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bn foto Had Sir John invited him to dinner, and Rachel played plaintive airs and sang sad low songs while he and his host sat in the half light
THE MYSTERY IN PALACE GARDENS. BY MRS. J. H. RIDDELL.
A HAPPY HOLIDAY.
DURING the whole of his married life it may safely be said Sir John Moffat never passed so peaceful and pleasant a month as that which succeeded Rachel's return from Surrey. In the best sense of the word, he had never known what it was to have a home-a home of which he was master, which he did not almost dread to enter. After living on the edge of a volcano, the quiet and the security and the companionship which he found in Holyrood House were unspeakably pleasant. Though at times the sight of Rachel's smiling unconscious face, the thousand little tender cares she showed him, the winning charm of a manner which owed its crowning grace to an utter and total forgetfulness of herself, hurt him by recalling the face and the heart and the manner of the man he had wronged. Yet, as he watched her slight figure flitting about the room, as he marked her girlish beauty developing into the loveliness of womanhood, as he listened to her sweet voice and marked all her kindly gentle ways, her thought
VOL. XXXVII. NO. CCXXV.
ful charity, her swift sympathy, her easily-aroused compassion, the calm contentment of her mind, he thought that, could the dead man behold his child, whom he had never seen even, he would be satisfied, and feel that so far as in him lay Sir John had tried to make her good and happy, had striven, through his anxious watchfulness on her behalf, to offer some atonement for the sin committed such a weary time before.
She was a delightful companion too; she had so many strange little byways of thought, that the old well-trodden roads of life assumed quite a new character as she diverged hither and thither into pleasant green lanes bordered with sweet fancies and decked with flowers culled out of the depths of her own imagination. She was not afraid either of venturing down the darker paths that, both in thought and speech, we are all too apt to shun. The doubts that perplexed her, the troubles people had to encounter which seemed so inexplicable, the mysteries of sin and grief and wrong-doing and punishment, the excuses which might be made for wickedness-how hard it seemed for some to do right, knowing
from their nurseries, the streets, and their cradles, the gutter, nothing save evil-she would talk of all these things reverently, though sorrowfully, and marvel, as, God knows, all who see the world and are perplexed by its contradictions must marvel, why such things should be.
Her deep faith, her earnest piety, her religious feeling, pure as that of a saint, strong as that of a martyr, seemed to Sir John little short of miraculous. He had believed, with many another, that the lore which surpasses wisdom could only be learnt at a mother's knee; that the lispings of prayer, the aspirations of mortality to the immortal, were never taught perfectly save by a woman striving to guide her child's first steps heavenward; and he knew, none better, that of that higher knowledge which transcends all human device and contrivance his wife was as ignorant as any child dragged up in heathenism in the midst of a Christian land.
He ventured one evening to express something of this feeling to the girl, to wonder who had been her instructor, from whom she had heard so much of the vexed problems of man's existence, of the deep unspeakable goodness of the Lord and Maker of all.
Rachel laid down her work, a pretty delicate cobwebby piece of lace she was making for her mother, and looked across at the questioner through a mist of loving tears.
olden time as we passed through the ripening corn or sauntered beside the river? Why, if I were to see Palestine to-morrow, it could not seem to me more real than it has done to me often and often in imagination.'
He had not recollected this; it came upon him with the shock of a thankful surprise; such a tiny grain of mustard-seed, such a tree to afford shade and shelter in the wilderness of life.
'And you preached little sermons too, papa,' she went on, smiling, without knowing it, I am sure, in the least. Only a sentence or so; but they sank down into my heart, because I used often to wonder as a child what you meant by them and why you spoke them. I came to understand in time. You know I could not help seeing-'
She stopped; for he covered his face with one hand, and stretched the other out as if to put some haunting sorrow aside. And yet it was not all sorrow. Surely, surely there must have been some comfort in the thought that his own bitter had produced such sweet as this; that so fair a soul had been perfected by the teaching of his own sin-laden conscience; that the disunited household had shown her nothing save the patience which may spring from grief, the forbearance a man can show when a woman tries his temper and wrings his heart.
The more he saw of the girl, the more he found to admire. She was so wise as well as loving, so discreet, so pure, so guileless. She had read a great deal, and as they sat or walked together, as they lingered over tea, or sauntered in the twilight on the terrace, she brought out her little stores of knowledge for his amusement-scraps of modern poetry,
fragments of ancient ballads, the thoughts of men who had lived hundreds of years previously, strange morsels of biography, whole paragraphs her retentive memory had retained.
Yes, it was a happy time, and a quiet. He knew a storm must come, but he refused to think of that, or to hasten to meet it. He did not go down to Scarborough then, as he had intended; he wrote to his wife, and asked that the amount of her expenditure might diminish; and he tried to believe that, though domestic matters had been going very wrong indeed in Palace Gardens, he should not have any trouble on that head in the future.
About this matter he never spoke but once to Rachel, and that he did so chanced as follows. A tremendous bill having come in from the purveyor of meat,' as the butcher Holyrood House affected called himself, Sir John, with that caution which divided him from what Mr. Simonds called 'most gentlemen what was gentlemen,' wished to know how such a result had been arrived at, and in pursuit of his object asked Rachel to give him her assistance.
Rachel, who never took the smallest atom of authority upon herself, appealed to the cook. After some coy reluctance and a suggestion that the matter had 'better be till her ladyship herself came home,' that functionary produced a book filled with entries, in comparison to which hieroglyphics might have been considered easy reading. Intelligible possibly to the initiated, but totally unintelligible, save as to the sumtotal, in the eyes of Sir John. In his perplexity he turned for help to Rachel, who, indeed, was no wiser than himself.
'Do you not think, my dear,'
he said, 'that it is a very large amount?'
Certainly Rachel did; the amount was so large it almost took away her breath; but she answered deprecatingly,
You know there are a great many servants.'
'And a small family,' he hinted. 'Yes, but a large house, papa.' That was all; though her thoughts were his thoughts, she would not be disloyal to her mother. He knew what lay deep in her heart, and so never referred to the subject again; but he greatly disgusted Mr. Simonds by inquiring from him the names of all the tradesmen who had helped to make the great ball such a success, and sending to each a request that his bill might be furnished immediately.
There is nothing of what I call a generous profusion about Sir John,' Simonds remarked to a friend. He is uncommon fond of having value for his money;' which, if Mr. Simonds could only have believed the fact, is not an unusual trait when people have had to work hard to obtain that money for which they require value.
Sir John got in most of the accounts, and drew his own conclusions from them; but he said nothing further to Rachel. He did not go out of town, but 'mooned,' as Simonds observed, down into the City for a couple of hours most days, and then mooned back again, either to take Rachel on some excursion or to sit in the library till the heat of the afternoon was over, when he and she sauntered into Kensington Gardens, and walked through the almost deserted park, to the confusion and indignation of the whole establishment.
'And everybody but themselves out of town,' said Mrs. Larrup, in
hot ire. If I was gentlefolks, I'd be ashamed to be seen.'
Which, indeed, was a feeling shared in by every domestic in the house, from Mr. Simonds to the scullery-wench.
'They oughtn't to do such things,' said the butler; 'it's compromising.'
Whatever it might be, however, the pair enjoyed that time; delighted in the brightness of the summer days and the soft coolness of the evenings.
Almost in the twilight they were sitting in Kensington Gardens, about a week after Rachel's return, when a gentleman passing by stopped, and spoke to them. When he first raised his hat Sir John did not recognise who it was, but as he came nearer he remembered Mr. Woodham.
'I had no idea you were in town,' said the clergyman.
'We are the only two left,' answered Rachel softly.
'Not quite; I am left also, as you see.'
'But perhaps you are here only by accident,' she suggested.
'And design,' he replied. 'I did not care about going away,' he added, addressing Sir John. Indeed, I had nowhere to go that offered the slightest attraction; and as the new vicar is scarcely yet settled in the living, he was glad for me to stop. My mother is out of town, so I am quite alone.'
'If you enjoy your loneliness as much as we do ours,' said Sir John, 'there is no need to pity you.'
'Ah, but your case is widely different. Yours is a solitude of two; mine of one.'
Perhaps it was for that reason he stayed beside them for a little time, and walked with them past the old palace and out of the gateway and up the road to
the long entrance of Holyrood House.
'Will you come in and have a cup of tea?' asked Sir John, not much expecting the invitation to be accepted; but Mr. Woodham availed himself of it eagerly.
After that they often met him in their rambles; and Sir John invited him to dinner, and Rachel played plaintive airs and sang sad low songs while he and his host sat in the half light of the mysterious dusk, looking dreamily out into the garden of Holyrood House, while the perfume of all sweet flowers came floating into the room.
A happy, happy time; sweet placid days succeeded by calm nights; dreams that had in them no calculation, no thought of an awakening. Life seemed flooded with sunshine; the river of existence, o'er which they softly glided, seemed so smooth, so glassy, they never thought it was flowing to the wide sea from which there is no return, carrying them with it.
'The parson is coming after our young lady,' opined Mr. Simonds; 'trust him for knowing on which side his bread is buttered.' But no thought of that sort had as yet entered into the parson's mind, neither had such an idea entered into the imagination of Sir John. He looked upon all priests of the order to which Mr. Woodham belonged as celibates. It certainly never occurred to his mind a Ritualistic clergyman would one day ask him for Rachel.
If at first he felt himself a little out of his element when Mr. Woodham and the girl were talking, it was only because they spoke of matters in which he did not take much interest.
Essentially a man of his own day, Sir John was unable to get up enthusiasm concerning those who in the past made London