THE ASSAULTS OF THE EVIL ONE

“I sit beside the gate of the heart
That bars the soul of this woman from me;
The little white soul, that dwelleth apart,
Safe from temptation and evil dart,
Nor one chink in the gate can I see.

“Would I could open this gate of the heart,
Enter within, as a conqueror wild;
Nay, but I see a sentinel start,
To guard its treasure from earthly smart,
Evil shrinks from this little white child.”

It was summer down at Denfield, and the noble woods around
Errington Hall were waving their heavily foliaged branches over the
flower-pranked earth. The wayside hedges were gay with blossoms, the
swallows wheeled aloft in the bright blue sky, the farmer looking over
the green fields was calculating the promise of harvest, and there was
sunshine throughout the land.

Sunshine from dawn till eve over the teeming earth: sunshine in the
hearts of village maidens, thinking of plighted troths; sunshine in
the stolid faces of farming lads, tramping beside their sleek horses;
sunshine among the cronies, seated outside the alehouse, in the warm
summer air, but, in the heart of Alizon Errington–ah, there was no
sunshine there!

She was walking slowly up and down the terrace of the Hall, dividing
her attention between her own sad thoughts, and the gambols of Sammy,
who was rolling amid his toys on an outspread bearskin. Straight and
slender as an arrow, in her clinging white dress, with a red cluster
of summer roses at her throat, but in her face a stern look, which
melted into an adoring smile when she looked upon the child.

Since her husband’s departure, Lady Errington had not been happy.
Perhaps she had been too hasty in judging him, perhaps she might have
won him back from his evil ways by kindly words, but there, it was no
use regretting the past, he was an exile on the Continent, and she was
alone in her beautiful home. Not quite alone, however, for the child
was there; her darling child, who was the joy of her life, the light
of her eyes, and the comfort of her heart!

Still, she missed her husband, in spite of her self-congratulations
that she had acted as she had done; she missed his kindly ways, his
affectionate smile, his thousand little acts of tenderness, which had
passed unnoticed when done, but now seemed to start out of the past
like a reproach for her severity. Had she been too severe after all?
He had sinned, it was true! She felt sure that his character, like
that of all men, resembled that of her father, and yet–he had
indignantly denied his fault; he had pleaded for one kind look, one
parting word, and she had refused his prayer. If his heart was evil,
would it not have been better for her to have striven to draw it
closer to her by that one strand of affection than sever the strand
altogether, and let it sink back into the gulf of iniquity from which
it strove to emerge.

Alizon Errington was a good woman, who tried to do her best according
to her lights, to whom the very thought of vice was utterly abhorrent,
yet sometimes, as at this moment, unpleasant accusations of Pharisaism
and self-righteousness were in her mind.

All the tenderness and dog-like fidelity of her husband had failed to
touch her heart, but now that he had (as she verily believed) slighted
her wilfully, and voluntarily left a life of purity for one of guilt,
she felt that he was more to her than anyone else in the world, save
his child. If his heart, if his instincts, were as evil as she
believed, all the more credit to him for the way in which he strove to
act honestly, but if on the other hand she had misjudged him and
driven a good man into evil by cruel words and harsh looks, then
indeed she was to blame. Either way she looked at things now it seemed
to her that she was in the wrong, and yet she could not, would not,
acknowledge that she had not acted justly.

“If he had only waited for a time,” she told herself restlessly. “If
he he had only shown by his actions that he desired to do right, I
would have believed him in time. But to go back to that vile woman
after what I said–no!–he is like all the rest–he makes evil his
God, and would break my heart, and ruin his child’s future, sooner
than deny himself the gratification of his brutal instincts.”

Strong words certainly, but then she felt strongly. She was not a
broad-minded woman, for the horror with which her father had inspired
her, had narrowed down her views of life to Puritanical exactness. She
demanded from the world purity–absolute purity–which was an
impossibility. What man could come to a woman and say, “I am as pure
in my life as you are”? Not one. Why then did she demand it from her
husband? but this was quite another view of the question. Her thoughts
had gone from one thing to another, until they had become involved and
complex.

With a weary sigh she shook her head, as though to drive away all
those ideas, and sat down in a low chair, in order to play with the
boy.

“Sammy! Sammy! You musn’t put pitty things in mouse mouse.”

“Mum! mum!” from Sammy, who was making a bold attempt to swallow his
coral necklace. Finding this a failure he crawled quickly across the
bearskin, drew himself up to his mother’s knees, and stood grinning,
in a self-congratulatory manner, on his unsteady little legs.

“Come, then,” said Alizon, holding out her arms.

Frantic attempts on the part of Sammy to crawl up on her lap, ending
with a fall, and then a quick catching up into the desired place under
a shower of kisses.

They made a pretty picture, mother and son; the pale, sad-looking
woman, with the fresh, rosy boy, and Eustace paused a moment,
at the end of the terrace, to admire it. The boy had caught the
tortoise-shell pin in his mother’s hair with one chubby hand, and,
before she could laughingly prevent him, had pulled it out, so that
the fair ringlets came falling over her breast in a golden shower.

“Oh, naughty Sammy,” she said, gaily tossing him in the air with her
two hands. “Look at poor mother’s hair–bad child!”

Sammy, however, appeared to have a different opinion, and chuckled
indistinctly to himself, until he caught sight of Eustace, of whom he
was very fond, and stretched out his arms with a merry crow.

“Mr. Gartney,’ said Lady Errington, flushing a rosy red at the
disorder of her hair, just see what this scamp has done.”

“Young Turk!” said Eustace, taking the boy with a smile, while Alizon
hastily twisted up her hair into a loose knot. “How are you, to-day,
Lady Errington?”

“Quite well, thank you,” she replied quietly, as he sat down near her,
with Sammy still on his knee. “I thought you were up in town?”

“So I was. Came down last night,” answered Gartney, while the baby
made futile grabs at his watch chain. “Well, my prince, and how are
you?”

“He’s never ill,” said the young mother, with great pride. “I never
saw such a healthy child. Not an illness since his birth.”

“Lucky Sammy! if his future life is only as pleasant as the first year
of it, what a delightful time he will have.”

Lady Errington’s face had grown very grave during this speech, as she
had caught sight of the crape on his arm, and suddenly remembered why
he had gone up to town.

“You went to the funeral?” she asked, the colour flushing in her face.

“Yes!” he replied, smoothing the child’s fair curls with gentle hand.
“I went to the funeral. Poor Aunt Jelly! I don’t think she was sorry
to die.”

Alizon made no reply, but sat perfectly still, looking steadily at him
with a questioning look on her face. He knew what she so much desired
to know, and broke the bad news to her as gently as he was able.

“I heard the will read,” he said awkwardly, reddening a little through
the bronze of his complexion, “and she has left all her property to
me.”

“To you?”

“Believe me, I neither expected nor desired it,” he cried hastily. “I
have got plenty of money, without wishing more, and I thought she was
going to leave it to Guy. I really thought she intended to do so.”

“My poor child!”

That was all she said–not a thought, not a word of pity for her
absent husband. All her sorrow was for the unconscious child playing
on Gartney’s knee.

“I assure you,” began Eustace, feeling like a robber, “that I—-”

“That you could not help it,” she answered quietly. “I know that
perfectly well. Who can be accountable for such things? But I am
thinking of the future of my son. This property is deeply mortgaged,
and most of the income goes to pay the interest. If Guy lived with me
here we might save during the boy’s minority, but he is far away
spending the money that is to be his son’s. I thought Aunt Jelly would
have left the boy something, if she did not the father, and now he
will be a pauper when he comes of age. This place will have to be
sold, and my poor lad will never be Errington of the Hall–Oh, poor
soul!–poor soul!”

Her voice ended in a tragic wail, and it was with difficulty that she
restrained her tears. Eustace never felt so awkward in his life, as he
did not know what to say in excuse for having unwittingly thwarted her
hopes. Sammy had clambered down off his knee, and was now contentedly
covering his toys with his mother’s handkerchief, while she, poor
woman, was sitting looking at him silently, with an expression of mute
misery on her face.

“Lady Errington,” said Eustace earnestly after a pause, “believe me, I
am as sorry as you are, but I do not know how to act. I wrote to Guy,
offering him half the property by deed of gift, and he refused to take
it.”

“He could do no less,” she answered dully. “What right have we to rob
you?”

“It’s not robbery,” he replied vehemently. “I have more money than I
want. Whenever Guy likes to accept, he shall have half the property.”

Without answering his question, she looked down at the baby playing at
her feet, and then glanced at him keenly. “Where is my husband?” she
asked quickly.

“On the Continent–at San Remo.”

“With!–with that woman?”

“I!–I don’t know,” replied Eustace in a low voice, turning his face
away.

“Mr. Gartney?”

“Yes, Lady Errington.”

“Look me in the face.”

He did so unwillingly, and found her eyes fastened on his with a
determined expression.

“Is my husband with that woman?”

“No! I don’t think so, but I certainly heard she was at San Remo,” he
answered evasively.

“Ah!” she drew a long breath, and a look of anger swept across her
pale face. “He is with her then. I thought so.”

“You must not be too hard on Guy,” said Eustace, very feebly it must
be confessed.

“Hard on Guy,” she repeated scornfully. “Hard on a man who leaves his
wife and child for a vile woman like that. You, of course, take his
side.”

“Why should I?” demanded Eustace hotly, “because I am his cousin?”

“No, because you are a man. Men always stand up for one another. It’s
a kind of _esprit du corps_ with them I suppose. It is no wrong to
betray a woman in their eyes.”

“I don’t know why you expect me to stand up for my sex, I’m sure,”
said Eustace cynically. “I think very little of them I assure you, and
am quite incompetent to undertake the Herculean task of defending
their failings. I’ve got too many of my own to account for.”

“I’ve no doubt,” replied Lady Errington bitterly. “You men are all the
same.”

“I sincerely hope not,” retorted Eustace imperturbably. “I’ve no
desire to resemble certain fools of my acquaintance. My character is
no better nor no worse than my fellow-creatures’, and had some good
woman like yourself taken charge of my life I might have improved.”

“You ought to get married.”

“Do you think so–from your own experience?”

She flushed crimson, and in order to hide her confusion stooped down
to pick up the child.

“Marriages are made in heaven,” she said, trying to pass the thing off
lightly.

“I understand there’s a tradition to that effect,” responded Eustace,
indolently. “If that is the case, it is a pity Heaven gives a woman to
one man who doesn’t care about her, instead of bestowing her on
another who cannot be happy without her.”

“Is that your case?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, during which she looked at him curiously. He met
her gaze calmly, and not an idea of his meaning crossed her mind.

“So you love a married woman?”

“I do, and therefore no doubt am an object of horror in your eyes?”

The child had fallen asleep on her breast, and rising to her feet she
walked slowly to and fro, rocking him in her arms.

“I have no right to judge you,” she said evasively, “but you can
hardly expect me–a wife and a mother–to say that I approve of such a
dishonourable passion.”

Eustace winced at the scorn of the last words.

“No, I cannot,” he answered slowly, “but let me put the case before
you in another way. Suppose a woman is married to a man who cares
absolutely nothing about her, neglects her in every way, insults her
by his passion for another woman—-”

“Oh!” she cried, shrinking as if he had struck her a blow.

“I am putting a supposititious case, remember,” he said hastily.
“Well, this woman has a lover who adores her, but who has never
ventured to express this passion, which the world calls dishonourable.
The woman returns that passion and has only to say one word to the
lover in order to be released from the curse of a loveless marriage, a
neglectful husband, an unhappy home. What should that woman do in such
a case?”

“Remain true to her marriage vows,” she said grandly.

“But if the husband is not true.”

“Is she to sink to the level of the husband? No, Mr. Gartney. Let the
wife shame the husband by her fidelity to the vows which he has
broken.”

“And the lover?”

“Is not a true lover, or he would not wish to drag the woman he
professes to love through the mud of the world.”

“So you would condemn two lives to perpetual misery for the sake of
one man, who does not appreciate the sacrifice?”

“Not for the sake of the one man, but for the sake of virtue, of
honour, of uprightness.”

Eustace was silent under the cold purity of her look. This woman was
no dreamer as he had thought, but had a soul like that Roman Lucrece,
who preferred death to dishonour.

“Your creed is severe,” he said at last, with a frown on his strongly
marked features.

“My creed is right,” she replied simply.

“Yes! according to the world.”

“No! according to God.”

As a rule, Gartney was not to be daunted by any woman, but there was
something about Alizon Errington that made him afraid to talk in his
usual cynical vein. Standing a short distance away, with the child in
her arms and the golden glory of the sunshine behind her, this young
mother looked like the realisation of the Madonna. So pure, so calm,
so lovely, with the look of motherhood in her eyes that he
involuntarily turned away his head, as though he was not worthy to
profane such purity even by a glance.

“You talk above my head,” he said at length, rising to his feet,
“it is the language of an ideal world, not to be realized in
this matter-of-fact century. But if you will forgive me, Lady
Errington—-”

“Why not call me Alizon?” she said cordially. “We are cousins, you
know, and titles are so formal–Eustace.”

“It’s very kind of you to grant me such permission,” replied Gartney
frankly, taking the hand she held out to him. “Goodbye–Alizon.”

“Not goodbye, but _au revoir_.”

“May I come over again?” he asked eagerly.

“Of course. I am always glad to see you, besides Sammy loves his kind
friend who plays with him.”

“And you?”

Their eyes met, a wave of crimson passed over her face, and with an
air of displeasure, she turned away coldly, without answering his
question.

“Goodbye, Mr. Gartney.”

Seeing that his freedom had offended her, he was too wise to make any
further remark, but bowing slightly walked slowly away.

At the end of the terrace he looked back, and saw she was bending over
the sleeping child, crooning some cradle-song to soothe his slumbers.

“The castle is well defended,” he said bitterly, as he resumed his
walk. “I will never succeed in entering that heart, for the child
stands ever as sentinel.”

He mounted his horse and rode slowly down the avenue into the green
arcade of trees, through the boughs of which came golden shafts of
sunlight.

“A saint! a saint!” he cried, touching his horse with the spur. “And
yet the saint drove her husband to evil.”