AN UNLOOKED-FOR RELEASE

Very early on Monday, the Golds’ governess took her departure from
Huntsdean. The train bore her away through the pleasant southern
counties while the dew was still shining on the meadows. On and on it
went; past cottages, standing amid fruit-laden trees, and gardens where
Michaelmas daisies were in bloom; past yellow fields, where the corn
was falling under the sickles of the reapers. Hedges were gay with
Canterbury bells and ragged robins. Here and there were dashes of gold
on the deep green of the woods. Eve Hazleburn, quiet and tearless,
looked out upon the smiling country, and bade it a mute farewell.

Afterwards, two carriages laden with luggage drove out of the village,
taking the road that led to the neighbouring seaport town. The first
contained the two little Channells and their nurses; in the second sat
Rhoda and Nelly. And before the vehicles were out of sight, Robert
Channell had turned his steps in the direction of the curate’s lodging.

He met the young man in the lane outside the sexton’s cottage, and gave
him a kindly good morning.

“I am the bearer of startling news, Morgan,” he said, slipping a little
note into his hand. “Let us come under the shade of the churchyard
trees. And now, Morgan, before you read the note, I want to ask you to
forgive my Nelly.”

“Forgive Nelly!” stammered the curate, thinking that if all could be
known it would be Nelly’s part to forgive him.

“Yes,” the father answered. “Try to think of her as a dear, foolish
child who has made a grave mistake. She has sent me to break off her
engagement with you, Morgan. She begs you, through me, to forgive her
for any pain that she may cause you. She wants you to remember her
kindly always, but neither to write to her, nor seek to see her again.”

The curate was silent for some moments. No suspicion of the truth
crossed his mind. He concluded, not unnaturally, that he had been too
quiet and grave a lover for the bright girl. That was all.

When he spoke, his words were very few. Perhaps Nelly’s father
respected him none the less because he made no pretence of great
sorrow. His face was pale, and his voice trembled a little, as he said
quietly,–

“If you will come into my lodging, Mr. Channell, I will give you
Nelly’s letters and her portrait. She may like to have them back again
without delay.”

They walked out of the churchyard, and down the lane to the sexton’s
cottage. And then Morgan left Mr. Channell sitting in the little
parlour, while he went upstairs to his room.

The hour of release had come. He took out a plain gold locket, which
had always been worn unseen, and detached it from its guard. He opened
it, and looked long and sadly at the fair face that it contained. It
was a delicately-painted photograph, true to life; and locket and
portrait had been Nelly’s first gift. The smile was her own smile,
frank and bright; the brown eyes seemed to look straight at the gazer.
“O Nelly,” he said, kissing the picture, “why couldn’t I love you
better? Thank God for this painless parting! No wonder that you wearied
of me, dear; you will be a thousand times freer and happier without me.”

Presently he came downstairs, and entered the parlour with the locket
and a little packet of letters. These he gave silently into Mr.
Channell’s hands.

“Morgan,” said Robert Channell, “I am heartily sorry for this. Don’t
think that I shall cease to feel for you as a friend, because I cannot
have you for a son-in-law.”

“I shall never forget all your kindness,” Morgan answered, in a low
voice. “But I shall soon leave this place, Mr. Channell.”

“Better so, perhaps,” Robert responded. “You ought to labour in a
larger sphere. You have great capacities for hard work, Morgan.”




Then the two men parted with a close hand-shake. And Mr. Channell
looked back to say, almost carelessly,–

“My family have migrated to Southsea for a month or two. I follow them
to-morrow.”

It would be too much to say that the curate “regained his freedom with
a sigh.” Yet certain it is that this unlooked-for release set his heart
aching; it might be that his _amour propre_ was slightly wounded, for
was it not a little hard to find that the girl for whom he had been
making a martyr of himself could do very well without him? He had
climbed the height of self-sacrifice only to find deliverance. The
spirit of sacrifice had been required of him, but the crowning act was
not demanded.

He read Nelly’s note again. It was a very commonplace little letter,
written in a sloping, feminine hand. She used that stereotyped phrase
which, hackneyed as it is, does as well or better than any other,
“I feel we are not suited for each other.” This was the sole excuse
offered for breaking the engagement, and surely it was excuse enough.

How could he know that these few trite sentences had been written in
the anguish of a woman’s first great sorrow? We don’t recognise the
majesty of woe when it masquerades in every-day garments. It needs
a Divine sight to find out the real heroes and heroines of life. If
Morgan had been questioned about Nelly, the term “heroine” would have
been the very last that he would have applied to her. And yet Nelly,
quite unconsciously, had acted in the true spirit of heroism.

By-and-by the sense of relief began to make itself felt, and Morgan’s
heart grew wonderfully light. He went through his usual routine of
duties, and then took his way to the rectory. He must give the rector
timely notice of his intention to resign his curacy.

Meanwhile Robert Channell had proceeded to Laurel House. Mrs. Gold
received him in a depressed manner. Her governess, she said, had left
her; and she seemed to consider that Miss Hazleburn had used her
unkindly. She did not know how such a useful person could be replaced.
Nobody would ever satisfy her so well as Miss Hazleburn had done. Yes,
she could give the governess’s address to Mr. Channell. She had chosen
to go to Warwickshire, to live with an invalid lady. Mrs. Gold hoped
she would find the post unbearably dull, and return to her former
situation.

“There is little probability of that,” thought Robert Channell, as he
went his way with the address in his pocket-book. And then he thought
of Nelly’s face and voice when she had stated her intention of giving
up Mr. Myrtle’s legacy to Eve.

“I won’t keep anything that isn’t fairly mine,” she had said; “let her
have both the lover and the money.”

Eve never ceased to wonder how the Channells had found out that Mr.
Myrtle had owed her father three thousand pounds.

October had just set in when Eve and Morgan met again. It was Sunday
morning, and she was on her way to that beautiful old church which
is the chief glory of the city of C—-. The bells were chiming; the
ancient street was bright with autumn light; far above them rose the
tall spire, rising high into the calm skies.

They said very little to each other at that moment. A great deal had
already been said on paper, and they could afford to be quiet just
then. Together they entered the church, a happy pair of worshippers,
“singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.” “A thousand
times happier,” Eve remarked afterwards, “than we could ever have dared
to be if another had suffered for our joy.”