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"Wouldn't they ? oughtn't they ? Much better own their mistake now than when too late.”
“Why should they own it at all? Not that I allow, for one moment, they will ever have it to own.
" Why? Would you have them to marry without love ?” asked George, astonished.
Certainly,—if one or the other of them still wished marriage." “Good heavens, Dulcie !"
“I think there are many things better than mere earthly passion upon which to begin married life," answered Dulcibella, calmly. “Oh! I know it's the fashion of the age to deify this same earthly love !—But are the married lives of this decade so especially happy, honoured, and honourable, as to prove the value of its prin
“ Well! I don't know what a fellow should marry for, if not for love. At present I only wonder he ever marries at all!"
“I see, you are looking at the man's side only. So I will suppose, --as I imagine you are thinking that Captain Lawson will come home to find Amy five years older than he left her, her hair thinner, and eyes and cheeks not quite so bright; her step slower, her mouth graver and sadder.—He cannot, really, have been such a fool as to expect her to stand still ? He must know that he himself is greyer and stouter, and less active-bodied,- I judge from that last photograph, -than in 1872. Still, no doubt the reality will be a sharp pang. Men do love beautiful women, and often forget it is they themselves, -and sometimes, not as Will Lawson, quite involuntarily,who have thinned their Love's cheeks, and saddened her expression. Still, if he shoros it--"
“He had better not do it in your presence," laughed George. “No, in hers !"
“But I was really thinking of mental changes. People's minds change so,-expand or dwindle,-get warped, may be,-in five years ; their interests become so different,—all this laundry work’-and teetotalism! Didn't we Christians promise, and once for all, at our baptism, to renounce the devil and all bis works ? Why take any fresh vow ?”
Why do we then at marriage or Confirmation ?-or, will you, at your Ordination ?-But that is not the question, for Amy has taken no vow; and what I wanted to say was—
“ That although Will Lawson may find the woman he's been loving all these years a phantom of his own imagination,-after all, how short was their acquaintance !-or Amabel, that she's been making a mental hero of a very commonplace fellow,-they're to marry and make no sign ?-Queer morality to my mind, Dulcie !"
Yes, marry if only one of them be disappointed. Of course, if both are, and they agree to part—"
“Oh! you would allow them to do so! Though I can see you would still think very badly of them both."
I don't believe in such fickleness and want of common sense in man or woman !" cried Dulcibella, her heart beating wildly at the very idea, “ certainly not in both. And let the one who fails cover his or her weakness, and marry for honour and duty,-uprightness and plighted troth!”
George was silent a moment. “ You don't think love all-essential,” he asked slowly, “ upon both sides ?”
"No; as I said before, there are many better foundations for marriage in my eyes than the headlong gratification of mere earthly passion. We don't read anything good of it in the Bible.—Why do you look at me so, George ?” she added almost in tears.
Because I thought if ever a woman had sacrificed her life to an ideal of perfect human love it was you, Dulcie," and he took her hand, “ but now I know your real feelings,—(as you began the explanation, I purposely led you back to it,)—why don't you marry Macdonald ? If ever a man needed a wife, a helpmeet, it is he. When I met him the other day down at Brayscombe about the clergy-house, he looked like a ghost.”
“But not for love of me !" gasped Dulcibella, mid ber pain and amazement at such words, such counsel from this mere boy of a brother in such matters as these.
No; but because he has no mother, sister, wife nor child to hold him back in his ever increasing self-devotion of every power, mental or bodily, to his work,-nor, I can't but believe, secret austerities. No earthly being to whom he is precious, or who is precious enough to himself, to teach him common sense,—I've tried—”
“So did I last June,” and Dulcibella smiled a watery smile. “You did, did you ?- forgive me, if I'm—"
Ob, only as a friend, an elder sister, -and because I knew it would be the last possible time."
"Well, I don't believe he'll ever live to move into that clergyhouse ! Carter wanted him to go abroad this winter at once,before Lent need even be thought of. Not he! up at unearthly hours, and not to bed till midnight, - living on little more than bread and”
“Is it baker's bread ?” asked Dulcibella with an hysterical little laugh ; " if so, I do take shame to myself. The Stepney Reform Food Kitchens' might have kept him supplied with what is the real staff of life all this time. And I know Aunt Mary, although she cannot countenance all his practices, keeps him and John Morrison in milk from our own dear Alderneys-—" " Then
you don't mean to have pity on him ?” He still kept her hand tight. He was young, had no idea of the intense cruelty of this persistence.
He promised me he would never trouble me again, and he never has,—at least he is a man of his word.”
“But if you were consistent—'
“I am not, -I am only a woman. It is our privilege to be inconsistent !” Then she withdrew her hand, and sat down, and shed a few quiet tears.
"Oh, Dulcie, I am so sorry," said George, wise enough not to cost her all self-control by attempting even to approach her, “but it has seemed to me such a mistake and pity that you, of all women,- made by God, one would say, to be a wife and rule your own bome,-should waste your heart and affections upon Kathleen, and Molly, and Dolly, and Charlie, who will all think nothing of leaving you, and all alone it may be, whenever they wish themselves to marry.
" I hope they all will. You are forgetting that I have never loved Mr. Macdonald,—that there is no parallel to the case we have been supposing, -no changing,—no troth—"
“But surely 'twere all as well to ease one heart of pain—"
“I think, George, you are under a misconception," and she arose, calm again, “ I think Mr. Macdonald has quite put away all earthly affections from his heart. If he isn't quite wise about his bodily health, - well, no one is perfect, or would be endurable if they were,” and she smiled, “I am sorry,—for I truly honour and admire both him and his self-devotion. Perhaps last June I was young and vain enough to think that I might be useful to him, -and his poor people,-by opening his eyes to the one person whom he was neglecting, but you see I overrated my influence even then." “ You are a strange woman,
was George's remark, but he met her full gaze without shrinking, "and I dare say I've been a fool, but an honest one.
Let me say one thing more, and then I too will never trouble you again unless you turn to me. If Frank Rowcroft was the fellow I took him for,-(and if ever there were a man I could have made a hero of, 'twas he !)—he'd be the last person to wish the woman he had loved to waste all her life
He'd have been far too unselfish even in the flesh ;-and surely you can't but think he's gone up higher, in all senses, wherever he may be now,—and so more unselfish still. My belief is he'd long to see you beloved and appreciated in a home of your own, with husband and children of your own.
There ! I've out with it, and done with it !” and he looked much relieved.
“And I thank you, George,” she answered calmly, “I mean for having made such a great effort to say what you must, most strongly, have felt it was your duty to say, to have been able to say it at all.—No one has named Frank Rowcroft to me since Aunt Elizabeth's visit two and a half years ago.
It is sweet to me even to hear his name; to know that some one remembers him still, beside myself."
• Well, they remember him, some of them. In fact I wanted Arthur to
say what I've been saying, “it would have come much better from bim,—but he said he really daren't."
“And he was wise,” cried Dulcibella with a sudden flush of youth upon her cheeks.
“He really knew him, and all he was to me,-you -you were but a boy,-one-"
“Oh, Dulcie, you are still in," cried Kathleen, opening the door, “ do come up and help Molly and Dora to settle which of all these hats Barkers sent in they'd better have. They want to be alike, and yet can't agree to like the same thing." And Dulcibella, with a kind smile of forgiveness, disappeared.
“Well,” thought George, “Arthur said he'd endured as much snub. bing in such matters as he could stand, on Frank Wollaston's account. But what were women made for, if not to be married ? There's Freda herself run off on this mad idea of making a real profession of medicine! Must go and see her, I suppose, as we pass through Paris. But I'd far rather she'd married a good-natured fool like George Sa
ville, or such a brother-like friend as Julius Denny, and been wholesomely and entirely engrossed as Isa is in husband, home and baby. Nice of her to call that child Julia Georgiana,- frightful names as both are ! and to say I must be godfather, in spite of my horror of babies, because the only George Erle left her.”
A few minutes later he left the house to call on the widowed mother of this precious only son, and consent, with as little outward sign of reluctance as was possible, first, to her munificent terms and, subsequently, to the countless directions as to her boy's food and clothing and general health. It was Wednesday, one of Amabel's busy days, and therefore Dulcie's leisure ones; and after the hat question had been settled, — by Molly consenting to have the feather Dolly desired added to the quiet bat of her own original choice, and Dolly to have Molly's material and shape-she proposed to take both girls to see Diana. Diana, in her turn, kept the two younger girls to share her drive in the park and afternoon tea, and Dulcibella found herself at home by halfpast four, already dusk, this short January day, whilst the neighbouring service was not until five. It did seem not worth while, for this short twenty minutes, to take off her outdoor garments, nor even to ring for lights. She sat down to the piano and began to play, softly, long-forgotten airs of the very old Brayscombe days which none of the young things now about her could remember; so long as there had been a governess in the house, so sharp and distinct had been the line between herself and Amabel, as “out,” and the
sisters still under tuition. She was thinking surely the present kindlier mingling of ages, and mergings and upward steps in growing juniors more healthy,-if this method also had its drawbacks—when the door was opened, and Rosina-for Sarah had stayed with “Miss Mary,"--announced, "Mr. Macdonald.”
How glad Dulcibella was that it was dusk, and George not there ; and then felt how needless had been the rush of colour to her cheek, and momentary fear at her heart, as her visitor-with his usual gentle deliberation and true friendship-shook hands, and said he could not be in town without making his way to Church Street, and taking his chance of finding somebody at home.
“ I am so glad that I came straight home from the Savilles', otherwise no one would have been at home! And now you will stay and have some tea with us ? George will be in by six, he would be grieved to miss you."