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- The Hallam Succession - 30/43 -
"I have seen my father, Martha. Indeed I have."
"I don't doubt it, not a minute. He'd hev a reason for coming."
"He came to remind me of a duty and to strengthen me for it. Ah, Martha, Martha! If this cup could pass from me! if this cup could pass from me!"
"Honey, dear, what can Martha do for thee? Ivery Christian some time or other comes to Gethsemane. I hev found that out. Let this cup pass, Lord. Didn't I pray that prayer mysen, night and day?"
"Surely, Martha, about Ben--and God let it pass. But he does not always let it pass when we ask him."
"Then he does what is happen better--if we hev t' heart to trust him-- he sends an angel to strengthen us to drink it. I hev seen them as drank it wi' thanksgiving."
"O Martha! I am very, very sorrowful about it."
"And varry often, dearie, it is God's will for us to go forward--thou knows what I mean--to make a Calvary of our breaking hearts, and offer there t' sacrifice that is dearest and hardest. Can ta tell me what ta fears, dearie?"
"Just what you say, Martha, that I must pass from Gethsemane to Calvary, and sacrifice there what is my dearest, sweetest hope; and I shall have to bear it alone."
"Nay, thou wont. It isn't fair o' thee to say that; for thou knows better. My word, Miss Hallam, there's love above and below, and strength all round about. If thee and me didn't believe that, O what a thing it would be!"
"Martha, I may need help, the help of man and the help of woman. Can I trust to Ben and you?"
"I can speak for both of us. We'll wear our last breath i' your service. Neither Ben nor I are made o' stuff that'll shrink in t' wetting. You can count on that, Miss Hallam."
The next evening, just after dusk, Elizabeth was standing at the dining-room window. The butler had just arranged the silver upon the sideboard, and was taking some last orders from his mistress. He was an old man with many infirmities, both of body and temper, but he had served Hallam for fifty years, and was permitted many privileges. One of these was plain speech; and after a moment's consideration upon the directions given him, he said:
"There's summat troubling _them_ as are dead and gone, Miss Hallam. If I was thee, I'd hev Mr. Antony come and do his duty by t' land. _They_ don't like a woman i' their shoes."
"What are you talking about, Jasper?"
"I know right well what I'm talking about, Miss Hallam. What does t' Bible say? T' old men shall see visions--" He had advanced toward the window to draw the blinds, but Elizabeth, with a face pale as ashes, turned quickly to him and said:
"Leave the blinds alone, Jasper."
She stood between him and the window, and he was amazed at the change in her face. "She's like 'em a'," he muttered, angrily, as he went to his own sitting-room. "You may put a bridle in t' wind's mouth as easy as you'll guide a woman. If I hed been t' young squire, I'd hev brokken t' will a' to bits, that I would. 'Leave t' blinds alone, Jasper!' Highty-tighty, she is. But I've saved a bit o' brass, and I'll none stand it, not I!"
So little do we know of the motives of the soul at our side! Elizabeth was very far, indeed, from either pride or anger. But she had seen in the dim garden, peering out from the shrubbery, a white face that filled her with a sick fear. Then she had but one thought, to get Jasper out of the room, and was quite unconscious of having spoken with unusual anger or authority.
When he had gone she softly turned the key in the door, put out the candles, and went to the window. In a few minutes Antony stood facing her, and by a motion, asked to be admitted.
"I don't want any one to know I have been here," he said, as he stood trembling before the fire. "It is raining, I am wet through, shivering, hungry. Elizabeth, why don't you speak?"
"Why are you here--in this way?"
She could hardly get the words out. Her tongue was heavy, her speech as difficult as if she had been in some terror-haunted dream.
"Because I am going away--far away--forever. I wanted to see you first."
"Antony! My brother! Antony, what have you done!"
"Hush, hush. Get me some food and dry clothes."
"Go to my room. You are safer there."
He slipped up the familiar stair, and Elizabeth soon followed him. "Here is wine and sweet-bread. I cannot get into the pantry or call for food without arousing remark. Antony, what is the matter?"
"I am ruined. Eltham and those Darraghs together have done it."
"Thank God! I feared something worse."
"There is worse. I have forged two notes. Together they make nearly L19,000. The first falls due in three days. I have no hope of redeeming it. I am going to the other end of the world. I am glad to go, for I am sick of every thing here. I'll do well yet. You will help me, Elizabeth?"
She could not answer him.
"For our father's sake, for our mother's sake, you must help me away. It will be transportation for life. O, sister, give me another chance. I will put the wrong all right yet."
By this time she had gathered her faculties together.
"Yes, I'll help you, dear. Lie down and rest. I will go to Martha. I can trust the Cravens. Is it Liverpool you want to reach?"
"No, no; any port but Liverpool."
"Will Whitehaven do?"
"The best of all places."
"I will return as quickly as possible."
"But it is raining heavily, and the park is so gloomy. Let me go with you."
"I must go alone."
He looked at her with sorrow and tenderness and bitter shame. Her face showed white as marble against the dead black of her dress, but there was also in it a strength and purpose to which he fully trusted.
"I must ring for my maid and dismiss her, and you had better go to your own old room, Antony;" and as he softly trod the corridor, lined with the faces of his forefathers, Elizabeth followed him in thought, and shuddered at the mental picture she evoked.
Then she rang her bell, gave some trivial order, and excused her maid for the night. A quarter of an hour afterward she was hastening through the park, scarcely heeding the soaking rain, or the chill, or darkness, in the pre-occupation of her thoughts. She had flung a thick shawl over her head and shoulders, a fashion so universal as to greatly lessen her chance of being observed, and when she came to the park gates she looked up and down for some circumstance to guide her further steps. She found it in the lighted windows of the Methodist chapel. There was evidently a service there, and Martha would be present. If she waited patiently she would pass the gates, and she could call her.
But it was a wretched hour before Martha came, and Elizabeth was wet and shivering and sick with many a terror. Fortunately Martha was alone, and the moment Elizabeth spoke she understood, without surprise or explanations, that there was trouble in which she could help.
"Martha, where is Ben?"
"He stopp'd to t' leaders' meeting. He'll be along in a little bit."
"Can he bring a wool-comber's suit and apron, and be at the gates, here, with-his tax-cart in a couple of hours?"
"Yes; I know he can."
"Martha, can you get me some bread and meat, without any one knowing?"
"Ay; I can. Mary'll be up stairs wi' t' baby, I'se warrant. I'll be back wi' it, i' five minutes;" and she left Elizabeth walking restlessly just inside the gates. The five minutes looked an hour to her, but in reality Martha returned very speedily with a small basket of cold meat and bread.
"My brother, Martha, my brother, will be here in two hours. See that Ben is ready. He must be in Whitehaven as soon as possible to-morrow. Don't forget the clothes."
"I'll forget nothing that's needful. Ben'll be waiting. God help, you, Miss Hallam!"
Elizabeth answered with a low cry, and Martha watched her a moment hastening through the rain and darkness, ere she turned back toward the chapel to wait for Ben.
A new terror seized Elizabeth as she returned. What if Jasper had locked the doors? How would it be possible for her to account for her strange absence from the house at that hour? But Antony had also thought of this, and after the main doors had been closed he had softly undone a side entrance, and watched near it for his sister's return. His punishment begun when he saw her wretched condition; but there was no time then for either apologies or reproaches.
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