Excerpt for The Secret of Ashton Manor House by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

About the Book

It was a wild, cold night. The wind caught up the dry dead leaves and whirled them round the walls of the house, and along the deserted garden walks. Within the pleasant, comfortable, old-fashioned Manor House the lights had been extinguished by the sleepy servants an hour ago, all save the tall wax candles on the dining room table. Standing near that blazing fire was a woman, small, thin, and wrinkled-faced. Her sharp, loud voice was giving utterance to vindictive, scornful words, as her wrathful glance fell upon a young girl sitting with bowed head on the other side of the hearth.

As the torrent of angry words flowed faster and faster, so the girl's head drooped lower and lower, until the hard eyes watching her could no longer witness the effect produced by those harsh, cruel speeches.

Thus begins the story of Marjorie Mowbray, Miss Maria Macnab, and Mr. Absalom Marsh, "soap and candle-maker to the Queen," editor of a paper called Cleanliness, and "the greatest and most religious man in the town of Market Hawley."

The Secret of

Ashton Manor House


Eliza Kerr

White Tree Publishing

Abridged Edition

Original book first published c1884

This abridged edition ©Chris Wright 2018

e-Book ISBN: 978-1-912529-11-7

Published by

White Tree Publishing



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The Secret of Ashton Manor House is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this abridged edition.

Table of Contents


About the Book



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

About White Tree Publishing

More Books from White Tree Publishing

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Younger Readers


There were many prolific Christian writers in the last part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth. The majority of these books were fairly heavy-handed moral tales and warnings to young people, rather than romances. Two writers spring to mind who wrote romantic fiction for adults -- Mrs. O. F. Walton and Margaret S. Haycraft, whose works are still popular today. Our White Tree Publishing editions from these authors have been sensitively abridged and edited to make them much more acceptable to today's general readers, rather than publishing them unedited for students of Victorian prose. The characters and storyline are always left intact.

Eliza Kerr is less well known than Mrs. Walton and Margaret Haycraft, but she wrote similar books, but with perhaps less emphasis on romance, but in a similar style to the books of Walton and Haycraft, and we welcome Eliza Kerr to our catalogue. We will be publishing more books from this author in 2018. The titles and release dates will be announced on our website.

Victorian and early twentieth century books by Christian and secular writers can be over-sentimental, referring throughout, for example, to a mother as the dear, sweet mother, and a child as the darling little child. In our abridged editions overindulgent descriptions of people have been shortened to make a more robust story, but the characters and storylines are always unchanged.

A problem of Victorian writers is the tendency to insert intrusive comments concerning what is going to happen later in the story. Today we call them spoilers. They are usually along the lines of: "Little did he/she know that...." I have removed these when appropriate.

£200 in the late 1800s may not sound much, but in income value it is worth about £24,000 pounds today (about US $30,000). I mention this in case the mention of money in this book sounds insignificant!

Chris Wright



There are 15 chapters in this book. In the second half are advertisements for our other books, so the story may end earlier than expected! The last chapter is marked as such. We aim to make our eBooks free or for a nominal cost, and cannot invest in other forms of advertising. However, word of mouth by satisfied readers will also help get our books more widely known. When the story ends, please take a look at what we publish: Christian non-fiction, Christian fiction, and books for younger readers, and go to our website

Chapter 1

One Night

The Past

It was a wild, cold night. The wind caught up the dry dead leaves and whirled them round the walls of the house, and along the deserted garden walks. Within the pleasant, comfortable, old-fashioned Manor House the lights had been extinguished by the sleepy servants an hour ago, all save the tall wax candles on the dining room table. Standing near that blazing fire was a woman, small, thin, and wrinkled-faced. Her sharp, loud voice was giving utterance to vindictive, scornful words, as her wrathful glance fell upon a young girl sitting with bowed head on the other side of the hearth.

As the torrent of angry words flowed faster and faster, so the girl's head drooped lower and lower, until the hard eyes watching her could no longer witness the effect produced by those harsh, cruel speeches.

By-and-by the girl rose up and left the room, never looking back once, nor halting when she was bidden to return. She ascended the wide, thickly carpeted steps that led to the sleeping rooms above, and entered one of them, where a child three years old slumbered peacefully in a small white cot. She stooped down and kissed the little one softly, hesitated a moment, then raised her up and dressed her in warm garments. Then she gathered up various articles of clothing and crushed them into a bag.

Finally, she wrapped herself in a long fur cloak and taking the child on one arm and the bag on the other, slowly descended the stairs. She met no one on the way, for the servants were all sleeping soundly, according to the manner of those who engage in physical labour, and the woman whose sharp, loud voice had filled the dining room an hour previously, heard no footstep through the silent house: had no presentiment of coming ill as she sat by the dying fire.

The rain was beginning to fall now, slowly and steadily. The woman in the dining room of the Manor House drew back the curtains for one moment, and looked out on the dreary dark night, and shivered as she looked; while the tall fir trees swayed their branches like arms waving valedictory salutations.

Three miles away upon the dark road, the slight figure with the child sat down by the wayside to rest. She was not weeping, neither was she weary; but over her aspect there was a something desolate which might have spoken to the heart of a passer-by, had human eyes been there to see her young forlornness. But no sound of step broke the stillness of the night. The road unrolled itself dimly before her view, empty of all things except the narrow shadow of the hedge, which stretched out gloomily -- a long strip of darkness through which her way ran.

Chapter 2

Miss Macnab

The Present

IN the main street of Market Hawley, in a little two-storied house, dwelt Miss Macnab, a moderately well-to-do spinster past middle age. She called herself an "old maid," and she had a beautiful black Persian cat and a large black Newfoundland dog as companions. She was such a cheerful, active, good-hearted little woman, that many of the townsfolk loved her well, although she could scold vigorously and say severe, cutting things whenever she detected meanness, or dishonesty, or backbiting among her neighbours.

She had built the house in which she dwelt. It was two stories lower than any other in the street, and was as unlike those pretentious mansions as the saucy little daisy is unlike the proud, conceited hollyhock. The great man of the town, Absalom Marsh, "soap and candle-maker to the Queen," declared it spoiled the symmetry of the main street, for all the houses were four stories high except this one, and as he lived in the main street he wished Miss Macnab to "improve her abode" by adding the necessary two stories. She declined to do so, giving as a reason for her refusal that she saw no particular beauty in a row of houses like peas in a pod. So the pretty, assertive, snug little house remained two stories high only, and it was said in Market Hawley that house and mistress were much alike in many respects.

On a certain cold November evening, Miss Macnab sat in her comfortable parlour awaiting a visitor. On the table a bounteous meal was spread, and in the grate a bright fire was burning, which was duly appreciated by Lion, the Newfoundland dog, and by Tiger, the dignified Persian cat. Presently the parlour door was opened and the maid announced Miss Mowbray, the expected visitor. Miss Macnab jumped up with alacrity and held out her hand with a welcoming smile to the tall young woman who entered.

"I am very glad to see you, Miss Marjorie, my dear," she said, in her rapid, energetic fashion. "I have been waiting for you, and so have Lion and Tiger." She introduced her pets with a wave of her hand.

"I am sorry I have delayed your tea," answered the newcomer, in a low, soft voice, as she smilingly glanced at Lion who had risen to his feet to inspect her more carefully.

"Oh well, you haven't injured us very seriously. That will do, Lion. You need not be too curious, for this young lady and I are going to be friends, so you will have many opportunities of seeing her."

Lion walked back to his seat by the fire, and his mistress drew Marjorie Mowbray to the table.

"I am glad you intend to be my friend, Miss Macnab. I did not expect to meet with such a luxury in Market Hawley."

"And why not, my dear? You are not of a melancholy disposition, I trust. Ah, I see you are tired. Mrs. Newton's noisy youngsters were too much for you this afternoon."

"Perhaps I am somewhat tired, but I ought to be accustomed to teaching now. I have done it for so many years. I don't think I am naturally inclined to melancholy," she added with a smile, "but I believe a true friend to be a luxury."

"Well, a true friend is a nice thing to have, and it is not always to be got. So in that sense it is a luxury. Not that I am a nice thing to have by any means. I am sharp and prickly, and very strong in my dislikes. And I am also ... an old maid. There, are you disgusted and repelled? You see the cat and the dog, the typical old maid's companions, and you see me, the aforesaid old maid. Are you inclined to have us all three for your friends? I liked you when I saw you in Chapel on Sunday, and I knew you had no acquaintances in the town; for Mrs. Newton told me you had come here in answer to her and Mrs. West's advertisement for a visiting governess."

"I shall be heartily glad to have you for my friends," was the earnest, sincere reply.

Marjorie Mowbray was fair to look upon in a serene, graceful way, and her dark hair and dark eyes were beautiful; but notwithstanding the bright smile that came and went, her face was sometimes a very sad one. Miss Macnab looked at her keenly once or twice, and then she asked abruptly, "Are you all alone in the world, my dear?"

"I have one sister, Nettie, much younger than myself. We two are alone in the world. Nettie is studying in London to be a painter. She has great talent, and her masters tell her that she will one day be famous; but in the meantime she must work hard. She is only seventeen. I have been mother and father to her since her babyhood, so the more money I can earn, the happier we both are."

"Then she does not teach?"

"Oh no, she requires all her time for her work. She lodges in South Kensington, London, and attends classes there. When I saw the advertisement in The Standard for a visiting governess for two families in this country town, I determined I would try and obtain it. The salary offered was so much more than I was receiving in London, and I thought I could live more cheaply in a country town. That is why I left London, and why I am alone. Of course Nettie will come and see me during her vacations."

"I understand," said Miss Macnab, nodding her head quickly, "but I can't quite understand why Miss Nettie should not earn something also. She is not a child."

"No, she is not a child, but it is my duty to support her. I owe it to her, and she shall never work for her living until she has painted her great picture. Then she will be so rich that she can support us both, I suppose."

The elder woman did not pursue the subject further, for she saw that it disquieted her visitor.

"Well then, the best thing I can do for you at present, in my capacity of friend, is to obtain more teaching for you in the town. I daresay my friendly enemy, Absalom Marsh, could assist me."

"Thank you," said Marjorie, with a quick, grateful smile. "I think I shall do very well if I have no more than my two tuitions. May I ask who Absalom Marsh is?"

"Certainly. Mr. Absalom Marsh is 'soap and candle-maker to the Queen,' editor of a paper called Cleanliness, and the greatest and most religious man in the town. What are you smiling at, my dear? I assure you I state facts. He certainly is the richest man in Market Hawley, and he says he is the most religious -- after our minister."

"What a strange thing for a man to assert," said Marjorie, in some wonder and amusement.

"I can, perhaps, tell you why he considers himself such a religious man. He edits a paper all about soap, that great cleanser of dirt. He thinks about soap continually and tries to improve the quality of that which he makes and sells. He affirms that it is stated in the Bible that cleanliness is next to godliness. Therefore, as he is the great exponent of Cleanliness, and Mr. Welsh, the minister, the great exponent of godliness, he is the most religious man in the town -- after the minister."

"But I don't believe that statement is anywhere in the Bible."

"No, my dear, and many others are sure it is not there; but that doesn't trouble Mr. Absalom Marsh in the least. He says it must have been there, but modern translators took it out. To do him justice, he is a kind-hearted man and a good one too; but he is somewhat strange, and he is dogmatic. He has a nice wife, and a conceited, ignorant daughter. Ah, that latter sounds uncharitable, doesn't it? Why, here comes the great man himself. I know his knock well. It is great and important, like himself."

"Mr. Marsh, ma'am," announced the maid,

Chapter 3


GOOD evening, Miss Macnab. I would not intrude upon this domestic scene, so to speak, but I was told by your next-door neighbour that her lodger, Miss Mowbray, was taking tea with you. And as I wanted particularly to see that young lady I thought I would call on you, even at such an unseasonable time."

"Pray, don't apologise, Mr. Marsh. Allow me to introduce you to Miss Mowbray."

After the introduction had been duly performed, Mr. Absalom Marsh seated himself on a chair close to Marjorie, and looked at her gravely. "I am a business man, Miss Mowbray, so to speak; and I always come to the point at once. No beating about the bush for me. I offend people sometimes by my abrupt speech, and by my articles in Cleanliness; but I survive all that. In fact, I may say I am above the wagging of petty tongues. You haven't seen my paper called Cleanliness?"

Marjorie Mowbray shook her head.

"No, of course not. You are only a newcomer yet. But you will see it, and hear of it too. I am soap-maker to the Queen, and I never forget the important part soap plays in this world of ours. Indeed, it is the chief object of my life to impress other people with the importance of soap. But for it where would we be today? Look at the difference between the French and English nations. There you have an illustration -- a sad one too -- of that which I endeavour to teach weekly in the pages of Cleanliness. The French people are shifting, unstable in politics, undignified in their Houses of Parliament. Why, in this enlightened nineteenth century they would think nothing of having a free fight in their debating chambers when differences of opinion arise.

"France scarcely recognizes soap as an article of merchandise. If English people go to Paris hotels, they take their soap with them, which in itself is a significant fact. Now, if a man has used his bath and his soap freely in the morning, he has a sense of well-being. He need not shrink from his neighbour's eyes, for is he not clean, and shining, and goodly to behold? Thus he grows dignified and calm, and will not think of knocking down his political opponent. Then, again, if the people use soap freely on their persons and on their dwellings, they cannot fear an epidemic, for Cleanliness is a foe to all diseases of that nature."

"But, Mr. Marsh," interrupted Miss Macnab, "though the French people may be undignified, surely they are brave?"

"Words, mere words," said the manufacturer, contemptuously. "One good Englishman could beat three Frenchmen, for all their bombast. And why, again I ask, is there such a difference between the nations? Englishmen recognize soap. Englishwomen use soap for all household purposes. Yes, even the silver, and the brass candlestick that holds the taper which illumines our path to our downy couches, are brightened up by the aid of that soap which is found to exceed in excellence any plate powder ever invented. Ah, my dear Miss Mowbray, Cleanliness is next to godliness. Godliness comes first, of course, and then, next to it, is Cleanliness. Let a man be godly first of all, and then clean, and he need fear no foe."

"You said you had a special object in visiting me this evening," said Miss Macnab quickly, when Mr. Absalom Marsh paused for a moment in his speech to take a copy of Cleanliness from his pocket.

"Yes, yes, I am coming to that. I always go directly to the point, as you know. Now, here is a number of Cleanliness, Miss Mowbray. You will see by it more clearly what I am trying to do for Market Hawley, and what I have done for it. At the other end of the town I built a schoolhouse eight years ago, for the education of the children of my workers, and for any children of the townsfolk who might wish to attend. I charge a nominal fee quarterly. I had a very good teacher until a month ago, when I sent her away. Mark me, she was not incompetent. We had no misunderstanding, and I found her another situation where the salary was even better than she received from me. Then, why did I dismiss her, you naturally ask?"

He paused, and noticing some interest in his listeners, he continued. "It was because I am determined that my school shall have a teacher who is a graduate of London University. I visited London recently, and I was gratified by all I saw and heard there. I resolved that Market Hawley should not be behindhand in cultivation. I resolved that the young generation should have an opportunity of making their mark in the world. I said that Euclid, and Algebra, and Political Economy, and such deep subjects should be made familiar to them in their youth. They had only been taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. But now we must plunge into the depths, so to speak, and bring up those deeper subjects with which a London University woman would be acquainted.

"You have come from London, Miss Mowbray. You have been for years teaching in London. Of course you are a London University graduate, theref

ore you are the very person I am seeking. Will you accept the post? I am in a hurry to reopen the school, for there has been a month's unavoidable holiday. I will give you a large salary and as the hours are from nine to one you will be able to make some arrangement with Mrs. Newton and Mrs. West so as to retain their work also. Indeed, I have already spoken to them on the subject, and they are anxious to oblige me, and to keep you also."

Marjorie shook her head. She had never said she was a graduate of London University. She had taught for many years in London, and had very good letters of recommendation in which there was mention made of excellent French and German, of wonderful proficiency in music, vocal and instrumental, but not one word of a London University degree. Mr. Absalom Marsh had taken it for granted that she had a degree because she taught in London. It was his fixed opinion that all young women graduated in London, so he spoke of her to Mrs. Newton as a graduate. and that good mother had little idea of the meaning of the term, for she was even more ignorant concerning the subject than the soap manufacturer himself. She did not contradict him; she thought Marjorie must have made known her attainments to him, so decidedly did he speak.

And thus it happened that the townsfolk had decided that Miss Mowbray was a graduate of London University, before Marjorie heard a word of the matter. Naturally, she was rather startled and amazed at Mr. Absalom Marsh's offer.

"Now then, Miss Mowbray, what do you say? If the salary is not large enough, I will increase, aye, double it even, in order to obtain your services. I know one must pay a high price for a good article; eh, Miss Macnab?"

"Yes, indeed," returned that little woman, wondering much at Marjorie's hesitation. Why, this was the very thing for her. Here would be an increase to her salary which would make her almost rich. She might retain one private tuition and the school, and then she would not be overworked, and yet have a large income. Had she forgotten her sister, that she hesitated so?

"May I give my decisive answer tomorrow, instead of tonight?" asked Marjorie, clasping her hands tightly together, a look of uncertainty and pain on her face.

"Yes, of course, Miss Mowbray. I am sure you will make no unnecessary delay, for the children have had already too long a holiday. Now I will say goodnight. Mark me, I do not take offence at your asking time for deliberation. It is businesslike, and a manner I have myself."

Then Mr. Absalom Marsh took his departure, well pleased, on the whole, with his visit.

"Now then, let us make ourselves comfortable, Marjorie, my dear. I may call you Marjorie, may I not? I am old enough to be your mother."

"Indeed, I shall be less lonely if you will omit the 'Miss.' But I am not a young girl. When a woman reaches thirty she is no longer a girl."

"Perhaps you are not a girl, but you are young compared with me. Tiger, I think you might let Lion have more of the fire. You have been sitting there all the evening while he has given way to me."

The cat rose up, and walked quietly over to Marjorie, and sat down close beside her, looking up at her in a lazy, sleepy fashion.

"Ah, Tiger has extended his friendship to you, I perceive," said Miss Macnab, as she watched the movements of her pet. "You may find him useful sometime. He is so intelligent. I have sent him many a message, and he always does his work properly. All the ordinary cats and dogs of the neighbourhood are afraid of him, and there is not another Persian in the town. He is very fierce when he is roused, and he is inclined to be quarrelsome. I suppose he takes after his mistress in the latter failing."

There was silence for a while -- Miss Macnab busy with her knitting needles, and Marjorie thinking how happy was the life of this old woman.

"On what are you meditating so deeply, my dear Marjorie?"

"I believe I was almost envying you your happiness."

"What? Do you forget that I am a solitary old maid?"

"You certainly are not solitary, and I never did think that marriage ought to be the chief aim of a woman's life. What married woman could be happier than you?"

"Well, well, that's as it may be. Of course, I am happy and contented, but I don't specially recommend a state of single blessedness to women. Well, now you have some idea of our little town after Mr. Absalom Marsh's visit. It is a lively place with one thing and another, and it has its mystery also, like all well-regulated country towns. About a mile and a half distant, in the country, is a house called Manor House. It is surrounded by grounds and gardens, and with a large farm belonging to it. The owner of it and of the farm was a certain John Ashton, who had a wife and daughter. The wife died leaving a baby a week old, and John Ashton married his housekeeper six months afterwards. He died six months after his second marriage, leaving two children to the care of the stepmother. The eldest was a girl about fifteen or sixteen, the younger almost a baby still. Then trouble arose between the stepmother and the girl. I don't believe anyone knows the right story, but it seems to have been a sort of mutual jealousy, for John Ashton left everything to his second wife. Well, I have always taken the girl's part, although it all happened before I settled in Market Hawley, and I knew neither the woman nor the girl."

Miss Macnab paused for a moment in thought. "It must have been hard to see her own mother's servant occupying her mother's place, and ruling all the household. At any rate, however it was, the girl and the child disappeared one night from the Manor House, and were never seen afterwards. Mrs. Ashton seems to have been filled with remorse or fear then, for she has been seeking her stepchildren ever since that night. She does not live in the Manor House, but she returns to it at rare intervals. An old woman and her husband mind the house, and the farm is let now to a nice young fellow who comes to visit me sometimes. They say the stepmother is an old woman, very wrinkled, and very white-haired. Mr. Absalom Marsh has seen her, but she never remains longer than a day or two in the Manor House. Is it not a strange story? Imagine that old woman wandering up and down the earth in search of the children she had wronged in some way! Very likely they are both dead, and she will never find them. Surely her untiring energy, backed by her money, would have been successful long ago, if they were alive."

"It is, indeed, a strange story," said Marjorie, as she rose to go to her home. "And it all happened years ago, you say?"

"Yes, more than fifteen years ago."

"That is a long time, a very long time. The stepmother has surely suffered greatly for her wrongdoing, whatever it was, if it be true she is searching for the children."

"Yes, she is still suffering for it. Well, goodnight, Marjorie dear. Sleep soundly, and make up your mind to accept Mr. Absalom Marsh's offer."

Chapter 4

Marjorie's Temptation

WHEN Marjorie reached her lodgings she went directly to her bedroom, and locking the door sat down to think. In all the emergencies of her life, she had always made her own decision. She had never had anyone to appeal to since the birth of her only sister, so many years her junior. It was no new thing for her to meditate thus deeply about that which concerned the welfare of her sister. But tonight she seemed to be unable to come to any decision.

Here was a most advantageous offer. She had not received such a one in all her hardworking life. It meant comfort, good masters, and perhaps even the realization of her dreams for her sister. And it meant light labour and comfort for herself. Why, then, did she hesitate? Evidently Miss Macnab, her new friend, was astonished at such hesitation, and no wonder.

How delighted Nettie would be when she heard of their increased income! She needed to count her shillings so carefully, yes, and her pennies also, and now there would be no necessity for such extreme care. And Nettie could come and spend her holidays in Market Hawley, and get some pretty sketches from the surrounding countryside. Perhaps the Manor House itself might tempt her pencil: it was quaint enough. Yes, and they might even take a trip to the seaside during the very hot weather.

"If any man serve Me, let him follow Me." Whose voice was that? There was no one in the room but herself. Why should those words sound so distinctly through the quiet chamber? What had they to do with the subject? Nothing at all, of course. She was a follower of Christ, certainly -- at least she had been trying to follow Him for more than ten years past; but that had nothing to do with the acceptance or refusal of Mr. Absalom Marsh's offer. How could it have anything to do with it?

Yes, she would accept the post of teacher for this school. She would give up her commitment with Mrs. West, perhaps, and retain Mrs. Newton's children. Then she would not be so hard-worked, and she would have time to read a little more, and improve herself, for it was so easy to forget, even when one has been well educated. Of course she would not refuse to teach Mrs. West's children if their mother considered the refusal a breach of contract. The business must be settled amicably, if possible.

"And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth .... or maketh a lie."

Again that voice, sounding clearly, urgently, through the night stillness. What was the meaning of it? Was some person really speaking, or did she imagine it? Was she so familiar with the words of the Bible that now in the lonely night season they came to her unbidden, even as unexpected guests? Well, what if they did come? Words could not harm her, and ought not to frighten or trouble her.

"If ye love Me, keep My commandments."

"Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."

Ah, she would go to bed. There was no use trying to come to any decision when she was so constantly interrupted by inappropriate words from the Bible. Tomorrow morning no doubt her brain would be clearer, and she would be able to say a definite Yes or No.

"So you have decided to take the school," said Miss Macnab next morning, when she met Marjorie in the main street. "I am so glad, my dear, for it will give you and your sister pleasure and comfort, and will cause Mr. Absalom Marsh undoubted satisfaction. With all his peculiarities, he is a good man, and a useful man in the town. He will go in sometimes and check your work, no doubt, and you must try not to laugh at him, for he knows nothing whatsoever about the 'deeper subjects,' as he calls them."

"What are his wife and daughter like? Are they also ignorant of the 'deeper subjects,' as Mr. Marsh calls them?"

"Indeed, they are. You will not dislike Mrs. Marsh, I think, but I am afraid you will not find the Marsh's daughter Louisa a congenial companion. Indeed, my dear, I don't know where you are going to find a companion sufficiently accomplished and enlightened as yourself."

"Now, Miss Macnab, you are laughing at me."

"No, indeed I am not. You must know we think a great deal in this town of anyone who is a graduate of London University, and who can sing and play so well as I hear you can. Why, you are all the virtues and talents bound up together. We have very few nice girls in the town."

"I should not care for a girl companion. You forget I have Nettie, and I have you. You promised to be my friend, and what more do I want?"

"Well, well, we shall see. I met Mrs. Marsh just now, and she said she and Louisa would call on you this afternoon, and our minister also intends calling."

"Oh dear," uttered Marjorie, in some dismay; "I thought I was going to live very quietly."

"So you can. They will not expect you to entertain them, although they may think it their duty to entertain you. You will like and respect our minister. This is his first year, but we all praise him. Positively there is not a dissentient voice, not even Miss Louisa's."

"Does Miss Louisa Marsh indulge in dissent, then?"

"She believes it due to her literary and intellectual exaltation, as the daughter of an editor of a paper, to criticize people and things in a harsh, dissatisfied spirit. A mind such as hers should not be easily contented with that which pleases ordinary mortals. Now then, Maria Macnab, she said to herself, "I am ashamed of you. Finding fault with another, when you are so full of faults yourself. You must not heed all I say, my dear. Leave out the unkind, sharp speeches. My tongue runs away with me at times. Now, do you find your lodgings comfortable?"

"Yes, thank you. I have the first floor sitting room and bedroom. They are well furnished, and my landlady is kind to me."

"That's right. I am delighted you are next door to me. You can run in to tea constantly, and so relieve the monotony of my evenings. There, goodbye for the present. I have kept you standing here for a long while."

Marjorie looked at the little woman with loving, admiring eyes, and thought, "How good she is. How thoroughly and sincerely good she is!"

On that afternoon, the wife and daughter of Mr. Absalom Marsh visited Miss Mowbray.

"Absalom told me you had consented to teach his school, and he thinks very highly of you. I am sure we are pleased to welcome you amongst us. Are we not, Louisa?"

Miss Louisa Marsh smiled noncommittally.

Mrs. Marsh continued, "I suppose you already know Miss Macnab well; she is your next door neighbour. We have not a very lively town, Miss Mowbray, and we are chiefly busy business people, so it will seem a good bit different from London. Absalom says London is splendid,"

"London is nice enough at times, but its noise and heat and closeness grow oppressive when you live in it during the summer months."

"Just hear that, Louisa. Why, Pa thought it altogether splendid."

"Of course Miss Mowbray will find Market Hawley dull after London, but we are not so far behind after all," said Miss Louisa quickly. She did not wish this new teacher to have a low opinion of the people amongst whom she had elected to dwell. In fact, Miss Louisa would have liked to have impressed Miss Mowbray with a sense of the importance of the Marsh family, but she did not quite know how to do that.

"Well, Miss Mowbray will have an opportunity of judging some of our people, if she joins us after our meeting on Wednesday night. We have a prayer meeting in the Chapel every Wednesday night, and our minister likes us to attend pretty regular. Louisa always goes, and I go as often as I can. We'll have a few of the neighbours in on Wednesday night to supper, and we'll be glad to see you."

Marjorie thanked Mrs. Marsh, and accepted the invitation.

"Louisa goes in sometimes to inspect the school, so you mustn't be surprised to see her and the minister every other day or so."

"Oh, Ma, not quite so often as that. You'll be frightening Miss Mowbray. I go in occasionally and teach them a song or two, and Mr. Welsh lectures them."

Marjorie wondered how the last teacher endured that sort of inspection, and she there and then resolved that she would have none of it -- but she made no comment upon Miss Marsh's unexpected and unpleasing announcement.

"The intellect of youth," continued Miss Louisa Marsh, "requires careful handling. We must not give them strong meat all the time, and no sweets. You will supply the strong meat, Miss Mowbray, and I will supply the sweets in the shape of singing, and perhaps story telling. Papa says you are a graduate of London University. He is quite enthusiastic on the University subject, and sent away a good teacher and a friend of mine because she hadn't a degree. Now, I don't quite go with him, though I approve of a sound education in a measure. However, I hope you will come up to his expectations in every way. Pa has such hope. I tell him it is at best a disappointing world."

"Why, Louisa, my lovey, you have no reason to say it is a disappointing world. You have everything to make a girl happy: good looks, plenty of money, and plenty of friends." Her mother spoke in perfect good faith. She clearly thought her daughter beautiful. Louisa had pale straw-coloured hair, pale blue eyes, a thin face, and an angular form. She was about six years younger than Marjorie, though she scarcely looked so young. She resembled her father in many respects, but she lacked his good nature and his forgiving disposition.

"Well, Ma, I don't mean to say I have any active sorrows, but to speculative minds, this earth is composed of shadow and sunshine."

"As you speak of sunshine, I do believe it is shining again after that shower, so we had better be going homeward."

When her visitors had departed, Marjorie sat down and laughed softly. "Miss Louisa Marsh reads very light literature, I expect. She talks as the lackadaisical heroines in the 'penny terribles' do. But I believe she could be very unkind if she chose."

Chapter 5

A Social Gathering

FOR the first few weeks, Marjorie succeeded very well with the school. Miss Louisa Marsh was on a visit with friends in a town a little distance from Market Hawley, and Mr. Absalom Marsh was particularly busy over some articles on Joseph Addison, born in 1672, the writer of the memorable quote, "Cleanliness may be defined to be the emblem of purity of mind," which he was bringing out in Cleanliness; so she had none of the anticipated unpleasant interruption to her work. She found that the pupils really knew nothing beyond the very rudiments of history, geography, and arithmetic. Evidently there had been an abundant supply of the "sweets" during the last teacher's rule, and very little of the "strong meat." The children on the whole were willing to learn, and inclined to be obedient.

The new teacher had such a reputation for "deep" learning that they were somewhat in awe of her. Her energetic fashion of instructing them, and attending to nothing else but work during school hours, bewildered them, and astonished them into obedience and industry.

Marjorie concluded she had done right in accepting the post. She could really improve the school very much; but it would be many a long day before they would be fit to receive even elementary instruction in any of those "deeper subjects" upon which Mr. Absalom Marsh laid such stress. It would take a year's hard study, and much mutual patience, before the children could be said to have a "fair knowledge" of history, geography, grammar, and spelling.

Where would be the use of teaching them algebra when they could not work a simple sum in addition correctly? Or what would be the use of lecturing them on Political Economy, when their knowledge of history was so limited, and when they possessed no knowledge at all of literature? These two latter subjects would be of more service to them than Political Economy. Perhaps when a year had passed they would be fit for the "deeper subjects." Well, a year was a long time, and much private study as well as public teaching might be accomplished in that interval.

One day two months after Marjorie had begun her school duties, a pressing invitation to tea arrived from Mrs. Marsh. There was to be a small "social gathering" that evening at the house of Mr. Absalom Marsh. Would Miss Mowbray make one of the number?

Marjorie accepted, wondering if she would meet any new faces, and anticipating criticism on her manner of teaching the school. She knew she would have to explain why the "deeper subjects" were as yet absent from the school course, but she was prepared for that, and rather wished to have the explanation over.

She called in to see her friend on her way to the house of Mr. Absalom Marsh, but she found Miss Macnab laid up with a severe cold, and quite unable to leave her armchair by the blazing fire. How comfortable she looked there, free apparently from all anxiety and annoyance, even though she was suffering from a cold. How happy her face looked, and how her eyes shone with amusement as she related Lion's last exploit, that wise and dignified dog seeming meanwhile serenely conscious of the fact that he formed the subject of conversation.

"How I wish I could stay with you instead of going to meet a number of strangers. I think you are a most enviable mortal," said Marjorie, as she reluctantly made a movement to depart.

Miss Macnab laughed heartily, to the extreme discomfort of Tiger who was sleeping peacefully with his head on his mistress' footstool. "Go away, child, and don't be so foolish. I wonder how many times you have envied me since your arrival in Market Hawley. I am really surprised at a young person of such superior abilities and attractions envying a little eccentric old maid. That is what my friends generally call me. Well, if you live unmarried until you are as old as I am, and get a dog, a cat, and a tiny house, you will be just like me. So never despair, there's a glorious future for you! Go, my dear, or Mr. Absalom Marsh will be kept waiting for his tea. Come in tomorrow evening, and tell me how you liked the 'social gathering.'"

As Marjorie prepared to leave, Miss Macnab called her back. "You'd better let Lion escort you to your destination, for there are a number of ugly people about the streets and roads since the failure of that factory seven miles away. No, I know you have not far to go, but Lion may as well get accustomed to looking after you. He is my escort always when I go out. The exercise does him good, and he has a decided dislike to objectionable characters. He saved my life twice when I lived in the colliery district."

"I wonder he was never poisoned," said Marjorie.

"They tried it once, but I have trained him to eat nothing outside the house. He never touches anything he sees along the roads, and he will not take even a bun from a friend's hand except I say he may do so. There would be no use in trying to poison him, for he would not eat the stuff. Now, Lion, see Miss Marjorie safely to the door of Mr. Marsh's house, and come back again."

"Ah, Lion," said Marjorie, as she walked along the dark street, her hand on the dog's neck, "I could never be like your mistress. She is far more than an just old maid, with a cat, a dog, and a house."

Lion looked gravely into her face, and waved his tail slowly from side to side. He had conceived a great affection for this new friend of his mistress, and Marjorie returned it.

When that particularly pretentious house in the main street was reached where the Marsh family dwelt, Lion waited until the door was opened and then trotted away, after receiving a parting caress from Marjorie.

Mrs. Marsh welcomed Marjorie with cordiality, and Louisa, gave her a languid hand.

"We were just speaking of you before you came in," said Miss Marsh, regarding with condemnatory eyes the red velveteen dress adorned with a bunch of ivy leaves which Marjorie wore. "Mr. Welsh tells me that he has not often visited the school in my absence, so I suppose the children, having had nothing but Algebra and Political Economy, have grown very learned and, I am afraid, very dull. Poor things! We must try to enliven them a little."

"I think they must have suffered much from the idle time they had after the departure of their last teacher, for they were ignorant of the merest elementary education," returned Marjorie quietly, as she held out her hand in greeting to Mr. Welsh, the minister, who came and stood opposite to her on the hearthrug. "They don't need any recreation for a long time to come. They have had more than enough of it, if I may judge by their present attainments."

She spoke in a determined, resolute manner, although inwardly she was far from feeling resolute. She desired to make Miss Louisa Marsh understand that she would have no interference with her work as teacher, and she did not particularly care to answer many questions on the subject. She hoped to be able to say all she wanted concerning it, and then to allude to it no more while she remained in Market Hawley. Otherwise how could she know any rest or peace, she thought, with unwonted tears in her eyes? Tears of self-pity and of a penitence would now be too late.

"Then you think their last teacher was ignorant?" queried Louisa calmly.

"Oh no, I don't think any such thing," answered Marjorie quickly, as she noted that other of the guests were taking an interest in the conversation, and drawing nearer to listen.

"But they have evidently been idle; that I do know. How else should I have found them so ignorant?"

"I believe Miss Mowbray is right," said the young minister. "We wasted too much of the school's time last year, but I will lay all the blame on Miss Marsh. She led, and I followed. So please absolve me, Miss Mowbray."

Marjorie smiled. "I don't blame anyone. Why should I? But I like to do whatever I do with all my might. These children must be taught in earnest, and to that end I must have them to myself without outward interference or interruptions."

"Quite right, Miss Mowbray; quite right. So you shall have undisputed authority in my school. Who would not bow down to superior intellectual merit? I, even I, bow to it, and try to hold it up to admiration. Now, these weeks past I have been holding up Joseph Addison in the pages of Cleanliness. Great man, Addison. Of course you know who I mean, Miss Mowbray. He didn't live exactly in my time or yours, but we can become acquainted with him through his writings. I can recommend him to your notice also, Mr. Welsh, for he was a godly man. He wrote hymns full of piety. He had a contented, cheerful mind. He says in a number of the Spectator -- he was an editor, as well as myself -- that 'cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.' No doubt that man was well aware of the value of Cleanliness, for nothing is so conducive to serenity as a clean heart in a clean body. There you are -- Cleanliness next to godliness."

"You were going to introduce me to Miss Mowbray," said a man's voice from behind the broad back of the soap-maker at this juncture.

"Ah yes, to be sure. But I had not forgotten. I always go straight to the point. No beating about the bush for me. Why ... you know her already, John Weston."

"Yes, I met Mr. Weston in London," said Marjorie quietly. "But I did not think that Miss Macnab's friend was also an acquaintance of my own."

"Well, now, that's very pleasant," continued Mr. Absalom Marsh. "Perhaps you will be able to persuade him to attend our chapel here when the evenings grow longer. He used to come, but latterly he deserted us and went to a church near his place out at the Manor House."

"Mr. Weston has already promised to come back to us, Pa," said Louisa sharply.

"Oh, I am glad to hear that. I suppose our minister persuaded you. I knew you would like him when you had heard him preach." Then the editor of Cleanliness walked away to another part of the room, quite unconscious of the fact that the minister might not desire such open commendation.

Louisa and Mr. Welsh entered into an earnest conversation regarding some hymns for the next Sunday's services, while John Weston, the rich farmer and friend of Miss Macnab stood silently, looking at Miss Mowbray. He was a tall, fair man, three or four years Marjorie's senior, with honest, truthful eyes, and a kindly smile.

"You don't ask after Nettie," said Marjorie, growing slightly embarrassed under his steady gaze; "and you don't ask how I got here."

"I know the latter," he answered quietly. "Miss Marsh told me. But, as you claimed me as an acquaintance only, I thought you might resent any personal questions from me."

"You are mistaken," she returned, in a tone equally low. "You may be my friend if you wish. Nettie is very well and studying very hard at present. She will come to me in the summer for a couple of months."

"You will not be so lonely without her if you have the companionship of Miss Macnab. I think you said you knew her?"

"Yes, she is my next-door neighbour, and I am very fond of her. I go often to see her in the evenings."

"Ah, she is also my friend. Many a laugh she has given me, and many a scolding too."

They were standing near the fire as they talked, and Marjorie seemed all at once to feel the room grow very hot. A confused sensation of astonishment and of pleasure made her head giddy. She had actually succeeded in making Miss Marsh understand that visitors were not welcome in the school, and she had spoken to John Weston, a man she had never expected to see again after that day in London when she had refused to marry him. It was chiefly for Nettie's sake she had refused him, as it was for her sake that she was now teaching Mr. Marsh's school. Suddenly the voice of Mr. Absalom Marsh sounded loudly in her ears:

"John Weston, is it true that the Wanderer, as Miss Macnab calls the mysterious mistress of the Manor House, has returned to her abode? They say you have seen her."

"Look, Pa! You have so shattered Miss Mowbray's nerves that she is going to faint."

Chapter 6

The Mystery Ashton Manor House

"REALLY, I am very sorry. I had no idea you were nervous, or I wouldn't have spoken so abruptly," said her host in real distress when he saw Marjorie's pale face and tottering form.

"It is nothing; I am better now. I think the fire was too hot for me. I should apologize for being so foolish," and Marjorie sat down in the nearest chair and drew a long breath as of one in pain.

"You haven't been looking so well since you began the teaching in earnest, my dear Miss Mowbray," said kind-hearted, fussy Mrs. Marsh, as she came forward with a glass of water in her hand, which her exhausted guest drank quickly. "You work too hard. That is my opinion."

"Dear me, what a bother about nothing," whispered Miss Louisa Marsh to the minister. "She needn't work so hard if she doesn't like to do it. I'd go in for an hour or so three or four times a week, but she almost refused to allow me. A nice thing, if I may not take part in my own father's pet scheme. I declare I've a good mind to say more on the subject to her. Now's the time, when Pa and Ma's there."

Before the minister could remonstrate, Miss Louisa had joined the circle round Marjorie's chair. "I hope you are better, Miss Mowbray," she said in an apparently kindly tone. "You will perhaps now re-consider your objection to our visiting the school. When you are not over-strong, I should say that freedom from work for an hour or so occasionally during school time would be most desirable."

"I am usually very strong, thank you, and quite able to perform my duties. This was only a slight faintness from the heat."

"Well, I must say I think you are very foolish in imagining yourself made of iron. But perhaps you, like most teachers, refuse to follow in the footsteps of your predecessor, simply because they are her footsteps. Because your predecessor liked my assistance in her work, you will not accept it."

John Weston cast a very indignant glance at the speaker, and Mr. Absalom Marsh said in a very pompous tone, "Now, Louisa, I can have none of that sort of talk. Miss Mowbray is a London University woman, and above such petty nonsense. You should apologize for your remark."

"I'm sure I do, Pa dear," said his daughter sweetly. "It was made in all innocence and without intent to hurt Miss Mowbray."

"Of course, of course, my dear, and Miss Mowbray is too sensible to take offence. Let us change the subject."

Shortly afterwards, Marjorie left the room, unperceived by all but John Weston, who followed her and waited in the hall until she was muffled and ready to go home.

"I was too tired to remain longer now," she said wearily when she perceived him. "Goodnight, Mr. Weston. Don't look so concerned. I am quite well now."

"I may see you as far as your door, may I not?" he asked entreatingly.

"Yes, certainly, if you will be so good. Though, indeed, in this quiet town one has no need of escort. It is not like London."

"There are a lot of drunken fellows about just now, and I am afraid they will do our workmen harm. I have a number of labourers employed on my farm out near the Manor House, and on a Saturday afternoon, when they come into the town, they meet these fellows and have a drink together. I wish I could put a stop to it. Drink will ruin my respectable workers and their families."

"You must talk to the minister about it," replied Marjorie, as she reached her own door. "Mr. Welsh is a good and energetic man. You and he might work a reform between you."

When she had taken off her wraps, she returned to her parlour, and lighting a lamp sat down to the table. There was a small pile of books before her: Euclid, Algebra, and Political Economy. The first of these she opened, taking a pencil and a sheet of paper from the table drawer. But she could not work. Her head was still giddy and her hands trembled. She tried one proposition, then another; but it was of no use. She found that the simplest of them bore no meaning for her. She could not even comprehend the words:

"Find the centre of a circle."

What could be easier? She tried again and again, but it was of no avail. She could not even make the circle on which to work.

"I must try and steady my nerves," she murmured despairingly. "I could understand all this pretty well last night, so why not tonight? If I do not hurry, I shall not be ready in a year to teach Mr. Absalom Marsh's 'deep' subjects. Poor children! I could educate them well but for that notion of his. I am not taking his money for nothing. I see an improvement already in the older girls, and I think they are beginning to like me too. Mary Higgs brought me flowers yesterday, and her mother thanked me for the improvement in her girl's behaviour at home. Surely I am not taking money for nothing.

"Why does Miss Louisa Marsh dislike me? I would not object to her coming into the school if she taught the children anything; but their time has been wasted hitherto, and their attention distracted by those visits. I simply dare not waste the school hours. Real, hard work must be done and a real improvement visible, at least to my eyes. Otherwise I should be neglecting my duty and stealing Mr. Marsh's money."

It was yet early in the night. The town clock had just struck nine. It was too soon to go to bed, and too late to visit Miss Macnab. Study was an impossibility. Should she go out for half an hour and try what effect a short walk would have? It might make her head better, and enable her to sleep. In her present state of unrest and nervousness it would be quite useless for her to go to bed.

So, wrapping herself up warmly again, she went out into the dark streets, forgetting that some of Mr. Absalom Marsh's guests might see her, or that she might meet some of those drunken factory men of whom she had heard so much.

When out of the main street, she paused. Which way should she go? The road ahead looked dark and lonely, but she would get a breath of fresh air there. It was not so well lighted as the town, but there were lamps on it at intervals for a couple of miles or more. She would have light enough to see where she was going for that distance at any rate.

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