[from Hall Caine Drink]
FULL of a new thought, I was eager to get back to Cumberland, and ten or twelve days after my father's arrival in England I parted from him with certain obvious excuses and took train for Cleator.
Don't be too long sending me that telegram, and I'll be after you like quicksticks," said he at Euston. Sir George Chute was with him, and I had sworn our old friend to silence.
" Good-bye," said he loudly; and then, putting his head in at the carriage window, "Do nothing rash," he said in significant tones.
I nodded my head for reassurance and assent, and the train started on its way. It was the same night mail as I had travelled with on the occasion of my first journey. Again I changed at Penrith, and changed a second time at the little junction in the mountains. It was now several weeks later, and early spring had begun to breathe over the widening year. The morning was still very young, but the day had dawned, and over the hills to the east were the first pink rays from the unrisen sun. In the waiting-room of the little wooden station-house I found the same group of miners, smoking their clay pipes over the crackling sticks of a newly kindled fire. They remembered me, and with easy good manners recalled the - name Lucy. It was common talk by this time that she intended to go into a kind of Anglican convent.
" We allus knew it would come to that," said one. " She's a vast ower good for the world, is Lucy Clous'al."
It was Sunday morning, and I was at breakfast in the " Wheatsheaf " when the bells began to ring. I. thought it probable that Lucy would be at church, and I was not disappointed. From my seat at the back I saw her in the pew under the pulpit, which had been empty on my former visit and decorated with ivy and holly and flowering gorse. She was dressed in a black that was almost like crape, and it made her pale face still more pale and spiritual. I do. not think she saw me. With head bent she knelt through a great part of the service, and when it was over I did not attempt to speak her. Some secret voice seemed to tell me.that it should not be there, it should not be then, that I should launch upon her what I had come to say. . From a few paces back I saw her pass out with reverent step, and my whole heart yearned for her, but I let her. go.
Next. day-Monday-with the sun shining, the birds singing, the butterflies tossing in the air, and all the world turning to love, and. song, I went, up to Clousedale Hall and asked for Mrs. Hill. The faithful old servant had a nervous and worn-out look, as of sleepless hours and bitter sorrow. I asked if I might see Lucy.
" Youdale, from, the mines, is with her now," she said; " and I know that Cockbain, the solicitor, is to come again in the afternoon."
Her wrinkled face quivered as she used these names, for she, saw that I recognised their significance as indicating preparations towards that change in life which was meant to be so near.
"Then I'll invite myself to dinner-you dine at six ? " I said; and with that I shook the trembling hand again. I thought there was a kind of half despairing appeal expressed in the good,.old face as it looked into mine at the door, but nothing was said, and I passed out of the house.
We were quiet and almost constrained that night at dinner. Lucy spoke very little, but she looked at me from time to time. She seemed to be saying farewell to me with her eyes.
I did what I could to be calm, and even to talk cheerfully, but my whole heart was in rebellion. As I glanced across the table at my dear one, with her pale face and large, liquid eyes, I was seeing; her in a nun's dress, living within chill and sunless walls amid clouds of incense. I was seeing myself, too, going through the world as a homeless straggler. To have stretched out hands for the golden wine of life and been so near to quaffing it when, the cup was dashed from our lips seemed cruel and monstrous. It was as much as I could do to keep up the flow of conversation without painful pauses, and when Mrs. Hill rose and left us, giving me another look of supplication as she passed out, my impatience could support - itself no longer: `
" So you are going away, 'Lucy ?" I said.
"Yes," she answered, in a faint voice.
" You are going into the Sisterhood ? " I said. "I have made all preparations," she said; and she indicated some of them.
"And are we to part like this, Lucy ? "
" It is better so," she said. " And I thank God that I saw, what it was right to do before it was too late to do it !
" You are thinking of me? " I said.
"How can I help it?" she answered. "When I remember that you are now at the beginning of life, and how nearly, though unwittingly, I had wrecked everything, not only for yourself, but perhaps for your children--"
" You still think you are under the curse?" I said. " How can I think otherwise? " she replied. " Remember my grandfather and my father, and think of myself. Then your own experiment seemed to prove it." " But have you not reflected," I said, " that the power of such an idea is only in proportion to the belief in it ? That is the true psychology of a curse always. When you see a man, or a family, or even a nation, labouring like blind Samson against what seems like fate, if you look closely, you will find that the only fact is the fancy. That is your own ease, Lucy. There is nothing really amiss with you. You have only to deny belief to the idea that killed your grandfather and your father, and all will be well." She remained unshaken. 1° It is impossible,," she said. " At all events, I dare not trust myself."
I came to closer quarters. "And what about me ? " I asked.
" You ? " she answered in a faltering voice; " you are to forget me."
" Forget you, Lucy ? "
" No, not that, either," she said. " I cannot wish you to forget me. I shall always remember your goodness, Robert, and-and I wish you to think of one as-as one who is lost to you in death."
" But it is not death, Lucy-that's the cruelty of it. It has none of the peace of death, and I cannot reconcile myself to it." She could not answer me, and I saw that her bosom was heaving.
" Luey," I said, " have you nothing more to say to me? "
" Nothing," she answered in a breaking voice. Yet wait! Yes, I have something to say." What is it?"
" I thought I had already gone through our last hour of parting."
"When you were in London and I was here alone." It was very hard to go on. " Well? " I asked.
" I had hoped you would not come again, . Robert; but since you have come, there is one thing you can do-you have not done it yet."
"Tell me what it is, Lucy."
"Release me from our engagement. Do it for my sake. It is my last request. Will you ? "
" I will."
There was a little gasp, as of surprise, at the swift declaration, and then a low, slow reply- "You are very good, Robert."
"But I have something to say, Lucy." "Yes ?"
I passed over to the other side of the table and leaned on the back of the chair beside her.
" Lucy, " I said, "you are living under the influence of an idea which takes the form of fate itself. It follows you and clouds your whole existence. Now, I am living under the influence of an idea also." She shuddered and said, "Is it a curse?"
" No, but a blessing," I replied. And then I told her of my mother's dream, my mother's fancy, my mother's dying hope. A hush fell on the room as I spoke, and I could see that my dear one was deeply touched.
"That is very, very beautiful," she said in a hushed whisper; and then, with a quick glance, but do you believe it?"
I summoned all my resolution, and replied bravely, "With all my heart.'
" You believe that in the fulness of time it will come to pass?"
" I do."
Her eyes began to glisten, and she said, not without an effort, " That must be a great, great source of strength to you, Robert- to think that you will marry and be happy and have children, and that they will do well in the world some day--"
She was breaking down. I had ploughed deeply, and torn at the tenderest fibres.
" And believing that, Lucy," I said, " trusting in that, feeling confident of that--"
" I ask you again to be my wife."
" No, no! " she cried; " don't say it."
" I do say it, Lucy, for I know that the blessing, and not the curse, will triumph."
She had risen as if to fly from the room. " Don't tempt me," she said.
I reached over her, and, in spite of her resistance, I put my arms about her neck and drew her back to her chair.
"Lucy," I said, " I love you-you know that. With all my heart and soul and strength I love you. I will not think of losing you. Love is stronger than any curse. I don't want to think of you as one who is dead. I want your living heart to answer my heart. I have set my stake on your love, and I mean to keep it. Lucy, my dear Lucy, you are mine. I have been waiting for you all these years ; you have been waiting for me. You shall not bury yourself in a convent. I want you, my darling-you, you, you! I want the breath of your hair, the light of your eyes, the kiss of your lips. Come to me, come to me, come to me! "
I had liberated her, and now stood facing her, with my arms outstretched. She swayed a moment as one who was struggling hard, and then, trailing her. hand along the table, my brave girl came to me, -- came to me with a faint cry that was half a sob and half a laugh, and fell upon my breast. That night I telegraphed for my father.
It all happened five-and-thirty years ago, and assuredly the blessing has thus far got the better of the curse.
Hope! It is the one infallible physician. There is no evil it may not conquer, for where it cannot destroy the disease it can drive away the fear that makes the disease fearful. It is the one prophecy which is always the beginning of its own fulfilment; it is the one universal possession, and " the miserable have no other medicine." No man is utterly lost who has not lost his hope. No ship is a derelict, though abandoned by the body of her crew, while one living soul remains on board.
Ideas are eternal and immortal, omnipresent and omnipotent, and Hope is the father of all ideas that have comforted and sustained and strengthened and governed us since the beginning of the world.