Lovers, like sinners, are nearly always found out; and in a very short
time everybody knew that Nelly Channell was engaged. It is not worth
while to record all the remarks that this affair drew forth. They were
comments of the usual kind; the curate was called a schemer, and the
father was said to have cruelly neglected the interests of his child.
But as none of these observations reached the ears of those whom they
chiefly concerned, nobody was any the worse for them.
Meanwhile, Morgan took his good fortune in a very tranquil way. He saw
Nelly nearly every day, and she did most of the talking that went on
between them. Her conversation, like herself, was always simple and
bright; it did not weary the listener, and yet it sometimes set him
wondering at the ease with which she opened her heart, and let out
its inmost thoughts. He was conscious that he had never let her get
beyond the vestibule of his inner self; but he would fain have had it
otherwise. It pained him, even while it comforted him, to see that she
was quite unaware of his involuntary reserve. Had she known that he
kept any locked-up chambers, she would have striven to find the keys,
and would most likely have succeeded. But she did not know it. She
possessed no instinct keen enough to tell her that she might live with
this man for years without once getting close to his soul.
“Read this, Nelly,” he said, one February afternoon. He had called
to take her out walking, and they were standing together at the
drawing-room window. All the snow was gone, and in its stead there were
clusters of snowdrops scattered over the brown mould. Here and there
was a group of the golden-eyed polyanthus; a little yellow-hammer,
perched on the garden-wall, piped its small, sweet song. There was
sunlight out of doors, and Nelly, looking bright and picturesque in her
velvet and sable, was impatient to leave the house.
Morgan had taken a copy of the _Monthly Guest_ from his pocket and was
pointing to a little poem on one of its pages.
“I can read it when we have had our walk,” Nelly answered. Then
catching a slight shade of disappointment on his face, she gave her
whole attention to the verses at once.
“How pretty!” she said, having conscientiously travelled through the
thirty lines. “How strange it seems that some people should have
the power of putting their ideas into rhyme! The writer has a nice
“Perhaps it is merely a _nom-de-plume_,” replied Morgan, returning the
journal to his pocket.
Nelly thought within herself that she had never found her lover a
pleasanter companion than he was that day. He amused her with little
stories of his college life, and even went back to his grammar-school
days in search of incidents. It was a delightful walk; twilight was
creeping on when they found themselves at the house-door again, but
Morgan came no farther than the threshold.
“No, thank you,” he said; “I cannot dine with you to-night; I must go
home and write letters. Good-night, Nelly dear.”
He went his way through the leafless lanes, past the cottages and
gardens, to the old sexton’s ivy-covered dwelling. Then he lifted the
latch and went straight to the little parlour that had been given up
to his use. It was a very small room, so low that the beam across the
ceiling was blackened and blistered by the heat from the curate’s
reading lamp. Six rush-bottomed chairs stood with their backs against
the wall, and a carpet-covered hassock was the sole pretension to
luxury that the apartment contained. But a cheerful fire was blazing in
the grate, and on a little red tray stood a homely black teapot.
“I saw you a-comin’ through the lane, sir, and I’ve boiled an egg for
you,” said his good landlady, bustling in. “It’s bitter cold still. My
good man hopes you’ll keep your fire up.”
She went back to her own quarters with a troubled look on her kindly
old face. Somehow, her lodger did not seem quite so bright as he ought
to have been after taking a walk with his sweetheart. She thought they
must have had a lovers’ quarrel; and, woman-like, was disposed to lay
the blame thereof on her own sex.
“All girls is fond of worritin’ men; high or low, rich or poor, they’re
all alike,” she said, to her husband. “They don’t like going on too
peaceable. Nothin’ pleases ’em so well as a bit of a tiff now and then.
But if Miss Channell don’t know when she’s well off, she’s a foolish
body;–women are a’most as bad as the children of Israel, a-quarrelling
with their blessings!”
While the sexton’s wife was misjudging poor unconscious Nelly, the
curate sat lingering over his tea-cup. He was thoroughly realizing,
for the first time, that he had made a mistake in asking Miss Channell
to be his wife. It was a little thing that had opened his eyes to the
blunder,–merely her way of reading the little poem in the _Monthly
Guest_. He had been always vaguely hoping that something would bring
them nearer together, and make it possible for him to give all that he
ought to give; and he had thought that the poem would do it. The verses
seemed to have proceeded straight from some human heart, whose feelings
and aspirations were identical with his own. They expressed the same
sense of failure and hope which every earnest worker for God must feel.
They described the peace which always grows out of hearty effort, even
if that effort be not a success.
Just one word or look of comprehension would have led him on to speak
out of his interior self. But poor Nelly saw nothing in the poem beyond
its rhymes. She was like one who misses the diamond in gazing at its
“Thank God!” he said, half aloud, “that I can hide my sense of
disappointment from her! She shall never know that I want anything but
her sweetness and goodness, poor child! What a happy man I ought to be,
and yet what an ungrateful wretch I seem in my own eyes!”
He sat looking sadly into the red hollow of the neglected fire and
“I am like old Bunyan’s pilgrims,” he continued. “I remember that they
came to a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and
seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go. And
now I fear that I have gone out of my right path without knowing it.
Well, so long as the penalty falls upon me only, I can bear it!”
But his spirit was still disquieted when he went to his little chamber
that night. He lay awake for hours thinking of Nelly, and of the future
which lay before them both.
Next morning came a letter, in his father’s handwriting, which was full
of sad tidings. His mother was dangerously ill;–could he not come to
her at once?
Morgan went straightway to the rectory, and laid his case before the
rector. The old man had his son, a young deacon, staying in his house,
and readily consented to spare his curate. Then there was a letter to
Nelly to be written, explaining the cause of his sudden departure.
Before noon the train was bearing him far away from the vales and woods
of Huntsdean, straight to the great world of London. And from Euston
Square he travelled to the ancient Warwickshire city where his parents
had made their home.