Amazing grace, who prove.., p.16
Amazing Grace, Who Proves That Virtue Has Its Silver Lining, p.16Kate Trimble Sharber
What can't be appreciated can always be ridiculed--whether it's OldMasters, new waltzes, or a wife's Easter bonnet--and this is thereason we have always had such reams of journalistic "fun" at theexpense of the broad English "a" and the narrow English view.
For my part, I consider that--next to the French in New Orleans--theEnglish in England are the golden-ruliest people to be found inprofane history.
You'll find that they're "insular" only when they're traveling offtheir dear island--and it's homesickness, after all, which makes themso disagreeably arrogant.
To be sure, the Frenchman in New Orleans will, if you ask him for aword of direction toward the Old Absinthe House, take you into hisprivate office, draw for you a diagram of the whole city, advise youat length not to go unescorted into the Market, then follow you to thedoor with the final warning: "And it would be well for you to observea certain degree of caution, my dear young lady, for our city isfilled with wickedness, and your eyes are--_pardon?_--most charming!"
This is delightful, of course, and by far the most romantic thing inthe way of adventure America has to offer, but rambling around Londonpresents a dearer and more home-like charm.
The Englishman who directs you to a church, or a university square,stops to say nothing about your eyes--much less would he mention theexistence of good and evil--but he points out to you the tomb, orchained Bible, or famous man's pew you are seeking, then glidesmodestly away before you've had time to say: "It's awfully good of youto take all this trouble for a stranger!"
But the truth of the matter is that you don't in the least feelyourself a stranger in London, and you like your kindly Englishman socordially that you secretly resolve to put a muzzle on your ownparticular cannon cracker the next Fourth of July.
The shilling guide-books speak of London as the "gray old grandmotherof cities," meaning thereby to call attention to her upstart progenyacross the seas, but to my mind the title of grandmother is much moreapplicable on account of the joyous surprises she has shut away indark closets.
One of the main pleasures of a visit to any grandmother is the gift oftreasure which she is likely to call forth mysteriously from sometightly-closed cupboard and place in your hands for your own exclusivepossession--and certainly this old dingy city outgrannies granny whenit comes to that.
In the dingiest little book-stall imaginable, lighted by a candle andtended by a ragged-cuffed gentleman with a passion for Keats, you mayfind the very edition of something that college professors in yournative town are offering half a year's salary for! You buy it for fivedollars--which seems much more insignificant when spoken of by thepound--then run out and hail the nearest cab, offering the chauffeuran additional shilling to get you out of the neighborhood in tenseconds! Your heart is thumping in guilty fear that the ragged-cuffedgentleman with the passion for Keats may discover his mistake and runafter you to demand his treasure back!
You make a similar escape, a few hours later, with a Wedgwoodtea-caddy, whose delicate color the pottery has never been able toduplicate--and with Sheffield plate your suit-case runneth over!
And your emotions while doing all this? Why, you've never before knownwhat "calm content" could mean.
In the first place, you never feel countrified and unpopular inLondon, as you do in New York. Your clothes have a way of brighteningup and looking noticeably smart as if they'd just enjoyed a sojournat the dry cleaner's--and everybody you meet seems to careparticularly for Americans. You are at home there--not merely with theat-home feeling which a good hotel and agreeable society give--butthere's a feeling of satisfaction much deeper than this. Something inyou, which has always known and loved England, is seeing familiarfaces again--the something which made you strain your eyes over_Mother Goose_ by firelight years ago, and thrill over _Ivanhoe_ andanything which held the name "Sherwood Forest" on its printed page.It's something congenial--or prenatal--who knows?
(Oh yes! I answer very readily "Present!" when any one calls:"Anglomaniac!")
It was only natural that I should let my adoration for Great Britainshow through in the copy I sent home to _The Oldburgh Herald_, and asif to prove that honesty is the best policy, I received a letter ofpraise from Captain Macauley.
"Anybody can run a foreign country down," he wrote, "but you've provedthat you're original by praising one! Stay there as long as you havean English adjective left to go upon, then forget your sorrows, chaseaway down to Italy and show us what you can do with 'bellissimo.'"
But I didn't do this, for the letter overtook me only after I hadreached Bannerley, and was seeing things which I could hope for nowords, either English or Italian, to describe.
I left London on Friday--which I ought to have had better sense thanto do, having been properly brought up by a black mammy--hoping toreach the home of my shipboard friends early enough Saturday morningto hear the pigeons coo under the eaves of Bannerley Hall. All my lifeI had cherished an ambition to hear pigeons coo under eaves of anancestral place, and with this thought uppermost in my heart, I packedmy suit-case and drove to Paddington Station. I received my firstdamper at the ticket window.
"Bannerley?" the agent repeated, looking at me with a shade of pity,as I mentioned my destination. "Bannerley?"
"Certainly, Bannerley!" I insisted, with some effort toward adignified bearing, but the first glance at his doubtful face caused myspirits to sink. Being by nature an extremist, they sank to thebottom. All in a twinkling the cooing of pigeons in my mental picturewas changed to the croaking of ravens. "It's not so very difficult toget to Bannerley, is it?"
He scratched his head.
"No-o--not in a general way, miss, but there ain't no telling _when_you'll get there."
I drew back, more hurt than angry.
"But my friends have already warned me that I shall have to change atLeamington--and Manchester--and Oldham--and----"
"Can't help that!" he exclaimed heartlessly, looking over my shoulderat the line of waiting tourists. "Since the coal strike, trains onthem side-lines has been as scarce and irregular as a youngster'steeth at shedding time."
I tried to smile politely, but another glance at his face showed methat he wasn't expecting such an act of supererogation.
"Getting off into the unbeaten paths sounds pretty enough in aguide-book," he kept on hastily, "but the first thing you do when youmeet an unbeaten path is to want to beat it!"
I faded out of the line and let my successor take my place.
"He's just an old grouch!" I told myself consolingly, as I got a seatnext a window. "Nothing really terrible can befall you whentraveling--if you've got a Masonic pin on your coat!"
(One of my Christie relations had thus decorated me and assured me.)
Then I forgot all about his gloomy warnings, for the train rumbledacross a thousand street crossings--then out into all the sheeppastures in the civilized world, and--it was summer!
"This country _must_ be Kent!" I mused, not geographically, butesthetically certain--as soft feathery green broke off occasionallyinto a pollard-trimmed swamp--then came up again a little later into agentle, sheep-dotted rise. And I remembered the Duchess once more--"Astalwart, fair-haired lover, and a dozen Kentish lanes!"
I have lived to learn that this is common to Americans who have beenbrought up to understand that Kent is the garden-spot of England. Nomatter at which point along the entire coastline they may board atrain, their first conviction upon seeing suburban scenery is that it_must_ be Kent! (I say "suburban" advisedly, for none of it is farenough away from the other to be rural.)
So my journey through an elongated and rather circuitous Kent kept mymind away from the croakings of the ticket seller at Paddington--untilthe next morning at daybreak, when I found myself put down withmournful ceremony at a little wayside station which ought to havebeen labeled "St. Helena."
"Just as sorry as you are, miss, but this is your nearest hope for atrain to Bannerley!" the guard said, by way of an appropri
"But this place is surely named St. Helena," I groaned, as I lookedabout me, yet the only actual similarity was in the matter of itsbeing entirely surrounded. The island entirely surrounded by water, ofcourse--this station entirely surrounded by land. I believe that I hadnever before in my life seen such a stretch of unimproved property!
"'The woods and I--and their infinite call,'" I quoted, as I lookedout somewhat shamefacedly across the acres. For it was exactly thekind of place I had always longed to possess for my very own--yet hereI had arrived at it, and might, for all I knew to the contrary, takepossession of it by right of discovery--yet I was feeling lonely andresentful at the very start.
Then I remembered Robinson Crusoe and took heart, straining my eyes inhope of a sail, but nowhere was there a human face to be seen, norsign of life. Not even a freight car stood drearily on aside-track--and, as you know, you have to be very far away from thecenter of things not to find a freight car! None was here, however,for there wasn't a side-track for it to stand upon--the main linerunning in two shining threads far away toward Ireland.
The only moving bodies visible were a paper sack being blown gentlydown the track, a blue fly buzzing around a blackened banana peelingand a rook cawing overhead. I looked up at the rook and smiledphilosophically.
"I anticipated a 'coo,' then apprehended a 'croak'--what I get is ahappy compromise, a 'caw,'" I said, and I find that things usuallyturn out this way in the great journey of life. Nothing is ever sogood, nor so bad, as you think it's going to be when you're standingat the ticket window. The great anticipator is also a greatapprehender--therefore realization is bound to be a relief.
Then, as if in reward of my optimism, I began to scent the odor ofescaping coffee.
"It _is_ inhabited!" I cried.
Springing up, I darted around to the other side of the station, andthere, in a clump of trees, lying snug and humane-looking in themorning light, was a tiny cottage. I waited, and presently thereissued from the doorway a man--wiping his mouth reminiscently.
He espied me at once and came up, cap in hand.
"Was you wanting something, miss?" he asked.
"A train," I replied, trying to sound inconsequential with thelordliness that comes of intense disgust. "I have a ticket toBannerley--and I have friends there _waiting_!"
The man dared to smile.
"Since the coal strike that's mostly what folks does, miss," heexplained.
There was a moment of strained silence, which was broken by theappearance of a young boy--an eerie creature who had seemed to glidestraight out of the eastern horizon on a bicycle. The station-masterturned to him.
"Take this here parcel up to Lord Erskine--and be quicker than you wasyesterday!" he said.
The boy's face and mine changed simultaneously, his brightening, minepaling.
"Lord Erskine!" I cried, a little ghostly feeling of fear stealingover me--for my American instincts failed to grasp the rapidity withwhich dead men's shoes can be snatched off and fitted with new rubberheels in England--"Lord Erskine is dead."
The little messenger boy looked at me pityingly.
"'E _wuz_," he explained, "but 'e ain't now!"
"And--and do you mean to tell me that this is the station for ColmereAbbey?" I demanded, turning again to the man.
He tried hard not to look supercilious, but there, six feet above myhead, was the name "Colmere" in faded yellow letters against theblack background of the sign-board. And I had always believed inpsychic warnings!
"I--I hadn't thought to look at the sign-board," I endeavored toexplain. "It seems that it doesn't matter what your station is, foryou're as far away from your destination at one place as atanother--during the coal strike! You think I can't get a train toBannerley until----"
"Perhaps to-night--perhaps not until to-morrow morning," he answeredwith cruel frankness, and I knew from heresay that trains didoccasionally wander, comet-fashion, out of their orbit, and comethrough stations at unexpected moments. "Still, there's a railroadhotel about a mile down the track."
"A railroad hotel?"
"Where the men get their meals--the guards and porters!"
My spirits sank.
"That old kill-joy at Paddington knew what he was talking about!" Isaid to myself--then aloud: "But, couldn't I get a carriage, ora----"
He shook his head.
"We mostly uses bicycles around here--when we don't walk," heexplained.
"But I must get to Bannerley!" I burst out in desperation. "And I am afirst-rate walker! How far is it?"
I was beginning to realize that the adventure might make good copy,headed: "Wonderful Pedestrian Journey through Historic Lancashire."Many a slighter incident has called forth heavier head-lines.
"Certainly--then take up the matter with the railroad company inGlasgow, just before I sail for home!"
My terrible manner caused him to look me over, quickly.
"Was you wanting to get to the village--or the hall?" he asked,evidently impressed by my severity, and my heart softened.
"To the hall," I answered. "Mrs. Montgomery is expecting me."
He tried hard not to show that he was impressed, but he failed.Evidently Mrs. Montgomery was a great personage, and I took on a tingeof reflected glory not to be entirely ignored.
"The hall is a mile from the village--and the village is three milesfrom here," he explained gently. "Of course, there's short cuts, if abody knows 'em--but for a lady like you----"
The click of the telegraph instrument clamored for his attention, sohe reluctantly left me. I remained outside, listening to the caw ofthe rook. Presently he came out again.
"There will be a train through here pretty soon--but it's coming fromthe direction of Bannerley instead of going toward there--still----"
"Still, it will give us occasion to hope for better things later on,"I answered cheerfully. "And it has occurred to me that I might whileaway a portion of the morning by walking up to the gates of ColmereAbbey. That boy went in this direction, didn't he?"
"Not a quarter of a mile, miss--down in this direction," he assuredme. "Just follow this road, and you'll find the lodge in a clump oftrees."
The "May" hedges were glistening with the early sunbeams, and as Iwalked down the railroad track the distance seemed quite a good dealshort of the quarter of a mile mentioned. I found the clump of treesindicated--then a small gray building. My heart bounded, and I rubbedmy eyes to make sure that I was awake.
"Is this the entrance to Colmere Abbey?" I asked of the boy on thebicycle, who was turning out of the gate at that moment.
"This is one of the lodges--but not the grand one, madam!" he answeredanxiously.
"Oh, indeed? But one can get to the park through this gate?" Ipersisted.
"Oh, yes, madam."
He showed an inclination to act as my esquire, but I got rid of him bypromising him sixpence if he would take care of my bag until Ireturned to the station--then I crossed the greasy railroad track andentered the shade of the trees. It was far from being my ideal entreeinto the old house of my heart's desire, but it was something of anadventure--until I reached the gates. There I was halted.
"Yes, miss--if you please?"
It was an acid voice, and I looked at the doorway of the house, out ofwhich an old woman was issuing. She was garbed in profound black.
"I want to get in--to see the grounds of the abbey," I explainedcasually, but she was not to be overwhelmed by any airy nonchalance.She shook her head.
"But that can't be!"
The smile which accompanied this information was almost gleeful.
"No? But why not?"
She looked at me pityingly.
"Didn't you know we was in mourning?" she demanded, bristling withimportance.
I instantly made a penitent face, then glanced appreciatively at hergown, but she gave no evidence of being a physiognomist. She failedto take note of my contrite expression.
"You can't go sight-seeing in here!" she said.
"Not even a little way?"
I accompanied this plea by the display of a shining half-crown, whichI carried in my glove for emergency. That's one good thing about beingaway from the United States--you don't have to regard money sotenderly. You realize that shillings and francs and lire were made tospend for souvenirs and service, but dollars--ugh! They were made toput in the bank! So I twinkled this ever-ready half-crown temptinglyin the morning light, but she shook her head again.
"While we was in mourning?" she demanded, with a gasp of outragedpropriety. "Why--_wha'ud the minister say?_"
At this I turned away sadly--for I had been in England long enough toknow there's never any use trying to surmise _what_ the minister 'udsay!
"Just the same, you'd make a dandy old servant--and I'm a great mindto buy you and put you in my suit-case, along with the Sheffieldcandlesticks," I thought, as I made my way back to the station.
During my absence a train had come clattering in--and it stoodstock-still now, while the engineer and the station-master held a longconversation over a basket of homing pigeons which had been depositedupon the platform. I viewed the locomotive listlessly enough--the walkhaving taken some of my former impatient energy away, but my interestwas aroused as I came upon the platform by the appearance of a servantin livery, disentangling from one of the compartments a suit-case andleather hat-box.
The man's back was toward me, as he struggled to lift his burden highabove the precious basket of pigeons which was usurping place andattention, but the look of the traveling paraphernalia held my eye fora moment.
"Could it belong to an American?" I mused.
The servant deposited the cases on the platform, then turned, stillwith his back toward me, and took part in the lively pigeon argument.I looked at the beautiful smoothness of the leather.
"Of course they're American!" I decided, for you must know that nearlyany Englishman's luggage would compare unfavorably with the bags AuntJemima brings with her when she comes up to the city for a week'smortification to her nephews.
"Never judge an Englishman by the luggage he lugs!" is only a fair actof discretion.
I crossed the platform, partly to get away from the mournful soundsemanating from the wicker basket, and then, at the door of the littlestation I was arrested by another sound. It was a sound which hadcertainly not been there when I had left, half an hour before! Ihalted--wondering if there really could be anything in psychicwarnings!
Inside the dingy little room some one was whistling! The melody wasfalling upon the air with a certain softness which, however, did notconceal its suppressed vehemence--and the tune was _Caro Mio Ben!_
"Anybody has a right to whistle it!" I told myself savagely, but Istill hesitated--my heart standing still from the mere force of thehypothesis. After a moment it began beating again, as if to make upfor lost time.
The whistling man inside left off his music--then I heard hisfootsteps tramping impatiently across the bare wooden floor. Hefinally came to the door and looked out. I glanced up, and our eyesmet! It _was Caro Mio Ben! It was Caro Mio Ben!_
"Well?" he said.
He stood perfectly still for half a minute it seemed--making no efforttoward a civilized greeting.
"Well!" I responded--as soon as I could.
"This is queer, isn't it?"
I looked at him.
"'Queer?'" I managed to repeat--that is, I heard the word escapingpast the tightening muscles of my throat. "_Queer!_"
"I should--I think I should like to sit down!" I decided, as hecontinued to stand staring at me, and I suddenly realized that I wasvery tired.
He moved aside.
"By all means! Come in and sit down, Miss Christie. This stationfellow here tells me that you have been disappointed in your train."
"I have," I answered.
I might have added that I had been disappointed in everything mostimportant in life, as well--but his own face was wearing such anexpression of calm serenity that I was soothed as I looked at it.
"That's quite a problem here in England just now," he observedpolitely.
"So I have been informed."
After this, conversation flagged, until the silence made me nervous.
"I should think we ought to be asking each other--questions!" Isuggested, trying to bring him to a realization of the necessaryformalities, but he only turned and looked down at me, with a slightlyamused, slightly superior smile.
"About _ships_--and how long we intend staying--and what travelersusually ask!" I said.
He shook his head, as if the subjects held little interest for him.
"Why should I ask that--when I happen to know?" he inquired.
"That you came over on the _Luxuria_."
"And that _The Oldburgh Herald_ sent you--to write up the coalstrike."
"And that you are going to stay--some time."
I was decidedly uncomfortable.
"Will you please explain how you knew all this?" I asked.
His smile died away.
"Mrs. Hiram Walker wrote her son to call on me while I was in NewYork," he explained in his serious lawyer-like manner, "and hehappened to leave a copy of _The Oldburgh Herald_ in my rooms."
"Oh! That was quite simple, wasn't it?"
It occurred to me then that there was no use trying to keep fate'sname out of this conversation--and also it came to me that the orchidswere no longer a mystery--but before I could make up my mind tomention this he turned to me ferociously.
"You _did_ make a fool of me!" he accused.
My heart began thumping again.
"What do you mean?" I began, but he cut me short.
"It is this that I can not get over! The thought has come to me thatperhaps if I might hear you acknowledge it, I might be able to forgiveyou better."
He leaned toward me.
"If you don't mind, I should like to hear you say: 'Maitland Tait, Idid make a fool of you!'"
"But I didn't!" I denied stoutly, while my face flushed, and all thefighting blood in me seemed to send forth a challenge from my cheeks."I'll say what I _do_ think, however, if you wish to hear it!"
"And that is----?"
"Maitland Tait, you made a fool of yourself!"
He looked disappointed.
"Oh, I know that!" he replied.
"You do? Since when, please?"
"Why, I knew it before I crossed the Ohio River!" he acknowledged,seeming to take some pride in the fact. "I--I intended toapologize--or something--when I got to Pittsburgh, but when I reachedNew York, on my way here, I saw that you were coming to England,too----"
"So you thought the matter could easily wait--I see!" I observed,then, to change the subject, I asked: "Have you been here long?"
"Two weeks! I knew that I should get news of you in _this_neighborhood, sooner or later."
I instantly smiled.
"I have come here for my first Sunday, you see, but----"
"But you haven't been to the abbey yet, have you?" he asked.
The boyish anxiety in his tone gave me a thrill. Something in thethought of his remembering my romantic whim touched me.
"No. I have just come from there--the lodge--but the old woman at thegates wouldn't let me in."
He looked interested.
"No? But why not?"
"The master of the house has just died," I explained. "It would be aterrible breach of etiquette to go sight-seeing over the mourningacres."
His lips closed firmly.
"Nonsense! I'll venture that's just a servant's whim." He slipped outhis watch. "Shall I go over and try to beg or bribe permission foryou? I'm not easily daunted by their refusals, and--I'll have a littletime to spare this morning, if you'd care to put your marooned periodto
"I _am_ marooned," I told him, wondering for a moment what theMontgomerys would think of my delay, "and I should like this, ofcourse, above anything else that England has to offer, but----"
Then, after his precipitate fashion, he waited for no more. He pausedat the edge of the platform for a low-toned colloquy with Collins--Icould easily distinguish now that the liveried creature wasCollins--and the two disappeared down the car track. After thebriefest delay he returned.
"What can't be cured must be ignored," he said with a shrug, as hecame up. "The poor old devil evidently regards us as very impiousand--American, but I made everything all right with her."
"But how----?" I started to inquire, also at the same moment startingdown the track toward the lodge house, when he stopped both myquestion and my progress.
"Let us wait here--I have sent Collins to get a car for us from thegarage not far away."
He led the way out to a drive, sheltered with trees, on the other sideof the track, and we awaited the coming of Collins--neither showingany disposition to talk.
"Is this _your_ car?" I presently asked, as the servant driving agleaming black machine drew up in front of us. "I hadn't imagined thatyou would have your own car down in the country with you."
"I've had experience with these trains," he explained briefly, then helooked the car over with a masterful eye. "Yes, it's mine."
"I really shouldn't have needed to ask--there's so strong a familyresemblance to the other one--the limousine you had in Oldburgh."
He looked pleased.
"I hope you'll like this one--it's a Blanton Six, you see," heexplained with a pat of affectionate pride upon the door-handle as hehelped me in.
Collins climbed to his place at the wheel, and without anotherword--without one backward look--I was whirled away into the Land ofLong Ago--the period where I had always belonged.
* * * * *
At the second lodge--the grand one--I pinched myself. I had to, to seewhether I was awake--or dreaming a Jane Austen dream. Maitland Tait,watching me closely, saw the act.
"You're quite awake," he assured me gravely.
"But--what are you?" I inquired. "Are you yourself--or Aladdin,or----"
I broke off abruptly, for the car was gliding over a bridge, andunderneath was a silvery, glinting ribbon, that might, in fairy-land,pass for a river.
"Shall I stop the car and let you dabble the toe of your shoe in thewater?" my guide asked.
I looked at him in bewilderment.
"I shan't be able to believe it's just water--unless you do," Iexplained. He had seen the look I let fall upon the shining breast ofthe stream.
"And I'll send Collins away."
"Of course! It's sacrilegious to let any wooden-faced human lookupon--all this!"
The car obediently let us out, then steamed softly away, up the roadand out of sight.
Mr. Tait held out his hand to me and helped me down the steep littleriver bank. I dabbled the toe of my shoe in the water, and as hefinally drew me away, with the suggestion of further delights, Icaught sight of a tiny fish, lying whitely upward in a tangle ofweeds.
"How _could_ he die?" I asked mournfully, as we walked away andclimbed back to the level of the park. "It seems so unappreciative."
The man beside me laughed.
"_Things_--even the most beautiful things on earth--don't keeppeople--or fish alive," he said. "They can't even make people want tostay alive--if this is all they have, and after all, the river isjust a thing--and the park is a thing--and the house is a thing!"
We had walked on rapidly, and at that moment the house itself becameapparent. I clutched his arm.
"A thing!" I denied, looking at it in a dazed fashion. "Why, it's theHouse of a Hundred Dreams! It's all the dreams of April mornings--andChristmas nights--and----"
"And what?" he asked gravely. But my eyes were still intoxicated.
"Why, it's Religion--and Art--and _Love_--and Comfort!"
He looked at it wonderingly, as if he expected to see statuesrepresenting these chapters in the book of Life.
What he saw was a tangle of gravel walks, gray as the desert, drawingaway from grassy places and coming up sharply against the house._Such_ a house! A church--a tomb--a fluttering-curtainedliving-hall--all stretched out in one long chain of battlementedstone. Where the church began and the living-hall ended no one couldsay, for there were trees everywhere.
"The lower part of the abbey is in good condition, it seems," myconductor remarked, as we approached.
"Good condition!" I echoed. "Why, those doorways are as realisticas--Sunday morning! I feel that I ought to have on a silk dress--andhold the corners of my prayer-book with a handkerchief--to keep fromsoiling my white gloves."
"If you listen perhaps you can hear the choir-boys," he said, after apause, and without smiling.
"But there might be a sermon, too!" I objected.
High above the doors was a great open space of a missing window; then,over this, smaller spaces for smaller windows; and--in a nichedpinnacle--the Virgin.
"How can she--a woman in love--endure all this beauty?" I asked, myvoice hushed with awe.
"She's endured it for many centuries, it seems," he answered.
But we came closer then.
"Why, she hasn't even seen it--not once!" I cried, for I saw then thatshe was not looking up, but down--at the burden in her arms.
Instinctively Maitland Tait bared his head as we crossed thethreshold.
"Shall we try to find a way through here into the gardens?" he asked.
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