EVE HAZLEBURN, POET AND FRIEND

A very humble home it was; but his love had stinted self to obtain
comforts for them. The light of the February day was fading when he
entered the little house, and found his father eagerly watching for him.

“You are a good son,–a good son,” said the old man, in a broken voice.
“She is no worse; and Miss Hazleburn is with her.”

Hazleburn! The name had a familiar sound; but Morgan was too weary and
agitated to remember where he had heard it before. He took his way at
once to his mother’s chamber.

As he went in, a small, slight figure rose from a chair by the bedside,
and quietly glided away. He scarcely looked at it in the gathering
dusk; moreover he had no thoughts, just then, for anybody but the
mother who lay there yearning for a sight of him.

His coming seemed to do Mrs. Foster good, and give her a new hold upon
life. It was a low nervous fever that had seized upon her, taking away
her strength by slow degrees, until she had grown almost as helpless as
an infant. But God had sent her a friend in Eve Hazleburn. And before
he slept that night, Morgan had heard from his father’s lips the story
of Miss Hazleburn’s unselfish kindness.

Eve was one of those friendless beings who are thrown entirely on their
own resources, and often get on better than the more favoured children
of fortune. She had an easy post as governess in the family of Mr.
Gold, a rich Warwickshire merchant;–too easy, as she sometimes said.
For the little Golds had holiday two or three times a week, and were
not on any account to be burdened with long study hours. The house was
in a perpetual bustle; visitors constantly coming and going. But if her
employers were unjust to themselves, they were far from ungenerous
to Eve. They would fain have had her share in all their feastings and
merry-makings, and laughed and wondered at her liking for retirement
and peace.

There had been sickness in their household. Soon after Christmas the
whole family had gone away to a sheltered watering-place, leaving Miss
Hazleburn in charge of the house, and of the two servants who remained
in it.

She had not made many friends in the city of C—-. Her Sundays were
her own, and her services in the Sunday-school had won gratitude and
approval from the vicar of the parish. She went occasionally, but not
often, to the vicarage.

The acquaintance between Morgan’s parents and herself was nearly a year
old. Their quiet street ran along at the back of the merchant’s great
house, and Eve had watched the pair sometimes from her chamber window.
Then there was a chance meeting, a slight service rendered, and the
governess became their friend and frequent visitor.

The absence of the Golds left her at liberty to nurse Mrs. Foster
in her illness. The servants, being sober and trustworthy, required
little watching, and Eve’s time was her own. None ever knew what it
cost her to give up all her leisure to the sick woman; none guessed
that a cherished plan was quietly laid aside for Mrs. Foster’s sake.
The manuscript which Eve had hoped to complete in these holidays of
hers was put by. An inner voice told her that God meant her to use
her leisure in another way; and Eve’s life was so still, so free from
turmoil and passion, that she could always hear the voices that spoke
to her soul.

Days went and came. The old rector of Huntsdean wrote kindly to his
curate, bidding him stay in Warwickshire as long as his mother needed
him. Nelly wrote too; such simple loving letters that every word went
like a stab to Morgan’s heart. She also begged him not to hasten his
return for her sake. It was good for her, her father told her, to have
this slight dash of bitterness in a cup that had been over-sweet. And
poor Nelly made so great a show of heroism over this little trial of
hers, that those of her own household smiled.

Meanwhile Eve and Morgan met every day; and he talked to her about
her poem, which was the only production of hers that had as yet found
its way into print. The poem was the starting-point from whence they
travelled on into each other’s experiences. Ah, how easily and quickly
people glide into familiar intercourse when there is a spiritual
kinship between them! Poor Morgan’s heart opened to Eve as naturally as
a flower uncloses to the sun. Yet he never suspected that this was the
beginning of love.

The curate had not told his parents of his engagement. He had been
morbidly afraid that it would put a sense of distance between the old
people and himself. Therefore he had said nothing about it in his
letters, but had waited till he should see them face to face. But
now that the time had come, he feared to make the disclosure. His
mother was in no condition to bear any startling news. And as to Miss
Hazleburn–of what consequence could his affairs be to her? So the
intimacy went on. He was too blind to see the injustice that he was
doing Nelly and Eve herself.




“We are really not very new friends,” he said to the governess one day.
“I knew you through your poem. We met in the spirit before we met in
the flesh.”

“Nobody need be solitary nowadays,” answered Eve, brightly. “I have
many such spiritual friends, whom I shall probably never see with my
bodily eyes. Don’t you think that one of the joys of eternity will be
in finding out what we have done for each other unconsciously? I am
often unspeakably grateful for the printed words that have helped me
on.”

“Do you find many companions in Mr. Gold’s house?” he asked.

“No,” she said, frankly. “You know what it is to like people, and
yet have no affinity with them. The Golds’ life is a perpetual
pleasure-hunt. Parents and children join in the chase from morning till
night; there is little rest or stillness in the house. I should be
scarcely sorry to leave it.”

“Are you thinking of leaving it?” Morgan inquired.

“Not yet. Indeed, I have no other home,” she answered. “I had a hope,
last year, that one might be provided for me; but that is over now.”

They were sitting together in the Fosters’ little parlour while this
talk went on. It was Sunday afternoon; Mrs. Foster, now steadily making
progress towards recovery, was asleep upstairs, and her husband had
ventured out to church. The sun was getting low; a yellow light came
stealing over the roofs of the opposite houses, and shone full upon
Eve’s face. Her last words had been spoken in a sad tone; her eyes
looked dreamily out into the narrow street.

She was very far from realizing the interpretation that Morgan had
put upon her remark. Nor did she dream of the sudden turmoil that was
working within him, as he sat watching her face.

She was not a pretty woman. She had the charms that belong to symmetry
of form, and grace of manner and movement. But few of those who were
struck at once by Nelly Channell’s beauty would have noticed Eve. They
would have failed to see the noble shape of that small head, and the
play of light and shade on the careworn young face. Yet as Morgan sat
watching her, he was stung by the sharpness of jealous agony. Had some
man wooed this girl, and been an accepted lover?

He could not endure the idea that those chance words of hers had
conjured up. The grand passion of his life was revealed to him in a
moment. He knew what he felt towards Eve, and knew, too, that this was
what he ought to have felt towards another. This was love. It was but a
poor counterfeit thereof that he had given to Nelly.

“Some people think nothing of breaking a promise,” she continued, still
looking out into the street. “Years ago, when I was a child, and my
father was a prosperous man, his friend Mr. Myrtle came to him in sore
need of money. My father lent him three thousand pounds. The sum was
lent without security, and it was never repaid.”

Morgan breathed more freely; but he thought of Nelly’s legacy.

“When my father felt himself to be dying,” Eve went on, “he wrote to
Mr. Myrtle, reminding him once more of the debt. It was for my sake
that he did this, knowing that I should be left quite friendless, and
almost penniless. And Mr. Myrtle promised to leave me three thousand
pounds in his will. He died last year, Mr. Foster, but there was no
legacy for me.”

Morgan’s words of sympathy sounded flat and commonplace. He was too
much overcome with shame to be conscious of what he was saying. It was
almost a relief when his old father returned from church and broke up
the _tête-à-tête_.

When Mrs. Foster was well enough to move from her bed to a couch, the
curate bethought him of returning to Huntsdean. He did not dare to
think much of all that awaited him there. He had lived a lifetime in
the space of a few weeks, and the village and its associations looked
unreal and far away. At this time shame was his dominant feeling. He
forgot to pity himself for the blunder that he had made–he thought
only of his involuntary treachery.

He did not dream of making any confession to Nelly; she should be no
sufferer through this dreadful mistake of his. And he wrote her as
lover-like a letter as he could frame, telling her that he was coming
home in a few days.