looking up at the house.
It was a man, closely
wrapped in a shabby greatcoat, with the torn shoes of a vagrant, and
one worn, skinny hand upon his chest. He was coughing slightly, and
his eyes were fixed upon the nursery windows. "He is some one
belonging to the children," said Grace to herself.
the shabby gazer caught sight of her, and turned away.
he could have known that in that house they often spoke of him, and
so tenderly; and that, oftener still, they prayed for him there.
It was Charles Esslemont come to take a last look at his early home
before he crept away into a den to die.
Grace stood looking
after him. There was something more than usually pathetic in the
man's looks. He had evidently fallen from a better worldly estate. And he was ill; he was reeling, as if about to faint. Grace was
ready to run out into the street to prevent him falling on the
pavement; but there was her husband coming up. The man actually
staggered against him.
And Arthur was taking him right into
Charles Esslemont, in turning away, had become so
faint and blind, that he reeled up against Arthur without seeing who
it was. He knew not till his brother's voice, uttering his name,
sounded in his ears, coming, as it seemed to him, out of a great
distance, or out of another life.
He recovered to find his
brother holding him fast, and leading him towards the steps of the
house from which he had just turned away.
"Where are you
taking me, Arthur?" he asked.
"Home," was the answer.
"But you don't live there!"
"I cannot come in
"Grace will welcome you gladly."
"I did not know you lived
there, and I came to have a last look."
The door was open,
and Arthur led him in. Grace was waiting to receive them; and her
husband drew her into the dining-room, along with him, and shut the
"Grace, here is Charles."
He was more miserable
than even he looked. The room was running round with him. He grasped
at the wall for support. Between them they placed him in an
arm-chair, and chafed his hands, for he shivered from time to time,
and they were deadly cold. A little brandy revived him. And, oh, the
terrible eagerness with which he took it!
His hollow cough
resounded through the room. "You are ill," said Grace, kneeling by
him on the hearth-rug.
"Dying," he answered. "I must be
going, or I shall die here, and I don't want to trouble you now."
"You are not going," said Arthur. "You must stay where you are."
"We will not let you go again," said Grace.
Another round of
"Charles, you must let us put you to bed,"
said Arthur, "and send for a doctor."
"You are very kind ;
but it's no use. It's too late."
"Why didn't you come to us
sooner?" said his brother.
"I thought you didn't want me. I
saw Frank to-day, and he turned from me; passed me by."
have sought you everywhere," said Arthur, deeply pained. Grace had
already left them to prepare a bed and order food. She returned to
them soon to say that both were ready.
"I do not care for
food," said Charles. "I have tasted none to-day; but I will take the
"But you must see the doctor first. Brandy is a
dangerous drug. I dare not give it except as such," said Arthur.
"Let me take you up to bed."
Arthur took him upstairs into
the comfortable room, where a fire was already burning, and helped
him to undress, weeping as he did so over the stockingless feet and
poor shirtless body, which, indeed, he washed with his own hands.
Grace had already sent for the doctor, one whom they knew in the
square. He came almost immediately, and examining the patient
quietly, pronounced his skill of no avail. "He ought not to be
left," he added, significantly.
And he was not going to be
left. Arthur, seated by his side, remembered the dinner-party, long
after it must have got through its first and second courses; and
Grace, coming and going, remembered it too, but with no thought of
"We had better send a message," she said.
"Or send one of the servants with a note. Frank ought to know,"
The latter course was decided on, and the
letter was written, and with the needful delays, sent off by hand. Then the nurse was installed by Charles's bed, and Arthur Esslemont
and his wife at last sat down to an improvised dinner of the
"It is strange that I should have met Charles
when I was thinking of him more than usual," said Arthur.
"What a blessing that you happened to come up just then! He might
have been gone a few minutes later."
"Stranger still; I was
detained by the dying bed of one who was an inmate of this very
house when we were boys."
Grace looked her interest, and
Arthur went on. "But for an odd name, which had stuck to him through
life, I should not have known him. My father round him sitting on
the doorstep one winter evening, literally frozen, and he was
brought into the house, and kept for a few months as a sort of
kitchen boy. At the end of that time he ran away, ran away to join
his parents, who had come out of prison. He went by the name of 'Boffy,'
and was a clever little fellow enough. My mother tried to teach him
all she could, and stored his memory, as he could not read, with
texts and hymns. He has forgotten them all, and only remembers his
comfortable bed, and the beef and pudding, comparing it with the
prison fare which has alternated with the fare of the thief and the
tramp. I could make no impression on his hardened mind. When I told
him he was dying, 'Yes,' he said, 'I'll soon get my ticket-of-leave
from this here world, only I don't suppose I'll be sent back again. I'm out on ticket now, but I wish they'd ha' let me stay out my
time. It was a deal more comfortable than this. But it don't
matter, nothing matters,' he murmured on; 'nothing matters here nor
there.' I left the wretched being lapsing into unconsciousness,
waited upon by a being, if possible, more wretched still his
mother. Youth and wickedness are dreadful, Grace, but old age and
wickedness are more dreadful still."
"I don't think I'll go
out to-night, after all," said Mr. Frank Esslemont, summoning the
footman once more. "Counter-order the brougham."
plainly-dressed woman-servant had brought a note, and this was the
order Mr. Esslemont gave on reading it.
The woman was still
waiting for an answer, and would only be in time to catch the last
omnibus. Mr. Esslemont stepped out into the hall. "Tell your
master," he said, carelessly, "that I will see him tomorrow."
If he had wished to see his brother Charles he ought to have gone
that night. It was too late on the morrow.
That very night
death came to the wanderer came with a sister's arms about him,
and Arthur kneeling by his bed.
As he sank there was
something he desired to say, but it could not be heard. Only he
smiled his old, sweet smile.
"It is all over," was the
greeting with which Arthur met Frank on the morrow.
he die?" asked the latter, mechanically.
replied Arthur. "Will you come and see him?"
"No. I would
rather not. It is no use to harrow up one's feelings?"
beautiful in death," said Arthur, "and smiles so peacefully. His
last smile came to us almost as an assurance that he had found
mercy. We may not limit the grace of God: but, oh, brother, what a
harvest here on earth!"
After a pause he went on. "I am glad
you found him, though, that he may have a decent burial, befitting
my father's son."
"Which will matter little, Frank, either to
him or to us. Death has done for him more than we can do has eased
him of all earthly pains and penalties. We may trust he is gathered
unto God; but we know that he has sown the earth with the seed of
sin and sorrow, and the harvest is still to come."
awoke no echo in the heart of Frank Esslemont. He had not lived the
life of a reprobate, and earned for himself poverty and pain. He and
all belonging to him were rich and prosperous, and from henceforth
even that whispering in his heart was hushed.