"I HATE a mystery, and I never understood a quarrel in my life." This enlightened sentiment and amiable disability was proclaimed by a very fascinating personage, usually known in our family as "Mrs. James; " she was the widow of my father's uncle, Mr. James Mackworth, a lady of about seven and forty years of age, and the mother of a son commonly called the " Manchester man."
The Mackworths of Calverley were an ancient family, and Calverley Court was a charming old place ; but I had never seen Calverley—that was part of our mystery.
Old Gerard Mackworth, my Aunt James's father-in-law, had been left early a widower with three sons. The second had married, and he and his wife dying, their only child, who was my father, was taken to Calverley, and there brought up as the darling of the house.
The eldest son distinguished himself in his profession—the army—and married, when his father was seventy and himself forty-three, a very beautiful girl, who, as Lady Mackworth, gloried in her husband, and in the title he had won. The youngest brother had also married, but he was childless. My father was sixteen years of age when his uncle, Sir Thomas, married. He had been brought up at the old house surrounded by all the possibilities that existed of his being the heir; and so great was his grandfather's love for him, that if his eldest son's wife had had no family, the old man, people were sure, would secretly have rejoiced But Lady Mackworth could not accompany her husband to India because of the expected birth of an heir. Sir Thomas left her in the house in London where the child was to be born, and where his father remained waiting for the event
Then came a terrible day. It brought news of Sir Thomas's death ; his wife gave birth to a girl, and her life was saved only, as it seemed, by a miracle; then, also on the same day, after the infant's birth, old Mr Mackworth was knocked down by a cab, and killed in the street. Lady Mackworth knew nothing of the last event for many weeks ; but people thought she was reconciled to the loss by the fact of the child she held in her arms being the heiress of the whole Mackworth property.
It was, however, whispered about that Mr. Mackworth had openly rejoiced in the new-born infant being a girl, and he had been hurrying to his lawyer to alter the will by which the property was left to Sir Thomas, and entailed on Sir Thomas's children, when he met with his death. He had been heard to say that Roger—my father—should still be his heir; and that he should leave the girl seven hundred a-year, which was quite enough for a woman. He had been in the greatest imaginable state of excitement from the moment of hearing of his son's death, and of Lady Mackworth's illness. He was extremely fond of Lady Mackworth ; but as soon as the birth of a daughter had been announced, he had congratulated himself openly ; and he had started on foot avowedly to get to a cab-stand with the least delay, in order to give his lawyer immediate directions about his will. As it was, however, my father was left with a very small fortune, my Uncle James with but little more ; and Lady Mackworth with her infant daughter went to live at Calverley.
Many years had passed since that eventful time. My father had been a hard-working man for more than thirty years as an attorney in London. He had become a partner at last in a well-known house, and he had lived as a widower ever since a year after my birth. I was just twenty years of age at the period when this story begins. We had had for about ten years a Mrs. Ellerby to keep house and look after me; but my beloved Aunt James, the second wife of my father's Uncle James, was the one who was consulted as to all arrangements relating to me; and I loved her, and her only child, Cousin John, "the Manchester man," as might be expected. Uncle James had mended his fortunes by marrying, for a second wife, this dearly-loved relative, the pleasant and accomplished daughter of a rich manufacturer. On her husband's death, Mrs. James, in possession at that time of a considerable fortune, had taken a fine London house; and there she lived, summer and winter, and was as good as a mother to me. John lived in Manchester; he was a busy, successful man, very pleasant, very fond of my father, whom he called " old Cousin Roger," as he had been taught to do in his infancy, and very kind to me. John was twenty-seven, and Aunt James was two years younger than my father, who was her nephew by marriage, when she avowed her abhorrence of mysteries, and that inability as to a quarrel, which I have already recorded.
But notwithstanding Aunt James, whose sweet sunny face ought to have dispelled all mysteries, a mystery there was, and a quarrel there might be; but neither of one nor the other did anybody—not even, for a wonder, the people most concerned—seem to know anything with certainty. Lady Mackworth, with Judith, who was now over thirty years of age, lived in good country style at Calverley ; but we never went there. I had never seen the place, nor Judith, nor her mother. All I knew was that my father would not go. For several years Lady Mackworth had asked him always at Christmas, and civilly, but firmly, my father had always, refused her invitations. Since I had come from school neither Lady Mackworth nor Judith had ever been in London. We knew that, before that time, my father had seen them every year when they came to town, and had been frequently staying at Calverley, and the precise date of the beginning of the existing estrangement was not known; its cause and its commencement was a part of the mystery.
Gradually, as I grew up, Mrs. James had ceased to go to Calverley. "Oh ! I am not a Mackworth," she would say, " and I need not go to the Christmas gathering. If I went it would look like taking part against your father. I don't choose to do that, you, my dear Mary, being so dear to me; John is a Mackworth, and he can go to Calverley when he pleases ; indeed he does go there very often; but he says that in the last two years Judith has grown very odd. Oh, it was such a pity she did not marry Major Grey."
"Why did she give him up ?" I asked.
"Part of the mystery ; I sometimes think it was the beginning of it Five years ago, the day was fixed; and the marriage settlements were made in your father's office. The bride-cake was come, and the trousseau was made. Judith and Major Grey had gone out together to look at the carriage on which their arms were being painted; they were to come to me here and lunch. She came to me alone. She said she had given up the marriage. She never told any one why she had done this. ' By no fault of Major Grey,' was aft she would say. Major Grey came to me I sent for your father. But, my dear Mary, your father was like a stone, im-penetrable. He refused to see Judith. He refused to call on Lady Mackworth when she sent for him. I always thought lift knew something of Which he would not speak. Lady Mackworth took her daughter to Calverley, and they have never been in London since. Lady Mackworth has asked him to Calverley again and again, but he has never seen them since that time, I am sure."
This was all that at twenty I knew of the mystery. I used to feel sometimes that when my fatheir was overdone with the laborious life to which he had not been brought up, he felt the hardship of it more than formerly. Also I had adopted an idea that there was something about my father's conduct towards Lady Mackworth that good, honest-hearted Mrs. Ellerby did not like. She had latterly grown anxious when Christmas came, and vexed about my father refusing to go to the old home at that time; and when a Christmas passed without the usual letter, she actually shed tears. I ad then asked her if she knew anything about this mystery, and she had answered, "Not enough to act, dear Mary." And then your father, like so many men who are so really tender-hearted and kind, is so very severe when he thinks that severity is required of him. There is no getting at him, he lives inside such a case of adamant as to this Calverley mystery. So the secret and the mystery went on ; and no one was ever more curious than I was about Cousin Judith, and all that belonged to her.
I wish I could make everybody understand how charming "Mrs. James " was. We usually called her Mrs. James, for she was a bright, gentle, conciliating, forgiving sort of creature, who tempted one to take little loving liberties, and liked one the better for them. She was the happy medium as to height, being neither tall nor short She had the lightest step and the fairest complexion ever known; and when she dressed herself in her pretty matronly way, she looked like one playing at growing old Ugly people, who were also malicious, said that she painted, and her beautiful hair, with hardly a white line in it, looked as well as mine did, under the soft white lace in which she veiled it so daintily. There was always an exquisite freshness about Mrs. James ; her garments were soft and flowing, there was never a rustle nor an angle about her; in summer the sight of her cooled one like a delicate zephyr, and in winter the look of her warm contrasts comforted one But summer and winter her sweet eyes blessed me, and I read in her smile that I might tell her all I felt; in truth she had been born to bless, and she was a blessing accordingly. One December dr* #~"t as we were all thinking of the coming Christmas, and had begun to make our usual preparations—for my father, though he worked hard to keep his place in life, was a man of bountiful charities—I had a note from Mrs. James. She told me to come to her that evening. "I shall send for you," she wrote, "at six o'clock." I was truly sorry, because I was very busy ; for nowhere can Christmas be more thoroughly enjoyed than in London, among the hard working gentlefolk, though they have to buy their holly, and may do without misletoe altogether. However, I left the store-room, where, arrayed in spreading aprons, Mrs. Ellerby and I had begun in good time to weigh plums for many more Christmas puddings than our own household required, and begun to dress for my evening with Mrs. James. She had directed me what to wear, and as I was to stay the night, she had added her choice of a dress for the morning. I always obeyed her in these matters, for that Mrs. James's taste was perfect was quite like an article of faith with us.
I stood before my father to be admired before I went " How do you like me ?"
"Very much, my darling," and he bowed with a touch of pretty ceremony as I drove away.
It was a blazing full moon. She was sailing along in the high-up heavens, and filling the streets with her brightness, as we turned corners, and came upon open places where the flood of her silver beams showed forth solemnly. A great winter moon in London is a beautiful thing, with a something belonging to it that is unknown elsewhere. There is the grand contrast between the calm above, where in her own great sea of light the majestic watcher holds on her way, and the current of life in the world below that affects one strangely. I felt it all very keenly. The Christmas was almost come; the holiday to the weary was very near at hand ; the day of peace was to bless our hearts once more, and then came the thought of my beloved father, with the shadow of the mystery on his overwrought brow, and the desire that it might go rose in my heart like a prayer ; and so feeling I stopped at Mrs. James's door, and in another moment I was talking to Gosset, the good old trusty woman-servant who had come down to take possession of me, and capture my small bag and the flat parcel that contained my velveteen gown for the next morning.
Aunt James's house had nothing oppressive about its beauty. You never felt the weight of its costliness. It was ^M of the atmosphere of welcome, and the only thing to be vondered at, in the midst of wonders, was the great stand full of monthly roses in the angle of the stairs, and there was nothing particularly overwhelming in that Mrs. James sat at a table in the little drawing-room with a pretty puzzled expression upon her face that amused me at once. "Oh, such an odd thing, Mary," she began. "John has just come from Calverley. He came last night He has spent the whole morning with me. He is one of the best men in the world !"
"Please to go on about Calverley," I said.
"Well: he brought me a note from Lady Mackworth. I will read it: ' I write to ask you once more to spend Christmas here. I would ask Roger and his daughter, but the mystery of his persevering coldness makes any more ad-vances from me impossible. Judith, who might do something, has adopted many peculiarities of late years, and she will not. 'I am not strong enough yet,' has been her answer to me to-day. Has she anything to forgive Roger? My utter want of knowledge makes me powerless. Let me go to a pleasanter subject. I spoke to John as to his marry-rying, and was glad to hear that he thought of it. In his merry way he said we might call the Lady Miss Jackson, but refused to tell us where Miss Jackson was. Judith told John how welcome you would be. You might bring Miss Jackson with you if you like to do so'—then Mrs. James looked at me with eyes brimful of amusement.
I felt thunderstruck. "Miss Jackson!" I exclaimed; " who is Miss Jackson ?"
"That is the odd thing. There is no Miss Jackson," said Mrs. James. "John had no idea of his joke being taken so seriously until he read Lady Mackworth's note. Now, what are we to do ? "
Just at that moment the door from the larger room opened; a man emerged from the shadowy grandeur and stood in the light of the merrily blazing fire by my side. "Mary," he said, " will you be Miss Jackson ? "
My aunt rose up quickly. I saw sudden tears glittering like diamonds in her soft eyes. She glided away by another door, and then John said :
"Will you be my wife, Mary ? I have loved you a long time."
I cannot tell how that evening passed—perhaps nobody cares about knowing; but before I went home on the following day, when my father very gladly consented to my engagement, it had been settled that I was to spend the Christmas with my aunt somewhere ; ceitainly not in London ; and John had written to Lady Mackworth saying that he and his mother were coming—and Miss Jackson !
I could hardly call myself a consenting party. John was full of fun, and very wilful, too, on this matter ; his arguments I felt to be not altogether ill-founded, yet I begged heartily to be allowed to tell my father.
"He can't let you go, if he is asked; he can't," said Aunt James.
"Lady Mackworth can't let you come, if she knows beforehand; she can't," said Cousin John.
In vam I asked why ? I only got the same answer from both of them : "Your father, after his conduct to Lady Mackworth, could not let you go ; and Lady Mackworth, after your father's persistent refusals to go to Calverley, could not Bay more about your coining than she has said already."
Then John added what decided me:
"If the mystery is ever to be swept out of tour lives, some sacrifice must be made. Let us get into the house, and let us then tell your father, and get him there if we can. Be-sides," argued John, " as my wife you must see Calverley; tod our taking you now will just be like a Christmas joke-as good as a play. You must go, Mary; Calverley is the dearest old place in all the world."
AN OLD HOME.
"Well," said my father, putting us into the railway-carriage, "let me hear from you to-morrow, if possible, and tell me where you have made up your minds to go. This is an odd fancy of yours, Mrs. James, to spend your Christinas away from your own good home."
"No; not odd," she said, smilimg. "I am determined to see Christmas again in the pure country, where the great trees are standing, still, and the earth lies barren waiting for the spring. Why, Mary has never seen a Christmas out of London I Look back into your life, Roger; do you never thirst for a true old-fashioned country Christmas such as every year brought to you once? "
"I would rather not look back," he said with a chilling quietness. Then he gave me a loving smile, and said, " God bless you, Mary I Write to me as I said Good-bye, darling!"
The railway whistle cut off further talk, and in an instant we were off, leaving my father with the smile on his fine face that I knew Was my own peculiar property ; and for a moment I gloried in my heart because he loved no one as he loved me.
We had left London early, and we had arranged to spend two days on our way to Calverley. It was not a cold day for the twentieth of December; there was rain falling in soft showers, sticking about the carriage-windows, and dimming the landscape. But we did not care for this discom-fort; We had thorough enjoyment in our joke, and anticipations sufficiently vague to be entertaining. John was to manage everything, and pacify everybody. Christmas was to come laden with gifts and glad with rejoicing; and, above all, I was to see Calverley.
We enjoyed our stay in the hotel of a great cathedral city. We Went about through a calm, clear, cold air, with John, seeing sights; and then, on the third day, after luncheon, started once more by rail for Calverley. When we reached the nearest station, we found that a carriage had been sent for us; and a huge bundle of cloaks and wrappers supplied for our accommodation gave me a pleasant sensation as to Lady Mackworth's kindness. We were soon wrapped up, feeling very glad of their Warmth, and out of the little town we went into an open road, and then through lodge-gates we entered on a two-mile drive through wood, and by Water, skirting a great deer park, passing close to a picturesque farmhouse, and on into a gravelled road With a sloping bank of wood on the left, and a spreading lawn, dotted about With cedars and great evergreens on the right I was speechless with admiration. The music of the merry echoing tread of the horses; the still, clear, cold air; the far-away blue quiet sky, and the trees !—the beautiful, wonderful trees !--giving me a sight unknown till then ; for the soft rain of the evening before, and the frost of the night, had decked the whole landscape with silver trees} every twig gave forth crystal blossoms, and the great flat branches of the feathering cedars were bent down with their weight of loveliness. Not a breath stirred; I had never seen a hoar frost before, and I could have shed tears, so deep was my emotlon at the grand, still sight that Was before the Awd this was Calverley. Immediately a thought crossed my mind of how much my father lost when Judith was born. But that could make no part of the mystery; for years, many years after that event, and for long after my birth, there had been no quarrel, no estrangement, no banishment from Calverley. I was thinking thus, when, suddenly in the calm, bright, frosty evening light, we came on a turn in the road, and a small church and its great yew-tree, with every green point tipped with silver—the fairest sight of all—met my gaze. I gave an exclamation of delight; and then the church bells rung out, at first faint and uncertain, but quickly with clear, even notes, resounding among the hills. The carriage passed beneath a great granite arched gateway, and we drove rapidly up to the house.
Suddenly the recollection that I was there under a feigned name chilled me to the heart I looked my fears straight into Aunt James's face. . She wrapped herself more closely in her soft scarlet cloak, and settled her hands in her muff, saying, "I hope no harm will come of this prank." But as soon as the door opened, all fear seemed over. Everybody was so glad to see John. Every servant, including an old housekeeper in spectacles, was so unaffectedly charmed to see Mrs. James. How well she looked! How like old times it was to see her again !—and this would be a Christmas worth having !
Thus, amidst such prophetic welcomes, we got through the hall, and up the staircase, where stiff figures of men and women watched us from their picture-frames on the walls, into the cedar parlor, where panels of the sweet-smelling wood, dividing long pictures of tapestry, lined the room. The fire was blazing, the candles were lighted, bright-colored tiles gleamed about the chimney, and a high mirror in a white and gold frame glistened from the mantelshelf to the cornice ; a gayer sight can scarcely be imagined, heightened as it was by the old-fashioned chaise-longues, and picturesque arm-chairs, all white and gold like the looking-glass, with crimson velvet covers.
I took one charmed admiring look round this "painted chamber," and then returned Lady Mackworth's greeting.
"This is Miss Jackson," she said.
" My Miss Jackson," said John, with emphasis, and a touch of merriment in his voice that might have told any body, I think, that he was playing them a trick.
Lady Calverley, however, appeared not to notice his manner, she only looked steadily at me. "My dear," she said, "we are going to be friends, I think. But I must speak with Mrs. James now. There is Baines : go, my love, to your room with her." Thus dismissed, and gently urged by a touch from John's hand on my shoulder, I went towards the door.
Before I followed the woman-servant out of the room, I looked back, and I saw what made me stop for an instant in absolute terror.
This last glance had shown me a door in the very corner at the furthest end, partly in the shadow of a large Indian cabinet, and in that doorway, which was open, was a woman in a dark dress, looking at me. She seemed entirely to forget that I could see her. She was looking at me, and me only. In my life I had never seen such a face. It was not ugly, but it was ablaze with an incredible curiosity, and an eagerness which struck me as inhuman. Whoever she was, she stood there holding one of those twisted wax tapers which we all know, and of which the coil was in her hand and the end lighted, and flaring up into her face. The strong lights and shadows no doubt disfigured her; but the sight struck me immovable, and I looked up in John's face for help. "Go to my mother's room ; I will come there," he said. And so I moved away in a helpless sort of obedience, like one in a dream, yet hearing Baines say that my room was next to Mrs. James's, and that there was a door of communication ; and that Gosset would sleep in the little tower-room close by. I made no answer; luckily there was no need of any; for in an instant I was left with Gosset by her mistress's fire; and, feeling in a strange wonder-world, at present inhabited by one dreadful woman's face, I sat down on the sofa and looked around.
It was a handsome room, with a low, long-mullioned window, filled with diamond-paned glass, across half of which a heavy green cloth curtain was drawn, and the wintr, heavens gleamed through the other. There were long, narrow, blue-looking mirrors, in white painted frames, in the room, and I looked of a most ghastly complexion as I saw myself reflected in them. A nervous terror made me shudder—a distressing sense of being in the wrong place, and doing the wrong thing, overcame me. One thought after another chased through my brain, and I was overwhelmed with sudden misery. This was the place from which my father had gone in his youth to work for his bread in London—this was the home which, for years, he had refused to Visit, and to which he had steadily refused to let me come; Flow did I dare to be there without his leave? What had I done?
I was thoroughly humbled by the confusion of mind that oppressed me. And at Christmas time I had ventured on this, when the thought of the wonderful Nativity should give us child-like hearts, and the contemplation of the Divine submission should fill our souls with obedience. What had I done?
I was more frightened and miserable than I can tell And Gosset's shadow flitted on the wall, and in and out of those ghostly mirrors; and the glass in the great massive window reflected the fire at play, looking cheerful in spite of my subdued, humiliated, repentant self and making flashing red and yellow darts, as if it mocked me. There I sat, speechless and appalled, while Gosset, astounded into silence by the magnificence of the old Mackworth home, laid out a velvet dress for my aunt, and a gay green silk for me.
But I could not recover myself The thought of the deceit under which I had got entrance there mortified me; the Feigned name became a horror; and the wonder as to What my dearly-loved father might say was just the one thing more than I could bear; then the door opened, and in came John and Mrs. James. I threw myself into her arms in an agony of distress.
"Hush, hush!" How she soothed me I "Lady Mack-Worth has been told," she whispered.
Very prudently Gosset disappeared, carrying my gown into the inner room.
"We told her that we could not ask your father. John did it so well" I looked at him through my tears, and forgave him, of course, upon the spot "He said he had taken advantage of her mistaking his play for earnest, and as she had said his wife that was to be might conne, he had made his proposals immediately, and brought you. Then he asked her plainly what was the nature of the odd estrangement between her and your father. John said that he had a right to know, and that you had a right to share his knowledge. And what do you think she said ? " I looked up eagerly. " She declared, and, speaking of this solemn time, she took heaven to witness, that she did not know. That she had written asking him to tell her, Christmas after Christmas she had written asking him to come to the house where he had lived so long, where so many survived who loved him still; hat he had always, in the fewest words, refused Christmas after Christmas she had written again to ask what it was that had changed him, but never but once—the last time—had he answered her entreaty. Then he had written these words, ' I can never come to Calverley, till ,' then he left a long blank, of which she could not guess the meaning, then followed these few words more, 'I believe that I am incapable of injuring a woman. I cannot even contemplate the possibility at this Christmas time."
We looked at each other in a dumb bewilderment At last John spoke, "Mary, how much do you know of your father's life in your childhood ? "
"Nothing," I said ; " except that he has lived in the same house, and been the best of men."
"Yes, we all know that," he said; "and nobody can doubt it. But, Mary, when did Mrs. Ellerby come to live with you?" I told him. "Did your father know her before?"
"He knew her husband," I said, "He was a surgeon ; and I think my father was with him when he died. Why do you ask ?" I inquired.
"Because Mrs. Ellerby knows something, I fancy."
"Yes," I said, "she knows of Lady Mackworth's in vitations, and she speaks of Cousin Judith sometimes. But then, she is fond of us, and a partisan, and wishes Cousin Judith had never been born !" John laughed, and said he must go to make himself fit to be seen, and so he left Aunt James and me together.
It had been arranged that our first meal at old Calverley should be a sociable tea ; so when we were ready we went again to the cedar parlor—we were joined by John just outside the door, who looked me over with a pleasant scrutiny.
"I hope there are no pins out of place," he said ; "Judith would discover the fact of a single hair being awry; she has been awfully soured, somehow; but don't be discouraged, Mary."
What a sudden comfort came in the fact of my old cousin not being there when we entered the room; for "over thirty " is an age of considerable antiquity to under twenty-one; an age to be feared, and criticised, and occasionally even taken offence at, if it arrays itself in pink, for instance, or indulges in any excursions into those regions of sweet simplicity where people wear white musln and real flowers in their hair, When the door was opened, and I bad had time to look around me, there was no Cousin Judith, ana my spirit felt free again, and my quaking heart rejoiced.
One other glance I gave at the door in the corner. But a thick heavy porhere had been drawn before it, and a long table loaded with cold eatables, with a brilliant lamp in the centre, stood in front of that; so I was safe and comforted
"This is my Miss Jackson !" exclaimed John now, in a tone of saucy triumph, the explanation having been made.
Lady Mackworth said, " In that, or in any other character, you are welcome; but most of all in your own." Then she kissed me, and I looked at her kind face, which was a sad one too, and felt that I must love her in spite of the mystery, and whatever the quarrel might be.
THE room in which we stood on this evening of the twenty-third of December, cheerfully bright, and glowing with welcome, made one feel immediately at home. This sensation, always so indescribably delightful, belongs to the winter, and the winter only ; and specially and undoubtedly to Christmas, in virtue of a hundred associations. Summer has no such gift as this with which winter is so happily endowed. The sun may tempt one out under the blue sky ; it opens doors and windows, brings people together on lawns, and among the woods and fields, and perhaps takes them into the shadowy groves under pretence of closer companionship ; but idle rest—a sort of enjoyable languor, a contemplation of the fulness of the earth—a feeling that in such an atmosphere one could live anywhere, get peace under the shelter of any rock, and rest, leaning lazily on any garden bench—these are summer sensations, utterly destructive of that delicious sense of home and comfort with which the welcome of a good house, properly conducted, blesses you in the winter time. All this was felt to perfection at Calverley. The sight of the plentifully-spread table, the fragrance of coffee and tea, the sufficiency of light, the agreeable glow on all that surrounded us, and the enjoyable warmth of the atmosphere made one wish to be confidential; quarrels were an impossibility in the world of that cedar parlor; and as for secrets, who could keep them in the quiet kindness of that genial welcome ? When Lady Mack* worth kissed me and said, "I wish your father was here," I wished it too, with all my heart; for I felt that not anything could be more likely to melt away all stiffness from his heart than the glow of that house, in the Christmas kindness that had begun to gleam upon us.
"Where is Judith?" asked John. And then I began to remember that there was an unexplained mystery which we were there to discover, and again I wondered if the face I had seen in the doorway was our cousin's.
"Judith will not appear to-night," said Lady Mackworth. "She is tired She has helped to give away our dole to-day. It is an old custom, my love," she said, turning to me.: "It lasts from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. Beer, beeЈ and bread, and to some who have been born and who have lived on the property, money. To-morrow, being Christmas Eve, the clothing and blankets are given away ; Judith wishes to give that also with her own hands; and this year she adds to the usual gifts a piece of gold—ten shillings to every child born since Christmas last. I am glad ; for she has shrunk for several years from all exertion—she lives like one in a sad dream."
Lady Mackworth's face grew hard as she said this. I looked at her attentively. She had still considerable remains of the beauty of girlhood in her straight features and fair skin, but she looked singularly hard in the outlines of her features, and in the quick-coming little frown that contracted her face as she spoke of Judith. She was small and thin, and dressed in rich soft-flowing black silk. Her hair was as white as snow, and over her cap was thrown a little black veil of exquisitely fine lace. She was perfectly upright, stiff in the back, and small in the waist; and when she spoke of Judith living like one in a sad dream, the white eyebrows contracted, and her brown eyes were fastened on me with an odd, questioning glance in them.
I cannot now imagine how I dared to be so bold, but I said in answer to that look, " Has Judith's state of mind or health anything to do with my father, Lady Mackworth ?"
She answered by another question, " Does Roger never speak of her ? "
"Never," I said; "and such a strange silence towards both her and you cannot but have made me wonder."
"Yes," she answered, "there is an eloquence in silence even greater than in speech." And so saying she led the Way to the tea-table.
We were all silent! But after a minute or two she went on : " I have no idea. of what your father's feelings may be. I only, know, as I suppose we all know, that he once loved Judith very much,"
I dropped my tea-spoon in astonishment.
"Judith !" exclaimed Mrs. James, in the soft tones of a breathless surprise. And John came back from the side-table, where he had been carving a venison pasty, with the knife and fork iu his hand, and stood by his aunt's side-His whole face was lighted up by an amused astonishment "We are the children of amazement," he said. "Don't take our appetites away, but tell us the whole after tea."
Lady Mackworth gave him one of those loving glances which are the rewards of spoilt children ; and we began to eat, John keeping up some lively talk about the interviews he had been. having with some of the old people on the estate, who always treated him as if he were still a boy, and so getting over the meal-time pleasantly.
I certainly longed (or it to be over. My mind was full of my father. What should I feel when I knew his history better I could scarcely pay any attention to John's, merry talk, I was so occupied with more serious things. My father had always been one of my heroes. The story of his boy-hood, and, his hard-worked manhood, I knew very well. I knew the hard side of the picture, and something I knew of the short, sad story of his two years of wedded life; but I knew nothing of the other side—of new worlds of love and hope, I knew nothing; of the possible return to Calverley with a fond wife, and as its master, I had never guessed.
Of late years he had grown pale and thin, and he looked worn and weary very often; but I had never thought pi anything weighing on his increasing years beyond the daily toil of the bread-winner, which he would never leave off And then I began to recall his face and form ; and I knew that, notwithstanding the often weary footstep, and the spirit-less eye, he was one of the handsomest men that human sight ever rested on ; so thinking, I followed Lady Mack-worth's eye.
"Look at that picture at the end of the room—the one on the left," she said; "who is it?"
It was the portrait of a youth of fifteen, perhaps, standing with his hand on a greyhound's neck. It was my father, as a boy, before his uncle married, when he was looked on as the heir of Calverley. I got up quickly, and went to look at it The bell was rung, and we all stood talking of this really beautiful portrait as the things were removed from the tea-table. On the door being shut Lady Mackworth turned towards the fire, where easy-chairs and sofas invited us, and sitting down she said, as she handed my aunt a firescreen, "I was glad when I thought that, by a marriage with Judith, he would come into his own again; I was very fond of him, and very glad."
"When was it ? " said Aunt James; "before or after her engagement to Major Grey ? "
"Oh, before—long before; but I will tell you." She turned a little towards John and me, and went on—
"When you were five or six years old, Mary, and when Judith was seventeen, she was desperately in love with your father. I did not wonder at it. He was only thirty-five, and just the kind of character in which a girl like Judith would be sure to delight He was superbly handsome, too; greatly thought of, and admired also; that kind of thing is very attractive to a girl just old enough to feel that she has a right to the attentions of the world in which she lives. It was charming to see how condescending Judith was to the really young men of our neighborhood; how thoroughly she was appreciating your father's formed character and matured perfections. It made me very happy. Judith's character was one to be best perfected by a man who was older than herself; and I knew your father's excellence. I can scarcely tell you how the courtship was conducted. It prospered. His rights here and his relationship prevented its being talked about, He had spoken to me. I knew Judith's mind, and I should have been well pleased by an immediate marriage. But Roger would have secrecy. That was the beginning of woe. He thought too little of himself and far too much of all that a marriage with Judith would give him. He was not sufficiently confident He wished her to see other men—the world—London. He would only have her on his own terms; yet all was for her sake, that she might never repent, that she might never make him regret that he had listened to the tender flattery which, he said, surrounded him in this place. Thus he kept things dawdling on till Judith was twenty-one. Even then he would not speak of marriage. We were in London, and that year he spent a few weeks in the autumn with us here. Then when he went away, I know that Judith was extremely disappointed that he could not trust her yet. Nevertheless, before going, he had spoken to me with more of a lover's ardor than he had ever shown before. Bui the spring came, and we were again in London. Judith had many admirers. Your father was much with us, "but he gave place to others. He thought his hour of triumph was come; that Judith, having the power to marry many, would now choose only him. Then, one sad day, tired of being tried, she told him she had accepted Major Grey. I was miserable. I thought my heart would break; but Roger's conduct now was very extraordinary. To me he would show all his distress, shedding even passionate tears in his wretchedness; but to her, to Judith, he was the elderly, kind, almost parental friend; and during the one year which the engage-ment lasted he made Judith mistress of every detail as to the property, helped finally to fix the wedding-day, and took the preparation of the settlements upon himself.
"How good of my father!" I exclaimed; " how like his wonderful unselfish character! How noble !"
"It was nobility run mad, my dear girl," said Lady Mackworth. " Honest love should be honest spoken. And that continued weighing of earthly possessions against the pure love of a woman's heart is but a narrow-minded thing, and should be called selfishness as often as nobility. If Judith had not been rich and the mistress of Calverley he vould never have tried her so cruelly, I thought Roger wrong, and I told him so. But there was nothing to say against Major Grey, so the day was fixed. You know the rest, I suppose. She came home to me one morning in London—she said she had given him up. She has never been the same woman since ; and no entreaties from me have ever brought your father to my side from that hour to this. But there is a mystery somewhere. It is not only disappointed love. He now, I fear, dislikes Judith, and I believe he disapproves of me. His notes have had strange hints in them of something that might be done. It is the greatest of perplexities. I know nothing. I cannot even guess at what they mean—for Judith, too, has her mystery. Only the other day she said to me, ' He will come again one day; but I am not strong enough yet.' I said, ' Does it depend on you?' She only answered, 'I was born to a cross.' What am I to do?"
It was impossible not to pity Lady Mackworth; but we could not help her, Judith was turned thirty, and, as we knew through John, whose visits to Calverley had been frequent, of a singularly silent disposition; leading her own life, full of charitable plans, never consulting anybody, and only bargaining that Lady Mackworth should make herself the mistress of the place, and leave her to follow her own way.
All this, by little and little, was that evening confessed to by her mother with a thousand tender excuses, so that we grew into sudden friendship, touched by the charity that sweetened all her sorrows, and by the hope that she often expressed that our coming would produce some good. So, imperceptibly, the hours wore away till it was time to go to bed.
A VOICE IN THE NIGHT.
We all left the room together; but, just as we were outside the door, Lady Mackworth called back Mrs. James, and John and I were left alone. He, knowing the house well, led me aside just out of the passage into a deep recess having a window, which helped to light that part of the house, and being fitted up with a table and two long sofas placed opposite to each other against the wall on each side as we entered. A lamp from the ceiling was shedding down a strong light, and we saw the tall figure of a woman looking from the window, which was uncurtained, out into the night When she heard our footsteps, she turned round—" Why do you stop ? " she said; " it is you, John, is it not ? "
"Yes, Judith, and here is Mary," he answered.
She advanced a step or two, and then stood still looking at me, as I, indeed, also looked at her. She was dressed in a shaggy dark-brown garment, which covered her to the feet, and she held a black straw hat in her hand.
"Don't come too near; I am wet," she said ; and then I observed that the long black feather was dripping on to the oak floor, and that the moisture stood visibly on her rough cloak. Before we could answer she had begun to speak again. "So this is Mary? What a pretty child it is!" And then she fixed her eyes upon me with a strange, sad, yet almost loving look, which constrasted greatly with the expression I had seen before, for now I knew that it was truly this same woman who had followed me with wild, curious eyes from the open doorway. But I had heard her story since, and I thought that the first curiosity, and now the sad welcome, were both in some degree explained.
"It is a thaw," she went on, looking at John. " Hark!" And so, listening, we heard the droppings from the silver trees falling with steady, ceaseless sounds on the stones outside.
"Have you been out ? " he asked.
"Yes; hours ago Dame Margery sent for me. She nursed me when I was an infant, you know. I found her ill in the hospital in London once ; do you remember ? "
"Oh yes ; I know her. You brought her here. I know her very well," said John. " Is she ill ? "
"She is very ill. I promised to see her again. I only came back for something she wanted. I must go now." Then she again went to the window and looked out, as it unwilling to go, and such a weary face as she showed I shall never forget Poor Judith I She was taller than women in general, with a strong face, and an extraordinary quantity of dark-brown hair, which glittered with a yellowish hue upon it in the strong light of the lamp that burned above it. I thought how handsome she would be if her face had not lost something. She put her hand to her head with a gesture of fatigue, as if mind as well as body was quite worn out, and then again she looked at me.
The dreadful vacancy that even disfigured her face quite shocked me. It was like the face of one who had lost her way. It so affected me that I said, "Oh, don't go ; or let John go with you." It seemed something dreadful for this forlorn woman to go forth alone into the dripping night " You are surely not thinking of going alone ? I said.
She smiled. "It is not far. There, just beyond those great cedars. I walked across the turf. It is not going there. It is not being alone. It is not knowing what to do," she said. "Mary," she went on, "once I longed so much to see you ; once I loved you very much—there; don't come near me, child, with your pretty dress—I am dripping wet But you bring back the old days, when I was no older than you are. But you and John believe in each other. And so, John, you had to play us a trick before you could show your promised wife;" and she gave a low laugh, which was very sweet.
"Oh, don't speak of that," I said, blushing. "Since I have been in this house I have been miserable about it I don't now know what my father will say, but John must manage it."
I stopped, for I felt the awkwardness of having mentioned my father to Judith. She, however, did not seem to feel it
"Is your father very strict ? " she asked.
"He is honorable, and he would dislike using a wrong name even in a joke. "
"Yet John got you into Calverley with his ingenious adoption of my mother's mistake; and you may tell your father that I was very glad to see you." Then again she said, in a dreary tone, "But I must go now."
"Come, Mary," said John, cheerfully, "it won't take a minute. It is only eleven o'clock. Go and change that gown for your travelling-dress; there are plenty of waterproofs. See, the moon is bright, and we will all three go to Dame Margery if Judith must go."
"I must," she whispered, with her eyes on me, as if wondering what I should do. Of course I had instantly decided to obey John.
"I will be back in five minutes," I exclaimed; and so ran off to my room.
I think that I could not have been more than ten minutes putting on my black serge and buttoning my waterproof cloak about me. My strongest boots, my thickest veil wrapped round my face and hat, a fur collar fastened close ; and so equipped for a moonlight walk this Christmas night, I left my room, and found John waiting where, on a table in a corner, stood the chamber candlesticks and a lamp burning.
'' Come this way," he said; and then I followed him down a turret staircase into a hall where armor hung on the walls, and the great antlers of some aged stags stretched out their jagged lengths above the dark, bright-polished doors. At any other moment I must have stopped to gaze and gossip; but now, on John's arm, I was pulled along, and we soon stood together beyond the house on the wide gravel by our Cousin Judith's side. She never spoke, but walked on quickly through a dense grove of trees, where from the branches fell slowly upon us great drops from the thawing icicles that had made the world look so strangely bright a few hours before.
When we got out of the shadow we were on the short hard turf, with the moon throwing our shadows in giant lengths before us. Still Judith never spoke. But at last, after nearly a quarter of an hour of quick walking, she stopped and looked at me. " It is in the first of those cottages that Dame Margery lives. You enter them on this side ; at the back is a road leading through the deer park to the town at which the carriage met you. Mary, she is very ill—she thinks herself dying, or I should not have come here to see her again to-night Are you afraid ? ' I said that I had no fear. "Now, John,'' she said, "stand within the door, and do not let her see you. Her bed is curtained off. The woman she lives with, and who may be sitting up, is deaf; and the girl is at the house waiting for my return, and for the chance of my having anything to send back. I will peril all on what you may hear. What I have for years been wondering over, asking myself if I ought to utter it, seeking some one to say it to, she may say, perhaps, and you may hear. And then, John, act for me, and heaven bless you this Christmas time ! "
She never stopped for an answer, but pushing the cottage-door open, walked straight into the house. A dark, thick curtain was hung half across the room ; and as she put it aside I saw, by the bright firelight, that a low bed had been placed close to the window, on which an aged woman was lying with her face turned towards us. Her eyes were shut, and for a moment I really believed that she was dead. I was going to rush forwards to a woman who was half asleep by the fire when Dame Margery opened her eyes and fixed them on Judith. She tried to speak and to thank her for coming again, but her words were scarcely articulate. The deaf woman roused herself, and stood up respectfully ; and Judith, in a steady, soft undertone, said, "Tell me again, now, as you lie within a short time of the hour of death, what you have already told me many times. As God shall judge you, tell me all you know."
"I can only say the same again," she said. "God can make all things right But you are not Lady Mackworth's child. I saw her child dead, and who you are I do not know."
Then John went forward and said, " You know me, Dame. I came to hear this that you have said. I have written it down as your dying statement—Judith is not the infant that Lady Mack worth bore in London—her only child."
"That child died," she said with energy. "I had fifty pounds to see to its burial." Then she gave one deep sigh, and murmured some pious words which died away from her lips unfinished, for the end had come. The deaf woman in charge was by her side now. She took it very quietly, saying that old Margery had lasted longer than she had expected, and that she had felt sure she would never see another Christmas.
"I will send in Mrs. Jenkins," said Judith, alowly wiping the tears from her eyes. So we left the cottage.
John helped me up from where I had knelt down-—for I could not see those last moments standing—and he said, " Keep with Judith. I shall go to your father directly."
His words startled me—go to my father directly—sent, as it were, by that voice in the night I was speechless as I looked into his face.
Judith returned, and Mrs. Jenkins with her, who went into the cottage and left us there standing in the moonlight, which was now as bright almost as day.
"I can walk to the station, and be ready for the train to London which leaves there in an hour. I am going straight to our cousin Roger, Judith; he must know this immediately/' said John.
"And tell him," said Judith, "that I first heard this from Dame Margery, to whom I went to carry fruit and flowers in the hospital he knows of, the very day I broke off my marriage with Major Grey—that was my reason for breaking it off. But she could never tell me more than she said to-night A surgeon, whom I have never found, knew more, she said. And I did not tell Roger at once, because it was hard to believe she spoke truly; it was harder still to believe evil of one I have loved as my mother for so many years.
"Ah," she went on, "it is her loss that rends me—that she should have done that awful thing—that the marriage by which she wished to repair her sin should have failed Tell Roger that it is not my own loss in this dear place that troubles me, it is the loss of more than a mother—the knowledge of her crime that has driven me to despair sometimes. Except on her death-bed I could never have perfectly believed old Margery. Tell Roger I believe her now. Yet it is not I who can accuse Lady Mackworth. I love her so-worse than an orphan though I am !"
She turned away towards the house, and John, giving my hand one loving grasp, and looking a thousand kind promises into my face, sprang over a low gate that led from the cottage-garden into the road, and was gone. I went quickly to Judith's side, and walked away with her. We neither of us spoke till we reached the house Two men-servants were standing within the door, and as we passed through she said, "Mr. Mackworth is gone to London. He has walked to the station. Good night"
We went upstairs together, and she stopped at my room door: I felt that I could not leave her. " Let me come with you," I said; "I only want to see Aunt. James first." She smiled, and put her candle down on the table as if she were willing to wait I found my aunt sitting up, looking bright and beautiful as was her way.
"Oh, you runaway," she said, " where have you been ? "
"I am here now, just come back I "I said.
"Then go to bed and get to sleep quickly." So I kissed her, and got back to Judith. Her room was not far off, and we sent Baines away, who was waiting there.
The aspect of the apartment was more that of a sitting-room than a bedroom. It was full of books and pictures, having a little canopied bed in one corner with gay rose-colored satin furniture, looped back with gold colored cord. A large arm-chair and a comfortable sofa occupied opposite sides of the blazing fire; and the room, which was not large, felt and looked like a place where the maiden mistress of an old home like ours might muse away a good portion of her life. Yet Judith's musings had not been of any enviable sort, and the strong attraction I felt to her was made up of pity for the past, wonder in the present, and, as to the future, of an indefinable fear. We sat brooding over the fire. We scarcely spoke. The clock ticked off the minutes, and told out the hours as they passed away. Judith took my hand, and fondled it sometimes, always looking then into my face with strange speculative eyes, as if she were wondering over how things might have been, and how our relations to each other might have differed. Then I would smile till she smiled again-but we seldom spoke through those hours we stayed together in the friendly warmth till the clock struck four; then she said, "He has seen your father. I think he would go there straight I think he would rouse them even from their beds."
"I know he would," I answered.
"Then I can rest. It is all out of my hands now," she said.
So I got up and left her; I reached my own room with soft footsteps and went to bed. In the morning—it was Christmas Eve—I went to her again. She was in a deep, heavy sleep. Lady Mackworth stood by her bedside.
"She spoke to me," said Lady Mackworth, holding up a small bottle, labelled "laudanum." "She told me she had had to take this. She has often had to do so lately." I suppose that I looked frightened, for she added, "Under medical advice, my love." Then she went on. "She wishes you to give the dole to-day for her. Do not refuse, dear child. You, as John's wife, will reign here one day."
I interrupted her. "No, Lady Mackworth."
"Well, never mind," she said, impatiently ; " I have lost hope."
"For Judith I will do anything," I said, "only stand by and show me how."
She kissed me, and led me out of the room. We left Judith sleeping.
That day I did all that was required of me, and every soul asked after my father and blessed his memory and his name.
Just as I was going to bed, about eleven o'clock, Judith came to me dressed to go out. "Come," she said, "we can see the lights burning in the church. I will try to pray. I like to watch the Christmas morning in. Will you watch too?"
THE SECRET TOLD : THE SECRET KEPT.
CHRISTMAS morning! In the hour during which we had been away the house had been garnished in the apparel of the day. They must have had all things ready, and have worked hard to put them in their places. Nature's Christmas gifts were bountiful that year at Calverley. The thaw had come at the right time. The holly was no worse for the icicles, and it glittered and glowed in berried beauty over the antlers, and wreathed the helmets hung in the hall. Judith had smiled and pointed to them as we had passed along; and now her room, in which we stood together, was like a gem set in gold I could not hide my admiration, my surprise.
"Ah," she said, " they do it for me. Every year is fuller of fondness than the last They exhaust themselves with inventing new devices to make me happy. I could be happy in a moment if she—you know whom I mean—if she would confess her sin, and help me to heal the evil Every year till this I have hoped that it was false. But that poor woman would never have lied upon her dying bed. And now what will your father do, Mary ? It is all his, and he can give it to you. I had such a longing to see you. And I could have loved you once like a mother, you beautiful child—but that drifted away and Lady Mackworth bore it—knowing all, never sunk under the disappointment ; bore is better than I did. I am frightened when I think what a woman she is. And yet I lore her. When I am gone, you will try to be a daughter to her, for she has never faltered one moment in her love to me through all these years. When I am gone—"
"Hush, Judith," I cried. "You must not talk. If you have commanded here too long, you must now learn to obey." I spoke with a strength that came to me like a new power, for there was something inexpressibly dreadful in the low dreamy way in which she was dropping out the thoughts of her poor laden heart " You do not suppose," I said, "that an old woman's persisting in telling a strange story such as this is enough to make it true? We all know that there has been a mystery and a secret about something, and now it will be investigated; and the best thing you can do—indeed the only decent thing is for you to hold your tongue."
She looked at me astonished. And when I once more looked round the room, and took in its general aspect of luxury and indulgence, I felt sure that the strongest treatment I could venture upon would be the most beneficial. So I said it all again and again, in different ways; and from different points of view I argued it out with her, strongly and shortly. I told her she was not to talk of when she was gone, that it was wrong to say that Lady Mackworth had been guilty of any crime ; that she had been weak to admit any such idea into her heart, destroying her own peace, and making every one miserable for years; and that now that the trouble was, where all troubles ought to be, in the hands of men, she had only to be still and wait—to be strong in the knowledge that she was willing to do right
It was marvellous to see how Judith rallied under the new treatment to which I was subjecting her. Baines, who slept in a dressing-room, came in to ask if Judith was not going to bed; and Judith said, "I am having a new Christmas gift, and I think it is going to do me good." So then I bade her good-night and went away. But for myself there was no gift of sleep. I lay awake wondering; and then, though I was dressed, and had been reading by candlelight for an hour, I half screamed with fright when a woman came to light my fire, and put a note into my hand, saying, "The gentleman is downstairs please, ma'am."
It was from my father. "Keep the secret and contrive for me to see Judith, with yourself only as a witness, before nine o'clock, in the library, where I shall be waiting."
I dressed and went to Judith. I found her leaning from the window of her room, and looking across the entrance drive to where the church tower showed among the trees. She was dressed in brown velvet from head to foot, and looked grandly handsome as she turned round, and her profile showed against the bright morning sky, and the masses of her folded hair looked heavy in the shade.
"I want you to show me the library," I said, suddenly.
She smiled "I showed you my inner heart last night, and you scolded me well. What are you going to do for the library, if I show you that? "
She looked beautifully bright, for the cold breeze had brought the color to her cheeks, and I thought her attitude, as she stood with a black hat in her hand, was perfect "I wanted you to walk again to the church with me. How well the bells have sounded I it is a frost once more. Will this Christmas bring peace to me?—I almost think it will."
"Come to the library," I said.
She took me to the cedar parlor, where we had been the night before, now gay with garlands, and fragrant with hothouse flowers, and through the door where I had first seen her strange, sad face; and, passing through a small anteroom hung with heavy drapery to keep away all cold and draughts, we found ourselves immediately in a long room, of which one whole length was hung with pictures, and where double bookcases stretching into the room between each window made deep wide recesses down the other side.
We walked straight to a glowing fire, and then, straight to our side from the recess in front of the fire, walked my father.
Judith visibly trembled. My father took her hand, and holding it, stooped his head and kissed my forehead, for I had got close to his side.
"John's arrival at four yesterday morning took me by surprise," he said. " He gave me your message, and I came off with my Christmas gift. Lady Mackworth is perfectly innocent of the deceit that was played."
"Thank God," said Judith.
"And to my wife, "said my father, "I will tell the rest There is one dearer to me than even Lady Mackworth is to you ; and only to my wife will I speak of that beloved one-only to her."
"You cannot wish that now, Roger?" she said. But my father turned to me—
"Get your bonnet on, Mary, and follow us to the church John is there. Now, say yes to me, Judith."
"Yes," she said.
My father detained me for one moment with his hand on my shoulder. "Only in this way," he said, "can we get rid of the difficulties which in your case, Judith, marriage settlements would produce. Only in this way can we keep the secret. Lady Mackworth must never know."
I began dimly to understand my father's meaning. He had armed himself with a special licence. John was waiting at the church. To keep the secret—that Lady Mackworth might never know—that all legal difficulties might be avoided—for these things a private immediate marriage with the true possessor of all which had been wrongfully calle I hers was the only thing to be done.
I felt it all; knew it, without being told; and hurried away, to come back and find Judith and my father waiting on the pathway to the church. We were there in two minutes, and the bells were ringing still. We stood there, before the altar, all decked for Christmas Day; and John and I witnessed the marriage by which the secret was to be kept from the world around us.
When we were once more in the library my father spoke in, as nearly as I can recollect, these words :
"It was my grandfather who, to save Lady Mackworth's life, replaced her dead child with a living one. You all know the circumstances that so sadly marked the time of her child's birth. He did it through a surgeon, who sent for me on his death-bed, and told me. My grandfather had said to him that he should that day alter his will, and secure the property to me. On his way to do me that justice he was killed. Mr. Ellerby—for the surgeon was the husband of the lady who has kept my house—feared the consequences to himself that might result from making known what he had done, at my grandfather's earnest desire, and purely to save Lady Mackworth, who had almost sunk under the news of her husband's death, and who could not have outlived the second shock of the death of her child. Ellerby died just before you broke off the marriage with Major Grey. We both heard the news about the same time, and Ellerby knew that Dame Margery had told you—so did I. Any moment in which you had confided in me would have been the last moment of difficulty, if you had so willed; but I could never do anything myself. Lady Mackworth used to ask me at Christmas; but least of all could I have done anything against your will, Judith, on Christmas Day."
"Tell the whole," said Judith. " Who am I ?"
"You are my wife, " he said " No living soul knows any more."
The bells rang on. The news spread about, " Miss Mack-worth was married !" My father took his bride to Lady Mackworth, who was waiting, wonder-struck, in the great hall.
How John had gone to London ; how my father, "being high in the law, had managed to get his special licence all in a moment," to use the people's words, and how Miss Mackworth had wedded with her own true love at last, was a Christmas story for every one to tell, and for every one to listen to. We did not mind how much the people talked; neither did we care what they said. The secret was kept.
Lady Mackworth blessed her daughter, and called my father her son; and in the evening he took his bride to London, and left us to feasting, and fireworks, and the most thorough rejoicing that ever surrounded the Christmas gifts of any Christmas Day.
Mrs. Ellerby, who had always been distinguished by a touch of melancholy, arising from never having been able to settle the question of her husband's good or evil deeds towards my father to her satisfaction, was made happy for life by the blessedness of this marriage. She kept the secret well; and when my father and Judith came back to Cal-verley, that the New Year might be begun among their own people, he cruelly looked at me, and asked where Miss Jackson was ?
The world around, which had felt the shock of our Christmas Day so as scarcely for a time to know how to recover from it, forgave the whole thing on learning that Judith had intended to marry my father more than a dozen years before. In a moment everything was accounted for. My father became a county hero. We, who stood within the circle of attraction, were crowned as peacemakers; and when it became known that I was to be married to John from the old home that had become my father's house, the public satisfaction was at its height.
And still, in our little world, among all past Christmases, that one, which is known as, par excellence, the Christmas of Calverley Court, stands out as happy. Without any of its troubles—with all its gifts to poor and rich, of hand and heart—ladies and gentlemen, the same to you.