THROUGH THE SHADOWS. * IF Through the Shadows is not one
of the very best novels of the season, its place is in the foremost rank after the two or three that are entitled to the first honours. The story is very interest- ing, the characters of the numerous actors in it are for the most part finely conceived, and the tone of thought and feeling is ele- vated and pure without any tincture of Puritanism. The chief persons who are seen struggling through the shadows from which a few of them emerge are the children or grandchildren of a Mr. Earle, of Earle's Court, the head of a family who had long had the reputation of being a self-willed, proud, gloomy-tempered race, apt to quarrel with their neighbours, and not particularly inclined to live happily among themselves. Mr. Earle's surviv- ing son and daughter are strongly marked specimens of the fa- mily type, which passes into sundry varieties in the second gene- ration. In some of the grandchildren, warm affections and high principles are quickened into virtuous action by hereditary strength of will ; in some that quality is manifested only inpa- tient endurance of wrong and suffering ; in others, the wayward feelings, exasperated by oppression, turn for relief to acts of folly or crime ; and in one of the cousins, Sebastion Earle, pride and suspicion are fatal elements in an otherwise noble nature. Miss Harriet Earle, the maiden aunt, had concentrated upon him all the love of her proud jealous heart, and done him as much injury thereby as his cousins the Brandons suffered, who were dependent on her, and to whom she gave bread to eat with plenty of gall for condiment. She was capable of any sacrifice for others except that of her tyrannous will and the right to make the objects of her benevolence incessantly conscious of their slavery. The manner in which Miss Earle contrives, without noise or vio- lence, to make her house a place of torment for all its inmates is wonderfully exhibited. Women only can perform these miracles of refined cruelty or describe them intelligibly.
Caroline Brandon is the first who escapes from this domestic purgatory, to enter another even worse, when she becomes the wife of Mr. Gadstone, a wealthy banker, and a brute. The scene at which she first meets him is an " unworldly " party given by his sister, Mrs. Warren, who has lately become ' serious." Some ladies sit apart holding a court of inquiry concerning the as- sembled guests, and the name of Mr. Meyer, an absentee, comes under discussion. He is an excellent man, the stepfather of Max- well Earle, Sebastion's brother.
" ' So,' observed a young lady, in a tone of disappointment, the Meyers were not asked, after all ; Mrs. Warren promised she would ask them; and it would have been very nice to have had them here.'
" My dear, she acted by my advice,' the elder Miss Ash answered, ; I took upon myself to tell her faithfully that it would not do.' " But why not ? ' persisted the first speaker. I always understood that Mr. Meyer was a very good man, quite decided.' " Decided, but not sound, my dear; consider how important it is that dear Mrs. Warren should get among sound people, and I assure you Mr. Barret is convinced of it—poor Mr. Meyer is not sound at all. " knew that before,' cried Caroline, proud of her enlightenment ; 'I heard Mr. Barret say so a long time ago ; there is something or other he does not believe in, I am almost afraid it is the devil—yes, I fancy that is it ; Mr. Barret thinks that Mr. Meyer does not believe in the devil.' How very shockingl ' exclaimed Mr. Meyer's advocate ; 'then, of course, one would not wish him to be asked to a party ; but I had no idea of such a thing; my brother thinks very highly of Mr. Meyer. You know he has gone into Mr. Gadstone's bank lately, and he often has business to trans- act with Mr. Meyer ; he finds him very kind. They say it is wonderful what influence Mr. Meyer has over all the young men who are engaged in the business.' " My dear, you must put your poor dear brother on his guard,' cried Miss Ash, eagerly ; all will seem fair and good at first, but by-and-bye the poison will be introduced.' " Poison said Alice.
" I allude to error, my dear Miss Earle, religious error; not that I pre- tend to understand of what nature Mr. Meyer's is. It is something very subtle, no doubt ; only a dear servant, armed at all points, like that sweet • Through the Shadows. By the Author of " Sydney Grey," Sec. Sm. In three volumes. Published by Hurst and Blackett. young man, Mr. Barret, could have detected it. Now there can be no doubt at all, I suppose, about Mr. Meyer's young son ; I have heard that he is—' " ' My cousin interrupted Alice, The tone would not have been loud for an one else, but coming from her, it sounded emphatic enough to make Miss Ash hasten to alter her sentence.
" He is, no doubt, I am sure, a very, very,' (Miss Ash's favourite epi- thet did not seem appropriate, but no other would come,) " a very interest- ing young man.'
Mr. Meyer's partner in business, Mr. Gadstone, and his supe- rior in wealth and consequence, is next mentioned. He is pre- sent, and Alice Earle, who has never before mingled in " un- worldly" society, inquires if the banker is serious ?
" 'He is dear Mrs. Warren's brother,' said Miss Ash, and she has great hopes of him; they say he is a very keen man of business and very clever in making a bargain, but I don't know that he is any worse for that; many very religious people are ; Mr. Barret thinks it a great thing to show the world that the keenest and most practical minds can be brought under the influence of religious truth.' " I wish poor Fred would take example by Mr. Gadstone, then,' said Caroline, with a sigh ; if he were both re mous and likely to make a great deal of money, it would be all one could wish.'
"'Making the most of both worlds, in short,' said the youngest Miss Ash, with a happy quotation of the title of a book she had been reading.
" my dears,' continued the elder sister, that is the way to talk to young men ; show them that it is their interest—their interest for this world —to be religious, and you will soon gain them over.' " 'I wonder whether Mr. Meyer would think that an appeal to self-in- terest could have anything to do with—with holiness,' said Alice, hesitating a little over her word, and yet not caring to substitute another. " 'My dear Miss Earle,' cried Miss Ash, appealingly, when we have been told, on good authority, that Mr. Meyer's views are not sound, is it wise to bring them forward ? '
" But about Mr. Gadstone,' said Alice, glad to retreat, what has he done to deserve your good opinion ? ' " 'He took the chair at the last Missionary Meeting, and he has sub- scribes' a guinea to the yews' Society, and he shows altogether, Mrs. War- ren thinks, an appreciation of the right views, which is very encouraging,' answered Miss Ash, triumphantly.
"' I wonder whether he has rebuilt those wretched tumble-down cottages that belong to him at Fairboume,' said Alice, and whether he has done away with the toll at the head of the bridge at Newlands, which prevents the poor people from getting to church.'
" I realty don't know about that,' answered Miss Belinda Ash, the youngest and gentlest of the sisters ; ' but, my dear, you know we must not despise the day of small things'
"'Especially not with such a man as Mr. Gadstone,' interposed her more eager elder sister ; only think what good he might do if he went heart and into nto the work, with his means ; we ought not to leave a stone unturned to gain him. If only he could be brought to marry sonic really pious young woman, who would lead him in the right way ? It is a question of import- ance to all the religious societies in Kingsmills, whom he will choose. Why they say he will -be the richest man in the county soon, and think, what a position his wife will have; what responsibilities, what opportunities of doing good ! '
"Miss Ash was looking at Caroline during the latter part of her speech with a very meaning smile, and Caroline appeared to be seized with a sud- den tremulous motion of her head, for the scarlet beads rattled incessantly. Alice could not help wondering whether such speculations were usual among her cousin's friends."
Sebastian and Alice Earle have loved each other from child- hood, but Sebastion's morbid distrust of his power to awaken or retain affection has kept him in ignorance of his cousin's feelings. At last he knows the truth, and they are engaged to be married. On the eve of the appointed day Ruth Brandon discovers that her brother has embezzled the money of his employer, Mr. Gadstone, whose marriage with Caroline is to take place on the same day as Sebastion's with Alice. Ruth prevents Frederick from ab- sconding to America, but detection is imminent, and either event would kill his mother. A hundred pounds must be raised in- stantly. Alice has a costly bracelet, a marriage present from Sebastion ; and Ruth, the generous and truthful Ruth, prevails on the poor girl to sell it, and conceal the act from her lover. But this is not enough. Ruth knows that the accounts of the bank are in the hands of Maxwell Earle, that he has already discovered the crime, and that his secrecy must be secured. She makes Alice intercede with him, and she does this knowing well Sebas- tion's suspicious temper, and that Maxwell, though proof against all temptation to be his brother's rival, had long loved Alice. The three cousins meet, and Alice lays a heap of notes with a trembling hand on the table before Maxwell.
" You know what these are for,' she said, looking timidly up to his face ; it is the money Frederick owes. Return it where it was taken from, and for Mrs. Brandon's sake and—and mine. I am going to be your sister so soon ; _don't let any one know what you found out—promise.'
" Breathlessly Ruth watched the extreme agitation that passed over Maxwell's face as Alice spoke. He pressed his lips tightly together before he answered.
" You don't know what you are asking,' he said ; I cannot conceal such a thing from my father; you don't know how he trusts me. It would be a breach of confidence. I cannot do it, but I will tell no one but him; you may trust to his kindness—he will not act harshly.' ' ' No, no, no,' Ruth struck in, I can't trust him, or any one. Oh, Max, be merciful ; you must see, yourself, that if your father once hears of this he must send Frederick away ; he will be disgraced; and think of mamma ! let her die at least trusting us all. I don't care what happens
afterwards; us think only what will be best for her.' " The est thing for her and every one else concerned must be what it is right to do, must it not?' said Max. " I don't care for any one but mamma, and I am certain that the best thing for her is that no one should know. What is the good of stopping to talk about right or wrong ? For my part, I would do wrong to save her ; she has always been suffering, and this blow she shall not have. People pretend to be so anxious about doing right, and half the time they only mean that they are afraid of being punished if they do wrong. I am not afraid ; I dare do this thing, right or wrong, and when mamma is safe I will bear any punishments, any consequences that come of it. I hope they will come only on me if they do come.' " They are sure to come,' Max said, looking at her with surprise, and, it must be confessed, kindling a little in admiration of her boldness ; the worst of it is we cannot choose who shall have them, if we could.' He paused, a sudden conviction of the utter want of faith and of submission that was shown in this strange braving of God's punishments flashed across him ; but Alice did not give him time to follow out his thoughts. " I do not think it will bear talking about,' she said, coming near, and putting her hand on Maxwell's arm ; but this is the first favour I ever asked of you. I shall never ask another. 1 have wished all my life to have a brother ; don't spoil my idea of how much a brother would do for a sister by refusing to do for me the only thing I shall ever ask.'
There was a moment's silence. Alice's hand stayed upon ,Maxwell's arm, and he trembled under its light touch. A crowd of tumultuous thoughts rushed through his brain ; he could recollect nothing clearly, but that a time would come when Alice would have gone away, and he should have to remember her words : I shall never ask but this one thing of you.' He had a thousand times in the days of his boyish devotion to her longed for a time to come when she might ask some favour of him ; the greater the sacrifice it involved the better, and that it should come now when he was learning with so much pain to think of her differently, seemed to make it all the more incumbent on his generosity that he should not belie his old resolves. Only one answer seemed possible.
" I will do as you wish then, Alice,' he said, almost solemnly ; and if ever you trouble yourself to wonder again what a brother would do for a sister, remember that yours would die for you ; for the rest, I can only say, as Ruth has done, if what we are doing is wrong, and if there are any bad consequences to follow, I hope they will come on me.'
" No, upon us,' Ruth said, almost involuntarily holding out her hand. " Maxwell tookit.
" It is a bargain,' he said, more lightly ; we are to stand together, when the storm comes, you and I—the others may keep out of the way.' "
This is vigorously told ; but we regret to say that it is artisti- cally as well as ethically wrong. We say nothing of Ruth's aberration from rectitude ; that perhaps is adequately accounted for ; but what is to be thought of the facility with which a man of sterling worth and sound sense, like Maxwell Earle, lends him- self to so desperate a conspiracy ? Surely he would have uttered something more to the purpose than a vague foreboding of evil consequences to somebody. from the deed proposed to him—the betrayal of an innocent girl into an acted lie towards her lover on the eve of her wedding-day. And is it, indeed, a likely thing, that a man of business, the son of a thriving manufacturer, and possessing all his confidence, could not have found some better way of meeting the difficulty ? If a man who had any know- ledge of the world had written this novel, he would. certainly not have committed the blunder of making Maxwell appear so help- less ; and the actual writer ought not, with the insight she pos- sesses into human character, have made her hero guilty of a mo- ral delinquency so inconsistent with his nature.
Having pointed out what seems to us the cardinal defect in a work of remarkable ability, we are happy to have done with fault-finding. If we accept the situation as it stands, since there it is, past remedy, we have nothing but approbation to bestow on the truth, pathos, and vivid interest of the sequel.