A CONFESSION OVERHEARD

It was the afternoon of Morgan’s last day in Warwickshire. He sat by
his mother’s couch, holding her thin hand in his, and wishing, with all
his heart, that she were the only woman in the world who had any claim
upon him. She looked at him with a long earnest look; once or twice her
lips opened, but some moments went by before she spoke.

They were alone. Mr. Foster had pattered off to the railway station, to
seek for information about the train by which Morgan was to travel. As
he sat there, with the dear old woman who had shared all his early joys
and sorrows, he could not help longing to tell her of his new trouble.
But he knew not how to begin. And then her gentle voice broke the
silence.

“Morgan,” she said, “maybe I am going to do a foolish thing. I never
was a match-maker, for I’ve always thought that God alone ought to
bring people together. But when I see two who seem to be made for each
other, and one of them so near to me, how can I help saying a word?”

“Speak on, mother,” he answered, drawing a long breath. He knew what
was coming. Well, at any rate it would give him the opportunity of
unburdening his heart.

“I should like to see you engaged to Eve Hazleburn,” she continued,
gaining courage. “She is as good as a daughter to me; but that isn’t
the reason that I want her for my son’s wife. I want her, because
there’s a sort of likeness between you that makes me sure you ought
to be made one. And I’ve seen your eyes follow her, Morgan, as if you
thought so too.”

“It cannot be, mother,” said the curate, almost passionately. “It
cannot be, and yet I know it ought to be! I am already engaged to
another woman; but I love Eve Hazleburn as I shall never love again!”

“God help us all!” sighed Mrs. Foster, suddenly pressing his hand to
enjoin silence. It was too late. His voice had been raised above its
usual tone; and there stood Eve at the open door.

He did not care–he was almost glad that she knew all. There had come
upon him the recklessness that often arises out of hopelessness. If he
must wear his chain, she should know what a heavy weight it was!

“Come in, Miss Hazleburn,” he said, rising excitedly; “I am not sorry
that you have overheard me. Perhaps you will pity me a little. Surely
you can spare a grain of compassion for the poor fool who has spoiled
his own life! I think you will, for you are a good woman. Some women
would glory in a conquest of this sort, but you are not of that number.
Ah, I am talking nonsense, I suppose.”

Eve went straight up to him and laid her hand upon his arm. She could
not pretend to have heard nothing, and she would not have told a lie
if she could. Her light touch stopped him in his impatient walk up and
down the little room.

“Think of your mother, Mr. Foster,” she said, softly. “She is not
strong enough to bear a scene.”

He sat down again by the couch, and buried his face in the cushion on
which Mrs. Foster’s head rested. It was a boyish action; but Eve knew
that the best men in the world generally keep a touch of boyishness
about them. Her heart ached for him as she stood looking down upon the
bowed head. And then the mother’s glance met hers, and both women began
to weep silently.

“I’m a foolish old body,” said poor Mrs. Foster. “It’s a mistake to go
knocking at the door of any heart, even if it’s that of one’s child. I
had better have held my tongue, and left all to God.”

“It is better as it is,” Morgan answered raising his head, and
speaking more quietly. “I am less miserable than I was before. And
Miss Hazleburn will understand,” he added, with a little pride, “that
although I am an unhappy man, I don’t mean to be a traitor. I do not
wish to recall anything I have said. Every word was true; and now that
she knows all, she will pray for me.”

Eve stood before him and held out her hand.

“I am going now,” she said. “God bless you, Mr. Foster. You shall have
all the blessings that my prayers can win for you; and the truest
respect and friendship that a woman can give. Perhaps we shall never
meet again. If we do, I think this scene will seem like a dream to us
both.”

She went her way out of the shabby little house into the narrow
street. Had God nothing better to give her than this? Had He shown
her the beautiful land of Might-have-been only to send her back,
doubly desolate, into the wilderness? These were the first rebellious
questions that arose in Eve’s heart, and it was some time before they
were answered.

Early on the following morning she went to the window of her room,
and looked between the slats of the Venetian blind. It was chill and
grey out-of-doors. The sun had not yet fully risen, and only a faint
pallor was to be seen in the eastern sky. Presently a fly stopped at
the door of that shabby little house which she knew so well. Then the
flyman knocked; the door opened, and he entered, soon reappearing with
a portmanteau. Another figure followed, tall and black-coated. At the
sight of it poor Eve uttered a low cry, and pressed her hands tightly
together. A moment more, and the fly had rattled off down the street,
and had turned the corner on its way to the railway station.

Was that to be the end of it all? Shivering and forlorn, she went back
to her bed, and lay there for a time, mutely praying for strength and
peace.

Afterwards, she knew all that Morgan’s mother could tell her about his
engagement. And she knew, too, that Nelly Channell was the lady to whom
Mr. Myrtle had left the three thousand pounds. It seemed to her just
then, poor girl, as if Nelly were taking all the things that ought to
have been hers. But this mood did not last long, and she was sorry that
such bitter thoughts should have found their way into her heart. The
Golds came back from the seaside early in March, and the ordinary way
of life began again.

Morgan, too, had gone back to his work, but it was harder for him than
for Eve. She had no part to sustain–no love to simulate. And she had
the consolation of his mother’s friendship, and the sad delight of
reading his letters. In those letters no mention was ever made of her;
but they told of a life of daily struggles–a life whose best comfort
was found in labour. Eve and Mrs. Foster wept over them together, and
clung to each other with a new tenderness. The mother had faith, and
she believed that her son would be set free. She ventured, once or
twice, to say this to Eve, but the girl shook her head.

“No,” she said, “we must not look for that. We ought rather to pray
that the ties may grow pleasant instead of irksome.”

“I don’t know,” replied Mrs. Foster, thoughtfully. “I almost think it
is best to pray for the freedom. It was not the right kind of feeling,
Eve, that led him to propose to Miss Channell. He was startled into it,
and it really seemed at first as if that were the way that God meant
him to go.”




“He should have stood still, and just have waited for guidance,” Eve
remarked, sadly.

“Yes, I know that,” admitted the mother. “But do not most of our
troubles come to us because we will not wait? We all find it easier to
run than to stand still.”

While these other hearts were throbbing with restless pain, Nelly
Channell was serenely happy. She complained at times that Morgan was
working too hard, and wearing himself out, but she never thought of
attributing his wan looks to any cause save that of over-exertion.

But Robert Channell had a keener sight; and he began to ask himself,
uneasily, if he had been right in letting this engagement come to pass?
In his heart of hearts he owned that he had been secretly anxious to
secure the curate for his daughter. It was the desire of his life that
Nelly should marry a good man, and Morgan Foster was the best man that
had as yet come in her way. Perhaps he, too, had been running when he
ought to have stood still. He began to think that this was the case.

But how could he undo what was done? In his perplexity he talked the
matter over with his wife. And she admitted that the curate did not
seem to be quite at ease in Nelly’s company. There was a shadow upon
him. It might be a consciousness of failing health, or—-

“Or of failing love,” said Mr. Channell, finishing her sentence. “If
that is it, Rhoda, it is a miserable affair indeed! We ought to have
made them wait before we sanctioned the engagement. But you know I
wanted to keep her safe from those selfish, worldly men who have been
seeking her.”

“We are always afraid to trust God with anything dear to us,” answered
Mrs. Channell, sadly. “But if Morgan Foster has mistaken his own
feelings, Robert, it will be hard to condemn him, and equally hard to
forgive him.”

Summer came. And early in July all the gossips in Huntsdean were
talking of the rich family who had taken Laurel House. Mr. Gold, they
said, was a retired merchant from Warwickshire, who was as wealthy
as a nabob. His household consisted of a wife and six children, a
governess, and menservants and maidservants. And when Nelly heard that
the governess was a Miss Hazleburn, the name awoke no recollections.
She had quite forgotten the little poem in the _Monthly Guest_.

The Channells called on the new-comers, and were received by Miss
Hazleburn. Illness kept Mrs. Gold in her own room for some weeks
after her arrival in Huntsdean, and on Eve devolved the unwelcome task
of seeing visitors. The one whom she most dreaded and most longed to
see did not come. She saw him in church, and that was all. She had
determined that her stay in Huntsdean should be as short as possible.
Already she was answering advertisements, and doing her utmost to get
away from the place. It was hard upon her, she thought, that among the
earliest callers should be Nelly Channell.

Yet when she saw the girl she felt a thrill of secret satisfaction.
This, then, was the woman before whom she was preferred; and Eve’s eyes
told her that she could no more be compared with Nelly than a daisy
can be compared with a rose! But the poor daisy, growing in life’s
highway, unsheltered from the storms of the world, was loved better
than the beautiful garden flower. She was human, and she could not help
rejoicing in her unsuspected triumph.

Nelly took a girl’s sudden and unreasonable liking to the governess.
She wanted Miss Hazleburn to be her friend; she talked of her to
everybody, including Morgan Foster.

“Have you seen her, Morgan?” she asked.

“I have seen her in church,” he answered.

“Then you haven’t called on the Golds yet,” said Nelly. “Why don’t you
go there?”

“The rector has called,” Morgan replied, “and there really is no need
for a curate to be thrusting himself into rich folks’ houses unless
they are ill.”

“You didn’t mind coming to our house,” rejoined Nelly, “and I daresay
we are as rich as the Golds. But you can’t judge of Miss Hazleburn
by seeing her in church, Morgan. It is in conversation that you find
out how charming she is. And actually there is something in her that
reminds me of you! I can’t tell where the resemblance lies–it may
be in the voice, or it may be in the face, but I am certain that it
exists.”

“It exists only in your imagination,” said Morgan, bent upon changing
the subject.

Before Mrs. Gold had entirely recovered, Nelly had got into a habit
of running in and out of the house. It was about three-quarters of a
mile from her home, and stood on the summit of the green downs which
she had loved in her childhood. The garden slanted down from the back
of the house to these open downs: it was raised above the slopes and
terminated in a gravelled terrace; and so low was this terrace that
Nelly could easily climb upon it and go straying into the shrubbery.
She had done this dozens of times while Laurel House was empty, for the
old garden, with its thick hedges of laurel and yew, had always been
a favourite haunt of hers. Finding that the Golds were free-and-easy
people, who gladly welcomed the pretty trespasser, she chose to keep up
her old custom.