In the golden harvest time, just after they had celebrated Nelly’s
nineteenth birthday, a new face appeared in Huntsdean, and a new
influence began to work among the villagers. The rector, who had grown
old and feeble, was at last induced to secure the services of a curate.
And Robert Channell, having been a good friend to the people for many a
day, felt almost disposed to look jealously upon the stranger.
But before a month had passed by, Mr. Channell and the curate had
found out that they were of one mind. The new-comer did not want to
upset any of the old plans, but he showed himself capable of improving
them. He was no shallow boy, inflated with vast notions of his own
self-importance, but a thoughtful, active man, whose wisdom and
experience were far beyond his years. And Robert liked Morgan Foster
all the better because he was the son of poor parents, and had worked
hard all his days, first as a grammar-school boy, and then as a sizar
Nelly liked his sermons, which were never above her comprehension; and
yet she liked him none the less, perhaps, because her instincts told
her that he could have soared higher if he had chosen. She fell into
the habit of comparing him with all the men she had ever known, and
found that he always gained by the process.
Even in person this son of the people could hold his own against the
descendants of the old county families. He was a tall, broad-shouldered
man; and Nelly, whose stature was above middle height, secretly took
a pleasure in feeling that she must look up to him. They were seen
walking side by side along the Huntsdean lanes, and folks began to say
that they were a fine couple.
Those calm autumn days were very sweet days to Nelly Channell. The
summer lingered long; no wild winds suddenly stripped the trees, and
so the woods kept their leafiness, and stood, in all their gorgeous
apparel, under the pale blue skies. Nelly thought it must be the peace
of this slow decay and tranquil sunshine that made her life so happy at
this time. She did not own to herself that every bit of the old scenery
had become dearer because Morgan Foster was learning to love it too.
Her father and mother discovered the secret long before she had found
it out; and they smiled over it together, not ill-pleased.
She had more than one offer just at this period. The neighbouring
country houses were full of men who had come to Huntsdean for the
shooting. They admired Nelly riding by her father’s side, and looking
vigorous and blooming in her habit and hat. They met her now and then
at a dinner-party, and straightway fell in love with her chestnut
hair and brown eyes, and were not unmindful of the handsome dowry
that would go with these charms. She was wont to say, long afterwards,
that her unconscious attachment to another was a safeguard of God’s
providing. Many a woman speaks the fatal Yes, because her heart
furnishes her with no reason for saying No.
Robert Channell encouraged the curate to come often to his house; but
no one hinted that he thought of him as a possible son-in-law. It was
too absurd to suppose that he would give his Nelly to a man who had
only a hundred-and-fifty a year, and was encumbered with an old father
and mother, living in obscurity. Some of the disappointed suitors
remarked that Channell was a fool to have the parson hanging about the
place;–there was no counting on the whims of a spoiled beauty, who
might take it into her head to fling herself away on a curate. But
this notion was not generally entertained, and the intimacy increased
without exciting much notice.
Christmas had come and gone. It was the last day of the old year;
Nelly, sitting alone by the drawing-room fire, was seriously taking
herself to task, and asking her own heart why the world was so very
desolate that day? True, the ground was covered with snow; but the
afternoon sky was bright with winter sunshine. The brown woodlands took
rich tinges from the golden rays that slanted over them, and scarlet
berries glistened against the garden wall. Nelly had wrapped a shawl
round her shoulders, and had laid the blame of her low spirits on a
“But the cold is not to blame,” owned the girl to herself. “When one
has a friend–such a friend as Mr. Foster–one does not like him to
stay away from the house for a week; and one cannot bear to hear that
he is always at the rectory when Miss White is there! And yet it ought
not to matter to me!”
It mattered so much that the tears in Nelly’s brown eyes began to run
down her cheeks. At that very moment the drawing-room door was thrown
open, and the page announced Mr. Foster.
The curate advanced a few paces, and stopped in sudden dismay. There
was something so pathetic in Nelly’s pale, tearful face, that he was
stricken speechless for a moment. And then he recovered himself, and
began to make anxious inquiries which she scarcely knew how to answer.
“Nothing has happened, Mr. Foster,” she sobbed. “I am only crying
because I am in low spirits.”
“Shall I go away now, and call to-morrow?” asked the bewildered young
man in his embarrassment.
“No,” said Nelly, suddenly looking up through her tears; “I shall be a
great deal worse if you leave me to myself!”
Her face told him more than her words. In a moment the truth flashed
upon him, and covered him with confusion. A vainer man, or one less
occupied in earnest work, would have seen it far sooner. Morgan Foster
took a chair by her side, and felt his heart throbbing as it had
seldom throbbed before. There was but one thing to be done, and he was
going to do it.
There is no need to tell what he said. Perhaps it was not a very
impassioned declaration; but it made a happy woman of Nelly. And
only a few minutes later Mr. Channell and his wife returned from a
wintry walk, and found the two young people together. There were no
concealments; Morgan was too honourable, and Nelly too simple-hearted,
to make a secret of what had taken place. It was all talked over
quietly, but with a good deal of restrained feeling; and, then, having
declined an invitation to dinner, the curate went his way.
He scarcely knew himself in the character of an engaged man. He had
been working so hard all his life that marriage had been a very distant
prospect to him. While there were the dear old parents to be helped,
how could he think of taking a wife? And now, here was a rich girl
willing to marry him; and here was her father actually consenting to
the match with evident satisfaction! But Nelly was something better
than an heiress; she was a very sweet woman; such a woman as any man
would have been proud to win.
So Morgan Foster, as he walked back to his lodging over the frozen
snow, began to wonder at the good gifts that Heaven had showered upon
him. It was a strange fact that he was more inclined to wonder than to
The little village seemed to lie asleep in the August sunshine. From
the upland where she stood Nelly could see the columns of pale smoke
going up from cottage chimneys, but nobody was astir in the gardens. It
was noon. Scarcely a flake of cloud relieved the intense blue overhead;
not a breath of wind fanned the thick leafage in the copse behind her.
Nelly Channell was not sorry that the morning was over. Like most
people who have a great deal of time on their hands, she was often
puzzled about the disposal of it. When she had diligently practised
on the piano indoors, and had paid a visit to the little step-brother
and sister in the nursery, there was nothing more to be done. She used
sometimes to say that this part of her life was like an isthmus,
connecting the two continents of schoolgirlhood and womanhood.
On this morning she had carried a book out of doors, and had read it
from beginning to end. It was a book that had been recommended to her
by Mrs. Channell. Nelly had a great reverence for her stepmother’s
opinion; but the story had not pleased her at all. It was directly
opposed to all her notions of right and wrong. She even went so far as
to say to herself that it ought never to have been written.
Nelly was a girl who generally spoke her mind;–a little bluntly
sometimes, but always with that natural earnestness which makes one
forgive the bluntness. As the distant church clock struck twelve, and
the stable-clock repeated the strokes, she turned and went into the
It was a large handsome house, which her father had built soon after
his second marriage, about twelve years ago. But although they had
coaxed the creepers to grow over the red bricks, and wreathe the doors
and windows, Nelly always maintained that it was not so charming
a place as the little vine-covered cottage where she was born. The
cottage was still standing; she could see it from her father’s
hall-door. And she had only to cross two fields and an orchard when she
wanted to visit the dear old man and woman who had sheltered her in her
On the threshold of the house stood Mrs. Channell with a light basket
on her arm.
“I am going to the cottage to see mother,” she explained. “I have been
making a new cap for her,–look, Nelly.”
She lifted the basket-lid, and afforded Nelly a glimpse of soft lace
and lilac ribbons.
“Why didn’t you let me make it, mamma?” the girl asked. “I think you
ought to use these idle hands of mine, if you want to keep them out of
“I gave you a book to read this morning,” Mrs. Channell replied.
“Yes. I have read it, and I don’t like it,” said candid Nelly, stepping
back to lay the volume on the hall table. “I will go with you to the
cottage, and we can talk it over.”
Arm-in-arm they walked through the sweet grass, keeping under the
shadow of the hedges and trees. Mrs. Channell waited for the girl to
“I don’t like the book,” Nelly repeated, after a pause. “The writer
seems to have strange ideas. The hero–a very poor hero–is false to
the heroine. After getting engaged to her, he discovers that he can
never love her as he loves another girl; and of course she releases
him from the engagement when she finds out the truth. But instead
of representing him as the worthless fellow that he was, the author
persists in showing us that he became a good husband and father. He
begins his career by an act of treachery; and yet he prospers, and is
wonderfully happy with the wife of his choice! It is too bad.”
“Lewis Moore was not a treacherous man,” said Mrs. Channell, quietly.
“He made a great and terrible mistake. But sometimes it is not easy
to distinguish between a blunder and a crime. The heroine–Alice–had
grace given her to make that distinction. She saved him and herself
from the effects of the blunder by setting him free. She bade him go
and marry Margaret, because she saw that Margaret was the only woman
who could make him happy.”
“He didn’t deserve to be happy!” cried Nelly. “He ought to have been
sure of himself before he proposed to Alice. If I had been in Alice’s
place I would have let him depart, but not with a blessing! She took it
far too tamely. I would have let him see that I despised him.”
Mrs. Channell thought within herself that the young often believe
themselves a thousand times harder-hearted than they are. Those who
feel the bitterest wrath when they think of an injury that has never
come to them are the most patient and merciful when they actually meet
it face to face. But she did not say this to Nelly.
The book was talked of no more that day; and for many a day afterwards
it stood neglected on Mrs. Channell’s shelves. Nelly had forgotten
it after a night’s sleep, and the next morning’s post brought her a
When she entered the breakfast-room her father was already seated at
the table looking over his letters. He held up one addressed, in a
legal-looking hand, to Miss Ellen Channell.
“Who is your new correspondent, Nelly?” he asked. “This is something
different from the young-ladyish epistles you are in the habit of
receiving, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know the writing,” she said, opening it carelessly. But in the
next minute she laid it hastily before him.
“Read it, father,” she cried. “Old Mr. Myrtle is dead, and has left
me three thousand pounds! You remember how he made a pet of me in my
Mr. Channell read the letter in silence; and then he looked up quickly
into his daughter’s face, and put his hand on hers.
“I hope no one is defrauded by this legacy,” he said, gravely. “You
will have quite enough without it, Nelly. Had Mr. Myrtle any relations?”
“He used to say that he was quite alone in the world,” she answered.
“His house was next to our school, and the gardens joined; that was how
I came to see so much of him. No one ever went to stay with him, and he
seldom had even a caller.”
“I wish he had left the money to a poorer girl,” remarked Mr. Channell.
“Well, Nelly, you will now have a hundred and fifty pounds a year to do
as you like with. I hope you’ll spend it wisely, my dear.”
It was generally known throughout the county that Nelly was the
daughter of a rich man. She was very pretty too, although not so
beautiful as her mother had been; and at nineteen she was not without
would-be suitors and admirers. But not one of these was a man after
Robert Channell’s own heart. They were hunting and sporting country
gentlemen, who talked of dogs and horses all day long. He wanted a man
of another stamp for Nelly. He did not care about long pedigrees, nor
did he hanker after ancestral lands. He desired for his child a husband
who would guide a young wife as bravely up the hill of Sacrifice as
over the plain called Ease.
It might have been that Robert Channell thought too much of what the
husband should be to the wife, and too little of what the wife is to
the husband. There are moments in the life of the strongest men when
only the touch of a woman’s hand has kept them from turning into a
wrong road. But it is not easy for a father, anxious for the safety of
his girl’s future, to think of anything beyond her requirements. Nelly
was a prize; and Mr. Channell could but daily pray that she might not
be won by one who was unworthy of her.
Rhoda tried hard to conceal her loss. Now that the treasure was gone,
she double-locked the casket. No one, she resolved, should know how
poor she was. So well did she play her part, that those around thought
her sterner and harder–that was all.
Her manner to Ralph changed visibly. She began to avoid his company;
their familiar conversations were at an end. Her whole energy was now
devoted to one endeavour–to keep him in ignorance of that which he had
won. If she were poor, he should be none the richer. And thus, poor
soul, she went about her daily duties, putting on a hard face to hide
her weakness. Even Nelly found that Rhoda was not so pleasant as she
used to be, and the child turned more and more to Mr. Channell. Was he
gaining her too?
“I am losing everything, and he is getting everything,” said Rhoda, to
herself. “Perhaps this is God’s way of showing me how small my strength
is. Haven’t I lost the very thing that I thought myself best able to
It will always be so with those whom the Lord teaches. In one way or
another the humbling process must be gone through. Sometimes it is seen
of all men; sometimes it is known to Him alone. But as certainly as He
loves us “shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed,
and be cut down and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut
off, for the Lord hath spoken it.” In the soul that He makes his own He
will not leave a single peg to hang self-confidence upon. And when our
chamber walls are bare, and the tawdry rags of self-esteem are swept
out, He will enter and fill the room with sweetness.
One afternoon, in the golden harvest-time, Rhoda and Nelly sauntered up
into the wheat-fields. The reapers were resting under the hedges; in
the largest field nearly all the corn had been gathered into sheaves.
Rhoda tired quickly now; for when the heart is heavy, the limbs are apt
to be weary. She stopped in the middle of the field and dropped down to
rest, leaning her back against a great russet shock. A few stray ears
nodded overhead, and Nelly nestled under their shadow.
She had always been an impulsive child, one of those children who will
ask any question that comes into their heads, and a good many come. She
had no notion of restraining her curiosity. If anything puzzled her,
she must always have it explained.
“Rhoda,” she said, suddenly, in her clear little voice, “what has Mr.
Channell done to offend you? Don’t you like him?”
The words struck Rhoda like a sharp unexpected blow. Without a moment’s
pause she cried out harshly and bitterly–
“I wish he’d never come here, Nelly; I wish you and I had never seen
Nelly was so startled by the passionate tone that she jumped up from
her seat. As she moved, somebody on the other side of the shock moved
also. It was Mr. Channell. Rhoda turned her head in time to see him
walking away. In an instant she realized that he had heard all, but
she dared not think of the construction that would be put upon her
outburst. Perhaps she had mortally offended her father’s best friend;
perhaps he would go away from them all for ever.
“Oh, what a wretched woman I am!” she groaned, aloud. And then she saw
that Nelly had run off after Ralph Channell.
She rose slowly, and wandered back again to the cottage. The doors and
windows were set wide open. Her mother sat peacefully knitting in the
parlour, but Rhoda went straight upstairs to her own room. Nobody could
do her any good just then. She wanted to be alone and get her senses
together. Her head ached, and she had a dazed, helpless feeling of
having cut herself off from everything comforting. So she sat down for
a few minutes by the bedside, then got up, and fell suddenly on her
In her prayer she did not get much beyond telling God that she was
miserable. It was rather an outpouring of sorrow than a plea for help.
But it was her first heartfelt confession of utter weakness, and
perhaps that was the best way of asking for strength. The stray sheep
that falls helpless at the Shepherd’s feet is sure to be folded in His
arms and carried in His bosom.
She could not go down and sit at the tea-table as usual, and no one
came to disturb her in her solitude. But at last, when the shadows were
lengthening over the fields, and the distant church-clock struck six,
she heard a footstep on the stairs. The door opened softly, and her
mother’s face looked in.
“May I come to you, Rhoda?” she asked, gently.
“Yes, mother,” Rhoda answered. “I know how shocked and hurt you must
be,” she added. “But, indeed, I couldn’t help it.”
“O Rhoda,” said Mrs. Farren, “we’ve all thought you seemed stern and
strange lately, but we didn’t know until to-day that you had found out
our secret. _He_ says that it has been all wrong from the beginning; he
thinks you ought to have heard the truth at once.”
“The truth, mother?” echoed Rhoda. “What is it that you mean?”
“He says, dear Rhoda, that he ought to have told you who he was,” Mrs.
Farren replied. “He sees now that it was wrong to come here under a new
“A new name!” her daughter repeated. “For pity’s sake, mother, speak
plainly. Who is he, if he is not Ralph Channell?”
“We all thought you must have found out,” said Mrs. Farren, in a
perplexed tone. “He is poor Helen’s husband–Robert Clarris.”
It was not until some minutes had passed away that Rhoda was calm
enough to hear her mother’s story. The two sat hand in hand, nearer to
each other in heart than they had ever been before. Perhaps Mrs. Farren
had always been a little afraid of her daughter; but now that she had
got a glimpse into Rhoda’s inner self the reserve vanished.
“We had always felt sure that Robert was no practised sinner,” she
began; “but we did not know what it was that had driven him to a
crime–we only guessed something like the truth. O Rhoda, it’s an awful
thing when vanity gets the upper hand with a woman! Poor Helen made a
sad confession to me when she lay dying in this very room. It’s hard to
speak of the faults of the dead; but there’s justice to be done to the
“Whatever her faults may have been, they were no worse than mine,”
Rhoda said, humbly; “and she has done with sinning now, while I shall
be going on–perhaps for years longer.”
“Helen got deeply into debt,” Mrs. Farren continued; “and she used,
I am afraid, to go to balls and theatres without her husband’s
knowledge. He was sent away sometimes on business by Mr. Elton. But
don’t think her worse than she was, Rhoda–she loved gaiety and
admiration passionately, but she wasn’t a bad woman at heart–he always
knew and believed that; yet she got him into terrible difficulties,
poor child! And at last, when her debts had amounted to three hundred
pounds, she flung herself at his feet and confessed the truth.”
Both the women were crying. It was indeed hard to expose the faults and
follies of the dead. They felt as if they had been tearing the soft
turf and sweet flowers from Helen’s grave; and yet it had to be done.
“Robert was not a converted man at that time,” went on Mrs. Farren.
“The blow knocked him down, and utterly bewildered him. He saw no
means at all of paying the debts, and he knew they must be paid
immediately. Helen hadn’t confessed till her creditors had driven her
to extremities; and he went into the city in a state of despair, for
there was ‘no help for him in his God.’ Perhaps he would have asked aid
from his employer if Mr. Elton had been the owner of the business. But
old Mrs. Elton was a close woman, and her son did nothing without her
Rhoda could almost guess what was coming. She could see now that man’s
extremity is often the devil’s opportunity. If a soul does not seek
help from God, the prince of darkness steps in.
“On that very morning,” said Mrs. Farren, “he found a note from Mr.
Elton waiting for him in the office. His master told him that he had
been suddenly called off to Ireland to look after some property there.
He should be absent six weeks–perhaps longer. Clarris was to take his
place and manage things, as he always did while Mr. Elton was away.
And just an hour or two later a sunburnt, sailor-like man came in, and
clapped Robert on the shoulder. Robert, poor fellow, didn’t recollect
him at first; but when he said that he was Frank Ridley, and that he
had come to pay a debt of long standing, he remembered all about him.”
“Oh! mother, why did he come just then?” sighed Rhoda.
“The Lord suffered it to be so,” Mrs. Farren answered. “Christ’s hour
was not yet come. That was the devil’s hour, and a dark hour it was.”
She went on with the story in her own straightforward way. Frank Ridley
and Mr. Elton had been schoolfellows and dear friends. But while Elton
was steady and painstaking, even in boyhood, Frank was a never-do-well.
One chance after another slipped through his fingers; situations were
got and lost. At last some new opening offered itself; but money was
needed, and Frank was at that time almost penniless. He came to Elton
in his strait, and asked for the loan of three hundred pounds.
To everybody’s surprise, Mrs. Elton lent him the sum. She had a liking
for handsome young Ridley, and opened her purse with a good grace for
his sake. But Frank’s undertaking was, as usual, a dead failure, and
the money was hopelessly lost. Ridley himself was lost too. For eight
years he was neither seen nor heard of; and then he turned up again in
Elton’s office with a pocket-book stuffed with bank-notes.
“I’ve found out my vocation at last,” he shouted, in his hearty tones.
“I’m captain of a trading vessel, and I’ve traded on my own account to
good purpose. Here’s the three hundred, and I’m downright sorry that I
must be off again without seeing your governor, Clarris.”
Robert received the money–all in notes–and gave a receipt; and then
the sailor went his way. After that the enemy came in like a flood, and
the deep waters rushed over Robert’s soul. He did not cry, “Lord, save,
or I perish!” Alas! he thought of everything rather than of Him who is
able to save to the uttermost. Here was the exact sum that was needed.
Frank Ridley was off on his voyages again, and would never, perhaps,
return. Robert had only to put the notes in his pocket, and make no
entry in the ledger. Of course there was a certain risk in doing this;
but it was very unlikely that anything would be found out. And here was
the sum–the very sum that was wanted–within his grasp. He would pay
it all back; he would work night and day to do that. He caught at that
honest resolution, and clung to it as a man clings to a frail spar when
the ship goes to pieces.
This was Apollyon’s hour of triumph. Robert went out and paid Helen’s
bills on that very night. But the burden that he had taken up was far
heavier than that which he had thrown off. It was on a Monday morning
that he had received Ridley’s money; and the succeeding days dragged
on as if each day were weighted with iron fetters, till Saturday came.
Robert wrote to his master daily, entering into all the details of
business as minutely as usual. Then on the Sunday morning–that last
Sunday that he ever spent with Helen–he went upstairs after breakfast,
and laid down upon his bed. The sense of sin and shame was upon him; he
would not mock God by going to church and looking like a respectable
man. His wife did not know what ailed him. He had told her that the
debts were paid–that was all.
Monday came again, the anniversary of his sin. And there, on the
office-desk, lay a letter addressed to himself in his master’s
handwriting. It had been written on Saturday, and was dated from Dublin.
“I find I am at liberty to come home at once,” Mr. Elton wrote. “I
have found a friend here who will look after the property for me.
Strangely enough, I ran against Frank Ridley yesterday, and could
scarcely believe my own eyes. He had come to Dublin in quest of an old
sweetheart. He told me that he had called at the office, and had paid
his old debt. He showed me your receipt when I looked incredulous. I am
rather surprised that you did not mention this in your letters.”
Robert Clarris put on his hat and coat and went quietly into the outer
“Blake,” he said, calling the eldest of the under clerks, “I am not
well, and must go home at once. I leave the keys in your charge, for I
know you may be trusted.”
Blake–an honest fellow–looked into Clarris’s face, and saw that he
spoke the truth.
Then followed the last miserable interview with Helen, and the hurried
preparations for flight. His wife entreated that she might go away to
her old home, under her uncle’s roof. She had brought him nothing but
trouble, she owned piteously; and he would get on better without her.
Alas, poor Helen! a sorry helpmeet she had been to the man who had
loved her! These two had not asked the Lord to their marriage-feast,
and had never drunk of the wine of His love. And so they parted, never
to meet again till they should meet at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
In Melbourne there was one Ralph Channell, who had been the friend
of Robert’s father, and the miserable man found him out. He told Mr.
Channell his whole story. Nothing was concealed. The sin, in all its
hideousness, was exposed to Ralph Channell’s sight. And yet he took the
sinner to his heart.
But he tested the young man patiently. He let him scrape and save to
pay back the money that he had stolen; he would not give him a single
farthing. Every shilling of the restored sum was fairly earned in Mr.
Channell’s service, and paid out of a small salary. And all that time
he saw that a mighty work of grace was going on in Robert’s soul.
When Mr. Channell lay dying, a lonely, childless man, he called Robert
to his side. “All my property is yours,” he said; “you are my sole
heir, and you must take my name–ay, and you must make it loved and
honoured in the old country.”
So Robert came to England, full of yearnings for the child whom he had
never seen. From John Farren he learnt that Rhoda’s heart was hardened
against him. And yet, how could he help loving her for the love that
she bare to Nelly? He knew all about Rhoda from her mother’s letters.
And he wanted, more than he ever acknowledged, to see this woman who
could be so hard and yet so tender. The opportunity came. He bought the
farm, and gave it to Farmer Farren; only stipulating that it should
go to Rhoda at her father’s death. And he came to dwell amongst the
Farrens as Ralph Channell.
This was all that the mother had to tell. Rhoda got up, when the tale
was ended, and went quietly out of the house.
The sun had just gone down; but there was light in the west, where rosy
cloud-islands floated in a golden sea. And there was a light in Rhoda’s
face that gave her a new charm.
She knew, by some subtle instinct, where she should find Robert
Channell. She ascended the steep, winding lane, that led to the old
churchyard. How did she guess that one woman’s harshness would send
him to the grave of another? How is it that women go straight
to a conclusion which a man could only reach by a circuitous route?
He neither saw nor heard her coming. His head was bent over that
flowery mound, and the grass deadened the sound of her feet. She had
been very brave until she found herself by his side. And then all her
strength and courage suddenly fled. She had no words to plead for
forgiveness; she could only touch his arm with her trembling hand, and
call him by the name that she had hated all these years,–
There was very little said just then. The last glow was dying out
of the skies, and the dews were falling on Helen’s grave. But the
Lord lifted up the light of His countenance upon them, and gave them