you over a dinner-table, you would think ‘Does the man take me for a
The return of Eric from his walk checked the tide of Arthur’s eloquence,
and, after a few minutes’ talk on more conventional topics, we took our
leave. Lady Muriel walked with us to the gate. “You have given me much
to think about,” she said earnestly, as she gave Arthur her hand.
“I’m so glad you came in!” And her words brought a real glow of pleasure
into that pale worn face of his.
On the Tuesday, as Arthur did not seem equal to more walking, I took a
long stroll by myself, having stipulated that he was not to give the
whole day to his books, but was to meet me at the Hall at about
tea-time. On my way back, I passed the Station just as the
afternoon-train came in sight, and sauntered down the stairs to see it
come in. But there was little to gratify my idle curiosity: and, when
the train was empty, and the platform clear, I found it was about time
to be moving on, if I meant to reach the Hall by five.
As I approached the end of the platform, from which a steep irregular
wooden staircase conducted to the upper world, I noticed two passengers,
who had evidently arrived by the train, but who, oddly enough, had
entirely escaped my notice, though the arrivals had been so few.
They were a young woman and a little girl: the former, so far as one
could judge by appearances, was a nursemaid, or possibly a
nursery-governess, in attendance on the child, whose refined face,
even more than her dress, distinguished her as of a higher class than
The child’s face was refined, but it was also a worn and sad one, and
told a tale (or so I seemed to read it) of much illness and suffering,
sweetly and patiently borne. She had a little crutch to help herself
along with: and she was now standing, looking wistfully up the long
staircase, and apparently waiting till she could muster courage to
begin the toilsome ascent.
There are some things one says in life–as well as things one
does–which come automatically, by reflex action, as the physiologists
say (meaning, no doubt, action without reflection, just as lucus is
said to be derived ‘a non lucendo’). Closing one’s eyelids, when
something seems to be flying into the eye, is one of those actions,
and saying “May I carry the little girl up the stairs?” was another.
It wasn’t that any thought of offering help occurred to me, and that
then I spoke: the first intimation I had, of being likely to make that
offer, was the sound of my own voice, and the discovery that the offer
had been made. The servant paused, doubtfully glancing from her charge
to me, and then back again to the child. “Would you like it, dear?”
she asked her. But no such doubt appeared to cross the child’s mind:
she lifted her arms eagerly to be taken up. “Please!” was all she
said, while a faint smile flickered on the weary little face. I took
her up with scrupulous care, and her little arm was at once clasped
trustfully round my neck.
[Image…The lame child]
She was a very light weight–so light, in fact, that the ridiculous
idea crossed my mind that it was rather easier going up, with her in
my arms, than it would have been without her: and, when we reached the
road above, with its cart-ruts and loose stones–all formidable obstacles
for a lame child–I found that I had said “I’d better carry her over
this rough place,” before I had formed any mental connection between
its roughness and my gentle little burden. “Indeed it’s troubling you
too much, Sir!” the maid exclaimed. “She can walk very well on the flat.”
But the arm, that was twined about my neck, clung just an atom more
closely at the suggestion, and decided me to say “She’s no weight,
really. I’ll carry her a little further. I’m going your way.”
The nurse raised no further objection: and the next speaker was a