HOW THE TRUTH CAME OUT

One August evening, when it was too sultry to stay indoors, Nelly
wandered out into the lanes alone. She had told Morgan that she was
going to drive into the nearest town on a shopping expedition, and
should not return till dusk. But one of her ponies had fallen lame, and
she had given up the plan.

On she went, saying a kind word or two to the villagers as she passed
their cottages. They all loved Nelly well. Her bright face came amongst
them like a sunbeam; even the smallest children had a smile for her as
she went by. She was so young and healthy and beautiful that many an
admiring glance followed her tall figure. She belonged to Huntsdean,
and Huntsdean was proud of her.

[Illustration: On she went through the village.–Page 191.]

She made straight for the downs, tripping up the green slopes, and
startling the browsing sheep. She gave a friendly nod to the little
shepherd-boy who lay idly stretched upon the grass. And then, as she
had done often enough before, she mounted the gravelled terrace, and
sat down on a rustic bench behind the hedge of laurels.

From this spot she could not see Laurel House at all. The high wall of
evergreens completely shut in the view of the residence and its garden.
The gravelled terrace was divided from the grounds by this thick hedge,
and was only approached from the house by one long straight path of
turf. The path terminated in an arch, formed by the carefully-kept
shrubs, and giving access to the platform; and any one walking on the
downs must go up to the middle of the terrace and look through this
archway before he could get a glimpse of the house.

Nelly knew that Miss Hazleburn liked to walk up and down the turfy path
when the day’s duties were done. She meant to rest herself for a few
minutes before entering the garden.

The bench was at the very end of the platform. She loved the seat
because it commanded an extensive view of the surrounding country.
Beyond the Huntsdean downs she could see other hills lying far away,
softly outlined against the summer evening sky. And nearer lay the
dearer old meadows and homesteads and the long tracts of woodland,–all
familiar and beloved scenes to the girl who had been born and bred
among them. The air was very still; even here it was but a faint breath
of wind that fanned her flushed cheeks; but the coolness on these
highlands was delightful after the closeness of the vale. She sat and
enjoyed it in silence.

Quite suddenly the sound of voices broke the stillness. The speakers
were hidden from Nelly’s gaze, for the tones came from the other side
of the laurel hedge. Eve Hazleburn’s accents, clear and musical, could
be recognised in a moment.

“I am going away next week,” she said, “going back to Warwickshire, Mr.
Foster, I wrote to Mr. Lindley, the good Vicar of C—-, and he has
found a place for me. I am to be companion to an invalid lady whose
house is close to the street where your father and mother live. They
will be glad to have me near them again.”

She spoke rapidly, and a little louder than usual. Nelly, overwhelmed
with astonishment, sat still, without giving a thought to her position
as an eavesdropper.

“I have kept away from you–I have tried not to think of you!” cried
Morgan Foster, in irrepressible anguish. “God does not help me in this
matter. I have prayed, worked, struggled, yet I get no relief. What
shall I do, Eve–what shall I do?”

[Illustration: Eve Hazleburn and Morgan Foster.–Page 194.]

“You must endure to the end,” she answered, with a little sob. “God
will make it easier by-and-by. Oh, I was so sorry to come here, Mr.
Foster; but I could not help it! We will never meet again, you and I.
Yet I am glad that I know Miss Channell. I will go and tell the old
people what a sweet bright girl she is; and they will soon learn to
love her. It will all come right in the end.”

“Ah, if I could believe that!” said the curate. “But I can’t. It is
madness to think that a wrong path can have a right ending. Sometimes I
am persuaded it would be best to tell her everything.”

“If you did,” cried Eve, sternly, “you would break her heart. And don’t
think–pray don’t think, Mr. Foster, that I would build my house
on the ruins of another woman’s happiness! When I am gone,” and the
proud voice trembled, “you will learn to submit to circumstances. We are
not likely to cross each other’s paths again; you will be a rich
man—-”

“Oh, the money makes it all the harder to bear!” interrupted Morgan,
bitterly. “That three thousand pounds that Mr. Myrtle promised to leave
to you has been left to her. Did you know this?”




Nelly did not wait to hear Eve’s reply. Swiftly and noiselessly she
sprang from the terrace on to the smooth sod beneath, her muslin dress
making no rustle as she moved. Away she sped down the green slopes;
the sheep parted to left and right before her flying footsteps; the
shepherd-lad stared after her in amazement. She did not take the road
that led through the village. In her misery and bewilderment she
remembered that she could not bear the friendly good-nights of the
cottagers. She struck wildly across the fields, regardless of the wet
grass, and the brambles that tore her thin skirts as she dashed through
the gaps in the hedges, until she came to the side of the brook, where
she was alone in her grief. She was not thinking at all; she was only
feeling–feeling passionately and bitterly–that she had been cruelly
wronged and deceived.

“Oh those two!” she moaned aloud, as her home came in sight. “The man
whom I loved–the girl whom I would have made my friend!”

Robert Channell and his wife were sitting together in the library. He
had been reading aloud: Shakespeare still lay open on his knee, and
Rhoda occupied a low chair by his side. They were talking, as happy
married people love to talk, of the old days when God first brought
them together.

While they chatted in low tones, the day was fast closing in. The
French windows stood open, and the first breath of the night wind stole
into the room. A dusky golden haze was settling down over the garden;
the air was heavy with flower-scents and the faint odours of fallen
leaves. Suddenly a great shower of petals from over-blown roses drifted
through the casement, and Nelly swept in after them.

She sank down on her knees, shivering in her limp, wet dress, and hid
her face in her stepmother’s lap. And then the story was told from
beginning to end.

An hour later, Rhoda was sitting by Nelly’s pillow, talking to her in
the sweet hush of the August twilight. Already the heat of anger had
passed away. The girl’s thoughts had gone back, as Rhoda knew they
would, to that winter afternoon when Morgan had asked her to become
engaged to him.

“Mamma,” she said, piteously, “he has never loved me at all. He gave
me all he could give; but it was only the silver, not the gold. It is
very, very humiliating, but it is the truth, and it must be faced.
To-night when I heard him speaking to Eve Hazleburn, I understood
the difference between love and liking. He liked me, and perhaps he
saw–more than I meant him to see! O mamma, I was very young and
foolish!”

It touched Rhoda to hear Nelly speak of her old self in the past tense.
Yet it was a fact; the youth and the folly had had their day. Nelly
would never be so young again, for sorrow takes away girlhood when it
teaches wisdom.

“I heard Eve say,” she went on, “that she would never build her house
on the ruins of another woman’s happiness; and God forbid that I
should build mine on ground that has never rightly belonged to me! But
I wish he had told me the truth. He has done me a greater wrong in
hiding it, than in speaking it out.”

“Nelly,” said her stepmother, tenderly, “we believe that Morgan has
been a blunderer, but not a traitor. We have blundered terribly
ourselves. We ought not to have let the engagement take place until
we had tested the strength of his attachment. We wanted to guard you
from unworthy suitors; and in taking you out of danger, we led you into
sorrow.”

“I was very foolish,” repeated Nelly, with a sigh.

“Don’t forget,” Rhoda continued, “that God can bless those whom He puts
asunder, as well as those whom He joins together. It is better to dwell
apart than to live together with divided souls. He saw we were too weak
and stupid to set our mistake right, and He has done it for us. While
we were gazing helplessly at the knot, He cut the thread.”

It was on a Saturday evening that Nelly’s love affair came to an end.
She was in her place in church on Sunday morning, and during the rest
of the day she kept much by her father’s side. They had talked the
matter over and over, and had arranged all their plans before the night
closed in. And Nelly thanked God that the anger had gone away from her
heart, although the sorrow remained.