NELLY CHANNELL

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
house.

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
childhood.

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
mischief.”

“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
speak again.

“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
surprise.

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
school-days?”

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.