Read CHAPTER XXXVI - "I HAVE BEEN A COWARD" of Herb of Grace, free online book, by Rosa Nouchette Carey, on ReadCentral.com.

Father! we need Thy winter as Thy spring;
We need Thy earthquakes as Thy summer showers;
But through them all Thy strong arms carry us,
Thy strong heart bearing large share in our grief. 
Because Thou lovest goodness more than joy
In them Thou lovest, Thou dost let them grieve. 

                                                               George MacDonald.

And so it was settled Elizabeth had her way; and after a little they talked quietly of their future plans.  The flitting was to be accomplished as soon as possible.  The house would be ready for them in another week.  Dinah would go down first to make arrangements, and Cedric would accompany her, and stay at Ventnor until it was time for him to return to Oxford.  The change of scene would be good for him, and in many ways he would be useful to Dinah.  Elizabeth also told David that his father had promised to travel down with them; that he intended to find a locum tenens for Stokeley, and that he would probably remain with them for a month or six weeks; and this last item of information seemed to afford David much satisfaction.  But the next moment he observed, in rather a worried tone, that it would be a great expense, and that he was afraid Theo would object.

“Theo will have to mind her own business,” returned Elizabeth severely.  “Your father means to tell her that you are his first duty, and of course he is right.”  But Elizabeth carefully forbore to tell David that she had already undertaken to pay the expenses of the locum tenens for three months, and by dint of sheer obstinacy and feminine persuasions she had at last induced Mr. Carlyon to accept her bounty.

“My poverty and not my will consents,” he observed sadly.  But Elizabeth would not listen to this.

“Dear Mr. Carlyon,” she had said earnestly, “if you only knew the pleasure this will give me.  Can you not understand that I only cared for my money because it would be his, and now what good will it be to me?  Let me use it for him as long as I can.  Let me do all in my power for him and you too as though as though I were already your daughter.”  And then, as she wiped away a few quiet tears, Mr. Carlyon had yielded.

David strove with his wonted unselfishness to interest himself in Elizabeth’s plans for his comfort.  He heard how the inner drawing-room at Red Brae was to be converted into a bedroom, that he might be able, without fatigue, to take possession of the drawing-room couch by the pleasant window, with its view of the sea; and how a smaller room on the same floor was to be prepared for his father.  But by and bye, in spite of his efforts, his attention flagged, and he looked so exhausted that Elizabeth refused to say another word.

“I shall give you your luncheon, and then read you to sleep,” she said, in what David called “her Mother Gamp tone;” but he was too worn out to resist, and though forgetfulness was not to be obtained, it was certainly a comfort to lie with closed eyes and listen to Elizabeth’s dear voice, till the twilight compelled her to close the book, and then she sat by him in silence until he asked her to light the lamp.

Tea was ready before Mr. Carlyon returned.  As he opened the door he gave a quick, anxious glance at Elizabeth.

“Come in, dad, it is all right,” observed David in a weak voice, but he spoke with his old cheeriness.  “Wilful man, and wilful woman too, must have their way, and I have given in like a good boy.”

“That’s a dear lad,” returned his father, rubbing his cold hands gleefully together.  “I knew you would make him hear reason, Elizabeth.  She is worth the rest of us put together, is she not, Davie?”

“Mr. Carlyon,” interrupted Elizabeth, “David is tired and must not talk any more, and some one else is tired too.”  And then she drew up an easy-chair by the fire and gave Mr. Carlyon his tea, and talked to him softly about Mr. Charrington and Kit, until it was time for her to go; but even then she refused to bid him good-bye.  “I shall be at the station,” she whispered, as he kissed her forehead; “we can say things to each other then,” and he understood her and nodded.

But later on, as Mr. Carlyon sat beside his son’s bed-side, with the worn little book of devotions out of which he had been reading to him still open in his hands, he was struck with the strained, troubled look in David’s eyes.

“What is it, my dear?” he said wistfully, for the curate-in-charge of Stokeley had homely little ways and tricks of speech that endeared him still more to those who loved him, and Elizabeth would often praise the simplicity and unobtrusive goodness that reminded her of David.

“There is something on your mind,” he continued tenderly; “make a clean breast of it, my boy.  You and I understand each other don’t we, Davie?” and Mr. Carlyon gently patted his son’s hand, as though he were still a little child.  “Out with it, lad you are not quite happy about Ventnor?”

“Father, how could you guess that?” returned David in a deprecating voice.  “If you knew how I hate myself for being so cowardly and ungrateful.  Promise me promise me, dad, that you will never let Elizabeth know how badly I feel about it; it would make her so unhappy.”

“So it would, poor girl so it would,” rejoined Mr. Carlyon, for in his eyes Elizabeth was still a girl, and the very dearest of daughters to him.

“She and Dinah have planned it all for me,” continued David.  “I know what a sacrifice it is to Dinah, for she does so dislike leaving home; but she is doing it for Elizabeth’s sake.”

“You are doing it for Elizabeth’s sake too, are you not, David?” asked his father quietly.  Then the harassed face brightened at once.

“Let me tell you all about it, dad,” he returned eagerly “it will be such a comfort; you have often been my father-confessor before.  If you knew how my heart sank when Elizabeth begged me to go to Ventnor, and yet how was I to refuse her when she said, with tears in her eyes, that my consenting to the plan would probably give her a few more weeks of happiness.  You know how she meant it?”

“Oh yes, I know, David,” in the same quiet tone.

“Of course, I could not refuse.  I dared not be guilty of such selfishness, for after all, what does a little more pain matter?” and here David drew a heavy sigh of intense weariness.  “But I was so tired, and then I knew that the battle would have to be fought all over again.”

“I am not sure that I understand you, dear lad.”

“No, because I am not making things clear; but I will try to do so, and then you must help me.  I have been a coward, father that’s the truth and have rebelled against my hard fate God’s will was not my will, and I wanted to live and marry Elizabeth.”

“Ay, David boy, I know.”

“Yes, you know,” with a sad, yearning look at the gray head bent now upon the trembling hands.  “You know that was how my mother felt when she went so far away from us to die she only consented to go because she wanted to live.”

“And it broke her heart to leave us,” returned his father huskily.  “Dear heart, how she prayed that we might be spared that parting; but the Divine Will ordered otherwise.”

“I have prayed too,” murmured David, “and then, thank God! the strength and help I needed so sorely came.  I have felt so peaceful lately, and now the struggle will begin again.”

“Oh no, surely not, David.”

“Yes, father, it must.  I shall get better for a time, and I shall have the sunshine, and Elizabeth’s dear love, and life will grow too precious to me again, and I shall dishonour my Master, and put Him to shame, by wanting to lay down my cross.”

“No, David, I am not afraid of that,” returned his father gravely.  “My own boy, this is only one of the dark hours, when the evil one tempts you in your weakness; need I remind you of what you have so often preached to others, that as thy day thy strength will be, and that help never comes beforehand?”

“True, but I seem to forget everything.”  Then a warm, comforting hand was laid tenderly upon David’s forehead.

“I shall remind you.  We shall not be parted yet, my son, and God will help me to say the right words to you.  Ah, David,” in a reverent tone, “many lives have their Gethsemanes, but only one ever drank the bitter cup of sorrow to the dregs without a murmur, and only one had an angel to comfort Him.  He will not be hard on us because our human will shrinks from some hard cross of pain, for ‘He knoweth our frame,’ and in our weakness and extremity He will be our staff and our stay.”  And in trembling tones he blessed his boy, and sat beside him in voiceless prayer and the deep, inward supplication of exceeding love, nor did he leave him until David had sunk into an exhausted sleep.

David was very feverish and unwell the next day, and Mr. Carlyon could not leave him; but after a few hours he grew better again, and as the days went on he seemed to recover his old cheerfulness.

One afternoon, as Elizabeth was sitting with him as usual for she always spent her afternoons at the White Cottage he surprised her by asking if Malcolm Herrick never came to the Wood House now.

“How strange that you should ask that question,” returned Elizabeth, colouring slightly at the mention of Malcolm’s name, “for he is coming down this very evening, and Cedric is driving to Earlsfield to meet him.  Dinah asked him to come,” she went on; “she wanted to talk to him about Cedric.”

“Herrick is Dinah’s right-hand man of business she quite swears by him,” replied David, smoothing tenderly a ruffled lock of brown hair that the wind had disordered.  “I suppose he will remain the night?”

“Oh yes, of course.  Dinah has got a room ready for him; she told him that she should not allow him to go to the ‘King’s Arms.’”

“It was right for her to put her foot down,” returned David approvingly.  “Why on earth need he scruple to accept your hospitality!  Somehow I always liked Herrick, though I am not so sure that he returned the compliment; perhaps under the circumstances one could hardly expect it.”

Elizabeth’s face grew hot the subject was a painful one to her.  “Never mind about Mr. Herrick, dear,” she said hurriedly; “Dinah and he are great friends.”

“You need not tell me that,” in rather a meaning tone; “Dinah has excellent taste.  Dearest,” his voice changing to seriousness, “I want you to give Herrick a message from me.  Tell him I should like to shake hands with him when he goes to the vicarage.”

“Do you really want me to say this to him?” and there was little doubt from Elizabeth’s face that she was reluctant to give the message.  But David meant to have his way.

“Yes, tell him,” he repeated.  “He and Cedric are sure to walk over in the morning the vicar and Herrick are such cronies; and why should he pass my door?” And this seemed so plausible that Elizabeth said no more; but as she walked home she wondered more than once over this strange fancy on David’s part.  There had been so little intercourse between the two young men a secret sense of antagonism on Malcolm Herrick’s part had been an obstacle to David’s proffered friendliness.  It was true that Mr. Herrick must pass the White Cottage on his way to the vicarage, and even without the message his good feeling would probably have induced him to stop and inquire after the invalid, but she felt David’s request would surprise him.  Nevertheless, she must do his will and give the message.

Elizabeth was later than usual that evening, and she found that Malcolm had just arrived, and was talking to Dinah in the drawing-room.  He was standing before the fire warming himself after his cold drive, and as Elizabeth entered he broke off in the middle of a sentence and silently shook hands with her.  Elizabeth felt at once conscious that his manner was even more constrained and guarded than usual, and this made her nervous, and for the moment she could find nothing to say.  It was a relief to them both when Dinah observed in her quiet, matter-of-fact way

“Mr. Herrick is so kind and obliging, Betty; he has promised not to leave us until quite late to-morrow afternoon that will give us plenty of time for a nice talk.  You see, Cedric will be with us this evening, and we may find it difficult to get rid of him, and there is so much that I want to say.”

“I think I can take him off your hands,” replied Elizabeth; and then she turned to Malcolm, though he noticed that she avoided looking at him, and there was a curious abruptness in her manner that almost amounted to awkwardness.

“Mr. Carlyon has sent you a message, Mr. Herrick.  He thinks you will be sure to call at the vicarage, and he would like you to look in at the White Cottage as you pass.  He says that he would be pleased to shake hands with you.”

There was no doubt that Malcolm was surprised.  He unconsciously stiffened.

“He is very kind,” he said rather formally; “but of course I meant to call, or at least leave my card I had just told your sister so.”

“Perhaps you had better call at the vicarage first,” returned Elizabeth hurriedly.  “Mr. Carlyon is rarely out of his room before mid-day, and all hours are alike to Mr. Charrington.”  And when Malcolm had gravely agreed to do this, Elizabeth went upstairs to prepare for dinner, and did not appear again until the gong sounded.

She did not forget her promise, however, of taking Cedric off Dinah’s hands, and as soon as they had finished their coffee she challenged him to a game of chess in the inner drawing-room, where on cold nights a second fire generally burned.

The rooms were so large that unless Dinah and Malcolm raised their voices it was impossible to hear their conversation, and as Cedric had his back to them he had no idea that they were talking more confidentially than usual; but from Malcolm’s position Elizabeth’s face stood out in full relief, and in spite of all his efforts his attention often wandered.

Even in those few short weeks since they had last met he could see a change in her.  She had grown thinner and paler, and there was a deepened sadness in her eyes; and yet in his opinion she had never looked more lovely, though it was more the inward than outward loveliness that he meant.

He noticed how mechanically she played, and how the game failed to interest her.  When Cedric checkmated her twice, she only rose with an air of relief, as though she had finished a wearisome task, and came towards them.

“I am cold,” she said simply, as Dinah made room for her; “we nearly let the fire out between us.”  But as she sat in her snug corner warming her hands, she did not attempt to join in the conversation.  Indeed, her manner was so absent that Malcolm felt convinced that she heard little of what they said, and he was not surprised that Dinah noticed it at last.

“You are tired, Betty dear,” she said kindly; “I am quite sure that Mr. Herrick will excuse you;” and Elizabeth availed herself at once of this permission to withdraw.

“She is not at her ease,” Malcolm thought bitterly.  “She seems afraid of me somehow; she will not meet my eyes, and she has scarcely spoken a dozen words to me.”  And he sighed, for it seemed the saddest thing to him that she should suffer, and that he should be powerless to help her; and in his fanciful way he said to himself, “We are like two travellers walking along stony paths with a high wall between us, so that no helping hand can be stretched out, and no voices of comfort can be heard.”  And then he added, “I dare not even tell her that I am sorry for her, and for him too.”

Malcolm was alone when he paid his visit to the White Cottage.  There was no doubt that the change in David Carlyon shocked him greatly, though he strove to hide this from the invalid.

David welcomed him with his old cordiality; but Malcolm, who was exceedingly nervous, could only stammer out a few commonplaces.

The bright, eager young face that Elizabeth so loved was shrunken and wasted, the lips seemed drawn from the teeth, and yet at times the old cheery smile played round them; but the voice was weak and toneless, and every now and then the hard, dry cough seemed to rack him cruelly.

“If you knew how sorry I am to see you like this,” observed Malcolm kindly.

“Well, I am rather a poor specimen just now,” returned David with a feeble laugh; “but what can’t be cured must be endured eh, Herrick?  I told Elizabeth” (here a shade came over Malcolm’s face) “that I should like to shake hands with you.  When a fellow is going a long journey” and here David’s hollow eyes grew a little sad and wistful “it seems natural to bid one’s friends good-bye.  We did not know each other much, Herrick, but I always wanted to see more of you.”

“You are very good to say so” but if his life had depended on it Malcolm could not have brought himself to say more at that moment.  He wished himself a hundred miles away.

A quaint, sweet smile flitted across David’s face; he could read Malcolm’s thoughts.

“You have been such a good fellow, Herrick, and have done so much for them all.  That was a bad business with Cedric, but at his age he will get over it you and I know that.”

“We do indeed,” returned Malcolm gravely.

“Dinah comes and talks to me sometimes,” went on David.  “She says that if you had been their own brother you could not have done more; she is so grateful to you, Herrick.”  Perhaps he would have said more, but Malcolm checked him.

“Never mind that, Carlyon; it was a great pleasure to me to do it.  Now let us talk of something more interesting.”  And then for a short time they talked of Oxford and the boat-race; and then of Ventnor, which Malcolm knew well he had even spent an evening at Red Brae when the Godfreys were staying there.  “The house is charming,” he said quite enthusiastically; “I know the rooms you will have, Carlyon, and they are delightful.”

David did not respond, and he was evidently getting tired, so Malcolm rose to take his leave.

“I wish I wish I could do something for you too,” he said with such sincerity that David was quite touched.

“I have had my good things,” he returned in a low voice, “and now I must dree my weird.  Don’t worry, Herrick things generally come right in the long run, but we must not try to act Providence too much.  Good-bye God bless you.”  The thin hand wrung Malcolm’s with surprising force; but Malcolm’s eyes were a little misty as he went out of the room, for he knew he knew too well that in this life he should never see David Carlyon’s face again!