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Title: When Ghost Meets Ghost
Author: De Morgan, William Frend, 1839-1917
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "When Ghost Meets Ghost" ***

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   +------------------------------------------------------------+
   |                                                            |
   | Transcriber's note:                                        |
   |                                                            |
   | Inconsistent and missing punctuation have been corrected   |
   | without comment.                                           |
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   | The 'oe' and 'ae' ligatures have been changed to 'oe' and  |
   | 'ae'.                                                      |
   |                                                            |
   | Obvious spelling mistakes have been corrected. A list of   |
   | corrections from the original is included at the end of    |
   | the book                                                   |
   |                                                            |
   | Text enclosed between equal signs was in bold face in the  |
   | original (=bold=).                                         |
   |                                                            |
   +------------------------------------------------------------+



WHEN GHOST MEETS GHOST


+------------------------------------------------------------- +
|                   BY WILLIAM DE MORGAN                       |
+--------------------------------------------------------------+
|                                                              |
|                                                              |
| JOSEPH VANCE                                                 |
|                                                              |
| An intensely human and humorous novel of life near London in |
| the '50s. $1.75.                                             |
|                                                              |
| ALICE-FOR-SHORT                                              |
|                                                              |
| The story of a London waif, a friendly artist, his friends   |
| and family. $1.75.                                           |
|                                                              |
| SOMEHOW GOOD                                                 |
|                                                              |
| A lovable, humorous romance of modern England. $1.75.        |
|                                                              |
| IT NEVER CAN HAPPEN AGAIN                                    |
|                                                              |
| A strange story of certain marital complications. Notable    |
| for the beautiful Judith Arkroyd with stage ambitions, Blind |
| Jim, and his daughter Lizarann. $1.75.                       |
|                                                              |
| AN AFFAIR OF DISHONOR                                        |
|                                                              |
| Perhaps the author's most dramatic novel. It deals with the  |
| events that followed a duel in Restoration days in England.  |
| $1.75.                                                       |
|                                                              |
| A LIKELY STORY                                               |
|                                                              |
| Begins comfortably enough with a little domestic quarrel in  |
| a studio. The story shifts suddenly, however, to a           |
| brilliantly told tragedy of the Italian Renaissance embodied |
| in a girl's portrait. $1.35 _net._                           |
|                                                              |
| WHEN GHOST MEETS GHOST                                       |
|                                                              |
| A long, genial tale of old mysteries and young lovers in     |
| England in the '50s. $1.60 _net._                            |
|                                                              |
+--------------------------------------------------------------+


WHEN GHOST MEETS GHOST

by

WILLIAM DE MORGAN

Author of "Joseph Vance," "Alice-for-Short," Etc.



New York

Copyright, 1914,
by
Henry Holt and Company

Published February, 1914



Dedicated to The Spirit of Fiction



CONTENTS

PART I


CHAPTER                                          PAGE

      0. SAPPS COURT                                3
      I. DAVE AND HIS FAMILY                        6
     II. A SHORTAGE OF MUD                         16
    III. DAVE'S ACCIDENT                           24
     IV. BACK FROM THE HOSPITAL                    30
      V. MRS. PRICHARD                             40
     VI. THE STORY OF THE TWINS                    45
    VII. DAVE'S CONVALESCENT HAVEN                 60
   VIII. DAVE'S RETURN TO SAPPS COURT              72
     IX. A VERDICT OF DEATH BY DROWNING            84
      X. AT THE TOWERS                             93
     XI. MR. PELLEW AND MISS DICKENSON            110
    XII. THE MAN WHO WAS SHOT                     117
   XIII. AN INQUIRY FOR A WIDOW                   127
    XIV. A SUCCESSFUL CAPTURE                     134
     XV. WHAT AUNT M'RIAR OVERHEARD               150
    XVI. THE INNER LIFE OF SAPPS COURT            156
   XVII. HOW ADRIAN WAS NURSED AT THE TOWERS      171
  XVIII. HOW GWEN AND THE COUNTESS VISITED ADRIAN 185
    XIX. GWEN'S VERY BAD NIGHT                    200
     XX. SLOW AND FAST APPROXIMATION              208
    XXI. A RAPID ARRIVAL                          220
   XXII. A CONFESSION AND ITS EFFECTS             239
  XXIII. GWEN'S VISIT TO MRS. MARRABLE            258
   XXIV. THE SLOW APPROXIMATION GOES SLOWLY ON    272
    XXV. A GAME OF WHIST                          282
   XXVI. HOW AUNT M'RIAR'S STORY CAME OUT         293
  XXVII. HOW SAPPS HEARD A VISITOR WAS COMING     312
 XXVIII. GWEN'S VISIT, AND WHAT ENDED IT          320
   XXIX.  HOW THE SLOW COUPLE BECAME ENGAGED      331
    XXX. GWEN'S ACCOUNT OF THE CRASH              351
   XXXI.  MRS. PRICHARD AT CAVENDISH SQUARE       364
  XXXII.  AT THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS               379


PART II


CHAPTER                                          PAGE

     I. AUNT M'RIAR'S HUSBAND                     389
    II. GWEN'S VISIT TO PENSHAM                   412
   III.  HOW THE TWINS SAW EACH OTHER             429
    IV.  MAISIE AT THE TOWERS                     444
     V.  MOTHERWARDS IN THE DARK                  461
    VI.  HOW MAISIE LOVED POMONA                  474
   VII.  GWEN'S NIGHT-FLIGHT TO LONDON            491
  VIII.  MAISIE AT STRIDES COTTAGE                498
    IX.  THE DUTIFUL SON                          511
     X.  GWEN'S SECOND VISIT TO SAPPS COURT       528
    XI.  IN PARK LANE                             543
   XII.  AN ENLIGHTENMENT                         563
  XIII.  HOW GWEN TOLD SAPPS COURT                576
   XIV.  GWEN'S RETURN, AND THE TASK BEFORE HER   591
    XV.  GWEN FACES THE MUSIC                     607
   XVI.  DR. NASH TELLS GRANNY MARRABLE           626
  XVII.  THE COUNTESS CALLS AT PENSHAM            646
 XVIII.  WHAT FOLLOWED AT CHORLTON                665
   XIX.  THE MEETING                              677
    XX.  THE NIGHT AFTER THEY KNEW IT             686
   XXI.  SAPPS COURT AGAIN                        703
  XXII.  STRIDES COTTAGE AGAIN                    721
 XXIII.  GWEN'S VISIT TO PENSHAM                  734
  XXIV.  PENSHAM AT STRIDES COTTAGE               751
   XXV.  A FESTIVITY AT THE TOWERS                764
  XXVI.  ANOTHER NIGHT WATCH                      776
 XXVII.  HOW SHE SAW THE MODEL AGAIN              793
XXVIII.  HOW HER SON CAME TOO LATE                807
  XXIX.  A RIGHT CROSS-COUNTER THAT LANDED        826
         A BELATED PENDRIFT                       853



WHEN GHOST MEETS GHOST



PART I



CHAPTER 0

     A CONNECTING-LINK BETWEEN THE WRITER AND THE STORY, AMOUNTING TO
     VERY LITTLE. THERE WAS A COURT SOME FIFTY YEARS SINCE IN LONDON,
     SOMEWHERE, THAT IS NOW NOWHERE. THAT'S ALL!


Some fifty years ago there still remained, in a street reachable after
inquiry by turning to the left out of Tottenham Court Road, a rather
picturesque Court with an archway; which I, the writer of this story,
could not find when I tried to locate it the other day. I hunted for it
a good deal, and ended by coming away in despair and going for rest and
refreshment to a new-born teashop, where a number of young ladies had
lost their individuality, and the one who brought my tea was callous to
me and mine because you pay at the desk. But she had an orderly soul,
for she turned over the lump of sugar that had a little butter on it, so
as to lie on the buttery side and look more tidy-like.

If the tea had been China tea, fresh-made, it might have helped me to
recollecting the name of that Court, which I am sorry to say I have
forgotten. But it was Ceylon and had stood. However, it was hot. Only
you will never convince me that it was fresh-made, not even if you have
me dragged asunder by wild horses. Its upshot was, for the purpose of
this story, that it did not help me to recollect the name of that Court.

I have to confess with shame that I have written the whole of what
follows under a false pretence; having called it out of its name, to the
best of my belief, throughout. I know it had a name. It does not matter;
the story can do without accuracy--commonplace matter of fact!

But do what I will, I keep on recollecting new names for it, and each
seems more plausible than the other. Coltsfoot Court, Barretts Court,
Chesterfield Court, Sapps Court! Any one of these, if I add
seventeen-hundred-and-much, or eighteen-hundred-and-nothing-to-speak-of,
seems to fit this Court to a nicety. Suppose we make it Sapps Court, and
let it go at that!

Oh, the little old corners of the world that were homes and are gone!
Years hence the Court we will call Sapps will still dwell in some old
mind that knew its every brick, and be portrayed to credulous hearers
yet unborn as an unpretentious Eden, by some _laudator_ of its _tempus
actum_--some forgotten soul waiting for emancipation in an infirmary or
almshouse.

Anyhow, _I_ can remember this Court, and can tell a tale it plays a part
in, only not very quick.

Anybody might have passed down the main street and never noticed it,
because its arched entry didn't give on the street, but on a bay or
_cul-de-sac_ just long enough for a hansom to drive into but not to turn
round in. There was nothing to arrest the attention of the passer-by,
self-absorbed or professionally engaged; simultaneous possibilities, in
his case.

But if the passer-by forgot himself and neglected his proper function in
life at the moment that he came abreast of this _cul-de-sac_, he may
have thereby come to the knowledge of Sapps Court; and, if a Londoner,
may have wondered why he never knew of it before. For there was nothing
in the external appearance of its arched entry to induce him to face the
difficulties incidental to entering it. He may even have nursed
intentions of saying to a friend who prided himself on his knowledge of
town:--"I say, Old Cock, you think yourself mighty clever and all that,
but I bet you can't tell me where Sapps Court is." If, however, he never
went down Sapps Court at all--merely looked at his inscription and,
recollecting his own place in nature, passed on--I shouldn't be
surprised.

It went downhill under the archway when you did go in, and you came to a
step. If you did not tumble owing to the suddenness and depth of this
step, you came to another; and were stupefied by reaching the ground
four inches sooner than you expected, and made conscious that your
skeleton had been driven an equal distance upwards through your system.
Then you could see Sapps Court, but under provocation, from its entry.
When you recovered your temper you admitted that it was a better Court
than you had anticipated.

All the residences were in a row on the left, and there was a dead wall
on the right with an inscription on a stone in it that said the ground
twelve inches beyond belonged to somebody else. This wall was in the
confidence of the main street, lending itself to a fiction that the
houses therein had gardens or yards behind them. They hadn't; but the
tenants believed they had, and hung out chemises and nightgowns and
shirts to dry in the areas they built up their faith on; and really, if
they were properly wrung out afore hung up there was nothing to complain
of, because the blacks didn't hold on, not to crock, but got shook off
or blew away of theirselves. We put this in the language of our
informant.

However, the story has no business on the other side of this wall. What
concerns it is the row of houses on the left.

If ever a row of houses bore upon them the stamp of having been
overtaken and surrounded by an unexpected city, these did. The wooden
palings that still skirted the breathing-room in front of them almost
said aloud to every newcomer:--"Where is the strip of land gone that we
could see beyond, day by day; that belonged to God-knows-who; whose
further boundary was the road the haycarts brought their loads on, drawn
by deliberate horses that had bells?" The persistent sunflowers that
still struggled into being behind them told tales of how big they were
in youth, years ago, when they could turn to the sun and hope to catch
his eye. The stray wallflowers murmured to all who had ears to
hear:--"This is how we smelt in days gone by--but oh!--so much
stronger!" The wooden shutters, outside the ground-floors that really
stood upon the ground, told, if you chose to listen, of how they kept
the houses safe from thieves in moonlit nights a century ago; and the
doors between them--for each house was three windows wide--opened
straight into the kitchen. So they were, or had been, cottages. But the
miscreant in possession twenty years ago, instigated by a jerry-builder,
had added a storey and removed the tiled roofs whose garrets were every
bit as good as the jerry-built rooms that took their place. Sapp himself
may have done it--one knows nothing of his principles--and at the same
time in a burst of overweening vanity called his cottages his Court. But
one rather likes to think that Sapp was with his forbears when this came
about, when the wall was built up opposite, and the cottages could no
longer throw their dust everywhere, but had to resort to a common
dustbin at the end of the Court, which smelt so you could smell it quite
plain across the wall when the lid was off. That dustbin was the outward
and visible sign of the decadence of Sapp.



CHAPTER I

     OF DAVE AND DOLLY WARDLE AND THEIR UNCLE MOSES, WHO HAD BEEN A
     PRIZEFIGHTER, AND THEIR AUNT M'RIAR, WHO KEPT AN EYE ON THEM. OF
     DAVE'S SERVICES TO THE PUBLIC, AND OF ANOTHER PUBLIC THAT NEARLY
     MADE UNCLE MO BANKRUPT. OF HIS PAST BATTLES, NOTABLY ONE WITH A
     SWEEP. OF MRS. PRICHARD AND MRS. BURR, WHO LIVED UPSTAIRS. OF A BAD
     ACCIDENT THAT BEFELL DAVE, AND OF SIMEON STYLITES. HOW UNCLE MO
     STRAPPED UP DAVE'S HEAD WITH DIACHYLUM BOUGHT BY A VERY BAD BOY,
     MICHAEL RAGSTROAR, THE LIKE OF WHOM YOU NEVER! OF THE JUDGEMENT OF
     SOLOMON, AND DAVE'S CAT


In the last house down the Court, the one that was so handy to the
dustbin, lived a very small boy and a still smaller sister. There were
other members of the household--to wit, their Uncle Moses and their Aunt
M'riar, who were not husband and wife, but respectively brother and
sister of Dave's father and mother. Uncle Moses' name was Wardle, Aunt
M'riar's that of a deceased or vanished husband. But Sapps Court was
never prepared to say offhand what this name was, and "Aunt M'riar" was
universal. So indeed was "Uncle Mo"; but, as No. 7 had been spoken of as
"Wardle's" since his brother took the lower half of the house for
himself and his first wife, with whom he had lived there fifteen years,
the name Wardle had come to be the name of the house. This brother had
been some ten years younger than Moses, and had had apparently more than
his fair share of the family weddings; as "old Mo," if he ever was
married, had kept the lady secret; from his brother's family certainly,
and presumably from the rest of the world.

Our little boy was the sort of boy you were sorry was ever going to be
eleven, because at five years and ten months he was that square and
compact, that chunky and yet that tender, that no right-minded person
could desire him to be changed to an impudent young scaramouch like
young Michael Ragstroar four doors higher up, who was eleven and a
regular handful.

His name was Dave Wardle, after his father; and his sister's Dorothea,
after her mother. Both names appeared on a tombstone in the parish
churchyard, and you might have thought they was anybody, said Public
Opinion; which showed that Dave and his sister were orphans. Both had
recollections of their father, but the funeral he indulged in three
years since had elbowed other memories out of court. Of their mother
they only knew by hearsay, as Dave was only three years old when his
sister committed matricide, quite unconsciously, and you could hear her
all the way up the Court. Pardon the story's way of introducing
attestations to some fact of interest or importance in the language in
which its compiler has received it.

They were good children to do with, said their Aunt M'riar, so long as
you kep' an eye. And a good job they were, because who was to do her
work if she was every minute prancing round after a couple of young
monkeys? This was a strained way of indicating the case; but there can
be no doubt of its substantial truth. So Aunt M'riar felt at rest so
long as Dave was content to set up atop of the dustbin-lid and shout
till he was hoarse; all the while using a shovel, that was public
property, as a gong.

Perhaps Dave took his sister Dolly into his confidence about the nature
of the trust he conceived himself to hold in connection with this
dustbin. To others of the inhabitants he was reticent, merely referring
to an emolument he was entitled to. "The man on the lid," he said, "has
a farden." He said this with such conviction that few had the heart to
deny the justice of the claim outright, resorting to subterfuges to
evade a cash settlement. One had left his change on the piano; another
was looking forward to an early liquidation of small liabilities on the
return of his ship to port; another would see about it next time Sunday
come of a Friday, and so on. But only his Uncle Moses ever gave him an
actual farthing, and Dave deposited it in a cat on the mantelshelf, who
was hollow by nature, and provided by art with a slot in the dorsal
vertebrae. It could be shook out if you wanted it, and Dave occasionally
took it out of deposit in connection with a course of experiments he was
interested in. He wished to determine how far he could spit it out.

This inquiry was a resource against ennui on rainy days and foggy days
and days that were going to clear up later. All these sorts were devised
by the malignity of Providence for the confusion of small boys yearning
to be on active service, redistributing property, obstructing traffic,
or calling attention to personal peculiarities of harmless passers-by.
But it was not so inexhaustible but that cases occurred when those
children got that unsettled and masterful there was no abiding their
racket; and as for Dolly, her brother was making her every bit as bad as
himself. At such times a great resource was to induce Uncle Moses to
tell some experiences of a glorious past, his own. For he had been a
member of the Prize Ring, and had been slapped on the back by Dukes, and
had even been privileged to grasp a Royal hand. He was now an unwieldy
giant, able to get about with a stick when the day was fine, but every
six months less inclined for the effort.

Uncle Moses, when he retired from public life, had put all his winnings,
which were considerable, into a long lease of a pot-house near Golden
Square, where he was well-known and very popular. If, however, there had
been a rock on the premises and he had had all the powers of his
namesake, four-half would have had to run as fast from it as ever did
water from the rock in Horeb, to keep down the thirst of Golden Square.
For Uncle Moses not only refused to take money from old friends who
dwelt in his memory, but weakly gave way to constructive allegations of
long years of comradeship in a happy past, which his powers of
recollection did not enable him to contradict. "Wot, old Moses!--you'll
never come for to go for to say you've forgot old Swipey Sam, jist along
in the Old Kent Road--Easy Shavin' one 'apenny or an arrangement come to
by the week!" Or merely, "Seein' you's as good as old times come alive
again, mate." Suchlike appeals were almost invariable from any customer
who got fair speech of Uncle Moses in his own bar. In his absence these
claims were snuffed out roughly by a prosaic barman--even the most
pathetic ones, such as that of an extinct thimblerigger for whom three
small thimbles and one little pea had ceased for ever, years ago, when
he got his fingers in a sausage-machine. But Uncle Moses was so much his
own barman that this generosity told heavily against his credit; and he
would certainly have been left a pauper but for the earnest counsels of
an old friend known in his circle of Society as Affability Bob, although
his real name was Jeremiah Alibone. By him he was persuaded to dispose
of the lease of the "Marquess of Montrose" while it still had some
value, and to retire on a pound a week. This might have been more had he
invested all the proceeds in an annuity. "But, put it I do!" said he. "I
don't see my way to no advantage for David and Dorothy, and this here
young newcome, if I was to hop the twig." For this was at the time of
the birth of little Dave, nearly six years before the date of this
story.

Affability Bob applauded his friend's course of action in view of its
motive. "But," said he, "I tell you this, Moses. If you'd 'a' gone on
standin' Sam to every narrycove round about Soho much longer, 'No
effects' would have been _your_ vardict, sir." To which Uncle Moses
replied, "Right you are, old friend," and changed the subject.

However, there you have plenty to show what a rich mine of past
experience Uncle Moses had to dig in. The wonder was that Dave and Dolly
refused to avail themselves of its wealth, always preferring a
monotonous repetition of an encounter their uncle had had with a Sweep.
He could butt, this Sweep could, like a battering-ram, ketching hold
upon you symultaneous round the gaiters. He was irresistible by ordinary
means, his head being unimpressionable by direct impact. But Uncle Moses
had been one too many for him, having put a lot of thinking into the
right way of dealing with his system.

He had perceived that the hardest head, struck evenly on both sides at
the same moment, must suffer approximately as much as if jammed against
the door-post and catched full with a fair round swing. Whereas had
these blows followed one another on a yielding head, the injury it
inflicted as a battering-ram might have outweighed the damage it
received in inflicting it. As it was, Peter--so Uncle Moses called the
Sweep--was for one moment defenceless, being preoccupied in seizing his
opponent by the ankles; and although his cranium had no sinuses, and was
so thick it could crush a quart-pot like an opera-hat, it did not court
a fourth double concussion, and this time he was destined to disappoint
his backers.

His opponent, who in those days was known as the Hanley Linnet, suffered
very little in the encounter. No doubt you know that a man in fine
training can take an amazing number of back-falls on fair ground, clear
of snags and brickbats; and, of course, the Linnet's seconds made a
special point of this, examining careful and keeping an eye to prevent
the introduction of broke-up rubbish inside the ropes by parties having
an interest, or viciously disposed.

"There you are again, Uncle Mo, a-tellin' and a-tellin' and a-tellin'!"
So Aunt M'riar would say when she heard this narrative going over
well-known ground for the thousandth time. "And them children not
lettin' you turn round in bed, I call it!" This was in reference to Dave
and Dolly's severity about the text. The smallest departure from the
earlier version led to both them children pouncing at once. Dave would
exclaim reproachfully:--"You _did_ say a Sweep with one blind eye, Uncle
Mo!" and Dolly would confirm his words with as much emphasis as her
powers of speech allowed. "Essoodid, a 'Weep with one b'ind eye!"--also
reproachfully. Then Uncle Moses would supply a corrected version of
whatever was defective, in this case an eye not quite blind, but nearly,
owing to a young nipper, no older than Dave, aiming a broken bottle at
him as the orficers was conducting of him to the Station, after a fight
Wandsworth way, the other party being took off to the Horspital for
dead.

The Jews, I am told, won't stand any nonsense when they have their
sacred writings copied, always destroying every inaccurate MS. the
moment an error is spotted in it. Dave and Dolly were not the Jews, but
they were as intolerant of variation in the text of this almost sacred
legend of the Sweep. "S'ow me how you punched him, wiv Dave's head,"
Dolly would say; and she would be most exacting over the dramatic
rendering of this ancient fight. "Percisely this way like I'm showing
you--only harder," was Uncle Moses' voucher for his own accuracy. "Muss
harder?" inquired Dolly. "Well--a tidy bit harder!" said the veteran
with truth. The head of the Sweep's understudy, Dave, was not equal to a
full-dress rehearsal. So Dolly had to be content with the promise of a
closer reading of the part when her brother was growed up.

But it was rather like Aunt M'riar said, for Uncle Moses. Those two
young Turks didn't allow their uncle no latitude, in the manner of
speaking. He couldn't turn round in bed.

These rainy days, when the children could not possibly be allowed out,
taxed their guardians' patience just to the point of making
them--suppose we say--not ungrateful to Providence when old Mrs.
Prichard upstairs giv' leave for the children to come and play up in her
room. She was the only other in-dweller in the house, living in the
front and back attics with Mrs. Burr, who took jobs out in the
dressmaking, and very moderate charges. When Mrs. Burr worked at home,
Mrs. Prichard enjoyed her society and knitted, while Mrs. Burr cut out
and basted. Very few remarks were passed; for though Mrs. Burr was
snappish now and again, company was company, and Mrs. Prichard she put
up with a little temper at times, because we all had our trials; and
Mrs. Burr was considered good at heart, though short with you now and
again. Hence when loneliness became irksome, Mrs. Prichard found Dave
and Dolly a satisfaction, so long as nothing was broke. It was a
pleasant extension of the experience of their early youth to play at
monarchs, military celebrities, professional assassins, and so on, in
old Mrs. Prichard's room upstairs. And sometimes nothing _was_ broke.
Otherwise one day at No. 7, Sapps Court, was much the same as another.

Uncle Mo's residence in Sapps Court dated many years before the coming
of Aunt M'riar; in fact, as far back as the time he was deprived of his
anchorage in Soho. He was then taken in by his brother, recently a
widower; and no question had ever arisen of his quitting the haven he
had been, as it were, towed into as a derelict; until, some years later,
David announced that he was thinking of Dolly Tarver at Ealing. Moses
smoked through a pipe in silence, so as to give full consideration; then
said, like an easy-going old boy as he was:--"You might do worse, Dave.
I can clear out, any minute. You've only got to sing out." To which his
brother had replied:--"Don't you talk of clearing out, not till Miss
Tarver she tells you." Moses' answer was:--"I'm agreeable, Dave"; and
the matter dropped until some time after, when he had made Dolly
Tarver's acquaintance. She, on hearing that her union with David would
send Mo again adrift, had threatened to declare off if such a thing was
so much as spoke of. So Moses had remained on, in the character of a
permanency saturated with temporariness; and, when the little boy Dave
began to take his place in Society, proceeded to appropriate--so said
the child's parents--more than an uncle's fair share of him.

Then came the tragedy of his mother's death, causing the Court to go
into mourning, and leaving Dave with a sister, too young to be conscious
of responsibility for it. Not too young, however, to make her case
heard--the case all living things have against the Power that creates
them without so much as asking leave. The riot she made being
interpreted by both father and uncle as protest against Mrs. Twiggins, a
midwife who made herself disagreeable--or, strictly speaking, more
disagreeable; being normally unpleasant, and apt to snap when spoke to,
however civil--it was thought desirable to call in the help of her Aunt
M'riar, who was living with her family at Ealing as a widow without
incumbrance. Dolly junior appeared to calm down under Aunt M'riar's
auspices, though every now and then her natural indignation got the
better of her self-restraint. Dave junior was disgusted with his sister
at first, but softened gradually towards her as she matured.

His father did not long survive the death of his young wife. Even an
omnibus-driver is not exempt from inflammation of the lungs, although
the complaint is not so fatal among persons exposed to all weathers as
among leaders of indoor lives. A violent double pneumonia carried off
Uncle Mo's brother, six months after he became a widower, and about
three years before the date of this story.

Whether in some other class of life a marriageable uncle and aunt--sixty
and forty respectively--would have accepted their condominium of the
household that was left, it is not for the story to discuss. Uncle Moses
refused to give up the two babies, and Aunt M'riar refused to leave
them, and--as was remarked by both--there you were! It was an _impasse_.
The only effect it had on the position was that Uncle Mo's temporariness
got a little boastful, and slighted his permanency. The latter, however,
paid absolutely no attention to the insult, and the only change that
took place in the three following years at No. 7, Sapps Court, had
nothing to do with the downstairs tenants. Some months before the first
date of the story, a variation came about in the occupancy upstairs,
Mrs. Prichard and Mrs. Burr taking the place of some parties who, if the
truth was told, were rather a riddance. The fact is merely recorded as
received; nothing further has transpired regarding these persons.

Mrs. Prichard was a very old lady who seldom showed herself outside of
her own room--so the Court testified--but who, when she did so,
impressed the downstairs tenants as of unfathomable antiquity and a
certain pictorial appearance, causing Uncle Mo to speak of her as an old
picter, and Dave to misapprehend her name. For he always spoke of her as
old Mrs. Picture. Mrs. Burr dawned upon the Court as a civil-spoken
person who was away most part of the day, and who did not develope her
identity vigorously during the first year of her tenancy. One is
terribly handicapped by one's own absence, as a member of any Society.

       *       *       *       *       *

As time went on, Dave and Dolly, who began life with an idea that Sapps
Court was the Universe, became curious about what was going on outside.
They grew less contented with the dustbin, and ambition dictated to Dave
an enthronement on an iron post at the entrance, under the archway. The
delight of sitting on this post was so great that Dave willingly faced
the fact that he could not get down, and whenever he could persuade
anyone to put him up ran a risk of remaining there _sine die_. When he
could not induce a native of the Court to do this, he endeavoured to
influence the outer public, not without success. For when it came to
understand--that public--that the grubby little tenant of Dave's grubby
little shirt and trousers was not asking the time nor for a hoyp'ny, but
was murmuring shyly:--"I soy, mawster, put me up atop," at the same
time slapping the post on either side with two grubby little, fat hands,
it would unbend and comply, telling Dave to hold on tight, and never
asking no questions how ever the child was to be got off of it when the
time came. Because people are that selfish and inconsiderate.

The difficulty of getting down off of it all by himself, without a
friendly supporting hand in the waistband of his trousers, was connected
with the form of this post's head. It was not a disused twenty-four
pounder with a shot in its muzzle, as so many posts are, but a real
architectural post, cast from a pattern at the foundry. Its capital
expanded at the top, and its projecting rim made its negotiation
difficult to climbers, if small; hard to get round from below, and
perilous to leave hold of all of a sudden-like, in order to grasp the
shaft in descent. But then, it was this very expansion that provided a
seat for Dave, which the other sort of post would hardly have afforded.

How did Simeon Stylites manage to scrat on? One prefers to think that an
angel put him on his column, carrying him somewhat as one carries a cat;
and called for him to be taken down at convenient intervals by
appointment. The mind revolts at the idea that he really never came
down, quite never! But then, when the starving man is on at the
Aquarium, we--that is to say, the humane public--are apt to give way to
mere maudlin sentimentalism, and hope he is cheating. And when a person
at a Music Hall folds backwards and looks through his legs at us
forwards, we always hope he feels no strain--nothing but a great and
justifiable professional pride. It is not a pleasant feeling that any of
these good people are suffering on our behalf. However, in the case of
Simeon Stylites there was a mixture of motives, no doubt.

Dave Wardle was too young to have motives, and had none, unless the
desire to surprise and impress Dolly had weight with him. But he had the
longing on him which that young gentleman in the poem expressed by
writing the Latin for _taller_ on a flag; and to gratify it had scaled
the dustbin as the merest infant. It was an Alpine record. But the iron
post was no mere Matterhorn. It was like Peter Bot's Mountain; and once
you was up, there you were, and no getting down!

The occasional phrases for which I am indebted to Aunt M'riar which have
crept into the text recently--not, as I think, to its detriment--were
used by her after a mishap which befell her nephew owing to the child's
impatience. If he'd only a had the sense to set still a half a minute
longer, she would have done them frills and could have run up the Court
a'most as soon as look at you. But she hoped what had happened would
prove a warning, not only to Dave, but to all little boys in a driving
hurry to get off posts. And not only to them either, but to Youth
generally, to pay attention to what was said to it by Age and
Experience, neither of which ever climb up posts without some safe
guarantee of being able to climb down again.

What had happened was that Dave had cut his head on the ornate plinth of
that cast-iron post, his hands missing their grip as his legs caught the
shaft, so that he turned over backwards and his occiput suffered. He
showed a splendid spirit--quite Spartan, in fact--bearing in mind his
uncle's frequent homilies on the subject of crying; a thing no little
boy, however young, should dream of. Dolly was under no such obligation,
according to Uncle Moses, being a female or the rudiment of one, and on
this occasion she roared for herself and her brother, too. Aunt M'riar
was in favour of taking the child to Mr. Ekins, the apothecary, for
skilled surgery to deal with the case, but Uncle Moses scouted the idea.

"Twopenn'orth o' stroppin' and a basin o' warm water," said he, "and
I'll patch him up equal to Guy's Hospital.... Got no diacklum? Then send
one of those young varmints outside for it.... You've no call to go
yourself." For a various crowd of various ages under twelve had come
from nowhere to enjoy the tragic incident.

"Twopenn'orth of diaculum plaster off of Mr. Ekings the 'poarthecary?"
said that young Michael Ragstroar, thrusting himself forward and others
backward; because, you see, he was such a cheeky, precocious young
vagabond. "Mean to say I can't buy twopenn'orth of diaculum plaster off
of Mr. Ekings the 'poarthecary? Mean to say my aunt that orkupies a
'ouse in Chiswick clost to high-water mark don't send me to the
'poarthecaries just as often as not? For the mixture to be taken regular
... Ah!--where's the twopence? 'And over!"

Whereupon, such is the power of self-confidence over everyone else, that
Aunt M'riar entrusted twopence to this youth, quite forgetting that he
was only eleven. Yet her faith in him was not ill-founded, for he
returned like an echo as to promptitude. Only, unlike the echo, he came
back louder than he went, and more positive.

"There's the quorntity and no cheatin'," said he. "You can medger it up
with a rule if you like. It'll medger, you find if it don't! Like I
told you! And a 'apenny returned on the transaction." The tension of the
situation did not admit of the measuring test--nor indeed had Aunt
M'riar data to go upon--and as for the halfpenny, it stood over.

Uncle Moses had not laid false claim to surgical skill, and was able to
strap the wound a'most as if he'd been brought up to it. By the time it
was done Dave's courage was on the wane, and he wasn't sorry to lie his
head down and shut to his eyes. Because the lids thereof were like the
lids of plate-chests.

However, before he went off very sound asleep--so sound you might have
took him for a image--he heard what passed between Uncle Moses and
Michael, whose name has been spelt herein so that you should think of it
as Sapps Court did; but its correct form is Rackstraw.

"Now, young potato-peelin's, how much money did the doctor hand you back
for that diacklum?"

"Penny. Said he'd charge it up to the next Dook that come to his shop."

Thereupon Aunt M'riar taxed the speaker with perfidy. "Why, you little
untrue, lyin', deceitful story," she said. "To think you should say it
was only a ha'penny!"

"I never said no such a thing. S'elp me!"

"''Apenny returned on the transaction' was the very identical selfsame
words." Thus Aunt M'riar testified. "And what is more," she added
inconsecutively, "I do not believe you've any such an aunt, nor yet ever
been to Chiswick."

But young potato-peelings, so called from his father's vocation of
costermonger, defended himself with indignation. "Warn't that square?"
said he. "He never said I warn't to keep it all, didn't that doctor!"
Then he took a high position as of injured virtue. "There's your
'apenny! There's both your 'apennies! Mean to say I 'aven't kep' 'em
safe for yer?" Uncle Moses allowed the position of bailee, but disposed
of the penny as Solomon suggested in the case of the baby, giving one
halfpenny to Michael, and putting the other in Dave's cat on the
mantelshelf.

He justified this course afterwards on the ground that the doctor's
refund was made to the actual negotiator, and that Aunt M'riar had in
any case received full value for her money. Who could say that the
doctor, if referred to, would not have repudiated Aunt M'riar's claim
_in toto_?

Warnings, cautions, and moral lessons derived from this incident had due
weight with Dave for several days; in fact, until his cut healed over.
Then he forgot them and became as bad as ever.



CHAPTER II

     HOW DAVE FAILED TO PROFIT BY HIS EXPERIENCE. OF PAOLO TOSCANELLI
     AND CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS. OF A NEW SHORE DAVE AND DOLLY REACHED BY
     EXPLORATION, ROUND THE CORNER; AND OF OTHER NAVIGATORS WHO HAD, IN
     THIS CASE, MADE IT FOR THEMSELVES. OF THE PUBLIC SPIRIT OF DAVE AND
     DOLLY, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF A _BARRAGE_. HOW MRS. TAPPING AND
     MRS. RILEY HEARD THE ENGINES. OF A SHORTAGE OF MUD, AND A GREAT
     RESOLVE OF DAVE'S. WHY NOT SOME NEW MUD FROM THE NEW SHORE?


The interest of Dave's accident told in the last chapter is merely
collateral. It shows how narrow an escape the story that follows had not
only of never being finished, but even of never being written. For if
its events had never happened, it goes near to certainty that they would
never have been narrated. Near, but not quite. For even if Dave had
profited by these warnings, cautions, and moral lessons to the extent of
averting what now appears to have been Destiny, some imaginative author
might have woven a history showing exactly what might have happened to
him if he had not been a good boy. And that history, in the hands of a
master--one who had the organ of the conditional praeterpluperfect tense
very large--might have worked out the same as this.

The story may be thankful that no such task has fallen to its author's
lot. It is so much easier to tell something that actually did happen
than to make up as you go.

Dave was soon as bad as ever--no doubt of it. Only he kept clear of that
post. The burnt child dreads the fire, and the chances are that
admonitions not to climb up on posts had less to do with his abstention
from this one than the lesson the post itself had hammered into the back
of his head. Exploration of the outer world--of the regions imperfectly
known beyond that post--had so far produced no fatal consequences; so
that Aunt M'riar's and Uncle Mo's warnings to the children to keep
within bounds had not the same convincing character.

But a time was at hand for the passion of exploration to seize upon
these two very young people, and to become an excitement as absorbing to
them as the discovery of America to Paolo Toscanelli and Christopher
Columbus. At first it was satisfied by the _cul-de-sac_ recess on which
Sapps Court opened. But this palled, and no wonder! How could it compete
with the public highway out of which it branched, especially when there
was a new shore--that is to say, sewer--in course of construction?

To stand on the edge of a chasm which certainly reached to the bowels of
the earth, and to see them shovelled up from platform to platform by
agencies that spat upon their hands for some professional reason
whenever there came a lull in the supply from below, was to find life
worth living indeed. These agencies conversed continually about an
injury that had been inflicted on them by the Will of God, the selfish
caprice of their employers, or the cupidity of the rich. They appeared
to be capable of shovelling in any space, however narrow, almost to the
extent of surrendering one dimension and occupying only a plane surface.
But it hadn't come to that yet. The battens that kept the trench-sides
vertical were wider apart than what you'd have thought, when you come to
try 'em with a two-fut rule. And the short lengths of quartering that
kep' 'em apart were not really intersecting the diggers' anatomies as
the weaver's shuttle passes through the warp. That was only the
impression of the unconcerned spectator as he walked above them over the
plank bridge that acknowledged his right of way across the road. His
sympathies remained unentangled. If people navigated, it was their own
look out. You see, these people were navvies, or navigators, although it
strains one's sense of language to describe them so.

The best of it was to come. For in time the lowest navvy was threatened
with death by misadventure, unless he come up time enough to avoid the
water. The small pump the job had been making shift with was obliged to
acknowledge itself beaten, and to make way for one with two handles,
each with room for two pumpers; and this in turn was discarded in favour
of a noisy affair with a donkey-engine, which brought up the yellow
stream as fast as ever a gutter of nine-inch plank, nailed up to a =V=,
would carry it away. And it really was a most extraordinary thing that
of all those navigators there was not one that had not predicted in
detail exactly the course of events that had come about. Mr. Bloxam, the
foreman, had told the governor that there would be no harm in having the
pump handy, seeing they would go below the clay. And each of the others
had--so they themselves said--spoken in the same sense, in some cases
using a most inappropriate adjective to qualify the expected flood.
Why, even Sleepy Joe had seen that! Sleepy Joe was this same foreman,
and he lived in a wooden hutch on the job, called The Office.

But the watershed of any engine--whatever may be its donkey-power, and
whatever that name implies--slops back where a closed spout changes
suddenly to an open gutter, and sets up independent lakes and rivers.
This one sent its overflow towards Sapps Court, the incline favouring
its distribution along the gutter of the _cul-de-sac_, which lay a
little lower than the main street it opened out of. Its rich, ochrous
rivulets--containing no visible trace of haemorrhage, in spite of that
abuse of an adjective--were creeping slowly along the interstices of
cobblestone paving that still outlived the incoming of Macadam, when
Dave and Dolly Wardle ventured out of their archway to renew a survey,
begun the previous day, of the fascinating excavation in the main
street.

Here was an opportunity for active and useful service not to be lost.
Dave immediately cast about to scrape up and collect such mud as came
ready to hand, and with it began to build up an intercepting embankment
to stop the foremost current, that was winding slowly, like Vesuvian
lava, on the line of least resistance. Dolly followed his example,
filling a garment she called her pinafore with whatever mould or
_débris_ was attainable, and bringing it with much gravity and some
pride to help on the structure of the dyke. A fiction, rather felt than
spoken, got in the air that Sapps Court and its inhabitants would be
overwhelmed as by Noah's flood, except for the exertions of Dave and his
sister. It appealed to some friends of the same age, also inhabitants of
the Court, and with their assistance and sympathy it really seemed--in
this fiction--that a catastrophe might be averted. You may imagine what
a drove of little grubs those children looked in the course of half an
hour. Not that any of them were particularly spruce to begin with.

However, there was the embankment holding back the dirty yellow water;
and now the pump was running on steady-like, there didn't so much come
slopping over to add to the deluge that threatened Sapps Court. The
policeman--the only one supposed to exist, although in form he varied
slightly--made an inquiry as to what was going on, to be beforehand with
Anarchy. He said:--"What are you young customers about, taking the
Company's water?" That seemed to embody an indictment without committing
the accuser to particulars. But he took no active steps, and a very old
man with a fur cap, and no teeth, and big bones in his cheeks,
said:--"It don't make no odds to we, I take it." He was a prehistoric
navvy, who had become a watchman, and was responsible for red lanterns
hooked to posts on the edge of chasms to warn carts off. He was going to
sleep in half a tent, soothed or otherwise by the unflagging piston of
that donkey-engine, which had made up its mind to go till further
notice.

The men were knocking off work, and it was getting on for time for those
children to have their suppers and be put to bed. But as Aunt M'riar had
some trimming to finish, and it was a very fine evening, there was no
harm in leaving them alone a few minutes longer. As for any attractive
influences of supper, those children never come in of theirselves, and
always had to be fetched.

An early lamplighter--for this was in September, 1853--passed along the
street with a ladder, dropping stars as he went. There are no
lamplighters now, no real ones that run up ladders. Their ladders
vanished first, leaving them with a magic wand that lighted the gas as
soon as you got the tap turned; only that was ever so long, as often as
not. Perhaps things are better now that lamps light themselves
instinctively at the official hour of sunset. At any rate, one has the
satisfaction of occasionally seeing one that won't go out, but burns on
into the daylight to spite the Authorities.

They were cold stars, almost green, that this lamplighter dropped; but
this was because the sun had left a flood of orange-gold behind it,
enough to make the tune from "Rigoletto" an organ was playing think it
was being composed in Italy again. The world was a peaceful world,
because Opulence, inflated and moderate, had gone out of town: the
former to its country-house, or a foreign hotel; the latter to lodgings
at the seaside to bathe out of machines and prey on shrimps. The lull
that reigned in and about Sapps Court was no doubt a sort of recoil or
backwater from other neighbourhoods, with high salaries or real and
personal estate, whose dwellings were closed and not being properly
ventilated by their caretakers. It reacted on business there, every bit
as much as in Oxford Street; and that was how Tapping's the
tallow-chandler's--where you got tallow candles and dips, as well as
composites; for in those days they still chandled tallow--didn't have a
single customer in for ten whole minutes by the clock. In that interval
Mrs. Tapping seized the opportunity to come out in the street and
breathe the air. So did Mrs. Riley next door, and they stood conversing
on the topics of the day, looking at the sunset over the roofs of the
_cul-de-sac_ this story has reference to. For Mrs. Tapping's shop was in
the main road, opposite to where the embankment operations were in hand.

"Ye never will be tellin' me now, Mrs. Tapping, that ye've not hur-r-rd
thim calling 'Fire!' in the sthrate behind? Fy-urr, fy-urr, fy-urr!"
This is hard to write as Mrs. Riley spoke it, so great was her command
of the letter _r_.

"Now you name it, Mrs. Riley, deny it I can't. But to the point of
taking notice to bear in mind--why no! It was on my ears, but only to be
let slip that minute. Small amounts and accommodations frequent, owing
to reductions on quantity took, distrack attention. I was a-sayin' to my
stepdaughter only the other day that hearin' is one thing and listenin'
is another. And she says to me, she says, I was talking like a book, she
says. Her very expression and far from respectful! So I says to her, not
to be put upon, 'Lethear,' I says, 'books ain't similar all through but
to seleck from, and I go accordin'....'" Mrs. Tapping, whose system was
always to turn the conversation to some incident in which she had been
prominent, might have developed this one further, but Mrs. Riley
interrupted her with Celtic _naïveté_.

"D'ye mane to say, me dyurr, that ye can't hearr 'em now? Kape your
tongue silent and listen!" A good, full brogue permits speech that would
offend in colourless Saxon; and Mrs. Tapping made no protest, but
listened. Sure enough the rousing, maddening "Fire, fire, fire, fire,
fire!" was on its way at speed somewhere close at hand. It grew and
lessened and died. And Mrs. Riley was triumphant. "That's a larrudge
fire, shure!" said she, transposing her impression of the enthusiasm of
the engine to the area of the conflagration. Cold logic perceives that
an engine may be just as keen to pump on a cottage as on a palace,
before it knows which. Mrs. Riley had come from Tipperary, and had
brought a sympathetic imagination with her, leaving any logic she
possessed behind.

A few minutes before the lamplighter passed--saying to the old
watchman:--"Goin' to bed, Sam?" and on receiving the reply, "Time enough
yet!" rejoining sarcastically:--"Time enough for a quart!"--the
labourers at the dyke had recognised the fact that unless new material
could be obtained, the pent-up waters would burst the curb and bound,
rejoicing to be free, and rush headlong to the nearest drain. All the
work would be lost unless a fresh supply could be obtained; the ruling
fiction of a new Noachian deluge might prove a deadly reality instead
of, as now, a theoretical contingency under conditions which engineering
skill might avert. The Sappers and Miners who were roused from their
beds to make good a dynamited embankment and block the relentless Thames
did not work with a more untiring zeal to baffle a real enemy than did
Dave and Dolly to keep out a fictitious one, and hypothetically save
Uncle Moses and Aunt M'riar from drowning. But all efforts would be
useless if there was to be a shortage of mud.

The faces of our little friends, and their little friends, were
earnestness itself as they concentrated on the great work in the glow of
the sunset. They had no eyes for its glories. The lamplighter even,
dropping jewels as he went, passed them by unheeded. The organ
interpreted Donizetti in vain. Despair seemed imminent when Dolly, who,
though small, was as keen as the keenest of the diggers, came back after
a special effort with no more than the merest handful of
gutter-scrapings, saying with a most pathetic wail:--"I tan't det no
more!"

Then it was that a great resolve took shape in the heart of Dave. It
found utterance in the words:--"Oy wants some of the New Mud the Men
spoyded up with their spoyds," and pointed to an ambitious scheme for
securing some of the fine rich clay that lay in a tempting heap beyond
the wooden bridge across the sewer-trench. The bridge that Dave had
never even stood upon, much less crossed!

The daring, reckless courage of the enterprise! Dolly gasped with awe
and terror. She was too small to find at a moment's notice any terms in
which she could dissuade Dave from so venturesome a project. Besides,
her faith in her brother amounted to superstition. Dave _must_ know what
was practicable and righteous. Was he not nearly six years old? She
stood speechless and motionless, her heart in her mouth as she watched
him go furtively across that awful bridge of planks and get nearer and
nearer to his prize.

There were lions in his path, as there used to be in the path of
knights-errant when they came near the castles of necromancers who held
beautiful princesses captive--to say nothing of full-blown dragons and
alluring syrens. These lions took in one case, the form of a
butcher-boy, who said untruthfully:--"Now, young hobstacle, clear out o'
this! Boys ain't allowed on bridges;" and in another that of Michael
Ragstroar, who said, "Don't you let the Company see you carryin' off
their property. They'll rip you open as soon as look at you. You'll be
took afore the Beak." Dave was not yet old enough to see what a very
perverted view of legal process these words contained, but his blue eyes
looked mistrustfully at the speaker as he watched him pass up the street
towards the Wheatsheaf, swinging a yellow jug with ridges round its neck
and a full corporation. Michael had been sent to fetch the beer.

If the blue eyes had not remained fixed on that yellow jug and its
bearer till both vanished through the swing-door of the Wheatsheaf--if
their owner's mistrust of his informant had been strong enough to cancel
the misgivings that crossed his baby mind, only a few seconds sooner,
would things have gone otherwise with Dave? Would he have used that
beautiful lump of clay, as big as a man of his age could carry, on the
works that were to avert Noah's flood from Sapps Court? Would he and
Dolly not probably have been caught at their escapade by an indignant
Aunt M'riar, corrected, duly washed and fed, and sent to bed sadder and
wiser babies? So few seconds might have made the whole difference.

Or, if that heap of clay had been thrown on the other side of the
trench, on the pavement instead of towards the traffic--why then the
children might have taken all they could carry, and Old Sam would have
countenanced them, in reason, as like as not. But how little one gains
by thinking what might have been! The tale is to tell, and tells that
these things were not otherwise, but thus.

       *       *       *       *       *

Uncle Moses was in the room on the right of the door, called the
parlour, smoking a pipe with the old friend whose advice had probably
kept him from coming on the parish.

"Aunt M'riar!" said he, tapping his pipe out on the hob, and taking care
the ashes didn't get in the inflammable stove-ornament, "I don't hear
them young customers outside. What's got 'em?"

"Don't you begin to fret and werrit till I tell you to it, Moses. The
children's safe and not in any mischief--no more than usual. Mr. Alibone
seen 'em." For although the world called this friend Affability Bob and
Uncle Moses gave him his christened name, Aunt M'riar always spoke of
him, quite civil-like, thus.

"You see the young nippers, Jerry?" said the old prizefighter; who
always got narvous, as you might say, though scarcely alarmed, when they
got out of sight and hearing; even if it was for no more time than what
an egg takes.

"Jist a step beyond the archway, Mosey," said Mr. Alibone. "Paddlin'
and sloppin' about with the water off o' the shore-pump. It's all clean
water, Mrs. Catchpole, only for a little clay." Aunt M'riar, whose
surname was an intrinsic improbability in the eyes of Public Opinion,
and who was scarcely ever called by it, except by Mr. Jerry, expressed
doubts. So he continued:--"You see, they're sinking for a new shore
clear of the old one. So nothing's been opened into."

"Well," said Aunt M'riar, "I certainly did think the flaviour was being
kep' under wonderful. But now you put it so, I understand. What I say
is--if dirt, then clean dirt; and above all no chemicals!... What's that
you're saying, Uncle Mo?"

"Why, I was a-thinking," said Uncle Moses, who seemed restless, "I _was_
a-thinking, Bob, that you and me might have our pipes outside, being dry
underfoot." For Uncle Moses, being gouty, was ill-shod for wet weather.
He was slippered, though not lean. And though Mrs. Burr, coming in just
then, added her testimony that the children were quite safe and happy,
only making a great mess, Uncle Moses would not be content to remain
indoors, but must needs be going out. "These here young juveniles," said
he, outside in the Court, "where was it you took stock of 'em, did you
say?"

"Close to hand," said Affability Bob. "One step out of the archway.
There you'll find 'em, old man. Don't you fret your kidneys. _They're_
all right. Hear the engines?"

"Whereabouts is the fire?"

"Somewhere down by Walworth. I saw the smoke, crossing Hungerford
Bridge. This engine's coming down our road outside."

"I reckon she may be, by the sound. She'll be half-way to Blackfriars
before we're out of this here Court. If she gets by where the road's up!
Maybe she'll have to go back."

"There she stops! What's the popilation shoutin' at?" For the tramp of
the engine's horses, heard plain enough on the main road, came to an end
abruptly, and sounds ensued--men's shouts, women's cries--not
reconcilable with the mere stoppage of a fire-engine by unexpected
narrows or an irregular coal-cart.

"Couldn't say, I'm sure. They're a nizy lot in these parts." So said
Uncle Moses, and walked slowly up the Court, stopping for breath
half-way.



CHAPTER III

     WHY THAT ENGINE STOPPED. BUT THE WHEELS HAD NOT GONE OVER DAVE. HOW
     PETER JACKSON CARRIED HIM AWAY TO THE HOSPITAL. OF DOLLY'S DESPAIR
     AT THE COLLAPSE OF THE _BARRAGE_, AND OF AN OLD COCK, NAMED SAM.
     MRS. TAPPING'S EXPERIENCES, AND HER DAUGHTER, ALETHEA. OF THE
     VICISSITUDES OF THE PUBLIC, AND ITS AMAZING RECUPERATIVE POWERS.
     HOW UNCLE MOSES AND MR. ALIBONE WENT TO THE HOSPITAL


So few seconds would have made the whole difference. But so engrossing
had Dave found the contemplation of Michael Ragstroar and his yellow
jug, so exciting particularly was its disappearance into the swing-door
of the Wheatsheaf, that he forgot even the new mud that the men had
spaded up with their spades. And these seconds slipped by never to
return. Then when Michael had vanished, the little man stooped to secure
his cargo. It was slippery and yet tenacious; had been detachable with
difficulty from the spade that wrenched it from the virgin soil of its
immemorial home, and was now difficult to carry. But Dave grappled
bravely with it and turned to go back across the bridge.

A coming whirlwind, surely, in the distance of the street--somewhere now
where all the gas-lamps' cold green stars are merged in one--now nearer,
nearer still; and with it, bringing folk to doors and windows to see
them pass, the war-cry of the men that fight the flames. Charioteers
behind blood-horses bathed in foam; heads helmeted in flashing
splendour; eyes all intent upon the track ahead, keen to anticipate the
risks of headlong speed and warn the dilatory straggler from its path.
Nearer and nearer--in a moment it will pass and take some road unknown
to us, to say to fires that even now are climbing up through roof and
floor, clasping each timber in a sly embrace fatal as the caress of
Death itself:--"Thus far shalt thou go and no farther!" Close upon us
now, to be stayed with a sudden cry--something in the path! Too late!

Too late, though the strong hand that held the reins brought back the
foaming steeds upon their haunches, with startled eyes and quivering
nostrils all agape. Too late, though the helmeted men on the engine's
flank were down, almost before its swerve had ceased, to drag at every
risk from beneath the plunging hoofs the insensible body of the child
that had slipped from a clay heap by the roadside, on which it stood to
gaze upon the coming wonder, and gone headlong down quite suddenly upon
the open road.

You who read this, has it ever fallen to your lot to guide two swift
horses at a daring speed through the narrow ways, the ill-driven
vehicles, the careless crowds and frequent drunkards of the slum of a
great city? If so, you have earned some right to sit in judgment on the
fire-engine that ran our little friend down. But you will be the last of
all men to condemn that fire-engine.

"Dead, mate?" One of the helmeted men asks this of the other as they
escape from the plunging hoofs. They are used to this sort of thing--to
every sort of thing.

"Insensible," says the other, who holds in his arms the rescued child, a
mere scrap of dust and clay and pallor and a little blood.

A fire-engine calculates its rights to pause in fractions of a minute.
The unused portion of twenty seconds the above conversation leaves,
serves for a glance round in search of some claimant of the child, or a
responsible police-officer to take over the case. Nothing presents
itself but Mrs. Tapping, too much upset to be coherent, and not able to
identify the child; Mrs. Riley, little better, but asking:--"Did the
whales go overr it, thin?" The old man Sam, the watchman, is working
round from his half-tent, where he sleeps in the traffic, but cannot
possibly negotiate the full extent of trench and bridge for fifty
seconds more. Time cannot be lavished waiting for him. The man at the
reins, with seeming authority, clinches the matter.

"You stop, Peter Jackson. _Hospital!_ Don't you let the child out of
your hands before you get there. Understand?--All clear in front?" Two
men, who have taken the horses' heads, to soothe their shaken nerves
with slaps and suitable exclamations, now give them back to their
owners, leaving them free to rear high once or twice to relieve feeling;
while they themselves go back, each to his own place on the engine. A
word of remonstrance from the driver about that rearing, and they are
off again, the renewed fire-cry scarcely audible in the distance by the
time Old Sam gets across the wooden bridge.

To him, as to a responsible person, says Peter Jackson:--"Know where he
belongs?"--and to Mrs. Riley, as to one not responsible, but deserving
of sympathy:--"No--the wheels haven't been over him."

"Down yonder Court, I take it. Couldn't say for sartin." So says Sam;
and Mrs. Tapping discerns with pious fervour the Mercy of God in this
occurrence, He not having flattened the child out on the road outright.

But Peter Jackson's question implied no intention to communicate with
the little victim's family. To do so would be a clear dereliction of
duty; an offence against discipline. He has his instructions, and in
pursuance of them strides away to the Hospital without another word,
bearing in his arms a light burden so motionless that it is hard to
credit it with life. So quickly has the whole thing passed, that the
drift of idlers hard on his heels is a fraction of what a couple more
minutes would have made it. It will have grown before they reach the
Middlesex, short as the distance is. Then a police-sergeant, who joins
them half-way, will take notes and probably go to find the child's
parents; while Peter Jackson, chagrined at this hitch in his day's
fire-eating, will go off Walworth way at the best speed he may, after
handing over his charge to an indisputable House-Surgeon.

One can picture to oneself how the whole thing might pass as it did,
between the abrupt check of the engine's career, heard by Uncle Moses
and his friend, and the two or three minutes later when they emerged
through the archway to find Dolly in despair; not from any knowledge of
the accident to Dave, for intense preoccupation and a rampart of clay
had kept her in happy ignorance of it, but because the water had broken
bounds and Noah's flood had come with a vengeance. Questioned as to
Dave's whereabouts, she embarked on a lengthy stuttered explanation of
how Dave had dode round there--pointing to the clay heap--to det some of
the new mud the men had spoyded up with their spoyds. She reproduced his
words, of course. Uncle Moses was trying to detect her meaning without
much success, when he became aware that the old man in the fur cap who
had shouted more than once, "I say, master!" was addressing him.

"Is that old cock singing out to one of we, Jerry?" said Uncle Moses.
And then replied to the old cock:--"Say what you've got to say, mate!
Come a bit nigher."

Thereupon Old Sam crossed the bridge, slowly, as Uncle Moses moved to
meet him. "Might you happen to know anything of this little boy?" said
old Sam.

Uncle Moses caught the sound of disaster in his accent, before his words
came to an end. "What's the little boy?" said he. "Where have you got
him?" And Dolly, startled by the strange sound in her uncle's voice,
forgot Noah's flood, and stood dumb and terrified with outstretched
muddy hands.

"I may be in the wrong of it, master"--thus Old Sam in his slow way, a
trial to impatience--"but maybe this little maid's brother. They've took
him across to the Hospital." Old Sam did not like to have to say this.
He softened it as much as he could. Do you not see how? Omit the word
"across," and see how relentless it makes the message. Do you ask why?
Impossible to say--but it _does_!

Then Uncle Moses shouted out hoarsely, not like himself: "The
Hospital--the Hospital--hear that, Bob! Our boy Dave in the Hospital!"
and, catching his friend's arm, "Ask him--ask more!" His voice dropped
and his breath caught. He was a bad subject for sudden emotions.

"Tell it out, friend--any word that comes first!" says Mr. Alibone. And
then Old Sam, tongue-freed, gives the facts as known to him. He ends
with:--"Th' young child could never have been there above a minute, all
told, before the engine come along, and might have took no warning at
twice his age for the vairy sudden coming of it." He dwells upon the
shortness of the time Dave had been on the spot as though this minimised
the evil. "I shouldn't care to fix the blame, for my own part," says he,
shaking his head in venerable refusal of judicial functions not assigned
to him so far.

"Is the child killed, man? Say what you know!" Thus Mr. Alibone
brusquely. For he has caught a question Uncle Moses just found voice
for:--"Killed or not?"

The old watchman is beginning slowly:--"That I would not undertake to
say, sir...." when he is cut off short by Mrs. Riley, anxious to attest
any pleasant thing, truly if possible; but if otherwise, anyhow!--"Kilt
is it? No, shure thin! Insinsible." And then adds an absolutely
gratuitous statement from sheer optimism:--"Shure, I hur-r-d thim say so
mesilf, and I wouldn't mislade ye, me dyurr. Will I go and till his
mother so for ye down the Court? To till her not to alarrum hersilf!"

But by this time Uncle Moses had rallied. The momentary qualm had been
purely physical, connected with something that a year since had caused a
medical examination of his heart with a stethoscope. He had been too
great an adept in the art of rallying after knock-down blows in his
youth to go off in a faint over this. He had felt queer, for all that.
Still, he declined Mrs. Riley's kindly meant offer. "Maybe I'll make the
best job of it myself," said he. "Thanking you very kindly all the
same, ma'am!" After which he and his friend vanished back into Sapps
Court, deciding as they went that it would be best to persuade Aunt
M'riar to remain at home, while they themselves went to the Hospital, to
learn the worst. It would never do to leave Dolly alone, or even in
charge of neighbours.

Mrs. Riley's optimism lasted till Uncle Moses and Mr. Alibone
disappeared, taking with them Dolly, aware of something terrible afoot;
too small to understand the truth, whatever it was; panic-stricken and
wailing provisionally to be even with the worst. Then, all reason for
well-meaning falsehood being at an end, the Irishwoman looked facts in
the face with the resolution that never flinches before the mishaps of
one's fellow-man, especially when he is a total stranger.

"The power man!" said she. "He'll have sane the last of his little boy
alive, only shure one hasn't the harrut to say the worrd. Throubles make
thimsilves fast enough without the tilling of thim, and there'll be
manes and to spare for the power payple to come to the knowledge without
a worrd from you or me, Mrs. Tapping."

Then said Mrs. Tapping, on the watch for an opening through which she
could thrust herself into the conversation; as a topic, you
understand:--"Now there, Mrs. Riley, you name the very reason why I
always stand by like, not to introduce my word. Not but that I will
confess to the temptation undergone this very time to say that by God's
will the child was took away from us, undeniable. Against that
temptation I kep' my lips shut. Only I will say this much, and no
concealment, that if my husband had been spared, being now a widow
fourteen years, and heard me keep silence many a time, he might have
said it again and again, like he said it a hundred times if he said it
once when alive and able to it:--'Mary Ann Tapping, you do yourself no
justice settin' still and list'nin', with your tongue in your mouth God
gave you, and you there to use it!' And I says to Tapping, fifty times
if I said it once, 'Tapping,' says I, 'you better know things twiced
before you say 'em for every onced you say 'em before you know 'em.'
Then Tapping, he says, was that to point at 'Lethear? And I says yes,
though the girl was then young and so excusable. But she may learn
better, I says, and made allowance though mistaken...." This is just as
good a point for Mrs. Tapping to cease at as any other in the story. In
reality Heaven only knows when she ceased.

A very miscellaneous public gathered round and formed false ideas of
what had happened from misinformants. The most popular erroneous report
ran towards connecting it somehow with the sewer-trench, influencing
people to look down into its depths and watch for the reappearance of
something supposed to be expected back. So much so that more than one
inoffensive person asked the man in charge of the pumping engine--which
went honourably on without a pause--whether "it" was down there. He was
a morose and embittered man--had been crossed in love, perhaps--for he
met all inquiries by another:--"Who are you a-speaking to?" and, on
being told, added:--"Then why couldn't you say so?" Humble apology had
then to be content with, "No, it ain't down there and never has been, if
you ask me,"--in answer to the previous question.

Old Sam endeavoured more than once to point out that the accident need
not necessarily end fatally. He invented tales of goods-trains that had
passed over him early in life, and the surgical skill that had left him
whole and sound. Trains were really unknown in his boyhood, but there
was no one to contradict him. The public, stimulated to hopefulness,
produced analogous experiences. It had had a hay-cart over it, with a
harvest-home on the top, such as we see in pictures. It had had the
Bangor coach over it, going down hill, and got caught in the skid. It
had been under an artillery corps and field-guns at a gallop, when the
Queen revoo'd the troops in Hyde Park. And look at it now! Horse-kicks
and wheel-crushing really had a bracing tendency; gave the constitution
tone, and seldom left any ill effects.

Only their consequences must be took in time. Well!--hadn't the child
gone to the Hospital? Dissentients who endeavoured to suggest that
broken bones and dislocations were unknown before the invention of
surgeons, were rebuked by the citation of instances of neglected
compound fractures whose crippled owners became athletes after their
bones had been scientifically reset, having previously been rebroken in
the largest number of places the narrator thought he could get credence
for. Hope told her flattering tale very quickly, for when Dave's uncle
and Jerry Alibone reappeared on their way to find the truth at the
Hospital, her hearers were ready with encouragement, whether they knew
anything about the matter or not. "I don't believe they do," said Uncle
Moses, and Mr. Alibone replied--"Not they, bless your heart!" But it was
refreshing for all that.

They met the police-sergeant on the way, coming from the Hospital to
bring the report and make inquiry about the child's belongings. They
credited him with superhuman insight when he addressed them
with:--"Either of you the father of a child knocked down by Fire-engine
67A in this street--taken into accident ward?" He spoke just as though
Engine 68B had knocked another child down in the next street, and so on
all over London.

But his sharpness was merely human. For scarcely a soul had passed but
paused to look round after them, wondering at the set jaw and pallid
face of the huge man who limped on a stick, seeming put to it to keep
the speed. Uncle Moses, you see, was a fine man in his own way of the
prizefighter type; and now, in his old age, worked out a little like Dr.
Samuel Johnson.

The report, as originally received by the police-officer, was that the
child was not killed but still unconscious. A good string of injuries
were credited to the poor little man, including a dislocated femur and
concussion of the brain. Quite enough, alone!--for the patient, his
friends and relations. The House-Surgeon, speaking professionally, spoke
also hopefully of undetected complications in the background. We might
pull him through for all that. This report was materially softened for
the child's family. Better not say too much to the parents at present,
either way!



CHAPTER IV

     HOW UNCLE MO AND HIS FRIEND COULD NOT GET MUCH ENCOURAGEMENT.
     DOLLY'S ATTITUDE. ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, AND DOLLY'S PUDDING.
     HOW UNCLE MO'S SPIRITS WENT DOWN INTO HIS BOOTS. HOW PETER JACKSON
     THE FIREMAN INTERVIEWED MICHAEL RAGSTROAR, UPSIDE DOWN, AND BROUGHT
     AUNT M'RIAR'S HEART INTO HER MOUTH. HOW DAVE CAME HOME IN A CAB,
     AND MICHAEL RAGSTROAR GOT A RIDE FOR NOTHING. OF SISTER NORA, WHO
     GOT ON THE COURT'S VISITING LIST BEFORE IT CAME OUT THAT SHE WAS
     MIXED UP WITH ARISTOCRATS


The present writer, half a century since--he was then neither _we_ nor a
writer--trod upon a tiny sapling in the garden of the house then
occupied by his kith and kin. It was broken off an inch from the ground,
and he distinctly remembers living a disgraced life thereafter because
of the beautiful tree that sapling might have become but for his
inconsiderate awkwardness. If the censorious spirit that he aroused
could have foreseen the tree that was to grow from the forgotten
residuum of the accident, the root that it left in the ground, it would
not perhaps have passed such a sweeping judgment. Any chance wayfarer in
St. John's Wood may see that tree now--from the end of the street, for
that matter.

So perhaps the old prizefighter might have mustered more hope in
response to Aunt M'riar's plucky rally against despair. The tiny, white,
motionless figure on the bed in the accident ward, that had uttered no
sound since he saw it on first arriving at the Hospital, might have been
destined to become that of a young engineer on a Dreadnought, or an
unfledged dragoon, for any authenticated standard of Impossibility.

The House-Surgeon and his Senior, one of the heads of the
Institution,--interviewed by Uncle Moses and Aunt M'riar when they came
late by special permission and appointment, hoping to hear the child's
voice once more, and found him still insensible and white--testified
that the action of the heart was good. The little man had no intention
of dying if he could live. But both his medical attendants knew that the
tremulous inquiry whether there was any hope of a recovery--within a
reasonable time understood, of course--was really a petition for a
favourable verdict at any cost. And they could not give one, for all
they would have been glad to do so. They have to damn so many hopes in a
day's work, these Accident Warders!

"It's no use asking us," said they, somehow conjointly. "There's not a
surgeon in all England that could tell you whether it will be life or
death. _We_ can only say the patient is making a good fight for it."
They seemed very much interested in the case, though, and in the queer
old broken-hearted giant that sobbed over the half-killed baby that
could not hear nor answer, speak to it as he might.

"What did you say your name was?" said the Senior Surgeon to Uncle
Moses.

"Moses Wardle of Hanley, called the Linnet. Ye see, I was a Member of
the Prize Ring, many years. Fighting Man, you might say."

"I had an idea I knew the name, too. When I was a youngster thirty odd
years ago I took an interest in that sort of thing. You fought Bob
Brettle, and the umpires couldn't agree."

"That was it, master. Well, I had many a turn up--turn up and turn down,
either way as might be. But I had a good name. I never sold a backer. I
did my best by them that put their money on me." For the moneychanger,
the wagermonger, creeps in and degrades the noble science of damaging
one's fellow-man effectively; even as in old years he brought discredit
on cock-fighting, in which at least--you cannot deny it--the bird cuts a
better figure than he does in his native farmyard.

"Come round after twelve to-morrow, and we may know more," said the
House-Surgeon. "It's not regular--but ask for me." And then the older
Surgeon shook Uncle Moses by the hand, quite respectful-like--so Mr.
Jerry said to Aunt M'riar later--and the two went back, sad and
discouraged, to Sapps Court.

What made it all harder to bear was the difficulty of dealing with
Dolly. Dolly knew, of course, that Dave had been took to the
Horsetickle--that was the nearest she could get to the word, after
frequent repetitions--and that he was to be made well, humanly speaking,
past a doubt. The little maid had to be content with assurances to this
effect, inserting into the treaty a stipulation as to time.

"Dave's doin' to tum home after dinner," said she, when that meal seemed
near at hand. And Uncle Moses never had the heart to say no.

Then when no Dave had come, and Dolly had wept for him in vain, and a
cloth laid announced supper, Dolly said--moved only by that landmark of
passing time--"Dave _is_ a-doin' to tum home after supper; he _is_
a-doin', Uncle Mo, he _is_ a-doin'!" And what could her aunt and uncle
do but renew the bill, as it were; the promise to pay that could only be
fulfilled by the production of Dave, whole and sound.

She refused food except on condition that an exactly similar helping
should be conveyed to Dave in the Horsetickle. She withdrew the
condition that Uncle Moses and herself should forthwith convey Dave's
share of the repast to him, in consideration of a verbal guarantee that
little girls were not allowed in such Institutions. Why she accepted
this so readily is a mystery. Possibly the common form of instruction to
little girls, dwelling on their exclusion by statute or usage from
advantages enjoyed by little boys, may have had its weight. Little
girls, _exempli gratia_, may not lie on their backs and kick their legs
up. Little boys are at liberty to do so, subject to unimportant
reservations, limiting the area at their disposal for the practice. It
is needless--and might be thought indelicate--to instance the numerous
expressions that no little girl should use under any circumstances,
which are regarded as venial sin in little boys, except of course on
Sunday. Society does not absolutely countenance the practices of
spitting and sniffing in little boys, but it closes its eyes and passes
hypocritically by on the other side of the road; while, on the other
hand, little girls indulging in these vices would either be cast out
into the wilderness, or have to accept the _rôle_ of penitent Magdalens.
Therefore when Dolly was told that little girls were not allowed in
Hospitals, it may only have presented itself to her as another item in a
code of limitations already familiar.

The adhibition in visible form of a pendant to her own allowance of
pudding or bread-and-milk, to be carried to the Horsetickle by Uncle
Moses on his next visit, had a sedative effect, and she was contented
with it, without insisting on seeing the pledge carried out. Her
imagination was satisfied, as a child's usually is, with any objective
transaction. Moreover, a dexterous manipulation of the position improved
matters. The portion allotted to Dave was removed, ostensibly to keep it
warm for him, but reproduced to do duty as a second helping for Dolly.
Of course, it had to be halved again for Dave's sake, and an ancient
puzzle solved itself in practice. The third halving was not worth
sending to the Hospital. Even so a step too small to take was left for
Achilles when the tortoise had only just started. "Solvitur ambulando,"
said Philosophy, and _a priori_ reasoning took a back place.

Her constant inquiries about the date of Dave's cure and return were an
added and grievous pain to her aunt and uncle. It was easy for the
moment to procrastinate, but how if the time should come for telling her
that Dave would never come back--no, never?

But the time was not to come yet. For a few days Life showed indecision,
and Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar had a thumping heart apiece each time they
stood by the little, still, white figure on the bed and thought the
breath was surely gone. They were allowed in the ward every day,
contrary to visitor-rule, apparently because of Uncle Mo's professional
eminence in years gone by--an odd reason when one thinks of it! It was
along of that good gentleman, God bless him!--said Aunt M'riar--that
knew Uncle Mo's name in the Ring. In fact, the good gentleman had said
to the House-Surgeon in private converse: "You see, there's no doubt the
old chap ended sixteen rounds with Brettle in a draw, and Jem Mace had a
near touch with Brettle. No, no--we must let him see the case day by
day." So Uncle Mo saw the case each day, and each day went away to
transact such business with Hope as might be practicable. And each day,
on his return, there was a voice heard in Sapps Court, Dolly weeping for
her elder brother, and would not be comforted. "Oo _did_ said oo would
fess Dave back from the Horsetickle, oo know oo did, Uncle Mo"; and
similar reproaches, mixed themselves with her sobs. But for many days
she got no consolation beyond assurance that Dave would come to-morrow,
discharged cured.

Then, one windy morning, a punctual equinoctial gale, gathering up its
energies to keep inoffensive persons awake all night and, if possible,
knock some chimney-stacks down, blew Uncle Mo's pipelight out, and
caused him to make use of an expression. And Aunt M'riar reproved that
expression, saying:--"Not with that blessed boy lying there in the
Hospital should you say such language, Moses, more like profane
swearing, I call it, than a Christian household."

"He's an old Heathen, ma'am, is Moses," said Mr. Alibone, who was
succeeding in lighting his own pipe, in spite of the wind in at the
street door. Because, as we have seen, in this Court--unlike the Courts
of Law or Her Majesty's Court of St. James's--the kitchens opened right
on the street. Not but what, for all that, there was the number where
you would expect, on a shiny boss you could rub clean and give an
appearance. Aunt M'riar said so, and must have known.

Uncle Moses shook his head gravely over his own delinquency, as if he
truly felt it just as much as anybody. But when he got his pipe lighted,
instead of being cheerful and making the most of what the doctor had
said that very day, his spirits went down into his boots, which was a
way they had.

"'Tain't any good to make believe," said he. "Supposin' our boy never
comes back, M'riar!"

"There, now!" said Aunt M'riar. "To hear you talk, Mo, wouldn't anybody
think! And after what Dr. Prime said only this afternoon! I should be
ashamed."

"What was it Dr. Prime said, Mo?" asked Mr. Alibone, quite
cheerful-like. "Tell us again, old man." For you see, Uncle Moses he'd
brought back quite an encouraging report, whatever anyone see fit to
say, when he come back from the Hospital. Dr. Prime was the
House-Surgeon.

"I don't take much account of him," said Uncle Mo. "A well-meanin' man,
but too easy by half. One o' your good-natured beggars. Says a thing to
stuff you up like! For all I could see, my boy was as white as that bit
of trimmin' in your hand, M'riar."

"But won't you tell us what the doctor _said_, Mo?" said Mr. Alibone. "I
haven't above half heard the evening's noose." He'd just come in to put
a little heart into Moses.

"Said the little child had a better colour. But I don't set any store by
that." And then what does Uncle Moses do but reg'lar give away and go
off sobbing like a baby. "Oh, M'riar, M'riar, we shall never have our
boy back--no, never!"

And then Aunt M'riar, who was a good woman if ever Mr. Alibone come
across one--this is what that gentleman could and did tell a friend
after, incorporated verbatim in the text--she up and she says:--"For
shame of yourself, Mo, for to go and forget yourself like that before
Mr. Alibone! I tell you I believe we shall have the boy back in a week,
all along o' what Dr. Prime said." On which, and a further
representation that he would wake Dolly if he went on like that, Uncle
Mo he pulled himself together and smoked quiet. Whereupon Aunt M'riar
dwelt upon the depressing effect a high wind in autumn has on the
spirits, with the singular result referred to above, of their
retractation into their owner's boots, like quicksilver in a thermometer
discouraged by the cold. After which professional experience was allowed
some weight, and calmer counsels prevailed.

About this time an individual in a sort of undress uniform, beginning at
the top in an equivocal Tam-o'-Shanter hat, sauntered into the
_cul-de-sac_ to which Sapps Court was an appendix. He appeared to be
unconcerned in human affairs, and indeed independent of Time, Space, and
Circumstance. He addressed a creature that was hanging upside down on
some railings, apparently by choice.

"What sort of a name does this here archway go by?" said he, without
acute curiosity.

"That's Sappses Court," said the creature, remaining inverted. "Say it
ain't?" He appeared to identify the uniform he was addressing, and
added:--"There ain't a fire down that Court, 'cos I knows and I'm a
telling of yer. You'd best hook it." The uniform hooked nothing. Then,
in spite of the creature--who proved, right-side-up, to be Michael
Ragstroar--shouting after him--"You ain't wanted down that Court!" he
entered it deliberately, whistling a song then popular, whose singer
wished he was with Nancy, he did, he did, in a second floor, with a
small back-door, to live and die with Nancy.

Having identified Sapps, he seemed to know quite well which house he
wanted, for he went straight to the end and knocked at No. 7.

"Sakes alive!" said Aunt M'riar, responsive to the knock. "There's no
fire here."

"I'm off duty," said the fireman briefly. "I've come to tell you about
your young customer at the Hospital."

Aunt M'riar behaved heroically. There was only, to her thinking, one
chance in ten that this strange, inexplicable messenger should have
brought any other news to their house than that of its darling's death;
but that one chance was enough to make her choke back a scream, lest
Uncle Mo should have one moment of needless despair. And else--it shot
across her mind in a second--might not a sudden escape from despair even
be fatal to that weak heart of his? So Aunt M'riar pulled to the door
behind her to say, with an effort:--"Is he dead?" The universe swam
about outside while she stood still, and something hummed in her head.
But through it she heard the fireman say:--"Not he!" as of one endowed
with a great vitality, one who would take a deal of killing. When he
added:--"He's spoke," though she believed her ears certainly, for she
ran back into the kitchen crying out:--"He's spoke, Mo, he's spoke!" she
did it with a misgiving that the only interpretation she could see her
way to _must_ be wrong--was altogether too good to be true.

Uncle Mo fairly shouted with joy, and this time woke Dolly, who thought
it was a calamity, and wept. Fully five minutes of incoherent rejoicing
followed, and then details might be rounded off. The fireman had to
stand by his engine on the night-shift in an hour's time, but he saw his
way to a pipe, and lit it.

"They're always interested to hear the ending-up of things at the
Station," said he, to account for himself and his presence, "and I made
it convenient to call round at the Ward. The party that took the child
from me happened to be there, and knew me again." He, of course--but you
would guess this--was Peter Jackson of Engine 67A. He continued:--"The
party was so obliging as to take me into the Ward to the bedside. And it
was while I was there the little chap began talking. The party asked me
to step in and mention it to you, ma'am, or his uncle, seeing it was in
my road to the Station." Then Peter Jackson seemed to feel his words
needed extenuation or revision. "Not but I would have gone a bit out of
the way, for that matter!" said he.

"'Twouldn't be any use my looking round now, I suppose?" said Uncle Mo.
Because he always was that restless and fidgety.

"Wait till to-morrow, they said, the party and the nurse. By reason the
child might talk a bit and then get some healthy sleep. What he's had
these few days latterly don't seem to count." Thus Peter Jackson, and
Uncle Moses said he had seen the like. And then all three of them made
the place smokier and smokier you could hardly make out across the room.

"Mo's an impatient old cock, you see!" said Mr. Alibone, who seemed to
understand Peter Jackson, and _vice versa_. And Uncle Mo said:--"I
suppose I shall have to mark time." To which the others replied that was
about it.

"Only whatever did the young child say, mister?" said Aunt M'riar; like
a woman's curiosity, to know. But those other two, they was curious
underneath-like; only denied it.

"I couldn't charge my memory for certain, ma'am," said Peter Jackson,
"and might very easy be wrong." He appeared to shrink from the
responsibility of making a report, but all his hearers were agreed that
there was no call to cut things so very fine as all that. A rough
outline would meet the case.

"If it ran to nonsense in a child," said Uncle Mo--"after all, what
odds?" And Aunt M'riar said:--"Meanin' slips through the words
sometimes, and no fault to find." She had not read "Rabbi Ben Ezra," so
this was original.

Peter Jackson endeavoured to charge his memory, or perhaps more
properly, to discharge it. Dave had said first thing when he opened his
eyes:--"The worty will be all over the hedge. Let me go to stop the
worty." Of course, this had been quite unintelligible to his hearers.
However, Mr. Alibone and Uncle Mo were _au fait_ enough of the
engineering scheme that had led to the accident, to supply the
explanation. Dave's responsibility as head engineer had been on his
conscience all through his spell of insensibility, and had been the
earliest roused matter of thought when the light began to break.

Besides, it so chanced that testimony was forthcoming to support this
view and confirm Dave's sanity. Dolly, who had been awakened by the
noise, had heard enough to convey to her small mind that something
pleasant had transpired in relation to Dave. Though young, she had a
certain decision of character. Her behaviour was lawless, but not
unnatural. She climbed out of her wooden crib in Aunt M'riar's bedroom,
and slipping furtively down the stair which led direct to the kitchen,
succeeded in bounding on to the lap of her uncle; from which, once
established, she knew it would be difficult for her aunt to dislodge
her. She crowed with delight at the success of this escapade, and had
the satisfaction of being, as it were, confirmed in her delinquency by
her aunt wrapping a shawl round her. This was partly on the score of the
cold draughts in such a high wind, partly as a measure of public
decency. She was in time to endorse her uncle's explanation of Dave's
speech intelligibly enough, with a due allowance of interpretation.

Closely reported, the substance of her commentary ran as follows--"Dave
tooktited the mud when I fessed him the mud in my flock"--this was
illustrated in a way that threatened to outrage a sensitive propriety,
the speaker's aunt's--"and spooshed up the worty and spooshed up the
worty"--this repetition had great value--"and spooshtited the worty
back, and then there wasn't no more mud ... it was all fessed away in my
flock ... All dorn!--ass, it was--_all_ dorn!"--this was in a minor key,
and thrilled with pathos--"and Dave dode to fess more where the new mud
was, and was took to the Horsetickle and never come back no more ..." At
this point it seemed best to lay stress upon the probable return of
Dave, much to Dolly's satisfaction; though she would have been better
pleased if a date had been fixed.

Our own belief is that Dolly thought the Horsetickle was an institution
for the relief of sufferers from accidents occasioned by horses, and
that no subsequent experience ever entirely dissipated this impression.
The chances are that nine or ten of the small people one sees daily and
thinks of as "the children," are laying up, even at this moment, some
similar fancy that will last a lifetime. But this is neither here nor
there.

What is more to the purpose is that a fortnight later Dave was brought
home in a cab--the only cab that is recorded in History as having ever
deliberately stood at the entrance to Sapps Court, with intent. Cabs may
have stood there in connection with other doorways in the _cul-de-sac_,
but ignoring proudly the archway with the iron post. Dave was carried
down the Court by his uncle with great joy, and Michael Ragstroar seized
the opportunity to tie himself somehow round the axle of the cab's
backwheels, and get driven some distance free of charge.

Dave, as seen by Dolly on his return, was still painfully white, and
could not walk. And Dolly might not come banging and smashing down on
him like a little elephant, because it would hurt him; so she had to be
good. The elephant simile was due to a lady--no doubt well-meaning--who
accompanied Dave from the Hospital, and came more than once to see him
afterwards. But it was taking a good deal on herself to decide what
Dolly ought or ought not to do to Dave.

In those days slumming proper had not set in, and the East End was only
known geographically, except, no doubt, to a few enthusiasts--the sort
that antedates first discovery after the fact, and takes a vicious
pleasure in precursing its successors. But unassuming benefactresses
occurred at intervals whom outsiders knew broadly as Sisters of Charity.
Such a one was this lady, between whom and Aunt M'riar a sympathetic
friendship grew up before the latter discovered that Dave's hospital
friend was an Earl's niece, which not unnaturally made her rather
standoffish for a time. However, a remark of Mr. Alibone's--who seemed
to know--that the lady's uncle was a belted Earl, and no mistake,
palliated the Earldom and abated class prejudice. The Earl naturally
went up in the esteem of the old prizefighter when it transpired that he
was belted. What more could the most exacting ask?

But it was in the days when this lady was only "that party from the
Hospital," that she took root at No. 7, Sapps Court. No. 7 was content
that she should remain nameless; but when she said, in some affair of a
message to be given at the Hospital, that its bearer was to ask for
Sister Nora, it became impossible to ignore the name, although certainly
it was a name that complicated matters. She remained, however, plain
Sister Nora, without suspicion of any doubtful connections, until a
scheme of a daring character took form--nothing less than that Dave
should be taken into the country for change of air.

Uncle Mo was uneasy at the idea of Dave going away. Besides, he had
always cherished the idea that the air of Sapps Court was equal to that
of San Moritz, for instance. Look at what it was only a few years before
Dave's father and mother first moved in, when it was all fields along
the New Road--which has since been absurdly named Euston and Marylebone
Road! Nothing ever come to change the air in Sapps Court that Uncle Mo
knew of. And look at the wallflowers growing out in front the same as
ever!

Uncle Mo, however, was not the man to allow his old-fashioned prejudices
to stand in the way of the patient's convalescence, and an arrangement
was made by Sister Nora that Dave should be taken charge of, for a
while, by an old and trustworthy inhabitant of the Rocestershire village
of which her uncle, the belted Earl, was the feudal lord and master, or
slave and servant, according as you look at it. It was during the
arrangement of this plan that his Earldom leaked out, creating serious
misgivings in the minds of Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar that they would be
ill-advised if they allowed themselves to get mixed up with that sort of
people.



CHAPTER V

     OF DOLLY'S CRACKNELL BISCUIT, THAT SHE MISTOOK FOR DAVE. OF HER
     UNSEAWORTHY BOX, AND HER VISITS TO MRS. PRICHARD UPSTAIRS. HOW SHE
     HAD NEVER TOLD MRS. BURR A WORD ABOUT VAN DIEMEN'S LAND. CONCERNING
     IDOLATRY, AND THE LIABILITY OF TRYING ON TO TEMPER. UNCLE MO'S
     IDEAS OF PENAL SETTLEMENTS


They were sad days in Sapps Court after Sister Nora bore Dave away to
Chorlton-under-Bradbury; particularly for Dolly, whose tears bathed her
pillow at night, and diluted her bread-and-milk in the morning. There
was something very touching about this little maid's weeping in her
sleep, causing Aunt M'riar to give her a cracknell biscuit--to consume
if possible; to hold in her sleeping hand as a rapture of possession,
anyhow. Dolly accepted it, and contrived to enjoy it slowly without
waking. What is more, she stopped crying; and my belief is, if you ask
me, that sleep having deprived her of the power of drawing fine
distinctions, she mistook this biscuit for Dave. Its _caput mortuum_ was
still clasped to her bosom when, deep unconsciousness merging all
distinctions in unqualified existence, she was having her sleep out next
day.

Dolly may have felt indignant and hurt at the audacious false promises
of her uncle and aunt as to Dave's return. He had come home, certainly,
but badly damaged. It was a sad disappointment; the little woman's first
experience of perfidy. Her betrayers made a very poor show of their
attempts at compensation--toys and suchlike. There was a great dignity
in Dolly's attitude towards these contemptible offerings of a penitent
conscience. She accepted them, certainly, but put them away in her bots
to keep for Dave. Her box--if one has to spell it right--was an
overgrown cardboard box with "Silk Twill" written on one end, and blue
paper doors to fold over inside. It had been used as a boat, but
condemned as unseaworthy as soon as Dolly could not sit in it to be
pushed about, the gunwale having split open amidships. Let us hope this
is right, nautically.

Considered as a safe for the storage of valuables, Dolly's box would
have acquitted itself better if fair play had been shown to it. Its lid
should have been left on long enough to produce an impression, and not
pulled off at frequent intervals to exhibit its contents. No sooner was
an addition made to these than Dolly would say, for instance, that she
must s'ow Mrs. Picture upstairs the most recent acquisitions. Then she
would insist on trying to carry it upstairs, but was not long enough in
the arms, and Aunt M'riar had to do it for her in the end. Not, however,
unwillingly, because it enabled her to give her mind to pinking or
gauffering, or whatever other craft was then engaging her attention. We
do not ourself know what pinking is, or gauffering; we have only heard
them referred to. A vague impression haunts us that they fray out if not
done careful. But this is probably valueless.

No doubt Dolly's visits upstairs in connection with this box were
answerable for Aunt M'riar's having come to know a good deal
about old Mrs. Prichard's--or, according to Dave and Dolly,
Picture's--antecedents. A good deal, that is, when it came to be put
together and liberally helped by inferences; but made up of very small
deals--disjointed deals--in the form in which they were received by Aunt
M'riar. As, for instance, on the occasion just referred to, shortly
after Dave had gone on a visit to the tenant of the belted Earl, Uncle
Mo having gone away for an hour, to spend it in the parlour of The
Rising Sun, a truly respectable house where there were Skittles, and
Knurr and Spell. He might, you see, be more than an hour: there was no
saying for certain.

"I do take it most kind of you, ma'am," said Aunt M'riar for the
fiftieth time, with departure in sight, "to keep an eye on the child.
Some children nourishes a kind of ap'thy, not due to themselves, but
constitutional in their systems, and one can leave alone without fear by
reason of it. But Dolly is that busy and attentive, and will be up and
doing, so one may easy spoil a tuck or stand down an iron too hot if
called away sudden to see after the child."

The old woman seemed to Aunt M'riar to respond vaguely. She loved to
have the little thing anigh her, and hear her clacket. "All my own
family are dead and gone, barring one son," said she. And then added,
without any consciousness of jarring ideas:--"He would be forty-five."
Aunt M'riar tried in vain to think of some way of sympathizing, but was
relieved from her self-imposed duty by the speaker continuing--"He was
my youngest. Born at Macquarie Harbour in the old days. The boy was born
up-country--yes, forty-five years agone."

"Not in England now, ma'am, I suppose," said Aunt M'riar, who could not
see her way to anything else. The thought crossed her mind that, so far
as _she_ knew, no male visitor for the old tenant of the attics had so
far entered the house.

The old woman shook her head slowly. "I could not say," she said. "I
cannot tell you now if he be alive or dead." Then she became drowsy, as
old age does when it has talked enough; so, as Aunt M'riar had plenty to
see to, she took her leave, Dolly remaining in charge as per contract.

Aunt M'riar passed on these stray fragments of old Mrs. Prichard's
autobiography to Uncle Mo when he came in from The Rising Sun. The old
boy seemed roused to interest by the mention of Van Diemen's Land. "I
call to mind," said he, "when I was a youngster, hearing tell of the
convicts out in those parts, and how no decent man could live in the
place. Hell on Earth, they did say, those that knew." Thereupon old Mrs.
Prichard straightway became a problem to Aunt M'riar. If there were none
but convicts in Van Diemen's Land, and all Mrs. Prichard's boys were
born there, the only chance of the old woman not having been the mother
of a convict's children lay in her having been possibly the wife of a
gaoler, at the best. And yet--she was such a nice, pretty old thing! Was
it conceivable?

Then in subsequent similar interviews Aunt M'riar, inquisitive-like,
tried to get further information. But very little was forthcoming beyond
the fact that Mrs. Prichard's husband was dead. What supported the
convict theory was that his widow never referred to any relatives of his
or her own. Mrs. Burr, her companion or concomitant--or at least
fellow-lodger--was not uncommunicative, but knew "less than you might
expect" about her. Aunt M'riar cultivated this good woman with an eye to
information, holding her up--as the phrase is now--at the stairfoot and
inveigling her to tea and gossip. She was a garrulous party when you
come to know her, was Mrs. Burr; and indeed, short of intimacy, she
might have produced the same impression on any person well within
hearing.

"Times and again," said she in the course of one such conversation,
which had turned on the mystery of Mrs. Prichard's antecedents, "have I
thought she was going to let on about her belongings, and never so much
as a word! Times and again have I felt my tongue in the roof of my
mouth, for curiosity to think what she would say next. And there, will
you believe me, missis?--it was no better than so much silence all said
and done! Nor it wasn't for want of words, like one sits meanin' a great
deal and when it comes to the describin' of it just nowhere! She was by
way of keeping something back, and there was I sat waiting for it, and
guess-working round like, speculating, you might say, to think what it
might be when it come. Thank you, ma'am--not another cup!"

"There's more in the pot, ma'am," said Aunt M'riar, looking into it to
see, near the paraffin lamp which smelt: they all did in those days. But
Mrs. Burr had had three; and three does, mostly. If these excellent
women's little inflections of speech, introduced thus casually, are
puzzling, please supply inverted commas. Aunt M'riar organized the
tea-tray to take away and wash up at the sink, after emptying
saucer-superfluities into the slop-basin. Mrs. Burr referred to the
advantages we enjoy as compared with our forbears, instancing especially
our exemption from the worship of wooden images, Egyptian Idles--a
spelling accommodated to meet an impression Mrs. Burr had derived from a
Japanese Buddha--and suchlike, and Tea.

"However they did without it I cannot think," said she. "On'y, of
course, not having to stitch, stitch, stitch from half-past six in the
morning till bedtime made a difference." Her ideas of our ancestors were
strongly affected by a copper-plate engraving in a print-shop window in
Soho, even as idolatry had been presented to her by a Tea-Man and Grocer
in Tottenham Court Road. It was Stothard's "Canterbury Pilgrims"--_you_
know!--and consequently her _moyen age_ had a falcon on its wrist, and a
jester in attendance, invariably. "They was a good deal in the open air,
and it tells," was her tribute to the memory of this plate. She
developed the subject further, incidentally. "Tryin' on is a change, of
course, but liable to temper, and vexatious when the party insists on
letting out and no allowance of turn-over. The same if too short in
front. What was I a-sayin'?... Oh, Mrs. Prichard--yes! You was
inquiring, ma'am, about the length of time I had known her. Just four
years this Christmas, now I think of it. Time enough and to spare to
tell anything she liked--if she'd have liked. But you may take it from
me, ma'am, on'y to go no further on any account, that Mrs. Prichard is
not, as they say, free-spoke about her family, but on the contrary the
contrairy." Mrs. Burr was unconsciously extending the powers of the
English tongue, in varying one word's force by different accents.

Uncle Moses he cut in, being at home that time:--"Was you saying, ma'am,
that the old widder-lady's husband had been a convict in Australia?"

Oh no!--Mrs. Burr had never got that far. So she testified. Aunt M'riar,
speaking from the sink, where she was extracting out the tea-leaves from
the pot, was for calling Uncle Moses over the coals. Anybody might soon
be afraid to say anything, to have been running away with an idea like
that. No one had ever said any such a thing. Indeed, the convict was
entirely inferential, and had no foundation except in the fact that the
old woman's son had been born at Macquarie Harbour. Uncle Mo's
impression that Van Diemen's Land was a sort of plague-spot on the
planet--the _bacilli_ of the plague being convicted criminals--was no
doubt too well grounded. But it was only a hearsay of youth, and even
elderly men may now fail to grasp the way folk spoke and thought of
those remote horrors, the Penal Settlements, in the early days of last
century--a century with whose years those of Uncle Moses, after
babyhood, ran nearly neck and neck. That fellow-creatures, turned
t'other way up, were in Hell at the Antipodes, and that it was so far
off it didn't matter--that was the way the thing presented itself, and
supplied the excuse for forgetting all about it. Uncle Mo had "heard
tell" of their existence; but then they belonged to the criminal
classes, and he didn't. If people belonged to the criminal classes it
was their own look out, and they must take the consequences.

So that when the old boy referred to this inferential convict as a
presumptive fact, the meaning of his own words had little force for
himself. Even if the old lady's husband had been a convicted felon, it
was now long enough ago to enable him to think of him as he thought of
the chain-gangs eight thousand miles off as the crow flies--or would fly
if he could go straight; the nearest way round mounts up to twelve.
Anyhow, there was no more in the story than would clothe the widowhood
of the upstairs tenant with a dramatic interest.

So, as it appeared that Mrs. Prichard's few words to Aunt M'riar were
more illuminating than anything Mrs. Burr had to tell, and _they_ really
amounted to very little when all was said and done, there was at least
nothing in the convict story to cause misgivings of the fitness of the
upstairs attic to supply a haven of security for Dolly, while her aunt
went out foraging for provisions; or when, as we have seen sometimes
happened, Dolly became troublesome from want of change, and kep' up a
continual fidget for this or that, distrackin' your--that is, Aunt
M'riar's--attention.



CHAPTER VI

     PHOEBE AND THE SQUIRE'S SON. HER RUNAWAY MARRIAGE WITH HIM. HOW
     HE DABBLED IN FORGERY AND BURNED HIS FINGERS. OF A JUDGE WHO TOOK
     AFTER THE PSALMIST. VAN DIEMEN'S LAND, AND HOW PHOEBE GOT OUT
     THERE. HOW BOTH TWINS WERE PROVED DEAD BY IRRESISTIBLE EVIDENCE,
     EACH TO EACH. HOW THORNTON FORGOT THAT PHOEBE COULD NEVER BE
     LEGALLY HIS WIDOW. HOW HIS SON ACTED WELL UP TO HIS FATHER'S
     STANDARD OF IMMORALITY. MARRIAGE A MEANS TO AN END, BUT ONLY ONCE.
     AN ILL-STARRED BURGLARY. NORFOLK ISLAND. WHY BOTH MRS. DAVERILLS
     CHANGED THEIR NAMES


If this story should ever be retold by a skilful teller, his power of
consecutive narrative and redisposition of crude facts in a better order
will be sure to add an interest it can scarcely command in its present
form. But it is best to make no pretence to niceties of construction,
when a mere presentation of events is the object in view. The following
circumstances in the life of old Mrs. Prichard constitute a case in
point. The story might, so to speak, ask its reader's forgiveness for so
sudden a break into the narrative. Consider that it has done so, and
amend the tale should you ever retell it.

Maisie Runciman, born in the seventies of the previous century, and
close upon eighty years of age at the time of this story, was the
daughter of an Essex miller, who became a widower when she and her twin
sister Phoebe were still quite children. His only other child, a son
many years their senior, died not long after his mother, leaving them to
the sole companionship of their father. He seems to have been a
quarrelsome man, who had estranged himself from both his wife's
relatives and his own. He also had that most unfortunate quality of
holding his head high, as it is called; so high, in fact, that his twin
girls found it difficult to associate with their village neighbours, and
were driven back very much on their own resources for society. Their
father's morose isolation was of his own choosing. He was, however,
affectionate in a rough way to them, and their small household was
peaceful and contented enough. The sisters, wrapped up in one another,
as twins so often are, had no experience of any other condition of life,
and thought it all right and the thing that should be.

All went well enough--without discord anyhow, however
monotonously--until Maisie and Phoebe began to look a little like women;
which happened, to say the truth, at least a year before their father
consented to recognise the fact, and permit them to appear in the robes
of maturity. About that time the young males of the neighbourhood became
aware, each in his private heart, of an adoration cherished for one or
other of the beautiful twins from early boyhood. Would-be lovers began
to buzz about like flies when fruit ripens. If any one of these youths
had any doubt about the intensity and immutability of his passion, it
vanished when the girls announced official womanhood by appearing at
church in the costume of their seniors. Some students of the mysterious
phenomena of Love have held that man is the slave of millinery, and that
women are to all intents and purposes their skirts. It is too delicate a
question for hurried discussion in a narrative which is neither
speculative nor philosophical, but historical. All that concerns its
writer is that no sooner did the costume of the miller's daughters
suggest that they would be eligible for the altar, than they grew so
dear, so dear, that everything masculine and unattached was ambitious to
be the jewel that trembled at their ear, or the girdle about their
dainty, dainty waist.

The worst of it for these girls was that their likeness to one another
outwent that of ordinary twinship. It resembled that of the stage where
the same actor personates both Dromios; and their life was one perpetual
Comedy of Errors. Current jest said that they themselves did not know
which was which. But they did know, perfectly well, and had no
misgivings whatever about becoming permanently confused; even when,
having been dressed in different colours to facilitate distinction, they
changed dresses and produced a climax of complication. Even this was not
so bad as when Phoebe had a tiff with Maisie--a rare thing between
twins--and Maisie avenged herself by pretending to be Phoebe, affecting
that all the latter's protests of identity were malicious
misrepresentation. Who could decide when they themselves were not of a
tale? What settled the matter in the end was that Phoebe cried bitterly
at being misrepresented, while Maisie was so ill-advised as not to do
the same, and even made some parade of triumph. "Yow are Maisie. I heerd
yow a-crowun'," said an old stone-dresser, who, with other mill-hands,
was referred to for an opinion.

This was when they were quite young, before slight variations of
experience had altered appearance and character to the point of making
them distinguishable when seen side by side. Not, however, to the point
of rendering impossible a trick each had played more than once on too
importunate male acquaintances. What could be more disconcerting to the
protestations of a rustic admirer than "Happen you fancy you are
speaking to my sister Phoebe, sir?" from Maisie, or _vice versa_? It was
absolutely impossible to nail either of these girls to her own identity,
in the face of her denial of it in her sister's absence. Perhaps the
only real confidence on the point that ever existed was their mother's,
who knew the two babies apart--so she said--because one smelt of roses,
the other of marjoram.

It may easily have been that the power of duping youth and shrewdness,
as to which sister she really was, weighed too heavily with each of
these girls in their assessment of the value of lovers' vows. And still
more easily that--some three years later than the girlish jest related a
page since--when Maisie, playing off this trick on a wild young son of
the Squire's, was met by an indignant reproach for her attempted
deception, she should have been touched by his earnestness and seeming
insight into her inner soul, and that the incident should have become
the cornerstone of a fatal passion for a damned scoundrel. "Oh,
Maisie--Maisie!"--thus ran his protestation--"Dearest, best, sweetest of
girls, how can you think to dupe me when your voice goes to my heart as
no other voice ever can--ever will? How, when I know you for mine--mine
alone--by touch, by sight, by hearing?" The poor child's innocent little
fraud had been tried on a past-master in deception, and her own arrow
glanced back to wound her, beyond cure perhaps. His duplicity was proved
afterwards by the confession of his elder brother Ralph, a young man
little better than himself, that the two girls had been the subject of a
wager between them, which he had lost. This wager turned on which of the
two should be first "successful" with one of the beautiful twins; and
whether it showed only doubtful taste or infamous bad feeling depended
on what interpretation was put on the word "success" by its
perpetrators. A lenient one was possible so long as no worse came of it
than that Thornton Daverill, the younger brother, became the accepted
suitor of Maisie, and Ralph, the elder, the rejected one of Phoebe.
Thornton's success was no doubt due in a great measure to Maisie's
failure to mislead him about her identity, and Ralph's rejection
possibly to the poor figure he cut when Phoebe played fast and loose
with hers. That there was no truth or honour in Thornton's protestations
to Maisie, or even honest loss of self-control under strong feeling, is
evident from the fact that he told his brother as a good joke that his
power of distinguishing between the girls was due to nothing more
profound than that Maisie always gave him her hand to shake and Phoebe
only her fingers. Possibly this test would only have held good in the
case of men outside the family. It was connected with some minute
sensitiveness of feeling towards that class, not perceptible by any
other.

But in whatever sense Thornton and Maisie were trothplight, her father
opposed their marriage, although it would no doubt have been a social
elevation for the miller's daughter. It must be admitted that for once
the inexorable parent may have been in the right. Tales had reached him,
unhappily too late to prevent the formation of an acquaintance between
the young squires and his daughters, of the profligacies--dissoluteness
with women and at the gaming-table--of both these young men. And it is
little wonder that he resolutely opposed the union of Thornton and
Maisie--she a girl of nineteen!--at least until there was some sign of
reform in the youth, some turning from his evil ways.

It was a sad thing for Maisie that her father's exclusiveness had
created so many obstacles to the associations of his daughters with
older women. No one had ever taken the place of a mother to them. It is
rare enough for even a mother to speak explicitly to her daughter of
what folk mean when they tell of the risks a girl runs who weds with a
man like Thornton Daverill. But she may do so in such a way as to excite
suspicion of the reality, and it is hard on motherless girls that they
should not have this slender chance. A father can do nothing, and old
fulminations of well-worn Scriptural jargon--hers was an adept in
texts--had not even the force of their brutal plain speech. For to these
girls the speech was not plain--it was only what Parson read in Church.
That described and exhausted it.

The rest of the story follows naturally--too naturally--from the
position shown in the above hasty sketch. Old Isaac Runciman's
ill-temper, combined with an almost ludicrous want of tact, took the
form of forbidding Thornton Daverill the house. The student of the art
of dragging lovers asunder cannot be too mindful of the fact that the
more they see of each other, the sooner they will be ripe for
separation. If Maisie had been difficult to influence when her father
contented himself with saying that he forbade the marriage _ex cathedra
paternae auctoritatis_, she became absolutely intractable when, some time
after, this authority went the length of interdicting communications.
Secret interviews, about double the length of the public ones they
supplanted, gave the indignant parent an excuse for locking the girl
into her own room. All worked well for the purpose of a thoroughly
unprincipled scoundrel. Thornton, who would probably have married Maisie
if nothing but legal possession had been open to him, saw his way to the
same advantages without the responsibilities of marriage, and jumped at
them. Do not blame Maisie overmuch for her share of what came about. The
step she consented to was one of which the _full_ meaning could only be
half known to a girl of her age and experience. And the man into whose
hands it threw her past recovery was in her eyes the soul of honour and
chivalry--ill-judging, if at all, from the influence of a too passionate
adoration for herself. Conception of the degree and nature of his
wickedness was probably impossible to her; and, indeed, may have been so
still--however strange it may seem--to the very old lady whom, under the
name of Mrs. Prichard, Dolly Wardle used to visit in Sapps Court, "Mrs.
Picture in the topackest" being the nearest shot she was able to make at
her description.

Whether it was so or not, this old, old woman was the very selfsame
Maisie that sixty odd years before lent a too willing ear to the
importunities of a traitor, masquerading with a purpose; and ultimately
consented to a runaway marriage with him, he being alone responsible for
the arrangement of it and the legality of the wedding. The most flimsy
_mise en scène_ of a mock ceremony was sufficient to dupe a simplicity
like hers; and therein was enacted the wicked old tragedy possible only
in a world like ours, which ignores the pledge of the strong to the
weak, however clearly that pledge may be attested, unless the wording of
it jumps with the formularies of a sanctioned legalism. A grievous wrong
was perpetrated, which only the dishonesty of Themis permits; for an
honest lawgiver's aim should be to find means of enforcing a sham
marriage, all the more relentlessly in proportion to the victim's
innocence and the audacity of the imposture.

The story of Maisie's after-life need hardly have been so terrible, on
the supposition that the prayer "God, have mercy upon us!" is ever
granted. Surely some of the stabs in store for her need not have gone to
the knife-hilt. Much information is lacking to make the tale complete,
but what follows is enough. Listen to it and fill in the blanks if you
can--with surmise of alleviation, with interstices of hypothetical
happiness--however little warrant the known facts of the case may carry
with them.

Thornton Daverill was destined to bring down Nemesis on his head by
touching Themis on a sensitive point--monetary integrity. Within five
years, a curious skill which he possessed of simulating the handwriting
of others, combined with a pressing want of ready money, led him to the
commission of an act which turned out a great error in tactics, whatever
place we assign it in morality. Morally, the forgery of a signature,
especially if it be to bring about a diminution of cash in a well-filled
pocket, is a mere peccadillo compared with the malversation of a young
girl's life. Legally it is felony, and he who commits it may get as long
a term of penal servitude as the murderer of whose guilt the jury is not
confident up to hanging point.

The severity of the penal laws in the reign of George III. was due no
doubt to a vindictiveness against the culprit which--in theory at any
rate--is nowadays obsolete, legislation having for its object rather the
discouragement of crime on the _tapis_ than the meting out of their
deserts to malefactors. In those days the indignation of a jury would
rise to boiling-point in dealing with an offence against sacred
Property, while its blood-heat would remain normal over the deception
and ruin of a mere woman. Therefore the jury that tried Thornton
Daverill for forging the signature of Isaac Runciman on the back of a
promissory note found the accused guilty, and the judge inflicted the
severest penalty but one that Law allows. For Thornton might have been
hanged.

But neither judge nor jury seemed much interested in the convict's
behaviour to the daughter of the man he had tried to swindle out of
money. On the contrary, they jumped to the conclusion that his wife was
morally his accomplice; and, indeed, if it had not been for her great
beauty she would very likely have gone to the galleys too. There was,
however, this difference between their positions, that the prosecution
was dependent on her father's affidavit to prove that the signature was
a forgery, and so long as only the man he hated was legally involved,
he was to be relied on to adhere to his first disclaimer of it. Had
Maisie been placed beside her husband in the dock, how easily her
father might have procured the liberation of both by accepting his
liability--changing his mind about the signature and discharging the
amount claimed! If the continuance of the prosecution had depended on
either payer or payee, this would have been the end of it. What the
creditor--a usurer--wanted was his money, not revenge. Indeed, Thornton
would never have been made the subject of a criminal indictment at his
instance, except to put pressure on Isaac Runciman for payment for his
daughter's sake.

The bringing of the case into Court created a new position. An
accommodation that would have been easy enough at first--an excusable
compounding of a felony--became impossible under the eyes of the Bench.
And this more especially because one of the Judges of Assize who tried
the case acquired an interest in Maisie analogous to the one King David
took in the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and perceived the advantages he
would derive if this forger and gambler was packed off to a life far
worse than the death the astute monarch schemed for the great-hearted
soldier who was serving him. Whether the two were lawfully man and wife
made no difference to this Judge. Maisie's devotion to her scoundrel was
the point his lordship's legal acumen was alive to, and he himself was
scarcely King of Israel. One wonders sometimes--at least, the present
writer has done so--what Bathsheba's feelings were on the occasion
referred to. We can only surmise, and can do little more in the case of
Maisie. The materials for the retelling of this story are very slight.
Their source may be referred to later. For the moment it must be content
with the bare facts.

This Bathsheba was able to say "Hands off!" to _her_ King David, and
also able--but Heaven knows how!--to keep up a correspondence with the
worthless parallel of the Hittite throughout the period of his detention
in an English gaol, or, it may be, on the river hulks, until his
deportation in a convict ship to Sydney, from which place occasional
letters reached her, which were probably as frequent as his
opportunities of sending them, until, a considerable time later--perhaps
as much as five years; dates are not easy to fix--one came saying that
he expected shortly to be transferred to the new penal settlement in Van
Diemen's Land.

At the beginning of last century the black hulks on the Thames and
elsewhere were known and spoken of truly as "floating Hells." Any penal
colony was in one point worse; he who went there left Hope behind, so
far as his hopes were centred in his native land. For to return was
Death.

After his transfer to Van Diemen's Land, no letter reached her for some
months. Then came news that Thornton had benefited by the extraordinary
fulness of the powers granted to the Governors of these penal
settlements, who practically received the convicts on lease for the term
of their service. They were, in fact, slaves. But this told well for
Maisie's husband, whose father had been at school with the then supreme
authority at Macquarie Harbour. This got him almost on his arrival a
ticket-of-leave, by virtue of which he was free within the island during
good behaviour. He soon contrived, by his superior education and
manners, to get a foothold in a rough community, and saw his way to
rising in the world, even to prosperity. In a very short time, said a
later letter, he would save enough to pay Maisie's passage out, and then
she could join him. The only redeeming trait the story shows of this man
is his strange confidence that this girl, whom he had cruelly betrayed,
would face all the terrors of a three-months' sea-voyage and travel,
alone in a strange land, to become the slave and helpless dependent of a
convict on ticket-of-leave.

She had returned to her father's house a year after the trial, her
sister having threatened to leave it unless her father permitted her to
do so, taking with her her two children; a very delicate little boy,
born in the first year of her marriage, and a girl baby only four months
old, which had come into the world eight months after its wretched
parent's conviction. During this life at her father's the little boy
died. He had been christened, after his father and uncle, Phoebe's
rejected suitor--Ralph Thornton Daverill. The little girl she had
baptized by the name of Ruth. This little Ruth she took with her, when,
on Phoebe's marriage two years later, she went to live at the house of
the new-married couple; and one would have said that the twins lived in
even closer union than before, and that nothing could part them again.

It would have been a mistake. Within three years Maisie received a
letter enclosing a draft on a London bank for more than her
passage-money, naming an agent who would arrange for her in everything,
and ending with a postscript:--"Come out at once." Shortly after, no
change having been noticeable in her deportment, except, perhaps, an
increased tenderness to her child and her sister, she vanished suddenly;
leaving only a letter to Phoebe, full of contrition for her behaviour,
but saying that her first duty was towards her husband. She had not
dared to take with her her child, and it had been a bitter grief to her
to forsake it, but she knew well that it would have been as great a
bitterness to Phoebe to lose it, as she was herself childless at the
time; and, indeed, her only consolation was that Phoebe would still
continue to be, as it were, a second mother to "their child," which was
the light in which each had always looked upon it.

Both of them seemed to have been under an impression that only one of
two twins can ever become a mother. Whether there is any foundation for
this, or whether it is a version of a not uncommon belief that twins are
always childless, the story need not stop to inquire. It was falsified
in this case by the birth of a son to Phoebe, _en secondes noces_, many
years later. But this hardly touches the story, as this son died in his
childhood. All that is needed to be known at present is that, as the
result of Maisie's sudden disappearance, Phoebe was left in sole
possession of her four-year-old daughter, to whose young mind it was a
matter of indifference which of two almost indistinguishable identities
she called by the name of mother. With a little encouragement she
accepted the plenary title for the then childless woman to whom the name
gave pleasure, and gradually forgot the mother who had deserted her;
who, in the course of very little time, became the shadow of a name. All
she knew then was that this mother had gone away in a ship; and, indeed,
for months after little more was known to her aunt.

However, a brief letter did come from the ship, just starting for
Sydney, and the next long-delayed one announced her arrival there, and
how she had been met at the port by an agent who would make all
arrangements for her further voyage. How this agency managed to get her
through to Hobart Town in those days is a mystery, for there was no free
immigration to the island till many years after, only transports from
New South Wales being permitted to enter the port. She got there
certainly, and was met by her husband at the ship. And well for her that
it was so, for in those days no woman was safe by herself for an hour in
that country.

It may seem wonderful that so vile a man should have set himself to
consult the happiness of a woman towards whom he was under no
obligation. But her letters to her sister showed that he did so; and
those who have any experience of womanless lands men have to dwell in,
whether or no, know that in such lands the market-value of a good sample
is so far above rubies, that he who has one, and could not afford
another if he lost the first, will be quite kind and nice and
considerate to his treasure, in case King Solomon should come round,
with all the crown-jewels to back him and his mother's valuation to
encourage a high bid. Phoebe had for four or five years the satisfaction
of receiving letters assuring her of her sister's happiness and of the
extraordinary good fortune that had come to the reformed gambler and
forger, whose prison-life had given him a distaste for crimes actively
condemned by Society.

Among the items of news that these letters contained were the births of
two boys. The elder was called Isaac after his grandfather at the urgent
request of Maisie; but on condition that if another boy came he should
be called Ralph Thornton, a repetition of the name of her first baby,
which died in England. This is done commonly enough with a single name,
but the duplication is exceptional. Whether the name was actually used
for the younger child Phoebe never knew. Probably a letter was lost
containing the information.

When Isaac Runciman died Phoebe wrote the news of his death to Maisie
and received no reply from her. In its stead--that is to say, at about
the time it would have been due--came a letter from Thornton Daverill
announcing her sister's death in Australia. It was a brief, unsatisfying
letter. Still, she hoped to receive more details, especially as she had
followed her first letter, telling of her father's death, with another a
fortnight later, giving fuller particulars of the occurrence. In due
course came a second letter from her brother-in-law, professing
contrition for the abruptness of his first, but excusing it on the
ground that he was prostrated with grief at the time, and quite unable
to write. He added very full and even dramatic particulars of her
sister's death, giving her last message to her English relatives, and so
forth.

But that sister was _not_ dead. And herein follow the facts that have
come to light of the means her husband employed to make her seem so, and
of his motives for employing them.

To see these clearly you must keep in mind that Thornton was tied for
life within the limits of the penal settlements. Maisie was free to go;
with her it was merely a question of money. As time went on, her
yearning to see her child and her twin-sister again grew and grew, and
her appeals to her husband to allow her sometime to revisit England in
accordance with his promise became every year more and more urgent. He
would be quite a rich man soon--why should she not? Well--simply that
she might not come back! That was his view, and we have to bear in mind
that it would have been impossible for him to replace her, except from
among female convicts assigned to settlers; nominally as servants, but
actually as mates on hire--suppose we call them. One need not say much
of this unhappy class; it is only mentioned to show that Thornton could
have found no woman to take the place of the beautiful and devoted
helpmeet whose constancy to him had survived every trial. No wonder he
was ill at ease with the idea of her adventuring back to England alone.
But it took a mind as wicked as his to conceive and execute the means by
which he prevented it. It seems to have been suggested by the fact that
the distribution of letters in his district had been assigned to him by
the Governor. This made it easy to deliver them or keep them back, when
it was in his interest to do so, without fear of detection. The letters
coming from England were few indeed, so he was able to examine them at
leisure.

At first he was content to withhold Phoebe's letters, hoping that
Maisie would be satisfied with negative evidence of her death, which he
himself suggested as the probable cause of their suspension. But when
this only increased her anxiety to return to her native land, he cast
about for something he could present as direct proof. The death of her
father supplied the opportunity. A black-edged sheet came, thickly
written with Phoebe's account of his last illness, in ink which, as the
event showed, did not defy obliteration. Probably Thornton had learned,
among malefactors convicted of his own offence, secrets of forgery that
would seem incredible to you or me. He contrived to obliterate this
sheet all but the date-stamps outside, and then--the more readily that
he had been informed that only fraud for gain made forgery
felony--elaborated as a palimpsest a most careful letter in the
handwriting of the father announcing Phoebe's own death, and also that
of the daughter whom Maisie had bequeathed to her care. He must have
been inspired and upborne in this difficult task by the spirit of a true
artist. No doubt all _faussure_, to any person with an accommodating
moral sense, is an unmixed delight. This letter remains, and has been
seen by the present writer and others. The dexterity of the thing almost
passes belief, only a few scarcely perceptible traces of the old writing
being visible, the length of the new words being so chosen as to hide
most of the old ones. What is even more incredible is that the original
letter from Phoebe was deciphered at the British Museum by the courtesy
of the gentlemen engaged in the deciphering and explanation of obscure
inscriptions.

The elaborate fiction the forger devised may have been in part due to a
true artist's pleasure in the use of a splendid opportunity, such as
might never occur again. But on close examination one sees that it was
little more than a skilful recognition of the exigencies of the case.
The object of the letter was to remove once and for ever all temptation
to Maisie to return to her native land. Now, so long as either her
sister or her little girl were living in England the old inducement
would be always at work. Why not kill them both, while he had the
choice? It would be more troublesome to produce proof of the death of
either, later. But he mistrusted his skill in dealing with fatal
illness. A blunder might destroy everything. Stop!--he knew something
better than that. Had not the transport that brought him out passed a
drowned body afloat, and wreckage, even in the English Channel?
Shipwreck was the thing! He decided on sending Nicholas Cropredy, his
wife's brother-in-law, across the Channel on business--to Antwerp,
say--and making Phoebe and little Ruth go out to nurse him through a
fever. Their ship could go to the bottom, with a stroke of his pen.
Only, while he was about it, why not clear away the brother-in-law--send
them all out in the same ship? No--_that_ would not do! Where would the
motive be, for all those three to leave England? A commercial mission
for the man alone would be quite another thing. Very perplexing!...
Yes--no--yes!... There--he had got it! Let them go out and nurse him
through a fever, and all be drowned together, returning to England.

That was a triumph. And the finishing touch to the narrative he based on
it was really genius. Little hope was entertained of the recovery of the
remains, but it was not impossible. The writer's daughter might rest
assured that if any came to the surface, and were identified, they
should be interred in the family grave where her mother reposed in the
Lord, in the sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection.

Was it to be wondered at that so skilful a contrivance duped an
unsuspicious mind like Maisie's? The only thing that could have excited
suspicion was that the letter had been delayed a post--time, you see,
was needed for the delicate work of forgery--and the date of despatch
from London was in consequence some two months too old. But then the
letter was of the same date; indeed, the forgery was a repeat of the
letter it effaced, wherever this was possible. Besides, the delay of a
letter from England could never occasion surprise.

She took the sealed paper from her husband, breaking the seals with
feverish haste, and destroying the only proof that it had been opened on
the way. For the wax, of course, broke, as her husband had foreseen, on
its old fractures, where he had parted them carefully and reattached
them with some similar wax dissolved in spirit. He watched her reading
the letter, not without an artist's pride at her absolute unsuspicion,
and then had to undergo a pang of fear lest the news should kill her.
For she fell insensible, only to remain for a long time prostrate with
grief, after a slow and painful revival.

There was little need for Thornton to reply to Phoebe's letter that he
had effaced. Nevertheless, he did so; partly, perhaps, from the pleasure
he naturally took in playing out the false _rôle_ he had assigned
himself. Yes--he was a widower. But the poignancy of his grief had
prevented him writing all the particulars of his wife's death. He now
gave the story of the death of a woman on a farm near, with changed
names and some clever addenda, the composition of which amused his
leisure and gratified a spirit of falsehood which might, more
fortunately employed, have found an outlet in literary fiction. The
effect of this letter on Phoebe was to satisfy her so completely of her
sister's death that, had it ever been called in question, she would have
been the hardest to convert to a belief in the contrary. On the other
hand, Maisie's belief in _her_ death was equally assured, and her
quasi-husband rested secure in his confidence that nothing would now
induce her to leave him. Should he ever wish to be rid of her, he had
only to confess his deception, and pack her off to seek her sister. That
no news ever came of her father's death was not a matter of great
surprise to Maisie. She had no surviving correspondent in England who
would have written about it. Her husband may have practised some
_finesse_ later to convince her of it, but its details are not known to
the writer of the story.

They, however, were never parted until, twenty years later, his death
left Maisie a widow, as she believed. It would have been well for her
had it been so, for he died after making that very common testamentary
mistake--a too ingenious will. It left to "my third son Ralph Thornton
Daverill," on coming of age, all his property after "my wife Maisie,
_née_ Runciman," had received the share she was "legally entitled to."
But she was unable to produce proof of her marriage when called on to do
so, and was, of course, legally entitled to nothing. Thornton had been
so well off that "widow's thirds" would have placed her in comfortable
circumstances. As it was, the whole of his property went to her only
surviving son, a youth who had inherited, with some of his father's good
looks, all his bad principles; and in addition a taint--we may
suppose--of the penal atmosphere in which he was born. But there was not
a shadow of doubt about his being the person named in the will. Perhaps,
if it had been worded "my lawful son," Themis would have jibbed.

The young man, on coming of age, acquired control of the whole of his
father's property, and soon started on a career of extravagance and
debauchery. His mother, however, retained some influence over him, and
persuaded him, a year later, before he had had time to dissipate the
whole of his inheritance, to return with her to England, hoping that the
moral effect of a change from the gaol-bird atmosphere of felony that
hung over the whole land of his birth would develop whatever germ of
honour or right feeling he possessed.

She was not very sanguine, for his boyhood had been a cruel affliction
to her. And the results showed that whatever hopes she had entertained
were ill-founded. Arrived in London, with money still at command, he
plunged at once into all the dissipations of the town, and it became
evident that in the course of a year or so he would run through the
remainder of his patrimony.

About this time he met with an experience which now and then happens to
men of his class. He fell violently in love--or in what he called
love--with a girl who had very distinct ideas on the subject of
marriage. One was that the first arrangement of their relations which
suggested themselves to her lover were not to be entertained, and
therefore she refused to entertain them. He tried ridicule, indignation,
and protestation--all in vain! She appeared not to object to
persecution--rather liked it. But she held out no hopes except
legitimate ones. At last, when the young man was in a sense
desperate--not in a very noble sense, but desperate for all that--she
intimated to him that, unless he was prepared to accept her scheme of
life, she knew a very respectable young man who was; a young man in
Smithfield Market with whom she had walked out, and you could never have
told. Which means that this young man disguised himself so subtly on
Sunday to go into Society, that none would have guessed that he passed
the week in contact with grease and blood, and dared to twist the tails
of bullocks in revolt against their fate, shrinking naturally from the
axe. His intentions were, nevertheless, honourable, and Polly, the
barmaid at the One Tun Inn, honoured them, while her affections were
disposed towards her Australian suitor whose intentions were not. The
young reprobate, however, had to climb down; but he made his surrender
conditional on one thing--that his marriage with Polly should remain a
secret. No doubt parallel enterprises would have been interrupted by its
publication. Anyhow, his mother never knew of his marriage, nor set eyes
on her daughter-in-law.

His marriage was, in fact, merely a means to an end, and was a most
reluctant concession to circumstances on his part. It was true he
deprived himself of all chance of offering the same terms again for the
same goods, unless, indeed, he ran the risks of a bigamist. But what can
a man do under such circumstances? He is what he is, and it does seem a
pity sometimes that he was made in the image of God, whether for God's
sake or his own. Young Daverill's end attained, he flung away his prize
almost without a term of intermediate neglect to save his face. She,
poor soul, who had lived under the impression that all men were "like
that" but that honourable marriage "reformed" them, was desperate at
first when she found her mistake. Her "lawful husband," having attained
his end, announced his weariness of lawful marriage with a candour even
coarser than that of Browning's less lawful possessor of Love--he who
"half sighed a smile in a yawn, as 'twere." He replied, to all Polly's
passionate claims to him as a legal right, and hints that she could and
would enforce her position:--"Try it on, Poll--you and your lawyers!"
And, indeed, we have never been able to learn how the strong arm of the
Law enforces marital obligations; barring mere cash payments, of which
Polly's attitude was quite oblivious. Moreover, he was at that time
prepared with money, and did actually maintain his wife up to the point
of every possible legal compulsion until the end of his solvency, not a
very long period.

For his life-drama, or the first act of it, was soon played out. It was
substantially his father's over again. He ran through what was left of
his money in a little over a year--so splendid were the gambler's
opportunities in these days; for the Georgian era had still a short
lease of years to run, and folly dies hard. His attempts to reinstate
himself at the expense of a Bank, by a simple process of burglary, in
partnership with a professional hand whose acquaintance he had made at
"The Tun," led to disastrous failure and the summary conviction of both
partners.

None of this came to the knowledge of his wife, as how should it? He
wrote no news of it to her, and their relation was known to very few.
Moreover, the burglary was in Bristol and Polly was at a farmhouse in
Lincolnshire, awaiting a birth which only added another grief to her
life, for her child was born dead. She recovered from a long illness
which swallowed up the remains of the money her husband had given her,
to find herself destitute and minus most of the good looks which had
obtained for her her previous situation. She succeeded thereafter in
maintaining herself by needlework--she was an adept in that--and so
avoided becoming an incumbrance on her family, which she could no longer
help now as she had done in her prosperity. But of her worthless
husband's fate she never knew anything, the trial having taken place
during an illness which nearly ended all her miseries for her. By the
time she was on the way to recovery it would have been difficult to
trace her husband, even had she had any motive for doing so.

As for him--a convict and the son of a convict--his period of detention
in the hulks on the Thames was followed by the usual voyage to the
Antipodes; but this time the vessel into which he was transhipped at
Sydney sailed for Norfolk Island, not Hobart Town nor Macquarie Harbour.
Maisie's son was not destined to revisit the land of his birth. The
early deliverance from actual bondage to a condition free in all but
the name, which had led to his father's successful later career, was
impossible in an island half the size of the Isle of Wight, and the man
grew to his surroundings. A soul ready to accept the impress of every
stamp of depravity in the mint of vice was soon well beyond the reach of
any possible redemption in contact with the moral vileness of the
prisons on what was, but for their contamination, one of the loveliest
islands in the Pacific.

After his departure his mother may have been influenced by a wish to
obliterate her whole past, and this wish may have been the cause of her
adoption of a name not her own. Some lingering reluctance to make her
severance from her own belongings absolute may have dictated the choice
of the name of Prichard, which was that of an old nurse of her
childhood, who had stood by her mother's dying bed. It would serve every
reasonable purpose of disguise without grating on memories of bygone
times. A shred of identity was left to cling to. It is less clear why
the quasi-daughter whom she had never seen should have repudiated her
married name. Polly was under no obligation not to call herself Mrs.
Daverill, unless it were compliance with her promise to keep the
marriage secret. She, however, acquiesced in the Mrs., and supplied a
name as a passport to a respectable widowhood. But she did not dress the
part very vigorously, and report soon accepted the husband as a bad lot
and a riddance. Nothing very uncommon in that!



CHAPTER VII

     OF DAVE WARDLE'S CONVALESCENCE. OF MRS. RUTH THRALE, WIDOW AND
     OGRESS, WHO APPRECIATED HIM. HIS ACCOUNT OF HIS HOSPITAL
     EXPERIENCE. HOW HE MADE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF A COUNTESS, AND TOLD
     HER ABOUT WIDOW THRALE'S GRANDFATHER'S WATER-MILL. CONCERNING JUNO
     LUCINA. THESEUS AND ARIADNE. HOW DAVE DETECTED A FAMILY LIKENESS,
     AND NEARLY RUBBED HIS EYES OUT. HOW GRANNY MARRABLE SHOWED HIM THE
     MILL AT WORK AND MR. MUGGERIDGE


If the daylight were not so short in October at Chorlton-under-Bradbury,
in Rocestershire, that month would quite do for summer in as many
autumns as not. As it is, from ten till five, the sun that comes to say
goodbye to the apples, that will all be plucked by the end of the
month, is so strong that forest trees are duped, and are ready to do
their part towards a green Yule if only the midday warmth will linger on
to those deadly small hours of the morning, when hoarfrost gets the thin
end of its wedge into the almanack, and sleepers go the length of coming
out of bed for something to put over their feet, and end by putting it
over most of their total. From ten till five, at least, the last
swallows seem to be reconsidering their departure, and the skylarks to
be taking heart, and thinking they can go on ever so much longer. Then,
not unfrequently, day falls in love with night for the sake of the
moonrise, and dies of its passion in a blaze of golden splendour. But
the memory of her does not live long into the heart of the night, as it
did in the long summer twilights. Love cools and the dews fall, and the
winds sing dirges in the elms through the leaves they will so soon
scatter about the world without remorse; and then one morning the grass
is crisp with frost beneath the early riser's feet, and he finds the
leaves of the ash all fallen since the dawn, a green, still heap below
their old boughs stript and cold. And he goes home and has all sorts of
things for breakfast, being in England.

But no early riser had had this experience at Chorlton-under-Bradbury on
that October afternoon when Dave Wardle, personally conducted by Sister
Nora, and very tired with travelling from a distant railway-station--the
local line was not there in the fifties--descended from the coach or
omnibus at the garden gate of Widow Thrale, the good woman who was going
to feed him, sleep him, and enjoy his society during convalescence.

The coach or omnibus touched its hat and accepted something from Sister
Nora, and went on to the Six Bells in High Street, where the something
took the form of something else to drink, which got into its head. The
High Street was very wide, and had more water-troughs for horses than
recommended themselves to the understanding. But they might have
succeeded in doing so before the railway came in these parts, turning
everything to the rightabout, as Trufitt phrased it at the Bells. There
were six such troughs within a hundred yards; and, as their contents
never got into the horses' heads, what odds if there were? When the
world was reasonable and four or five horns were heard blowing at once,
often enough, in the high road, no one ever complained, that old Trufitt
ever heard tell of. So presumably there were no odds.

Widow Thrale lived with an old lady of eighty, who was also a widow;
or, one might have said, even more so, seeing that her widowhood was a
double one, her surname, Marrable, being the third she had borne. She
was, however, never called Widow Marrable, but always Granny Marrable;
and Dave's hostess, who was to take charge of him, was not her daughter,
as might have seemed most probable, but a niece who had filled the place
of a daughter to her and was always so spoken of. What an active and
vigorous octogenarian she was may be judged from the fact that, at the
moment of the story, she was taking on herself the task of ushering into
the world her first great-grandchild, the son or daughter--as might turn
out--of her granddaughter, Maisie Costrell, the only daughter of Widow
Thrale. For this young woman had ordained that "Granny" should officiate
as high-priestess on this occasion, and we know it is just as well to
give way to ladies under such circumstances.

So when Dave and Sister Nora were deposited by the coach at Strides
Cottage, it was Widow Thrale who received them. She did not produce on
the lady the effect of a _bona-fide_ widow of fifty-five--this
description had been given of her--not so much because of the
non-viduity of her costume, for that was temperate and negative, as
because Time seemed to have let his ravages stand over for the present.
Very few casual observers would have guessed that she was over
forty-five. Ruth Thrale--that was her name in full--had two sons
surviving of her own family, both at sea, and one daughter, Maisie
Costrell aforesaid. So she was practically now without incumbrances, and
terribly wanting some to kiss, had hit upon the expedient of taking
charge of invalid children and fostering them up to kissing-point. They
were often poor, wasted little articles enough at the first go off, but
Mrs. Ruth usually succeeded in making them succulent in a month or so.
It was exasperating, though, to have them go away just as they were
beginning to pay for fattening. The case was analogous to that of an
ogress balked of her meal, after going to no end of expense in humanised
cream and such-like.

All the ogress rose in her heart when she saw our little friend Dave
Wardle. But she was very careful about his stiff leg. Her eyes gleamed
at the opportunities he would present for injudicious overfeeding--or
suppose we say stuffing at once and have done with it. A banquet was
ready prepared for him, to which he was adapted in a chair of suitable
height, and which he began absorbing into his system without apparently
registering any date of completion. You must not imagine he had been
stinted of food on the journey: indeed, he may be said to have been
taking refreshment more or less all the way from London. But he was one
of the sort that can go steadily on, converting helpings into small boy,
apparently without intermediate scientific events--gastric juice and
blood-corpuscles, and so forth. He was able to converse affably the
while, accepting suggestions as to method in the spirit in which they
were given. In reporting his remarks the spelling cannot be too
phonetical; if unintelligible at first, read them literally aloud to a
hearer who does not see the letterpress. The conversation had turned on
Dave's accident.

"Oy sawed the firing gin coming, and oy said to stoarp, and the firing
gin didn't stoarpt, and it said whoy--whoy--whoy!" This was an attempt
to render the expressive cry of the brigade; now replaced, we believe,
by a tame bell. "Oy sawed free men shoyning like scandles, and Dolly
sawed nuffink--no, nuffink!" The little man's voice got quite sad here.
Think what he had seen and Dolly had missed!

Mrs. Ruth was harrowed by what the child must have suffered. She
expressed her feelings to Sister Nora. Not, however, without Dave
catching their meaning. He was very sharp.

"It hurted at the Hospital," said he. That is, the accident itself had
been too sudden and overwhelming to admit of any estimate of the pain it
caused; the suffering came with the return of consciousness. Then he
added, rather inexplicably:--"It didn't hurted Dolly."

Sister Nora, looking with an amused, puzzled face at the small
absurdity, assimilating suitable nourishment and wrestling with his
mother-tongue at its outset, said:--"Why didn't it hurted Dolly, I
wonder?" and them illuminated:--"Oh--I see! It balances Dolly's account.
Dolly was the loser by not seeing the fire-engine, but she escaped the
accident. Of course!" Whereupon the ogress said with gravity, after due
reflection: "I think you are right, ma'am." She then pointed out to Dave
that well-regulated circles sit still at their suppers, whereas he had
allowed his feelings, on hearing his intelligibility confirmed, to break
out in his legs and kick those of the table. He appeared to believe his
informant, and to determine to frame his behaviour for the future on the
practices of those circles. But he should have taken his spoon out of
his mouth while forming this resolution.

He then, as one wishing to entertain in Society, went on to detail his
experiences in the Hospital, giving first--as it is always well to begin
at the beginning--the names of the staff as he had mastered them. There
was Dr. Dabtinkle, or it might have been Damned Tinker, a doubtful name;
and Drs. Inkstraw, Jarbottle, and Toby. His hearers were able to
identify the names of Dalrymple, Inglethorpe, and Harborough. They were
at work on Toby, who defied detection, when it became evident that sleep
was overwhelming their informant. He was half roused to be put in a
clean nightgown that smelt of lavender, and then curled round his hands
and forgot the whole Universe.

"What a nice little man he is!" said Sister Nora. "He's quite a baby
still, though he's more than six. Some of the London children are so
old. But this child's people seem nice and old-fashioned, although his
uncle was a prizefighter."

"Laws-a-me!" said Mrs. Ruth. "To think of that now! A prizefighter!" And
she had to turn back to Dave's crib, which they were just leaving, to
see whether this degraded profession had set its stamp on her prey....
No, it was all right! She could gloat over that sleeping creature
without misgiving.

"I've just thought who Toby is," said Sister Nora. "Of course, it's Dr.
Trowbridge, the head surgeon. I fancy, now I come to think of it, the
juniors are apt to speak of him without any Dr. I don't know why. I
shall tell Dr. Damned Tinker his name.... Oh no--he won't be offended."

Sister Nora was driven away to the mansion of her noble relative, three
miles off, in a magnificent carriage that was sent for her, in which she
must have felt insignificant. Perhaps she got there in time to dress for
dinner, perhaps not. Wearers of uniforms wash and brush up: they don't
dress.

She reappeared at Mrs. Marrable's cottage two days later, in the same
vehicle, accompanied by the Countess her aunt, who remained therein.
Dave was brought out to make her acquaintance, but not to be taken for a
long drive--only a very short one, just up and down and round, because
Sister Nora wouldn't be more than five minutes. He was relieved when he
found himself safe inside the carriage with her, out of the way of her
haughty and overdressed serving-men, whom he mistrusted. The coachman,
Blencorn, was too high up in the air for human intercourse. Dave found
the lady in the carriage more his sort, and told her, in Sister Nora's
absence--she having vanished into the house--many interesting
experiences of country life. The ogress had taken off his clean shirt,
which he had felt proud of, and looked forward to a long acquaintance
with; substituting another, equally good, perhaps, but premature. She
had fed him well; he gave close particulars of the diet, laying especial
stress on the fact that he had requisitioned the outside piece,
presumably of the loaf, but possibly of some cake. Her ladyship seemed
to think its provenance less important than its destination. She was
able to identity from her own experience a liquid called scream, of
which Dave had bespoken a large jug full, to be taken to Dolly on his
return home. He went on to relate how he had been shown bees, a calf,
and a fool with long legs; about which last the lady was for a moment at
fault, having pictured to herself a Shakespearean one with a bauble. It
proved to be a young horse, a very young one, whose greedy habits Dave
described with a simple but effective directness. But he was destined to
puzzle his audience by his keen interest in something that was on the
mantleshelf, his description of which seemed to relate to nothing this
lady's recollection of Strides interior supplied.

"What on earth does the little man mean by a water-cart on the
mantelshelf, Mrs. Thrale?" said the Countess on leavetaking. The widow
had come out to reclaim her young charge, who seemed not exactly
indignant but perceptibly disappointed, at her ladyship's slowness of
apprehension. He plunged afresh into his elucidation of the subject.
There _was_ a water-cart with four horses, to grind the flour to make
the bread, behind a glast on the chimley-shelf. He knew he was right,
and appealed to Europe for confirmation, more to reinstate his character
for veracity than to bring the details of the topic into prominence.

"That is entirely right, my lady," said Widow Thrale, apologetic for
contradiction from her duty to conscience on the one hand, and her
reluctance to correct her superiors on the other, but under compulsion
from the former. "Quite correct. He's chattering about my grandfather's
model of his mill. He doesn't mean water-cart. He means water-mill. Only
there's a cart with horses in the yard. It's a hundred years old. It's
quite got between the child's mind and his reason, and he wants to see
it work like I've told him."

"Yes," said Dave emphatically, "with water in the cistern." He stopped
suddenly--you may believe it or not--because of a misgiving crossing his
mind that he was using some of Sister Nora's name too freely. Find out
where for yourself.

However, nothing of the sort seemed to cross anyone else's mind, so Dave
hoped he was mistaken. His hostess proceeded to explain why she could
not gratify his anxiety to see this contrivance at work. "I could show
it to him perfectly well," she said, "only to humour a fancy of
Granny's. She never would have anyone touch it but herself, so we shall
have to have patience, some of us." Dave wondered who the other
spectators would be when the time came--would the Countess be one of
them? And would she get down and come into the house, or have it
brought out for her to see in the carriage?

Mrs. Thrale continued:--"I should say it hadn't been set a-going now for
twenty years.... No, more! It was for the pleasuring and amusement of my
little half-brother Robert she made it work, and we buried him more
years ago than that." And then they talked about something else, which
Dave did not closely follow, because he was so sorry for Mrs. Thrale. He
could not resist the conviction that her little half-brother Robert was
dead. Because, if not, they surely never would have buried him. He was
unable to work this out to a satisfactory conclusion, because Sister
Nora was waiting to resume her place in the carriage, and he had no
sooner surrendered it to her than the lateness of the hour was
recognised, and the distinguished visitors drove away in a hurry.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although Mrs. Marrable had gone away from home ostensibly to welcome
into the world a great-grandchild, the announcement that one had arrived
preceded her return nearly a week. Other instances might be adduced of
very old matriarchs who have imagined themselves Juno, as she certainly
did. Juno, one may reasonably suppose, did not feel free to depart until
matters had been put on a comfortable footing. Of course, the goddess
had advantages; omnipresence, for instance, or at least presence at
choice. One official visit did not monopolize her. Old Mrs.
Marrable--Granny Marrable _par excellence_--had but one available
personality, and had to be either here or there, never everywhere! So
Dave and another convalescent had Strides Cottage all to themselves and
their ogress, for awhile.

The country air did wonders for the London child. This is always the
case, and contains the truth that only strong children outlive their
babyhood in London, and these become normal when they are removed to
normal human conditions. Dave began becoming the robust little character
Nature had intended him to be, and evidently would soon throw off the
ill-effects of his accident, with perhaps a doubt about how long the leg
would be stiff.

So by the time Granny Marrable returned into residence she was not
confronted with an invalid still plausibly convalescent, but an eatable
little boy, from the ogress point of view, who used a crutch when
reminded of his undertaking to do so. Otherwise he preferred to neglect
it; leaving it on chairs or on the settle by the fireplace, like Ariadne
on Naxos; evidently feeling, when he was recalled to his duty towards
it, as Theseus might have felt if remonstrated with by Minos for his
desertion of his daughter. In reinstating it he would be acting for the
crutch's sake. And why should he trouble to do this, when the other
little boy, Marmaduke, who had nothing whatever the matter with _his_
leg, was always ambitious to use this crutch, or scrutch. He was the
Dionysos of the metaphor.

However, the crutch was not in question when Dave first set eyes on
Granny Marrable. It was at half-past seven o'clock on a cold morning,
when the last swallow had departed, and the skylarks were flagging, and
the tragedy of the ash-leaves was close at hand, that Dave awoke
reluctantly from a remote dream-world with Dolly in it, and Uncle Mo,
and Aunt M'riar, and Mrs. Picture upstairs, to hear a voice, that at
first seemed Mrs. Picture's in the dream, saying: "Well, my little
gentleman, you _do_ sleep sound!"

But it wasn't Mrs. Prichard's, or Picture's, voice; it was Granny
Marrable's. For all her eighty years, she had walked from Costrell's
farm, her great-grandson's birthplace, three miles off, or thereabouts;
and had arrived at her own door, ten minutes since, quite fresh after an
hour's walk. She was that sort of old woman.

Dave was almost as disconcerted as when he woke at the Hospital and saw
no signs of his home, and no old familiar faces. He sat up in bed and
wrestled with his difficulties, his eyelids being among the chief. If he
rubbed them hard enough, no doubt the figure before him would cease to
be Mrs. Picture, even as the other figure the dream had left had ceased
to be Aunt M'riar, and had become Widow Thrale. Not but that he would
have accepted her as Mrs. Picture, being prepared for almost anything
since his accident, if it had not been for the expression, "My little
gentleman," which quarrelled with her seeming identity. Oh no!--if he
rubbed away hard enough at those eyes with his nightgown-sleeve, this
little matter would right itself. Of course, Mrs. Picture would have
called him Doyvy, or the name he gave that inflection to.

"Child!--you'll rub your pretty eyes out that fashion," said Granny
Marrable. And she uncrumpled Dave's small nightgown-sleeve the eyes were
in collision with, and disentangled their owner from the recesses of his
bedclothes. Then Dave was quite convinced it was not Mrs. Picture, who
was not so nearly strong as this dream-image, or waking reality.

"He'll come awake directly," said the younger widow. "He do sleep,
Granny!" For Widow Thrale often called her aunt "Granny" as a tribute to
her own offspring. Otherwise she thought of her as "Mother." Her own
mother was only a half-forgotten fact, a sort of duplicate mother, who
vanished when she was almost a baby. She continued:--"He goes nigh to
eating up his pillow he does. There never was a little boy sounder; all
night long not a move! Such a little slugabed I never!" And then this
ogress--for she really was no better--was heartless enough to tickle
Dave and kiss him, with an affectation of devouring him. And he, being
tickled, had to laugh; and then was quite awake, for all the world as if
he could never go to sleep again.

"I fought," said he, feeling some apology was due for his
misapprehension, "I fought it was old Mrs. Picture on the top-landing in
the hackicks."

"He's asleep still," said the ogress. "Come along, and I'll wash your
sleep out, young man!" And she paid no attention at all to Dave's
attempted explanations of his reference to old Mrs. Picture or Prichard.
He may be said to have lectured on the subject throughout his ablutions,
and really Widow Thrale was not to blame, properly speaking, when he got
the soap in his mouth.

Dave lost no time in mooting the subject of the water-mill, and it was
decided that as soon as he had finished dictating a letter he had begun
to Dolly, Granny Marrable--whom he addressed as "Granny
Marrowbone"--would exhibit this ingenious contrivance.

He stuck to his letter conscientiously; and it was creditable to him,
because it took a long time. Yet the ground gone over was not extensive.
He expressed his affection for Dolly herself, for Uncle Mo and Aunt
M'riar, and subordinately for Mrs. Picture, and even Mrs. Burr. He added
that there was ducks in the pond. That was all; but it was not till late
in the morning that the letter was completed. Then Dave claimed his
promise. He was to see the wheel go round, and the sacks go up into the
granary above the millstones. It was a pledge even an old lady of eighty
could not go back on.

Nor had she any such treacherous intention. So soon as ever the
dinner-things were cleared away, Granny Marrable with her own hands
lifted down the model off of the mantelshelf, and removing the glass
from the front of the case, brought the contents out on the oak table
the cloth no longer covered, so that you might see all round. Then the
cistern--which after all had nothing to do with Sister Nora--was
carefully filled with water so that none should spill and make marks,
neither on the table nor yet on the mill itself, and then it was wound
up like a clock till you couldn't wind no further and it went click. And
then the water in the cistern was let run, and the wheels went round;
and Dave knew exactly what a water-mill was like, and was assured--only
this was a pious fiction--that the water made the wheels go round. The
truth was that the clockwork worked the wheels and made them pump back
the water as fast as ever it came down. And this is much better than in
real mills, because the same water does over and over again, and the
power never fails. But you have to wind it up. You can't expect
everything!

Granny Marrable gave a brief description of the model. Her brother, who
died young, made it because he was lame of one leg; which meant that
enforced inactivity had found a sedentary employment in mechanisms, not
that all lame folk make mills. Those two horses were Mr. Pitt and Mr.
Fox. That was her father standing at the window, with his pipe in his
mouth, a miracle of delicate workmanship. And that was the carman, Mr.
Muggeridge, who used to see to loading up the cart.

Children are very perverse in their perception of the relative
importance of things they are told, and Dave was enormously impressed
with Mr. Muggeridge. Silent analysis of the model was visible on his
face for awhile, and then he broke out into catechism:--"Whoy doesn't
the wheel-sacks come down emptied out?" said he. He had not got the
expression "wheat-sacks" right.

"Well, my dear," said Granny Marrable, who felt perhaps that this
question attacked a weak point, "if it was the mill itself, they would.
But now it's only done in small, we have to pretend." Dave lent himself
willingly to the admission of a transparent fiction, and it was
creditable to his liberality that he did so. For though the sacks were
ingeniously taken into the mill-roof under a projecting hood, they
reappeared instantly to go up again through a hole under the cart. Any
other arrangement would have been too complex; and, indeed, a pretence
that they took grain up and brought flour down might have seemed
affectation. A conventional treatment was necessary. It had one great
advantage, too: it liberated the carman for active service elsewhere. It
was entirely his own fault, or his employer's, that he stood bolt
upright, raising one hand up and down in time with the movement of the
wheels. The miller did not seem to mind; for he only kept on looking out
of window, smoking.

But the miller and the carman were not the only portraitures this model
showed. Two very little girls were watching the rising grain-sacks, each
with her arm round the other. The miller may have been looking at them
affectionately from the window; but really he was so very
unimpressive--quite inscrutable! Dave inquired about these little girls,
after professing a satisfaction he only partly felt about the
arrangements for receiving the raw material and delivering it ground.

"Whoy was they bofe of a size?" said he, for indeed they were exactly
alike.

"Because, my dear, that is the size God made them. Both at the same
time!"

"Who worze they?" asked Dave, clinching the matter abruptly--much too
interested for circumlocution.

"Myself, my dear, and my little sister, born the same time. With our
lilac frocks on and white bonnets to shade the sun off our eyes. And
each a nosegay of garden flowers." There was no more sorrow in the old
woman's voice than belongs to any old voice speaking thoughtfully and
gently. Her old hand caressed the crisp locks of the little, interested
boy, and felt his chin appreciatively, as she added:--"Three or four
years older than yourself, my dear! Seventy years ago!" with just the
ring of sadness--no more--that always sounds when great age speaks of
its days long past.

The other convalescent boy here struck in, raising a vital question.
"Which is you, and which is her?" said he. He had come in as a new
spectator; surrendering Dave's crutch, borrowed as needless to its
owner, in compliance with a strange fascination, now waning in charm as
the working model asserted its powers. Dionysos had deserted Ariadne
again.

"This is me," said Granny Marrable. "And this is Maisie." And now you
who read probably know, as clearly as he who writes, who she was, this
octogenarian with such a good prospect of making up the hundred. She was
Phoebe, the sister of old Mrs. Prichard, whose story was told in the
last chapter. But most likely you guessed that pages ago.

       *       *       *       *       *

I, who write, have no aim in telling this story beyond that of repeating
as clearly and briefly as may be the bare facts that make it up--of
communicating them to whoever has a few hours to spare for the purpose,
with the smallest trouble to himself in its perusal. I feel often that
my lack of skill is spoiling what might be a good story. That I cannot
help; and I write with the firm conviction that any effort on my part to
arrange these facts in such order that the tale should show dramatic
force, or startle him with unexpected issues of event, would only
procure derision for its writer, and might even obscure the only end he
has at heart, that of giving a complete grasp of the facts, as nearly as
may be in the order of their occurrence.

There is one feature in the story which the most skilful narrator might
easily fail to present as probable--the separation of these twin sisters
throughout a long lifetime, a separation contrary to nature; so much so,
indeed, that tales are told of twins living apart, the death or illness
of one of whom has brought about the death or similar illness of the
other. One would at least say that neither could die without knowledge
of the other; might even infer that either would go on thinking the
other living, without some direct evidence of death, some seeming
communication from the departed. But the separation of Phoebe from
Maisie did not come under these conditions; each was the victim of a
wicked fraud, carried out with a subtlety that might have deceived
Scotland Yard. There can be no doubt that it would have had the force to
obscure any phenomenon of a so-called telepathic nature, however vivid,
as proof that either twin was still alive; as the percipient, in the
belief that her sister's death was established beyond a doubt, would
unhesitatingly conclude that the departed had revisited earth, or had
made her presence felt by some process hard to understand from our side.

To see the story in its right light we must always keep in view the
extraordinary isolation of the penal settlement. All convict life is cut
off from the world, but in Van Diemen's Land even the freest of men out
on ticket-of-leave--free sometimes so long that the renewal of their
licence at its expiration became the merest form--was separated from the
land of his birth, even from the mainland of Australia, by a barrier for
him almost as impassable as the atmosphere that lies between us and the
visible land of the moon. Keep in mind the hundred-and-odd miles of
sea--are you sure you thought of it as so much?--that parts Tasmania
from the nearest point of New South Wales, and picture to yourself the
few slow sailing-ships upon their voyages from Sydney, five times as
distant. To go and come on such a journey was little else to the
stay-at-home in those days, than that he should venture beyond the grave
and return.

No!--the wonder to my mind is not that the two sisters should have been
parted so utterly, and each been so completely duped about the other's
death, but that Maisie should have returned less than five-and-twenty
years later, and that, so returning, she should not have come to the
knowledge that her sister was still living.



CHAPTER VIII

     MICHAEL RAGSTROAR'S SLIDE, AND THE MILK. CONCERNING DAVE'S RETURN
     TO SAPPS COURT, WHICH HAD SHRUNK IN HIS ABSENCE. OF THE PHYSICAL
     IMPOSSIBILITY OF A WIDOW'S GRANDMOTHER. DAVE'S TALE OF THE
     WATER-MILL. SISTER NORA'S EXACTING FATHER. HOW DAVE WENT TO SCHOOL,
     AND UNCLE MO SOUGHT CONSOLATION IN SOCIETY, WHILE DOLLY TOOK
     STRUVVEL PETER TO VISIT MRS. PRICHARD. HOW THAT OLD LADY KNITTED A
     COMFORTER, AND TOLD AUNT M'RIAR OF HER CONVICT LOVER'S DEPARTURE


The heart of the ancient prizefighter in Sapps Court swelled with joy
when the day of Dave's return was officially announced. He was, said
Aunt M'riar, in and out all the afternoon, fidgeting-like, when it
actually came. And the frost was that hard that ashes out of the dustbin
had to be strewed over the paving to prevent your slipping. It might not
have been any so bad though, only for that young Michael Ragstroar's
having risen from his couch at an early hour, and with diabolical
foresight made a slide right down the middle of the Court. He had chosen
this hour so early, that he was actually before the Milk, which was
always agreeable to serve the Court when the tenantry could do--taken
collectively--with eightpennyworth. It often mounted up to thrice that
amount, as a matter of fact. On this occasion it sat down abruptly, the
Milk did, and gave a piece of its mind to Michael's family later,
pointing out that it was no mere question of physical pain or
ill-convenience to itself, but that its principal constituent might
easily have been spilled, and would have had to be charged for all the
same. The incident led to a collision between Michael and his father,
the coster; who, however, remitted one-half of his son's deserts and let
him off easy on condition of his reinstating the footway. Michael would
have left all intact, he said, had he only been told that his
thoughtfulness would provoke the Court's ingratitude. "Why couldn't they
say aforehand they didn't want no slide?" said he. "I could just as easy
have left it alone." It was rather difficult to be quite even with
Michael Ragstroar.

However, the ground was all steady underfoot when Dave, in charge of
Sister Nora, reappeared, looking quite rosy again, and only limping very
slightly. He had deserted Ariadne altogether by now, and Dionysos may
have done so, too, for anything the story knows. Anyhow, the instability
of the planet that had resulted from local frost did not affect Dave at
all, now that Michael had spilt them hashes over the ground. Dave was
bubbling over with valuable information about the provinces, which had
never reached the Metropolis before, and he was in such a hurry to tell
about a recent family of kittens, that he scamped his greetings to his
own family in order to get on to the description of it.

But neither this, nor public indignation against the turpitude of
slide-makers generally and that young Micky in particular, could avert
his relatives' acknowledgments of their gratitude--what a plague thanks
are!--from a benefactress who was merely consulting a personal
dilettantism in her attitude towards her species, and who regarded Dave
as her most remunerative investment for some time past.

"We shall never know how to be grateful enough, ma'am, for your kindness
to Dave," said Aunt M'riar. "No--never!"

"Not if we was to live for ever," said Uncle Mo. And he seemed to mean
it, for he went on:--"It's a poor way of thanks to be redooced to at the
best, just to be grateful and stop it off at that. But 'tis in the right
of it as far as it goes. You take me, missis? I'm a bad hand to speak my
mind; but you'll count it up for hearty thanks, anyhow."

"Of course I will, Mr. Wardle," said Sister Nora. "But, oh dear!--what a
fuss one does make about nothing! Why, he's such a ducky little chap,
anybody would be glad to."

Dave struck into the conversation perceiving an opportunity to say
something appropriate: "There was sisk duskses in the pong in the field,
and one of the duskses was a droyk with green like ribbings, and Mrs.
Thrale she said a little boy stumbled in the pong and was took out
green, and some day I should show Dolly the droyk and I should show
Uncle Mo the droyk and I should show Aunt M'riar the droyk. And there
was a bool." At which point the speaker suddenly became shyly silent,
perhaps feeling that he was premature in referring thus early to a visit
of his family to Chorlton-under-Bradbury. It would have been better
taste to wait, he thought.

However, no offence seemed to be taken. Uncle Mo said: "Oh, _that_ was
it--was it? I hope the bull had a ring on his nose." Dave appeared
doubtful, with a wish to assent. Then Aunt M'riar, who--however good she
was--certainly had a commonplace mind, must needs say she hoped Dave had
been a very good little boy. The banality of it!

Dave felt that an effort should be made to save the conversation. The
bull's nose and its ring suggested a line to go on. "The lady," said he
decisively, "had rings on her fingers. Dimings and pearls and
scrapphires"--he took this very striking word by storm--"and she giv'
'em me for to hold one at a time.... Yorce she did!" He felt sure of his
facts, and that the lady's rings on her fingers made her a legitimate
and natural corollary to a bull with one on its nose.

"The lady would be my Cousin Philippa," said Sister Nora. "She's always
figged up to the nines. Dave took her for a drive in the
carriage--didn't you, Dave?" There was misrepresentation in this, but a
way grown-up people have of understanding each other over the heads of
little boys prevented the growth of false impressions. Uncle Mo and Aunt
M'riar quite understood, somehow, that it was the lady that had taken
Dave for a drive. Dave allowed this convention to pass without notice,
merely nodding. He reserved criticism for the days to come, when he
should have a wider vocabulary at command.

Then Sister Nora had gone, and Dave was having his first experience of
the shattered ideal. Sapps Court was neither so large nor so
distinguished as the conception of it that he had carried away into the
country with him; with the details of which he had endeavoured to
impress Granny Marrable and the ogress. Dolly was not so large as he had
expected to find her; but then he had had that expectation owing to a
message, which had reached him in his absence, that she was growing out
of all knowledge. His visit was inside three months; so this was absurd.
One really should be careful what one says to six-year-olds. The image
of Dolly that Dave brought back from the provinces nearly filled up the
Sapps Court memory supplied. It was just the same shape as Dolly, but on
a much larger scale. The reality he came back to was small and compact,
but not so influential.

Dolly's happiness at his return was great and unfeigned, but its
expression was handicapped by her desire that a doll Sister Nora brought
her should be allowed to sleep off the effects of an exhausting journey.
Only Shakespearean dramatic power could have ascribed sleep to this
doll, who was a similitude of Struvvel Peter in the collected poems of
that name just published. Still, Dolly gave all of herself that this
matronly preoccupation could spare to Dave. She very soon suggested that
they should make a joint visit to old Mrs. Picture upstairs. She could
carry Struvvel Peter in her arms all the time, so that his sleep should
not be disturbed.

This was only restless love of change on Dolly's part, and Uncle Mo
protested. Was his boy to be carried off from him when only just this
minute he got him back? Who was Mrs. Prichard that such an exaggerated
consideration should be shown to her? Dave expressed himself in the same
sense, but with a less critical view of Mrs. Prichard's pretensions.

Aunt M'riar pointed out that there was no call to be in a driving hurry.
Presently, when Mr. Alibone come in for a pipe, like he said he would,
then Dave and Dolly might go up and knock at Mrs. Prichard's door, and
if they were good they might be let in. Aunt M'riar seized so many
opportunities to influence the young towards purity and holiness that
her injunctions lost force through the frequency of their recurrence,
always dangling rewards and punishments before their eyes. In the
present case her suggestions worked in with the general feeling, and
Dave and Dolly sat one on each knee of Uncle Mo, and made intelligent
remarks. At least, Dave did; Dolly's were sometimes confused, and very
frequently uncompleted.

Uncle Mo asked questions about Dave's sojourn with Widow Thrale. Who was
there lived in the house over and above the Widow? Well--said
Dave--there was her Granny. Uncle Mo derided the idea of a Widow's
Granny. Such a thing was against Nature. Her mother was possible but
uncommon. But as for her Granny!--draw it mild, said Uncle Mo.

"But my dear Mo," said Aunt M'riar. "Just you give consideration. You're
always for sayin' such a many things. Why, there was our upstairs old
lady she says to me she was plenty old enough to be my grandmother. Only
this very morning, if you'll believe me, she said that very selfsame
thing. 'I'm plenty old enough to be your grandmother,' she says."

"As for the being old enough, M'riar," said Uncle Mo, "there's enough
and to spare old enough for most anything if you come to that. But this
partick'lar sort don't come off. Just you ask anybody. Why, I'll give ye
all England to hunt 'em up. Can't say about foreigners, they're a queer
lot; but England's a Christian country, and you may rely upon it, and so
I tell you, you won't light on any one or two widders' Grannies in the
whole show. You try it!" Uncle Moses was not the first nor the only
person in the world that ever proposed an impracticable test to be
carried out at other people's expense, or by their exertions. It was,
however, a mere _façon de parler_, and Aunt M'riar did not show any
disposition to start on a search for widows' grandmothers.

The discussion was altogether too deep for Dave. So after a moment of
grave perplexity he started a new topic, dashing into it without
apology, as was his practice. "Granny Marrowbone's box on the
chimley-piece is got glast you can see in, and she's got two horses in a
wagging, and the wheels goes round and round and round like a clock, and
there was her daddy stood at the window and there was saskses was took
up froo a hole, and come back froo a hole, and there was Muggeridge that
see to loading up the cart, and there was her and her sister bofe alike
of one size, and there was the water run over...." Here Dave flagged a
little after so much eloquence, and no wonder. But he managed to wind
up:--"And then Granny Marrowbone put it back on the mankleshelf for next
time."

This narrative was, of course, quite unintelligible to its hearers; but
we understand it, and its mention of the carman's name. A child that has
to repeat a story will often confuse incidents limitlessly, and
nevertheless hold on with the tenacity of a bull-pup to some saving
phrase heard distinctly once and for ever. Even so, Dave held on to
Muggeridge, that see to loading up the cart, as a great fact rooted in
History.

"H'm!" said Uncle Mo. "I don't make all that out. Who's Muggeridge in
it?"

"He sees to the sacks," said Dave.

"Counting of 'em out, I reckon." Uncle Mo was thinking of coal-sacks,
and the suggestions of a suspicious Company. Dave said nothing. Probably
Uncle Mo knew. But he was all wrong, perhaps because the association of
holes with coals misled him.

"Was it Mrs. Marrable and her sister?" asked Aunt M'riar. "Why was they
both of a size?"

Dave jumped at the opportunity of showing that he had profited by
_résumés_ of this subject with his hostess. "Because they were the soyme
oyge," said he. "Loyke me and Dolly. We aren't the soyme oyge, me and
Dolly." That is to say, he and Dolly were an example of persons whose
relative ages came into court. Their classification differed, but that
was a detail.

Aunt M'riar was alive to the possibility that the sister of Granny
Marrable was her twin, and said so. But Uncle Mo took her up short for
this opinion. "What!" said he, "the same as the old party two pair up?
No, no!--you won't convince me there's two old parties at once with twin
sisters. One at a time's plenty on the way-bill." Because, you see, Aunt
M'riar had had a good many conversations with Mrs. Prichard lately, and
had repeated words of hers to Uncle Moses. "I was a twin myself," she
had said; and added that she had lost her sister near upon fifty years
ago.

The truth was too strange to occur to even the most observant bystander;
_videlicet_, on the whole, Mr. Alibone; who, coming in and talking over
the matter anew, only said it struck him as a queer start. This
expression has somehow a sort of flavour of its user's intention to
conduct inquiry no farther. Anyhow, the subject simply dropped for that
time being, out of sight and out of mind.

It was very unfair to Dave, who was, after all, a model of veracity,
that he should be treated as a romancer, and never confronted with
witnesses to confirm or contradict his statements. Even Uncle Mo, who
took him most seriously, continued to doubt the existence of widows'
grandmothers, and to accept with too many reservations his account of
the mill-model. Sister Nora, as it chanced, did not revisit Sapps Court
for a very long time, for she was called away to Scotland by the sudden
illness of her father, who showed an equivocal affection for her by
refusing to let anyone else nurse him.

So it came about that Dave, rather mortified at having doubt thrown on
narratives he knew to be true, discontinued his attempts to establish
them. And that the two old sisters, so long parted, still lived on
apart; each in the firm belief that the other was dead a lifetime since.
How near each had been to the knowledge that the other lived! Surely if
Dave had described that mill-model to old Mrs. Picture, suspicions would
have been excited. But Dave said little or nothing about it.

It is nowise strange to think that the bitter, simultaneous grief in the
heart of either twin, now nearly fifty years ago, still survived in two
hearts that were not too old to love; for even those who think that love
can die, and be as though it had never been, may make concession to its
permanency in the case of twins--may even think concession scientific.
But it is strange--strange beyond expression--that at the time of this
story each should have had love in her heart for the same object, our
little Dave Wardle; that Master Dave's very kissable countenance had
supplied the lips of each with a message of solace to a tired soul. And
most of all that the tears of each, and the causes of them, had provoked
the inquisitiveness of the same pair of blue eyes and set their owner
questioning, and that through all this time the child had in his secret
consciousness a few words that would have fired the train. Never was a
spark so near to fuel, never an untold tale so near its hearer, never a
draught so near to lips athirst.

But Dave's account of the mill was for the time forgotten. It happened
that old Mrs. Prichard was not receiving just at the time of his return,
so his visits upstairs had to be suspended. By the time they were
renewed the strange life in the country village had become a thing of
the past, and important events nearer home had absorbed the mill on the
mantelshelf, and the ducks in the pond and Widow Thrale and Granny
Marrable alike. One of the important events was that Dave was to be took
to school after Christmas.

It was in this interim that old Mrs. Prichard became a very great
resource to Aunt M'riar, and when the time came for Dave to enter on his
curriculum of scholarship, the visiting upstairs had become a recognised
institution. Aunt M'riar being frequently forsaken by Uncle Mo, who
marked his objection to the scholastic innovation by showing himself
more in public, notably at The Rising Sun, whose proprietor set great
store by the patronage of so respectable a representative of an
Institution not so well thought of now as formerly, but whose traditions
were still cherished in the confidential interior of many an ancient
pot-house of a like type--Aunt M'riar, so forsaken, made these absences
of her brother-in-law a reason for conferring her own society and
Dolly's on the upstairs lodger, whenever the work she was engaged on
permitted it. She felt, perhaps, as Uncle Mo felt, that the house warn't
like itself without our boy; but if she shared his feeling that it was a
waste of early life to spend it in learning to read slowly, write
illegibly, and cypher incorrectly, she did so secretly. She deferred to
the popular prejudice, which may have had an inflated opinion of the
advantages of education; but she acknowledged its growth and the worldly
wisdom of giving way to it.

Old Mrs. Prichard and Aunt M'riar naturally exchanged confidences more
and more; and in the end the old lady began to speak without reserve
about her past. It came about thus. After Christmas, Dave being
culture-bound, and work of a profitable nature for the moment at a low
ebb, Aunt M'riar had fallen back on some arrears of stocking-darning.
Dolly was engaged on the object to which she gave lifelong attention,
that of keeping her doll asleep. I do not fancy that Dolly was very
inventive; but then, you may be, at three-and-a-half, seductive without
being inventive. Besides, this monotonous fiction of the need of her
doll for sleep was only a _scenario_ for another incident--the fear of
disturbance by a pleace'n with two heads, a very terrible possibility.

Old Mrs. Prichard, whom I call by that name because she was known by no
other in Sapps Court, was knitting a comforter for Dave. It went very
slowly, this comforter, but was invaluable as an expression of love and
goodwill. She couldn't get up and downstairs because of her back, and
she couldn't read, only a very little, because of her eyes, and she
couldn't hear--not to say _hear_--when read aloud to. This last may have
been no more than what many of us have experienced, for she heard very
plain when spoke to. That is Aunt M'riar's testimony. My impression is
that, as compared with her twin sister Phoebe, Maisie was at this date a
mere invalid. But she looked very like Phoebe for all that, when you
didn't see her hands. The veins were too blue, and their delicacy was
made more delicate by the aggressive scarlet she had chosen for the
comforter.

"It makes a rest to do a little darning now and again." Aunt M'riar said
this, choosing a worsted carefully, so it shouldn't quarrel with its
surroundings. "I take a pleasure in it more than not. On'y as for
knowing when to stop--there!"

"I mind what it was in my early days up-country," said the old woman.
"'Twas not above once in the year any trade would reach us, and suchlike
things as woollen socks were got at by the moth or the ants. They would
sell us things at a high price from the factory as a favour, but my
husband could not abide the sight of them. It was small wonder it was
so, Mrs. Wardle." That was the name that Aunt M'riar had come to be
called by, although it was not her own real name. Confusion of this sort
is not uncommon in the class she belonged to. Sapps Court was aware that
she was not Mrs. Wardle, but she had to be accounted for somehow, and
the name she bore was too serious a tax on the brain-power of its
inhabitants.

She repeated Mrs. Prichard's words: "From the factory, ma'am? I see."
Because she did not understand them.

"It was always called the factory," said Mrs. Prichard. But this made
Aunt M'riar none the wiser. _What_ was called the factory? The way in
which she again said that she _saw_ amounted to a request for
enlightenment. Mrs. Prichard gave it. "It was the Government quarters
with the Residence, and the prisons where the convicts were detained on
their arrival. They would not be there long, being told off to work in
gangs up-country, or assigned to the settlers as servants. But I've
never told you any of all this before, Mrs. Wardle." No more she had.
She had broached Van Diemen's Land suddenly, having gone no farther
before than the mere fact of her son's birth at Port Macquarie.

Aunt M'riar couldn't make up her mind as to what was expected of her,
whether sympathy or mere interest or silent acquiescence. She decided on
a weak expression of the first, saying:--"To think of that now--all that
time ago!"

"Fifty long years ago! But I knew of it before that, four years or
more," said the old lady. It did not seem to move her much--probably
felt to her like a previous state of existence. She went on talking
about the Convict Settlement, which she had outlived. Her hearer only
half understood most of it, not being a prompt enough catechist to ask
the right question at the right time.

For Aunt M'riar, though good, was a slowcoach, backward in
cross-examination, and Mrs. Prichard's first depositions remained
unqualified, for discussion later with Uncle Mo. However, one inquiry
came to her tongue. "Was you born in those parts yourself, ma'am?" said
she. Then she felt a little sorry she had asked it, for a sound like
annoyance came in the answer.

"Who--I? No, no--not I--dear me, no! My father was an Essex man.
Darenth, his place was called." Aunt M'riar repeated the name
wrongly:--"Durrant?" She ought to have asked something concerning his
status and employment. Who knows but Mrs. Prichard might have talked of
that mill and supplied a clue to speculation?--not Aunt M'riar's;
speculation was not her line. Others might have compared notes on her
report, literally given, with Dave's sporting account of the mill-model.
And yet--why should they? With no strong leading incident in common,
each story might have been discussed without any suspicion that the
flour-mill was the same in both.

So that Mrs. Prichard's tale so far supplies nothing to link her with
old Granny Marrable, as unsuspicious as herself. What Aunt M'riar found
her talking of, half to herself, when her attention recovered from a
momentary fear that she might have hurt the old lady's feelings, was
even less likely to connect the two lives.

"I followed my husband out. My child died--my eldest--here in England. I
went again to live at home. Then I followed him out. He wrote to me and
said that he was free. Free on the island, but not to come home. We had
been over four years parted then." She said nothing of the child she
left behind in England. Too much to explain perhaps?

Aunt M'riar was struck by a painful thought; the same that had crossed
her mind before, and that she had discarded as somehow inconsistent with
this old woman. The convicts--the convicts? She had grasped the fact
that this couple had lived in Van Diemen's Land, and inferred that
children were born to them there. But--was the husband himself a
convict? She repeated the words, "Free on the island, but not to come
home?" as a question.

She was quite taken aback with the reply, given with no visible emotion.
"Why should I not tell you? How will it hurt me that you should know? My
husband was convicted of forgery and transported."

"God's mercy on us!" said Aunt M'riar, dropping her work dumfoundered.
Then it half entered her thought that the old woman was wandering, and
she nearly said:--"Are you sure?"

The old woman answered the thought as though it had been audible. "Why
not?" she said. "I am all myself. Fifty years ago! Why should I begin to
doubt it because of the long time?" She had ceased her knitting and sat
gazing on the fire, looking very old. Her interlaced thin fingers on the
strain could grow no older now surely, come what might of time and
trouble. Both had done their worst. She went on speaking low, as one
talks to oneself when alone. "Yes, I saw him go that morning on the
river. They rowed me out at dawn--a pair of oars, from Chatham. For I
had learned the day he would go, and there was a sure time for the
leaving of the hulks; if not night, then in the early dawn before folk
were on the move. This was in the summer."

"And did you see him?" said Aunt M'riar, hoping to hear more, and taking
much for granted that she did not understand, lest she should be the
loser by interruption.

"I saw him. I saw him. I did not know then that _he_ saw _me_. They
dared not row me near the wicked longboat that was under the hulk's side
waiting--waiting to take my heart away. They dared not for the officers.
There was ten men packed in the stern of the boat, and he was in among
them. And, as they sat, each one's hand was handcuffed to his neighbour.
I saw him, but he could not raise his hand; and he dared not call to me
for the officers. I could not have known him in his prison dress--it was
too far--but I could read his number, 213M. I know it still--213M....
How did I know it? Because he got a letter to me." She then told how a
man had followed her in the street, when she was waiting in London for
this chance of seeing her husband, and how she had been afraid of this
man and taken refuge in a shop. Then how the shopkeeper had gone out to
speak to him and come back, saying:--"He's a bad man to look at, but he
means no harm. He says he wants to give you a letter, miss." How she
then spoke with the man and received the letter, giving him a guinea
for the rolled-up pencil scrawl, and he said:--"It's worth more than
that for the risk I ran to bring it ye. But for my luck I might be on
the ship still." Whereupon, she gave him her watch. That was how she
came to know 213M.

"But did you see your husband again?" asked Aunt M'riar, listening as
Dave might have done; and, like him, wanting each instalment of the tale
rounded off.

"Yes. Climbing up the side of the great ship half-way to the Nore. It
was a four-hours' pull for the galley--six oars--each man wristlocked to
his oar; and each officer with a musket. But we had a little sail and
kept the pace, though the wind was easterly. Then, when we reached the
ship where she lay, we went as near as ever my men dared. And we saw
each one of them--the ten--unhandcuffed to climb the side, and a cord
over the side made fast to him to give him no chance of death in the
waters--no chance! And then I saw my husband and knew he saw me."

"Did he speak?"

"He tried to call out. But the ship's officer struck him a cruel blow
upon the mouth, and he was dragged to the upper deck and hidden from me.
We saw them all aboard, all the ten. It was the last boat-load from the
hulk, and all the yards were manned by now, and the white sails growing
on them. Oh, but she was beautiful, the great ship in the sunshine!" The
old woman, who had spoken tearlessly, as from a dead, tearless heart, of
the worst essentials of her tragedy, was caught by a sob at something in
this memory of the ship at the Nore--why, Heaven knows!--and her voice
broke over it. To Aunt M'riar, cockney to the core, a ship was only a
convention, necessary for character, in an offing with an orange-chrome
sunset claiming your attention rather noisily in the background. There
were pavement-artists in those days as now. This ship the old lady told
of was a new experience for her--this ship with hundreds of souls on
board, men and women who had all had a fair trial and been represented
by counsel, so had nothing to complain of even if innocent. But all
souls in Hell, for all that!

The old voice seemed quite roused to animation--a sort of heart-broken
animation--by the recollection of this ship. "Oh, but she was
beautiful!" she said again. "I've dreamed of her many's the time since
then, with her three masts straight up against the blue; you could see
them in the water upside down. I could not find the heart to let my men
row away and leave her there. I had come to see her go, and it was a
long wait we had.... Yes, it was on towards evening before the breeze
came to move her; and all those hours we waited. It was money to my
men, and they had a good will to it." She stopped, and Aunt M'riar
waited for her to speak again, feeling that she too had a right to see
this ship's image move. Presently she looked up from her darning and got
a response. "Yes, she did move in the end. I saw the sails flap, and
there was the clink of the anchor-chain. I've dreamt it again many and
many a time, and seen her take the wind and move, till she was all a
mile away and more. We watched her away with all aboard of her. And when
the wind rose in the night I was mad to think of her out on the great
sea, and how I should never see him again. But the time went by, and I
did."

This was the first time old Mrs. Prichard spoke so freely about her
former life to Aunt M'riar. It was quite spontaneous on the old lady's
part, and she stopped her tale as suddenly as it had begun. The
fragmentary revelations in which she disclosed much more of her story,
as already summarised, came at intervals; always dwelling on her
Australian experiences, never on her girlhood--never on her subsequent
life in England. The reason of this is not clear; one has to accept the
fact. The point to notice is that nothing she said could possibly
associate her with old Mrs. Marrable, as told about by Dave. There had
been mention of Australia certainly. Yet why should Granny Marrable's
sister having died there forty-odd years ago connect her with an old
woman of a different name, now living? Besides, Dave was not
intelligible on this point.

Whatever she told to Aunt M'riar was repeated to Uncle Mo--be sure of
that! Still, fragmentary stories, unless dressed up and garnished by
their retailer, do not remain vividly in the mind of their hearer, and
Uncle Mo's impressions of the upstairs tenant's history continued very
mixed. For Aunt M'riar's style was unpolished, and she did not marshall
her ideas in an impressive or lucid manner.



CHAPTER IX

     OF A WATERSIDE PUBLIC-HOUSE, AT CHISWICK, AND TWO MEN IN ITS BACK
     GARDEN. HOW THE RIVER POLICE TOOK AN INTEREST IN THEM. A
     TROUBLESOME LANDING AND A BAD SPILL. HOW FOUR MEN WENT UNDER WATER,
     AND TWO WERE NOT DROWNED. OF THE INQUEST ONE OF THE OTHERS TOOK THE
     STAR PART IN. A MODEL WITNESS, AND HIS GREAT-AUNT


Just off the Lower Mall at Hammersmith there still remains a scrap of
the waterside neighbourhood that, fifty years ago, believed itself
eternal; that still clung to the belief forty years ago; that had
misgivings thirty years ago; and that has suffered such inroads from
eligible residences, during the last quarter of a century, that its
residuum, in spite of a superficial appearance of duration, is really
only awaiting the expiration of leases to be given over to
housebreakers, to make way for flats.

Fifty years ago this corner of the world was so self-reliant that it was
content--more than content--to be unpatrolled by police; in fact, felt
rather resentful when an occasional officer passed through, as was
inevitable from time to time. It would have been happier if its
law-abiding tendencies had always been taken for granted. Then you could
have drunk your half a pint, your quart, or your measurable fraction of
a hogshead, in peace and quiet at the bar of the microscopic pub called
The Pigeons, without fear of one of those enemies of Society--_your_
Society--coming spying and prying round after you or any chance
acquaintance you might pick up, to help you towards making that fraction
a respectable one. If it was summer-time, and you sat in the little
back-garden that had a ladder down to the river, you might feel a
moment's uneasiness when the river-police rowed by, as sometimes
happened; only, on the other hand, you might feel soothed by their
appearance of unconcern in riparian matters, almost amounting to
affectation. If any human beings took no interest in your antecedents,
surely it would be these two leisurely rowers and the superior person in
the stern, with the oilskin cape?

It was not summer-time--far from it--on the day that concerns this
story, when two men in the garden of The Pigeons looked out over the
river, and one said to the other:--"Right away over yonder it lies,
halfway to Barn Elms." They were so busy over the locating of it,
whatever it was, that they did not notice the police-wherry, oarless in
the swift-running tide, as it slipped down close inshore, and was
abreast of them before they knew it. Perhaps it was the fact that it was
not summer, and that these men must have left a warm fire in the parlour
of The Pigeons, to come out into a driving north-east wind bringing with
it needle-pricks of microscopic snow, hard and cold and dry, that made
the rowers drop their oars and hold back against the stream, to look at
them.

Or was it that the man in the stern had an interest in one of them. An
abrupt exclamation that he uttered at this moment seemed, to the man
rowing stroke, who heard more than his mate, to apply to the thicker and
taller man of the two. This one, who seemed to treat his pal as an
inferior or subordinate, met his gaze, not flinching. His companion
seemed less at his ease, and to him the big man said, scarcely moving
his lips to say it:--"Steady, fool!--if you shy, we're done." On which
the other remained motionless. What they said was heard by a boy close
at hand; but for whose version, given afterwards, this story would have
been in the dark about it.

The two rowers kept the boat stationary, backing water. The steersman's
left hand played with the tiller-rope, and the boat edged slowly to the
shore. There was a grating thrown out over the water from the parapet of
the river-wall, to the side of which was attached a boat-ladder, now
slung up, for no boat's crew ever stopped here at this season. The boat
was nearing this--all but close--when the bigger man spoke, on a sudden.
But he only said it was a rough night, sergeant!

It was a rough night, or meant to be one in an hour or so. But it was
impossible for an Official to accept another person's opinion without
loss of dignity. Therefore the sergeant, always working the boat
edgewise towards the ladder, only responded, "Roughish!" qualifying the
night, and implying a wider experience of rough nights than his
hearer's. If impressions derived from appearance are to be relied on,
his experience must have been a wide one. For one thing, he himself
seemed a dozen years at least the younger of the two. He added, as the
boat touched the ladder, bringing each in full view of the other, and
making speech easy between them:--"A man don't make the voyage out to
Sydney without seeing some rough weather."

A very attentive observer might have said that he watched the man he
addressed more closely than the talk warranted, and certainly would
have seen that the latter started. He half began "Who the Hell ...?" but
flagged on the last word--just stopped short of Sheol--and the growl
that accompanied it turned into "I've never been in those parts,
master."

"Never said you had. _I_ have though." One might have thought, by his
tone, that this officer chuckled secretly over something. He was
pleased, at least. But he gave no clue to his thoughts. He seemed
disconcerted at the height above the water of the projecting grating and
slung-up ladder. An active man, unencumbered, might easily enough have
landed himself on it from the boat. Yet a boy might have made it
impossible, standing on the grating. A resolute kick on the first
hand-grip, or in the face of the climber, would have met the case, and
given him a back-fall into the boat or the water. A chilly thought that,
on a day like this. But why should such a thought cross the mind of this
man, now? It did, probably, and he gave up the idea of landing.

Instead, he felt in his pocket, and drew out a spirit-flask. "Maybe,"
said he, "your mate would oblige so far as to ask the young lady at the
bar to fill this up with Kinahan's LL? _She_ won't make any bones about
it if he says it's for me, Sergeant Ibbetson--_she'll_ know." He
inverted it to see that it was empty, and the man who had not spoken
accepted the mission at a nod from his companion, whose social headship
the speech of the policeman seemed somehow to have taken for granted.

The sergeant watched him out of sight; then, the moment he had vanished,
said:--"Now I come to think of it, Cissy Tuttle that was here has
married a postman, and the young lady that's took it over may not know
my name." His speech had not the appearance of a sudden thought, and the
less so that he began to get rid of his oilskin incumbrance almost
before he had uttered it.

The understanding of what then happened needs a clear picture of the
exact position of things at this moment. The boat, held back by the
dipped oars, but steadied now and again by the hand of the sergeant on
the grating or ladder, lay uneasily between the wind and the current.
The man on the grating showed some unwillingness to lend the hand-up
that was asked for; and took exception, it seemed, to the safety of the
landing on any terms. "Maybe you want a dip in the river, master?" said
he. "It's no concern of mine. Only I don't care to take your weight on
this greasy bit of old iron. I'm best out of the water."

The sergeant paused, looked at the grating, which certainly sloped
outwards, then at the boat and at the ladder. "Catch hold!" said he.

But the other held back. "Why can't your mate there hand me the end of
that painter, and slue her round? That's easy! Won't take above a half a
minute, and save somebody a wet shirt. Tie her nose to the ring
yonder!--just bring you up oppo_site_ to where I'm standing! Think it
out, master."

The sergeant, however, seemed to have made up his mind in spite of the
reasonableness of this suggestion. For when the man rowing bow stooped
back and reached out for the painter--the course seemed the obvious and
natural one--he was stopped by his chief, who said rather tartly:--"You
take your orders from me, Cookson!" and then held out his hand as
before, saying:--"You're a tidy weight, my lad. _I_ shan't pull you
overboard."

He did, nevertheless, and it came about thus. The two men at the oars
saw the whole thing, and were clear in their account of it after.
Ibbetson, their sergeant, did _not_ take the hand that was proffered
him, but seized its wrist. It seemed to them that he made no attempt to
lift himself up from the boat; and the nearer one, pulling stroke, would
have it that Ibbetson even hooked the seat with his foot, as though to
get a purchase on the man's wrist that he held. Anyhow, the result was
the same. The man lost his footing under the strain, and pitched sheer
forward on his assailant; for the aggressive intention of the latter may
be taken as established beyond a doubt. As he fell, he struck out with
his left hand, landing on Ibbetson's mouth, and cutting off his last
words, an order, shouted to the rowers:--"Sheer off, and row for the
bridge ... I can ..." Both of them believed he would have said:--"I can
manage him by myself."

But nothing further passed. For the boat, not built to keep an even keel
with two strong men struggling together in the stern, lurched over,
shipping water the whole length of the counter. The rowers tried to obey
orders, the more readily--so they said after--that their chief seemed
quite a match for his man. There was a worse danger ahead, a barge
moored in the path, and they had to clear, one side or the other. The
best chance was outside, and they would have succeeded but for the cable
that held her. It just caught the bow oar, and the boat swung round, the
stroke being knocked down between the seats in his effort to back water
and keep her clear. Half-crippled already and at least one-third full of
water, she was in no trim to dodge the underdraw of the sloping bows of
an empty barge, at the worst hour of ebb-tide. The boy in the garden,
next door to The Pigeons, whom curiosity had kept on the watch, saw the
swerve off-shore; the men struggling in the stern; the collision with
the moorings; and the final wreck of the boat. Then she vanished behind
the barge, and was next seen, bottom-up, by children on the bridge over
the little creek three minutes lower down the stream, whose cries roused
those in hearing and brought help. When the man came back with the
whisky-flask, his mate had vanished, and the boat with its crew. If he
guessed what had passed, it was from the running and shouting on the
bank, and the boats that were putting off in haste; and then, well over
towards Hammersmith Bridge, that they reached their quarry and were
trying to right her on the water, possibly thinking to find some former
occupant shut in beneath. He did not wait to see the upshot; but,
pocketing the flask, got away unnoticed by anyone, all eyes being intent
upon the incident on the river.

The sergeant, Ibbetson, was drowned, and the facts narrated are taken
literally, or inferred, from what came out at the inquest. The theory
that recommended itself to account for his conduct was that he had
recognised a culprit whom he had known formerly, for whose apprehension
a reward had been offered, and had, without hesitation, formed a plan of
separating him from his companion--or companions, for who could say they
were alone?--and securing him in the boat, when no escape would have
been possible, as they could have made straight for the floating station
at Westminster. It was a daring idea, and might have succeeded but for
that mooring-cable.

The body of the sergeant showed marks of the severity of the struggle in
which he had been engaged. The two upper front teeth were loosened,
probably by the blow he received at the outset, and there were
finger-nail dents on the throat as from the grasp of a strangling hand.
That his opponent should have disengaged himself from his clutch was
matter of extreme surprise to all who had experienced submersion, and
knew its meaning. Even to those who have never been under water against
their will, the phrase "the grip of a drowning man" has a terribly
convincing sound. That this opponent rose to the surface alive, and
escaped, was barely entertained as a surmise, only to be dismissed as
incredible; and this improbability became even greater when his
companion was captured alone, a month later, in the commission of a
burglary at Castelnau, which--so it was supposed--the two had been
discussing just before the police-boat appeared. The two rowers were
rescued, one, a powerful swimmer, having kept the other afloat till the
arrival of help. At the inquest neither of these men seemed as much
concerned at Ibbetson's death as might have been expected, and both
condemned afterwards that officer's treacherous grip of the hand
extended to help him. Whatever he knew to his proposed prisoner's
disadvantage, there are niceties of honour in these matters--little
chivalries all should observe.

The only evidence towards establishing the identity of the man who had
disappeared was that of the stroke-oar, Simeon Rowe, the rescuer of his
companion. This man's version of Ibbetson's exclamation was "Thorney
Davenant!--I know you, my man!" At the time of the inquest, no
identification was made with any name whose owner was being sought by
the Police, so no one caught the clue it furnished. There may have been
slowness or laxity of investigation, but a sufficient excuse may lie in
the fact that Ibbetson certainly spoke the name wrong, or that his
hearer caught it wrong. The name was not Davenant, but Daverill. He was
the son of old Mrs. Prichard, of Sapps Court, called after his father,
and inheriting all his worst qualities. If Sergeant Ibbetson spoke truly
when he said "I know you!" to him, he was certainly entitled to a
suspension of opinion by those who condemned his ruse for this man's
capture.

Still, a code of honour is always respectable, and these two policemen
may have supposed that their mate knew no worse of this convict than
that he had redistributed some property--was what the first holder of
that property would have called a thief. One prefers to think that
Ibbetson knew of some less equivocal wickedness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps this man, supposed to be drowned, would not have reappeared in
this story had it not been for one of the witnesses at the inquest, the
boy who overheard the conversation between him and his mate, before the
arrival of the police-boat.

"This boy," said the Coroner's clerk, who seemed to have an impression
that this was a State Prosecution, and that he represented the Crown,
"can give evidence as to a conversation between the"--he wanted to say
"the accused"; it would have sounded so well, but he stopped himself in
time--"between the man whose body has not been found, and"--here he
would have liked to say "an accomplice"--"and another person who has
eluded the ... that is to say, whom the police have, so far, failed to
identify ..."

"That's all right," said the Coroner. "That'll do. Boy's got something
he can tell us. What's your name, my man?"

"Wot use are you a-going to make of it?" said the boy. He did not appear
to be over twelve years old, but his assurance could not have been
greater had he been twelve score. A reporter put a dot on his paper,
which meant "Laughter, in which the Coroner joined, in a parenthesis."

An old woman who had accompanied the boy, as tutelary genius, held up a
warning finger at him. "Now, you Micky," said she, "you speak civil to
the gentleman and answer his questions accordin'." She then said to the
Coroner, as one qualified to explain the position:--"It's only his
manners, sir, and the boy has not a rebellious spirit being my
grandnephew." She utilised a lax structure of speech to introduce her
relationship to the witness. She was evidently proud of being related to
one, having probably met with few opportunities of distinction hitherto.

The witness, under the pressure at once of family influence and
constituted authority, appeared to give up the point. "'Ave it your own
way!" said he. "Michael Ragstroar."

"How am I to spell it?" said the clerk, without taking his pen out of
the ink, as though it would dry in the air.

"This ain't school!" said our young friend from Sapps Court, whom you
probably remember. Michael had absconded from his home, and sought that
of his great-aunt; the only person, said contemporary opinion, that had
a hounce of influence with him. It was not clear why such a confirmed
reprobate should quail before the moral force of a small old woman in a
mysteriously clean print-dress, and tortoise-shell spectacles she would
gladly have kept on while charing, only they always come off in the
pail. But he did, and when reproached by her for his needlessly defiant
attitude, took up a more conciliatory tone. "Carn't recollect, or
p'r'aps I'd tell yer," said he.

"Never mind the spelling!" said the Coroner, who had to preside at
another inquest at Kew very shortly. "Let's get the young man's
evidence." But Michael objected to giving evidence. Whereupon the
Coroner, perceiving his mistake, said: "Well, then, suppose we let it
alone for to-day. You may go home, Micky, and find out how your name's
spelt, against next time it's wanted. Where's the other boy that heard
what the men were saying? Call him."

"There warn't any other boy within half a mile," exclaimed Michael
indignantly. "I should have seen him. Think I've got no eyes? There
warn't another blooming bloke in sight."

"Didn't the other boy see several other men in the back-garden of the
ale-house?" said the Coroner. And the Inspector of Police had the
effrontery to reply: "Oh yes, three or four!" And then both of them
looked at Michael, and waited.

Michael's indignation passed all bounds, and betrayed him into the use
of language of which his great-aunt would have deemed him incapable. She
was that shocked, she never! The expressions were not Michael's own
vocabulary at all, but corruptions that had crept into his phraseology
from associations with other boys, chance acquaintances, who had evolved
them among themselves, nourishing them from the corruption of their own
hearts. As soon as Michael--deceived by the mendacious dialogue of the
Coroner and the Inspector, and under the impression that the particulars
he was giving, whether true or false, were not evidence--had told with
some colouring about the two men in the garden and what they said, the
old lady made a powerful effort to detain the Coroner to give him
particulars of Michael's parentage and education, and to exculpate
herself from any possible charge of neglecting her grandnephew, to whom
she was a second parent. In fact, had her niece Ann never married Daniel
Rackstraw, she and her--Ann, that is--would have done much better by
Michael and his sisters. Which left a false impression on her hearers'
minds, that Michael was an illegitimate son; whereas really she was only
dealing with his existence as rooted in the nature of things, and
certain to have come about without the intrusion of a male parent in the
family.

As for the details of his testimony, surrendered unconsciously as mere
facts, not evidence, there was little in them that has not been already
told. The conversation of the two men, as given in the text, was taken
from Michael's version, and he was the only hearer. But he only saw
their backs, except that when the struggle came off he caught sight of
the ex-convict's face for a moment. He would know him again if he saw
him any day of the week. Some days, he seemed to imply, were worse for
his powers of identification than others. It was unimportant, as both
the survivors of the accident had noted the man's face carefully enough,
considering that he was to them at first nothing beyond a chance
bystander. He wasn't a bad-looking man; that was clear. But he was
possibly not in very good drawing, as they agreed that he had a
peculiarity--his two halves didn't square. This no doubt referred to the
same thing Michael described by calling him "a sideways beggar."

The Coroner's Jury had some trouble to agree upon a verdict. "Death by
Misadventure" seemed wrong somehow. How could drowning with the
finger-nails of an adversary in his throat be accounted misadventure? No
doubt Abel died by misadventure, in a sense. But no other verdict seemed
possible, except Manslaughter by the person whom Ibbetson supposed this
man to be when he laid hands on him. And how if he was mistaken?
"Manslaughter against some person unknown" sounded well. Only if the
person was unknown, why Manslaughter? If Brown is ever so much justified
in dragging Smith under water by the honest belief that he is Jones, is
Smith guilty of anything but self-defence when he does his best to get
out of Brown's clutches? Moreover, the annals of life-saving from
drowning show that the only chance of success for the rescuer often
depends on whether the drowning man can be made insensible or
overpowered. Otherwise, death for both. If this unknown man was _not_
the object of Police interest he was supposed to have been taken for, he
might only have been doing his best to save the lives of both. In that
case, had the inquest been on both, the verdict must have been one that
would ascribe Justifiable Homicide to him and Manslaughter to Ibbetson.
For surely if the police-sergeant had been the survivor, and the other
man's body had been found to be that of some inoffensive citizen,
Ibbetson would have been tried for manslaughter. In the end a verdict
was agreed upon of Death by Drowning, which everybody knew as soon as it
was certain that Life was extinct.

Somewhat later Ibbetson was supposed to have taken him for a returned
convict, whose name was variously given, but who had been advertised for
as Thornton, one of his aliases; and in consequence of this discovery
the vigilance of the Police for the apprehension of the missing man,
under this name, was increased and the reward doubled. And this, in
spite of a universal inference that he was dead, and that his body was
flavouring whitebait below bridge. This did not interfere with a belief
on the part of the crew of the patrolling boat--known to Michael--owing
to a popular chant of boys of his own age--as "two blackbeetles and one
water-rat," that his corpse would float up one day near the place of his
disappearance. But their eyes looked for it in vain; and though the
companion with whom he was discussing the burglary to be executed at
Barn Elms was caught _in flagrante delicto_ and sent to Portland Island,
nothing was heard of him or known of his whereabouts.

Michael ended his stay with his great-aunt shortly afterwards, returning
home with a budget of legends founded on his waterside experience. As he
had a reputation for audacious falsehood without foundation, it is no
matter of surprise that the whole story of the water-rat's death and the
inquest were looked upon as exaggerations too outrageous for belief even
by the most credulous. Probably his version of the incidents, owing to
its rich substratum of the marvellous yet true, was much more accurate
than was usual with him when the marvellous depended on his ingenuity to
provide it. It was, however, roundly discredited in his own circle, and
nothing in it could have evoked recognition in Sapps Court even if the
name of the convict had reached the ears that knew it. For it was not
only wrongly reported but was still further distorted by Michael for
purposes of astonishment.



CHAPTER X

     OF THE EARLDOM OF ANCESTER, AND ITS EARL'S COUNTESS'S OPINION OF
     HIM. HOW HER SECOND DAUGHTER CAME OUT IN THE GARDEN. HOW SHE SAW A
     TRESPASSER, WITH SUCH A NICE DOG! HE MUSTN'T BE SHOT, _COUTE QUE
     COUTE_! A LITTLE STONE BRIDGE. A SLIT IN A DOG'S COLLAR. OLD
     MICHAEL'S OBSTINACY. HOW GWENDOLEN RAN AWAY TO DRESS, AND WAS
     UNSOCIABLE AT DINNER. THE VOICE OF A DOG IN TROUBLE. ACHILLES, AND
     HIS RECOGNITION. HOW THEY FOLLOWED ACHILLES, AT HIS OWN REQUEST,
     AND WHAT HE SHOWED THE WAY TO. BUT THE MAN WAS NOT DEAD


If a stranger from America or Australia could have been shown at a
glance all that went to make up the Earldom of Ancester, he would have
been deeply impressed. All the leagues of parkland, woodland, moorland,
farmland that were its inheritance would have impressed him, not because
of their area--because Americans and Australians are accustomed to mere
crude area in their own departments of the planet--but because of the
amazing amount of old-world History transacted within its limits; the
way the antecedent Earls meddled in it; their magnificent record of
treachery and bloodshed and murder; wholesale in battle, retail in less
showy, but perhaps even more interesting, private assassination;
fascinating cruelties and horrors unspeakable! They might have been
impressed also, though, of course, in a less degree, by the Earldom's
very creditable show of forbears who, at the risk of being
uninteresting, behaved with common decency, and did their duty in the
station to which God or Debrett had called them; not drawing the sword
to decide a dispute until they had tried one or two of the less popular
expedients, and slighting their obligations to the Melodrama of the
future. Which rightly looks for its supplies of copy to persons of high
birth and low principles.

The present Earl took after his less mediaeval ancestry; and though he
received the sanction of his wife, and of persons who knew about things,
it was always conceded to him with a certain tone of allowance made for
a simple and pastoral nature. In the vulgarest tongue it might have been
said that he would never cut a dash. In his wife's it was said that
really the Earl was one of the most admirable of men, only never
intended by Providence for the Lord-Lieutenancy of a County. He was
scarcely to blame, therefore, for his shortcomings in that position. It
could not rank as one to which God had called him, without imputing
instability, or an oversight, to his summoner. As a summons from
Debrett, there is no doubt he was not so attentive to it as he ought to
have been.

His own opinion about the intentions of Providence was that they had
been frustrated--by Debrett chiefly. If they had fructified he would
have been the Librarian of the Bodleian. Providence also had in view for
him a marvellous collection of violins, unlimited Chinese porcelain, and
some very choice samples of Italian majolica. But he would have been
left to the undisturbed enjoyment of his treasures. He could have passed
a peaceful life gloating over Pynsons and Caxtons, and Wynkyn de Wordes,
and Grolier binding, and Stradivarius, and Guarnerius, and Ming, and
Maestro Giorgio of Gubbio. But Debrett got wind of the intentions of
Providence, and clapped a coronet upon the head of their intended
_bénéficiaire_ without so much as with your leave or by your leave, and
there he was--an Earl! He had all that mere possessions could bestow,
but always with a sense that Debrett, round the corner, was keeping an
eye on him. He had to assuage that gentleman--or principle, or lexicon,
or analysis, whatever he is!--and he did it, though rather grudgingly,
to please his Countess, and from a general sense that when a duty is a
bore, it ought to be complied with. His Countess was the handsome lady
with the rings whom Dave Wardle had taken for a drive in her own
carriage.

This sidelight on the Earl is as much illumination as the story wants,
for the moment. The sidelight on the terrace of Ancester Towers, at the
end of a day in July following the winter of Dave's accident, was no
more than the Towers thought their due after standing out all day
against a grey sky, in a drift of warm, small rain that made oilskins
and mackintoshes an inevitable Purgatory inside; and beds of lakes, when
horizontal, outside. It was a rainbow-making gleam at the end of
thirty-six depressing hours, bursting through a cloud-rift in the South
with the exclamation--the Poet might have imagined--"Make the most of
me while you can; I shan't last."

To make the most of it was the clear duty of the owner of a golden head
of hair like that of Lady Gwendolen, the Earl's second daughter. So she
brought the head out into the rainbow dazzle, with the hair on it,
almost before the rain stopped; and, indeed, braved a shower of jewels
the rosebush at the terrace window drenched her with, coming out. What
did it matter?--when it was so hot in spite of the rain. Besides, India
muslin dries so quick. It isn't like woollen stuff.

If you could look back half a century and see Gwendolen on the terrace
then, you would not be grateful to any contemporary malicious enough to
murmur in your ear:--"Old Lady Blank, the octogenarian, who died last
week, was this girl then. So reflect upon what the conventions are quite
in earnest--for once--in calling your latter end." You would probably
dodge the subject, replying--for instance--"How funny! Why, it must have
taken twelve yards to make a skirt like that!" For these were the days
of crinolines; of hair in cabbage-nets, packed round rubber-inflations;
of what may be called proto-croquet, with hoops so large that no one
ever failed to get through, except you and me; the days when _Ah che la
morte_ was the last new tune, and Landseer and Mulready the last words
in Art. They were the days when there had been but one Great
Exhibition--think of it!--and the British Fleet could still get under
canvas. We, being an old fogy, would so much like to go back to those
days--to think of daguerreotypes as a stupendous triumph of Science,
balloons as indigenous to Cremorne, and table-turning as a nine-days'
wonder; in a word, to feel our biceps with satisfaction in an epoch when
wheels went slow, folk played tunes, and nobody had appendicitis. But we
can't!

However, it is those very days into which the story looks back and sees
this girl with the golden hair, who has been waiting in that
rainbow-glory fifty years ago for it to go on and say what it may of
what followed. She comes out on the terrace through the high
middle-window that opens on it, and now she stands in the blinding
gleam, shading her eyes with her hand. It is late in July, and one may
listen for a blackbird's note in vain. That song in the ash that drips a
diamond-shower on the soaked lawn, whenever the wind breathes, may still
be a thrush; his last song, perhaps, about his second family, before he
retires for the season. The year we thought would last us out so well,
for all we wished to do in it, will fail us at our need, and we shall
find that the summer we thought was Spring's success will be Autumn,
much too soon, as usual. Over half a century of years have passed since
then, and each has played off its trick upon us. Each Spring has said to
us:--"Now is your time for life. Live!" and each Summer has jilted us
and left us to be consoled by Autumn, a Job's comforter who only
says:--"Make the best of me while you can, for close upon my heels is
Winter."

You can still see the terrace much as this young woman, Lady Gwendolen
Rivers--that was her name--saw it on that July evening, provided always
that you choose one with such another rainbow. There is not much garden
between it and the Park, which goes on for miles, and begins at the sunk
fence over yonder. They are long miles too, and no stint; and it is an
hour's walk from the great gate to the house, unless you run; so says
the host of the Rivers Arms, which is ten minutes from the gate. You can
lose yourself in this park, and there are red-deer as well as
fallow-deer; and what is more, wild cattle who are dangerous, and who
have lived on as a race from the days of Welsh Home Rule, and know
nothing about London or English History. Even so in the Transvaal it is
said that some English scouts came upon a peaceful valley with a
settlement of Dutch farmers therein, who had to be told about the War to
check their embarrassing hospitality. The parallel fails, however, for
the wild white cattle of Ancester Park paw the earth up and charge, when
they see strangers. The railway had to go round another way to keep
their little scrap of ancient forest intact; for the family at the
Castle has always taken the part of the bulls against all comers. Little
does Urus know how superficial, how skin-deep, his loneliness has
become--that he is really under tutelage unawares, and even
surreptitiously helped to supplies of forage in seasons of dearth! Will
his race linger on and outlive the race of Man when that biped has
shelled and torpedoed and dynamited himself out of existence? And will
they then fill the newest New Forest that will have covered the
smokeless land, with the descendants of the herds that Caesar's troops
found in the Hercynian wilds? They are a fascinating subject for a
wandering pen, but the one that writes this must not be led away from
Lady Gwendolen on the terrace that looks across this cramped inheritance
of beech and bracken. If she could always look like what the level sun
makes her now, in the heart of a rainbow, few things the world can show
would outbid her right to a record, or make the penning of it harder.
For just at this moment she looks simply beautiful beyond belief. It is
not all the doing of the sunrays, for she is a fine sample of nineteen,
of a type which has kindled enthusiasm since the comparatively recent
incursion of William the Norman, and will continue to do so till finally
dynamited out of existence, _ut supra_.

She is looking out under her hand--to make sight possible against the
blaze--at a man who is plodding across the nearest opening in the
woodland. How drenched he must be! What can possess him, to choose a day
like this to go afoot through an undergrowth of bracken a day's
raindrift has left water-charged? She knows well what a deluge meets him
at every step, and watches him, pressing through it as one who has felt
the worst pure water can do, and is reckless. She watches him into a
clear glade, with a sense of relief on his behalf. She does not feel
officially called upon to resent a stranger with a dog--in a territory
sacred to game!--for the half-overgrown track he seems to have followed
is a world of fallow-deer and pheasants. She is the daughter of the
house, and trespassers are the concern of Stephen Solmes the head
gamekeeper.

The trespasser seems at a loss which way to go, and wavers this way and
that. His dog stands at his feet looking up at him, wagging a slow tail;
deferentially offering no suggestion, but ready with advice if called
upon. The young lady's thought is:--"Why can't he let that sweet dog
settle it for him? _He_ would find the way." Because she is sure of the
sweetness of that collie, even at this distance. Ultimately the
trespasser leaves the matter to the dog, who appears gratified and
starts straight for where she stands. Dogs always do, says she to
herself. But there is the haw-haw fence between them.

The dog stops. Not because of the obstacle--what does he care for
obstacles?--but because of the courtesies of life. The man that made
this sunk fence did it to intercept any stray collie in the parkland
from scouring across into the terraced garden, even to inaugurate
communications between a strange young lady and the noblest of God's
creatures, his owner. That is the dog's view. So he stands where the
fence has stopped him, a beseeching explanatory look in his pathetic
eyes; and a silky tail, that is nearly dry already, marking time slowly.
A movement of permission would bring him across into the garden; but
then--is he not too wet? Young Lady Gwendolen says "No, dear!"
regretfully, and shakes her head as though he would understand the
negative. Perhaps he does, for he trots back to his master, who,
however--it must be admitted--has whistled for him.

The pedestrian turns to go, but sees the lady well, though not very near
her yet. She knows he sees her, as he raises his hat. She has an
impression of his personality from the action; which, it may be, guides
her conduct in what follows.

He seems to have made up his mind to avoid the house, taking a visible
path which skirts it, and possibly to strike away from it into the wider
parkland, over yonder where the great oaks are. He is soon lost in a
hazel coppice.

Then she thinks. That dog will be shot if Solmes catches sight of it.
She knows old Stephen. Oh, for but one word with the dog's master! It
might just make the whole difference.

She does not think long; in fact, there is no time to lose. The man and
the dog must pass over Arthur's Bridge if they follow the path. She can
intercept them there by taking a short cut through the Trings; a name
with a forgotten origin, which hugs the spot unaccountably. "I wonder
what a tring was, and when" says Gwendolen to herself, between those
unsolved riddles and the bridge.

The bridge is a little stone bridge, just wide enough for a chaise to go
through gently. Gwendolen has soaked her shoes to reach it. Still, she
_must_ save that dog from the Ranger's gun at any cost. A fig for the
wet! She has to dress for dinner--indeed, her maid is waiting for her
now--and dry stockings will be a negligible factor in that great total.
There comes the pedestrian round by Swayne's Oak--another name whose
origin no man knows.

The dog catches sight of her, and is off like a shot, his master trying
vainly to whistle him back. The young lady is quite at ease--_she_ is
not afraid of dogs! She even laughs at this one's demonstrative salute,
which leaves a paw-mark on either shoulder. For dogs do not scruple to
kiss those they love, without making compliments.

His master is apologetic, coming up with a quickened pace. At a rebuke
from him the collie becomes apologetic too; would be glad to explain,
but is handicapped by language. He is, however, all repentance, and
falls back behind his master, leaving matters in his hands. At the
least--though the way of doing it may have been crude--he has brought
about an introduction, of a sort.

There is no intrusive wish on the man's part to take undue advantage of
it. His speech, "Achilles means well; it is only his cordiality," seems
to express the speaker's feeling that somehow he is certain to be
understood. His addendum--"I am really as sorry as I can be, all the
same"--may be credited to ceremonial courtesy, flavoured with
contrition. His wind-up has a sort of laugh behind it:--"Particularly
because I have no business in this part of the Park at all. I can only
remedy that by my absence."

"You will promise me one thing, if you please...."

"Yes--whatever you wish."

"Lead your dog till you are outside the Park. If he is seen he may be
shot. I could not bear that that dog should be shot." Something in the
man's tone and manner has made it safe for the girl to overstep the
boundaries of chance speech to an utter stranger.

He has no right--that he feels--to presume upon this semi-confidence of
an impulsive girl, whoever she is. True, her beauty in that last glory
of the sunset puts resolution to the test. But he _has_ no right, and
there's an end on't! "I will tie Achilles up," he says. "I should not
like him to be shot."

"Oh!--is he Achilles?"

"His mother was Thetis."

"Then, of course, he is Achilles." At this point the boundaries of
strangership seem insistent. After all, this man may be Tom or Dick or
Harry. "You will excuse my speaking to you," says the young lady. "I had
no one to send, and I saw you from the terrace. It was for the dog's
sake."

In his chivalrous determination not to overdraw the blank cheque she has
signed for him unawares, the stranger conceives that a few words of dry
apology will meet the case, and leave him to go on his way. So, though
powerfully ignoring the fact that that outcome will be an unwelcome one,
he replies:--"I quite understand, and I am sincerely grateful for your
caution." He gets at a dog-chain in the pocket of his waterproof
overcoat, and at the click of it Achilles comes to be tied up. As he
fastens the clasp to its collar, he adds:--"I should not have let him
run loose like this, only that I am so sure of him. He is town-bred and
a stranger to the chase. He can collect sheep, owing to his ancestry;
but he never does it now, because he has been forbidden." While he
speaks these last words he is examining something in the dog's leather
collar. "It will hold, I think," says he. "A cut in the strap--it looks
like." Then this oddly befallen colloquy ends and each gives the other a
dry good-evening. The young lady's last sight of that acquaintance of
five minutes shows him endeavouring to persuade the dog not to drag on
his chain. For Achilles, for some dog-reason man will never know, is no
sooner leashed than he makes restraint necessary by pulling against it
with all his might.

"I hope that collar won't break," says the young lady as she goes back
to dress for dinner. The sun's gleam is dead, and the black cloud-bank
that hides it now is the rain that is coming soon. See!--it has begun
already.

       *       *       *       *       *

Old Mrs. Solmes at the Ranger's Lodge, a mile distant, said to her old
husband:--"Thou'rt a bad ma-an, Stephen, to leave thy goon about
lwoaded, and the vary yoong boy handy to any mischief. Can'st thou not
bide till there coom time for the lwoadin' of it?"

Said old Stephen sharply, "Gwun, wench? There be no _gwun_. 'Tis a
roifle! And as fower the little Seth, yander staaple where it hangs is
well up beyond the reach of un. Let a' be, Granny!"

The old woman, in whom grandmotherhood had overweighted all other
qualities, by reason of little Seth's numerous first cousins, made no
reply, but looked uneasily at the rifle on the wall. Little Seth--her
appropriated grandchild, both his parents being dead--was too small at
present to do any great harm to anyone but himself; but the time might
come. He was credited with having swallowed an inch-brad, without
visible inconvenience; and there was a threatening appearance in his eye
as of one who would very soon climb up everywhere, fall off everything,
appropriate the forbidden, break the frangible, and, in short, behave
as--according to his grandmother--his father had done before him.

His old grandfather, who had a combative though not unamiable
disposition, took down the rifle as an act of self-assertion, and walked
out into the twilight with it on his shoulder. It was simply a
contradictious action, as there was no warranty for it in vert and
venison. But he had to garnish his action with an appearance of
plausibility, and nothing suggested itself. The only course open to him
was to get away out of sight, with implication of a purpose vaguely
involving fire-arms. A short turn in the oak-wood--as far, perhaps, as
Drews Thurrock--would fortify his position, without committing him to
details: he could make secrecy about them a point of discipline. He
walked away over the grassland, a fine, upright old figure; in whose
broad shoulders, seen from behind, an insight short of clairvoyance
might have detected what is called _temper_--meaning a want of it. He
vanished into the oak-wood, where the Druid's Stone attests the place of
sacrifice, human or otherwise.

Some few minutes later the echoes of a rifle-shot, unmistakable alike
for that of shot-gun or revolver, circled the belt of hills that looks
on Ancester Towers, and died at Grantley Thorpe. Old Stephen, when he
reappeared at the Lodge half an hour later, could explain his share in
this with only a mixed satisfaction. For though his need of his
rifle--whether real or not--had justified its readiness for use, he had
failed as a marksman; the stray dog he fired at, after vanishing in a
copse for a few minutes, having scoured away in a long detour; as he
judged, making for the Castle.

"And a rare good hap for thee, husband!" said the old woman when she
heard this. "Whatever has gotten thy wits, ma'an, to win out and draa'
trigger on a pet tyke of some visitor lady at the Too'ers?"

"Will ye be tellun me this, and tellun me that, Keziah? I tell 'ee one
thing, wench, it be no consarn o' mine whose dog be run loose in th'
Park. Be they the Queen's own, my orders say shoot un! Do'ant thee know
next month be August?" Nevertheless, the old man was not altogether
sorry that he had missed. He might have been called over the coals for
killing a dog-visitor to the Towers. He chose to affect regret for
discipline's sake, and alleged that the dog had escaped into the wood
only because he had no second cartridge. This was absurd. In these days
of quick-shooters it might have been otherwise. In those, the only
abominations of the sort were Colonel Colt's revolvers; and _they_ were
a great novelty, opening up a new era in murder.

The truth was that this view of the culprit's identity had dawned on him
as soon as he got a second view of the dog visibly making for the
Castle--almost too far in any case for a shot at anything smaller than a
doe--and he would probably have held his hand for both reasons even if a
reload had been possible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Gwendolen, treasuring in her heart a tale of adventure--however
trivial--to tell at the dinner-table in the evening, submitted herself
to be prepared for that function. She seemed absent in mind; and
Lutwyche her maid, observing this, skipped intermediate reasonings and
straightway hoped that the cause of this absence of mind had come over
with the Conqueror and had sixty thousand a year. Meanwhile she wanted
to know which dress, my lady, this evening?--and got no answer. Her
ladyship was listening to something at a distance; or, rather, having
heard something at a distance, was listening for a repetition of it. "I
wonder what that can have been?" said she. For fire-arms in July are
torpid mostly, and this was a gunshot somewhere.

"They are firing at the Butts at Stamford Norton, my lady," said
Lutwyche; who always knew things, sometimes rightly--sometimes wrongly.
This time, the latter.

"Then the wind must have gone round. Besides, it would come again.
Listen!" Thus her ladyship, and both listened. But nothing came again.

Lady Gwendolen was as beautiful as usual that evening, but contrary to
custom silent and _distraite_. She did not tell the story of the Man in
the Park and his dog. She kept it to herself. She was unresponsive to
the visible devotion of a Duke's eldest son, who came up to Lutwyche's
standard in all particulars. She did not even rise to the enthusiasm of
a very old family friend, the great surgeon Sir Coupland Merridew, about
the view from his window across the Park, although each had seen the
same sunset effect. She only said:--"Oh--have they put you in the
Traveller's Room, Sir Coupland? Yes--the view is very fine!" and became
absent again. She retired early, asking to be excused on the score of
fatigue; not, however, seriously resenting her mother's passing
reference to a nursery rhyme about Sleepy-head, whose friends kept late
hours, nor her "Why, child, you've had nothing to tire you!" She was
asleep in time to avoid the sound of a dog whining, wailing, protesting
vainly, with a great wrong on his soul, not to be told for want of
language.

She woke with a start very early, to identify this disturbance with
something she lost in a dream, past recovery, owing to this sudden
awakening. She had her hand on the bell-rope at her bed's head, and had
all but pulled it before she identified the blaze of light in her room
as the exordium of the new day. The joy of the swallows at the dawn was
musical in the ivy round her window, open through the warm night; and
the turtle-doves had much to say, and were saying it, in the world of
leafage out beyond. But there was no joy in the persistent voice of that
dog, and no surmise of its hearer explained it.

She found her feet, and shoes to put them in, before she was clear about
her own intentions; then in all haste got herself into as much clothing
as would cover the risks of meeting the few early risers possible at
such an hour--it could but be some chance groom or that young
gardener--and, opening her door with thief-like stealth, stole out
through the stillness night had left behind, past the doors of sleepers
who were losing the sweetest of the day. So she thought--so we all
think--when some chance gives us precious hours that others are wasting
in stupid sleep. But even _she_ would not have risen but for that
plaintive intermittent wail and a growing construction of a cause for
it--all fanciful perhaps--that her uneasy mind would still be at work
upon. She _must_ find out the story of it. More sleep now was absurd.

Two bolts and a chain--not insuperable obstacles--and she was free of
the side-garden. An early riser--the one she had foreseen, a young
gardener she knew--with an empty basket to hold flowers for the still
sleeping household to refresh the house with in an hour, and its
bed-bound sluggards in two or three, was astir and touched a respectful
cap with some inner misgiving that this unwonted vision was a ghost. But
he showed a fine discipline, and called it "My lady" with presence of
mind. Ghost or no, that was safe! "What _is_ that dog, Oliver?" said the
vision.

The question made all clear. The answer was speculative. "Happen it
might be his lordship's dog that came yesterday--feeling strange in a
strange place belike?"

"No dog came yesterday. Lord Cumberworld hasn't a dog. I _must_ know.
Where is it?"

Oliver was not actor enough not to show that he was concealing
wonderment at the young lady's vehemence. His eyes remained wide open in
token thereof.

"In the stables, by the sound of it, my lady," was his answer.

His lady turned without a word, going straight for the stables; and he
followed when, recollecting him, she looked back to say, "Yes--come!"

Grooms are early risers in a well-kept stable. There is always something
to be done, involving pails, or straps, or cloths, or barrows, or
brushes, even at five in the morning in July. When the young gardener,
running on ahead, jangled at the side-gate yard-bell, more than one pair
of feet was on the move within; and there was the cry of the dog, sure
enough, almost articulate with keen distress about some unknown wrong.

"What _is_ the dog, Archibald?--what _is_ the dog?" The speaker was too
anxious for the answer to frame her question squarely. But the old
Scotch groom understood. "Wha can tell that?" says he. "He's just
stra'ad away from his home, or lost the track of a new maister. They do,
ye ken, even the collies on the hillsides. Will your ladyship see him?"

"Yes--yes! That is what I came for. Let me." A younger groom, awaiting
this instruction, goes for the dog, whose clamour has increased tenfold,
becoming almost frenzy when he sees his friend of the day before; for he
is Achilles beyond a doubt. Achilles, mad with joy--or is it unendurable
distress?--or both?

"Your leddyship will have seen him before, doubtless," says old
Archibald. He does not say, but means:--"We are puzzled, but submissive,
and look forward to enlightenment."

"Let him go--yes, _I_ know him!--don't hold him. Oh, Achilles, you
darling dog--it _is_ you!... Yes--yes--let him go--he'll be all
right.... Yes, dear, you _shall_ kiss me as much as you like." Thia was
in response to a tremendous accolade, after which the dog crouched
humbly at his idol's feet; whimpering a little still, beneath his
breath, about something he could not say. She for her part caressed and
soothed the frightened creature, asking the while for information about
the manner of his appearance the night before.

It seemed that on the previous evening about eight o'clock he had been
found in the Park just outside the door of the walled garden south of
the Castle, as though he was seeking to follow someone who had passed
through. That at least was the impression of Margery, a kitchen-maid,
whom inquiry showed to have been the source of the first person plural
in the narrative of Tom Kettering, the young groom, who had come upon
the dog crouched against this door; and, judging him to be in danger in
the open Park, had brought him home to the stables for security.

How had the collie behaved when brought up to the stable? Well--he had
been fair quiet--only that he was always for going out after any who
were leaving, and always "wakeriff, panting, and watching like," till
he, Tom Kettering, tied him up for the night. And then he started crying
and kept on at it till they turned out, maybe half an hour since.

"He has not got his own collar," said the young lady suddenly. "Where is
his own collar?"

"He had ne'er a one on his neck when I coom upon him," says Tom. "So we
putten this one on for a makeshift."

"It's mair than leekly, my lady,"--thus old Archibald--"that he will
have slipped from out his ain by reason of eempairfect workmanship of
the clasp. Ye'll ken there's a many cheap collars sold...." The old boy
is embarking on a lecture on collar-structure, which, however, he is not
allowed to finish. The young lady interrupts.

"I saw his collar," says she, "and it was _not_ a collar like
this"--that is, a metal one with a hasp--"it was a strap with a buckle,
and his master said there was a cut in it. That was why it broke." Then,
seeing the curiosity on the faces of her hearers, who would have thought
it rather presumptuous to ask for an explanation, she volunteers a short
one ending with:--"The question is now, how can we get him back to his
master?" It never crossed her mind that any evil hap had come about.
After all, the dog's excitement and distress were no more than his
separation from his owner and his strange surroundings might have
brought about in any case. The whole thing was natural enough without
assuming disaster, especially as seen by the light of that cut in the
strap. The dog was a town-bred dog, and once out of his master's sight,
might get demoralised and all astray.

No active step for restoring Achilles to his owner seeming practicable,
nothing was left but to await the action that gentleman was sure to
adopt to make his loss known. Obviously the only course open to us now
was to take good care of the wanderer, and keep an ear on the alert for
news of his owner's identity. All seemed to agree to this, except
Achilles.

During the brief consultation the young lady had taken a seat on a clean
truss of hay, partly from an impulse most of us share, to sit or lie on
fresh hay whenever practicable; partly to promote communion with the
dog, who crouched at her feet worshipping, not quite with the
open-mouthed, loose-tongued joy one knows so well in a perfectly
contented dog, but now and again half-uttering a stifled sound--a sound
that might have ended in a wail. When, the point seeming established
that no further step could be taken at present, Lady Gwendolen rose to
depart, a sudden frenzy seized Achilles. There is nothing more pathetic
than a dog's effort to communicate his meaning--clear to him as to a
man--and his inability to do it for want of speech.

"You darling dog!" said Gwendolen. "What can it be he wants? Leave him
alone and let us see.... No--don't touch his chain!" For Achilles,
crouched one moment at her feet, the next leaping suddenly away, seemed
like to go mad with distress.

The young groom Tom said something with bated breath, as not presuming
to advise too loud. His mistress caught his meaning, if not his words.
"What!"--she spoke suddenly--"knows where he is--his master?" The
thought struck a cold chill to her heart. It could only mean some mishap
to the man of yesterday. What sort of mishap?

Some understanding seems to pass between the four men--Archibald, the
two young grooms, and the gardener--something they will not speak of
direct to her ladyship. "What?--what's that?" says she, impatient of
their scrupulousness towards her sheltered inexperience of calamity.
"Tell me straight out!"

Old Archibald takes upon himself, as senior, to answer her question. "I
wouldna' set up to judge, my lady, for my ain part. But the lads are all
of one mind--just to follow on the dog's lead, for what may come o't."
Then he is going on "Ye ken maybe the mon might fall and be ill able to
move...." when he is caught up sharp by the girl's "Or be killed.
Yes--follow the dog." Why should she be kept from the hearing of a
mishap to this stranger, even of his death?

Old Stephen at the Lodge saw the party and came out in haste. He had his
story to tell, and told it as one who had no blame for his own share in
it. Why should he have any? He had only carried out his orders.
Yes--that was the dog he drew trigger on. He could not be mistaken on
that point.

"And you fired on the dog to kill it," says the young lady, flashing out
into anger.

The old man stands his ground. "I had my orders, my lady," says he. "If
I caught sight of e'er a dog unled--to shoot un."

"The man he belonged to--did you not see him?"

"No ma'an coom in my sight. Had I seen a ma'an, I would have wa'arned
and cautioned him to keep to the high road, not to bring his dog inside
o' the parkland. No--no--there was ne'er a ma'an, my lady." He goes on,
very slightly exaggerating the time that passed between his shot at the
dog and its reappearance, apparently going back to the Castle. He rather
makes a merit of not having fired again from a misgiving that the dog's
owner might be there on a visit. Drews Thurrock, he says, is where he
lost sight of the dog, and that is where Achilles seems bent on going.

Drews Thurrock is a long half-mile beyond the Keeper's Lodge in Ancester
Park, and the Lodge is a long half-mile from the Towers. Still, if it
was reasonable to follow the dog at all, where would be the sense of
holding back or flagging till he should waver in what seemed assurance
of his purpose. No--no! What he was making for might be five miles off,
for all that the party that followed him knew. But trust in the
creature's instinct grew stronger each time he turned and waited for
their approach, then scoured on as soon as it amounted to a pledge that
he would not be deserted. There was no faltering on his part.

The river, little more than a brook at Arthur's Bridge, is wide enough
here to deserve its name. The grove of oaks which one sees from the
Ranger's Lodge hides the water from view. But Gwendolen has it in her
mind, and with it a fear that the dog's owner will be found drowned. It
was there that her brother Frank died four years since, and was found in
the deep pool above the stepping-stones, caught in a tangle of weed and
hidden, after two days' search for him far and wide. If that is to be
the story we shall know, this time, by the dog's stopping there.
Therefore none would hint at an abandonment of the search having come
thus far, even were he of the mind to run counter to the wish of the
young lady from the Castle. None dares to do this, and the party
follows her across the stretch of gorse and bracken called the Warren to
the wood beyond. There the dog has stopped, waiting eagerly, showing by
half-starts and returns that he knows he would be lost to sight if he
were too quick afoot. For the wood is dark in front of him and the
boughs hang low.

"Nigh enough to where I set my eye on him at the first of it, last
evening," says old Stephen. He makes no reference to the affair of the
gunshot. Better forgotten perhaps!

But he is to remember that gunshot, many a wakeful night. For the
forecast of a mishap in that fatal pool is soon to be dissipated. As the
party draws nearer the dog runs back in his eagerness, then forward
again. And then Lady Gwendolen follows him into the wood, and the men
follow her in silence. Each has some anticipation in his mind--a thing
to be silent about.

There is a dip in the ground ahead, behind which Achilles disappears.
Another moment and he is back again, crying wildly with excitement. The
girl quickens a pace that has flagged on the rising ground; for they
have come quickly. And now she stands on the edge of a buttress-wall
that was once the boundary--so says tradition--of an amphitheatre of
sacrifice. Twenty yards on yonder is the Druids' altar, or the top of
it. For the ground has climbed up stone and wall for fifteen hundred
years, and the moss is deep on both; rich with a green no dye can rival,
for the soaking of yesterday's rain is on it still. But she can see
nothing for the moment, for the dog has leapt the wall and vanished.

"'Tis down below, my lady--beneath the wall." It is the young gardener
who speaks. The others have seen what he sees, but are shy of speech. He
has more claim than they to the position of a friend, after so many
conferences with her ladyship over roots and bulbs this year and last.
He repeats his speech lest she should not have understood him.

"Then quick!" says she. And all make for the nearest way down the wall
and through the fern and bramble.

What the young gardener spoke of is a man's body, seeming dead. No doubt
of his identity, for the dog sits by him motionless, waiting. _His_ part
is finished.

Now that the thing is known and may be faced without disguise the men
are all activity. Knives are out cutting away rebellious thorny stems
that will not keep down for trampling, and a lane is made through the
bush that keeps us from the body, while minutes that seem hours elapse.
That will do now. Bring him out, gently.

Shot through the head--is that it? Is there to be no hope? The girl's
heart stands still as old Stephen stoops down to examine the head, where
the blood is that has clotted all the hair and beard and run to a pool
in the bracken and leaked away--who can say how plentifully?--into a
cleft in the loose stones fallen from the wall. The old keeper is in no
trim for his task--one that calls for a cool eye and a steady
finger-touch. For it is he that has done this, and the white face and
lifeless eye are saying to him that he has slain a man. He has too much
at stake for us to accept his statement that the wound on the temple is
no bullet-hole in the skull, but good for profuse loss of blood for all
that. He has seen such a wound before, he says. But then his wish for a
wound still holding out some hope of life may have fathered this
thought, and even a false memory of his experience. Perhaps he is right,
though, in one thing. If the body is lifted and carried, even up to the
lodge, the blood may break out again. Leave him where he is till the
doctor comes.

For, at the first sight of the body, the young groom was off like a shot
to harness up the grey in the dog-cart, a combination favouring speed,
and drive his hardest to Grantley Thorpe for Dr. Nash, the nearest
medical resource. He is gone before the young lady, who knows of one
still nearer, can be alive to his action, or to anything but the white
face and lifeless hand Achilles licks in vain.

Then, a moment later, she is aware of what has been done, and
exclaims:--"Oh dear!--why did you send him? Dr. Merridew is at the
Castle." For she knew Sir Coupland before he had his knighthood. Thereon
the other groom is starting to summon him, but she stops him. She will
go herself; then the great man will be sure to come at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Coupland Ellicott Merridew, F.R.S., F.R.C.S., F.R.C.P., etc.--a
whole alphabet of them--was enjoying this moment of the first unalloyed
holiday he had had for two years, by lying in bed till nine o'clock. If
it made him too late for the collective breakfast in the new
dining-room--late Jacobean--he had only to ring for a private subsection
for himself. He had had a small cup of coffee at eight, and was
congratulating himself on it, and was now absolutely in a position not
to give any consideration to anything whatever.

But cruel Destiny said No!--he was not to round off his long night's
rest with a neat peroration. He was interrupted in the middle of it by
what seemed, in his dream-world, just reached, the loud crack of a bone
that disintegrated under pressure; but that when he woke was clearly a
stone flung at his window. What a capital instance of dream-celerity,
thought he! Fancy the first half of that sound having conjured up the
operating-theatre at University College Hospital, fifteen years ago, and
a room full of intent faces he knew well, and enough of the second half
being available for him to identify it as--probably--the _poltergeist_
that infested that part of the house. Perhaps, if he took no notice, the
_poltergeist_ would be discouraged and subside. Anyhow, he wouldn't
encourage it.

But the sound came again, and the voice surely of Gwendolen, his very
great friend, with panic in it, and breathlessness as of a voice-reft
runner. He was out of bed in twenty, dressing-gowned in forty, at the
window in fifty, seconds. Not a minute lost!

"What's all that?... A man shot! All right, I'll come."

"Oh, do! It's so dreadful. Stephen Solmes shot him by mistake for a dog
... at least, I'll tell you directly."

"All right. I'll come now." And in less than half an hour the speaker is
kneeling by the body on the grass; and those who found it, with others
who have gathered round even in this solitude, are waiting for the first
authoritative word of possible hope. Not despair, with a look like that
on the face of a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

"There is a little blood coming still. Wait till I have stopped it and
I'll tell you." He stops it somehow with the aid of a miraculous little
morocco affair, scarcely bigger than a card-case. He never leaves home
without it. Then he looks up at the anxious, beautiful face of the girl
who stoops close by, holding a dog back. "He is not dead," says he.
"That is all I can say. He must be moved as little as possible, but got
to a bed--somewhere. Is that his dog?"

"Yes. This is Achilles."

"How do you know it is Achilles?"

"I'll tell you directly. _He_ told me his name yesterday." She nods
towards the motionless figure on the turf. It is not a corpse yet; that
is all that can be said, so far.



CHAPTER XI

     THE HON. PERCIVAL PELLEW AND MISS CONSTANCE SMITH-DICKENSON, WHOSE
     BLOOM HAD GONE OFF. OLD MAIDS WERE TWENTY-EIGHT, THENADAYS. HOW THE
     TRAGEDY CAME OUT, AND MR. PELLEW TALKED IT OVER WITH MISS
     SMITH-DICKENSON, ALTHOUGH HER BLOOM REMAINED OFF. WHO THE SHOT MAN
     WAS. OF MR. PELLEW's CAUTION, AND A DARK GREEN FRITILLARY. WHAT YOU
     CAN DO AND CAN'T DO, WHEN YOU ARE A LADY AND GENTLEMAN


At the Towers, in those days, there was always breakfast, but very few
people came down to it. In saying this the story accepts the phraseology
of the household, which must have known. Norbury the butler, for
instance, who used the expression to the Hon. Percival Pellew, a guest
who at half-past nine o'clock that morning expressed surprise at finding
himself the only respondent to The Bell. It was the Mr. Pellew mentioned
before, a Member of Parliament whose humorous speeches always commanded
a hearing, even when he knew nothing about the subject under discussion;
which, indeed, was very frequently the case.

Perhaps it was to keep his hand in that he adopted a tone of serious
chaff to Mr. Norbury, such as some people think a well-chosen one
towards children, to their great embarrassment. He replied to that most
responsible of butlers with some pomposity of manner. "The question
before the house," said he--and paused to enjoy a perversion of
speech--"the question before the house comes down to breakfast I take to
be this:--Is it breakfast at all till somebody has eaten it?"

"I could not say, sir." Mr. Norbury's manner is dignified, deferential,
and dry. More serious than need be perhaps.

The Hon. Percival is not good at insight, and sees nothing of this. "It
certainly appears to me," he says, taking his time over it, "that until
breakfast has broken someone's fast, or someone has broken his own at
the expense of breakfast.... What's that?"

"One of the ladies coming down, sir." Mr. Norbury would not, in the
ordinary way of business, have mentioned this fact, but it had given him
a resource against a pleasantry he found distasteful. Of course, _he_
knew the event of the morning. Yet he could not say to the
gentleman:--"A truce to jocularity. A man was shot dead half a mile off
last night, and the body has been taken to the Keeper's Lodge."

The lady coming downstairs was Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson, also
uninformed about the tragedy. She had made her first appearance
yesterday afternoon, and had looked rather well in a pink-figured muslin
at dinner. The interchanges between this lady and the Hon. Percival,
referring chiefly to the fact that no one else was down, seemed to have
no interest for Mr. Norbury; who, however, noted that no new topic had
dawned upon the conversation when he returned from a revision of the
breakfast-table. The fact was that the Hon. Percival had detected in
Miss Dickenson a fossil, and was feeling ashamed of a transient interest
in her last night, when she had shown insight, under the
guidance--suppose we say--of champagne. Her bloom had gone off, too, in
a strange way, and bloom was a _sine qua non_ to this gentleman. She for
her part was conscious of a chill having come between them, she having
retired to rest the evening before with a refreshing sensation that all
was not over--could not be--when so agreeable a man could show her such
marked attention. That was all she would endorse of a very temperate
Vanity's suggestions, mentally crossing out an s at the end of
"attention." If you have studied the niceties of the subject, you will
know how much that letter would have meant.

A single lady of a particular type gets used to this sort of thing. But
her proper pride has to be kept under steam, like a salvage-tug in
harbour when there is a full gale in the Channel. However, she is better
off than her great-great-aunts, who were exposed to what was described
as _satire_. Nowadays, presumably, Man is not the treasure he was, for a
good many women seem to scrat on cheerfully enough without him. Or is it
that in those days he was the only person employed on his own valuation?

In the period of this story--that is to say, when our present veterans
were schoolboys--the air was clearing a little. But the smell of the
recent Georgian era hung about. There was still a fixed period in
women's lives when they suddenly assumed a new identity--became old
maids and were expected to dress the part. It was twenty-eight, to the
best of our recollection. Therefore Miss Smith-Dickenson, who was
thirty-eight if she was a minute, became a convicted impostor in the
eyes of the Hon. Percival, when, about ten hours after he had said to
himself that she was not a bad figure of a woman and that some of her
remarks were racy, he perceived that she was going off; that her
complexion didn't bear the daylight; that she wouldn't wash; that she
was probably a favourite with her own sex, and, broadly speaking, an
Intelligent Person. "Never do at all!" said the Hon. Percival to
himself. And Space may have asked "What for?" But nobody answered.

On the other hand, the lady perceived, in time, that the gentleman
looked ten years older by daylight; that no one could call him corpulent
exactly; that he might be heavy on hand, only perhaps he wanted his
breakfast--men did; that the Pall Mall and Piccadilly type of man very
soon palled, and that, in short, that steam-tug would be quite
unnecessary this time.

Therefore, when Lady Gwendolen appeared, _point-device_ for breakfast as
to dress, but looking dazed and preoccupied, she found this lady and
gentleman being well-bred, as shown by scanty, feelingless remarks about
the absence of morning papers as well as morning people. Her advent
opened a new era for them, in which they could cultivate ignorance of
one another on the bosom of a newcomer common to both.

"Only you two!" said the newcomer; which Miss Dickenson thought scarcely
delicate, considering the respective sexes of the persons addressed. "I
knew I was late, but I couldn't help it. Good-morning, Aunt Constance."
She gave and got a kiss. The Hon. Percival would have liked the former
for himself. Why need he have slightly flouted its receiver by a mental
note that he would not have cared about its _riposte_? It had not been
offered.

"How well you _are_ looking, dear!" said Aunt Constance, holding her
honorary niece at arms' length to visualise her robustness. She was not
a real Aunt at all, only an old friend of the family.

"I'm not," said Gwendolen. "Norbury, is breakfast ready? Shall we go
in?... Oh no, nothing! Please don't talk to me about it. I mean I'm all
right. Ask Sir Coupland to tell you." For the great surgeon had come
into the room, and was talking in an undertone to the old butler. Lady
Gwendolen added an apology which she kept in stereotype for the
non-appearance of her mother at breakfast. The Earl's absence was a
usage, taken for granted. Some said he had a cup of coffee in his own
room at eight, and starved till lunch.

Other guests appeared, and the usual English country-house breakfast
followed: a haphazard banquet, a decorous scrimmage for a surfeit of
eggs, and fish, and bacon, and tongue, and tea, and coffee, and
porridge, and even Heaven itself hardly knows what. Less than usual
vanished to become a vested interest of digestion; more than usual went
back to the kitchen for appreciation elsewhere. For Sir Coupland,
appealed to, had given a brief intelligent report of the occurrence of
the morning. Then followed undertones of conversation apart between him
and the Hon. Percival, who had not the heart for a pleasantry, and
groups of two or three aside. Lady Gwen alone was silent, leaving the
narration entirely to her medical friend, to whom she had told the
incident of last evening--her interview with the man now lying between
life and death, and the way his body was found by following the dog. She
left the room as early as courtesy allowed, and Sir Coupland did not
remain long. He had to go and tell the matter to the Earl, he said.
Gwendolen, no doubt, had to do the same to her mother the Countess. It
was an awful business.

Said Miss Smith-Dickenson to the Hon. Percival, on the shady terrace, a
quarter of an hour afterwards, "He _did_ tell you who the man is,
though? Or perhaps I oughtn't to ask?" Other guests were scattered
otherwhere, talking of the tragedy. Not a smile to be seen; still, the
victim of the mishap was a stranger. It was a cloud under which a man
might enjoy a cigar, _quand même_.

The Hon. Percival knocked an instalment of _caput mortuum_ off his; an
inch of ash which had begun on the terrace; so the interview was some
minutes old. "Yes," said he. "Yes, he knows who it is. That's the worst
of it."

"The worst of it?"

"I don't know of any reason myself why I should not tell you his name.
Sir Coupland only said he wanted it kept quiet till he could see his
father, whom he knows, of course. I understand that the family belongs
to this county--lives about twenty miles off." The lady felt so
confident that she would be told the name that she seized the
opportunity to show how discreet she was, and kept silence. _She_ was
quite incapable of mere vulgar inquisitiveness, you see. Her inmost core
had the satisfaction of feeling that its visible outer husk, Miss
Constance Smith-Dickenson, was killing two birds with one stone. The way
in which the gentleman continued justified it. "Besides, I know I may
rely upon _you_ to say nothing about it." Clearly the effect of her
visible, almost palpable, discretion! For really--said the core--this
good gentleman never set eyes on my husk till yesterday evening. And he
is a Man of the World and all that sort of thing.

Miss Smith-Dickenson knew perfectly well how her sister Lilian--the one
with the rolling, liquid eyes, now Baroness Porchammer--would have
responded. But she herself mistrusting her powers of gushing right, did
not feel equal to "Oh, but how nice of you to say so, dear Mr. Pellew!"
And she felt that she was not cut out for a satirical puss neither, like
her sister Georgie, now Mrs. Amphlett Starfax, to whom a mental review
of possible responses assigned, "Oh dear, how complimentary we are, all
of a sudden!"--with possibly a heavy blow on the gentleman's fore-arm
with a fan, if she had one. So she decided on "Pray go on. You may rely
on my discretion." It was simple, and made her feel like Elizabeth in
"Pride and Prejudice"--a safe model, if a little old-fashioned.

The gentleman pulled at his cigar in a considerative way, and said in a
perfunctory one:--"I am sure I may." Nevertheless, he postponed his
answer through a mouthful of smoke, dismissing it into the atmosphere
finally, to allow of speech determined on during its detention: "I'm
afraid it's Adrian Torrens--there can't be two of the name who write
poetry. Besides--the dog!"

The lady said "Good Heavens!" in a frightened underbreath, and was
visibly shocked. For it is usually someone of whom one knows nothing at
all that gets shot accidentally. Now, Adrian Torrens was the name of a
man recently distinguished as the author of some remarkable verse. A man
of very good family too. So--altogether!... This was the expression used
by Miss Smith-Dickenson's core, almost unrebuked. "Of course, I remember
the poem about the collie-dog," she added aloud.

"Can you remember the name of the dog? Wasn't it Aeneas?"

"No--Achilles."

"I meant Achilles. Well--his dog's Achilles."

"I thought you said there was no name on the collar."

"No more there was. But I understand that Gwen met him yesterday
evening--down by Arthur's Bridge, I believe--and had some conversation
with him, I gather."

"Oh!"

"But why? Why 'Oh!'--I mean?"

"I didn't mean anything. Only that she was looking so scared and unhappy
at breakfast, and that would account for it."

"Surely ..."

"Surely what?"

"Well--does it want accounting for? A man shot dead almost in sight of
the house, and by your own gamekeeper! Isn't that enough?"

"Enough in all conscience. But it makes a difference. All the
difference. I can't exactly describe.... It is not as if she had never
met him in her life before. _Now_ do you see?..."

"Never met him in her life before?..." The Hon. Percival stands waiting
for more, one-third of his cigar in abeyance between his finger-tips.
Getting no more, he continues:--"Why--you don't mean to say?..."

"What?"

"Well--it's something like this, if I can put the case. Take somebody
you've just met and spoken to...." But Mr. Pellew's prudence became
suddenly aware of a direction in which the conversation might drift, and
he pulled up short. If he pushed on rashly, how avoid an entanglement of
himself in a personal discussion? If his introduction to this lady had
been days old, instead of merely hours, there would have been no
quicksands ahead. He felt proud of his astuteness in dealing with a wily
sex.

Only he shouldn't have been so transparent. All that the lady had to do
was to change the subject of the conversation with venomous decision,
and she did it. "What a beautiful dark green fritillary!" said she. "I
hope you care for butterflies, Mr. Pellew. I simply dote on them." She
was conscious of indebtedness for this to her sister Lilian. Never
mind!--Lilian was married now, and had no further occasion to be
enchanting. A sister might borrow a cast-off. Its effect was to make the
gentleman clearly alive to the fact that she knew exactly why he had
stopped short.

But Miss Smith-Dickenson did _not_ say to Mr. Pellew:--"I am perfectly
well aware that you, sir, see danger ahead--danger of a delicate
discussion of the difference _our_ short acquaintance would have made to
me if I had heard this morning that _you_ were shot overnight. Pray
understand that I discern in this nothing but restless male vanity,
always on the alert to save its owner--or slave--from capture or
entanglement by dangerous single women with no property. You would have
been perfectly safe in my hands, even if your recommendations as an
Adonis had been less equivocal." She said no such thing. But something
or other--can it have been the jump to that butterfly?--made Mr. Pellew
conscious that if she _had_ worded a thought of the kind, it would have
been just like a female of her sort. Because he wasn't going to end up
that she wouldn't have been so very far wrong.

A name ought to be invented for these little ripples of human
intercourse, that are hardly to be called embarrassments, seeing that
their _monde_ denies their existence. We do not believe it is only
nervous and imaginative folk that are affected by them. The most prosaic
of mankind keeps a sort of internal or subjective diary of contemporary
history, many of whose entries run on such events, and are so very
unlike what their author said at the time.

The dark green fritillary did not stay long enough to make any
conversation worth the name, having an appointment with a friend in the
air. Mr. Pellew hummed _Non piu andrai farfallon amoroso_, producing
on the mind of Miss Dickenson vague impressions of the Opera,
Her Majesty's--not displaced by a Hotel in those days--tinctured
with a consciousness of Club-houses and Men of the World. This
gentleman, with his whiskers and monocular wrinkle responding to his
right-eye-glass-grip, who had as good as admitted last night that his
uncle was intimate with the late Prince Regent, was surely an example of
this singular class; which is really scarcely admissible on the domestic
hearth, owing to the purity of the latter. Possibly, however, these
impressions had nothing to do with the lady's discovery that perhaps she
ought to go in and find out what "they" were thinking of doing this
morning. It may be that it was only due to her consciousness that you
cannot--when female and single--stand alone with a live single gentleman
on a terrace, both speechless. You can walk up and down with him,
conversing vivaciously, but you mustn't come to an anchor beside him in
silence. There would be a suspicion about it of each valuing the other's
presence for its own sake, which would never do.

"Goin' in?" said the Hon. Percival. "Well--it's been very jolly out
here."

"Very pleasant, I am sure," said Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson. If
either made a diary entry out of this, it was of the slightest. She
moved away across the lawn, her skirt brushing it audibly, as the
cage-borne skirt of those days did, suggesting the advantages of
Jack-in-the-Green's costume. For Jack could leave his green on the
ground and move freely inside it. He did not stick out at the top. Mr.
Pellew remained on the shady terrace, to end up his cigar. He was a
little disquieted by the recollection of his very last words, which
remembered themselves on his tongue-tip as a key remembers itself in
one's hand, when one has forgotten if one really locked that box. Why,
though, should he not say to a maiden lady of a certain age--these are
the words he thought in--that it was very nice on this terrace? Why not
indeed? But that wasn't exactly the question. What he had really said
was that it _had been_ very nice on this terrace. All the difference!

Miss Dickenson was soon aware what the "they" she had referred to was
going to do, and offered to accompany it. The Countess and her daughter
and others were the owners of the voices she could hear outside the
drawing-room door when at liberty to expand, after a crush in half a
French window that opened on the terrace. Her ladyship the Countess was
as completely upset as her husband's ancestry permitted--quite white
and almost crying, only not prepared to admit it. "Oh, Constance dear,"
said she. "Are you there? You are always so sensible. But isn't this
awful?"

Aunt Constance perceived the necessity for a sympathetic spurt. She had
been taking it too easily, evidently. She was equal to the occasion,
responding with effusion that it was "so dreadful that she could think
of nothing else!" Which wasn't true, for the moment before she had been
collating the Hon. Percival's remarks and analysing the last one. Not
that she was an unfeeling person--only more like everyone else than
everyone else may be inclined to admit.



CHAPTER XII

     HOW THE COUNTESS AND HER DAUGHTER WALKED OVER TO THE VERDERER'S
     HALL. HOW ACHILLES KNEW BETTER THAN THE DOCTORS. THE ACCIDENT WAS
     NOT A FATAL ACCIDENT. AN OLD GENERAL WHO MADE A POOR FIGURE AS A
     CORPSE. HOW THE WOUNDED MAN'S FATHER AND SISTER CAME, AND HOW HE
     HIMSELF WAS TO BE CARRIED TO THE TOWERS


There was no need for a reason why Lady Gwendolen and her mother should
take the first opportunity of walking over to the Lodge, where this man
lay either dead or dying; but one presented itself to the Countess, as
an addendum to others less defined. "We ought to go," said she, "if only
for poor old Stephen's sake. The old man will be quite off his head with
grief. And it was such an absolute accident."

This was on the way, walking over the grassland. Aunt Constance felt a
little unconvinced. He who sends a bullet abroad at random may hear
later that it had its billet all along, though it was so silent about
it. As for the girl, she was in a fever of excitement; to reach the
scene of disaster, anyhow--to hear some news of respite, possibly. No
one had vouched for Death so far.

Sir Coupland was already on the spot, having only stayed long enough to
give particulars of the catastrophe to the Earl; but he was not by the
bedside. He was outside the cottage, speaking with Dr. Nash, the local
doctor from Grantley Thorpe, who had passed most of the night there.
There was a sort of conclusiveness about their conference, even as seen
from a distance, which promised ill. As the three ladies approached, he
came to meet them.

"Is there a chance?" said the Countess, as he came within hearing.

Only a shake of the head in reply. It quenches all the eagerness to hear
in the three faces, each in its own degree. Aunt Constance's gives place
to "Oh dear!" and solicitude. Lady Ancester's to a gasp like sudden
pain, and "Oh, Sir Coupland! are you quite, _quite_ sure?" Her
daughter's to a sharp cry, or the first of one cut short, and "Oh,
mamma!" Then a bitten lip, and a face shrinking from the others' view as
she turns and looks out across the Park. That is Arthur's Bridge over
yonder, where last evening she spoke with this man that now lies dead,
and took some note of his great dark eyes in the living glory of the
sunset.

As the world and sky swim about her for a moment, even she herself
wonders why she should be so hard hit. A perfect stranger! A man she had
never before in her life spoken to. And then, for such a moment! But the
great dark eyes of the man now dead are upon her, and she does not at
first hear that her mother is speaking to her.

"Gwen dear!... Gwen darling!--you hear what Sir Coupland says? We can do
no good." She has to touch her daughter's arm to get her attention.

"Well!" The girl turns, and her tears are as plain on her face as its
beauty. "That means go home?" says she; and then gives a sort of
heart-broken sigh. "Oh dear!" Her lack of claim to grieve for this man
cuts like a knife.

"We can do no good," her mother repeats. "Now, can we?"

"No, I see. Suppose we go." She turns as though to go, but either her
intention hangs fire, or she only wishes her face unseen for the moment;
for she pauses, saying to her mother: "There is old Stephen. Ought we
not to see him--one of us?"

"Yes!" says her ladyship, decisive on reflection. "I had forgotten about
old Stephen. But _I_ can go to him. You go back!... Yes, dear, you had
better go back.... What?"

"I am not going back. I want to see the body--this man's body. I want to
see his face.... No; I am not a child, mamma. Let me have my way."

"If you must, darling, you must. But I cannot see what use it can be.
See--here is Aunt Constance! _She_ does not want to see it...." A
confirmatory head-shake from Miss Dickenson. "Why should _you_?"

"Aunt Constance never spoke to him. I did. And he spoke to me. Let me
go, mamma dear. Don't oppose me." Indeed, the girl seems almost
feverishly anxious, quite on a sudden, to have this wish. No need for
her mother to accompany her, she adds. To which her mother replies:--"I
would if you wished it, dear Gwen"; whereupon Aunt Constance, perceiving
in her heart an opportunity for public service tending to distinction,
says so would she. Further, in view of a verdict from somebody somewhere
later on, that she showed a very nice feeling on this occasion, she
takes an opportunity before they reach the cottage to say to Lady
Gwendolen in an important aside:--"You won't let your mother go into the
room, dear. Anything of this sort tells so on her system." To which the
reply is rather abrupt:--"You needn't come, either of you." So that is
settled.

The body had not been carried into a room of the cottage, but into what
goes by the name of the Verderer's Hall, some fifty yards off. That much
carriage was spared by doing so. It now lies on the "Lord's table," so
called not from any reference to sacramental usage, but because the Lord
of the Manor sat at it on the occasions of the Manorial Courts. Three
centuries have passed since the last Court Baron; the last landlord who
sat in real council with his tenantry under its roof having been Roger
Earl of Ancester, who was killed in the Civil War. But old customs die
hard, and every Michaelmas Day--except it fall on a Sunday--the Earl or
his Steward at twelve o'clock receives from the person who enjoys a
right of free-warren over certain acres that have long since harboured
neither hare nor rabbit, an annual tribute which a chronicle as old as
Chaucer speaks of as "iiij tusshes of a wild bore." If no boars' tusks
are forthcoming, he has to be content with some equivalent devised to
meet their scarcity nowadays. Otherwise, the old Hall grows to be more
and more a museum of curios connected with the Park and outlying
woodlands, the remains of the old forest that covered the land when even
Earls were upstarts. A record pair of antlers on the wall is still
incredulously measured tip to tip by visitors unconvinced by local
testimony, and a respectable approach to Roman Antiquities is at rest
after a learned description by Archaeology. The place smells sweet of an
old age that is so slow--that the centuries have handled so
tenderly--that one's heart thinks of it rather as spontaneous
preservation than decay. It will see to its own survival through some
lifetimes yet, if no man restores it or converts it into a Studio.

Is his rating "Death" or not, whose body is so still on its extemporised
couch--just a mattress from the keeper's cottage close at hand? Was the
doctor's wording warranted when he said just now under his
breath:--"_It_ is in here"? Could he not have said "He"? What does the
dog think, that waits and watches immovable at _its_ feet? If this is
death, what is he watching for? What does the old keeper himself think,
who lingers by this man whom he may have slain--this man who _may_ live,
yet? He has scarcely taken his eyes off that white face and its
strapped-up wound from the first moment of his sight of it. He does not
note the subdued entry of Lady Gwendolen and the two doctors, and when
touched on the shoulder to call his attention to the presence of a
ladyship from the Castle, defers looking round until a fancy of his
restless hope dies down--a fancy that the mouth was closing of itself.
He has had such fancies by scores for the last few hours, and said
farewell to each with a groan.

"My mother is at the cottage, Stephen," says Gwen. "She would like to
see you, I know." Thereon the old man turns to go. He looks ten years
older than his rather contentious self of yesterday. The young lady says
no word either way of his responsibility for this disaster. She cannot
blame, but she cannot quite absolve him yet, without a grudge. Her
mother can; and will, somehow.

The dog has run to her side for a moment--has uttered an undertone of
bewildered complaint; then has gone back patiently to his old post, and
is again watching. The great surgeon and the girl stand side by side,
watching also. The humbler medico stands back a little, his eyes rather
on his senior than on the body.

"It is absolutely certain--this?" says Lady Gwen; questioning, not
affirming. She is wonderfully courageous--so Sir Coupland thinks--in the
presence of Death. But she is ashy white.

He utters the barest syllable of doubt; then half-turns for courtesy to
his junior, who echoes it. Then each shakes his head, looking at the
other.

"Is there no sound--nothing to show?" Gwen has some hazy idea that there
ought to be, if there is not, some official note of death due from the
dying, a rattle in the throat at least.

Sir Coupland sees her meaning. "In a case of this sort," says he, "sheer
loss of blood, the breath may cease so gradually that sound is
impossible. All one can say is that there _is_ no breath, and no action
of the heart--so far as one can tell." He speaks in a business-like way
that is a sort of compliment to his hearer; no accommodation of facts as
to a child; then raises the lifeless hand slightly and lets it fall,
saying:--"See!"

To his surprise the girl, without any comment, also raises the band in
hers, and stands holding it. "Yes--it will fall," says he, as though she
had spoken questioning it. But still she holds it, and never shrinks
from the horror of its mortality, somewhat to the wonder of her only
spectator. For the other doctor has withdrawn, to speak to someone
outside.

Of a sudden the dog Achilles starts barking. A short, sharp, startled
bark--once, twice--and is silent. The girl lays the dead hand gently
down, not dropping it, but replacing it where it first lay. She does not
speak for a moment--cannot, perhaps. Then it comes with a cry, neither
of pain nor joy--mere tension. "Oh, Dr. Merridew ... the fingers closed
... They closed on mine ... the fingers _closed_.... I know it. I know
it ... The fingers _closed_!..." She says it again and again as though
in terror that her word might be doubted. He sees as she turns to him
that all her pride of self-control has given way. She is fighting
against an outburst of tears, and her breath comes and goes at will, or
at the will of some power that drives it. Sir Coupland may be
contemplating speech--something it is correct to say, something the
cooler judgment will endorse--but whatever it is he keeps it to himself.
He is not one of those cheap sages that has _hysteria_ on his tongue's
tip to account for everything. It _may_ be that; but it may be ...
Well--he has seen some odd cases in his time.

So, without speaking to the agitated young lady, he simply calls his
colleague back; and, after a word or two aside with him, says to
her:--"You had better leave him to us. Go now." It gives her confidence
that he does not soothe or cajole, but speaks as he would to a man. She
goes, and as she walks across to the Keeper's Lodge makes a little peace
for her heart out of small material. Sir Coupland said "him" this
time--look you!--not "it" as before.

The daughter finds the mother, five minutes later, trying a well-meant
word to the old keeper; to put a little heart in him, if possible. It
was no fault of his; he only carried out his orders, and so on. Gwen is
silent about her experience; she will not raise false hopes. Besides,
she is only half grieved for the old chap--has only a languid sympathy
in her heart for him who, tampering with implements of Death, becomes
Cain unawares. If she is right, he will know in time. Meanwhile it will
be a lesson to him to avoid triggers, and will thus minimise the
exigencies of Hell. Also, she has recovered her self-command; and will
not show, even to her mother, how keen her interest has been in this man
in the balance betwixt life and death.

As to the older lady, who has fought shy of seeing the body, the affair
is no more than a casualty, very little coloured by the fact that its
victim is a "gentleman." This sort of thing may impress the groundlings,
while a real Earl or Duke remains untouched. A coronet has a very
levelling effect on the plains below. Your mere baronet is but a
hillock, after all. Possibly, however, this is a proletariate view,
which always snubs rank, and her ladyship the Countess may never have
given a thought to this side of the case. Certainly she is honestly
grieved on behalf of her old friend Stephen, whom she has known for
thirty years past. In fact, of the two, as they walk back to the Towers,
the mother shows more than the daughter the reaction of emotion.

Says her daughter to her as they walk back--the three as they came--"I
believe he will recover, for all that. I believe Dr. Merridew believes
it, too. I am certain the fingers moved." Her manner lays stress on her
own equanimity. It is more self-contained than need be, all things
considered.

"The eyesight is easily deceived," says Miss Dickenson, prompt with the
views of experience. She always holds a brief for common sense, and is
considered an authority. "Even experts are misled--sometimes--in such
cases...."

Gwen interrupts:--"It had nothing to do with eyesight. I _felt_ the
fingers move." Whereupon her mother, roused by her sudden emphasis,
says:--"But we are so glad that it _should_ be so, Gwen darling." And
then, when the girl stops in her walk and says:--"Of course you are--but
why not?" she has a half-smile as for petulance forgiven, as she
says:--"Because you fired up so about it, darling; that's all. We did
not understand that you had hold of the hand. Was it stiff?" This in a
semi-whisper of protest against the horror of the subject.

"Not the least. Cold!--oh, how cold!" She shudders of set purpose to
show how cold. "But not _stiff_."

The two other ladies go into a partnership of seniority, glancing at
each other; and each contributes to a duet about the duty of being
hopeful, and we shall soon know, and at any rate, the case could not be
in better hands, and so on. But whereas the elder lady was only working
for reassurance--puzzled somewhat at a certain flushed emphasis in this
beautiful daughter of hers--Miss Smith-Dickenson was taking mental
notes, and looking intuitive. She was still looking intuitive when she
joined the numerous party at lunch, an hour later. She had more than one
inquiry addressed to her about "this unfortunate accident," but she
reserved her information, with mystery, acquiring thereby a more defined
importance. A river behind a _barrage_ is much more impressive than a
pump.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Coupland Merridew's place at table was still empty when the first
storm of comparison of notes set in over the events and deeds of the
morning. A conscious reservation was in the air about the disaster of
last night, causing talk to run on every other subject, but betrayed by
more interest in the door and its openings than lunch generally shows.
Presently it would open for the overdue guest, and he would have news
worth hearing, said Hope. For stinted versions of event had leaked out,
and had outlived the reservations and corrections of those who knew.

Lunch was conscious of Sir Coupland's arrival in the house before he
entered, and its factors nodded to each other and said: "That's him!"
Nice customs of Grammar bow before big mouthfuls. However, Miss
Smith-Dickenson did certainly say: "I believe that _is_ Sir Coupland."

It was, and in his face was secret content and reserve. In response to a
volley of What?--Well?--Tell us!--and so forth, he only said:--"Shan't
tell you anything till I've had something to eat!" But he glanced across
at Lady Gwen and nodded slightly--a nod for her exclusive use.

Lunch, liberated by what amounted to certainty that the man was not
killed, ran riot; almost all its factors taking a little more, thank
you! It was brought up on its haunches by being suddenly made aware that
Sir Coupland--having had something to eat--had spoken. He had to repeat
his words to reach the far end of the long table.

"Yes--I said ... only of course if you make such a row you can't
hear.... I said that this gentleman cannot be said to have recovered
consciousness"--here he paused for a mistaken exclamation of
disappointment to get nipped in the bud, and then continued--"yet a
while. However, I am glad to say I--both of us, Dr. Nash and myself, I
should say--were completely mistaken about the case. It has turned out
contrary to every expectation that...." Nobody noticed that a pause here
was due to Lady Gwen having made "No!" with her lips, and looked a
protest at the speaker. He went on:--"Well ... in short ... I would have
sworn the man was dead ... and he isn't! That's all I have to say about
it at present. It might be over-sanguine to say he is alive--meaning
that he will succeed in keeping so--but he is certainly not _dead_."
Miss Dickenson lodged her claim to a mild form of omniscience by saying
with presence of mind:--"Exactly!" but without presumption, so that only
her near neighbours heard her. Self-respect called for no more.

Had the insensible man spoken?--the Earl asked pertinently. Oh dear, no!
Nothing so satisfactory as that, so far. The vitality was almost _nil_.
The Earl retired on his question to listen to what a Peninsular veteran
was saying to Gwen. This ancient warrior was one who talked but little,
and then only to two sorts, old men like himself, with old memories of
India and the Napoleonic wars, and young women like Gwen. As this was
his way, it did not seem strange that he should address her all but
exclusively, with only a chance side-word now and then to his host, for
mere courtesy.

"When I was in Madras in eighteen-two--no--eighteen-three," he said, "I
was in the Nineteenth Dragoons under Maxwell--he was killed, you
know--in that affair with the Mahrattas...."

"I know. I've read about the Battle of Assaye, and how General Wellesley
had two horses shot under him...."

"That was it. Scindia, you know--that affair! They had some very good
artillery for those days, and our men had to charge up to the guns. I
was cut down in Maxwell's cavalry charge, and went near bleeding to
death. He was a fine fellow that did it...."

"Never mind him! You were going to tell me about yourself."

"Why--I was given up for dead. It was a good job I escaped decent
interment. But the surgeon gave me the benefit of the doubt, and stood
me over for a day or two. Then, as I didn't decay properly...."

"Oh, General--don't be so horrible!" This from Miss Smith-Dickenson
close at hand. But Gwen is too eager to hear, to care about delicacies
of speech, and strikes in:--

"Do go on, General! Never mind Aunt Constance. She is so fussy. Go
on--'didn't decay properly'...."

"Well--I was behindhand! Not up to my duties, considered as a corpse!
The doctor stood me over another twenty-four hours, and I came to. I was
very much run down, certainly, but I _did_ come to, or I shouldn't be
here now to tell you about it, my dear. I should have been sorry."

A matter-of-fact gentleman "pointed out" that had General Rawnsley died
of his wounds, he would not have been in a position to feel either joy
or sorrow, or to be conscious that he was not dining at Ancester. The
General fished up a wandering eyeglass to look at him, and said:--"Quite
correct!" Miss Smith-Dickenson remarked upon the dangers attendant on
over-literal interpretations. The Hon. Mr. Pellew perceived in this that
Miss Dickenson had a sort of dry humour.

"But you _did_ come to, General, and you _are_ telling me about it,"
said Lady Gwen. "Now, how long was it before you rejoined your
regiment?"

"H'm--well! I wasn't good for much two months later, or I should have
come in for the fag-end of the campaign. All right in three months, I
should say. But then--I was a young fellah!--in those days. How old's
your man?"

"This gentleman who has been shot?" says Gwen, with some stiffness. "I
have not the slightest idea." But Sir Coupland answered the question for
her. "At a guess, General, twenty-five or twenty-six. He ought to do
well if he gets through the next day or two. He may have a good
constitution. I can't say yet. Yours must have been remarkable."

"I had such a good appetite, you know," says the General. "Such a devil
of a twist! If I had had my way, I should have been at Argaum two months
later. But, good Lard!--they wouldn't let me out of Hospital." The old
soldier, roused by the recollection of a fifty-year-old grievance, still
rankling, launched into a denunciation of the effeminacy and timidity of
Authorities and Seniors, of all sorts and conditions. His youth was back
upon him with its memories, and he had forgotten that he too was now a
Senior. His torrent of thinly disguised execrations was of service to
Lady Gwen; as the original subject of the conversation, just shot, was
naturally forgotten. She had got all the enlightenment she wanted about
him, and was cultivating an artificial lack of interest in his accident.

She was, however, a little dissatisfied with her own success in this
branch of horticulture. Her anxiety had felt itself fully justified till
now by the bare facts of the case. Her longing that this man should not
die was so safe while it seemed certain that he could not live, that she
felt under no obligation to account to herself for it. Analysis of
niceties of feeling in the presence of Death were uncalled for, surely.
But now, with at least a chance of his recovery, she felt that she ought
to be able to think of something else. So she talked of Sardanapalus and
Charles Keane at the Princesses' Theatre--the first a play, the second a
player--and the General, declining more than monosyllables to the
matter-o'-fact gentleman, subsided into wrathful recollection of an
exasperated young Dragoon chafing under canvas beneath an Indian sun,
and panting for news of his regiment in the north, fifty years before.

But such intermittent conversation could not prevent her seeing that
Norbury the butler had handed a visiting-card, pencilled on the back, to
her father, and had whispered a message to him with a sense of its
gravity, and that her father had replied:--"Yes, say I will be there
presently." Nor that--in response to remote inquiry from his Countess
at the end of an avenue of finger-glasses--he had thrown the words
"Hamilton Torrens and the daughter--mother too ill to come--won't come
up to the house until he's fit to move!" all the length of the table.
That her mother had said:--"Oh yes--you know them," perhaps because of
an apologetic manner in her husband for being the recipient of the
message. Also that curiosity and information were mutual in the avenue,
and that next-door neighbours but one were saying:--"What's that?" and
getting no answer.

However, the Intelligence Department did itself credit in the end, and
everyone knew that, immediately on the receipt of sanction from
headquarters, Tom Kettering the young groom had mounted the grey mare--a
celebrity in these parts--and made a foxhunter's short cut across a
stiff country to carry the news of the disaster to Pensham Steynes, Sir
Hamilton Torrens's house twenty miles off, and that that baronet and his
daughter Irene Torrens had come at once. "I hope he hasn't killed the
mare," said the Earl apprehensively. But his wife summoned Norbury to a
secret confidence, saying after it:--"No--it's all right--he came on the
box--didn't ride." From which the Earl knew--if the avenue didn't--that
Tom Kettering the groom, after an incredible break across country,
stabled the mare at Pensham Steynes, and rode back with the carriage.
The whole thing had been negotiated in less than three hours.

All these things Gwendolen comes to be aware of somehow. But all of us
know how a chance word in a confused conversation stays by the hearer,
who is forced to listen to what is no elucidation of it, and is
discontented. Such a word had struck this young lady; and she watched
for her father, as lunch died away, to get the elucidation overdue. She
was able to intercept him at the end of a long colloquy with Sir
Coupland. "What did you mean, papa dearest, just now?..."

"What did I mean, dear?... When?"

"By 'until he's fit to move'?"

"I meant until Sir Coupland says he can be safely brought up to the
house."

"_This_ house, my dear?" It is not Gwen who speaks, but her mother, who
has joined the conversation.

"Certainly, my love," says the Earl, with a kind of appealing
diffidence. "If you have no very strong objection. He can be carried,
Sir Coupland says, as soon as the wound is safe from inflammation. Of
course he must not be left at the Hall."

"Of course not. But there are beds at the Lodge...." However, the Earl
says with a meek self-assertion:--"I think I would rather he were
brought here. His father and George were at Christ Church together...."
Before which her ladyship concedes the point. His lordship then says he
shall go at once to the Hall to see Sir Hamilton, and Gwen suggests that
she shall accompany him. She may persuade Miss Torrens to come up to the
Towers.

This assumption that the wounded man could be moved, after conversation
between the Earl and Sir Coupland, was so reassuring, that Gwendolen
felt it more than ever due to herself to cultivate that indifference
about his recovery. However, she could not easily be too affectionate
and hospitable to his sister under the circumstances.

By-the-by, it was rather singular that she had never seen this Irene
Torrens, when they were almost neighbours--only eighteen miles by road
between them. And Irene's father had been her Uncle George's great
friend at Oxford; both at Christ Church! This uncle, who, like his
friend Torrens, had gone into the army, was killed in action at Rangoon,
long before Gwendolen's day.

It all takes so long to tell. The omission of half would shorten the
tale and spare the reader so much. What a very small book the History of
the World would be if all the events were left out!



CHAPTER XIII

     BACK IN SAPPS COURT. MICHAEL RAGSTROAR'S SECULARISM. HIS EXTENDED
     KNOWLEDGE OF LIFE. YET A GAOL-BIRD PROPER WAS OUTSIDE IT. ONE IN
     QUEST OF A WIDOW. THE DEAD BEETLE IN DOLLY'S CAKE. HOW UNCLE MO DID
     NOT LIKE THE MAN'S LOOKS. THERE _WAS_ NO WIDOW DAVERILL AND NEITHER
     BURR NOR PRICHARD WOULD DO. HOW AUNT M'RIAR HAD BEEN AT CHAPEL. THE
     SONS OF LEVI. MICHAEL'S NOBLE LOYALTY TOWARDS OUTLAWS


It was a fine Sunday morning in Sapps Court, and our young friend
Michael Rackstraw was not attending public worship. Not that it was his
custom to do so. Nevertheless, the way he replied to a question by a
chance loiterer into the Court seemed to imply the contrary. The
question was, what the Devil he was doing that for?--and referred to the
fact that he was walking on his hands. His answer was, that it was
because he wasn't at Church. Not that all absentees from religious rites
went about upside down; but that, had he been at Church, the narrow
exclusiveness of its ritual would have kept him right side up.

The speaker's appearance was disreputable, and his manner morose,
sullen, and unconciliatory. Michael, even while still upside down,
fancied he could identify a certain twist in his face that seemed not
unfamiliar; but thought this might be due to his own drawbacks on
correct observation. Upright again, his identification was confirmed and
he knew quite well whose question he was answering by the time he felt
his feet. It was the man he had seen in the clutches of the water-rat at
Hammersmith, when both were capsized into the river six months ago. This
put him on his guard, and he prepared to meet further questions with
evasion or defiance. But he would flavour them with substantial facts.
It would confuse issues and make it more difficult to convict him of
mendacity.

"You don't look an unlikely young beggar," said the man. "What name are
you called?"

Michael thought a moment and settled that it might be impolitic to
disclose his name. So he answered simply:--"Ikey." Now, this name was
not contrary to any statute or usage. The man appeared to accept it in
good faith, and Michael decided in his heart that he was softer than
what he'd took him for.

He recovered some credit, however, by his next inquiry which seemed to
place baptismal names among negligibles: "Ah, that's it, is it? But Ikey
what? What do they call your father, if you've got one?"

Three courses occurred to Michael; improbable fiction, evasive or
defiant; plausible fiction; and the undisguised truth. As the first, the
Duke of Wellington's name recommended itself. He had, however, decided
mentally that this man was a queer customer, and might be an awkward
customer. So he discarded the Duke--satire might irritate--and chose the
second course to avoid the third. But he was betrayed by Realism, which
suggested that a study from Nature would carry conviction. He decided on
assuming the name of his friend the apothecary round the corner, up the
street facing over against the Wheatsheaf. He replied that his father's
name was Heeking's. It was easier to do this than to invent a name,
which might have turned out an insult to the human understanding. He was
disgusted to be met with incredulity.

"Don't believe you," said the man. "You're a young liar. Where's your
father now--now this very minute?"

"Abed."

"What's he doing there?"

"Sleeping of it off. It was Saturday with him last night. He had to be
fetched from the King's Arms very careful. Perkins's Entire. Barclay
Perkins. Fetched him myself! Mean to say I didn't?" But this part of the
tale was probable and no comment seemed necessary.

"Where's your mother?"

"Cookin' 'im a bloater over the fire. It does the temper good. Can't yer
smell it?" A flavour of cooking confirmed Michael's words, but he seemed
to require a more formal admission of his veracity than a mere nostril
set ajar and a glance at an open window. "Say, if you don't! On'y
there's no charge for the smelling of it. She'll tell yer just the same
like me, word in and word out. You can arks for yourself. I can 'oller
'er up less time than talkin' about it. You've only to say!"

But this man, the twist of whose face had not been improved by his
recognition of the bloater, seemed to wish to confine his communications
to Michael, rather decisively. Indeed, there was a sound of veiled
intimidation in his voice as he said:--"You leave your mother to see to
the herrings, young 'un, and just you listen to me. You be done with
your kidding and listen to me. _You_ can tell me as much as I want to
know. Sharp young beggar!--you know what's good for you." An
intimidation of a possible _douceur_ perhaps?

Now Master Michael, though absolutely deficient in education--his class,
a sort of aristocracy of guttersnipes, was so in the pre-Board-School
fifties,--was as sharp as a razor already even in the days of Dave
Wardle's early accident, and had added a world of experience to his
stock in the last few months. He had, in fact, been seeing the
Metropolis, as an exponent or auxiliary of his father's vocation as a
costermonger; and had made himself extremely useful, said Mr. Rackstraw,
in the manner of speaking. Only the manner of speaking, strictly
reported, did not use the expression _extremely_, but another
one which we need not dwell upon except to make reference to its
inappropriateness. Mr. Rackstraw was not a man of many words, so he had
to fall back upon the same very often or hold his tongue: a course
uncongenial to him. This word was a _pièce de résistance_--a kind of
sheet-anchor.

In the course of these last few months of active costermongery, of
transactions in early peas and new potatoes, spring-cabbage and ripe
strawberries, he had acquired not only an insight into commerce but
apparently an intimate knowledge of every street in London, and a very
fair acquaintance with its celebrities; meaning thereby its real
celebrities--its sportsmen, patrons of the Prize Ring, cricketers,
rowing-men, billiard-players, jockeys--what not? Its less important
representative men, statesmen, bishops, writers, artists, lawyers;
soldiers and sailors even, though here concession was rife, had to take
a second place. But there was one class--a class whose members may have
belonged to any one of these--of which Michael's experience was very
limited. It was the class of gaol-birds. This type, the most puzzling to
eyes that see it for the first time, the most unmistakable by those well
read in it, was the type that was now setting this juvenile coster's
wits to work upon its classification, on this May morning in Sapps
Court. Michael's previous record of him was an interrupted sight of his
face in the river-garden at Hammersmith, and a reference to his
felonious antecedents at the inquest. He was, by the time the
conversation assumed the interest due to a hint of emolument, able to
say to himself that he should know the Old Bailey again by the cut of
its jib next time he came across it.

In reply, he scorned circumlocution, saying briefly:--"Wot'll it come
to? Wot are you good for? That's the p'int."

"You tell me no lies and you'll see. There's an old widow-lady down this
Court. Don't you go and say there ain't!"

"There's any number. Which old widder?"

"Name of Daverill. Old enough to be your father's granny."

"No sich a name! There's one a sight older than that though--last house
down the Court--top bell."

"How old do you make her out?"

"Two 'underd next birthday!" But Michael perceived in his questioner's
eye a possible withdrawal of his offer of a consideration, and amended
his statement:--"Ninety-nine, p'raps!--couldn't say to arf a minute."

"House at the end where the old cock in a blue shirt's smoking a
pipe--is that it?"

"Ah!--up two flights of stairs. But she can't see you, nor yet hear you,
to speak of."

"Who's the old cock?"

"This little boy's uncle. He b'longs to the Fancy. 'Eavyweight he was,
wunst upon a time." And Dave Wardle, who had joined the colloquy, gave
confirmatory evidence: "He's moy Uncle Moses, he is. And he's moy sister
Dolly's Uncle Moses, he is. And moy sister Dolly she had a piece of koyk
with a beadle in it. She _had_. A dead beadle!" But this evidence was
ruled out of court by general consent; or rather, perhaps, it should be
said that the witness remained in the box giving evidence of the same
nature for his own satisfaction, while the court's attention wandered.

"Oh--he was a heavyweight, was he? An ugly customer, I should reckon."
The stranger said this more to himself than to the boys. But he spoke
direct to Michael with the question, "What was it you said was the old
lady's name, now?"

The boy, shrewd as he was, was but a boy after all. Was it wonderful
that he should accept the implication that he had given the name? Thrown
off his guard he answered:--"Name of Richards." Whereupon Dave, who was
still stuttering on melodiously about the dead monster in Dolly's cake,
endeavoured to correct his friend without complete success.

"Pitcher, is it?" said the stranger. Michael, disgusted to find that he
had been betrayed into giving a name, though he was far from clear why
it should have been reserved, was glad of Dave's perverted version, as
replacing matters on their former footing. But the repetition of the
name, by voices the stimulus of definition had emphasized, caught the
attention of Uncle Moses, who thereon moved up the Court to find out who
this stranger could be, who was so evidently inquiring about the
upstairs tenant. As he reached close inspection-point his face did not
look as though the visitor pleased him. The latter said good-morning
first; but, simple as his words were, the gaol-bird manner of guarded
suspicion crept into them and stamped the speaker.

"Don't like the looks of you, mister!" said Uncle Mo to himself. But
aloud he said:--"Good-morning to _you_, sir. I understood you to be
inquiring for Mrs. Prichard."

"No--Daverill. No such a name, this young shaver says."

"Not down this Court. It wasn't Burr by any chance now, was it?"

"No--Daverill."

"Because there _is_ a party by the name of Burr if you could have seen
your way." This was only the natural civility which sometimes runs riot
with an informant's judgment, making him anxious to meet the inquirer at
any cost, whatever inalienable stipulations the latter may have
committed himself to. In this case it seemed that nothing short of
Daverill, crisp and well defined, would satisfy the conditions. The
stranger shook his head with as much decision as reciprocal civility
permitted--rather as though he regretted his inability to accept
Burr--and replied that the name had "got to be" Daverill and no other.
But he seemed reluctant to leave the widows down this Court unsifted,
saying:--"You're sure there ain't any other old party now?" To which
Uncle Moses responded: "Ne'er a one, master, to _my_ knowledge. Widow
Daverill she's somewheres else. Not down _this_ Court!" He said it in a
valedictory way as though he had no wish to open a new subject, and
considered this one closed. He had profited by his inspection of the
stranger, and had formed a low opinion of him.

But the stranger's reluctance continued. "You couldn't say, I suppose,"
said he, in a cautious hesitating way, "you couldn't say what
countrywoman she was, now?" His manner might easily have been--so Uncle
Mo thought at least--that of indigence trying to get a foothold with an
eye to begging in the end. It really was the furtive suspiciousness that
hangs alike upon the miscreant and the mere rebel against law into whose
bones the fetter has rusted. The guilt of the former, if he can cheat
both the gaol and the gallows, may merge in the demeanour of a free man;
that of the latter, after a decade of prison-service you or I might have
remitted, will hang by him till death.

Uncle Mo may have detected, through the mere blood-poisoning of the
prison, the inherent baseness of the man, or may have recoiled from the
type. Anyway, his instinct was to get rid of him. And evidently the less
he said about anyone in Sapps Court the better. So he replied, surlily
enough considering his really amiable disposition:--"No--I could _not_
say what countrywoman she is, master." Then he thought a small trifle of
fiction thrown in might contribute to the detachment of this man's
curiosity from Mrs. Prichard, and added carelessly:--"Some sort of a
foringer I take it." Which accounted, too, for his knowing nothing about
her. No true Englishman knows anything about that benighted class.

Now the boy Michael, all eyes and ears, had somehow come to an imperfect
knowledge that Mrs. Prichard had been in Australia once on a time. The
imperfection of this knowledge had affected the name of the place, and
when he officiously struck in to supply it, he did so inaccurately.
"Horstrian she is!" He added:--"Rode in a circus, she did." But this was
only the reaction of misinterpretation on a too inventive brain.

"Then she ain't any use to me. Austrian, is she?" Thus the stranger; who
then, after a slow glare up and down the Court, in search of further
widows perhaps, turned to go, saying merely:--"I'll wish you a
good-morning, guv'nor. Good-morning!" Uncle Mo watched him as he lurched
up the Court, noting the oddity of his walk. This man, you see, had been
chained to another like himself, and his bias went to one side like a
horse that has gone in harness. This gait is known in the class he
belonged to as the "darby-roll," from the name by which fetters are
often spoken of.

"How long has that charackter been makin' the Court stink, young
Carrots?" said Uncle Moses to Michael.

"Afore you come up, Mr. Moses."

"Afore I come up. How long afore I come up?"

Michael appeared to pass through a paroxysm of acute calculation, ending
in a lucid calm with particulars. "Seven minute and a half," said he
resolutely. "Wanted my name, he did!"

"What did you tell him?"

"I told 'im a name. Orl correct it was. Only it warn't mine. I was too
fly for him."

"What name did you tell him?"

"Mr. Eking's at the doctor's shop. He'll find that all right. He can
read it over the door. He's got eyes in his head." No doubt sticklers
for conscience will quarrel with the view that the demands of Truth can
be satisfied by an authentic name applied to the wrong person.

It did not seem to grate on Uncle Moses, who only said:--"Sharp boy! But
don't you tell no more lies than's wanted. Only now and again to shame
the Devil, as the sayin' is. And you, little Dave, don't you tell
nothing but the truth, 'cos your Aunt M'riar she says not to it." Dave
promised to oblige.

Aunt M'riar, returning home with Dolly from a place known as "Chapel"--a
place generally understood to be good, and an antidote to The Rising
Sun, which represented Satan and was bad--only missed meeting this
visitor to Sapps by a couple of minutes. She might have just come face
to face with him the very minute he left the Court, if she had not
delayed a little at the baker's, where she had prevailed on
Sharmanses--the promoter of some latent heat in the bowels of the earth
which came through to the pavement, making it nice and dry and warm to
set upon in damp, cold weather--to keep the family Sunday dinner back
just enough to guarantee it brown all through, and the potatoes crackly
all over. Sharmanses was that obliging he would have kep' it in--it was
a shoulder of mutton--any time you named, but he declined to be
responsible that the gravy should not dry up. So Dolly carried her
aunt's prayer-book, feeling like the priests, the Sons of Levi, which
bare the Ark of the Covenant; and Aunt M'riar carried the Tin of the
Shoulder of Mutton, and took great care not to spill any of the Gravy.
The office of the Sons of Levi was a sinecure by comparison.

Why did our astute young friend Michael keep his counsel about the
identity of the bloke that come down the Court that Sunday morning?
Well--it was not mere astuteness or vulgar cunning on the watch for an
honorarium. It was really a noble chivalry akin to that of the schoolboy
who will be flogged till the blood comes, rather than tell upon his
schoolfellow, even though he loathes the misdemeanour of the latter. It
was enough for Michael that this man was wanted by Scotland Yard, to
make silence seem a duty--silence, at any rate, until interrogated. He
was certainly not going to volunteer information--was, in fact, in the
position of the Humanitarian who declined to say which way the fox had
gone when the scent was at fault; only with this difference--that the
hounds were not in sight. Neither was he threatened with the
hunting-whip of an irate M.F.H. "Give the beggar his chance!"--that was
how Michael looked at it. He who knows the traditions of the class this
boy was born in will understand and excuse the feeling.

Michael was--said his _entourage_--that sharp at twelve that he could
understand a'most anything. He had certainly understood that the man
whom he saw in the grip of the police-officer overturned in the Thames
was wanted by Scotland Yard, to pay an old score, with possible
additions to it due to that officer's death. He had understood, too,
that the attempt to capture the man had been treacherous according to
his ideas of fair play, while he had no information about his original
crime. He did not like his looks, certainly, but then looks warn't much
to go by. His conclusion was--silence for the present, without prejudice
to future speech if applied for. When that time came, he would tell no
more lies than were wanted.



CHAPTER XIV

     OF A VISIT MICHAEL PAID HIS AUNT, AND OF A FISH HE NEARLY CAUGHT.
     THE PIGEONS, NEXT DOOR, AND A PINT OF HALF-AND-HALF. MISS JULIA
     HAWKINS AND HER PARALYTIC FATHER. HOW A MAN IN THE BAR BROKE HIS
     PIPE. OF A VISIT MICHAEL'S GREAT-AUNT PAID MISS HAWKINS. TWO
     STRANGE POLICEMEN. HOW MR. DAVERILL MIGHT HAVE ESCAPED HAD HE NOT
     BEEN A SMOKER. A MIRACULOUS RECOVERY, SPOILED BY A STRAIGHT SHOT


Michael Ragstroar's mysterious attraction to his great-aunt at
Hammersmith was not discountenanced or neutralised by his family in
Sapps Court, but rather the reverse: in fact, his visits to her
received as much indirect encouragement as his parents considered might
be safely given without rousing his natural combativeness, and
predisposing him against the ounce of influence which she alone
exercised over his rebellious instincts. Any suspicion of moral culture
might have been fatal, holy influences of every sort being eschewed by
Michael on principle.

So when Michael's mother, some weeks later than the foregoing incident,
remarked that it was getting on for time that her branch of the family
should send a quartern of shelled peas and two pound of cooking-cherries
to Aunt Elizabeth Jane as a seasonable gift, her lord and master had
replied that he wasn't going within eleven mile of Hammersmith till
to-morrow fortnight, but that he would entrust peas and cherries, as
specified, to "Old Saturday Night," a fellow-coster, so named in
derision of his adoption of teetotalism, his name being really Knight.
He was also called Temperance Tommy, without irony, his name being
really Thomas. He, a resident in Chiswick, would see that Aunt Elizabeth
Jane got the consignment safely.

Michael's father did this in furtherance of a subtle scheme which
succeeded. His son immediately said:--"Just you give _him_ 'em, and see
if he don't sneak 'em. See if he don't bile the peas and make a blooming
pudd'n of the cherries. You see if he don't! That's all I say, if you
arsk me." A few interchanges on these lines ended in Michael undertaking
to deliver the goods personally as a favour, time enough Sunday morning
for Aunt Elizabeth Jane herself to make a pudding of the cherries,
blooming or otherwise.

As a sequel, Michael arrived at his aunt's so early on the following
Sunday that the peas and the cherries had to wait for hours to be
cooked, while Aunt Elizabeth Jane talked with matrons round in the
alley, and he himself took part in a short fishing expedition, nearly
catching a roach, who got away. The Humanitarian--is that quite the
correct word, by-the-by?--must rejoice at the frequency of this result
in angling.

"The 'ook giv'," said Michael, returning disappointed. "Wot can you
expect with inferior tarkle?" He then undertook to get a brown Toby jug
filled at The Pigeons; though, being church-time--the time at which the
Heathen avail themselves of their opportunity of stopping away from
church--the purchase of one pint full up, and no cheating, was a
statutable offence on the part of the seller.

But when a public has a little back-garden with rusticated woodwork
seats, painful to those rash enough to avail themselves of them, and a
negotiable wall you and your jug can climb over and descend from by the
table no one ever gets his legs under owing to this same rusticity of
structure, then you can do as Michael did, and make your presence felt
by whistling through the keyhole, without fear of incriminating the
Egeria of the beer-fountain in the locked and shuttered bar, near at
hand.

Egeria was not far off, for her voice came saying:--"Say your name
through the keyhole; the key's took out.... No, you ain't Mrs. Treadwell
next door! You're a boy."

"Ain't a party-next-door's grandnephew a boy?" exclaimed Michael
indignantly. "She's sent me with her own jug for a pint of arfnarf!
Here's the coppers, all square. You won't have nothing to complain of,
Miss 'Orkins."

Miss Hawkins, the daughter of The Pigeons, or at least of their
proprietor, opened the door and admitted Michael Ragstroar. Her father
had drawn his last quart for a customer many long years ago, and his
right-hand half was passing the last days of its life in a bedroom
upstairs. A nonagenarian paralysed all down one side may be described as
we have described Mr. Hawkins. He was still able to see dimly, with one
eye, the glorious series of sporting prints that lined the walls of his
room; and such pulses as he had left were stirred with momentary
enthusiasm when the Pytchley Hunt reached the surviving half of his
understanding. The other half of him had lived, and seemed to have died,
years ago. The two halves may have taken too much when they were able to
move about together and get at it--too much brandy, rum, whisky; too
many short nips and long nips--too cordial cordials. Perhaps his
daughter took the right quantity of all these to a nicety, but
appearances were against her. She was a woman of the type that must have
been recognised in its girlhood as stunning, or ripping, by the then
frequenters of the bar of The Pigeons, and which now was reluctant to
admit that its powers to rip or stun were on the wane at forty. It was
that of an inflamed blonde putting on flesh, which meant to have
business relations with dropsy later on, unless--which seemed
unlikely--its owner should discontinue her present one with those nips
and cordials. She had no misgivings, so far, on this point; nor any,
apparently, about the seductive roll of a really fine pair of blue eyes.
While as for her hair, the bulk and number of the curl-papers it was
still screwed up in spoke volumes of what its release would reveal to an
astonished Sunday afternoon when its hour should come--not far off now.

There was a man in the darkened bar, smoking a long clay. Michael felt
as if he knew him as soon as he set eyes on him, but it was not till the
pipe was out of his mouth that he saw who he was. He had been ascribing
to the weight or pressure of the pipe the face-twist which, when it was
removed, showed as a slight distortion. It was the man he had seen
twice, once in the garden he had just left, and once at Sapps Court.
Michael considered that he was entitled to a gratuity from this man,
having interpreted his language as a promise to that effect, and having
received nothing so far.

He was not a diffident or timid character, as we know. "Seen you afore,
guv'nor!" was his greeting.

The man gave a start, breaking his pipe in three pieces, but getting no
farther than the first letter of an oath of irritation at the accident.
"What boy's this?" he cried out, with an earnestness nothing visible
warranted.

"Lard's mercy, Mr. Wix!" exclaimed the mistress of the house, turning
round from the compounding of the half-and-half. "What a turn you giv'!
And along of nothing but little Micky from Mrs. Treadwell next door!
Which most, Micky? Ale or stout?"

"Most of whichever costis most," answered Michael, with simplicity.
Thereon he felt himself taken by the arm, and turning, saw the man's
face looking close at him. It was the sort of face that makes the end of
a dream a discomfort to the awakener.

"Now, you young beggar!--_where_ have you seen me afore? I ain't going
to hurt you. You tell up straight and tell the truth."

"Not onlest you leave hold of my arm!"

"You do like he says, Mr. Wix.... Now you tell Mr. Wix, Micky. _He_
won't hurt you." Thus Miss Julia, procuring liberty for the hand to
receive the half-and-half she was balancing its foam on.

Michael rubbed the arm with his free hand as he took the brown
jug, to express resentment in moderation. But he answered his
questioner:--"Round in Sappses Court beyont the Dials acrost Oxford
Street keepin' to your left off Tottenham Court Road. You come to see
for a widder, and there warn't no widder for yer. Mean to say there
was?"

"Where I sent you, Mr. Wix," said Miss Julia. "To Sapps Court, where
Mrs. Treadwell directed me--where her nephew lives. That's this boy's
father. You'll find that right."

"Your Mrs. Treadmill, _she's_ all right. Sapps Court's all right of
itself. But it ain't the Court I was tracking out. If it was, they'd
have known the name of Daverill. Why--the place ain't no bigger than a
prison yard! About the length of down your back-garden to the water's
edge. It's the wrong Court, and there you have it in a word. She's in
Capps Court or Gapps Court--some * * * of a Court or other--not Sapps."
A metaphor has to be omitted here, as it might give offence. It was not
really a well-chosen or appropriate one, and is no loss to the text.
"What's this boy's name, and no lies?" he added after muttering to
himself on the same lines volcanically.

"How often do you want to be told _that_, Mr. Wix? This boy's Micky
Rackstraw, lives with his grandmother next door.... Well--her sister
then! It's all as one. Ain't you, Micky?"

"Ah! Don't live there, though. Comes easy-like, now and again. Like the
noospapers."

"He's a young liar, then. Told me his name was Ikey." Miss Hawkins
pointed out that Ikey and Micky were substantially identical. But she
was unable to make the same claim for Rackstraw and Ekins, when told
that Micky had laid claim to the latter. She waived the point and
conducted the beer-bearer back the way he came, handing him the brown
jug over the wall, not to spill it.

But she suggested, in consideration of the high quality of the
half-and-half, that her next-door neighbour might oblige by stepping in
by the private entrance, to speak concerning Sapps Court and its
inhabitants; all known to her more or less, no doubt. Which Aunt
Elizabeth was glad to do, seeing that the cherry-tart was only just put
in the oven, and she could spare that few minutes without risk.

Now, this old lady, though she was but a charwoman depending for
professional engagements rather on the goodwill--for auld lang syne--of
one or two families in Chiswick, of prodigious opulence in her eyes, yet
was regarded by Sapps Court, when she visited her niece, Mrs. Rackstraw,
or Ragstroar, Michael's mother, as distinctly superior. Aunt M'riar
especially had been so much impressed with a grey shawl with fringes and
a ready cule--spelt thus by repute--which she carried when she come of a
Sunday, that she had not only asked her to tea, but had taken her to pay
a visit to Mrs. Prichard upstairs. She had also in conversation taken
Aunt Elizabeth Jane largely into her confidence about Mrs. Prichard,
repeating, indeed, all she knew of her except what related to her
convict husband. About that she kept an honourable silence.

It was creditable to Miss Juliarawkins, whose name--written as
pronounced--gives us what we contend is an innocent pleasure, that she
should have suspected the truth about Wix or Daverill's want of
shrewdness when he visited Sapps Court. She had been biased towards this
suspicion by the fact that the man, when he first referred to Sapps
Court, had spoken the name as though sure of it; and it was to test its
validity that she invited Aunt Elizabeth Jane round by the private door,
and introduced her to the darkened bar, where the ex-convict was
lighting another pipe. She had heard Mrs. Treadwell speak of Aunt
M'riar; and now, having formed a true enough image of the area of the
Court, had come to the conclusion that all its inhabitants would be
acquainted, and would talk over each other's affairs.

"Who the Hell's that?" Mr. Wix started as if a wasp had stung him, as
the old charwoman's knock came at the private entrance alongside of the
bar. He seemed very sensitive, always on the watch for surprises.

"Only old Treadwell from next door. _She_ ain't going to hurt you, Tom.
You be easy." Miss Hawkins spoke with another manner as well as another
name now that she and this man were alone. She may never possibly have
known his own proper name, he having been introduced to her as Thomas
Wix twenty years ago. An introduction with a sequel which scarcely comes
into the story.

His answer was beginning:--"It's easy to say be easy ..." when the woman
left the room to admit Aunt Elizabeth Jane. Who came in finishing the
drying of hands, suddenly washed, on a clean Sunday apron. "Lawsy me,
Miss Hawkins!" said she. "I didn't know you had anybody here."

It was not difficult to _entamer_ the conversation. After a short
interlude about the weather, to which the man's contribution was a grunt
at most, the old lady had been started on the subject of her nephew and
Sapps Court, and to this he gave attention. If she had had her
tortoiseshell glasses she might have been frightened by the way he
knitted his brows to listen. But she had left them behind in her hurry,
and he kept back in a dark corner.

"About this same aged widow body," said he, fixing the conversation to
the point that interested him. "What sort of an age now should you give
her? Eighty--ninety--ninety-five--ninety-nine?" He stopped short of a
hundred. Nobody one knows is a hundred. Centenarians are only in
newspapers.

"I can tell you her age from her lips, mister. Eighty-one next birthday.
And her name, Maisie Prichard."

Mr. Wix's attention deepened, and his scowl with it. "Now, can you make
that safe to go upon?" he said with a harsh stress on a voice already
harsh. "How came the old lady to say her own christened name? I'll pound
it I might talk to you most of the day and never know your first name.
Old folks they half forget 'em as often as not."

Miss Hawkins struck in:--"Now you're talking silly, Mr. Wix. How many
young folk tell you their christened names right off?" But she had got
on weak ground. She got off it again discreetly. "Anyhow, Mrs. Treadwell
she's inventing nothing, having no call to." She turned to Aunt
Elizabeth Jane with the question:--"How come she to happen to mention
the name, ma'am?"

"Just as you or I might, Miss Julia. Mrs. Wardle she said, 'I was
remarking of it to Mrs. Treadwell,' she said, 'only just afore we come
upstairs, ma'am,' she said, 'that you was one of twins, ma'am,' she
said. And then old Mrs. Prichard she says, 'Ay, to be sure,' she says,
'twins we were--Maisie and Phoebe. Forty-five years ago she died, Phoebe
did,' she says. 'And I've never forgotten Phoebe,' she says. 'Nor yet I
shan't forget Phoebe not if I live to be a hundred!'"

"Goard blind my soul!" Mr. Wix muttered this to himself, and though Aunt
Elizabeth Jane failed to catch the words, she shuddered at the manner of
them. She did not like this Mr. Wix, and wished she had not forgotten
her tortoiseshell spectacles, so as to see better what he was like. The
words she heard him say next had nothing in them to cause a shudder,
though the manner of them showed vexation:--"If that ain't tryin' to a
man's temper! There she was all the time!" It is true he qualified this
last substantive by the adjective the story so often has to leave out,
but it was not very uncommon in those days along the riverside between
Fulham and Kew.

"I thought you said the name was Daverill," said Miss Hawkins, taking
the opportunity to release a curl-paper at a looking-glass behind
bottles. It was just upon time to open, and the barmaid had got her
Sunday out.

"Why the Hell shouldn't the name be Daverill? In course I did! Ask your
pardon for swearing, missis...." This was to the visitor, who had begun
to want to go. "You'll excuse my naming to you all my reasons, but I'll
just mention this one, not to be misunderstood. This here old lady's a
sort of old friend of mine, and when I came back from abroad I says to
myself I'd like to look up old Mrs. Daverill. So I make inquiry, you
see, and my man he tells me--he was an old mate of mine, you see--she's
gone to live at Sevenoaks--do you see?--at Sevenoaks...."

"Ah, I see! I've been at Sevenoaks."

"Well--there she had been and gone away to town again. Then says I,
'What's her address?' So they told me they didn't know, it was so long
agone. But the old woman--_her_ name was Killick, or Forbes was it?--no,
Killick--remembered directing on a letter to Mrs. Daverill, Sapps Court.
And Juliar here she said she'd heard tell of Sapps Court. So I hunted
the place up and found it. Then your Mrs. Wardle's husband--I take it he
was Moses Wardle the heavyweight in my young days--he put me off the
scent because of the name. The only way to make Prichard of her I can
see is--she married again. Well--did no one ever hear of an old fool
that got married again?"

"That's nothing," said Miss Hawkins. "They'll marry again with the
rattle in their throats."

That tart was in the oven, and had to be remembered. Or else Aunt
Elizabeth Jane wanted to see no more of Mr. Wix. "I must be running back
to my cooking," said she. "But if this gentleman goes again to find out
Sappses, he's only got to ask for my niece at Number One, or Mrs. Wardle
at Number Seven, and he'll find Mrs. Prichard easy." She did not speak
directly to the man, and he for his part noticed her departure very
slightly, giving it a fraction of a grunt he wanted the rest of later.

Nor did Aunt Elizabeth Jane seem in a great hurry to get away when Miss
Hawkins had seen her to the door. She lingered a moment to refer to
Aunt's M'riar's talk of Widow Prichard. Certainly Mrs. Wardle at Number
Seven _she_ said nothing of any second marriage, and thought Prichard
was the name of the old lady's first husband, who had died in Van
Diemen's Land. Miss Julia paid very little attention. What business of
hers was Widow Prichard? She was much more interested in a couple of
policemen walking along the lane. Not a very common spectacle in that
retired thoroughfare! Also, instead of following on along the riverside
road it opened into, they both wheeled right-about-face and came back.

Miss Julia, taking down a shutter to reinstate The Pigeons as a tavern
open to customers, noted that the faces of these two were strange to
her. Also that they passed her with the barest good-morning,
forbiddingly. The police generally cultivate intercourse with
public-house keepers of every sort, but when one happens to be a lady
with ringlets especially so; even should her complexion be partly due to
correctives, to amalgamate a blotchiness. These officers overdid their
indifference, and it attracted Miss Julia's attention.

Aunt Elizabeth Jane thought at the time she might have mistaken what
she heard one of them say to the other. For, of course, she passed them
close. The words she heard seemed to be:--"That will be Hawkins."
Something in them rang false with her concept of the situation. But
there was the cherry-tart to be seen to, and some peas to boil. Only not
the whole lot at once for only her and Michael! As for that boy, she had
sent him off to the baker's, the minute he came back, to wait till the
bit of the best end of the neck was sure to be quite done, and bring it
away directly minute.

       *       *       *       *       *

That day there was an unusually high spring-tide on the river, and
presumably elsewhere; only that did not concern Hammersmith, which
ascribed the tides to local impulses inherent in the Thames. Just after
midday the water was all but up to the necks of the piers of Hammersmith
Bridge, and the island at Chiswick was nearly submerged. Willows
standing in lakes were recording the existence of towing-paths no longer
able to speak for themselves, and the insolent plash of ripples over
wharves that had always thought themselves above that sort of thing
seemed to say:--"Thus far will I come, and a little farther for that
matter." Father Thames never quite touched the landing of the
boat-ladder, at the end of the garden at The Pigeons, but he went within
six inches of it.

"The water wasn't like you see it now, that day," said a man in the
stern of a boat that was hanging about off the garden. "All of five foot
lower down, I should figure it. _He_ didn't want no help to get up--not
he!"

"It was a tidy jump up, any way you put it," said the stroke oar.

"Well--he could have done it! But he was aiming to help his man to a
seat in the boat, not to get a lift up for himself. I've not a word to
say against Toby Ibbetson, mind you! He took an advantage some wouldn't,
maybe. And then it's how you look at it, when all's done. You know what
Daverill was wanted for?" Oh yes--both oars knew that. "I call to mind
the place--knew it well enough. Out near Waltham Abbey. Lonely sort of
spot.... Yes--the girl died. Not before she'd had time to swear to the
twist in his face. He had been seen and identified none so far off an
hour before. Quite a young girl. Father cut his throat. So would you.
Thought he ought to have seen the girl safe home. So he ought. Ain't
that our man's whistle?" The boat, slowly worked in towards The Pigeons,
lays to a few strokes off on the slack water. The tide's mandate to stop
has come. The sergeant is waiting for a second whistle to act.

Inside the tavern the woman has closed the street-door abruptly--has
given the alarm. "There's two in the lane!" she gasps. "Be sharp, Tom!"

"Through the garden?" he says. "Run out to see."

She is back almost before the door she opens has swung to. "It's all up,
Tom," she cries. "There's the boat!"

"Stand clear, Juli-ar!" he says. "I'll have a look at your roof. Needn't
say I'm at home. Where's the key?"

"I'll give it you. You go up!" She forgets something, though, in her
hurry. His pipe remains on the table where he left it smoking, lying
across the unemptied pewter. _He_ forgets it, too, though he follows her
deliberately enough. Recollection and emergency rarely shake hands.

She meets him on the stairs coming down from the room where the
paralysed man lies, hearing but little, seeing only the walls and the
ceiling. "It's on the corner of the chimney-piece," she says. "_He's_
asleep." Daverill passes her, and just as he reaches the door remembers
the pipe. It would be fatal to call out with that single knock at the
house-door below. Too late!

She still forgets that pipe, and only waits to be sure he is through, to
open the door to the knocker. By the time she does so he has found the
key and passed through the dormer door that gives on the leads. The
paralysed man has not moved. Moreover, he cannot see the short ladder
that leads to the exit. It is on his dead side.

"You've a party here that's wanted, missis. Name of Wix or Daverill. Man
about five-and-forty. Dark hair and light eyes. Side-draw on the mouth.
Goes with a lurch. Two upper front eye-teeth missing. Carries a gold
hunting-watch on a steel chain. Wears opal ring of apparent value.
Stammers slightly." So the police-officer reads from his warrant or
instructions, which he offers to show to Miss Hawkins, who scarcely
glances at it.

Who so surprised and plausible as she? Why--her father is the only man
in the house, and him on his back this fifteen years or more! What's
more, he doesn't wear an opal ring. Nor any ring at all, for that
matter! But come in and see. Look all over the house if desired. _She_
won't stand in the way.

"Our instruction is to search," says the officer. He looks like a
sub-inspector, and is evidently what a malefactor would consider a "bad
man" to have anything to do with. Miss Hawkins knows that her right of
sanctuary, if any, is a feeble claim, probably overruled by some police
regulation; and invites the officers into the house, almost too
demonstratively. Just then she suddenly recollects that pipe.

"You can find your way in, mister," she says; and goes through to the
bar. The moment she does so the officer shows alacrity.

"Keep an eye to that cellar-flap, Jacomb," he says to his mate, and
follows the lady of the house. He is only just in time. "Is that your
father's pipe?" he asks. In another moment she would have hidden it.

"Which pipe?--oh, this pipe?--_this_ pipe ain't nothing. Left stood
overnight, I suppose." And she paused to think of the best means of
getting the pipe suppressed. There was no open grate in the bar to throw
it behind. She was a poor liar, too, and was losing her head.

"Give me hold a quarter of a minute," says the officer. She cannot
refuse to give the pipe up. "Someone's had a whiff off this pipe since
closing-time last night," he continues, touching the still warm bowl;
for all this had passed very quickly. And he actually puts the pipe to
his lips, and in two or three draws works up its lingering spark. "A
good mouthful of smoke," says he, blowing it out in a cloud.

"You can look where you like," mutters the woman sullenly. "There's no
man for you. Only you won't want to disturb my father. He's only just
fell asleep."

"He'll be sleeping pretty sound after fifteen year." Thus the officer,
and the unhappy woman felt she had indeed made a complete mess of the
case. "Which is his room now, ma'am? We'll go there first."

Up the stairs and past a window looking on the garden. The day is hot
beneath the July sun, and the two men in uniform who are coming up the
so-called garden, or rather gravelled yard, behind The Pigeons, are
mopping the sweat from their brows. They might have been customers from
the river, but Miss Hawkins knows the look of them too well for that.
The house is surrounded--watched back and front. Escape is hopeless,
successful concealment the only chance.

"Been on his back like that for fifteen years, has he?" So says the
officer looking at the prostrate figure of the old man on the couch. He
is not asleep now--far from it. His mouth begins to move, uttering
jargon. His one living eye has light in it. There is something he wants
to say and struggles for in vain. "Can't make much out of that," is the
verdict of his male hearer. His daughter can say that he is asking his
visitor's name and what he wants. He can understand when spoken to, she
says. But the intruder is pointing at the door leading to the roof.
"Where does that go to?" he asks.

"Out on the tiles. I'll see for the key and let you through, if you'll
stop a minute." It is the only good bit of acting she has done. Perhaps
despair gives histrionic power. She sees a chance of deferring the
breaking-down of that door, and who knows what may hang on a few minutes
of successful delay? Before she goes she suggests again that the
paralysed man will understand what is said to him if spoke to plain.
Clearly, he who speaks plain to him will do a good-natured act.

Whether the officer's motives are Samaritan or otherwise, he takes the
hint. As the woman gets out of hearing, he says:--"You are the master of
this house, I take it?" And his hearer's crippled mouth half succeeds in
its struggle for an emphatic assent. He continues:--"In course you are.
I'm Sub-Inspector Cardwell, N Division. There's a man concealed in your
house I'm after. He's wanted.... Who is he?"--a right guess of an
unintelligible question--"You mean what name does he go by? Well--his
name's Daverill, but he's called Thornton or Wix as may be. P'r'aps you
know him, sir?" Whether or no, the name has had effect electrically on
its hearer, who struggles frantically--painfully--hopelessly for speech.
The officer says commiseratingly:--"Poor devil!--he's quite off his
jaw"; and then, going to the open window, calls out to his mates of the
river-service, below in the garden:--"Keep an eye on the roof, boys."

Then he goes out on the stair-landing. That woman is too long away--it
is out of all reason. As he passes the paralytic man, he notes that he
seems to be struggling violently for something--either to speak or to
rise. He cannot tell which, and he does best to hasten the return of the
woman who can.

Out on the landing, Miss Hawkins, who has not been looking for keys, but
supplying her first Sunday customers in their own jugs, protests that
she has fairly turned the house over in her key-hunt--all in vain! Her
interest seems vivid that these police shall not be kept off her roof.
She suggests that a builder's yard in the Kew Road will furnish a ladder
long enough to reach the roof. "Shut on Sunday!" says Sub-Inspector
Cardwell conclusively. Then let someone who knows how be summoned to
pick the lock. By all means, if such a person is at hand. But no trade
will come out Sunday, except the turn-cock, obviously useless. That is
the verdict. "You'll never be for breaking down the door, Mr. Inspector,
with my father there ill in the room!"--is the woman's appeal. "Not till
we've looked everywhere else," is the reply. "I'll say that much. I'll
see through the cupboards in the room, though. _That_ won't hurt him."

Little did either of them anticipate what met their eyes as the door
opened. There on the couch, no longer on his back, but sitting up and
gasping for clearer speech, which he seemed to have achieved in part,
was the paralysis-stricken man. The left hand, powerless no longer, was
still uncertain of its purpose, and wavered in its ill-directed motion;
the right, needed to raise him from his pillow, grasped the level
moulding of the couch-back. Its fingers still showed a better colour
than those of its fellow, which trembled and closed and reopened, as
though to make trial of their new-found power. His eyes were fixed on
this hand rather than on his daughter or the stranger. His knees jerked
against the light bondage of a close dressing-gown, and his right foot
was striving to lift or help the other down to the floor. Probably life
was slower to return to it than to the hand, as the blood returns
soonest to the finger-tips after frost. Only the face was quite
changed from its seeming of but ten minutes back. The voice choked
and stammered still, but speech came in the end, breaking out with a
shout-burst:--"Stop--stop--stop!"

"Easy so--easy so!" says the police-officer, as the woman gives way to a
fit of hysterical crying, more the breaking-point of nerve-tension than
either joy or pain. "Easy so, master!--easy does it. Don't you be
frightened. Plenty of time and to spare!"

The old man gets his foot to the floor, and his daughter, under no
impulse of reason--mere nerve-paroxysm--runs to his side crying
out:--"No, dear father! No, dear father! Lie down--lie down!" She is
trying to force him back to his pillow, while he chokes out something he
finds it harder to say than "Stop--stop!" which still comes at
intervals.

"I should make it easy for him, Miss Hawkins, if I was in your place.
Let the old gentleman please himself." Thus the officer, whose
sedateness of manner acts beneficially. She accepts the suggestion,
standing back from her father with a stupid, bewildered gaze, between
him and the exit to the roof. "Give him time," says Sub-Inspector
Cardwell.

He takes the time, and his speech dies down. But he can move that hand
better now--may make its action serve for speech. Slowly he raises it
and points--points straight at his daughter. He wants her help--is that
it? She thinks so, but when she acts on the impulse he repels her,
feebly shouting out: "No--no--no!"

"Come out from between him and the clock, missis," says the officer,
thinking he has caught a word right, and that a clock near the door is
what the old man points at. "He thinks it's six o'clock."

But the word was not _six_. The daughter moves aside, and yet the finger
points. "It's nowhere near six, father dear!" she says. "Not one o'clock
yet!" But still the finger points. And now a wave of clearer
articulation overcomes a sibilant that has been the worst enemy of
speech, and leaves the tongue free. "Wix!" That's the word.

"Got it!" exclaims the officer, and the woman with a shriek falls
insensible. He takes little notice of her, but whistles for his mate
below--a peculiar whistle. It brings the man who was keeping watch in
the lane. "Got him all right," says his principal. "Out here on the
tiles. That's your meaning, I take it, Mr. Hawkins?" The old man nods
repeatedly. "And he's took the key out with him and locked to the door.
That's it, is it?" More nods, and then the officer mounts the short
ladder and knocks hard upon the door. He speaks to the silence on the
other side. "You've been seen, Mr. Wix. It's a pity to spoil a good
lock. You've got the key. We can wait a bit. Don't hurry!"

Footsteps on the roof, and a shout from the garden below! He is seen
now--no doubt of it--whatever he was before. What is that they are
calling from the garden? "He's got a loose tile. Look out!"

"Don't give him a chance to aim with it," says Jacomb below to his chief
on the ladder. Who replies:--"He's bound to get half a chance. Keep your
eyes open!" A thing to be done, certainly, with that key sounding in the
lock.

The officer Cardwell only waited to hear it turn to throw his full
weight on the door, which opened outwards. He scarcely waited for the
back-click to show that the door, which had no hasp or clutch beyond the
key-service, was free on its hinges. Nevertheless, he was not so quick
but that the man beyond was quicker, springing back sharp on the turn of
his own hand. Cardwell stumbled as the door gave, unexpectedly easily,
and nearly fell his length on the leads.

Jacomb, on the second rung of the step-ladder, feels the wind of a
missile that all but touches his head. He does not look round to see
what it strikes, but he hears a cry; man or woman, or both. In front of
him is his principal, on his legs again, grasping the wrist of the right
hand that threw the tile, while his own is on its owner's throat.

"All right--all right!" says Mr. Wix. "You can stow it now. I could have
given you that tile under your left ear. But the right man's got the
benefit. You may just as well keep the snitchers for when I'm down.
There's no such * * * hurry." Nevertheless, the eyes of both officers
are keen upon him as he descends the ladder under sufferance.

On the floor below, beside the bed he lay on through so many weary
years, lies Miss Julia's old father, stunned or dead. Her own
insensibility has passed, but has left her in bewilderment, dizzy and
confused, as she kneels over him and tries for a sign of life in vain.
At the ladder-foot the officers have fitted their prisoner with
handcuffs; and then Cardwell, leaving him, goes to lift the old man back
to his couch. But first he calls from the window:--"Got him all right!
Fetch the nearest doctor."

Through the short interval between this and Daverill's removal, words
came from him which may bring the story home or explain it if events
have not done so already. "The old * * * has got his allowance. _He_
won't ask for no more. Who was he, to be meddling? You was old enough in
all conscience, July-ar!" His pronunciation of her name has a hint of a
sneer in it--a sneer at the woman he victimised, some time in the
interval between his desertion of his wife and his final error of
judgment--dabbling in burglary. She might have been spared insult; for
whatever her other faults were, want of affection for her betrayer was
not among them, or she would not have run the risks of concealing him
from the police.

Her paralytic father's sudden reanimation under stress of excitement
was, of course, an exceptionally well-marked instance of a phenomenon
well enough known to pathologists. It had come within his power to
avenge the wrong done to his daughter, and never forgiven by him.
Whether the officers would have broken down the door, if he had not
seized his opportunity, may be uncertain, but there can be no doubt that
the operative cause of Daverill's capture was his recovery of vital
force under the stimulus of excitement at the amazing chance offered him
of bringing it about.

The affair made so little noise that only a very few Sunday loiterers
witnessed what was visible of it in the lane, which was indeed little
more than the unusual presence of two policemen. Then, after a surgeon
had been found and had attended to the injured man, it leaked out that a
malefactor had been apprehended at The Pigeons and taken away in the
police-boat to the Station lower down the river.

That singular couple, Michael Ragstroar and his great-aunt, had got to
the cherry-tart before a passing neighbour, looking in at their window,
acquainted them what had happened. If after Michael come from the
bake-'us with the meat, which kep' hot stood under its cover in the sun
all of five minutes and no one any the worse, while the old lady boiled
a potato--if Michael had not been preoccupied with a puppy in this
interim, he might easy have seen the culprit took away in the boat. He
regretted his loss; but his aunt, from whom we borrow a word now and
then, pointed out to him that we must not expect everything in this
world. Also the many blessings that had been vouchsafed to him by a
Creator who had his best interests at heart. Had he not vouchsafed him a
puppy?--on lease certainly; but he would find that puppy here next time
he visited Hammersmith, possibly firmer in his gait and nothing like so
round over the stomach. And there was the cherry-tart, and the crust had
rose beautiful.

Michael got home very late, and was professionally engaged all the week
with his father. He saw town, but nothing of his neighbours, returning
always towards midnight intensely ready for bed. By the time he chanced
across our friend Dave on the following Saturday, other scenes of London
Life had obscured his memory of that interview at The Pigeons and its
sequel. So, as it happened, Sapps Court heard nothing about either.

The death of Miss Hawkins's father, a month later, did not add a
contemptible manslaughter to Thornton Daverill's black list of crimes.
For the surgeon who attended him--while admitting to her privately that,
of course, it was the blow on the temple that brought about the cause of
death--denied that it was itself the cause; a nice distinction. But it
seemed needless to add to the score of a criminal with enough to his
credit to hang him twice over; especially when an Inquest could be
avoided by accommodation with Medical Jurisprudence. So the surgeon, at
the earnest request of the dead man's daughter, made out a certificate
of death from something that sounded plausible, and might just as well
have been cessation of life. It was nobody's business to criticize it,
and nobody did.



CHAPTER XV

     THE BEER AT THE KING'S ARMS. HOW UNCLE MO READ THE _STAR_, LIKE A
     CHALDEAN, AND BROKE HIS SPECTACLES. HOW THE _STAR_ TOLD OF A
     CONVICT'S ESCAPE FROM A JUG. HOW AUNT M'RIAR OVERHEARD THE NAME
     "DAVERILL," AND WAS QUITE UPSET-LIKE. HER DEGREES AND DATES OF
     INFORMATION ABOUT THIS MAN AND HIS ANTECEDENTS. UNCLE MO'S
     IGNORANCE ABOUT HERS. HOW SHE DID NOT GIVE THE _STAR_ TO MRS. BURR
     INTACT


The unwelcome visitor who, in the phrase of Uncle Mo, had made Sapps
Court stink--a thing outside the experience of its inhabitants--bade
fair to be forgotten altogether. Michael, the only connecting link
between the two, had all memory of the Hammersmith arrest quite knocked
out of his head a few days later by a greater incident--his father
having been arrested and fined for an assault on a competitor in
business, with an empty sack. It was entirely owing to the quality of
the beer at the King's Arms that Mr. Rackstraw lost his temper.

But Daverill's corruption of the Court's pure air was not destined to
oblivion. It was revived by the merest accident; the merest, that is, up
to that date. There have been many merer ones since, unless the phrase
has been incorrectly used in recent literature.

One day in July, when Uncle Moses was enjoying his afternoon pipe with
his old friend Affability Bob, or Jerry Alibone, and reading one of the
new penny papers--it was the one called the _Morning Star_, now no
more--he let his spectacles fall when polishing them; and, rashly
searching for them, broke both glasses past all redemption. He was much
annoyed, seeing that he was in the middle of a sensational account of
the escape of a prisoner from Coldbath Fields house of detention; a gaol
commonly known the "The Jug." It was a daring business, and Uncle Mo had
just been at the full of his enjoyment of it when the accident happened.

"Have you never another pair, Mo?" said Mr. Alibone. And Uncle Mo called
out to Aunt M'riar:--"M'riar!--just take a look round and see for them
old glasses upstairs. I've stood down on mine, and as good as spiled
'em. Look alive!" For, you see, he was all on end to know how this
prisoner, who had been put in irons for violence, and somehow got free
and overpowered a gaoler who came alone into his cell, had contrived his
final escape from the prison.

Mr. Alibone was always ready to deserve his name of Affability Bob.
"Give me hold of the paper, Mo," said he. "Where was you?... Oh
yes--here we are!... 'almost unparalleled audacity.' ... I'll go on
there." For Uncle Mo had read some aloud, and Mr. Alibone he wanted to
know too, to say the truth. And he really was a lot better scollard than
Mo--when it came to readin' out loud--and tackled "unparalleled" as if
it was just nothing at all; it being the word that brought Moses up
short; and, indeed, Aunt M'riar, whom we quote, had heard him wrestling
with it through the door, and considered it responsible for the
accident. Anyhow, Mr. Jerry was equal to it, and read the remainder of
the paragraph so you could hear every word.

"What I don't make out," said Uncle Mo, "is why he didn't try the same
game without getting the leg-irons on him. He hadn't any call to be
violent--that I see--barring ill-temper."

"That was all part of the game, Mo. Don't you see the game? It was
putting reliance on the irons led to this here warder making so free.
You go to the Zoarlogical Gardens in the Regency Park, and see if the
keeper likes walking into the den when the Bengal tiger's loose in it.
These chaps get like that, and they have to get the clinkers on 'em."

"Don't quite take your idear, Jerry. Wrap it up new."

"Don't you _see_, old Mo? He shammed savage to get the irons on his
legs, knowing how he might come by a file--which I don't, and it hasn't
come out, that I see. Then he spends the inside o' the night getting
through 'em, and rigs himself up like a picter, just so as if they was
on. So the officer was took in, with him going on like a lamb. Then up
he jumps and smashes his man's skull--makes no compliments about it, you
see. Then he closes to the door and locks it to enjoy a little leisure.
And then he changes their sootes of cloze across, and out he walks for
change of air. And he's got it!"

Uncle Mo reflected and said:--"P'r'aps!" Then Aunt M'riar, who had
hunted up the glasses without waking the children, reappeared, bringing
them; and Uncle Mo found they wouldn't do, and only prevented his seeing
anything at all. So he was bound to have a new pair and pay by the week.
A cheap pair, that would see him out, come to threepence a week for
three months.

The discovery of this painful fact threw the escaped prisoner into the
shade, and the _Morning Star_ would have been lost sight of--because it
was only Monday's paper, after all!--unless Aunt M'riar she'd put it by
for upstairs to have their turn of it, and Mrs. Burr could always read
some aloud to Mrs. Prichard, failing studious energy on the part of the
old lady. She reproduced it in compliance with the current of events.

For Uncle Moses, settling down to a fresh pipe after supper, said to his
friend, similarly occupied:--"What, now, was the name of that
charackter--him as got out at the Jug?"

"Something like Mackerel," said Mr. Alibone.

"Wrong you are, for once, Jerry! 'Twarn't no more Mackerel than it was
Camberwell."

Said Mr. Jerry:--"Take an even tizzy on it, Mo?" He twisted the paper
about to recover the paragraph, and found it. "Here we are! 'Ralph
Daverill, _alias_ Thornton, _alias_ Wix, _alias_!' ..."

"Never mind his ale-houses, Jerry. That's the name I'm consarned
with--Daverill.... What's the matter with M'riar?"

Uncle Mo had not finished his sentence owing to an interruption. For
Aunt M'riar, replacing some table-gear she was shifting, had sat down
suddenly on the nearest chair.

"Never you mind me, you two. Just you go on talking." So said Aunt
M'riar. Only she looked that scared it might have been a ghost. So Mrs.
Burr said after, who came in that very minute from a prolonged trying
on.

"Take a little something, M'riar," said Uncle Mo. He got up and went to
the cupboard close at hand, to get the something, which would almost
certainly have taken the form of brandy. But Aunt M'riar she said never
mind _her_!--she would be all right in a minute. And in a metaphorical
minute she pulled herself together, and went on clearing off the
supper-table. Suggestions of remedies or assistance seemed alike
distasteful to her, whether from Mrs. Burr or the two men, and there was
no doubt she was in earnest in preferring to be left to herself. So Mrs.
Burr she went up to her own supper, with thanks in advance for the
newspaper when quite done with, according to the previous intention of
Aunt M'riar.

The two smokers picked life up at the point of interruption, while Aunt
M'riar made a finish of her operations in the kitchen. Uncle Mo
said:--"Good job for you I didn't take your wager, Jerry. Camberwell
isn't in it. Mackerel goes near enough to landing--as near as Davenant,
which is what young Carrots called him."

This was the case--for Michael, though he had been silent at the time
about the Inquest, had been unable to resist the temptation to correct
Uncle Moses when the old boy asked: "_Wot_ did he say was the blooming
name of the party he was after--Daverill--Daffodil?" His answer
was:--"No it warn't! Davenant was what _he_ said." His acumen had gone
the length of perceiving in the stranger's name a resemblance to the
version of it heard more plainly in the Court at Hammersmith. This
correction had gratified and augmented his secret sense of importance,
without leading to any inquiries. Uncle Mo accepted Davenant as more
intrinsically probable than Daffodil or Daverill, and forgot both names
promptly. For a subsequent mention of him as Devilskin, when he referred
to the incident later in the day, can scarcely be set down to a
recollection of the name. It was quite as much an appreciation of the
owner.

"But what's your consarn with any of 'em, Mo?" said Mr. Jerry.

Uncle Moses took his pipe out of his mouth to say, almost
oratorically:--"Don't you _re_-member, Jerry, me telling you--Sunday six
weeks it was--about a loafing wagabond who came into this Court to hunt
up a widder named Daverill or Daffodil, or some such a name?" Uncle
Moses paused a moment. A plate had fallen in the kitchen. Nothing was
broke, Aunt M'riar testified, and closed the door. Uncle Mo
continued:--"I told you Davenant, because of young Radishes. But I'll
pound it I was right and he was wrong. Don't you call to mind,
Jeremiah?" For Uncle Mo often addressed his friend thus, for a greater
impressiveness. Jeremiah recalled the incident on reflection. "There you
are, you see," continued Uncle Mo. "Now you bear in mind what I tell
you, sir;"--this mode of address was also to gain force--"He's him! That
man's _him_--the very identical beggar! And this widder woman he was for
hunting up, she's his mother or his aunt."

"Or his sister--no!--sister-in-law."

"Not if she's a widder's usual age, Jerry." Uncle Mo always figured to
himself sisters, and even sisters-in-law, as essentially short of middle
life. You may remember also his peculiar view that married twins could
not survive their husbands.

"What sort of man did you make him out to be, Mo?"

"A bad sort in a turn-up with no rules. Might be handy with a knife on
occasion. Foxy sort of wiper!"

"Not your sort, Mo?"

"Too much ill-will about him. Some of the Fancy may have run into bad
feeling in my time, but mostly when they shook hands inside the ropes
they meant it. How's yourself, M'riar?" Here Aunt M'riar came in after
washing up, having apparently overheard none of the conversation.

"I'm nicely, Mo, thankee! Have you done with the paper, Mr. Alibone?...
Thanks--I'll give it to 'em upstairs.... Oh yes! I'm to rights. It was
nothing but a swimming in the head! Goodnight!" And off went Aunt
M'riar, leaving the friends to begin and end about two more pipes; to
talk over bygones of the Ring and the Turf, and to part after midnight.

       *       *       *       *       *

Observe, please, that until Mr. Jerry read aloud from the _Star_ Mr.
Wix's _aliases_, Aunt M'riar had had no report of this escaped convict,
except under the name of Davenant; and, indeed, very little under that,
because Uncle Mo, in narrating to her the man's visit to Sapps Court,
though he gave the name of his inquiry as Davenant, spoke of the man
himself almost exclusively as Devilskin. And really she had paid very
little attention to the story, or the names given. At the time of the
man's appearance in the Court nothing transpired to make her associate
him with any past experience of her own. He was talked about at dinner
on that Sunday certainly; but then, consider the responsibilities of the
carving and distribution of that shoulder of mutton.

Aunt M'riar did not give the newspaper to Mrs. Burr, to read to Mrs.
Prichard, till next day. Perhaps it was too late, at near eleven
o'clock. When she did, it was with a reservation. Said she to Mrs.
Burr:--"You won't mind losing the bit I cut out, just to keep for the
address?--the cheapest shoes I ever did!--and an easy walk just out of
Oxford Street." She added that Dave was very badly off in this respect.
But she said nothing about what was on the other side of the shoe-shop
advertisement. Was she bound to do so? Surely one side of a
newspaper-cutting justifies the scissors. If Aunt M'riar could want one
side, ever so little, was she under any obligation to know anything
about the other side?

Anyhow, the result was that old Mrs. Prichard lost this opportunity of
knowing that her son was at large. And even if the paragraph had not
been removed, its small type might have kept her old eyes at bay.
Indeed, Mrs. Burr's testimony went to show that the old lady's
inspection of the paper scarcely amounted to solid perusal. Said she,
accepting the _Star_ from Aunt M'riar next morning, apropos of the
withdrawn paragraph: "That won't be any denial to Mrs. Prichard, ma'am.
There's a-many always wants to read the bit that's tore off, showin' a
contradictious temper like. But she ain't that sort, being more by way
of looking at the paper than studying of its contents." Mrs. Burr then
preached a short homily on the waste of time involved in a close
analysis of the daily press, such as would enable the reader to
discriminate between each day's issue and the next. For her part the
news ran similar one day with another, without, however, blunting her
interest in human affairs. She imputed an analogous attitude of mind to
old Mrs. Prichard, the easier of maintenance that the old lady's failing
sight left more interpretations of the text open to her imagination.

Mrs. Burr, moreover, went on to say that Mrs. Prichard had been that
upset by hearing about the builders, that she wasn't herself. This odd
result could not but interfere with the reading of even the lightest
literature. Its cause calls for explanation. Circumstances had arisen
which, had they occurred in the wintertime, would have been a serious
embarrassment to the attic tenants in Sapps Court. As it chanced, the
weather was warm and dry; otherwise old Mrs. Prichard and Mrs. Burr
would just have had to turn out, to allow the builder in, to attend to
the front wall. For there was no doubt that it was bulging and ought to
have been seen to, aeons ago. And it was some days since the landlord's
attention had been called, and Bartletts the builders had waked all the
dwellers in Sapps Court who still slept at six o'clock, by taking out a
half a brick or two to make a bearing for as many putlogs--pronounced
pudlocks--as were needed for a little bit of scaffold. For there was
more than you could do off a ladder, if you was God A'mighty Himself.
Thus Mr. Bartlett, and Aunt M'riar condemned his impiety freely. Before
the children! Closely examined, his speech was reverential, and an
acknowledgment of the powers of the Constructor of the Universe as
against the octave-stretch forlorn of our limitations. But it was
Anthropomorphism, no doubt.



CHAPTER XVI

     OF LONDON BUILDERS, AND THEIR GREAT SKILL. OF THE HUMILIATING
     POSITION OF A SHAMEFACED BAT. HOW MR. BARTLETT MADE ALL GOOD. A
     PEEP INTO MRS. PRICHARD'S MIND, LEFT ALONE WITH HER PAST. MR.
     BARTLETT'S TRUCK, AND DAVE WARDLE'S ANNEXATION OF IT. MRS.
     TAPPING'S IMPRESSIONABILITY. AN ITALIAN MUSICIAN'S MONKEY. A CLEAN
     FINISH. THE BULL AND THE DUCKPOND. OF MRS. PRICHARD'S JEALOUSY OF
     MRS. MARROWBONE. CANON LAW. HOW DAVE DESCRIBED HER RIVAL. HER
     SISTER PHOEBE. BUT--WHY DAVERILL, OF ALL NAMES IN THE WORLD?
     FOURPENNYWORTH OF CRUMPETS


If you have ever given attention to buildings in the course of erection
in London, you must have been struck with their marvellous stability.
The mere fact that they should remain standing for five minutes after
the removal of the scaffold must have seemed to you to reflect credit on
the skill of the builder; but that they should do so for a
lifetime--even for a century!--a thing absolutely incredible. Especially
you must have been impressed by the nine-inch wall, in which every other
course at least consists of bats and closures. You will have marvelled
that so large a percentage of bricks can appear to have been delivered
broken; but this you would have been able to account for had you watched
the builder at work, noting his vicious practice of halving a sound
brick whenever he wants a bat. It is an instinct, deep-rooted in
bricklayers, against which unprofessional remonstrance is useless--an
instinct that he fights against with difficulty whenever popular
prejudice calls for full bricks on the face. So when the wall is not to
be rendered in compo or plaster, he just shoves a few in, on the courses
of stretchers, leaving every course of headers to a lifetime of
effrontery. What does it matter to him? But it must be most painful to a
conscientious bat to be taken for a full brick by every passer-by, and
to be unable to contradict it.

Now the real reason why the top wall of No. 7, Sapps Court was bulging
was one that never could surprise anyone conversant to this extent with
nine-inch walls. For there is a weakest point in every such wall, where
the plate is laid to receive the joists, or jystes; which may be
pronounced either way, but should always be nine-inch. For if they are
six-inch you have to shove 'em in nearer together, and that weakens
your wall, put it how you may. You work it out and see if it don't come
out so. So said the builder, Mr. Bartlett, at No. 7, Sapps Court, when
having laid bare the ends of the top-floor joists in Mrs. Prichard's
front attic it turned out just like he said it would--six-inch jystes
with no hold to 'em, and onto that all perished at the ends! Why ever
they couldn't go to a new floor when they done the new roof Mr. Bartlett
could not conceive. They had not, and what was worse they had carried up
the wall on the top of the old brickwork, adding to the dead weight; and
it only fit to pull down, as you might say.

However, the weather was fine and warm all the time Mr. Bartlett rebuilt
two foot of wall by sections; which he did careful, a bit at a time. And
all along, till they took away the scaffolding and made good them two or
three pudlock-holes off of a ladder, they was no annoyance at all to
Mrs. Prichard, nor yet to Mrs. Burr, excepting a little of that sort of
flaviour that goes with old brickwork, and a little of another that
comes with new, and a bit of plasterers' work inside to make good.
Testimony was current in and about the house to this effect, and may be
given broadly in the terms in which it reached Uncle Moses. His comment
was that the building trade was a bad lot, mostly; you had only to take
your eye off it half a minute, and it was round at the nearest bar
trying the four-half. Mr. Jerry's experience had been the same.

Mrs. Burr was out all day, most of the time; so it didn't matter to her.
But it was another thing for the old woman, sometimes alone for hours
together; alone with her past. At such times her sleeping or waking
dreams mixed with the talk of the bricklayers outside, or the sound of a
piano from one of the superior houses that back-wall screened the Court
from--though they had no call to give theirselves airs that the Court
could see--a piano on which talent was playing scales with both hands,
but which wanted tuning. Old Mrs. Prichard was not sensitive about a
little discord now and again. As she sat there alone, knitting worsteds
or dozing, it brought back old times to her, before her troubles began.
She and her sister could both play easy tunes, such as the "Harmonious
Blacksmith" and the "Evening Hymn," on the square piano she still
remembered so well at the Mill. And this modern piano--heard through
open windows in the warm summer air, and mixing with the
indistinguishable sounds of distant traffic--had something of the effect
of that instrument of seventy years ago, breaking the steady monotone of
rushing waters under the wheel that scarcely ever paused, except on
Sunday. What had become of the old square piano she and Phoebe learned
to play scales on? What becomes of all the old furnishings of the rooms
of our childhood? Did any man ever identify the bed he slept in, the
table he ate at, half a century ago, in the chance-medley of
second-hand--third-hand--furniture his father's insolvency or his own
consigned it to? Would she know the old square piano again now, with all
its resonances dead--a poor, faint jargon only in some few scattered
wires, far apart? Yes--she would know it among a hundred, by the inlaid
bay-leaves on the lid that you could lift up to look inside. But that
was accounted lawless, and forbidden by authority.

She dreamed herself back into the old time, and could see it all. The
sound of the piano became mixed, as she sat half dozing, with the smell
of the lilies of the valley which--according to a pleasing fiction of
Dolly Wardle--that little person's doll had brought upstairs for her,
keeping wide awake until she see 'em safe on the table in a mug. But the
sound and the smell were of the essence of the mill, and were sweet to
the old heart that was dying slowly down--would soon die outright. Both
merged in a real dream with her sister's voice in it, saying
inexplicably: "In the pocket of your shot silk, dear." Then she woke
with a start, sorry to lose the dream; specially annoyed that she had
not heard what the carman--outside with her father--had begun to say
about the thing Phoebe was speaking of. She forgot what that was, and it
was very stupid of her.

That was Mr. Bartlett outside, laying bricks; not the carman at all.
What was that he was saying?

"B'longed to a Punch's show, he did. Couldn't stand it no longer, he
couldn't. The tune it got on his narves, it did! If it hadn't 'a been
for a sort o' reel ease he got takin' of it quick and slow--like the
Hoarperer--he'd have gave in afore; so there was no pretence. It's all
werry fine to say temp'ry insanity, but I tell you it's the contrairy
when a beggar comes to his senses and drownds hisself. Wot'd the Pope do
if he had to play the same tune over and over and over and over?...
Mortar, John! And 'and me up a nice clean cutter. That's your quorlity,
my son." And the Court rang musically to the destruction of a good
brick.

John--who was only Mr. Bartlett's son for purposes of rhetoric--slapped
his cold unwholesome mortar-pudding with a spade; and ceded an
instalment, presumably. Then his voice came: "Wot didn't he start on a
new toon for, for a wariation?"

Mr. Bartlett was doing something very nice and exact with the
three-quarter he had just evolved, so his reply came in fragments as
from a mind preoccupied. "Tried it on he had--that game--more times
than once.... But the boys they took it up, and aimed stones.... And the
public kep' its money in its pocket--not to encourage noo Frenchified
notions--not like when they was a boy. So the poor beggar had to jump in
off of the end of Southend Pier, and go out with the tide." He added, as
essential, that Southend Pier was better than two mile long; so there
was water to drownd a man when the tide was in.

The attention of very old people may be caught by a familiar word,
though such talk as this ripples by unheeded. The sad tale of the
Punch's showman--the exoteric one, evidently--roused no response in the
mind of old Mrs. Prichard, until it ended with the tragedy at Southend.
The name brought back that terrible early experience of the sailing of
the convict-ship--of her despairing effort at a farewell to be somehow
heard or seen by the man whom she almost thought of as in a grave,
buried alive! She was back again in the boat in the Medway, keeping the
black spot ahead in view--the accursed galley that was bearing away her
life, her very life; the man no sin could change from what he was to
her; the treasure of her being. She could hear again the monotonous beat
of her rowers' pair of oars, ill-matched against the four sweeps of the
convicts, ever gaining--gaining....

Surely she would be too late for that last chance, that seemed to her
the one thing left to live for. And then the upspringing of that blessed
breeze off the land that saved it for her. She could recall her terror
lest the flagging of their speed for the hoisting of the sail should
undo them; the reassuring voice of a hopeful boatman--"You be easy,
missis; we'll catch 'em up!"--the less confident one of his mate--"Have
a try at it, anyhow!" Then her joy when the sail filled and the plashing
of her way spoke Hope beneath her bulwark as she caught the wind. Then
her dread that the Devil's craft ahead would make sail too, and
overreach them after all, and the blessing in her heart for her hopeful
oarsman, whose view was that the officer in charge would not spare his
convicts any work he could inflict. "He'll see to it they arn their
breaffastis, missis. _He_ ain't going to unlock their wristis off of the
oars for to catch a ha'porth o' blow. You may put your money on him for
that." And then the sweet ship upon the water, and her last sight of the
man she loved as he was dragged aboard into the Hell within--scarcely a
man now--only "213 M"!

Then the long hours that followed, there in the open boat beneath the
sun, whose setting found her still gazing in her dumb despair on what
was to be his floating home for months. Such a home! Scraps of her own
men's talk were with her still--the names of passing craft--the
discontent in the fleet--the names of landmarks on either coast. Among
these Southend--the word that caught her ear and set her a-thinking. But
there was no pier two miles long there then. She was sure of that.

What was it Mr. Bartlett was talking about now? A grievance this time!
But grievances are the breath of life to the Human Race. The source of
this one seemed to be Sapps proprietor, who was responsible for the
restrictions on Mr. Bartlett's enthusiasm, which might else have pulled
the house down and rebuilt it. "Wot couldn't he do like I told him
for?"--thus ran the indictment--"Goard A'mighty don't know, nor yet
anybody else! Why--_he_ don't know, hisself! I says to him, I says, just
you clear out them lodgers, I says, and give me the run of the premises,
I says, and it shan't cost you a fi'-pun note more in the end, I says.
Then if he don't go and tie me down to a price for to make good front
wall and all dy-lapidations. And onlest he says wot he means by good,
who's to know?... Mortar, John!" John supplied mortar with a slamp--a
sound like the fall of a pasty Titan on loose boards. The grievance was
resumed, but with a consolation. "Got 'im there, accordin' as I think of
it! Wot's his idear of _good?_--that's wot _I_ want to know. Things is
as you see 'em...." Mr. Bartlett would have said the _esse_ of things
was _percipi,_ had he been a Philosopher, and would have felt as if he
knew something. Not being one, he subsided--with truisms--into silence,
content with the weakness of Sapps owner's entrenchments.

Mr. Bartlett completed his contract, according to his interpretation of
the word "good"; and it seems to have passed muster, and been settled
for on the nail. Which meant, in this case, as soon as a surveyor had
condemned it on inspection, and accepted a guinea from Mr. Bartlett to
overlook its shortcomings; two operations which, taken jointly,
constituted a survey, and were paid for on another nail later. The new
bit of brickwork didn't look any so bad, to the eye of impartiality, now
it was pointed up; only it would have looked a lot better--mind you!--if
Mr. Bartlett had been allowed to do a bit more pointing up on the
surrounding brickwork afore he struck his scaffold. But Sapps landlord
was a narrer-minded party--a Conservative party--who wouldn't go to a
sixpence more than he was drove, though an economy in the long-run. The
remarks of the Court and its friends are embodied in these statements,
made after Mr. Bartlett had got his traps away on a truck, which
couldn't come down the Court by reason of the jam. It was, however, a
source of satisfaction to Dave Wardle, whose friends climbed into it
while he sat on the handle, outweighing him and lifting him into the
air. Only, of course, this joy lasted no longer than till they started
loading of it up.

It lasted long enough, for all that, to give quite a turn to Mrs.
Tapping, whom you may remember as a witness of Dave's accident--the bad
one--nine months ago. Ever since then--if Mrs. Riley, to whom she
addressed her remarks, would believe her--Mrs. Tapping's heart had been
in her mouth whenever she had lighted her eye on young children
a-playing in the gutters. As children were plentiful, and preferred
playing wherever the chances of being run over seemed greatest, this
must have been a tax on Mrs. Tapping's constitution. She had, however,
borne up wonderfully, showing no sign of loss of flesh; nor could her
flowing hair have been thinned--to judge by the tubular curls that
flanked her brows, which were neither blinkers nor cornucopias
precisely; but which, opened like a scroll, would have resembled the
one; and, spirally prolonged, the other. It was the careful culture of
these which distracted the nose of Mrs. Tapping's _monde_, preoccupied
by a flavour of chandled tallow, to a halo of pomatum. Mrs. Riley was
also unchanged; she, however, had no alarming cardiac symptoms to
record.

But as to that turn Dave Wardle giv' Mrs. Tapping. It really sent your
flesh through your bones, all on edge like, to see a child fly up in the
air like that. So she testified, embellishing her other physiological
experience with a new horror unknown to Pathologists. Mrs. Riley, less
impressionable, kept an even mind in view of the natural invulnerability
of childhood and the special guardianship of Divine Omnipotence. If
these two between them could not secure small boys of seven or eight
from disaster, what could? The unbiassed observer--if he had been
passing at the time--might have thought that Dave's chubby but vigorous
handgrip and his legs curled tight round the truck-handle were the
immediate and visible reasons why he was not shot across the truck into
space. Anyhow, he held on quite tight, shouting loudly the next item of
the programme--"Now all the other boys to jump out when oy comes to
free. One, two, _free_!" In view of the risk of broken bones the other
boys were prompt, and Dave came down triumphantly. Mrs. Riley's
confidence had been well founded.

"Ye'll always be too thinder-harruted about the young spalpeens, me
dyurr," she said. "Thrust them to kape their skins safe! Was not me son
Phalim all as bad or wurruss. And now to say his family of childher!"

Mrs. Tapping perceived her opportunity, and jumped at it. "That is the
truth, ma'am, what you say, and calls to mind the very words my poor
husband used frequent. So frequent, you might say, that as often as not
they was never out of his mouth. 'Mary Ann Tapping, you are too
tender-hearted for to carry on at all; bein', as we are, subjick.' And I
says back to him: 'Tapping'--I says--'no more than my duty as a
Christian woman should. Read your Bible and you will find,' I says. And
Tapping he would say:--'Right you are, Mary Ann, and viewin' all things
as a Gospel dispensation. But what I look at, Mary Ann'--he says--'is
the effect on your system. You are that 'igh-strung and delicate
organized that what is no account to an 'arder fibre tells. So bear in
mind what I say, Mary Ann Tapping'--he says--'and crost across the way
like the Good Samaritan, keepin' in view that nowadays whatever we are
we are no longer Heathens, and cases receive attention from properly
constitooted Authorities, or are took in at the Infirmary.' Referring,
Mrs. Riley, ma'am, to an Italian organ-boy bit by his own monkey, which
though small was vicious, and open to suspicion of poison...." Mrs.
Tapping dwelt upon her past experience and her meritorious attitude in
trying circumstances, for some time. As, in this instance, she had
offered refreshment to the victim, which had been requisitioned by his
monkey, who escaped and gave way to his appetite on the top of a
street-lamp, but was recaptured when the lamplighter came with his
ladder.

"Shure there'll be nothing lift of the barrow soon barring the bare
fragmints of it," said Mrs. Riley, who had been giving more attention to
the boys and the truck than to the Italian and the monkey. And really
the repetition of the pleasing performance with the handle pointed to
gradual disintegration of Mr. Bartlett's property.

However, salvage was at hand. A herald of Mr. Bartlett himself, or of
his representatives, protruded slowly from Sapps archway, announcing
that his scaffold-poles were going back to the sphere from which they
had emanated on hire. It came slowly, and gave a margin for a stampede
of Dave and his accomplices, leaving the truck very much aslant with the
handle in the air; whereas we all know that a respectable hand-barrer,
that has trusted its owner out of sight, awaits his return with the
quiet confidence of horizontality; or at least with the handle on the
ground. Mr. Bartlett's comment was that nowadays it warn't safe to take
one's eyes off of anything for half-a-quarter of a minute, and there
would have to be something done about it. He who analyses this remark
may find it hard to account for its having been so intelligible at first
hearing.

But Mrs. Tapping and Mrs. Riley--who were present--were not analytical,
and when Mr. Bartlett inquired suspiciously if any of them boys belonged
to either of you ladies, one of the latter replied with a
counter-inquiry:--"What harrum have the young boys done ye, thin,
misther? Shure it's been a playzin' little enjoyment forr thim afther
school-hours!" Which revealed the worst part of Mr. Bartlett's character
and his satellite John's, a sullen spirit of revenge, more marked
perhaps in the man than in the master; for while the former merely
referred to the fact that he would know them again if he saw them, and
would then give them something to recollect him by, the latter said he
would half-skin some of 'em alive if he could just lay hands on 'em. But
the subject dropped, and Mr. Bartlett loaded up his truck and departed.
And was presently in collision with the authorities for leaving it
standing outside the Wheatsheaf, while he and John consumed a
half-a-pint in at the bar.

When the coast was quite clear, the offenders felt their way back, not
disguising their satisfaction at their transgression. Mrs. Riley seemed
to think that she ought to express the feeling the Bench would have had,
had it been present. For she said: "You'll be laying yoursilves open to
pinalties, me boys, if ye don't kape your hands off other payple's
thrucks, and things that don't consurrun ye. So lave thim be, and attind
to your schooling, till you're riddy for bid." Dave's blue eyes dwelt
doubtfully on the speaker, expressing their owner's uncertainty whether
she was in earnest or not. Indeed, her sympathy with the offenders
disqualified her for judicial impressiveness. Anyhow, Dave remained
unimpressed, to judge by his voice as he vanished down the Court to
narrate this pleasant experience to Uncle Moses. It was on Saturday
afternoon that this took place. Have you ever noticed the strange
fatality which winds up all building jobs on Saturday? Only not _this_
Saturday--always next Saturday. It is called by some "making a clean
finish."

Old Mrs. Prichard lent herself to the fiction that she would rejoice
when the builders had made this clean finish. But she only did so to
meet expectation half-way. She had no such eagerness for a quiet Sunday
as was imputed to her. Very old people, with hearing at a low ebb, are
often like this. The old lady during the ten days Mr. Bartlett had
contrived to extend his job over--for his contract left all question of
extras open--had become accustomed to the sound of the men outside, and
was sorry when they died away in the distance, after breeding dissension
with poles in the middle distance; that is to say, the Court below. She
had felt alive to the proximity of human creatures; for Mr. Bartlett
and John still came under that designation, though builders by trade. If
it had not been Saturday, with a prospect of Dave and Dolly Wardle when
they had done their dinners, she would have had no alleviation in view,
and would have had to divide the time between knitting and dozing till
Mrs. Burr came in--as she might or might not--and tea eventuated: the
vital moment of her day.

However, this was Saturday, and Dave and Dolly came up in full force as
the afternoon mellowed; and Aunt M'riar accompanied them, and Mrs. Burr
she got back early off her job, and there was fourpennyworth of
crumpets. Only that was three-quarters of an hour later.

But Dave was eloquent about his adventure with the truck, judging the
old lady of over eighty quite a fit and qualified person to sympathize
with the raptures of sitting on a handle, and being jerked violently
into the air by a counterpoise of confederates. And no doubt she was;
but not to the extent imputed to her by Dave, of a great sense of
privation from inability to go through the experience herself.
Nevertheless there was that in his blue eyes, and the disjointed
rapidity of his exposition of his own satisfaction, that could bridge
for her the gulf of two-thirds of a century between the sad old now--the
vanishing time--and the merry _then_ of a growing life, and all the
wonder of the things to be. The dim illumination of her smile spread a
little to her eyes as she made believe to enter into the glorious
details of the exploit; though indeed she was far from clear about many
of them. And as for Dave, no suspicion crossed his mind that the old
lady's professions of regret were feigned. He condemned Aunt M'riar's
attitude, as that of an interloper between two kindred souls.

"There, child, that'll do for about Mr. Bartlett's truct." So the good
woman had said, showing her lack of _geist_--her Philistinism. "Now you
go and play at The Hospital with Dolly, and don't make no more noise
than you can help." This referred to a game very popular with the
children since Dave's experience as a patient. It promised soon to be
the only record of his injuries, as witness his gymnastics of this
morning.

But he was getting to be such a big boy now--seven, last birthday--that
playing at games was becoming a mere concession to Dolly's tender youth.
Old Mrs. Prichard's thin soprano had an appeal to this effect in it--on
Dave's behalf--as she said: "Oh, but the dear child may tell me, please,
all about the truck and some more things, too, before he goes to play
with Dolly. He has always such a many things to tell, has this little
man! Hasn't he now, Mrs. Wardle?"

Aunt M'riar--good woman as she was--had a vice. She always would improve
occasions. This time she must needs say:--"There, Davy, now! Hear what
Mrs. Prichard says--so kind! You tell Mrs. Prichard all about Mrs.
Marrowbone and the bull in the duckpond. You tell her!"

Dave, with absolute belief in the boon he was conferring on his
venerable hearer, started at once on a complicated statement, as one who
accepted the instruction in the spirit in which it was given. But first
he had to correct a misapprehension. "The bool wasn't in the duckpong.
The bool was in Farmer Jones's field, and the field was in the duckpong
on the other side. And the dusk was in the pong where there wasn't no
green." Evidently an oasis of black juice in the weed, which ducks
enjoy. Dave thought no explanation necessary, and went on:--"Then Farmer
Jones he was a horseback, and he rodid acrost the field, he did. And he
undooed the gate with his whip to go froo, and it stumbled and let the
bool froo, and Farmer Jones he rodid off to get the boy that
understoodid the bool. He fetched him back behind his saddle, he did.
And then the boy he got the bool's nose under control, and leaded him
back easy, and they shet to the gate." One or two words--"control," for
instance--treasured as essential and conscientiously repeated, gave Dave
some trouble; but he got through them triumphantly.

"Is that all the story, Dave?" said Mrs. Prichard, who was affecting
deep interest; although it was by now painfully evident that Dave had
involved himself in a narrative without much plot. He nodded decisively
to convey that it was substantially complete, but added to round it
off:--"Mr. Marrowbone the Smith from Crincham he come next day and
mended up the gate, only the bool he was tied to a post, and the boy
whistled him a tune, or he would have tostid Mr. Marrowbone the Smith."

Said Aunt M'riar irrelevantly:--"What was the tune he whistled, Dave?
You tell Mrs. Prichard what tune it was he whistled!" To which Dave
answered with reserve:--"A long tune." Probably the whistler's stock was
limited, and he repeated the piece, whatever it was, _da capo ad
libitum_. This legend--the thin plot of Dave's story--will not strike
some who have the misfortune to own bulls as strange. In some parts of
the country boys are always requisitioned to attend on bulls, who
especially hate men, perhaps resenting their monopoly of the term
_manhood_.

This conversation would scarcely have called for record but for what it
led to.

Old Mrs. Prichard, like Aunt M'riar, had a vice. It was jealousy. Her
eighty years' experience of a bitter world had left her--for all that
she would sit quiet for hours and say never a word--still longing for
the music of the tide that had gone out for her for ever. The love of
this little man--which had not yet learned its value, and was at the
service of age and youth alike--was to her even as a return of the
sea-waves to some unhappy mollusc left stranded to dry at leisure in the
sun. But her heart was in a certain sense athirst for the monopoly of
his blue eyes. She did not grudge him to any legitimate claimant--to
Uncle Mo or to Aunt M'riar, nor even to Mrs. Burr; though that good
woman scarcely challenged jealousy. Indeed, Mrs. Burr regarded Dave and
Dolly as mere cake-consumers--a public hungering for sweet-stuffs, and
only to be bought off by occasional concessions. It was otherwise with
unknown objects of Dave's affection, whose claims on him resembled Mrs.
Prichard's own. Especially the old grandmother at the Convalescent Home,
or whatever it was, where the child had recovered from his terrible
accident. She grudged old Mrs. Marrowbone her place in Dave's
affections, and naturally lost no opportunity of probing into and
analysing them.

Said the old lady to Dave, when the bull was disposed of: "Was Mr.
Marrowbone the Smith old Mrs. Marrowbone's grandson?" Dave shook his
head rather solemnly and regretfully. It is always pleasanter to say
_yes_ than _no_; but in this case Truth was compulsory. "He wasn't
_anyfink_ of Granny Marrowbone's. No, he wasn't!" said he, and continued
shaking his head to rub the fact in.

"Now you're making of it up, Dave," said Aunt M'riar. "You be a good
little boy, and say Mr. Marrowbone the Smith was old Mrs. Marrowbone's
grandson. Because you know he was--now don't you, Davy? You tell Mrs.
Prichard he was old Mrs. Marrowbone's grandson!" Dave, however, shook
his head obdurately. No concession!

"Perhaps he was her son," said Mrs. Prichard. But this surmise only
prolonged the headshake; which promised to become chronic, to pause only
when some ground of agreement could be discovered.

"The child don't above half know what he's talking about, not to say
_know_!" Thus Aunt M'riar in a semi-aside to the old lady. It was
gratuitous insult to add:--"He don't reely know what's a grandson,
ma'am."

Dave's blue eyes flashed indignation. "Yorse I _does_ know!" cried he,
loud enough to lay himself open to remonstrance. He continued under due
restraint:--"I'm going to be old Mrs. Marrowbone's grangson." He then
remembered that the treaty was conditional, and added a proviso:--"So
long as I'm a good boy!"

"Won't you be my grandson, too, Davy darling?" said old Mrs. Prichard.
And, if you can conceive it, there was pain in her voice--real pain--as
well as the treble of old age. She was jealous, you see; jealous of this
old Mrs. Marrowbone, who seemed to come between her and her little
new-found waterspring in the desert.

But Dave was embarrassed, and she took his embarrassment for reluctance
to grant her the same status as old Mrs. Marrowbone. It was nothing of
the sort. It was merely his doubt whether such an arrangement would be
permissible under canon law. It was bigamy, however much you chose to
prevaricate. The old lady's appealing voice racked Dave's feelings. "I
carn't!" he exclaimed, harrowed. "I've spromussed to be Mrs.
Marrowbone's grangson--I have." And thereupon old Mrs. Prichard,
perceiving that he was really distressed, hastened to set his mind at
ease. Of course he couldn't be her grandson, if he was already Mrs.
Marrowbone's. She overlooked or ignored the possible compromise offered
by the fact that two grandmothers are the common lot of all mankind. But
it would be unjust--this was clear to her--that Dave should suffer in
any way from her jealous disposition. So she put her little grievance
away in her inmost heart--where indeed there was scarcely room for it,
so preoccupied had the places been--and then, as an active step towards
forgetting it, went on to talk to Dave about old Mrs. Marrowbone,
although she was not Mr. Marrowbone the Smith's grandmother.

"Tell us, Dave dear, about old Mrs. Marrowbone. Is she very old? Is she
as old as me?" To which Aunt M'riar as a sort of Greek chorus
added:--"There, Davy, now, you be a good boy, and tell how old Mrs.
Marrowbone is."

Dave considered. "She's not the soyme oyge," said he. "She can walk to
chutch and back, Sunday morning." But this was a judgment from physical
vigour, possibly a fallible guide. Dave, being prompted, attempted
description. Old Mrs. Marrowbone's hair was the only point he could
seize on. A cat, asleep on the hearthrug, supplied a standard of
comparison. "Granny Marrowbone's head's the colour of this," said Dave,
with decision, selecting a pale grey stripe. And Widow Thrale's was like
that--one with a deeper tone of brown, with scarcely any perceptible
grey.

"And which on Pussy is most like mine, Dave?" said Mrs. Prichard. There
was no hesitation in the answer to this. It was "that sort";--that is,
the colour of Pussy's stomach, unequivocal white. And which did Dave
like best--an unfair question which deserved and got a Parliamentary
answer. "All free," said Dave.

But this was merely colour of hair, a superficial distinction. How about
Granny Marrowbone's nose. "It's the soyme soyze," was the verdict, given
without hesitation. What colour were her eyes? "Soyme as yours." But
Dave was destined to incur public censure--Aunt M'riar representing the
public--for a private adventure into description. "She's more teef than
you," said he candidly.

"Well, now, I do declare if ever any little boy was so rude! I never
did! Whatever your Uncle Moses would say if he was told, I can't think."
Thus Aunt M'riar. But her attitude was artificial, for appearance sake,
and she knew perfectly well that Uncle Moses would only laugh and
encourage the boy. The culprit did not seem impressed, though ready to
make concessions. Yet he did not really better matters by
saying:--"She's got some teef, she has"; leaving it to be inferred that
old Mrs. Prichard had none, which was very nearly true. The old lady did
not seem the least hurt. Nor was she hurt even when Dave--seeking merely
to supply accurate detail--added, in connection with the old hand that
wandered caressingly over his locks and brows:--"Her hands is thicker
than yours is, a lot!"

"I often think, Mrs. Wardle," said she, taking no advantage of the new
topic offered, "what we might be spared if only our teeth was less
untrustworthy. Mine stood me out till over fifty, and since then they've
been going--going. Never was two such rows of teeth as I took with me to
the Colony. Over fifty years ago, Mrs. Wardle!"

"To think of that!" said Aunt M'riar. It was the time--not the
teeth--that seemed so wonderful. Naturally old Mrs. Prichard's teeth
went with her. But fifty years! And their owner quite bright still, when
once she got talking.

She was more talkative than usual this afternoon, and continued:--"No, I
do not believe, Mrs. Wardle, there was ever a girl with suchlike teeth
as mine were then." And then this memory brought back its companion
memory of the long past, but with no new sadness to her voice: "Only my
dear sister Phoebe's, Mrs. Wardle, I've told you about. She was my twin
sister ... I've told you ... you recollect?..."

"Yes, indeed, ma'am, and died when you was in the Colony!"

"I've never seen another more beautiful than Phoebe." She spoke with
such supreme unconsciousness of the twinship that Aunt M'riar forgot it,
too, until her next words came. "I was never free to say it of her in
those days, for they would have made sport of me for saying it. There
was none could tell us apart then. It does not matter now." She seemed
to fall away into an absent-minded dream, always caressing Dave's sunny
locks, which wanted cutting.

Aunt M'riar did not instantly perceive why a twin could not praise her
twin's beauty; at least, it needed reflection. She was clear on the
point, however, by the time Dave, merely watchful till now, suddenly
asked a question:--"What are stwins?" He had long been anxious for
enlightenment on this point, and now saw his opportunity. His inquiry
was checked--if his curiosity was not satisfied--by a statement that
when a little boy had a brother the same age that was twins, incorrectly
_s_twins. He had to affect satisfaction.

The old woman, roused by Dave's question, attested the general truth of
his informant's statements; then went back to the memory of her sister.
"But I never saw her again," said she.

"No, ma'am," said Aunt M'riar. "So I understood. It was in England she
died?"

"No--no! Out at sea. She was drowned at sea. Fifty years ago ...
Yes!--well on to fifty years ago." She fell back a little into her
dreamy mood; then roused herself to say:--"I often wonder, Mrs. Wardle,
suppose my sister had lived to be my age, should we have kept on alike?"

Aunt M'riar was not a stimulus to conversation as far as perspicuity
went. A general tone of sympathy had to make up for it. "We should have
seen, ma'am," said she.

"Supposing it had all gone on like as it was then, and we had just grown
old together! Supposing we had neither married, and no man had come into
it, should we all our lives have been mistaken for one another, so you
could not tell us apart?"

Aunt M'riar said "Ah!" and shook her head. She was not imaginative
enough to contribute to a conversation so hypothetical.

There was nothing of pathos, to a bystander, in the old woman's musical
voice, beyond its mere age--its reedy tone--which would have shown in it
just as clearly had she been speaking of any topic of the day. Conceive
yourself speaking about long forgotten events of your childhood to a
friend born thirty--forty--fifty years later, and say if such speech
would not be to you what old Mrs. Prichard's was to herself and her
hearer, much like revival of the past history of someone else. It was
far too long ago now--if it had ever been real; for sometimes indeed it
seemed all a dream--to lacerate her heart in recollecting it. The
memories that could do that belonged to a later time; some very much
later--the worst of them. Not but that the early memories could sting,
too, when dragged from their graves by some remorseless
resurrectionist--some sound, like that piano; some smell, like those
lilies of the valley. Measure her case against your own experience, if
its span of time is long enough to supply a parallel.

Her speech became soliloquy--was it because of a certain want of pliancy
in Aunt M'riar?--and seemed to dwell in a disjointed way on the
possibility that her sister might have changed with time otherwise than
herself, and might even have been hard to recognise had they met again
later. It would be different with two girls of different ages, each of
whom would after a long parting have no guide to the appearance of her
sister; while twins might keep alike; the image of either, seen in the
glass, forecasting the image of the other.

Aunt M'riar made a poor listener to this, losing clues and forging false
constructions. But her obliging disposition made her seem to understand
when she did not, and did duty for intelligence. Probably Dave--on the
watch for everything within human ken--understood nearly as much as Aunt
M'riar. Something was on the way, though, to rouse her, and when it came
she started as from a blow. What was that the old lady had just said?
How came that name in her mouth?...

"What I said just now, Mrs. Wardle?... Let me see!... About what my
husband used to say--that Phoebe's memory would go to sleep, not like
mine, and I was a fool to fret so about her. I would not know her again,
maybe, if I saw her, nor she me.... Yes--he said all that.... What?"

"What was the _name_ you said just now? Ralph ... something! Ralph
what?"

"Oh--yes--I know! What Phoebe would have been if she had married my
husband's brother--Mrs. Ralph Daverill...."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Aunt M'riar.

"Ah, there now!" said the old lady. "To think I should never have told
you his name!" She missed the full strength of Aunt M'riar's
exclamation; accounted it mere surprise at what was either a reference
to a former husband or an admission of a pseudonym. Aunt M'riar was glad
to accept matters as they stood, merely disclaiming excessive
astonishment and suggesting that she might easy have guessed that Mrs.
Prichard had been married more than once. She was not--she said--one of
the prying sort. But she was silent about the cause of her amazement;
putting the name in a safe corner of her memory, to grapple with it
later.

The old woman, however, seemed to have no wish for concealments, saying
at once:--"I never had but one husband, Mrs. Wardle; but I'll tell you.
I've always gone by the name of Prichard ever since my son.... But I
never told you of him neither! It is he I would forget...." This
disturbed her--made her take the caressing hand restlessly from Dave's
head, to hold and be held by the other. She had to be silent a moment;
then said hurriedly:--"He was Ralph Thornton, after his father and
uncle. His father was Thornton--Thornton Daverill.... I'll tell you
another time." Thereupon Aunt M'riar held her tongue, and Mrs. Burr came
in with the fourpennyworth of crumpets.

       *       *       *       *       *

An unskilful chronicler throws unfair burdens on his reader. The latter
need not read the chronicle certainly; there is always that resource!
If, however, he reads this one, let him keep in mind that Aunt M'riar
did _not_ know that the escaped prisoner of her newspaper-cutting had
been asking for a widow of the name of Daverill, whom he had somehow
traced to Sapps Court, any more than she knew--at that date--that old
Mrs. Prichard should really have been called old Mrs. Daverill. She only
knew that _his_ name was Daverill. So it was not in order to prevent
Mrs. Prichard seeing it that she cut that paragraph out of the _Morning
Star_. She must have had some other reason.



CHAPTER XVII

     A LADY AND GENTLEMAN, WHO HUNG FIRE. NATURAL HISTORY, AND
     ARTIFICIAL CHRONOLOGY. NEITHER WAS TWENTY YEARS YOUNGER.
     CONFIDENCES ABOUT ANOTHER LADY AND GENTLEMAN, SOME YEARS SINCE. HOW
     THE FIRST GENTLEMAN FINISHED HIS SECOND CIGAR. DR. LIVINGSTONE AND
     SEKELETU. MR. NORBURY'S QUORUM. WHY ADRIAN TORRENS WOKE UP, AND
     WHOSE VOICE PROMISED NOT TO MENTION HIS EYES. FEUDAL BEEF-TEA, AND
     MRS. BAILEY. AN EARLY VISIT, FROM AN EARL. AN EXPERIMENT THAT
     DISCLOSED A PAINFUL FACT


It is three weeks later at the Castle; three weeks later, that is, than
the story's last sight of it. It is the hottest night we have had this
year, says general opinion. Most of the many guests are scattered in the
gardens after dinner, enjoying the night-air and the golden moon, which
means to climb high in the cirrus-dappled blue in an hour or so. And
then it will be a fine moonlight night.

On such a night there is always music somewhere, and this evening
someone must be staying indoors to make it, as it comes from the windows
of the great drawing-room that opens on the garden. Someone is playing a
Beethoven sonata one knows well enough to pretend about with one's
fingers, theoretically. Only one can't think which it is. So says Miss
Smith-Dickenson, in the Shrubbery, to her companion, who is smoking a
Havana large enough to play a tune on if properly perforated. But she
wishes Miss Torrens would stop, and let Gwen and the Signore sing some
Don Juan. That is Miss Dickenson's way. She always takes exception to
this and to that, and wants t'other. It does not strike the Hon.
Percival Pellew, the smoker of the big cigar, as a defect in her
character, but rather as an indication of its illumination--a set-off to
her appearance, which is, of course, at its best in the half-dark of a
Shrubbery by moonlight, but is _passée_ for all that. Can't help that,
now, can we? But Mr. Pellew can make retrospective concession; she must
have told well enough, properly dressed, fifteen years ago. She don't
exactly bear the light now, and one can't expect it.

The Hon. Percival complimented himself internally on a greater
spirituality, which can overlook such points--mere clay?--and discern a
peculiar essence of soul in this lady which, had they met in her more
palatable days, might have been not uncongenial to his own. Rather a
pity!

Miss Dickenson could identify a glow-worm and correct the ascription of
its light to any fellow's cigar-end thrown away. She made the best
figure that was compatible with being indubitably _passée_ when she went
down on one knee in connection with this identification. Mr. Pellew felt
rather relieved. Her outlines seemed somehow to warrant or confirm the
intelligence he had pledged himself to. He remarked, without knowing
anything about it, that he thought glow-worms didn't show up till
September.

"Try again, Mr. Pellew. It's partridge-shooting that doesn't begin till
September. That's what you're thinking of."

"Well--August, then!"

"No--that's grouse, not glow-worms. You see, you are reduced to July,
and it's July still. Do take my advice, Mr. Pellew, and leave Natural
History alone. Nobody will ever know you know nothing about it, if you
hold your tongue."

The Hon. Percival was silent. He was not thinking about his shortcomings
as a Natural Historian. The reflection in his mind was:--"What a pity
this woman isn't twenty years younger!" He could discriminate--so he
imagined--between mere flippancy and spontaneous humour. The latter
would have sat so well on the girl in her teens, and he would then have
accepted the former as juvenile impertinence with so much less misgiving
that he was being successfully made game of. He could not quite shake
free of that suspicion. Anyhow, it was a pity Miss Smith-Dickenson was
thirty-seven. That was the age her friend Lady Ancester had assessed her
at, in private conversation with Mr. Pellew. "Though what the deuce my
cousin Philippa"--thus ran a very rapid thought through his mind--"could
think I wanted to know the young woman's age for, I can't imagine."

"There it is!" said the lady, stooping over the glow-worm. "Little hairy
thing! I won't disturb it." She got on her feet again, saying:--"Thank
you--I'm all right!" in requital of a slight excursion towards
unnecessary help, which took the form of a jerk cut short and an
apologetic tone. "But don't talk Zoölogy or Botany, please," she
continued. "Because there's something I want you to tell me about."

"Anything consistent with previous engagements. Can't break any
promises."

"Have you made any promises about the man upstairs?"

"Not the ghost of a one! But he isn't 'the man upstairs' to me. He's the
man in the room at the end of my passage. That's how I came to see him."

"You did see him?"

"Oh yes--talked to him till the nurse stopped it. I found we knew each
other. Met him in the Tyrol--at Meran--ten years ago. He was quite a boy
then. But he remembered me quite well. It was this morning."

"Did he recognise you, or you him?"

"Why--neither exactly. We found out about Meran by talking. No--poor
chap!--he can't recognise anybody, by sight at least. He won't do that
yet awhile."

The lady said "Oh?" in a puzzled voice, as though she heard something
for the first time; then continued: "Do you know, I have never quite
realised that ... that the eyes were so serious. I knew all along that
there was _something_, but ... but I understood it was only weakness."

"They have been keeping it dark--quite reasonably and properly, you
know--but there is it! He can't see--simply can't see. His eyes _look_
all right, but they won't work. His sister knows, of course, but he has
bound her over to secrecy. He made me promise to say nothing, and I've
broken my promise, I suppose. But--somehow--I thought you knew."

"Only that there was _something_--no idea that he was blind. But I won't
betray your confidence."

"Thank you. It's only a matter of time, as I gather. But a bad job for
him till he gets his sight again."

"He will, I suppose, in the end?"

"Oh yes--in the end. Sir Coupland is cautious, of course. But I don't
fancy he's really uneasy. His sight might come back suddenly, he said,
at any moment. Of course, _he_ believes his eyesight will come back.
Only meanwhile he wants--it was a phrase of his own--to keep all the
excruciation for his own private enjoyment. That's what he said!"

"I see. Of course, that makes a difference. And you think Sir Coupland
thinks he will get all right again?"

Mr. Pellew says he does think so, reassuringly. "It has always struck me
as peculiar," says he, "that Tim's family ... I beg pardon--I should
have said the Earl's. But you see I remember him as a kid--we are
cousins, you know--and his sisters always called him Tim.... Well, I
mean the family here, you know, seem to know so little of the Torrenses.
Lady Gwen doesn't seem to have recognised this chap in the Park."

"I believe she has never seen him. He has been a great deal abroad, you
know."

"Yes, he's been at German Universities, and games of that sort."

"Is that your third cigar, Mr. Pellew?"

"No--second. Come, I say, Miss Dickenson, two's not much...."

But her remark was less a tobacco-crusade than a protest against too
abrupt a production of family history by a family friend. Mr. Pellew
felt confident it would come, though; and it did, at about the third
whiff of the new cigar.

"I suppose you know the story?"

"Couldn't say, without hearing it first to know."

"About Philippa and Sir Hamilton Torrens?"

"Can't say I have. But then I'm the sort of fellah nobody ever tells
things to."

"I suppose I oughtn't to have mentioned it."

"I shall not tell anyone you did so. You may rely on that." Mr. Pellew
gave his cigar a half-holiday to say this seriously, and Miss Dickenson
felt that his type, though too tailor-made, was always to be relied on;
you had only to scratch it to find a Gentleman underneath. No audience
ever fails to applaud the discovery on the stage. Evidently there was no
reserve needed--a relation of the Earl, too! Still, she felt satisfied
at this passing recognition of Prudence on her part. Preliminaries had
been done justice to.

She proceeded to tell what she knew of the episode of her friend's early
engagement to the father of the gentleman who had been shot. It was
really a very flat story; so like a thousand others of its sort as
scarcely to claim narration-space. Youth, beauty, high spirits, the
London season, first love--warranted the genuine article--parental
opposition to the union of Romeo and Juliet, on the vulgar, unpoetical
ground of Romeo having no particular income and vague expectations; the
natural impatience of eighteen and five-and-twenty when they don't get
their own way in everything; misunderstandings, ups-and-downs,
reconciliations and new misunderstandings; finally one rather more
serious than its predecessors, and judicious non-interference of
bystanders--underhanded bystanders who were secretly favouring another
suitor, who wasn't so handsome and showy as Romeo certainly, but who was
of sterling worth and all that sort of thing. Besides, he was very
nearly an Earl, and Hamilton Torrens was three-doors off his father's
Baronetcy and Pensham Steynes. This may have had its weight with Juliet.
Miss Dickenson candidly admitted that she herself would have been
influenced; but then, no doubt she was a worldling. Mr. Pellew admired
the candour, discerning in it exaggeration to avoid any suspicion of
false pretence. He did not suspect himself of any undue leniency to this
lady. She was altogether too _passée_ to admit of any such idea.

The upshot of the flat episode, of course, was that Philippa "became
engaged" to her new suitor, and did _not_ fall out with him. They were
married within the year, and three months later her former _fiancé's_
father died, rather unexpectedly. His eldest son, coming home from
Burmah on sick-leave, died on the voyage, of dysentery; and his second
brother, a naval officer, was in the autumn of the same year killed by a
splinter at the Battle of Navarino. So by a succession of fatalities
Romeo found himself the owner of his father's estate, and a not very
distant neighbour of Juliet and his successful rival.

It appeared that he had consoled himself by marrying a Miss Abercrombie,
Miss Dickenson believed. These Romeos always marry a Miss Something;
who, owing to the way she comes into the story, is always on the
top-rung of the ladder of insipidity. Nobody cares for her; she appears
too late to interest us. No doubt there were several Miss Abercrombies
on draught, and he selected the tallest or the cleverest or the most
musical, avoiding, of course, the dowdiest.

However, there was Lady Ancester's romance, told to account for the
languid intercourse between the Castle and Pensham Steynes, and the
non-recognition of one another by Gwen and the Man in the Park. Miss
Dickenson added a rider to the effect that she could quite understand
the position. It would be a matter of mutual tacit consent, tempered
down by formal calls enough to allay local gossip. "I think Miss Torrens
has stopped," said she collaterally; you know how one speaks
collaterally? "Shall we walk towards the house?"

Then the Hon. Percival made a speech he half repented of later;
_videlicet_, when he woke next morning. It became the fulcrum, as it
were, of an inexplicable misgiving that Miss Dickenson would be bearing
the light worse than ever when he saw her at breakfast. The speech
was:--"It's very nice out here. One can hear the Don at Covent Garden.
Besides ... one can hear out here just as well." This must have been
taken to mean that two could. For the lady's truncated reply was:--"Till
you've finished your cigar, then!"

Combustion was lip-close when the cigar-end was thrown away. The reader
of this story may be able to understand a thing its writer can only
record without understanding--the fact that this gentleman felt grateful
to the fine moonlight night, now nearly a _fait-accompli_, for enhancing
this lady's white silk, which favoured a pretence that she was only
reasonably _passée_, and enabled him to reflect upon the contour of her
throat without interruption from its skin. For it had a contour by
moonlight. Well!--sufficient to the day is the evil thereof; daylight
might have its say to-morrow. Consider the clock put back a dozen years!

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh yes, he's asleep still, but I've seen him--looked in on my way down.
Do you know, I really believe he will be quite fit for the journey
to-morrow. He's getting such a much better colour, and last night he
seemed so much stronger." Thus the last comer to the morning-rally of
breakfast claimants, in its ante-room, awaiting its herald. Miss Irene
Torrens is a robust beauty with her brother's eyes. She has been with
him constantly since she came with her father three weeks ago, and the
two of them watched his every breath through the terrible day and night
that followed.

"Then perhaps he will let us see him," says Lady Gwen. "At last!"

"You must not expect too much," says Miss Torrens. She does not like
saying it, but facts are overpowering. Her brother has exacted a pledge
from her to say nothing, even now, about his blindness--merely to treat
him as weak-eyed temporarily. He will pass muster, he says--will squeak
through somehow. "I can't have that glorious girl made miserable," were
the words he had used to her, half an hour since. This Irene will be all
on tenterhooks till the interview is safely over. Meanwhile it is only
prudent not to sound too hopeful a note. It is as well to keep a margin
in reserve in case the performance should fall through.

Irene's response to her brother's words had been, "She is a glorious
girl," and she was on the way to "You should have seen her eyes last
night over that Beethoven!" But she broke down on the word _eyes_. How
else could it have been? Then the blind man had laughed, in the courage
of his heart, as big a laugh as his pitiable weakness could sustain, and
had made light of his affliction. He had never given way from the first
hour of his revival, when he had asked to have the shutters open, and
had been told they were already wide open, and the July sun streaming
into the room.

It was the Countess who answered Irene's caution, as accompaniment to
her morning salute. "We are not to expect _anything_, my dear. That is
quite understood. It would be unreasonable. And we won't stop long and
tire him. But this girl of mine will never be happy if he goes away
without our--well!--becoming acquainted, I might almost say. Because
really we are perfect strangers. And when one has shot a man, even by
accident...." Her ladyship did not finish, but went on to hope the
eyesight was recovering.

"Oh yes!" said Irene audaciously. "We are quite hopeful about it now. It
will be all right with rest and feeding up. Only, if I let you in to see
him you _will_ promise me, won't you--not to say a word about his eyes?
It only frightens him, and does no one any good." Of course, Miss
Torrens got her promise. It was an easy one to make, because reference
to the eyes only seemed a means towards embarrassment. Much easier to
say nothing about them. Gwen and Miss Torrens, very _liées_ already,
went out by the garden window to talk, but would keep within hearing
because breakfast was imminent.

More guests, and the newspapers; as great an event in the early fifties
as now, but with only a fraction of the twentieth century's allowance of
news. Old General Rawnsley, guilty of his usual rudeness in capturing
the _Times_ from all comers, had to surrender it to the Hon. Percival
because none but a dog-in-the-manger could read a letter from Sir C.
Napier of Scinde, and about Dr. Livingstone and Sekeletu and the
Leeambye all at the same time. All comers, or several male comers at
least, essayed to pinion the successful captor of the _Times_, thirsting
for information about their own special subjects of interest. No--the
Hon. Percival did _not_ see anything, so far, about the new Arctic
expedition that was to unearth, or dis-ice, the _Erebus_ and _Terror_;
but the inquirer, a vague young man, shall have the paper directly.
Neither has he come on anything, as yet, about a mutiny in the camp at
Chobham. But the paper shall be at the disposal of this inquirer, too,
as soon as the eye in possession has been run down to the bottom of this
column. In due course both inquirers get hold of corners at the moment
of surrender, and then have paroxysms of polite concession which neither
means in earnest, during which the bone of contention becomes the prey
of a passing wolf. Less poetically, someone else gets hold of the paper
and keeps it.

The Hon. Percival really surrendered the paper, not because his interest
in Lord Palmerston's speech had flagged, but because he had heard Miss
Dickenson come in, and that consideration about her endurance of the
daylight weighed upon him. On the whole, she is standing the glare of
day better than he expected, and her bodice seems very nicely cut. It
may have been an accident that she looked so dowdy yesterday morning. He
and she exchange morning greetings, passionlessly but with civility. The
lady may be accounting a _tête-à-tête_ by moonlight with a gentleman, an
hour long, an escapade, and he may be resolving on caution for the
future. By-the-by, _can_ a lady have a _tête-à-tête_ with another lady
by moonlight? Scarcely!

Mr. Norbury, the butler, always feels the likeness of the breakfast
rally to fish in a drop-net. If he acts promptly, he will land his usual
congregation. He must look in at the door to see if there is a quorum. A
quarum would do. A cujus is a great rarity; though even that happens
after late dances, or when influenza is endemic. Mr. Norbury looked in
at the rally and recognised its psychological moment. More briefly, he
announced that breakfast was ready, while a gong rang up distant sheep
astray most convincingly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adrian Torrens, too weak still to show alacrity in waking, hears the
sound and is convinced. How he would rejoice to join the party below! He
knows _that_, in his sleep; and resolves as soon as he can speak to
tell Mrs. Bailey the nurse he could perfectly well have got up for
breakfast. Yet he knows he is glad to be kept lying down, for all that.

He wakes cherishing his determination to say this to his tyrant, and is
conscious of the sun by the warmth, and the unanimity of the birds. He
knows, too, that the casement is open, by the sound of voices in the
garden below. His sister's voice and another, whose owner's image was
the last thing human he had seen, with the eyes that he dared not think
had looked their last upon the visible world when the crash came from
Heaven-knows-where and shut it out. He could identify it beyond a doubt;
could swear to it, now that he had come to understand the real story of
his terrible mishap, as the first sound that mixed with his returning
life, back from a painless darkness which was a Heaven compared to the
torture of his reviving consciousness. It was strange to be told now
that at that moment the medical verdict had been given that he was dead.
But he could swear to the voice--even to the words! What was it saying
now?

"You may rely on me--indeed you may--to say nothing about the eyes. He
will be just able to see us, I suppose?"

"He will hardly recognise you. How long was it altogether, do you
think?"

"At Arthur's Bridge? Five minutes--perhaps less."

"He took a good look at you?"

"I suppose so. I think he did, as soon as he had got the dog chained. Oh
yes--I should say certainly! I fancied he might have seen me before, but
it seems not."

"He says not. But you were not out when he went to Konigsberg."

"Oh no--I had quite a long innings after that.... Well!--it _does_ sound
like cricket, doesn't it? Go on."

"Oh--I see what you mean. What a ridiculous girl you are! What was I
saying!... Oh, I recollect! That was just after he graduated at Oxford.
Then he went to South America with Engelhardt. He really has been very
little at home for three years--over three years--past."

"We shall see if he knows me. I won't say anything to guide him." Then
he heard his sister's voice reply to the speaker with words she had used
before:--"You know you must not expect too much." To which Lady
Gwendolen reiterated: "Oh, you may trust me. I shall say nothing to him
about it.... Oh, you darling!" This was to Achilles, manifestly. He had
become restless at the sound of conversation below, and had been
looking round the door-jamb to see if by any chance a dog could get
out. The entry of the nurse a moment since, with a proto-stimulant on a
tray, had let him out to tear down the stairs to the garden, rudely
thrusting aside the noble owner of the house, out of bounds in a
dressing-gown and able to defy Society.

No lack of sight can quench the image in its victim's brain of Achilles'
greeting to the owners of the two voices. His sister has her fair share
of it--no more!--but her friend gets an accolade of a piece with the one
she received that morning by Arthur's Bridge, three weeks since. So his
owner's brain-image says, confirmed by sounds from without. He is
conscious of the absurdity of building so vivid and substantial a
superstructure on so little foundation, and would like to protest
against it.

"Good-morning, Nurse. I'm better. What is it?--beef-tea. Earls' cooks
make capital beef-tea. On the whole I am in favour of Feudalism. Nothing
can be sweeter or neater or completer--or more nourishing--than its
beef-tea. Don't put any salt in till I tell you.... Oh no--_I'm_ not
going to spill it!" This is preliminary; the protest follows. "Who's
talking to my sister under the window?... that's her voice." Of course,
he knew perfectly well all the time.

The nurse listens a moment. "That's her ladyship," says she, meaning the
Countess. Gwen's voice is not unlike her mother's, only fuller. "They
are just going in to breakfast. The gong went a minute ago."

Now is his time to condemn the tyranny which keeps him in bed in the
morning and lying down all day. "I _could_ have got up and gone
downstairs, Mrs. Bailey, you know I could."

Mrs. Bailey pointed out that had this scheme been carried out a life
would have been sacrificed. She explained to a newcomer, no less a
person than the Earl himself, that Mr. Torrens would kill himself in
five minutes if she did not keep the eyes of a lynx on him all the
blessed day. She is always telling him so without effect, he never being
any the wiser, even when she talks her head off. Patients never are,
being an unmanageable class at the best. A nurse with her head on ought
to be a rarity, according to Mrs. Bailey.

The image of the Earl in the blind man's mind is very little helped by
recollection of the few occasions, some years ago, on which he has seen
him. It becomes now, after a short daily chat with him each morning
since he gained strength for interviews, that of an elderly gentleman
with a hesitating manner anxious to accommodate difficulties, soothing
an unreasonable race with a benevolent optimism, pouring oil on the
troubled waters of local religion and politics, taking no real interest
in the vortices into which it has pleased God to drag him, all with one
distinct object in view--that of adding to his collections undisturbed.
That is the impression he has produced on Mr. Adrian Torrens in a dozen
of his visits to his bedside. His lordship has made it a practice to
look in at his victim--for that is the way he thinks of him, will he
nill he!--as early every day as possible, and as late. He has suffered
agonies from constant longings to talk about his Amatis or his Elzevirs
or his Petitots, checked at every impulse by the memory of the patient's
blindness. He is always beginning to say how he would like to show him
this or that, and collapsing. This also is an inference of Mr. Torrens,
drawn in the dark, from sudden hesitations and changes of subject.

"How are we this morning, Nurse?" On the mend, it seems, being more
refractory than ever; always a good sign with patients. But we must be
kept in bed, till midday at any rate, for some days yet. Or weeks or
months or years according to the degree of our intractability. The Earl
accepts this as common form, and goes to the bedside saying
sum-upwardly:--"No worse, at any rate!"

"Tremendously better, Lord Ancester! _Tremendously_ better, thanks to
you and Mrs. Bailey.... Catch hold of the cup, Nurse.... Yes, I've
drained it to the dregs.... I know what you are going to say, my
lord...."

"I was going to say that Mrs. Bailey and I are not on the same footing.
Mrs. Bailey didn't shoot you.... Yes, now grip hard! That's right!
Better since yesterday certainly--no doubt of it!"

"Mrs. Bailey didn't shoot me in the mere vulgar literal sense. But she
was contributory, if not an accessory after the fact. It was written in
the Book of Fate that Mrs. Bailey would bring me beef-tea this very day.
If she had accepted another engagement the incident would have had to be
rewritten; which is impossible by hypothesis. Moreover, so far as I can
be said to have been shot, it was as a trespasser, not as a man.... Is
there a close season for trespassers? If there is, I admit that you may
be technically right. _Qui facit per alium facit per se_.... By-the-by,
I hope poor Alius is happier in his mind...."

"Poor who?" says the Earl. He is not giving close attention to the
convalescent's disconnected chatter. He has been one himself, and knows
how returning life sets loose the tongue.

"The _alius_ you facitted per. The poor chap that had the bad luck to
shoot me. Old Stephen--isn't he? Poor old chap! _What_ a mischance!"

"Oh yes--old Stephen! I see--he's _alius_, of course. He comes over two
or three times a day to see how you are going on. They think him rather
a nuisance in the house, I believe. I have tried to comfort him as well
as I could. He will be glad of to-day's report. But he can't help being
dispirited, naturally."

"He's so unaccustomed to homicide, poor old chap! People should be
educated to it, in case of accidents. They might be allowed to kill a
few women and children for practice--should never be left to the mercy
of their consciences, all raw and susceptible. Poor old Stephen! I
really think he might be allowed to come and see me now. I'm so very
much improved that a visit from my assassin would be a pleasant
experience--a wholesome stimulus. Wouldn't throw me back at all! Poor
old Stephen!" He seemed seriously concerned about the old boy; would not
be content without a promise that he and his wife should pay him an
early visit.

He had been immensely better after that M.P. paid him a visit yesterday
morning. Mrs. Bailey confirmed this, testifying to the difficulty with
which the patient had been persuaded to remain in bed. But she had the
whip-hand of him there, because he couldn't find his clothes without her
help. This gives the Earl an idea of the condition of the patient's
eyesight beyond his previous concept of its infirmities. He has been
misled by its apparent soundness--for no one would have guessed the
truth from outward seeming--and the nurse's accident of speech rouses
his curiosity.

"Ah, by-the-by," he says, "I was just going to ask." Which is not
strictly true, but apology to himself for his own neglect, "How _are_
the eyes?"

"Oh, the eyes are right enough," says the patient. He goes on to explain
that they are no inconvenience whatever so long as he keeps them shut.
It is only when he opens them that he notices their defect; which is,
briefly, that he can't see with them. His lordship seems to feel that
eyes so conditioned are hardly satisfactory. It is really new knowledge
to him, and he accepts it restlessly. He spreads his fingers out before
the deceptive orbs that look so clear, showing indeed no defect but a
kind of uncertainty; or rather perhaps a too great stillness as though
always content with the object in front of them. "What do you see now?"
he asks in a nervous voice.

"Something dark between me and the light."

"Is that all? Can't you see what it is?"

"A book." A mere guess based on the known predilections of the
questioner.

"Oh dear!" says the Earl. "It was my hand." He sees that the nurse is
signalling with headshakes and soundless lip-words, but has not presence
of mind to catch her meaning.

The other seems to feel his speech apologetically, as though it were his
own fault. "I see better later in the day," he says. Which may be true
or not.

The nurse's signalling tells, and the questioner runs into an opposite
extreme. "One is like that in the morning sometimes," says he absurdly,
but meaning well. He is not an Earl who would be of much use in a
hospital for the treatment of nervous disorders. However, having grasped
the situation he shows tact, changing the conversation to the heat of
the weather and the probable earliness of the crops. No one should ever
_show_ tact. He will only be caught _flagrante delicto_. Mr. Torrens is
perfectly well aware of what is occurring; and, when he lies still and
unresponsive with his eyes closed, is not really resting after exertion,
which is the nurse's interpretation of the action, but trying to think
out something he wants to say to the Earl, and how to say it. It is not
so easy as light jesting.

The nurse telegraphs silently lipwise that the patient will doze now for
a quarter of an hour till breakfast; and the visitor, alive to the call
of discretion, has gone out gently before the patient knows he has left
the bedside.

Things that creak watch their opportunity whenever they hear silence. So
the Earl's gentle exit ends in a musical and penetrating _arpeggio_ of a
door-hinge, equal to the betrayal of Masonic secrecy if delivered at the
right moment. "Is Mrs. Bailey gone?" says the patient, ascribing the
wrong cause to it.

"His lordship has gone, Mr. Torrens. He thought you were dropping off."

"Stop him--stop him! Say I have something particular to say. Do stop
him!" It must be something very particular, Nurse thinks. But in any
case the patient's demand would have to be complied with. So the Earl is
recaptured and brought back.

"Is it anything I can do for you, Mr. Torrens? I am quite at your
service."

"Yes--something of importance to me. Is Mrs. Bailey there?"

"She is just going." She had not intended to do so. But this was a hint
clearly. It was accepted.

"All clear!" says the Earl. "And the door closed."

"My sister has promised to ask the Countess and your daughter--Lady
Gwen, is it not?"

"That is my daughter's name, Gwendolen. 'Has promised to ask them' ...
what?"

"To give me an opportunity before I go of thanking them both for all the
great kindness they have shown me, and of apologizing for my wish to
defer the interview."

"Yes--but why me?... I mean that that is all quite in order, but how do
I come in?" As the speaker's voice smiles as well as his face, his
hearer's blindness does not matter.

"Only this way. You know the doctors say my eyesight is not
incurable--probably will come all to rights of itself...."

"Yes--and then?"

"I want them--her ladyship and ..."

"My wife and daughter. I understand."

"... I want them to know as little about it as possible; to know
_nothing_ about it _if_ possible. You knew very little about it yourself
till just now."

"I was misled--kindly, I know--but misled for all that. And the
appearance is so extraordinary. Nobody could guess...."

"Exactly. Because the eyes are really unaffected and are sure to come
right. See now what I am asking you to do for me. Help me to deceive
them about it. They will not test my eyesight as you did just now...."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I heard Irene and your daughter talking in the garden a few
minutes ago--just after the breakfast-bell rang--talking about me, and I
eavesdropped as hard as I could. Lady Gwendolen has promised Irene to
say nothing about my eyesight for my sake. She will keep her
promise...."

"How do you know that?"

"By the sound of her voice."

"She is only a human girl."

"I am convinced that she will keep it; though, I grant you,
circumstances are against her. And neither she nor her mother will try
to find out, if they believe I see them dimly. That is where _you_ come
in. Only make them believe that. Don't let them suppose I am all in the
dark. Say nothing of your crucial experiment just now. Irene--dear
girl--has been a good sister to me, and has told many good round lies
for my sake. But she will explain to God. I cannot ask you, Lord
Ancester, to tell stories on my behalf. My petition is only for a modest
prevarication--the cultivation of a reasonable misapprehension to attain
a justifiable end. Consider the position analogous to that of one of
Her Majesty's Ministers catechized by an impertinent demagogue. No fibs,
you know--only what a truthful person tells instead of a fib! For my
sake!"

"I am not thinking of my character for veracity," says the Earl
thoughtfully. "You should be welcome to a sacrifice of that under the
circumstances. I was thinking what form of false representation would be
most likely to gain the end, and safest. Do you know, I am inclined to
favour the policy of saying as little as possible? My dear wife is in
the habit of imputing to me a certain slowness and defective observation
of surrounding event. It is a common wifely attitude. You need not fear
my being asked any questions. In any case, I fully understand your
wishes, and you may rely on my doing my best. Here is your breakfast
coming. I hope you will not be knocked up with all this talk."



CHAPTER XVIII

     BLIND MEN CAN'T SMOKE. CAN'T THEY? HOW THE COUNTESS AND HER
     DAUGHTER AT LAST INTERVIEWED THEIR GUEST. HIS SUBTLE ARRANGEMENTS
     FOR SEEMING TO SEE THEM. A BLUNDER OVER A HANDSHAKE, AND ALL THE
     FAT IN THE FIRE, NEARLY! AN ELECTRIC SHOCK. THE EXCELLENCE OF
     ACHILLES' HEART. HOW MR. TORRENS SPOILED IT ALL! BLUE NANKIN IS NOT
     CROWN DERBY. GWEN'S GREAT SCHEME. HOW SHE CARRIED IT OUT


The morning passed, with intermittent visitors, one at a time. Each one,
coming away from the bedside, confirmed the report of his predecessor as
to the visible improvement of the convalescent. Each one in turn, when
questioned about the eyesight, gave a sanguine report--an echo of the
patient's own confidence, real or affected, in its ultimate restoration.
He would be all right again in a week or so.

Underhand ways were resorted to of cheating despair and getting at the
pocket of Hope. Said one gentleman to the Earl--who was keeping his
counsel religiously--"He can't read small print." Whereto the Earl
replied--"Not yet awhile, but one could hardly expect that"; and felt
that he was carrying out his promise with a minimum of falsehood. Yet
his conscience wavered, because an eyesight may be unable to read small
print, and yet unable to read large print, or any print at all. Perhaps
he had better have left the first broad indisputable truth to impose on
its hearer unassisted.

Another visitor scored a success on behalf of Optimism by reporting that
the patient had smoked a cigar in defiance of medical prohibitions.
"Can't be much wrong with his eyes," said this one, "if he can smoke.
You shut your eyes, and try!" Put to the proof, this dictum received
more confirmation than it deserved, solely to secure an audience for the
flattering tales of Hope.

Much of the afternoon passed too, but without visitors. Because it would
never do, said Irene, for her brother not to be at his best when Gwen
and her mother came to pay their visit, resolved on this morning, at
what was usually the best moment of his day--about five o'clock.
Besides, he was to be got up and really dressed--not merely huddled into
clothes--and this was a fatiguing operation, never carried out in dire
earnest before. Doctor and Nurse had assented, on condition that Mr.
Torrens should be content to remain in his room, and not insist on going
downstairs. Where was the use of his doing so, with such a journey
before him to-morrow? Better surely to husband the last grain of
strength--the last inch-milligramme of power--for an eighteen-mile ride,
even with all the tonics in the world to back it! Mr. Torrens consented
to this reservation, and promised not to be rebellious.

So--in time--the hour was at hand when he would see.... No!--_not_
see--there was the sting of it!... that girl he had spoken with at
Arthur's Bridge. The vision of her in the sunset was upon him still. He
had pleaded with his sister that, come what might, she should not come
to him in his darkness, in the hope that this darkness might pass away
and leave her image open to him as before. For this hope had mixed
itself with that strong desire of his heart that his own disaster should
weigh upon her as little as possible. He had kept this meeting back
almost till the eleventh hour, hoping against hope that light would
break; longing each day for a gleam of the dawn that was to give him his
life once more, and make the whole sad story a matter of the past. And
now the time had come; and here he stood awaiting the ordeal he had to
pass successfully, or face his failure as he might.

If he could but rig up an hour's colourable pretext of vision, however
imperfect, the reality might return in its own good time--if that was
the will of Allah--and that time might be soon enough. She might never
know the terrible anticipations his underthought had had to fight
against.

"You look better in the blue Mandarin silk than you would in your
tailor's abominations," said Irene, referring to a dressing-gown costume
she had insisted on. "Only your hair wants cutting, dear boy! I won't
deceive you."

"That's serious!" He lets it pass nevertheless. "Look here, 'Rene, I
want you to tell me.... Where are you?--oh, here!--all right.... Now
tell me--should you say I saw you, by the look of my eyes?"

"Indeed I should. Indeed, indeed, _nobody_ could tell. Your eyes look as
strong as--as that hooky bird's that sits in the sun at the Zoölogical
and nictitates ... isn't that the word?... Goes twicky-twick with a
membrane...."

"Fish eagle, I expect."

"Shouldn't wonder! Only, look here!... You mustn't claw hold of Gwen
like that. How can you tell, without?"

"Where they are, do you mean? Oh, I know by the voice. You go somewhere
else and speak." Whereupon Irene goes furtively behind him, and says
suddenly:--"Now look at me!" It is a success, for the blind man faces
round, looking full at her.

She claps her hands. "Oh, Adrian!" she cries, "are you sure you don't
see--aren't you cheating?" A memory, in this, of old games of
blindman's-buff. "You always did cheat, darling, you know, when we
played on Christmas Eve. How do I know I can trust you?" She goes close
to him again caressing his face. "Oh, _do_ say, dear boy, you can see a
little!" But it is no use. He can say nothing.

There are a few moments of distressing silence, and then the brother
says:--"Never mind, dear! It will be all right. They say so. Take me to
the window that I may look out!" They stand together at the open
casement, listening to the voices of the birds. The shrewdest observer
might fail to detect the flaw in those two full clear eyes that seem to
look out at the leagues of park-land, the spotted deer in the distance,
the long avenue-road soon indistinguishable in the trees. The sister
sees those eyes, no other than she has always known them, but knows that
they see nothing.

"When I was here first," says the brother, "the thrushes were still
singing. They are off duty by now, the very last of them." He stops
listening. "That's a yellow-hammer. And that's a linnet. _You_ can't
tell one from the other."

"I know. I'm shockingly ignorant.... What, dear? What is it you want?"
Her brother has been exploring the window-frame with a restless hand,
as though in search of some latch or blind-cord. He cannot find what he
wants.

"I want to come to a clearness about the position of this blessed
window," he says. "Which direction is the bed in now? Well--describe it
this way, suppose! Say I'm looking north now, with my shoulder against
the window. Where's the bed? South-west--south-east--due south?"

"South-west by south. Perhaps that's not nautical, but you know what I
mean."

"All right! Now, look here! As I stand here--looking out
slantwise--where's the sunset? I mean, where would it be?--where does it
mean to be?"

"You would be looking straight at it. Of course, you are not really
looking north.... There--now you are!" She had taken her hands from the
shoulder they were folded on and turned his head to the right. "But, I
say, Adrian dear!..." She hesitates.

"What, for instance?"

"Don't try to humbug too much. Don't try to do it, darling boy. You'll
only make a hash of it."

"All right, goosey-woosey! I'll fry my own fish. Don't you be uneasy!"
And then they talk of other things: the journey home to-morrow, and how
it shall be as good as lying in bed to Adrian, in the big carriage with
an infinity of cushions; the new friends they have made here at the
Towers, with something of wonderment that this chance has been so long
postponed; the kindness they have had from them, and the ill-requital
Adrian made for it yesterday by breaking that beautiful blue china
tea-cup--any trifle that comes foremost--anything but the great grief
that underlies the whole.

For Irene would have her brother at his best, that the visit to him of
her new-made friend Gwen may go off well, and steer clear of the
ambushes that beset it. Better that that visit should never come off,
than that her friend should be left to share their fears for the future.
Each is hiding from the other a weakening confidence in the renewal of
suspended eyesight, weaker at the outset than either had been prepared
to admit to the other.

"Look here, 'Rene," says Adrian, an hour later, during which his sister
has read aloud to him, lying by the open window. "Never mind Becky
Sharp; she'll keep till the evening. Can we see Arthur's Bridge from
this window, where I saw your friend Lady Gwen? It was Arthur's, wasn't
it? What Arthur? King Arthur?"

"Yes, if you like. Only don't go and call it Asses' Bridge, as you did
the other day--not when the family's here. It sounds disrespectful."

"Not a bit. It only looks as if Euclid had been round. But answer my
question.... Oh, we _can_ see it! Very well, then; show me which way it
lies. Is it visible--the actual bridge itself, I mean--not the place
it's in?"

Irene got up and looked out of the window from behind her brother's
chair. "Yes," she said. "One sees the stone arch plain. How can I show
you?" She took his head in her hands again to guide it to a true line of
sight.

"Between us and the sunset?"

"Thereabouts. Rather on the left."

"Very good. Now we can go on with Becky Sharp."

"That's it, my lord, is it? Where was I?--oh, Sir Pitt Crawley...." And
then the reading was continued, till tea portended, and Irene went away
to capture her visitors.

All the sting of his darkness came upon him in its fulness as he heard
that voice on the stairs. Oh, could he but see her for one moment--only
one moment--to be sure that that dazzling image of three weeks since was
not a mere imagination! He knew well the enchantment of the rainbow
gleam on sea and earth and sky--the glory that makes Aladdin's palace of
the merest hovel. He could scarcely have said to a nicety why a
self-deception on this score seemed to him fraught with such evil. If it
was a terror on Gwen's behalf, that a false image cherished through a
period of reviving eyesight should in the end prove an injustice to her,
and cast a chill over his own passionate admiration--for it was that at
least that a chance of five minutes had enthralled him with--he banished
that terror artificially from his mind. What could it matter to _her_,
if he _was_ taken aback and disappointed at her not turning out what his
excited fancy had made her that evening at Arthur's Bridge? What was he
to _her_ that any chance man might not have been, after so scanty an
interchange of words?

That was his dominant feeling, or underlying it, as her voice neared the
door of his room, saying:--"Fancy your carrying him away without our
seeing him--so much as thinking of it! I call you a wicked, unprincipled
sister." To which another voice, a maternal sort of voice, said what
must have been: "Don't speak so loud!"--or its equivalent. For the
girl's voice dropped, her last words being:--"_He_ won't hear, at this
distance."

Then, she was actually coming in at the door! He could hear the
prodigious skirt-rustle that is now a thing of womanhood's past--though
we adored every comely example, mind you, we oldsters in those days, for
all that she carried a milliner's shop on her back--and as it climaxed
towards entry had to remember by force how slight indeed had been his
interchange of words with the visitor he wished to see--to see by
hearing, and to touch the hand of twice. For he had counted his coming
privileges in his heart already, even if his reason had made light of
its arithmetic. He would be on the safe side now--so he said to
himself--and think of the elder lady as the player of the leading
_rôle_. No disparagement to her subordinate; the merest deference to
convention!

There was no mishap about the first meeting; only a narrow escape of
one. The man in the dark reckoned it safest to extend his hand and leave
it, to await the first claimant. He took for granted this would be the
mother, and as his hand closed on a lady's, not small enough to call his
assumption in question, said half interrogatively:--"Lady Ancester?"

"That's Gwen," said his sister's voice. And at the word an electric
shock of a sort passed up his arm, the hand that still held his showing
no marked alacrity to release it.

"Yes, this is _me_," says the voice of its owner, "_that's_ mamma."

Lady Ancester, standing close to her, meets his outstretched hand and
shakes it cordially. Then follows pleasantry about mistaking the mother
for the daughter, with assumption of imperfect or dim vision only to
account for it, and a declaration from Adrian that he had been cautioned
not to confuse the one with the other. There _is_ a likeness, as a
matter of fact, and Irene has talked to him of it. The whole thing is
slighter than the telling of it.

Then the three ladies and the one man have grouped--composed
themselves--for reasonable chat. He is in his invalid chair by special
edict, at the window, and the two visitors face him half-flanking it.
His sister leans over him behind on the chair-back. She has kept very
close to him, guiding him under pretence that he wants support, which is
scarcely the case now, so rapid has been his progress in this last week.
She is very anxious lest her brother should venture too rashly on
fictitious proofs of eyesight that does not exist. But it can all be put
down to uneasiness about his strength.

The platitudes of mere chat ensue, the Countess being prolocutrix. But
she can be sincerely earnest in speaking of her own concern about the
accident, and her family's. Also to the full about the rejoicing of
everyone when it was "certain that all would turn out well." She has
been bound over to say nothing about the eyesight, and keeps pledges;
almost too transparently, perhaps. A word or two about it as a thing of
temporary abeyance might have been more plausible.

Gwen has become very silent since that first warmth of her greeting. She
is leaving the conversation to her mother, which puzzles Irene, who had
framed a different picture of the interview, and is disappointed so far.
Achilles, the dog, too, may be disappointed--may be feeling that
something more demonstrative is due to the position. Irene imputes this
view to him, inferring it from his restless appeals to Gwen, as he leans
against her skirts, throwing back a pathetic gaze of remonstrance for
something too complex for his powers of language. Her comment:--"He is
always like that,"--seems to convey an image of his whereabouts to his
master, confirmed perhaps by expressive dog-substitutes for speech.

"You mustn't let my bow-wow worry you, Lady Gwendolen. He presumes till
he's checked, on principle. Send him to lie down over here. Here, Ply,
Ply, Ply!... Oh, won't he come?" Probably Achilles knows that his
master, who speaks, is only being civil.

"No--because I'm holding him. I want him here. He's a darling!" So says
Gwen; and then continues:--"Oh yes, _I_ know why he's Ply--short for
Pelides. I think he thinks I think it was his fault, and wants
forgiveness."

"Possibly. But it is also possible that he sees his way by cajolery to
all the sweet biscuits with a little crown on them that come about with
tea. He wants none of us to have any. Pray do not think any the worse of
him. How is he to know that a well-bred person hungers for little crown
biscuits? We are so affected that there is nothing for him to go by."

"And he's a dear, candid darling! Of course he is. He shall have
everything he wants." Achilles appears to accept the concession as
deserved, but to be ready to requite it with undying love.

"It is all the excellence of his heart, I am aware, and a certain
simplicity and directness," says Adrian. "But all the same he mustn't
spoil ladies' dresses--beyond a certain point, of course. I have been
very curious to know, Lady Gwendolen, whether his paws came off--the
marks of them, I mean--on that lovely India muslin I saw you in three
weeks ago, just before this unfortunate affair which has given so much
trouble to everybody at--at ... Arthur's Bridge, of course! Couldn't
think of the name at the moment. At Arthur's Bridge. I'm afraid he
didn't do that dress any good."

"It wasn't a new dress," says Gwen, "as far as I remember." A point her
maid would know more about, clearly.

Lady Ancester seems to think a little _ex post facto_ chaperonage would
not be inappropriate. "Gwen was out of bounds, I understand," she says;
which means absolutely nothing, but sounds well.

The remark seems somehow to focus the conversation, and become a
stepping-stone to a review of the recent events. Evidently the principal
actor in them takes that view. "I had no idea whom I was speaking to,"
he says, "still less that Lady Gwendolen had taken the trouble to come
away from the house with so kind a motive. Of course, I have heard all
about it from my sister."

Gwen perfectly understands. "And then you walked over to Drews Thurrock,
and Achilles' collar broke, and he got away." She speaks as one who
waits for more.

"He did, and I am sorry to say he forgot himself. The old Adam broke out
in him in connection with the sudden springing of a hare, just under his
nose. It was almost the moment after his collar broke, and it is quite
possible he thought I meant to let him go. But after all, Achilles is
human, and really I could not blame him in any case. Try to see the
thing from his point of view. Fancy discovering an unused faculty lying
dormant--art, song, eloquence--and an unprecedented opportunity for its
use! Do you know, I don't believe Achilles had ever so much as seen a
hare before?--not a live one! He smelt one once at a poulterer's--a dead
one that was starting for the Antipodes with its legs crossed. The
poulterer lost his temper, very absurdly...."

"Well--did he catch the hare? I mean the first hare."

"That I can't say. Both vanished, and I suspect the hare got away. I'm
sure of one thing, that if Achilles did catch him he didn't know what to
do with him. He has not the sporting spirit. Cats interest him in his
native town, but when they show fight he comes and complains to me that
they are out of order. He overhauled a kitten three weeks old once, that
had come out to see the world, and it defied him to mortal combat.
Achilles talked to me all the way down the street about that kitten."

"I want to know what happened next." From Gwen.

"Yes--silly old chatterbox!--keep to the point." Thus Irene; and Lady
Ancester, who has been accepting the hare and the cats with dignity,
even condescension, adds:--"We were just at the most interesting part
of the story." This was practically her ladyship's first sight of the
son of the man she had gone so near to marrying over five-and-twenty
years ago. The search to discover a _modus vivendi_ between a past and
present at war may have thrown her a little out of her usual demeanour.
Gwen wondered why mamma need be so ceremonious.

Adrian was perfectly unconscious of it, even if Irene was not. He ran
on:--"Oh--the story! Yes--Achilles forgot himself, and was off after the
hare like a whirlwind.... I don't know, Lady Ancester, whether you have
ever blown a whistle in the middle of an otherwise unoccupied landscape,
with no visible motive?"

Her ladyship had not apparently. Irene found fault with the narrator's
style, suggesting a more prosaic one. But Gwen said: "Oh, Irene dear,
what a perfect _sister_ you are! Why can't you let Mr. Torrens tell his
tale his own way?"

So Mr. Torrens went on:--"It doesn't matter. If you had ever done so, I
believe you would confirm my experience of the position. If Orpheus had
whistled, instead of singing to a lute, Eurydice would have stopped with
Pluto, and Orpheus would have cut a very poor figure. I began to
perceive that Achilles wasn't going to respond, and I knew the hare
wouldn't, all along. So I walked on and got to a wood of oaks with an
interesting appearance. The interesting appearance was inviting, so I
went inside. Achilles was sure to turn up, I thought. Poor dear!--I
didn't see him for some days after that, when I came to and heard all
about it. He had been very uneasy about me, I'm afraid."

"But inside the wood with the interesting appearance--what happened
then?" Gwen would not tolerate digression.

"Well, I came to the edge of a wall with a little sunk glade beyond, and
was looking across some blackberry bushes when I heard a rifle-shot, and
the whirr of a bullet. I had just time to notice that the whirr came
_with_ the gunshot--if it had been in the opposite direction it would
have followed it--when I was struck on the head and fell. It was the
fall that knocked me insensible, but it was the gunshot that was
responsible for all that bleeding.... Do you know, I can't tell you how
sorry I am for that old boy that fired the shot? I can't imagine
anything more miserable than shooting a man by accident."

It was then that an uneasy feeling about those eyes, that looked so
clear and might be so deceiving, took hold of Gwen's mind, and would not
be ignored on any terms. The speaker's "you"--was it addressed in this
case to her or to her mother? The line of his vision seemed to pass
between them. If he could see at all, ever so dimly, he could look
towards the person he addressed. One does not always do so; true enough!
But one does not stare to right or to left of him. And she felt sure
these words had been spoken to herself.

So while her mother was joining in commiseration of old Stephen, towards
whom she herself felt rather brutal, she was casting about for some
means of coming at the truth. Irene was no good, however altruistic her
motives might be for story-telling.... No!--his eyes looked at her in
quite another fashion that evening at Arthur's Bridge, in the light of
the sunset. She _must_ get at the truth, come what might!

She left her mother to express sympathy for old Stephen, remaining
rather obdurately silent; checking a wish to say that it served the old
man right for meddling with loaded guns. She waited for the subject to
die down, and then recurred to its predecessor. Did Mr. Torrens walk
straight from Arthur's Bridge to the Thurrock or go roundabout? She did
not really want to know--merely wanted to get him to talk about himself
again. He might say something about his sight, by accident.

He replied:--"I did not go absolutely straight. I went first to where a
couple of stones--a respectable married couple, I should say--were
standing close together in the fern, with big initials cut on them.
Their own, I presume." Gwen said she knew them; they were parish
boundaries. "Well--probably that hare was trying what it felt like to be
in two parishes at once, for he jumped from behind that stone and
started for the Thurrock--that's right, isn't it?"

"Drews Thurrock? Yes."

"It was unfortunately just then that the collar broke. I whistled until
I felt undignified, and then went straight for the said Thurrock, rather
dreading that I should find Achilles awaiting applause for an
achievement in--in leporicide, I suppose...."

"I'm sure you didn't."

"I did not. So I waited a little, and was thinking what I had better do
next, when the shot came. You can almost see the place from this
window." He got up from his chair, standing exactly where he had stood
when his sister made his hand point out Arthur's Bridge in blind show.
He made a certain amount of pretence that he could see; and, indeed,
seemed to do so. No stranger to the circumstances could have detected
it. "I couldn't be sure about the place of the stones, though," said he,
carefully avoiding direct verbal falsehood; at least, so Irene thought,
trembling at his rashness. He went on:--"Oh dear, how doddery one does
feel on one's legs after a turn out of this kind!" and fell back in his
chair, his sister alone noticing how he touched it with his hand first
to locate it. "I shall be better after a cup of tea," said he. And the
whole thing was so natural that although he had not said in so many
words that he could see anything, the impression that he could was so
strong that Gwen could have laughed aloud for joy. "He really does see
_something_!" she exclaimed to herself.

If he could only have been content with this much of success! But he
must needs think he could improve upon it--reinforce it. His remark
about the cup of tea had half-reference to its appearance on the
horizon; or, rather on the little carved-oak table near the window,
whose flaps were being accommodated for its reception as he spoke. The
dwellers in this part of the country considered five o'clock tea at this
time an invention of their own, and were rather vain of it. Another
decade made it a national institution.

"If there is one thing I enjoy more than another," he said, "it is a
copper urn that boils furiously by magic of its own accord. When I was a
kid our old cook Ursley used to allow me to come into the kitchen and
see the red-hot iron taken out of the fire and dropped into the inner
soul of ours, which was glorious." This was all perfectly safe, because
there was the urn in audible evidence. Indeed, the speaker might have
stopped there and scored. Why need he go on? "And these blue Nankin cups
are lovely. I never could go crockery-mad as some people do. But good
Nankin blue goes to my heart." And he really thought, poor fellow, that
he had done well, and been most convincing.

Alas for his flimsy house of cards! Down it came. For there had only
been four left of that blue tea-service, and he had broken one. The urn
was hissing and making its lid jump in the middle of a Crown Derby
tea-set, so polychromatic, so self-assertive in its red and blue and
gold, that no ghost of a chance was left of catching at the skirts of
colour-blindness to find a golden bridge of escape from the blunder. The
most colour-blind eyes in the world never confuse monochrome and
polychrome.

There is a sudden terror-struck misgiving on the beautiful face of Gwen,
and an uneasy note of doubt in her mother's voice, seeking by vague
speech to elude and slur over the difficulty. "The patterns are quite
alike," she says weakly. The blind man feels he has made a mistake, and
is driven to safe silence. He understands his slip more clearly when the
servant, speaking half-aside, but audibly, to the Countess, says:--"Mrs.
Masham said the blue was spoiled for four, my lady, and to bring four
of the China." Crown Derby is more distinctly China in English
vernacular than Nankin blue.

Please understand that the story is giving at great length incidents
that passed in fractions of a minute--incidents Time recorded _currente
calamo_ for Memory to rearrange at leisure.

The incident of the tea-cups was easily slurred over and forgotten.
Adrian Torrens saw the risks of attempting too much, and gave up
pretending that he could see. Irene and the Countess let the subject go;
the former most willingly, the latter with only slight reluctance. Gwen
alone dwelt upon it, or rather it dwelt upon her; her memory could not
shake it off. Do what she would the thought came back to her: "He cannot
see _at all_. I must know--I _must_ know!" She could not join in the
chit-chat which went on under the benevolent influence of the tea-leaf,
the great untier of tongues. She could only sit looking beautiful,
gazing at the deceptive eyes she felt so sure were blind to her beauty,
devising some means of extracting confession from their owner, and
thereby knowing the worst, if it was to come. It was interesting to her,
of course, to hear Mr. Torrens talk of the German Universities, with
which he seemed very familiar; and of South America, the area of which,
he said, had stood in the way of his becoming equally familiar with it.
He had been about the world a good deal for a man of five-and-twenty.

"Gwen thought you were more," said Irene. "At Arthur's Bridge, you know!
She thought you were twenty-seven."

"Because I was so wet through. Naturally. I was soaked and streaky. Are
you sure it wasn't thirty-seven, Lady Gwendolen?"

It has been mentioned that Lady Ancester had a matter-of-fact
side to her character. But was it this that made her say
thoughtfully:--"Twenty-five perhaps--certainly not more!" Probably her
mind had run back nearly thirty years, and she was calculating from the
date of this man's father's marriage, which she knew; or from that of
his eldest brother's birth, which she also knew. She was not so clear
about Irene. At the time of that young lady's first birthday--her only
one, in fact--her close observation of her old flame's family dates was
flagging. But she was clear that this Adrian's birth had followed near
upon that of her own son Frank, drowned a few years since so near the
very place of this gunshot accident. The coincidence may have made her
identifications keener. Or Adrian's reckless chat, so like his father's
in old days that she had more than once gone near to comment on it, may
have roused old memories and set her a-fixing dates.

Adrian laughed at the way his age seemed to be treated as an open
question. "We have the Registrar on our side, at any rate, Lady
Ancester. I can answer for that. By-the-by, wasn't my father ... did not
my father?..." He wanted to say: "Was not my father a friend of your
brother in old days?" But it sounded as if the friendship, whatever it
was, had lessened in newer days, and he knew of nothing to warrant the
assumption. He knew nothing of his father's early love passages, of
course. Fathers don't tell their sons what narrow escapes they have had
of being somebody else, or somebody else being they--an awkward
expression!

Her ladyship thought over a phrase or two before she decided on:--"Your
father used to come to Clarges Street in my mother's time." She was
pleased with the selection; but less so with a second, one of several
she tried to herself and rejected. "We have really scarcely met since
those days. I thought him wonderfully little changed."

Has a parent of yours, you who read--or of ours, for that matter--ever
spoken to one or other of us, I wonder, of some fancy of his or her
bygone days; one whose greeting, company manners apart, was an embrace;
whose letters were opened greedily; whose smile was rapture, and whose
frown a sleepless night? If he or she did so, was the outcome better
than the Countess's?

She wanted to run away, but could not just yet. She made believe to talk
over antecedents--making a conversation of indescribable baldness, and
setting Irene's shrewd wits to work to find out why. It was not _her_
brother, but her husband's, who had been Sir Hamilton's college-friend.
Yes, her father was well acquainted with Mr. Canning, and so on. This
was her contribution to general chat, until such time had elapsed as
would warrant departure and round the visit plausibly off.

It was Clarges Street that had done it. Irene was sure of that! She, the
daughter of the Miss Abercrombie her father had married, sitting there
and coming to conclusions!

However, the Countess meant to go--no doubt of it. "You have paid my
brother such a short visit, after all," said Irene. "Please don't go
away because you fancy you are tiring him." But it was no use. Her
ladyship meant to go, and went. Regrets of all sorts, of course;
explanatory insincerities about stringent obligations elsewhere; even
specific allegations of expected guests; false imputation of exacting
claims to the Earl. All with one upshot--departure.

Gwen had taken little or no notice of what was passing, since that
betraying incident of the Crown Derby set. Her mind was at work on
schemes for discovery of the truth about those eyes. She got on the
track of a good one. If she could only contrive to be alone with him for
one moment. Yes--it _was_ worth trying?

It was her mother's inexplicable alacrity to be gone that gave the
opportunity. Her ladyship said good-bye to Mr. Torrens; was sorry she
had to go, but the Earl was so fussy about anything the least like an
appointment--some concession to conscience in the phrasing of this--in
short, go she must! Having committed herself thus, to wait for her
daughter would have been the merest self-stultification. She went out
multiplying apologies, and Irene naturally accompanied her along
the lobby, assisted and sanctioned by Achilles. Gwendolen was
alone with the man who was still credited with sight enough to see
_something_--provided that it was a palpable something. Now--if she
could only play her part right!

"Mamma is always in such a fuss to go somewhere and do something else,"
she said, rather affecting the drawl of a fashionable young lady; for
she could hide anxiety better, she felt, that way. "Do you know, Mr.
Torrens, I don't believe a word of all that about people coming.
Nobody's coming. If there is, they've been there ever so long. I did so
want to talk to you about one of your poems. I mustn't stop now, I
suppose, or I shall be in a scrape." But all the while that she was
saying this she was standing with her right hand outstretched, as though
to say good-bye. Only the word remained unspoken.

"Which of my poems was it?" He was to all seeming looking full at her,
yet his hand did not come out to meet hers. There was hope still. How
could he ratify an adieu with a handshake, on the top of a question that
called for an answer?

Gwen had not arranged the point in her mind--had not thought of any
particular poem in fact. She took the first that occurred to her. "It's
the one called 'A Vigil in Darkness,'" she said. And then she would have
been so glad to withdraw it and substitute another. That was not
possible--she had to finish:--"I wanted to know if any other English
poet has ever used 'starren' for stars."

Adrian laughed. "I remember," said he; then quoted: "'The daughters of
the dream witch come and go,' don't they? 'The black bat hide the
_starren_ of the night.' That's it, isn't it?... No--so far as I know!
But they are a queer lot. Nobody ever knows what they'll be at next in
the way of jargon. It's some rubbish I wrote when I was a boy. I put it
with the others to please 'Re." This was his shortest for Irene.

If he would only have toned down his blank ignorance of the beautiful
white hand stretched out so appealingly to him--made the least
concession! If he had but held in readiness an open-fingered palm, with
intent, there would have been hope. But alas!--no such thing. When,
instead, he thrust both hands into the pockets of the blue Mandarin-silk
dressing-gown, Gwen felt exactly as if a knife had cut her heart. And
there were his two beautiful eyes looking--looking--straight at her!
Need Fate have worded an inexorable decree so cruelly?

Hope caught at a straw, _more suo_. What was more likely than that
darkness was intermittent? Many things--most things for that matter! Any
improbability to outwit despair. Anything rather than final surrender.
Therefore, said Gwen to herself, her hand outstretched should await his,
however sick at heart its owner felt, till the last pretext of belief
had flagged and died--belief in the impossibility of so terrible a doom,
consistently with any decent leniency of the Creator towards His
creatures.

"Oh--to please Irene, was it?" said Gwen, talking chancewise; not
meaning much, but hungering all the while for the slightest aliment for
starving Hope. "Who were 'the daughters of the Dream Witch?'" And then
she was sorry again. Better that a poem about darkness should have been
forgotten! She kept her hand outstretched, mind you!--even though Adrian
made matters worse by folding his hands round his arms on a high
chair-back, and leaning on it. "I wonder who she is," was the girl's
thought, as she looked at a ring.

"Let me see!" said he. "How does it go?" Then he quoted, running the
lines into one: "'In the night-watches in the garden of Night ever the
watchman sorrowing for the light waiteth in silence for the silent Dawn.
Dead sleep is on the city far below.' Then the daughters of the Dream
Witch came and went as per contract. No--I haven't the slightest idea
who they were. They didn't leave their names."

"You will never be serious, Mr. Torrens." She felt too heartsick to
answer his laugh. She never moved her hand, watching greedily for a sign
that never came. There was Irene coming back, having disposed of her
ladyship! "I _must_ go," said Gwen, "because of mamma. She's the Dream
Witch, I suppose. I _must_ go. Good-bye, Mr. Torrens! But I can leave
_my_ name--Gwen or Gwendolen. Choose which you prefer." She had to
contrive a laugh, but it caught in her throat.

"Gwen, I think." It was such a luxury to call her by her name, holding
her hand in his--for, the moment she spoke "good-bye," his hand had
come to meet hers like a shot--that he seemed in no hurry to relinquish
it. Nor did she seem concerned to have it back at the cost of dragging.
"Did you ever live abroad?" said he. "In Italy they always kiss
hands--it's rather rude not to. Let's pretend it's Italy."

She was not offended; might have been pleased, in fact--for Gwen was no
precisian, no drawer of hard-and-fast lines in flirtation--if it had not
been for the black cloud that in the last few minutes had been stifling
her heart. As it was, Adrian's trivial presumption counted for nothing,
unless, indeed, it was as the resolution of a difficulty. It was good so
far. Even so two pugilists are glad of a way out of a close grip
sometimes. It ended a handshake neither could withdraw from gracefully.
"Good-bye, Mr. Torrens," she said, and contrived another laugh. "I'll
come again to talk about the poetry. I _must_ go now." She passed Irene,
coming in from a moment's speech with the nurse outside, with a hurried
farewell, and ran on to her mother's room breathless.



CHAPTER XIX

     GWEN'S PESSIMISM. IT WAS ALL OUR FAULT! HOW SHE KNEW THAT ADRIAN
     TORRENS WAS FIANCE, AND HOW HER MOTHER TOOK KINDLY TO THE IDEA.
     PEOPLE ONLY KNOW WHAT THE WILL OF GOD IS, NOT WHAT IT ISN'T. BUT
     ADRIAN TORRENS DID _NOT_ COME TO TABLE. LONELINESS, AND NIGHT--ALL
     BUT SLEEPLESS. WANT OF COMMON SENSE. THE FATE OF A FEATHER.
     COUNTING A THOUSAND. LOOKING MATTERS CALMLY IN THE FACE. A GREAT
     DECISION, AND WHAT GWEN SAW IN A MIRROR


Lady Ancester, not sorry to get away from a position which involved the
consideration that she was unreasonable in feeling reluctance to remain
in it, endeavoured on arriving in her own room to congratulate herself
on her own share in an embarrassing interview.

She had got through it very well certainly, but not so well as she had
been led to expect by her meeting with his father three weeks since. She
had had her misgivings before that interview, and had been pleasantly
surprised to find how thoroughly the inexorable present had ridden
rough-shod over the half-forgotten past. Their old identities had
vanished, and it was possible to be civil and courteous, and that sort
of thing; even to send messages of sympathy, quite in earnest, to the
lady who up till now had been little more than the Miss Abercrombie
Hamilton Torrens married. Being thus set at ease about what seemed rocks
of embarrassment ahead, in the father's case, Lady Ancester had looked
forward with perfect equanimity to making the acquaintance of the
son--had, in fact, only connected him in her mind with this deplorable
accident, which, however, she quite understood to be going to be a thing
of the past. All in good time. Her equanimity had, however, been
disturbed by the young man's inherited manner, which his father had so
completely lost; above all things by his rapid nonsense, one of his
father's leading characteristics in youth. She condemned it as more
nonsensical, which probably only meant that she herself was older. But
the manner--the manner of it! How it brought back Clarges Street and her
mother, and the family earthquake over her resolution to marry a young
Dragoon, with three good lives between him and his inheritance! She was
taken aback to find herself still so sensitive about that old story.

She had not succeeded in ridding herself of her disquieting memories
when her daughter followed her, choking back tense excitement until she
had fairly closed the door behind her. Then her words came with a rush,
for all that she kept her voice in check to say them.

"He cannot _see_, mamma--he cannot see _at all_! He is dead
stone-blind--for life--for life! And _we_ have done it--_we_ have done
it!" Then she broke down utterly, throwing herself on a sofa to hide in
its cushions the torrent of tears she could no longer keep back. "_We_
have done it--_we_ have done it!" she kept on crying. "_We_ have ruined
his life, and the guilt is ours--ours--_all_!"

The Countess, good woman, tried to mix consolation with protest against
such outrageous pessimism. She pointed out that there was no medical
authority for such an extreme view as Gwen's. On the contrary, Sir
Coupland had spoken most hopefully. And, after all, if Mr. Torrens could
see Arthur's Bridge he could not be absolutely blind.

"He could not see Arthur's Bridge _at all_," said Gwen, sitting up and
wiping her tears, self-possessed again for the moment from the stimulus
of contradiction, always a great help. "I stood facing him for five
minutes holding out my hand for him to shake, and he never--_never_--saw
it!"

"Perhaps he doesn't like shaking hands," said her mother weakly. "Some
people don't."

"They do mine," said Gwen. "Besides, he did in the end, and...."

"And what?"

"And nothing." At which point Gwen broke down again, crying out as
before that he was blind, and she knew it. The doctors were only talking
against hope, and _they_ knew it. "Oh, mother, mother," she cried out,
addressing her mother as she would often do when in trouble or excited,
"how shall we bear it, years from now, to know that he can see
nothing--_nothing!_--and to know that the guilt of his darkness lies
with us--is ours--is yours and mine? Have we ever either of us said a
word of protest against that wicked dog-shooting order? It was in the
attempt to commit a crime that we sanctioned, that old Stephen tried to
shoot that darling Achilles. Oh, I know it was no fault of old
Stephen's!" She became a little calmer from indulgence of speech that
had fought for hearing. "Oh no, mother dear, it's no use talking. If Mr.
Torrens never recovers his eyesight he has only us to thank for it." She
paused a moment, and then added:--"And how I shall look that girl in the
face I don't know!"

"What girl?"

"Oh, didn't you see? The girl he's got that engaged ring on his finger
about. You didn't see? You never _do_ see, mamma dear!"

"I didn't notice any particular ring, dear." Her ladyship may have felt
a relief about something, to judge by her manner. "Has Irene said
anything to you?" she asked.

Gwen considered a little. "Irene talks a good deal about a Miss Gertrude
Abercrombie, a cousin. But she has never _said_ anything."

"Oh!--it's Miss Gertrude Abercrombie?..."

"_I_ know nothing about it. I was only guessing. She may be Miss
Gertrude Anybody. Whoever she is, it's the same thing. _Think_ what
she's lost!"

"She has, indeed, my dear," says the elder lady, who is not going to
give up this acceptable Miss Gertrude Anybody, even at the risk of
talking some nonsense about her. "And we must all feel for the cruelty
of her position. But if she is--as I have no doubt she is--truly
attached to Mr. Torrens, she will find her consolation in the thought
that it is given to her to ... to...." But the Countess was not
rhetorician enough to know that choice words should be kept for
perorations. She had quite taken the edge off her best arrow-head. She
could not wind up "to be a consolation to her husband" with any
convincingness. So when Gwen interrupted her with:--"I see what you
mean, but it's nonsense," she fell back upon the strong entrenchment of
seniors, who know the Will of God. They really do, don't you know? "At
least," she said, "this Miss Abercrombie must admit that no blame can
fairly be laid at our door for what was so manifestly ordained by the
Almighty. Sir Hamilton Torrens himself was the first to exonerate your
father. His own keeper is instructed to shoot all dogs except poodles."

"It was not the Will of God at all...."

"My dear!--how _can_ you know that?"

"Well--not more than everything else is! It was old Stephen's not
hitting his mark. And he would have killed Achilles, then. Oh dear, how
I do sometimes wish God could be kept out of it!... No, mamma, it's no
use looking shocked. Whatever makes out that it was not our fault is
wrong, and Sir Hamilton Torrens didn't mean that when he said it."

"My dear, it is his own son."

"Very well, then, all the more! Oh, you know what I mean.... No, mamma,"
said she as she left the room, "it isn't any use. I am utterly miserable
about it."

And she was, though she herself scarcely knew yet how miserable. So long
as she had someone else to speak to, the whole deadly truth lingered on
the threshold of her mind and would not enter. She ascribed weight to
opinions she would have disregarded had she had no stake on the chance
of their correctness.

She caught at the narration of her maid Lutwyche, prolonging her
hair-combing for talk's sake. Lutwyche had the peculiarity of always
accommodating her pronunciation to the class she was speaking with,
elaborating it for the benefit of those socially above her. So her
inquiry how the gentleman was getting on was accounted for by her having
seen him from the guardian. Speaking with an equal, she would have said
garden. She had seen him therefrom, and been struck by his appearance of
recovered vigour, especially by his visible enjoyment of the land
escape. She would have said landscape to Cook. Pronounced anyhow, her
words were a comfort to her young mistress, defending her a very little
against the black thoughts that assailed her. Similarly, Miss Lutwyche's
understanding that Mr. Torrens would come to table this evening was a
flattering unction to her distressed soul, and she never questioned her
omniscient handmaid's accuracy. On the contrary, she utilised a memory
of some chance words of her mother to Irene, suggesting that her brother
might be "up to coming down" that evening, as a warrant for
replying:--"I believe so."

Nevertheless, she had no hope of seeing him make his appearance in the
brilliantly illuminated Early Jacobean drawing-room, where at least two
of the upstairs servants had to light wax tapers for quite ten minutes
at dusk, to be even with a weakness of the Earl's for wax-candlelight
and no other. And when Irene appeared without him, her "Oh dear!--your
brother wasn't up to coming down, then?" was spiritless and perfunctory.
Nor did she believe her friend's "No--we thought it best to be on the
safe side." For she knew now why it was that this absence from the
evening banquet--"family dinner-table" is too modest a phrase--had been
so strenuously insisted on. There was no earthly reason why Irene's
brother should not have dressed and sat at table. Were there no sofas in
the Early Jacobean drawing-room? There was no reason against his
presence at all except that his absolute blindness must needs have been
manifest to every observer. She could see it all now.

"You know, dear," said Irene, "if Adrian were a reasonable being, there
would be no harm in his dining down, as Lutwyche calls it. He could sit
up to dinner perfectly, but no earthly persuasion would get him up to
bed till midnight. And as for lying down on sofas in the drawing-room
after dinner, you could as soon get a mad bull to lie down on a sofa as
Adrian, if there was what Lutwyche calls company."

So that evening the beauty of the Earl's daughter--whose name among the
countryfolk, by-the-by, was "Gwen o' the Towers"--was less destructive
than usual to the one or two new bachelors who helped the variation of
the party. For monumental beauty kills only poets and dreamers, and
these young gentlemen were Squires. The verdict of one of them about her
tells its tale:--"A stunner to look at, but too standoffish for my
money!" She was nothing of the sort; and would gladly, to oblige, have
shot a smile or an eye-flash at either of them if her heart had not been
so heavy. But she wanted terribly to be alone and cry all the evening,
and was of no use as a beauty. Perhaps it was as well that it was so,
for these unattached males.

When the time came for the loneliness of night she was frightened of it,
and let Irene go at her own door with reluctance. In answer to whom she
said at parting:--"No--no, dear! I'm perfectly well, and nothing's the
matter." Irene spoke back after leaving her:--"You know _I'm_ not the
least afraid about him. It will be all right." Then Gwen mustered a poor
laugh, and with "Of course it will, dear!" vanished into her bedroom.

She got to sleep and slept awhile; then awoke to the worst solitude a
vexed soul knows--those terrible "small hours" of the morning. Then,
every mere insect of evil omen that daylight has kept in bounds grows
to the size of an elephant, and what was the whirring of his wings
becomes discordant thunder. Then palliatives lose their market-value,
and every clever self-deception that stands between us and acknowledged
ill bursts, bubblewise, and leaves the soul naked and unarmed against
despair.

Gwen waked without provocation at about three in the morning; waked
Heaven knew why!--for there was all the raw material of a good night's
rest; the candidate for the sleepership; a prodigiously comfortable bed;
dead silence, not so much as an owl in the still night she looked out
into during an excursion warranted to promote sleep--but never sleep
itself! She had been dragged reluctantly from a dreamless Nirvana into
the presence of a waking nightmare--two great beautiful eyes that looked
at her and saw nothing; and this coercion, she somehow felt, was really
due to an unaccountable absence of mind on her part. Surely she could
have kept asleep with a little more common sense. She would go back from
that excursion reinforced, and bid defiance to that nightmare. Sleep
would come to her, she knew, if she could find a _modus vivendi_ with a
loose flood of golden hair, and could just get hold of a feather-quill
that was impatient of imprisonment and wanted to see the world. She
searched for it with the tenderest of finger-tips because she knew--as
all the feather-bed world knows--that if one is too rough with it, it
goes in, and comes out again just when one is dropping off....

There!--it was caught and pulled out. She would not burn it. It would
smell horribly and make her think of Lutwyche's remedy for fainting
fits, burned feathers held to the nostrils. No!--she would put it
through the casement into the night-air, and it would float away and
think of its days on the breast of an Imbergoose, and believe them back
again. Oh, the difference between the great seas and winds, and the
inside of that stuffy ticking! Poor little breast-feather of a foolish
bird! Yes--now she could go to sleep! She knew it quite well--she had
only to contrive a particular attitude.... There, that was right! Now
she had only to put worrying thoughts out of her head and count a
thousand ... and then--oblivion!

Alas, no such thing! In five minutes the particular attitude was a thing
of the past, and the worrying thoughts were back upon her with a
vengeance. Or, rather, the worrying thought; for her plural number was
hypocrisy. She was in for a deadly wakeful night, a night of growing
fever, with those sightless eyes expelling every other image from her
brain. She was left alone with the darkness and a question she dared not
try to answer. Suppose that when those eyes looked upon her that
evening at Arthur's Bridge for the first time--suppose it was also the
last? What then? How could she know it, and know how the thing came
about, and whom she held answerable for it, and go on living?...

No--her life would end with that. Nothing would again be as it had been
for her. Her childhood had ended when she first saw Death; when her
brother's corpse was carried home dripping from within a stone's throw
of this new tragedy. But was not that what bills of lading call the "Act
of God"--fair play, as it were, on the part of Fate? What was this?...
Come--this would never do, with a pulse like that!

No one should ever feel his pulse, or hers, at night. Gwen was none the
better for doing it. Nor did she benefit by an operation which her mind
called looking matters calmly in the face. It consisted in imaginary
forecasts of a _status quo_ that was to come about. She had to skip some
years as too horrible even to dream of; years needed to live down the
worst raw sense of guilt, and become hardened to inevitable life. Then
she filled in her _scenario_ with Sir Adrian Torrens, the blind Squire
of Pensham Steynes, and his beautiful and accomplished wife, a dummy
with no great vitality, constructed entirely out of a ring on Mr.
Torrens's finger and an allusion of Irene's to the Miss Gertrude
Abercrombie, whose skill in needlework surpassed Arachne's. Gwen did not
supply this lady with a sufficiently well-marked human heart. Perhaps
the temptation to make her clever and shrewd but not sympathetic, not
quite up to her husband's deserts, was irresistible. It allowed of an
unprejudiced consciousness of what she, Gwen, would have been in this
dummy's situation. It allowed latitude to a fancy that portrayed Lady
Gwendolen Whatever-she-had-become--because, of course, _she_ would have
to marry some fool--as the staunch and constant friend of the family at
Pensham. Her devotion to the dummy when in trouble--and, indeed, she
piled up calamities for the unhappy lady--was monumental; an example to
her sex. And when, to the bitter grief of her devoted husband, the dummy
died--all parties being then, at a rough estimate, forty--and she
herself, his dearest friend, stood by the dummy's grave with him, and,
generally speaking, sustained him in his tribulation, a disposition to
get the fool out of the way grew strong enough to make its victim doubt
her own vouchers for her own absolute disinterestedness. She turned
angrily upon her fancies, tore them to tatters, flung them to the winds.
One does this, and then the pieces join themselves together and reappear
intact.

She was no nearer sleep after looking matters calmly in the face, that
way, for a full hour. Similar trials to dramatize a probable future all
ended on the same lines, and each time Gwen was indignant with herself
for her own folly. What was this man to her, whom she had seen twice?
Little enough!--she pledged herself to it in the Court of Conscience!
What was she to him, who had spoken with her twice certainly; but _seen_
her--oh, how little! Why, _she_ had seen _him_ more, of the two, if one
came to close quarters with Time. See how long he was stooping over that
unfortunate dog-chain!

Sitting up in bed in the dim July dawn, wild-eyed in an unshepherded
flock of golden locks, this young lady was certainly surpassingly
beautiful. She was revolving in her poor, aching head a contingency she
had not fully allowed for. Suppose--merely to look other things in the
face, you see!--suppose there were _no_ dummy! What chance would the
poor fellow have then of winning the love of any woman, with those blind
eyes in his head? Gwen got up restlessly and went to the casement,
meeting a stream of level sunlight that the swallows outside in the ivy
were making the subject of comment, and stood looking out over the
leagues of the ancient domain of her forefathers. "Gwen o' the
Towers"--that was her name. It seemed to join chorus with her own answer
to the last question, to her satisfaction.

To offer the consolation of her love, to give all she had to give, to
this man as compensation for the great curse that had fallen on him
through the fault of her belongings, seemed to her in her excited state
easy and nowise strange--mere difficulty of the negotiation apart. She
elected to shut her eyes to a fact we and the story can guess--we are so
shrewd, you see!--and to make a parade in her own eyes of a
self-renunciation approaching that of Marcus Curtius. If only the gulf
would open to receive her she would fling herself in. She ignored the
dissimilarities of detail in the two cases, especially the conceivable
promised land at the bottom of _her_ gulf. The Roman Eques had nothing
but death and darkness to look forward to.

The difficulties of the scheme shot across her fevered conception of it.
How if, though he was not affianced to the dummy, or any other lay
figure she might provide, his was a widowed heart left barren by the
hand of Death? How if some other disappointment had marred his
life?--some passion for a woman who had rashly accepted somebody else
before meeting him? This happens we know; so did Gwen, and was sorry.
How if some minx--Lutwyche's expression--had bewitched him and slighted
him? He might nurse a false ideal of her till Doomsday. Men did
sometimes, _coeteris paribus_. But how could she--how _could_ she?...
Anyhow, Gwen might have seen her way through that difficulty with a fair
chance. But--to be invisible!

The morning sun had been at variance with some flames, hard to believe
clouds, and had just dispersed them so successfully that their place in
the heavens knew them no more. His rays, unveiled, bore hard upon the
blue eyes, sore with watching, of the girl a hundred million miles off,
and drove her from her casement. Gwen of the Towers fell back into the
room, all the flowing lawn of the most luxurious _robe-de-nuit_ France
could provide turned to gold by the touch of Phoebus. She paused a
moment before a mirror, to glance at her pallor in it, and to wonder at
the sunlight in the wealth of its setting of ungroomed, uncontrollable
locks. It was not vanity exactly that provoked the despairing
thought:--"But he will never see me--never!" A girl would have been a
hypocrite indeed who could shut her eyes to what Gwen saw in that
looking-glass. She knew all about it--had done so from babyhood.

Some relaxation of the mind gave Morpheus an opportunity, and he took
such advantage of a willing victim that Lutwyche, coming three hours
later, scarcely knew how to deal with the case, and might have been
uneasy at such an intensive cultivation of sleep if she had been a
nervous person. But she was prosaic and phlegmatic, and held to the
general opinion that nothing unusual ever happened. So she was content
to make a little extra noise; and, when nothing came of it, to go away
till rung for. That was how Gwen came to be so late at breakfast that
morning.



CHAPTER XX

     HOW THE HON. PERCIVAL GAVE MISS DICKENSON HIS ACCOUNT OF THE BLIND
     MAN. HOW THAT ANY YOUNG MAN SOEVER IS GLAD THAT ANY YOUNG LADY
     SOEVER ISN'T _FIANCEE_, EXCEPT SHE BE UGLY. MISS DICKENSON'S
     EFFRONTERY. HOW MR. PELLEW SAID "POOH!" IRENE'S ABSENCE, VISITING.
     EVERYONE'S ELSE ABSENCE, EXCEPT THE BLIND MAN'S, GWEN'S, AND MRS.
     BAILEY'S, WHO HAD A LETTER TO WRITE


The Hon. Percival Pellew had not been at the Towers continuously
throughout the whole three weeks following the accident. The best club
in London could not have spared him as long as that. He had returned to
his place in the House a day or two later, had voted on the Expenses at
Elections Bill, and had then gone to a by-election in Cornwall to help
his candidate to keep his expenses at a minimum. His way back to the
club did not lie near Ancester Towers, but he reconciled a renewal of
his visit there to his conscience by the consideration that an unusually
late Session was predicted. A little more country air would do him no
harm, and the Towers was the best club in the country.

He had had absolutely no motive whatever for going there, outside what
this implies. Unless, indeed, something else was implied by his pledging
his honour to himself that this was the case. Self-deception is an art
that Man gives a great deal of attention to, and Woman nearly as much.

The Countess said to him, on the evening of his reappearance in time to
dress for dinner:--"Everybody's gone, Percy--I mean everybody of your
lot a fortnight ago." Whereto he replied:--"How about the wounded man?"
and her ladyship said:--"Mr. Torrens? Oh yes, Mr. Torrens is here still
and his sister--they'll be here a few days longer.... There's nobody
else. Yes, there's Constance Dickenson. Norbury, tell them to keep
dinner back a little because of Mr. Pellew." This was all in one
sentence, chiefly to the butler. She ended:--"All the rest are new," and
the gentleman departed to dress in ten minutes--long ones probably. This
was two or three evenings before Miss Dickenson saw that glow-worm in
the garden. Perhaps three, because two are needed to account for the
lady's attitude about that cigar, and twelve hours for a coolness
occasioned by her ladyship's saying in her inconsiderate way:--"Oh, you
are quite old friends, you two, of course--I forgot." Only fancy saying
that a single lady and gentleman were "quite old friends"! Both parties
exhibited mature courtesy, enriched with smiles in moderation. But for
all that their relations painfully resembled civility for the rest of
that evening.

However, whatever they were then, they were reinstated by now; that is
to say, by the morning after Gwen's bad night. Eavesdrop, please, and
overhear what you can in the arbutus walk, half-way through the Hon.
Percival's first cigar.

The gentleman is accounting for something he has just said. "What made
me think so was his being so curious about our friend Cumberworld. As
for Gwen, I wouldn't trust her not to be romantic. Girls are."

The lady speaks discreetly:--"Certainly no such construction would have
occurred to me. One has to be on one's guard against romantic ideas.
She might easily be--a--_éprise_, to some extent--as girls are...."

"But spooney, no! Well--perhaps you're right."

"I don't know whether I ought to say even that. I shouldn't, only to
you. Because I know I can rely on your discretion...."

"Rather. Only you must admit that when she appeared this morning--and
last night--she was looking ..."

"Looking what?"

"Well ... rather too statuesque for jollity."

"Perhaps the heat. I know she complains of the heat; it gives her a
headache."

"Come, Miss Dickenson, that's not fair. You know it was what _you_ said
began it."

"Began what?"

"Madam, what I am saying arises naturally from ..."

"There!--do stop being Parliamentary and be reasonable. What you mean
is--have those two fallen head over ears in love, or haven't they?"
Discussions of this subject of Love are greatly lubricated by
exaggeration of style. It is almost as good as a foreign tongue. She
continued more seriously:--"Tell me a little more of what Mr. Torrens
said."

"When I saw him this morning?" Mr. Pellew looked thoughtfully at what
was left of his cigar, as if it would remind him if he looked long
enough, and then threw it abruptly away as though he gave it up as a bad
job. "No," he said, falling back on his own memory. "It wasn't what he
said. It was the way of saying it. Manner is incommunicable. And he said
so little about her. He talked a good deal about Philippa in a chaffy
sort of way--said she was exactly his idea of a Countess--why had one
such firm convictions about Countesses and Duchesses and Baronets and so
on? It led to great injustice, causing us to condemn nine samples out of
ten as Pretenders, not real Countesses or Duchesses or Baronets at all.
He was convinced his own dear dad was a tin Baronet; or, at best,
Britannia-metal. Alfred Tennyson had spoken of two sorts--little
lily-handed ones and great broad-shouldered brawny Englishmen. Neither
would eat the sugar nor go to sleep in an armchair with the _Times_ over
his head. _His_ father did both. I admitted the force of his criticism,
but could not follow his distinction between Countesses and Duchesses.
Duchesses were squarer than Countesses, just as Dukes were squarer than
Earls."

"I think they are," said Miss Dickenson. She shut her eyes a moment for
reflection, and then decided:--"Oh yes--certainly squarer--not a doubt
of it!" Mr. Pellew formed an image in his mind, of this lady fifteen
years ago, with its eyes shut. He did not the least know why he did so.

"Torrens goes on like that," he continued. "Makes you laugh sometimes!
But what I was going to say was this. When he had disposed of Philippa
and chaffed Tim a little--not disrespectfully you know--he became
suddenly serious, and talked about Gwen--spoke with a hesitating
deference, almost ceremoniously. Said he had had some conversation with
Lady Gwendolen, and been impressed with her intelligence and wit. Most
young ladies of her age were so frivolous. He was the more impressed
that her beauty was undeniable. The brief glimpse he had had of her had
greatly affected him artistically--it was an Aesthetic impression
entirely. He overdid this."

Miss Dickenson nodded slightly in confidence with herself. _Her_ insight
jotted down a brief memorandum about Mr. Pellew's, and the credit it did
him. That settled, she recalled a something he had left unfinished
earlier. "You were asking about Lord Cumberworld, Mr. Pellew?"

"Whether there was anything afoot in that quarter? Yes, he asked that,
and wanted to know if Mrs. Bailey, who had been retailing current
gossip, was rightly informed when she said that there was, and that it
was going to come off. He was very anxious to show how detached he was
personally. Made jokes about its 'coming off' like a boot...."

"Stop a minute to see if I understand.... Oh yes--I see. 'If there was
anything afoot.' Of course. Go on."

"It was a poor quip, and failed of its purpose. His relief was too
palpable when I disallowed Mrs. Bailey.... By-the-by, that's a rum
thing, Miss Dickenson,--that way young men have. I believe if I did it
once when I was a young fillah I did it fifty times."

"Did what?"

"Well--breathed free on hearing that a girl wasn't engaged. Doesn't
matter how doosid little they know of her--only seen her in the Park on
horseback, p'r'aps--they'll eat a lot more lunch if they're told she's
still in the market. Fact!"

Miss Dickenson said that no doubt Mr. Pellew knew best, and that it was
gratifying to think how many young men's lunches her earlier days might
have intensified without her knowing anything about it. The gentleman
felt himself bound to reassure and confirm, for was not the lady
_passée_? "Rather!" said he; this favourite expression this time
implying that the name of these lunches was no doubt Legion. An awkward
sincerity of the lady caused her to say:--"I didn't mean that." And
then she had to account for it. She was intrepid enough to venture on:
"What I meant was, never being engaged," but not cool enough to keep of
one colour exactly. It didn't rise to the height of embarrassment, but
something rippled for all that.

A cigar Mr. Pellew was lighting required unusual and special attention.
It had a mission, that cigar. It had to gloss over a slight flush on its
smoker's cheeks, and to take the edge off the abruptness with which he
said,--"Oh, gammon!" as he threw a Vesuvian away.

He picked up the lost thread at the point of his own indiscreet
excursion into young-manthropology--his own word when he apologized for
it. "Anyhow," said he, "it struck me that our friend upstairs was very
hard hit. He made such a parade of his complete independence. Of course,
I'm not much of a judge of such matters. Not my line. I understand that
he has been prorogued--I mean his departure has. He's to try his luck at
coming downstairs this evening after feeding-time. He funks finding the
way to his mouth in public. Don't wonder--poor chap!"

Then this lady had a fit of contrition about the way in which she had
been gossiping, and tried to back out. She had the loathsome meanness to
pretend that she herself had been entirely passive, a mere listener to
an indiscreet and fanciful companion. "What gossips you men are!" said
she, rushing the position boldly. "Fancy cooking up a romance about this
Mr. Torrens and Gwen, when they've hardly so much as," she had nearly
said, "set eyes on each other"; but revised it in time for press. It
worked out "when she has really only just set eyes on him, and chatted
half an hour."

Mr. Pellew's indignation found its way through a stammer which expressed
the struggle of courtesy against denunciation. "Come--hang it all!" said
he. "It wasn't _my_ romance.... Oh, well, perhaps it wasn't yours
either. Only--play fair, Miss Dickenson. Six of the one and half a dozen
of the other! Confess up!"

The lady assumed the tone of Tranquillity soothing Petulance. "Never
mind, Mr. Pellew!" she said. "You needn't lie awake about it. It doesn't
really matter, you know.... _Have_ you got the right time? Because I
have to be ready at half-past eleven to drive with Philippa. I
promised.... What!--a quarter past? I must run." She looked back to
reassure possible perturbation. "It really does _not_ matter between
_us_," said she, and vanished down the avenue.

The Hon. Percival Pellew walked slowly in the opposite direction in a
brown study, leaving his thumbs in his armholes, and playing _la ci
darem_ with his fingers on his waistcoat. He played it twice or thrice
before he stopped to knock a phenomenal ash off his cigar. Then he
spoke, and what he said was "Pooh!"

The story does not know why he said "Pooh!" It merely notes, apropos of
Miss Dickenson's last words, that the first person plural pronoun, used
as a dual by a lady to a gentleman, sometimes makes hay of the thirdness
of their respective persons singular. But if it had done so, this time,
"Pooh!" was a weak counter-blast against its influence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Irene's friend Gretchen von Trendelenstein had written that morning that
she was coming to stay with the Mackworth Clarkes at Toft, only a couple
of miles off. She would only have two days, and could not hope to get as
far as Pensham, but couldn't Irene come to _her_? She was, you see,
Irene's bosom friend. The letter had gone to Pensham and been forwarded,
losing time. This was the last day of visiting-possibility at Toft. So
Irene asked to be taken there; and, if she stayed, would find her way
back somehow. Mr. Norbury, however, after referring to Archibald, the
head of the stables, made _dernier ressorts_ needless, and Irene was
driven away behind a spirited horse by the young groom, Tom Kettering.

Her brother would have devolved entirely on Mrs. Bailey and chance
visitors, if he had not struck vigorously against confinement to his
room, after a recovery of strength sufficient to warrant his removal to
his home eighteen miles away. If he was strong enough for that, he was
strong enough for an easy flight of stairs, down and up, with tea
between. Mrs. Bailey, the only obstacle, was overruled. Indeed, that
good woman was an anachronism by now, her only remaining function being
such succour as a newly blinded man wants till he gets used to his
blindness. Tonics and stimulants were coming to an end, and her
professional extinction was to follow. Nevertheless, Mr. Torrens held
fast to dining in solitude until he recovered his eyesight, or at least
until he had become more dexterous without it.

Now, it happened that on this day of all others three attractive events
came all at once--the Flower Show at Brainley Thorpe, the Sadleigh
Races, and a big Agricultural Meeting at King's Grantham, where the
County Members were to address constituents. The Countess had promised
to open the first, and the absence of the Earl from the second would
have been looked upon as a calamity. All the male non-coronetted members
of the company of mature years were committed to Agriculture or
Bookmaking, and the younger ones to attendance on Beauty at the Flower
Show. Poor Adrian Torrens!--there was no doubt he had been forgotten.
But he was not going to admit the slightest concern about that. "Go away
to your Von, darling Stupid!" said he. "And turn head over heels in her
and wallow. Do you want to be the death of me? Do you want to throw me
back when I'm such a credit to Mrs. Bailey and Dr. Nash?" Irene had her
doubts--but there!--wasn't Gretchen going to marry an Herr Professor and
be a Frau when she went back to Berlin, and would she ever see her
again? Moreover, Gwen said to her:--"He won't be alone if he's
downstairs in the drawing-room. Some of the women are sure to stop. It's
too hot for old Lady Cumberworld to go out. I heard her say so."

"_She'll_ be no consolation for him," said Irene.

"No--that she won't! But unless there's someone else there she'll have
Inez--you've seen the Spanish _dame-de-compagnie_?--and _she'll_ enjoy a
flirtation with your brother. He'll speak Spanish to her, and she'll
sing Spanish songs. _He_ won't hurt for a few hours."

So Tom Kettering drove Irene away in the gig, and Adrian was guided
downstairs to an empty hall by Mrs. Bailey at four o'clock, so as to get
a little used to the room before anyone should return. Prophecy depicted
Normal Society coming back to tea, and believed in itself. Achilles
sanctioned his master's new departure by his presence, accompanying him
to the drawing-room. This dog was not only tolerated but encouraged
everywhere. Dogs are, when their eyes are pathetic, their coats
faultless, and their compliance with household superstitions
unhesitating.

"Anybody in sight, Mrs. Bailey?"

"Nobody yet, Mr. Torrens."

"_Speriamo!_ Perhaps there's a piano in the room, Mrs. Bailey?"

"There's two. One's stood up against the wall shut. The other's on three
legs in the middle of the room." That one was to play upon, she
supposed, the other to sing to.

"If you will be truly obliging--you always are, you know--and conduct me
to the one on three legs in the middle of the room, I will play you an
air from Gluck's 'Orfeo,' which I am sure you will enjoy.... Oh yes--I
can do without any music-books because I have played it before, not
infrequently...."

"I meant to set upon." In fact, Mrs. Bailey regarded this as the primary
purpose of music-books; and so it was, at the home of her niece, who
could play quite nicely. There was only two and they "just did." She
referred to this while Mr. Torrens was spinning the music-stool to a
suitable height for himself. He responded with perfect gravity--not a
fraction of a smile--that books were apt to be too high or too low. It
was the fault of the composers clearly, because the binders had to
accept the scores as they found them. If the binders were to begin
rearranging music to make volumes thicker or thinner, you wouldn't be
able to play straight on. Mrs. Bailey concurred, saying that she had
always said to her niece not to offer to play a tune till she could play
it right through from beginning to end. Mr. Torrens said that was
undoubtedly the view of all true musicians, and struck a chord,
remarking that the piano had been left open. "How ever could you tell
_that_ now, Mr. Torrens?" said Mrs. Bailey, and felt that she was in the
presence of an Artist.

Nevertheless, she seemed to be lukewarm about _Che faro_, merely
remarking after hearing it that it was more like the slow tunes her
niece played than the quick ones. The player said with unmoved gravity
this was _andante_. Mrs. Bailey said that her niece, on the contrary,
had been christened Selina. She could play the Polka. So could Mr.
Torrens, rather to the good woman's surprise and, indeed, delight. He
was so good-humoured that he played it again, and also the
_Schottische_; and would have stood Gluck over to meet her taste
indefinitely, but that voices came outside, and the selection was
interrupted.

The voice of Lady Ancester was one, saying despairingly:--"My dear, if
you're not ready we must go without you. I _must_ be there in time."
Miss Dickenson's was another, attesting that if the person addressed did
not come, sundry specified individuals would be in an awful rage.

"Well, then, you must go without me. Flower shows always bore me to
death." This was a voice that had not died out of the blind man's ears
since yesterday; Lady Gwendolen's, of course. It added that its owner
must finish her letter, or it would miss the six o'clock post and not
catch the mail; which would have, somehow, some disastrous result. Then
said her mother's voice, she should have written it before. Then
justification and refutation, and each voice said its say with a
difference--more of expounding, explaining--with a result like in Master
Hugues of Saxe-Gotha's mountainous fugue, that one of them, Gwen's,
stood out all the stiffer hence. No doubt you know your Browning. Gwen
asserted herself victor all along the line, and remonstrance died a
natural death. But what was she going to do all the afternoon? A wealth
of employments awaited her, she testified. Rarely had so many arrears
remained unpaid. Last and least she must try through that song, because
she had to send the music back to the Signore. So the Countess supposed
she must go her own way, and presently Adrian Torrens was conscious that
her ladyship had gone hers, by the curt resurrection of sounds in
abeyance somewhile since; sounds of eight hoofs and four wheels;
suddenly self-assertive, soon evanescent.

Was Gwen really going to come to sing at this piano? _That_ was
something worth living for, at least. But no!--conclusions must not be
jumped in that fashion. Perhaps she had a piano in her own room. Nothing
more likely.

Achilles had stepped out, hearing sounds as of a departure; and now
returned, having seen that all was in satisfactory order. He sighed over
his onerous responsibilities, and settled down to repose--well-earned
repose, his manner suggested.

"I suppose I shall have to clear out when her young ladyship comes in to
practise," said Mrs. Bailey. Mr. Torrens revolted inwardly against
ostracising the good woman on social grounds; but then, _did_ he want
her to remain if Gwen appeared? Just fancy--to have that newcomer all to
himself for perhaps an hour, as he had her for five minutes yesterday!
Too good to be true! He compromised with his conscience about Mrs.
Bailey. "Don't go away till she does, anyhow," said he. And then he sang
Irish Melodies with Tom Moore's words, and rather shocked his hearer by
the message the legatee of the singer received about his heart. She
preferred the Polka.

It chanced that Mrs. Bailey also had weighty correspondence on hand,
relating to an engagement with a new patient; and, with her,
correspondence was no light matter. Pride had always stood between Mrs.
Bailey and culture, ever since she got her schooling done. Otherwise she
might have acquired style and a fluent caligraphy. As it was, her style
was uncertain and her method slow. Knowing this--without admitting
it--she was influenced by hearing a six o'clock post referred to, having
previously thought her letters went an hour later. So she developed an
intention of completing her letter, of which short instalments had been
turned out at intervals already, as soon as ever the advent of a guest
or visitor gave her an excuse for desertion. Of course a member of the
household was better than either; so she abdicated without misgiving
when--as she put it--she heard her young ladyship a-coming.

Her young ladyship was audible outside long enough for Mrs. Bailey to
abdicate before she entered the room. They met on the stairs and spoke.
Was that Mr. Torrens at the piano?--asked Gwen. Because if it was she
mustn't stop him. She would cry off and try her song another time.

But Mrs. Bailey reassured her, saying:--"He won't go on long, my lady.
You'll get your turn in five minutes," in an undertone. She added:--"He
won't see your music-paper. Trust him for that." These words must have
had a new hope in them for the young lady, for she said quickly: "You
think he _does_ see _something_, then?" The answer was ambiguous.
"Nothing to go by." Gwen had to be content with it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Is there any strain of music known to man more harrowingly pathetic than
the one popularly known as _Erin go bragh_? Does it not make hearers
without a drop of Erse blood in their veins thrill and glow with a
patriotism that complete ignorance of the history of Ireland never
interferes with in the least? Do not their hearts pant for the blood of
the Saxon on the spot, even though their father's name be Baker and
their mother's Smith? Ours does.

Adrian Torrens, though his finger-tips felt strange on the keys in the
dark, and his hands were weak beyond his own suspicion of their
weakness, could still play the Polka for Mrs. Bailey. When his audience
no longer claimed repetition of that exciting air, he struck a chord or
two of some Beethoven, but shook his head with a sigh and gave it up.
However, less ambitious attempts were open to him, and he had happened
on Irish minstrelsy; so, left to himself, he sang _Savourneen Dheelish_
through.

Gwen, entering unheard, was glad she could dry her eyes undetected by
those sightless ones that she knew showed nothing to the singer--nothing
but a black void. The pathos of the air backed by the pathos of a voice
that went straight to her heart, made of it a lament over the blackness
of this void--over the glorious bygone sunlight, never a ray of it to be
shed again for him! There was no one in the room, and it was a relief to
her to have this right to unseen tears.

The feverish excitement of her sleepless night had subsided, but the
memory of a strange resolve clung to her, a resolution to do a thing
that then seemed practicable, reasonable, right; that had seemed since,
more than once, insurmountable--yes! Insane--yes! But _wrong_--no! Now,
hard hit by _Savourneen Dheelish_, the strength to think she might cross
the barriers revived, and the insanity of the scheme shrank as its
rightness grew and grew. After all, did she not belong to herself? To
whom else, except her parents? Well--her duty to her parents was clear;
to ransom their consciences for them; to enable them to say "We
destroyed this man's eyesight for him, but we gave him Gwen." If only
this pianist could just manage to love her on the strength of Arthur's
Bridge and that rainbow gleam! But how to find out? She could see
herself in a mirror near by as she thought it, and the resplendent
beauty that she could not handle was a bitterness to her; she gazed at
it as a warrior might gaze at his sword with his hands lopped off at the
wrists. Still, he _had_ seen her; that was something! She would not have
acknowledged later, perhaps, that at this moment her mind was running on
a foolish thought:--"Did I, or did I not, look my best at that moment?"

She never noticed the curious _naïveté_ which left unquestioned her
readiness to play the part she was casting for herself--the _rôle_ of an
eyeless man's mate for life--yet never taxed her with loving him.
Perhaps it was the very fact that the circumstances of the case released
her from confessing her love, that paved the way for her to action that
would else have been impossible. "By this light," said Beatrice to
Benedick, "I take thee for pure pity." It was a vast consolation to
Beatrice to say this, no doubt.

Achilles stopped _Savourneen Dheelish_ by his welcome to the newcomer.
To whom Gwen said:--"Oh, you darling!" But to his master she said:--"Go
on, it's me, Mr. Torrens. Gwen."

"I know--'Gwen or Gwendolen.'" How easy it would have been for this
quotation from yesterday's postscript to seem impertinent! This man had
just the right laugh to put everything in its right place, and this time
it disclaimed audacious Christian naming. He went on:--"I mustn't
monopolize your ladyship's piano," and accommodated this mode of address
to the previous one by another laugh, exactly the right protest against
misinterpretation.

"My ladyship doesn't want her piano," said Gwen. "She wants to hear you
go on playing. I had no idea you were so musical. Say good-evening, and
play some more."

He went his nearest to meeting her hand, and his guesswork was not much
at fault. A galvanic thrill again shot through him at her touch, and
again neither of them showed any great alacrity to disconnect. "You are
sorry for me," said he.

"Indeed I am. I cannot tell you how much so." She seemed to keep his
hand in hers to say this, and the action and the word were mated, to his
mind. She could not have done this but for my misfortune, thought he to
himself. But oh!--what leagues apart it placed them, that this
semi-familiarity should have become possible on so short an
acquaintance! Society reserves would have kept him back still in the
ranks of men. This placed him among cripples, a disqualified ruin.

His heart sank, for he knew now that she had no belief that this awful
darkness would end. So be it! But, for now, there was the pure joy of
holding that hand for a moment! Forget it all--forget everything!--think
only of this little stolen delirium I can cheat the cruelty of God out
of, before I am the forsaken prey of Chaos and black Night. That was his
thought. He said not a word, and she continued:--"How much can you play?
I mean, can you do the fingering in spite of your eyes? Try some more."
She had barely withdrawn her hand even then.

"I only make a very poor business of it at present," he said. "I shall
have to practise under the new circumstances. When the music jumps half
a mile along the piano I hit the wrong note. Anything that runs easy I
can play." He played the preliminary notes of the accompaniment of _Deh
vieni alla finestra_. "Anything like that. But I can't tackle anything
extensive. My hands haven't quite got strong again, I suppose. Now you
come!"

He was beginning a hesitating move from the music-stool with a sense of
the uncertainty before him when his anchorage was forsaken, but
postponed it as a reply to his companion's remark:--"I'm not coming yet.
I'll play presently.... You were accompanying yourself just now. I was
listening to you at the end of the piano."

"Anybody can accompany himself; he's in his own confidence." He struck a
chord or two, of a duet, this time, and she said:--"Yes--sing that. I
can recollect it without the music. I've sung it with the Signore no end
of times." They sang it together, and Gwen kept her voice down. She was
not singing with the tenor known all over Europe, this time; nor was the
room at any time, big as it was, more than large enough for this young
lady _à pleine voix_. Besides, Mr. Torrens was not in force, on that
score. In fact, at the end of this one song he dropped his fingers on
his knees from the keyboard, and said in a tone that professed amusement
at his own exhaustion: "That's all I'm good for. Funny, isn't it?"



CHAPTER XXI

     BOTHER MRS. BAILEY! A GOOD CREATURE. MARCUS CURTIUS AND
     UNMAIDENLINESS. THE DREAM WITCH AND HER DAUGHTERS. HOW GWEN TOLD OF
     HER TRICK, AND MR. TORRENS OF HOW HE WAKED UP TO HIS OWN BLINDNESS.
     THE PECULIARITIES OF DOWAGER-DUCHESSES. CAN GRIGS READ DIAMOND
     TYPE? THE HYPOTHESIS MR. TORRENS WAS AFFIANCED TO. ADONIS, AND THAT
     DETESTABLE VENUS. EARNESTNESS AND A CLIMAX. AN EARTHQUAKE, OR
     HEARTQUAKE


The Philosopher may see absurdity in the fact that, when two persons
make concordant consecutive noises for ten minutes, the effect upon
their relativities is one that without them might not have come about in
ten weeks. We are not prepared to condemn the Philosopher, for once. He
is prosy, as usual; but what he says refers to an indisputable truth.
Nothing turns diversity into duality quicker than Music.

Gwen did not think the breakdown of the tenor at all funny, and was
rather frightened, suggesting Mrs. Bailey. "Bother Mrs. Bailey!" said
Adrian. "Only it's very ungrateful of me to bother Mrs. Bailey." Said
Gwen:--"She really is a good creature." He replied:--"That's what she is
precisely. A good creature!" Gwen interpreted this as disposing of Mrs.
Bailey. Acting as her agent, she piloted the blind man through the
perils of the furniture to a satisfactory sofa, but could not prevail on
him to lie down on it. He seemed determined to assert his claim to a
discharge cured; allowing a small discount, of course, in respect of
this plaguy eye-affection. In defence of his position that it was a
temporary inconvenience, sure to vanish with returning vigour, he simply
nailed his colours to the mast--would hear of no surrender.

Tea was negotiated, as customary at the Towers, and he made a parade of
his independence over it. No great risks were involved, the little
malachite table placed as a cup-haven being too heavy to knock over
easily. He was able, too, to make a creditable show of eyesight over the
concession of little brown biscuits to Achilles; only really Achilles
did all the seeing. A certain pretence of vision was possible too, in
the distinguishing of those biscuits which were hard from a softer sort;
which Achilles accepted, under protest always, with an implication that
he did it to oblige the donor. He had sacrificed his sleep--that was his
suggestion--and he did not deserve to be put off with shoddy goods.

"He always has a nap during music now," said his master. "He used to
insist on singing too, if he condescended to listen. I had some trouble
to convince him that he couldn't sing--hadn't been taught to produce his
voice...."

"Dear creature!--his voice produced itself like mine. M. Sanson--you
know the great training man?--wanted me to sing in one of my thoraxes or
glottises or oesophaguses. I believe I have several, but I don't know
which is which. He said my voice would last better. But I said I would
have both helpings at once; a recollection of nursery dinner, you
know...."

"I understand--Achilles's view. There, you see!" This was a claim that
an audible tail-flap on the ground was applause. It really was nothing
but its owner's courteous recognition of his own name, to which he was
always alive.

Gwen continued:--"Luckily I met the Signore, who told me Sanson's view
was very natural. What would become of all the trainers if people
produced their own voices?"

"What, indeed? But you did get some sort of drill?"

"Of course. The dear old Signore gave me some lessons. He told me an
infallible rule for people with souls. I was to sing as if the composer
was listening. I might sing scales and exercises if I liked. They had a
use. They prevented one's spoiling the great composers by hacking them
over and over before one could sing."

Adrian felt that chat of this sort was the best after all, to keep safe
for him his _modus vivendi_ with this girl, in a world she was suddenly
lighting up for him in defiance of his darkness. He _could_ have
friendship, and he was not prepared to admit that estrangement might be
the more livable _modus_ of the two. So he shut his mental eyes as close
as his physical ones, and chatted. He told a story of how a great poet,
being asked a question in a lady's album:--"What is your favourite
employment?" wrote in reply:--"Cursing the schoolmaster who made me hate
Horace in my boyhood." It was a pity to spoil "Ah vous dirai-je, maman?"
for the young pianist, but _pluies de perles_ taught nobody anything.

Gwen for her part was becoming painfully alive to the difficulties of
her Quixotic undertaking. Marcus Curtius's self-immolation was easy by
comparison, with all the cheers of assembled Rome crowding the Forum to
back him. If only the horse her metaphor had mounted would take the bit
in his teeth and bolt, tropically, how useful a phantasy it would be!
She became terribly afraid her heroic resolve might die a natural death
during intelligent conversation. Bother _pluies de perles_ and the young
pianist! This dry alternation of responses quashed all serious
conversation. And if this Adrian Torrens went away, to-morrow or next
day, what chance would there be in the uncertain future to compare with
this one? When could she be sure of being alone with him for an hour, at
his father's house or elsewhere? She must--she would--at least find from
him whether some other parallel of the Roman Knight had bespoken the
plunge for herself. She could manage that surely without being
"unmaidenly," whatever that meant. If she couldn't, she would just cut
the matter short and _be_ unmaidenly. But know she _must_!

There is a time before the sun commits himself to setting--as he has
done every day till now, and we all take it for granted he will do
to-morrow--when the raw afternoon relents and the shadows lengthen over
the land; an hour that is not sunset yet, but has begun to know what
sunset means to do for roof and tree-top, and the high hills when a
forecast of the night creeps round their bases; and also for the good
looks of man and wench and beast, and even ugly girls. This hour had
come, and with it the conviction that everybody was sure to be very late
to-night, before Gwen, sitting beside the blind man on the sofa he had
flouted as a couch, got a chance to turn the conversation her way--to
groom the steed, so to speak, of Marcus Curtius for that appointment in
the Forum. It came in a lull, consequent on the momentary dispersion of
subject-matter by the recognition of Society's absence and its probable
late recurrence.

"I was so sorry yesterday, Mr. Torrens." A modulation of Gwen's tone was
not done intentionally. It came with her wish to change the subject.

"What for, then?" said Mr. Torrens, affecting a slight Irish accent with
a purpose not quite clear to himself. It might have given his words
their degree on a seriometer, granted the instrument.

"Don't laugh at me, because I'm in earnest. I mean for being so
unfeeling...."

"Unfeeling?"

"Yes. I don't think talking about it again can make it any worse. But I
do want you to know that I only said it because I got caught--you know
how words get their own way sometimes...."

"But what?--why?--when? What words got their way this time?"

"I'm almost sorry I've spoken, if you didn't notice it. Because then I'm
such a fool for raking it up again.... Why, of course, when I pitched on
those lines of yours. And any others would have done just as well...."

"Lord 'a massy me!--as Mrs. Bailey says. 'The daughters of the Dream
Witch'? What's the matter with _them_? _They're_ all right."

"Oh yes--they're all right, no doubt. But I was thinking of.... Oh, I
can't bear to talk about it!... Oh dear!--I wish I hadn't mentioned
it...."

"Yes, but _do_ mention it. Mention it again. Mention it lots of times.
Besides, I know what you mean...."

"What?"

"The 'watchman sorrowing for the light,' of course! It seemed like me.
Do you know it never crossed my mind in that connection?"

"Is that really true? But, then, what an idiot I was for saying anything
about it! Only I couldn't help myself. I was so miserable! It laid me
awake all night to think of it." This was not absolutely true, because
Gwen had really lain awake on the main question, the responsibility of
her family for that shot of old Stephen's. But, to our thinking, she was
justified in using any means that came to hand. She went on:--"I'm not
sure that it would not have come to nearly the same thing in any
case--the sleepless night, I mean. I did not know till yesterday how ...
b-bad your eyes were"--for she had nearly said the word
_blind_--"because they kept on making the best of it for our sakes,
Irene and Mrs. Bailey did...."

Adrian cut her speech across with an ebullition of sound sense--a
protest against extremes--a counterblast to hysterical judgments.
Obviously his duty! He succeeded in saying with a sufficient infusion of
the correct bounce:--"My dear Lady Gwendolen, indeed you are distressing
yourself about me altogether beyond anything that this unlucky mishap
warrants. In a case of this sort we must submit to be guided by medical
opinion; and nothing that either Sir Coupland Merridew or Dr. Nash has
said amounts to more than that recovery will be a matter of time. We
must have patience. In the meantime I am really the gainer by the
accident, for I shall always look upon my involuntary intrusion on your
hospitality as one of the most fortunate events of my life...."

"'Believe me to remain very sincerely yours, Adrian Torrens.'" She
struck in with a ringing laugh, and finished up what really would have
been a very civil letter from him. "Now, dear Mr. Torrens, do stop being
artificial. Say you're sorry, and you won't do so any more."

"Please, I'm sorry and I won't do so any more.... But I did do it very
well, now didn't I? You must allow that."

"You did indeed, and Heaven knows how glad I should be to be able to be
taken in by it and believe every word the doctors say. But when one has
been hocus-pocussed about anything one ... one feels very strongly
about, one gets suspicious of everybody.... Oh yes--indeed, I think very
likely the doctors are right, and if Dr. Merridew had only said that you
couldn't see at all now, but that the sight was sure to come back, I
should have felt quite happy yesterday when...." She stopped,
hesitating, brought up short by suddenly suspecting that she was driving
home the fact of his blindness, instead of helping him to keep up heart
against it. But how could she get to her point without doing so? How
could Marcus Curtius saddle up for his terrible leap, and keep the words
of the Oracle a secret?

At any rate, he could not see her confusion at her own
_malapropos_--that was something! She recovered from it to find him
saying:--"But what I want to know is--_what_ happened yesterday? I mean,
how came you to know anything you did not know before? Was it anything
_I_ did? I thought I got through it so capitally." He spoke more
dejectedly than hitherto, palpably because his efforts at pretence of
vision had failed. The calamity itself was all but forgotten.

Gwen saw nothing ahead but confession. Well--it might be the best way to
the haven she wanted to steer for. "It was not what you _did_," said
she. "You made believe quite beautifully all the time we were sitting
there, talking talk. It was when I was just going. You remember when
mamma had gone away with 'Rene, and I put my foot in it over those
verses?"

"Yes, indeed I do. Only, you know, that wasn't because of the Watchman.
I never mixed him in--not with my affairs. A sort of Oriental
character!"

"Well--that was my mistake. You remember when, anyhow? Now, do you know,
all the time I was standing there talking about the Watchman, I was
holding out my hand to you to say good-night, and you never offered to
take it, and put your hands in your pockets? It must have gone on for
quite two minutes. And I was determined not to give a hint, and there
was no one else there...." Gwen thought she could understand the
gesture that made her pause, a sudden movement of the blind man's right
hand as though it had been stung by the discovery of its own
backwardness.

He dropped it immediately in a sort of despairing way, then threw it up
impatiently. "All no use!" he said. "No use--no use--no use!" The sound
of his despair was in his voice as he let the hand fall again upon his
knee. He gave a heart-broken sigh:--"Oh dear!" and then sat on silent.

Gwen was afraid to speak. For all she knew, her first word might be
choked by a sob. After a few moments he spoke again:--"And there was
I--thinking--thinking...." and stopped short.

"Thinking what?" said Gwen timidly.

"I will tell you some time," he said. "Not now!" And then he drew a long
breath and spoke straight on, as though some obstacle to speech had
gone. "It has been a terrible time, Lady Gwendolen--this first knowledge
of ... of what I have lost. Put recovery aside for a moment--let the
chance of it lie by, until it is on the horizon. Think only what the
black side of the shield means--the appalling darkness in the miserable
time to come--the old age when folk will call me the blind Mr. Torrens;
will say of me:--'You know, he was not born blind--it was an accident--a
gunshot wound--a long while back now.' And all that long while back will
have been a long vacuity to me, and Heaven knows what burden to
others.... I have known it all from the first. I knew it when I waked to
my senses in the room upstairs--to all my senses but one. I knew it when
I heard them speak hopefully of the case; hope means fear, and I knew
what the fear was they were hoping against. That early morning when
stupor came to an end, and my consciousness came back, I remembered all.
But I thought the darkness was only the sweet, wholesome darkness of
night, and my heart beat for the coming of the day. The day came, sure
enough, but I knew nothing of it. The first voice I heard was Mrs.
Bailey's, singing paeans over my recovery. She had been lying in wait for
it, in a chair beside the bed which I picture to myself as a chair of
vast scope and pretensions. I did not use my tongue, when I found it, to
ask where I was--because I knew I was somewhere and the bed was very
comfortable. I asked what o'clock it was, and was told it was near nine.
Then, said I, why not open the shutters and let in the light?"

"What did Mrs. Bailey say?"

"Mrs. Bailey said Lord have mercy, gracious-goodness-her, and I at once
perceived that I was in the hands of a good creature. I must have done
so, because I exhorted her to act in her official capacity. When she
said:--'Why ever now, when the sun's a-shining fit to brile the house
up!' I said to her--to remove ambiguity, you see--'Do be a good creature
and tell me, _is_ the room light or dark? She replied in a form of
affidavit:--'So help me, Mr. Torrens, if this was the last Bible word I
was to speak, this room is light, not dark, nor yet it won't be, not
till this blessed evening when there come candles or the lamp, as
preferred.' I had a sickening perplexity for a while whether I was sane
or mad, awake or dreaming, lying there with my heart adding to my
embarrassment needlessly by beating in a hurry. Then I remember how it
came to me all at once--the whole meaning of it. Till now, blind men had
been other people. Now I was to be one myself.... Say something!... I
don't like my own voice speaking alone.... there _is_ no one else in the
room, is there?"

"Not a soul. And nobody will come. The dowager-duchess is having tea in
her own room, and all the others will be late."

Something in this caused Mr. Torrens to say, with ridiculous
inconsecutiveness:--"Then you're not engaged to Lord Cumberworld?"

"I certainly am _not_ engaged to Lord Cumberworld," said Gwen with cold
emphasis. "Why did you think I was?"

"Mrs. Bailey."

"Mrs. Bailey! And why did you think I wasn't?"

"That requires thought. I don't quite see, now I come to think of it,
why a lady shouldn't be engaged to a party and speak about his grandma
as ..."

"As I spoke of his just now? Why not, indeed? She _is_ a
dowager-duchess."

"I admit it. But there are ways and ways of calling people
dowager-duchesses. It struck me that your way suggested that there was
something ridiculous about ... about _dowadging_."

"So there is--to me. I believe it arose from the newspaper saying, when
we had a ball in London for me to come out, that the Dowager Lady
Scamander had a magnificent diamond stomacher. Perhaps you don't happen
to know the shape of that good lady?... Never mind. Anyhow, I am _not_
engaged to this one's grandson; and she's safe in the west wing, where
the ghost never goes. We've got it all to ourselves. Go on!"

"My first idea was how to prevent Europe and Asia finding it out and
frightening my family, at least until my eyes had had time to turn
round. The next voice I heard was the doctor's, summoned, I suppose, by
Mrs. Bailey. It was cheerful, and said that was good hearing, and now
we should do. He said:--'You lie quiet, Mr. Torrens, and I'll tell you
what it all was; because I daresay you don't know, and would like to.' I
said yes--very much. So he told me the story in a comfortable optimist
way--said it was a loss of blood from the occipital artery that had made
such a wreck of me, but that a contusion of the head had been the cause
of the insensibility, which had nearly stopped the action of the heart,
else I might have bled to death...."

"Oh, how white you were when we found you!" Gwen exclaimed--"So terribly
white! But I half think I can see how it happened. Your heart stopped
pumping the blood out, because you were stunned, and that gave the
artery a chance to pull itself together. That's the sort of idea Dr.
Merridew gave me, with the long words left out."

"What a very funny thing!" said Adrian thoughtfully, "to have one's life
saved by being nearly killed by something else. _Similia similibus
curantur._ However, all's fish that comes to one's net. Well--when Sir
Coupland had told me his story, he said casually:--'What's all this Mrs.
Bailey was telling me about your finding the room so dark?' I humbugged
a little over it, and said my eyesight was very dim. Whatever he
thought, he said very little to me about it. Indeed, he only said that
he was not surprised. A shock to the head and loss of blood might easily
react on the optic nerve. It would gradually right itself with rest. I
said I supposed he could try tests--lenses and games--to find out if the
eyes were injured. He said he would try the lenses and games later, if
it seemed necessary. For the present I had better stay quiet and not
think about it. It would improve. Then my father and 'Rene came, and
were jolly glad to hear my voice again. For I had only been
half-conscious for days, and only less than half audible, if, indeed, I
ever said anything. But I was on my guard, and my father went away home
without knowing, and I don't believe 'Rene quite knows now. It was your
father who spotted the thing first. Had he told you, to put you up to
the hand-shaking device?"

"He never said a word. The handshaking was my own brilliant idea. When I
found--what I did find out--I went away and had a good cry in mamma's
room." This speech was an effort on Gwen's part to get a little
nearer--ever so little--to Marcus Curtius; nearer, that is, to her
metaphorical parallel of his heroism. Marcus had got weaker as an
imitable prototype during the conversation, and it had seemed to Gwen
that he might slip through her fingers altogether, if no help came. Her
"good cry" reinforced Marcus, and quite blamelessly; for who could find
fault with her for that much of concern for so fearful a calamity? What
had she said that she might not have said to a friend's husband, cruelly
and suddenly stricken blind? Indeed, could she as a friend have said
less? Was her human pity to be limited to women and children and cases
of special licence, or pass current merely under _chaperonage_? No--she
was safe so far certainly.

"Oh, Lady Gwendolen, I can't stand this," was Adrian's exclamation in a
tone of real distress. "Why--why--should I make you miserable and lay
you awake o' nights? I couldn't help your finding out, perhaps. But what
a selfish beast I am to go on grizzling about my own misfortune....
Well--I _have_ been grizzling! And all the while, as like as not, the
medicos are right, and in six weeks I shall be reading diamond type as
merry as a grig...."

"Do grigs read diamond type?"

"_I_ may be doing so, anyhow, grigs or no!" He paused an instant, his
absurdity getting the better of him. "I may have employed the expression
'grigs' rashly. I do not really know how small type they can read. I
withdraw the grigs. Besides, there's another point of view...."

"What's that?" Gwen is a little impatient and absent. Marcus Curtius has
waned again perceptibly.

"Why--suppose I had been knocked over two miles off, carried in, for
instance, at the Mackworth Clarkes', where 'Rene's gone...!"

"But you weren't!"

"Lady Gwendolen, you don't understand the nature of an hypothesis"--his
absurdity gets the upper hand again--"the nature of an hypothesis is
that its maker is always in the right. I am, this time. If I had been
nursed round at the Mackworth Clarkes', you would have known nothing
about me except as a mere accident--a person in the papers--a person one
inquires after...."

Gwen interrupts him with determination. "Stop, Mr. Torrens," she says,
"and listen to me. If you had been struck by a bullet fired by my
father's order, by his servant, on his land, it would not have mattered
what house you were taken to, nor who nursed you round. I should have
felt that the guilt--yes, the guilt!--the _sin_ of it was on the
conscience of us all; every one of us that had had a hand, a finger, in
it, directly or indirectly. How could I have borne to look your sister
in the face...?"

"You wouldn't have known her! Come, Lady Gwen!"

"Very well, then, give her up. Suppose, instead, the girl you are
engaged to had been a friend of mine, how could I have borne to look
_her_ in the face?"

"_She's_ a hypothesis. There's no such interesting damsel--that I know
of...."

"Oh, isn't there?... Well--she's a hypothesis, and I've a right to as
many hypothesisses as you have."

"I can't deny it."

"Then how should I look her in the face? Answer my question, and don't
prevaricate."

"What a severe--Turk you are! But I won't prevaricate. You wouldn't be
called on to look the hypothesis in the face. She would have broken me
off, like a sensible hypothesis that knew what was due to itself and its
family...."

"Do be serious. Indeed _I_ am serious. It was in my mind all last
night--such a dreadful haunting thought!--what would this girl's
feelings be to me and mine? I made several girls I know stand for the
part. You know how one overdoes things when one is left to oneself and
the darkness?..."

"Yes--that I do! No doubt of it!" The stress of a meaning he could not
help forced its way into his words, in spite of himself. Surely you need
not have shown it, said an inner voice to him. He made no reply. But he
did not see how.

Almost before he had time to repent she had cried out:--"Oh, there now!
See what I have done again! I did not mean it. Do forgive me!" Neither
saw a way to patching up this lapse, and it was ruled out by tacit
consent. Gwen resumed:--"You know, I mean, how one dreams a thousand
things in a minute, and everything is as big as a house, even when it's
only strong coffee. This was worse than strong coffee. There were plenty
of them, these hypothesisses.... Oh yes!--we know plenty of girls you
do. I could count you up a dozen...."

"--One's enough!--that means that one's the allowance, not that it's one
too many...."

"Well--there were a many reproachful dream-faces, and every one of them
said to me:--'See what you have made of my life that might have been so
happy. See how you have con ...'" Gwen had very nearly said _condemned_,
but stopped in time. She could not refer to the demands of an eyeless
mate for constant help in little things, and all the irksomeness of a
home.

Adrian, pretending not to hear "con," spoke at once. "But did none of
these charming girls--I'm sure I should have loved heaps of them--did
none of them remind you that they were hypothetical?"

"Dear Mr. Torrens, I can't tell you how good and brave you seem to me
for laughing so much, and turning everything to a joke. But I _was_ in
earnest."

"So was I."

"_Then_ I did not understand."

"What did you think I meant?"

"I thought you were playing fast and loose with the nonsense about the
hypothesis. I did indeed."

"Well, I was serious underneath. Listen, and I'll tell you. This
_fiancée_ of mine that you seem so cocksure about has no existence. I
give you my honour that it is so, and that I am glad of it.... Yes--glad
of it! How could I bear to think I was inflicting myself on a woman I
loved, and making her life a misery to her?"

Gwen thought of beginning:--"If she loved you," and giving a little
sketch of a perfect wife under the circumstances. It never saw the
light, owing to a recrudescence of Marcus Curtius, who stood to win
nothing by his venture--was certainly not in love with Erebus. An act of
pure self-sacrifice on principle! Nothing could be farther from her
thoughts, be so good as to observe, than that she _loved_ this man!

He went on uninterrupted:--"No, indeed I am heartily glad of it. It
would be a terrible embarrassment at the best. I should want to let her
off, and she would feel in honour bound to hold on, and really of all
the things I can't abide self-sacrifice is.... Well, Lady Gwendolen,
only consider the feelings of the chap on the altar! Hasn't he a right
to a little unselfishness for his own personal satisfaction?" This was a
sad wet blanket for Marcus Curtius.

Gwen did not believe that Adrian's disclaimer of any preoccupation of
his affections was genuine. According to her theory of life--and there
is much to be said for it--a full-blown Adonis, that is to say, a
lovable man, refusing to love any woman on any terms, was a sort of
monstrosity. The original Adonis of Art and Song was merely an _homme
incompris_, according to this young lady. He hated Venus--odious
woman!--and no wonder. _She_ to claim the rank of a goddess! Besides,
Gwen suspected that Adrian was only prevaricating. Trothplight was one
thing, official betrothal another. It was almost too poor a shuffle to
accuse him of, but she was always flying at the throat of equivocation,
even when she knew she might be outclassed by it. "You are playing with
words, Mr. Torrens," said she. "You mean that you and this young lady
are not 'engaged to be married'? Perhaps not, but that has nothing to
do with the matter. I cannot feel it in my bones--as Mrs. Bailey
says--that any woman you could care for would back out of it because you
... because of this dreadful accident." Her voice was irresolute in
referring to it, and some wandering wave of that electricity that her
finger-tips were so full of made a cross-circuit and quickened the
beating of her hearer's heart. The vessel it struck in mid-ocean had no
time to right itself before another followed. "Surely--if she were worth
a straw--if she were worth the name of a woman at all--she would feel it
her greatest happiness to make it up to you for such...." She was going
to say "a privation," but she always shied off designating the calamity.
In her hurry to escape from "privation" she landed her speech in a
phrase she had not taken the full measure of--"Well--perhaps I oughtn't
to say that! I may be taking the young woman's name in vain. I only mean
that that is what _I_ should feel in her position."

It had come as a chance speech before she saw its bearings. There was
not the ghost of an _arrière pensée_ behind the simple fact that she had
no choice but to judge another woman's mind by her own; a natural
thought! Her first instinct was to spoil the force she had not meant it
to have, by dragging the red herring of some foolish joke across the
trail.

But--to think of it! Here had she been hatching such a brave scheme of
making her own life, and all the devotion she somehow believed she could
give, a compensation for a great wrong, and here she was now affrighted
at the smell of powder! Pride stepped in, and the memory of Quintus
Curtius. No--she would not say a single word to undo the effect of her
heedlessness. Let the worst stand! They had left her in the place of
that hypothesis whom she had herself discarded. It was no fault of hers
that had involved her personally. Was she bound to back out? She bit her
lip to check her own impulse to utter some cheap corrective.

Until that rather scornful disclaimer of the Duke's son, Mrs. Bailey's
piece of fashionable intelligence had served--whether Adrian believed it
or not--as a sort of chaperon's aegis extended over this interview. It
had protected him against himself--against his impulse to break through
a silence that his three weeks' memory of this girl's image had made
painful. Recollect that her radiant beauty, in that setting sun-gleam,
was the last thing human his eyes had rested on before the night came on
him--the night that might be endless. It was not so easy, now that an
imaginary _fiancée_ had been curtly swept away, to fight against a
temptation he conceived himself bound in honour not to give way to. Not
so easy because _something_, that he hoped was not his vanity, was
telling him that this girl beside him, her very self that he had seen
once, whose image was to last for ever, was at least not placing
obstacles in his way. For anything that _she_ was doing to prevent it,
he might drive a coach-and-six through the social code that blocks a
declaration of passion to a girl under age without the consent of her
parents. He was conscious of this code, and his general acceptance of
it. But he was not so law-abiding but that he must needs get on the
box--of the coach-and-six--and flick the leaders with his whip.

For he asked abruptly:--"How do you know that?" driving home the nail of
personality to the head.

"Perhaps I am wrong," said Gwen, dropping her flag an inch. "But I was
thinking so all last night. I was in a sort of fever, you see, because I
felt so guilty, and it grew worse and worse...."

"You were thinking that...?"

"Well--you know--it was before I had any idea she was a hypothesis. I
thought she was real because of the ring."

"My ring! Fancy!... But I'll tell you about my ring presently. Tell me
what you were thinking...."

"Why--what I said before!"

"But what _was_ it?"

"Do you know, I think it was only a sort of attempt to get a little
sleep. You were so fearfully on my conscience, and it made it so much
easier to bear.... Only it worried me to think that perhaps she might
turn round and say:--'This was no fault of mine. Why should I bear for
life the burden of other people's sins?' ... If she was a perfect
beast--_beast_, you know!..."

"The hypothesis would not have been a perfect beast. She would have been
a perfect lady, and Mrs. Bailey would have attested it. She would have
pointed out the desirability of a sister's love--at reasonable
intervals; visits and so on--for a man with his eyes poked out. She
might even have gone the length of insinuating that the finger of
Providence did it...."

"Now you are talking nonsense again. Do be serious!"

"Well--let's be serious! Suppose you tell me what it was you were
thinking that made the existence of that very dry and unsatisfying
hypothesis such a consolation!"

"I should like to tell you--only I know I shall say it wrong, and you
will think me an odd girl; or unfeeling; which is worse."

"I should do nothing of the sort. But I'll tell you what I should
think--what I have thought all this time I have been hearing your
voice--I merely mention it as a thing of pathological interest...."

"Go on."

"I should think it didn't matter what you said so long as you went on
speaking. Because whenever I hear your voice I can shut my eyes and
forget that I am blind."

"Is that empty compliment, or are you in earnest?"

"I was jesting a minute ago, but now I am in earnest. I mean what I say.
Your voice takes the load off my heart and the darkness off my brain,
and we are standing again by that stone bridge over yonder--Arthur's
Bridge--and I see you in all your beauty--oh! such beauty--as I look up
from Ply's cut collar against the sunset sky. That was my last hour of
vision, and its memory will go with me to the grave. And now when I hear
your voice, it all comes back to me, and the terrible darkness has
vanished--or the sense of it anyhow!..."

"If that is so you shall hear it until your sight comes back--it
will--it must!"

"How if it never comes back? How if I remain as I am now for life?"

"I shall not lose my voice."

How it came about neither could ever say; but each knew that it happened
then, just at that turn in the conversation, and that no one came
rushing into the drawing-room as they easily might have done--this lax
structure of language was employed later in reference to it--nor did any
of the thousand interruptions occur that might have occurred. Mrs.
Bailey might have come to Mr. Torrens to know how many g's there were in
agreeable, or a tea-collector might have prowled in to add relics to her
collection, or even the sound of the carriage afar--inaudible by
man--might have caused Achilles to requisition the opening of the
drawing-room door, that he might rush away to sanction its arrival. Two
guardian angels--the story thinks--stopped any of these things
happening. What did happen was that Gwen and Adrian, who a moment before
were nominally a lady and gentleman chatting on a sofa near the piano,
whose separation involved no consequences definable for either, were
standing speechless in each other's arms--speechless but waiting for the
power to speak. For nobody can articulate whose heart is thumping out of
all reason. He has to wait--or she, as may be. One of each is needed to
develope an earthquake of this particular kind.

It was just as well that the Hon. Percival Pellew and Aunt Constance
Smith-Dickenson, who had started to walk from the flower-show with a
couple of young monkeys whose object in life was to spare everybody else
their company from selfish motives, did _not_ come rushing into the
drawing-room just then, but a quarter of an hour later. For even if the
parties had caught the sound of their arrival in time, the peculiarity
of Mr. Torrens' blindness would have stood in the way of any successful
pretence that he and Lady Gwendolen had been keeping their distance up
to Society point. We know how easy it is for normal people, when caught,
to pretend they are looking at dear Sarah's interesting watercolours
together, or anything of that sort. And even if the blind man had been
able to strike a bar or two carelessly on the piano, to advertise his
isolation, their faces would have betrayed them. Not that the tears of
either could have been identified on the face of the other. It was a
matter of expression. Every situation in this world has a stamp of its
own for the human face, and no stamp is more easily identified than that
on the face of lovers who have just found each other out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anyhow this story cannot go on, until the absurd tempest that has passed
over these two allows them to speak. Then they do so on an absolutely
new footing, and the man calls the girl his dearest and his own, and
Heaven knows what else. There one sees the difference between the B.C.
and A.D. of the Nativity of Love. It is a new Era. Call it the Hegira,
if you like.

"I saw you once, dear love,"--he is saying--"I saw you once, and it was
you--you--you! The worst that Fate has in store for me cannot kill the
memory of that moment. And if blindness was to be the price of this--of
this--why, I would sooner be blind, and have it, than have all the eyes
of Argus and ... and starve."

"You wouldn't know you were starving," says Gwen, who is becoming
normal--resuming the equanimities. "Besides, you would be such a Guy.
No--please don't! Somebody's coming!"

"Nobody's coming. It's all right. I tell you, Gwen, or Gwendolen--do you
know I all but called you that, when you came in, before we sang...?"

"Why didn't you quite? However, I'm not sorry you didn't on the whole.
It might have seemed paternal, and I should have felt squashed. And then
it might never have happened at all, and I should just have been a young
lady in Society, and you a gentleman that had had an accident."

"It would have happened just the same, _I_ believe. Because why? I had
_seen_ you. At least, it _might_ have."

"It _has_ happened, and must be looked in the face. Now whatever you
do, for Heaven's sake, don't go talking to papa and being penitent, till
I give you leave."

"What should I be able to say to him? _I_ don't know. I can't justify my
actions--as the World goes...."

"Why not?"

"Nobody would hold a man blameless, in my circumstances, who made an
offer of marriage to a young lady under...."

"It's invidious to talk about people's ages."

"I wasn't going to say twenty-one. I was going to say under her father's
roof...."

"Nobody ever makes offers of marriage on the top of anybody's father's
roof. Besides, you never made any offer, strictly speaking. You
said...."

"I said that if I had my choice I would have chosen it all as it now is,
only to hear your voice in the dark, rather than to be without it and
have all the eyes of ... didn't I say Argus?"

"Yes--you said Argus. But that was a _façon-de-parler_; at least I hope
so, for the sake of the Hypothesis.... Oh dear!--what nonsense we two
are talking...." Some silence; otherwise the _status quo_ remained
unchanged. Then he said:--"_I_ wonder if it's all a dream and we shall
wake." And she replied: "Not both--that's absurd!" But she made it more
so by adding:--"Promise you'll tell me your dream when we wake, and I'll
tell you mine." He assented:--"All right!--but don't let's wake yet."

By now the sun was sinking in a flame of gold, and every little rabbit's
shadow in the fern was as long as the tallest man's two hours since, and
longer. The level glare was piercing the sheltered secrets of the
beechwoods, and choosing from them ancient tree-trunks capriciously, to
turn to sudden fires against the depths of hidden purple beyond--the
fringe of the mantle the vanguard of night was weaving for the hills.
Not a dappled fallow-deer in the coolest shade but had its chance of a
robe of glory for a little moment--not a bird so sober in its plumage
but became, if only it flew near enough to Heaven, a spark against the
blue. And the long, unhesitating rays were not so busy with the world
without, but that one of them could pry in at the five-light window at
the west end of the Jacobean drawing-room at the Towers, and reach the
marble Ceres the Earl's grandfather brought from Athens. And on the way
it paused and dwelt a moment on a man's hand caressing the stray locks
of a flood of golden hair he could not see--might never see at all. Or
who might live on--such things have been--to find it grey to a
half-illuminated sight in the dusk of life. So invisible to him now; so
vivid in his memory of what seemed to him no more than a few days
since! For half the time, remember, had been to him oblivion--a mere
blank. And now, in the splendid intoxication of this new discovery, he
could well afford to forget for the moment the black cloud that overhung
the future, and the desperation that might well lie hidden in its heart,
waiting for the day when he should know that Hope was dead. That day
might come.

"Shall I tell you now, my dearest, my heart, my life"--this is what he
is saying, and every word he says is a mere truth to him; a sort of
scientific fact--"shall I tell you what I was going to say an hour
ago?..."

"It's more than an hour, but I know when. About me sticking my hand
out?"

"Just exactly then. I was thinking all the while that in another moment
I should have your hand in mine, and keep it as long as I dared. Eyes
were nothing--sight was nothing--life itself was nothing--nothing was
anything but that one moment just ahead. It would not last, but it would
fill the earth and the heavens with light and music, and keep death and
the fiend that had been eating up my soul at bay--as long as it lasted.
Dear love, I am not exaggerating...."

"Do you expect me to believe that? Now be quiet, and perhaps I'll tell
you what I was thinking when I found out you couldn't see--have been
thinking ever since. I thought it well over in the night, and when I
came into this room I meant it. I did, indeed."

"Meant what?"

"Meant to get at the truth about that ring of yours. I had got it on the
brain, you see. I meant to find out whether she was anybody or nobody.
And if she was nobody I was going to...." She comes to a standstill;
for, even now--even after such a revelation, with one of his arms about
her waist, and his free hand caressing her hair--Marcus Curtius sticks
in her throat a little.

"What were you going to?" said Adrian, really a little puzzled. Because
even poets don't understand some women.

"Well--if it wasn't you I wouldn't tell. I ... I had made up my mind to
apply for the vacant place." This came with a rush, and might not have
come at all had she felt his eyes could see her; knowing, as she did,
the way the blood would quite unreasonably mount up to her face the
moment she had uttered it. "It all seemed such plain sailing in the
middle of the night, and it turned out not quite so easy as I thought it
would be. You know.... Be quiet and let me talk now!... it was the
guilt--my share in it--that was so hard to bear. I wanted to do
_something_ to make it up to you. And what could I do? A woman is in
such a fix. Oh, how glad I was when you opened fire on your own account!
Only _frightened_, you know." He was beginning to say something, but she
stopped him with:--"I know what you are going to say, but that's just
where the difficulty came in. If only I hadn't cared twopence about you
it would have been so easy!... Did you say how? Foolish man!--can't you
see that if I hadn't loved you one scrap, or only half across your lips
as we used to say when we were children, it would have been quite a
let-off to be met with offers of a brother's love ... and that sort of
thing.... Isn't that them?" This was colloquial. No doubt Gwen was
exceptional, and all the other young ladies in the Red Book would have
said:--"Are not these they?"

This story does not believe that Gwen's statement of her recent
embarrassment covered the facts. Probably a woman in her position would
be less held at bay by the chance of a rebuff, than by a deadly fear of
kisses chilled by a spirit of self-sacrifice.... Ugh!--the hideous
suspicion! The present writer, from information received, believes that
little girls like to think that they are made of sugar and spice and all
that's nice, and that their lover's synthesis of slugs and snails and
puppy-dogs' tails doesn't matter a rap so long as they are ravenous. But
they mustn't snap, however large a percentage of puppy-dogs they
contain.

Anyhow, Marcus Curtius never came off. He was really impossible; and, as
we all know, what's impossible very seldom comes to pass. And this case
was not among the exceptions.

It wasn't them. But a revision of the relativities was necessary. When
Miss Dickenson and the Hon. Percival did come in, Gwen was at the piano,
and Adrian at the right distance for hearing. Nothing could have been
more irreproachable. The newcomers, having been audibly noisy on the
stairs, showed as hypocritical by an uncalled-for assumption of
preternatural susceptibility to the absence of other members of their
party acknowledging their necessity to make up a Grundy quorum. There is
safety in number when persons are of opposite sexes, which they
generally are.

"Can't imagine what's become of them!" said Mr. Pellew, rounding off
some subject with a dexterous implication of its nature. "By
Jove!--that's good, though! Mr. Torrens down at last!" Greetings and
civilities, and a good pretence by the blind man of seeing the hands he
meets half-way.

"That young Lieutenant What's-his-name and the second Accrington girl,
Gwen dear. They must have missed us and gone round by Furze Heath. I
shall be in a fearful scrape with Lady Accrington, I know. Why didn't
you come to the flower-show?" Thus Miss Dickenson, laying unnecessary
stress on the absentees.

"I had a headache," says Gwen, "and Gloire de Dijon roses always make my
headaches worse.... Yes, it's very funny. Mr. Torrens and I have been
boring one another half the afternoon. But I've written some letters. Do
you know this in the new Opera--Verdi's?" She played a phrase or two of
the _Trovatore._ For it was the new Opera that year, and we were boys
... _eheu fugaces_!

"I really think I ought to walk back a little and see about those young
people," says Aunt Constance fatuously. Thereupon Gwen finds she would
like a little walk in the cool, and will accompany Aunt Constance. But
just after they have left the room Achilles, whose behaviour has really
been perfect all along, is seized with a paroxysm of interest in an
inaudible sound, and storms past them on the stairs to meet the carriage
and keep an eye on things. So they only take a short turn on the terrace
in the late glow of the sunset, and go up to dress.

Adrian and the Hon. Percival spend five minutes in the growing twilight,
actively ignoring all personal relations during the afternoon. They
discuss flower-shows on their merits, and recent Operas on theirs. They
censure the fashions in dress--the preposterous crinolines and the
bonnets almost hanging down on the back like a knapsack--touch politics
slightly: Louis Napoleon, Palmerston, Russian Nicholas. But they follow
male precedents, dropping trivialities as soon as womankind is out of
hearing, and preserve a discreet silence--two discreet silences--about
their respective recencies. They depart to their rooms, Adrian risking
his credit for a limited vision by committing himself to Mr. Pellew's
arm and a banister.



CHAPTER XXII

     THEOPHILUS GOTOBED. HOW A TENOR AND A SOPRANO VANISHED. HOW GWEN
     ANNOUNCED HER INTENDED MARRIAGE. PRACTICAL ENCOURAGEMENT. AUNT
     CONSTANCE AND MR. PELLEW, AND HOW THEY WERE OLDER THAN ROMEO,
     JULIET, GWEN, AND MR. TORRENS. HOW THEY STAYED OUT FIVE MINUTES
     LONGER, AND MISS DICKENSON CAME ACROSS THE EARL WITH A CANDLE-LAMP.
     HOW GWEN'S FATHER KNEW ALL ABOUT IT. NEVERTHELESS THE EARL DID NOT
     KNOW BROWNING. BUT HE SUSPECTED GWEN OF QUIXOTISM, FOR ALL THAT.
     ONE'S TONGUE, AND THE CHOICE BETWEEN BITING IT OFF OR HOLDING IT.
     HOW GWEN HAD BORROWED LORD CUMBERWORLD'S PENCIL. MRS. BAILEY AND
     PARISIAN PROFLIGACY


The galaxy of wax lights had illuminated the Jacobean drawing-room long
enough to have become impatient, if only they had had human souls,
before the first conscientious previous person turned up dressed for
dinner, and felt ashamed and looked at a book. He affected superiority
to things, saying to the subsequent conscientious person:--"Seen
this?--'The Self-Renunciation of Theophilus Gotobed?'--R'viewers sayts
'musing;" and handing him Vol. I., which he was obliged to take. He just
looked inside, and laid it on the table. "Looks intristin'!" he said.

It was bad enough, said Mr. Norbury to Cook sympathetically in
confidence, to put back three-quarters of an hour, without her ladyship
making his lordship behindhander still. This was because news travelled
to the kitchen--mind you never say anything whatever in the hearing of a
servant!--that their two respective ships were in collision in the
Lib'ary; _harguing_ was the exact expression. It was the heads of the
household who were late. Lady Gwendolen apologized for them, saying she
was afraid it was her fault. It was. But she didn't look penitent. She
looked resplendent.

The two couples who had parted company, being anxious to advertise their
honourable conduct, executed a quartet-without-music in extenuation of
what appeared organized treachery. The soprano and tenor had lost sight
of the alto and basso just on the other side of Clocketts Croft, where
you came to a stile. They had from sheer good-faith retraced their steps
to this stile and sat on it reluctantly, in bewilderment of spirit,
praying for the spontaneous reappearance of the wanderers. These latter
testified unanimously that they had seen the tenor assist the soprano
over this stile, and that then the couple had disappeared to the right
through the plantation of young larches, and they had followed them
along a path of enormous length with impenetrable arboriculture on
either hand, without seeing any more of them, and expected to find them
on arriving. The tenor and soprano gave close particulars of their
return along this self-same path. All the evidence went to show that a
suspension of natural laws had taken place, the simultaneous presence of
all four at that stile seeming a mathematical certainty from which
escape was impossible.

Guilty conscience--so Gwen thought at least--was discernible in every
phrase of the composition. This was all very fine for Lieutenant Tatham
and Di Accrington, the two young monkeys. But why Aunt Constance and her
middle-aged M.P.? If they wanted to, why couldn't they, without any
nonsense? That was the truncated inquiry Gwen's mind made.

She herself was radiant, dazzling, in the highest spirits. But her
mother was silent and pre-occupied, and rather impatient with her more
than once during the evening. The Earl was the same, minus the
impatience.

This was because of two very short colloquies under pressure, between
Gwen's departure upstairs and the Countess's overdue appearance at
dinner. The first began in the lobby outside Gwen's room, where her
mother overtook her on her way to her own. Here it is in full:

"Oh--there you are, child! What a silly you were not to come! How's your
headache?... I do wish your father would have those stairs altered. It's
like the ascent of Mount Parnassus." Buckstone was presenting a
burlesque of that name just then, and her ladyship may have had it
running in her head.

"It wasn't a real headache--only pretence. Come in here, mamma. I've
something to say.... No--I haven't rung for Lutwyche yet. _She's_ all
right. Come in and shut the door."

"Why, girl, what's the matter? Why are you...?"

"Why am I what?"

"Well--twinkling and--breathing and--and altogether!" Her ladyship's
descriptive power is fairly good as far as it goes, but it has its
limits.

"I don't believe I'm either twinkling or breathing or altogether....
Well, then--I'm whatever you like--all three! Only listen to me, mamma
dear, because there's not much time. I'm going to marry Adrian Torrens.
There!"

"Oh--my dear!" It is too much for the Countess after those stairs! She
sinks on a chair clutching her fingers tight, with wide eyes on her
daughter. It is too terrible to believe. But even in that moment Gwen's
beauty has such force that the words "A blind man!--never to see it!"
are articulate in her mind. For her child never looked more
beautiful--one half queenly effrontery, her disordered locks against the
window-light making a halo of rough gold round a slight flush its wearer
would resent the name of shame for; the other half, the visible
flinching from confession she would resent still more for justifying it.

"Why--do you know anything against him?"

"Darling!--you might marry anybody, and you know it."

"Oh yes; I know all about it. I prefer this one. But _do_ you know
anything against him?"

"Only ... only his _eyes_!... Oh dear! You know you said so yourself
yesterday--that the sight was destroyed...."

"Who destroyed his sight? Tell me that!"

"If you are going to take that tone, Gwendolen, I really cannot talk
about it. You and your father must settle it between you somehow. It was
an accident--a very terrible accident, I know--but I must go away to
dress. It's eight.... Anyhow, _one_ thing, dear! You haven't given him
any encouragement--at least, I _hope_ not...."

"Given him any what?"

"Any practical encouragement ... any ..."

"Oh yes--any quantity." She has to quash that flinching and brazen it
out. One way is as good as another. "I didn't tell him to pull my hair
down, though. I didn't mind. But if he had been able to see I should
have been much more strict."

"Gwen dear--you are perfectly ... _shameless_!... Well--you are a very
odd girl...." This is concession; oddity is not shamelessness.

"Come, mamma, be reasonable! If you can't see anybody and you mayn't
touch them, it comes down to making remarks at a respectful distance,
and then it's no better than acquaintance--visiting and leaving cards
and that sort of thing.... Come in!" Lutwyche interrupted with hot
water, her expression saying distinctly:--"I am a young woman of
unimpeachable character, who can come into a room where a titled lady
and her daughter are at loggerheads, no doubt about a love-affair, and
can shut my eyes to the visible and my ears to the audible. Go it!"

Nevertheless, the disputants seemed to prefer suspension of their
discussion, and the elder lady departed, saying they would both be late
for dinner.

This was the first short colloquy. The second was in the Earl's
dressing-room, from which he was emerging when his wife, looking scared,
met him coming out in _grande tenue_ through the district common to
both, the room Earls and Countesses had occupied from time immemorial.
He saw there was some excitement afoot, but was content to await the
information he knew would come in the end. Tacit reciprocities of
misunderstanding ensuing, he felt it safest to say:--"Nothing wrong, I
hope?" This is what followed:

"I think you might show more interest. I have been very much startled
and annoyed.... But I must tell you later. There's no time now."

"I think," says his lordship deferentially, "that, having mentioned it,
it might be better to ..."

"I suppose you mean I oughtn't to have mentioned it.... Starfield, I
cannot possible wear that thick dress to-night. It's suffocating. Get
something thinner.... Oh, well--if I must tell you I must tell you! Go
back in your room a minute while Starfield finds that dress.... Oh
no--_she's_ not listening ... never mind _her_! There, the door's shut!"

"Well--what _is_ it?"

"It's Gwen. However, I dare say it's only a flash in the pan, and she'll
be off after somebody else. If only my advice had been taken he never
would have come into the house...."

"But who _is_ he, and what is _it_?"

"My dear, I'll tell you if you'll not be so impatient. It's this young
Torrens.... Yes--now you're shocked. So was I." For no further
explanations are necessary. When one hears that "it" is John and Jane,
one knows.

"But, Philippa, are you sure? It seems to me perfectly incredible."

"Speak to her yourself."

"She's barely seen him; and as for him, poor fellow, he has never seen
_her_ at all." The rapidity of events seems out of all reason to a
constitutionally cautious Earl.

"My dear, how unreasonable you are! If he could _see_ her, of course,
she wouldn't think of him for one moment. At least, I suppose not."

"I _cannot_ understand," says the bewildered Earl. And then he begins
repeating her ladyship's words "If--he--could ..." as though inviting a
more intelligible repetition. This is exasperating--a clear insinuation
of unintelligibility.

"Oh dear, how slow men are!" The lady passes through a short phase of
collapse from despair over man's faculties, then returns to a difficult
task crisply and incisively. "Well, at any rate, you can see _this_? The
girl's got it into her head that the accident was _our_ fault, and that
it's _her_ duty to make it up to him."

"But, then, she's not really in love with him, if it's a self-denying
ordinance."

The Countess is getting used to despair, so she only shrugs a submissive
shoulder and remarks with forbearance:--"It is _no_ use trying to make
you understand. Of course, it's _because_ she is in love with him that
she is going in for ... what did you call it?..."

"A self-denying ordinance."

"_I_ call it heroics. If she wasn't in love with him, do you suppose she
would want to fling herself away?"

"Then it isn't a self-denying ordinance at all. I confess I _don't_
understand. I must talk to Gwen herself."

"Oh, talk to her by all means. But don't expect to make any impression
on her. I know what she is when she gets the bit in her teeth. Certainly
talk to her. I really must go and dress now...."

"Stop one minute, Philippa...."

"Well--what?"

"Apart from the blindness--poor fellow!--is there anything about this
young man to object to? There's nothing about his family. Why!--his
father's Hamilton Torrens, that was George's great friend at Christ
Church. And his mother was an Abercrombie...."

"I can't go into that now." Her ladyship cuts Adrian's family very
short. Consider her memories of bygones! No wonder she became acutely
alive to her duties as a hostess. She had created a precedent in this
matter, though really her husband scarcely knew anything about her
_affaire de coeur_ with Adrian's father thirty years ago. It was not a
hanging matter, but she could not object to the young man's family after
such a definite attitude towards his father.

Here ends the second short colloquy, which was the one that caused the
Earl to be so more than usually absent that evening. It had the opposite
effect on her ladyship, who felt better after it; braced up again to
company-manners after the first one. Gwen, as mentioned before, was
dazzling; superb; what is apt to be called a cynosure, owing to
something Milton said. Nevertheless, the Shrewd Observer, who happened
in this case to be Aunt Constance, noticed that at intervals the young
lady let her right-hand neighbour talk, and died away into
preoccupation, with a vital undercurrent of rippled lip and thoughtful
eye. Another of her shrewd observations was that when the Hon. Percival,
referring to Mr. Torrens, still an absentee by choice, said:--"I tried
again to persuade him to come down at feeding-time, but it was no go,"
Gwen came suddenly out of one dream of this sort to say from her end of
the table, miles off:--"He really prefers dining by himself, I know,"
and went in again.

It was this that Aunt Constance referred to in conversation with Mr.
Pellew, at about half-past ten o'clock in that same shrubbery walk. They
had cultivated each other's absence carefully in the drawing-room, and
had convinced themselves that neither was necessary to the other. That
clause having been carried nem. con., they were entitled to five
minutes' chat, without prejudice. Neither remembered, perhaps, the
convert to temperance who decided that passing a public-house door _à
contre-coeur_ entitled him to half-a-pint.

"How did you get on with little Di Accrington?" the lady had said. And
the gentleman had answered:--"First-rate. Talked to her about _your_
partner all the time. How did you hit it off with him?" A sympathetic
laugh over the response: "Capitally--he talked about _her_, of course!"
quite undid the fiction woven with so much pains indoors, and also as it
were lighted a little collateral fire they might warm their fingers at,
or burn them. However, a parade of their well-worn seniority, their old
experience of life, would keep them safe from _that_. Only it wouldn't
do to neglect it.

Mr. Pellew recognised the obligation first. "Offly amusin'!--young
people," said he, claiming, as the countryman of Shakespeare, his share
of insight into Romeo and Juliet.

"Same old story, over and over again!" said Aunt Constance. They posed
as types of elderliness that had no personal concern in love-affairs,
and could afford to smile at juvenile flirtations. Mr. Pellew felt
interested in Miss Dickenson's bygone romances, implied in the slight
shade of sentiment in her voice--wondered in fact how the doose this
woman had missed her market; this was the expression his internal
soliloquy used. She for her part was on the whole glad that an intensely
Platonic friendship didn't admit of catechism, as she was better pleased
to leave the customers in that market to the uninformed imagination of
others, than to be compelled to draw upon her own.

The fact was that, in spite of its thinness and slightness, this
Platonic friendship with a mature bachelor whose past--while she
acquitted him of atrocities--she felt was safest kept out of sight, had
already gone quite as near to becoming a love-affair as anything her
memory could discover among her own rather barren antecedents. So there
was a certain sort of affectation in Aunt Constance's suggestion of
familiarity with Romeo and Juliet. She wished, without telling lies, to
convey the idea that the spinsterhood four very married sisters did not
scruple to taunt her with, was either of her own choosing or due to some
tragic event of early life. She did not relish the opposite pole of
human experience to her companion's. Of course, he was a bachelor
nominally unattached--she appreciated that--just as she was a spinster
very actually unattached. But all men of his type she had understood
were alike; only some--this one certainly--were much better than others.
Honestly she was quite unconscious of any personal reason for assigning
to him a first-class record.

Attempts to sift the human mind throw very little light upon it, and the
dust gets in the eyes of the story. Perhaps that is why it cannot give
Miss Dickenson's reason for not following up her last remark with:--"And
will go on so, I suppose, to the end of time!" as she had half-intended
to do, philosophically. Possibly she thought it would complicate the
topic she was hankering after. It would be better to keep that
provisionally clear of subjects made to the hand of writers of plays.
She would not go beyond hypnotic suggestion at present. She approached
it with the air of one who dismisses a triviality.

"It seems Mr. Adrian Torrens is a musician as well as a poet."

"Had they been playing the piano?"

"Really, Mr. Pellew, how absurd you are! Where does 'they' come in?"

"Oh--well--a--of course--I thought you were referring to ..."

"_Whom_ did you suppose I was referring to?" Aggressive equanimity here
that can wait weeks, if necessary.

"Torrens and my cousin Gwen! Be hanged if I can see why I shouldn't
refer to them!"

"Do so by all means. I wasn't, myself; but it doesn't matter. It was
Nurse Bailey told Lutwyche, whom I borrow from Gwen sometimes, that Mr.
Torrens was a great musician."

"How does Nurse Bailey know?"

"He was playing to her quite beautiful in the drawing-room just before
her young ladyship came in. And then Mrs. Bailey went upstairs to write
a letter because there was plenty of time before the post."

"Can't say I believe Nurse Bailey's much of a dab at music." Mr. Pellew
was reflecting on the humorous background of Miss Dickenson's
character, clear to his insight in her last speech. "But it was just
post-time when we got back from the flower-show.... What then? Why, her
young ladyship must have been there long enough for Mrs. Bailey to write
a letter."

"Is that the way you gossip at your Club, Mr. Pellew?"

"Come, I say, Miss Dickenson, that's too bad! I merely remark that a
lady and gentleman must have had plenty of time for music, and you call
it 'gossip.'"

"Precisely."

"Well, I say it's a jolly shame!... You don't suppose there _is_
anything there, do you?" This came with a sudden efflux of seriousness.

Aunt Constance had landed her fish and was blameless. Nobody could say
she had been indiscreet. She, too, could afford to be suddenly serious.
"I don't mind saying so to you, Mr. Pellew," she said, "because I know I
can rely upon you. But did you notice at dinner-time, when you said you
had tried to persuade Mr. Torrens to come down, that Gwen took upon
herself to answer for him all the way down the table?"

"By Jove--so she did! I didn't notice it at the time. At least, I mean I
did notice it at the time, but I didn't take much notice of it.
Well--you know what I mean!" As Miss Dickenson knows perfectly well, she
tolerates technical flaws of speech with a nod, and allows Mr. Pellew to
go on:--"But, I say, this will be an awful smash for the family. A blind
man!" Then he becomes aware that a conclusion has been jumped at, and
experiences relief. "But it may be all a mistake, you know." Aunt
Constance's silence has the force of speech, and calls for further
support of this surmise. "They haven't had the time. She has only known
him since yesterday. At least he had never seen her but once--he told me
so--that time just before the accident."

"Gwen is a very peculiar girl," says the lady. "A spark will fire a
train. Did you notice nothing when we came in from the flower-show?"

"Nothing whatever. Did you?"

"Little things. However, as you say, it may be all a mistake. I don't
think anything of the time, though. Some young people are volcanic. Gwen
might be."

"I saw no sign of an eruption in him--no lunacy. He chatted quite
reasonably about the division on Thursday, and the crops and the
weather. Never mentioned Gwen!"

"My dear Mr. Pellew, you really are quite pastoral. Of course, Gwen is
exactly what he would _not_ mention."

Mr. Pellew seems to concede that he is an outsider. "You think it was
Love at first sight, and that sort of thing," he says. "Well--I hope it
will wash. It don't always, you know."

"Indeed it does not." The speaker cannot resist the temptation to
flavour philosophy with a suggestion of tender regrets--a hint of a
life-drama in her own past. No questions need be answered, and will
scarcely be asked. But it is candid and courageous to say as little as
may be about it, and to favour a cheerful outlook on Life. She is bound
to say that many of the happiest marriages she has known have been
marriages of second--third--fourth--fifth--_n_th Love. She had better
have let it stand at that if she wanted her indistinct admirer to screw
up his courage then and there to sticking point. For the Hon. Percival
had at least seen in her words a road of approach to a reasonably tender
elderly avowal. But she must needs spoil it by adding--really quite
unconsciously--that many such marriages had been between persons in
quite mature years. Somehow this changed the nascent purpose kindled by
a suggestion of _n_th love in Autumn to a sudden consciousness that the
conversation was sailing very near the wind--some wind undefined--and
made Mr. Pellew run away pusillanimously.

"By-the-by, did you ever see the Macganister More man that died the
other day? Married the Earl's half-sister?"

"Never. Of course, I know Clotilda perfectly well."

"Let's see--oh yes!--she's Sister Nora. Oh yes, of course I know
Clotilda. She's his heiress, I fancy--comes into all the property--no
male heir. She'll go over to Rome, I suppose."

"Why?"

"Always do--with a lot of independent property. Unless some fillah cuts
in and snaps her up."

"Do tell me, Mr. Pellew, why it is men can never credit any woman with
an identity of her own?"

"Well, I only go by what I see. If they don't marry they go over to
Rome--when there's property--dessay I'm wrong.... What o'clock's
that?--ten, I suppose. No?--well, I suppose it must be eleven, when one
comes to think of it. But it's a shame to go in--night like this!" And
then this weak-minded couple impaired the effect of their little
declaration of independence of the united state--the phrase sounds
familiar somehow!--by staying out five or six minutes longer, and going
in half an hour later; two things only the merest pedant would declare
incompatible. But it kept the servants up, and Miss Dickenson had to
apologise to Mr. Norbury.

How many of us living in this present century can keep alive to the fact
that the occupants of country-mansions, now resplendent with an electric
glare which is destroying their eyesight and going out suddenly at
intervals, were sixty years ago dependent on candles and moderator
lamps, which ran down and had to be wound up, and then ran down again,
when there was no oil. There was no gas at the Towers; though there
might have been, granting seven miles of piping, from which the gas
would have escaped into the roots of the beeches and killed them.

Even if there had been, it does not follow that Miss Dickenson, in full
flight to her own couch, would not have come upon the Earl in the lobby
near Mr. Torrens's quarters, with a candle-lamp in his hand, which he
carried about in nocturnal excursions to make sure that a great
conflagration was not raging somewhere on the premises. He seemed, Miss
Dickenson thought, to be gazing reproachfully at it. It was burning all
right, nevertheless. She wished his lordship good-night, and fancied it
was very late. The Earl appeared sure of it. So did a clock with clear
ideas on the subject, striking midnight somewhere, ponderously. The lady
passed on; not, however, failing to notice that the lamp stopped at a
door on the way, and that its bearer was twice going to knock thereat
and didn't. Then a dog within intimated that he should bark presently,
unless attention was given to an occurrence he could vouch for, which
his master told him to hold his tongue about; calling out "Come in!"
nevertheless, to cover contingencies.

The passer-by connected this with Gwen's behaviour at dinner, and other
little things she had noticed, and meant to lie awake on the chance of
hearing his lordship say good-night to Mr. Torrens, perhaps illuminating
the situation. But resolutions to lie awake are the veriest gossamer,
blown away by the breath that puts the bedside candle out. Miss
Dickenson and Oblivion had joined hands some time when his lordship said
good-night to Mr. Torrens.

He had found him standing at his window, as though the warm night-air
was a luxury to him, in the blue silk dressing-gown he had affected
since his convalescence. There was no light in the room; indeed, light
would have been of no service to him in his state. He did not move, but
said: "I suppose I ought to be thinking of turning in now, Mrs. Bailey?"

"It isn't Mrs. Bailey," said the Earl. "It's me. Gwen's father."

"God bless my soul!" exclaimed Adrian, starting back from the window. "I
thought it was the good creature. I had given you up, Lord Ancester--it
got so late." For his lordship had made a visit of inquiry and a short
chat with this involuntary guest an invariable finish to his daily
programme, since the latter recovered consciousness. "I'm afraid there's
no light in the room," said Adrian. "I told 'Rene to blow the candles
out. I can move about very fairly, you see, but I never feel safe about
knocking things down. I might set something on fire." If he had had his
choice, he would rather not have had another interview with his host
until he was at liberty to confess all and say _peccavi_. Even "Gwen's
father's" announcement of himself did not warrant his breaking his
promise.

"There is no light," said the visitor, "except mine that I have brought
with me. I expected to find you in the dark--indeed, I was afraid I
might wake you out of your first sleep. I came because of Gwen--because
I felt I _must_ see you before I went to bed myself." He paused a
moment, Adrian remaining silent, still at a loss; then continued:--"This
has been very sudden, so sudden that it has quite ..."

Then Adrian broke out:--"Oh, how you must be blaming me! Oh, what a
_brute_ I've been!..."

"No--no, no--_no!_ Not that, not that _at all_! Not a word of blame for
anybody! None for you--none for Gwen. But it has been so--so sudden...."
Indeed, Gwen's father seems as though all the breath, morally speaking,
had been knocked out of his body by this escapade of his daughter's.
For, knowing from past experience the frequent tempestuous suddenness of
her impulses, and convinced that Adrian in his position neither could
nor would have shown definitely the aspirations of a lover, his image of
their interview made Gwen almost the first instigator in the affair.
"Why, you--you have hardly _seen_ her----" he says, referring only to
the shortness of their acquaintance, not to eyesight.

Adrian accepts the latter meaning without blaming him. "Yes," he says,
"but see her I _did_, though it was but a glimpse. I tell you this, Lord
Ancester--and it is no rhapsody; just bald truth--that if this day had
never come about.... I mean if it had come about otherwise; I might have
gone away this morning, for instance ... and if I had had to learn, as I
yet may, that this black cloud I live in was to be my life for good, and
all that image I saw for a moment of Gwen--Gwen in her glory in the
light of the sunset, for one moment--one moment!..." He breaks down over
it.

The Earl's voice is not in good form for encouragement, but he does his
best. "Come--come! It's not so bad as all that yet. See what Merridew
said. Couldn't say anything for certain for another three months.
Indeed he said it might be more, and yet you might have your sight back
again without a flaw in either eye. He really said so!"

"Well--he's a jolly good fellow. But what I mean is, what I was going to
say was that my recollection of her in that one moment would have been
the one precious thing left for me to treasure through the
pitch-darkness.... You remember--or perhaps not--that about a hand's
breadth of it--the desert, you know--shining alone in the salt leagues
round about...."

"N-no. I don't think I do. Is it ... a ... Coleridge?"

"No--Robert Browning. He'd be new to you. You would hardly know him.
However, I should try to forget the rest of the desert this time."

The Earl did not follow, naturally, and changed the subject. "It is very
late," he said, "and I have only time to say what I came to say. You may
rely on my not standing arbitrarily in the way of my daughter's wishes
when the time comes--and it has not come yet--for looking at that side
of the subject. It can only come when it is absolutely certain that she
knows her own mind. She is too young to be allowed to take the most
important step in life under the influence of a romantic--it may be
Quixotic--impulse. I have just had a long talk with her mother about it,
and I am forced to the conclusion that Gwen's motives are not so unmixed
as a girl's should be, to justify bystanders in allowing her to act upon
them--bystanders I mean who would have any right of interference.... I
am afraid I am not very clear, but I shrink from saying what may seem
unfeeling...."

"Probably you would not hurt me, and I should deserve it, if you did."

"What I mean is that Gwen's impulse is ... is derived from ... from, in
short, your unhappy accident. I would not go so far as to say that she
has schemed a compensation for this cruel disaster ... which we need
hardly be so gloomy about yet awhile, it seems to me. But this I do
say"--here the Earl seemed to pick up heart and find his words
easier--"that if Gwen has got that idea I thoroughly sympathize with
her. I give you my word, Mr. Torrens, that not an hour passes, for me,
without a thought of the same kind. I mean that I should jump at any
chance of making it up to you, for mere ease of mind. But I have nothing
to give that would meet the case. Gwen has a treasure--herself! It is
another matter whether she should be allowed to dispose of it her own
way, for her own sake. Her mother and I may both feel it our duty to
oppose it."

Adrian said in an undertone, most dejectedly: "You would be right. How
could I complain?" Then it seemed to him that his words struck a false
note, and he tried to qualify them. "I mean--how could I say a word of
any sort? Could I complain of any parents, for trying to stop their girl
linking her life to mine? And such a life as hers! And yet if it were
all to do again, how could I act otherwise than as I did a few hours
since. Is there a man so strong anywhere that he could put a curb on his
heart and choke down his speech to convention-point, if he thought that
a girl like Gwen ... I don't know how to say what I want. All speech
goes wrong, do what I will."

"If he thought that a girl like Gwen was waiting for him to speak out?
Is that it?... Oh--well--not exactly that! But something of the sort,
suppose we say?" For Adrian's manner had entered a protest. "Anyhow I
assure you I quite understand my Gwen is--very attractive. But nobody is
blaming anybody. After all, what would the alternative have been? Just
some hypocritical beating about the bush to keep square with the
regulations--to level matters down to--what did you call
it?--convention-point! Nothing gained in the end! Let's put all that on
one side. What _we_ have to look at is this--meaning, of course, by
'we,' my wife and myself:--Is Gwen really an independent agent? Is she
not in a sense the slave of her own imagination, beyond and above the
usual enthralment that one accepts as part of the disorder. I myself
believe that she is, and that the whole root and essence of the business
may be her pity for yourself, and also I should say an exaggerated idea
of her own share in the guilt...."

"There _was_ none," Adrian struck in decisively. "But I understand your
meaning exactly. Listen a minute to this. If I had thought what you
think possible--well, I would have bitten my tongue off rather than
speak. Why, think of it! To ask a girl like that to sacrifice herself to
a cripple--a half-cripple, at least...."

"Without good grounds for supposing she was waiting to be asked," said
the Earl; adding, to anticipate protest:--"Come now!--that's what we
mean. Let's say so and have done with it," to which Adrian gave tacit
assent. His lordship continued:--"I quite believe you; at least, I
believe you would rather have held your tongue than bitten it off. I
certainly should. But--pardon my saying so--I cannot understand ... I'm
not finding fault or doubting you ... I _cannot_ understand how you came
to be so--so ... I won't say cocksure--let's call it sanguine. If there
had been time I could have understood it. But I cannot see where the
time came in."

Adrian fidgetted uneasily, and felt his cheeks flush. "I can answer for
when it began, with me. I walked across that glade from Arthur's Bridge
quite turned into somebody else, with Gwen stamped on my brain like a
Queen's head on a shilling, and her voice in my ears as plain as the
lark's overhead. But whether we started neck and neck, I know not. I do
know this, though, that I shall never believe that if I had been first
seen by her in my character as a corpse, either she or I would ever have
been a penny the wiser."

"You are the wiser?--quite sure?" The Earl seemed to have his doubts.

"Quite sure. Do you recollect how 'the Duke grew suddenly brave and
wise'? He was only the 'fine empty sheath of a man' before. But it's no
use quoting Browning to you."

"Not the slightest. I suppose he was referring to a case of love at
first sight--is that it?... It is a time-honoured phenomenon, only it
hardly comes into practical politics, because young persons are so
secretive about it. I can't recollect any lady but Rosalind who
mentioned it at the time--or any gentleman but Romeo, for that matter.
Gwen has certainly kept her own counsel for three weeks past."

"Dear Lord Ancester, you are laughing at me...."

"No--no! No, I wouldn't do that. Perhaps I was laughing a little at
human nature. That's excusable. However, I understand that you _are_
cocksure--or sanguine--about the similarity of Romeo's case. I won't
press Gwen about Rosalind's. Of course, if she volunteers information, I
shall have to dismiss the commiseration theory--you understand me?--and
suppose that she is healthily in love. By healthily I mean selfishly. If
no information is forthcoming, all I can say is--the doubt remains; the
doubt whether she is not making herself the family scapegoat, carrying
away the sins of the congregation into the wilderness."

"You know I think that all sheer nonsense, whatever Gwen thinks? She may
think the sins of the congregation are as scarlet. To me they are white
as wool."

"The whole question turns on what Gwen thinks. Believing, as I do, that
my child may be sacrificing herself to expiate a sin of mine, I have no
course but to do my best to prevent her, or, at least to postpone
irrevocable action until it is certain that she is animated by no such
motive. I might advocate that you and she should not meet, for--suppose
we say--a twelvemonth, but that I have so often noticed that absence
not only 'makes the heart grow fonder,' as the song says, but also makes
it very turbulent and unruly. So I shall leave matters entirely
alone--leave her to settle it with her mother.... Your sister knows of
this, I suppose?"

"Oh yes! Gwen told her of it across the table at dinner-time."

"Across the table at dinner-time? _Imp_-ossible!"

"Well--look at this!" Adrian produces from his dressing-gown pocket a
piece of paper, much crumpled, with a gilt frill all round, and holds it
out for the Earl to take. While the latter deciphers it at his
candle-lamp, he goes on to give its history. Irene had been back very
late from the Mackworth Clarkes, and had missed the soup. She had not
spoken with Gwen at all, and as soon as dessert had effloresced into
little _confetti_, had been told by that young lady to catch, the thing
thrown being the wrapper of one of these, rolled up and scribbled on.
"She brought it up for me to see," says Adrian, without thought of cruel
fact. Blind people often speak thus.

The Earl cannot help laughing at what he reads aloud. "'I am going to
marry your brother'--that's all!" he says. "That's what she borrowed
Lord Cumberworld's pencil for. Really Gwen _is_...!" But this wild
daughter of his is beyond words to describe, and he gives her up.

If the Duke's son had not been honourable, he might have peeped and
known his own fate. For he had been entrusted with this missive, to hand
across the table to Irene lower down. Lady Gwendolen ought to have given
it to Mr. Norbury, to hand to Miss Torrens on a tray. That was Mr.
Norbury's opinion.

When the Earl looked up from deciphering the pencil-scrawl, he saw that
Adrian's powers were visibly flagging; and no wonder, convalescence
considered, and such a day of strain and excitement. He rose to go,
saying:--"You see what I want--nothing in a hurry."

Adrian's words were slipping away from him as he replied, or tried to
reply:--"I see. If I were to get my eyes back, Gwen might change her
mind." But he failed over the last two letters. Mrs. Bailey, still in
charge, lived on the other side of a door, at which the Earl tapped,
causing a scuttling and a prompt appearance of the good creature, who
seemed to have an ambush of grog ready to spring on her patient. It was
what was wanted.

"Remember this, Mr. Torrens," said his lordship, when a rally encouraged
him to add a postscript, "that in spite of what you say, I feel just as
Gwen does, that the blame of your mishap lies with me and mine--with me
chiefly...."

"All nonsense, my lord! Excuse my contradicting you flatly. Your
instruction, not expressed but implied, to old Stephen, was clearly
_not_ to miss his mark. If he had killed Achilles you _would_ have been
responsible, as Apollo was responsible for the arrow of Paris.... Yes,
my dear, we were talking about you." This was to the collie, who woke up
from deep sleep at the sound of his name, and felt he could mix with a
society that recognised him. But not without shaking himself violently
and scratching his head, until appealed to to stop.

The Earl let further protest stand over, and said good-night, rather
relieved at the beneficial effect of the good creature's ministrations.
The excellent woman herself, when the grog was disposed of, facilitated
her charge's dispositions for the night, and retired to rest with an
ill-digested idea that she had interrupted a conversation about the
corrupt gaieties of a vicious foreign capital, inhabited chiefly by
atheists and idolaters.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Countess's long talk with her husband, wedged in between an early
abdication of the drawing-room and the sound of Gwen laughing
audaciously with Miss Torrens on the staircase, and more temperate
good-nights below, had tended towards a form of party government in
which the Earl was the Liberal and her ladyship the Conservative party.
The Bill before the House was never exactly read aloud, its contents
being taken for granted. When the Countess had said, in their previous
interview, first that it was Gwen, and then that it was this young
Torrens, she had really exhausted the subject.

Nevertheless she seemed now to claim for herself credit for a clear
exposition of the contents of this Bill, in spite of constant
interruptions from a factious Opposition. "I hope," she said, "that, now
that I have succeeded in making you understand, you will speak to Gwen
yourself. I suppose she's not going to stop downstairs all night."

The Earl also supposed not. But even in that very improbable event the
resources of human ingenuity would not be exhausted. He could, for
instance, go downstairs to speak to her. But other considerations
intervened. Was her ladyship's information unimpeachable? Was it
absolutely impossible that she should have been misled in any
particular? Could he, in fact, consider his information official?

The Countess showed unexampled forbearance under extreme trial. "My
dear," she said, "how perfectly absurd you are! How can there be any
doubt of the matter? Listen to me for one moment and think. When a girl
insists on talking to her mother when both are late for dinner, and have
hardly five minutes to dress, and says flatly, 'Mamma dear, I am going
to marry So-and-so, or So-and-so'--because it's exactly the same thing,
whoever it is--how can there be any possibility of a mistake?"

"Very little, certainly," says the Earl reflectively. He seemed to
consider the point slowly. "But it can hardly be said to be exactly the
same thing in all cases. This case is peculiar--is peculiar."

"I can't see where the peculiarity comes in. You mean his eyes. But a
girl either is, or is not, in love with a man, whether he has eyes in
his head or not."

"Indisputably. But it complicates the case. You must admit, my dear,
that it complicates the case."

"You mean that I am unfeeling? Wouldn't it be better to say so instead
of beating about the bush? But I am nothing of the sort."

"My dear, am I likely to say so? Have you ever heard me hint such a
thing? But one may be sincerely sorry for the victim of such an awful
misfortune, and yet feel that his blindness complicates matters. Because
it does."

"I'm not sure that I understand what you are driving at. Perhaps we are
talking about different things." This is not entirely without
forbearance--may show a trace of uncalled-for patience, as towards an
undeserved conundrum-monger.

"Perhaps we are, my dear. But as to what I'm driving at. Can you recall
what Gwen said about his eyes?"

"I think so. Let me see.... Yes--she said did I know anything against
him. I said--nothing except his eyes. And then she said--I recollect it
quite plainly--'Who destroyed his sight? Tell me that!'"

"What did you answer to that?"

"I refused to talk any longer, and said you and she must settle it your
own way."

"Nothing else?"

"Oh--well--nothing--nothing to speak of! Lutwyche came worrying in with
hot water."

The Earl sat cogitating until her ladyship roused him by saying "Well!"
rather tartly. Then he echoed back:--"Well, Philippa, I think possibly
you are right."

"Only possibly!"

"Probably then. Yes--certainly probably!"

"What about?"

"I thought I understood you to say that, in your opinion, Gwen had got
it into her head that ..."

"Oh dear!... There--never mind!--go on." She considered her husband a
prolix Earl, sometimes.

"... That the accident was _our_ fault, and that it was _her_ duty to
make it up to him."

"Of course she has. What did you suppose?"

"I supposed she might have--a--fallen in love with him. I thought you
thought so, too, from what you said."

"My dear Alexander, shall I never make you understand?" Her ladyship
only used the long inconvenient name to emphasize rhetoric, which she
did also in this instance by making every note _staccato_. "Gwen, has,
fallen, in, love, with, Mr. Torrens, because, we, _did it_? _Now_ do you
see?"

"She has a--mixture of motives, in fact?"

"Absolutely none whatever! She's over head and ears in love with him
_because_ his eyes are out. No other reason in life! What earthly good
do you think the child thinks she could do him if she _didn't_ love him?
Men will never understand girls if they live till Doomsday."

The Earl did not grapple with the problems this suggested; but
reflected, while her ladyship waited explicitly. At last he said:--"It
certainly appears to me that if Gwen's ... predilection for this man
depends in any degree on a mistaken conviction of duty, the only course
open to us is to--to temporise--to deprecate rash actions and
undertakings. Under the circumstances it would be impossible to condemn
or find fault with either. It is perfectly inconceivable that poor
Torrens--should have--should have taken any initiative...."

"Oh, my dear, what nonsense! Of course, Gwen did that. She proposed to
him when I was away at the flower-show...."

"Philippa--how _can_ you? How would such a thing be _possible_?
Really--_really!_ ..."

"Well, _really really_ as much as you like, but any woman could propose
to a blind man--a little way off, certainly--only I don't know that Gwen
..." However, the Countess stopped short of her daughter's reference to
a respectful distance and card-leaving.

It was at this point that Gwen and Irene were audible on the stairs,
suggesting the lateness of the hour. The Earl said:--"I think I shall go
and see Torrens as soon as there's quiet. I have gone to him every
evening till now. I may speak to him about this." To which her ladyship
replied:--"Now mind you put your foot down. What I am always afraid of
with you is indecision." He made no answer, but listened, waiting for
the last disappearance couchwards. Then he went to his room for his
hand-lamp, as described, and after satisfying himself about that
conflagration's non-existence, was just in time to cross Miss Dickenson,
a waif overdue, and wonder what on earth had made that very spirit and
image of all conformity guilty of such a lapse.

Then followed his interview with Mr. Torrens already detailed. Perhaps
the foregoing should have come first. If ever you retell the tale you
can make it do so. But whatever you do be careful to insist on that
point of not talking before the servants. Dwell on the fact that Miss
Lutwyche went straight to the Servants' Hall, after putting a finishing
touch on her young ladyship, and said to the housekeeper:--"You'll be
very careful, Mrs. Masham, to say nothing whatever about her young
ladyship and Mr. Torrenson"; it being one of her peculiarities to alter
the names of visitors on the strength of alleged secret information, to
prove that she was in the confidence of the family. To which Mrs. Masham
replied:--"Why not be outspoken, Anne Lutwyche?" provoking, or
licensing, further illumination on the subject; with the result that in
half an hour the household was observing discreet silence about it, and
exacting solemn promises of equal discretion from acquaintances as
discreet as itself. But there were words between Mrs. Starfield, the
Countess's abettor in dressing, and Miss Lutwyche; the former having
found herself forestalled in her theory of the argument in the Lib'ary,
which she had reported as the cause of delay, by the latter's prompt
expression of cautious reserve, and having accused her of throwing out
hints and nothing to go upon. Whereupon the young woman had indignantly
repudiated the idea that a frank nature like hers could be capable of an
underhand _insinuendo_, and had felt a great and just satisfaction with
her powers of handling her mother-tongue.



CHAPTER XXIII

     PSYCHOLOGIES ABOUT THE COUNTESS. HOW GWEN WOULDN'T GO TO ATHENS, OR
     ROME, OR TO STONE GRANGE. BUT SHE WOULD GO WITH HER COUSIN CLO TO
     CAVENDISH SQUARE. HOW THEY DROVE OVER TO GRANNY MARRABLE'S, AND
     DAVE'S LETTER WAS TALKED ABOUT. HIS AMANUENSIS. OH, BUT HOW STRANGE
     THAT PHOEBE SHOULD READ MAISIE'S WRITING AGAIN! AN ODIOUS LITTLE
     GIRL, WITH A STYE IN HER EYE. AN IMPRESSIONIST PICTURE. HOW
     MICHAEL'S FRIENDS SHOULD BE ESCHEWED, IF NOT HIMSELF. HOW GRANNY
     MARRABLE AND HER SISTER HAD MADE SLIDES ON ICE THAT THAWED SEVENTY
     YEARS AGO. HOW A LADY AND GENTLEMAN JUMPED FARTHER OFF


The Countess of Ancester was mistaken when she said to Gwen's mother
that that young lady was sure to cool down, as other young ladies,
noteworthily her own mother's daughter, had done under like
circumstances. The story prefers this elaborate way of referring to what
that august lady said to herself, to more literal and commonplace
formulas of speech; because it emphasizes the official, personal, and
historical character of the speaker, the hearer, and the instance she
cited, respectively. She spoke as a Countess, a Woman of the World, one
who knew what her duty was to herself and her daughter, and had made up
her mind to perform it, and not be influenced by sentimental nonsense.
She listened as a parent, really very fond of this beautiful creature
for which she was responsible, and painfully conscious of a bias towards
sentimental nonsense, which taxed her respect for her official adviser.
She referred to her historical precedent--her own early experience--with
a confidence akin to that of the passenger in sight of Calais, who dares
to walk about the deck because he knows how soon it will be safe to say
he was always a very good sailor.

But just as that very good sailor is never quite free from painful
memories of moments on the voyage, over which he might have had to draw
a veil, so this lady had to be constantly on her guard against recurrent
images of her historical precedent, during her periods of wavering
between her two suitors. Could she not remember--could she ever forget
rather?--Romeo's passionate epistles and Juliet's passionate answers,
during that period of enforced separation; when the latter had not begun
to cool down, and was still able to speak of Gwen's father--undeveloped
then in that capacity--as a tedious, middle-aged prig whom her
ridiculous aunt wanted to force upon her? Was it a sufficient set-off
against all this fiery correspondence that she had burned one
preposterous--and red-hot--effusion, and started seriously on cooling,
because a friend brought her news that Romeo was not pining at all, but
had, on the contrary, danced three waltzes with a fascinating cousin of
hers? Of course it was, said the Countess officially, and she had
behaved like a good historical precedent, which Gwen would follow in due
course. Give her time.

Nevertheless her unofficial self was grave and reflective more than once
over the likeness of this young Adrian to Hamilton, his father,
especially in his faculty for talking nonsense. Some people seemed to
think his verses good. Perhaps the two things were not incompatible.
Hamilton had never written verses, as far as she knew. No doubt that
Miss Abercrombie his father married was responsible for the poetry. If
he had married another Miss Abercrombie it might have been quite
different. She found it convenient to utilise a second example of the
same name; some suppositions are more convenient than others. She
shirked one which would have cancelled Gwen, as an impossibility. One
_must_ look accomplished facts in the face.

The cooling down did not start with the alacrity which her ladyship had
anticipated. She had expected a fall of at least one degree in the
thermometer within a couple of months. Time seems long or short to us in
proportion as we are, so to speak, brought up against it. Only the
unwatched pot boils over; and, broadly speaking, pudding never cools,
and blowing really does very little good. This lady would have _blown_
her daughter metaphorically--perhaps thrown cold water on her passion
would be a better metaphor--if her husband had not earnestly dissuaded
her from doing so. It would only make matters worse. If Gwen was to
marry a blind man, at least do not let her do it in order to contradict
her parents. Fights and Love Affairs alike are grateful to bystanders
who do not interfere; but interference is admissible in the former, to
assist waverers up to the scratch. In the latter, the sooner time is
called, the better for all parties. But if time is called too soon, ten
to one the next round will last twice as long.

The Earl also interposed upon his wife's attempt to stipulate for a
formal declaration of reciprocal banishment. "Very well, my dear
Philippa!" said he. "Forbid their meeting, if you like! You can do it,
because Adrian is bound in honour to forward it if we insist. But in my
opinion you will by doing so destroy the last chance of the thing dying
a natural death." Said Philippa:--"I don't believe you want it to"--a
construction denounced, we believe, by sensitive grammarians. The Earl
let it pass, replying:--"I do not wish it to die a violent death." Her
ladyship dropped the portcullis of her mind against a crowd of useless
reflections. One was, whether her own relation with this young man's
father had died a violent death; and, if so, was she any the worse? The
rest were a motley crowd, with "might have been!" tattooed upon their
brows and woven into the patterns of the garments. Among them, two
images--a potential Adrian and a potential Gwen--each with one variation
of parentage, but quite out of court for St. George's, Hanover Square.
Are the Countess's thoughts obscure to you? They were, to her. So she
refused to entertain them.

In the Earl's mind there was an element bred of his short daily visits
to the young man, whose disaster had been a constant source of
self-reproach to him. If only its victim had been repugnant to him, he
would have been greatly helped in the continual verdicts of the Court of
his own conscience, which frequently discharged him without a stain on
his character. How came it, then, that he so soon found himself back in
the dock, or re-arguing the case as counsel for the prisoner? Probably
his sentiments towards the young man himself were responsible for some
of his discontent with his own impartial justice, however emphatically
he rejected the idea. There is nothing like a course of short
attendances at the bedside of a patient to generate an affection for its
occupant, and in this case everything was in its favour. All question of
responsibility for Adrian's accident apart, there was enough in his
personality to get at the Earl's soft corners, especially the one that
constantly reminded its owner that he was now without a son and heir.
For, since his son Frank was drowned, he was the father of daughters
only. It was not surprising that he should enter some protest against
any but a spontaneous cancelling of Gwen's trothplight. It was only fair
that spontaneity should have a chance. He did not much believe that the
cooling down process would be materially assisted by a spell of
separation; but if Philippa would not be content without it, try it, by
all means! If she could persuade her daughter to go with her to Paris,
Rome, Athens--New York, for that matter!--why, go! But the Earl's shrug
as he said this meant that her young ladyship had still to be reckoned
with, and that pig-headed young beauties in love were kittle cattle to
shoe behind. Those were the words his brain toyed with, over the case,
for a moment.

The reckoning bristled with difficulties, and every unit was disputed.
Paris was not fit to be visited, with the present government; and was
not safe, for that matter. Cholera was raging in Rome. Athens was a mass
of ruins from the recent earthquakes. Gwen wavered a moment over New
York, not seriously suggested. It was so absurd as to be worth a
thought. This seems strange to us, nowadays; but it was then nearly as
far a cry to Broadway as it is now to Tokio.

Appeals to Gwen to go abroad with her mother failed. She also made
difficulties--good big ones--about going with her parents to Scotland.
Her scheme was transparent, though she indignantly disclaimed it. How
could anything be more absurd than to accuse her of conspiring with
Irene towards a visit to that young lady at Pensham Steynes? Had she not
promised to live without seeing Adrian for six months, and was she not
to be trusted to keep her word?

She really wished to convince her father of the reality of her
attachment, apart from compensation due to loss of sight. So she agreed
to accompany Cousin Clotilda to London, and to stay with her at the
town-mansion of the Macganister More, who had just departed this life,
leaving the whole of his property to the said Cousin, his only daughter
and heiress. She rather looked forward to a sojourn in the great house
in Cavendish Square, a mysterious survival of the Early Georges, which
had not been really tenanted for years, though Sister Nora had camped in
it on an upstairs floor you could see Hampstead Heath from. It would be
fun to lead a gypsy life there, building castles in the air with Sister
Nora's great inheritance, and sometimes peeping into the great
unoccupied rooms, all packed-up mirrors and chandeliers and consoles and
echoes and rats--a very rough inventory, did you say? But admit that you
know the house! Its individuality is unimportant here, except in so far
as it supplied an attraction to London for a love-sick young lady. Its
fascination and mystery were strong. So were the philanthropies that
Sister Nora was returning to, refreshed by a twelve-month of total
abstinence, with more power to her elbow from a huge balance at her
banker's, specially contrived to span the period needed for the putting
of affairs in order.

So when Miss Grahame--that was the family name--went on to London, after
a month's stay at the Towers, Gwen was to accompany her. That was the
arrangement agreed upon. But before they departed, they paid a visit to
Granny Marrable at Chorlton, who was delighted at the reappearance of
Sister Nora, and was guilty of some very transparent insincerity in her
professions of heartfelt sorrow for the Macganister More. He, however,
was very soon dismissed from the conversation, to make way for Dave
Wardle.

Her young ladyship from the Castle hardly knew anything about Dave. In
fact, his fame reached her for the first time as they drove past the
little church at Chorlton on their way to Strides Cottage, Mrs.
Marrable's residence. Sister Nora was suddenly afraid she had "forgotten
Dave's letter after all." But she found it, in her bag; and rejoiced,
for had she not promised to return it to Granny Marrable, to whom--not
to herself--it was addressed, after Dave's return last year to his
parents. Lady Gwendolen was, or professed to be, greatly interested;
reading the epistle carefully to herself while her cousin and Granny
Marrable talked over its writer. But she was fain to ask for an
occasional explanation of some obscurity in the text.

It was manifestly a dictated letter, written in a shaky hand as of an
old person, but not an uneducated one by any means; the misspellings
being really intelligent renderings of the pronunciation of the
dictator. As, for instance, the opening:--"Dear Granny Marrowbone,"
which caused the reader to remark:--"I suppose that doesn't mean that
the writer thinks you spell your name that way, Mrs. Marrable, only that
the child _says_ Marrowbone." The owner of the name assented,
saying:--"That would be so, my lady, yes." And her ladyship proceeded:
"I like you. I like Widow Thrale. I like Master Marmaduke!"--This was
the other small convalescent, he who had an unnatural passion for Dave's
crutch, likened to Ariadne--"I like Sister Nora. I like the Lady. I like
Farmer Jones, but not much. I am going to scrool on Monday, and shall
know how to read and write with a peng my own self." "Quite a
love-letter," said Gwen, after explanations of the persons referred
to--as that "the lady" was the mother of her own personal ladyship; that
is, the Countess herself. Gwen continued, identifying one of the
characters:--"But that was hypocrisy about Farmer Jones. He didn't like
Farmer Jones at all. I don't.... That's not all. What's this?" She went
on, reading aloud:--"'Writited for me by Mrs. Picture upstairs on her
decks with hink.' I see he has signed it himself, rather large. I wonder
who is Mrs. Picture, who writes for him."

"We heard a great deal about Mrs. Picture, my lady." Sister Nora thought
her name might be Mrs. Pitcher, though odd. "I could hardly say myself,"
said Granny Marrable diffidently.

Gwen speculated. "Pilcher, or Pilchard, perhaps! It couldn't be Picture.
What did he tell you about her?"

"Oh dear--a many things! Mrs. Picture had been out to sea, in a ship.
But she will be very old, too, Mrs. Picture. I call to mind now, that
the dear child couldn't tell _me_ from Mrs. Picture when he first came,
by reason of the white hair. So she may be nigh my own age."

Gwen was looking puzzled over something in the letter. "'Out to sea in a
ship!'" she repeated. "I wonder, has 'decks' anything to do with
that?... N-n-no!--it must be 'desk.' It can't be anything else." It was,
of course, Mrs. Prichard's literal acceptance of Dave's pronunciation.
But it had a nautical air for the moment, and seemed somehow in keeping
with that old lady's marine experience.

Widow Thrale then came in, bearing an armful of purchases from the
village. With her were two convalescents; who must have nearly done
convalescing, they shouted so. The ogress abated them when she found her
granny had august company, and removed them to sup apart with an anaemic
eight-year-old little girl; in none of whom Sister Nora showed more than
a lukewarm interest, comparing them all disparagingly with Dave. In
fact, she was downright unkind to the anaemic sample, likening her to
knuckle of veal. It was true that this little girl had a stye in her
eye, and two corkscrew ringlets, and lacked complete training in the use
of the pocket-handkerchief. All the ogress seemed to die out of Widow
Thrale in her presence, and the visitors avoided contact with her
studiously. She seemed malignant, too, driving her chin like a knife
into the _nuque_ of one of the small boys, who kicked her shins
justifiably. However, they all went away to convalesce elsewhere, as
soon as their guardian the ogress had transplanted from a side-table a
complete tea-possibility; a tray that might be likened to Minerva,
springing fully armed from the head of Jove. "Your ladyship will take
tea," said Granny Marrable, in a voice that betrayed a doubt whether the
Norman Conquest could consistently take tea with Gurth the Swineherd.

Her ladyship had no such misgiving. But an aristocratic prejudice
dictated a reservation:--"Only it must be poured straight off before it
gets like ink.... Oh, stop!--it's too black already. A little hot water,
thank you!" And then Mrs. Thrale, in cold blood, actually stood her
Rockingham teapot on the hob; to become an embittered deadly poison, a
slayer of the sleep of all human creatures above a certain standard of
education. When all other class distinctions are abolished, this one
will remain, like the bones of the Apteryx.

"We'll pay a visit to Dave," said Sister Nora. "Perhaps he'll introduce
us to Mrs. Picture." Nothing hung on the conversation, and Mrs. Picture,
always under that name--there being indeed none to correct it--cropped
up and vanished as often as Dave was referred to. One knows how readily
the distortions of speech of some lovable little man or maid will
displace proper names, whose owners usually surrender them without
protest. That Granny Marrowbone and Mrs. Picture were thereafter
accepted as the working designations of the old twins was entirely owing
to Dave Wardle.

"Mrs. Picture lives upstairs, it seems," said Gwen, referring to the
letter. "I wonder you saw nothing of her, Cousin Chloe."

"Why should I, dear? I never went upstairs. I heard of her because the
little sister-poppet wanted to take the doll I gave her to show to a
person the old prizefighter spoke of as the old party two-pair-up. But I
thought the name was Bird."

"A prizefighter!" said Gwen. "How interesting! We _must_ pay a visit to
the Wardle family. Is it a very awful place they live in?" This question
was asked in the hope of an affirmative answer, Gwen having been
promised exciting and terrible experiences of London slums.

"Sapps Court?" said Miss Grahame, speaking from experience. "Oh
no!--quite a respectable place. Not like places I could show you out of
Drury Lane. I'll show you the place where Jo was, in this last Dickens."
Which would fix the date of this story, if nothing else did.

Granny Marrowbone looked awestruck at this lady's impressive knowledge
of the wicked metropolis, and was, moreover, uneasy about Dave's
surroundings. She had had several other letters from Dave; the latter
ones to some extent in his own caligraphy, which often rendered them
obscure. But the breadth of style which distinguished his early dictated
correspondence was always in evidence, and such passages as lent
themselves to interpretation sometimes contained suggestions of
influences at work which made her uneasy about his future. These were
often reinforced by hieroglyphs, and one of these in particular appeared
to refer to persons or associations she shrank from picturing to herself
as making part of the child's life. She handed the letter which
contained it to Sister Nora, and watched her face anxiously as she
examined it.

Sister Nora interpreted it promptly. "A culprit running away from the
Police, evidently. His legs are stiff, but the action is brisk. I should
say he would get away. The police seem to threaten, but not to be
acting promptly. What do you think, Gwen?"

"Unquestionably!" said Gwen. "The Police are very impressive with their
batons. But what on earth is this thing underneath the malefactor?"
Sister Nora went behind her chair, and they puzzled over it, together.
It was inscrutable.

At last Sister Nora said slowly, as though still labouring with
perplexity:--"Is it possible?--but no, it's impossible--possible he
means that?..."

"Possible he means what?"

"My idea was--but I think it's quite out of the question---- Well!--you
know there is a prison called 'The Jug,' in that sort of class?"

"I didn't know it. It looks very like a jug, though--the thing does....
Yes--he's a prisoner that's got out of prison. He must have had the Jug
all to himself, though, it's so small!"

"I do believe that's what it is, upon my word. There was an escape from
Coldbath Fields--which is called the Stone Jug--some time back, that was
in the papers. It made a talk. That's it, I do believe!" Sister Nora was
pleased at the solution of the riddle; it was a feather in Dave's cap.

Said Gwen:--"He did escape, though! I'm glad. He must have been a
cheerful little culprit. I should have been sorry for him to get into
the hands of those wooden police." Her acceptance of Dave's
Impressionist Art as a presentment of facts was a tribute to the force
of his genius. Some explanatory lettering, of mixed founts of type, had
to be left undeciphered.

The ogress came back from the convalescents; having assigned them their
teas, and enjoined peace. "You should ask her ladyship to read what's on
the back, Granny," she said; not to presume overmuch by direct speech to
the young lady from the Towers. The old lady said acquiescingly:--"Yes,
child, that _would_ be best. If you please, my lady!"

"This writing here?" said Gwen, turning the paper. "Oh yes--this is Mrs.
Picture again. 'Dave says I am to write for him what this is he has
drawed for Granny Marrowbone to see. The lady may see it, too.' ...
That's not me; he doesn't know me.... Oh, I see!--it's my mother...."

"Yes--that's Cousin Philippa. Go on."

Gwen went on:--"'It is the Man in High Park at the Turpentine
Micky'--some illegible name--'knew and that is Michael in the corner
larfing at the Spolice. The Man has got out of sprizzing and the Spolice
will not cop him.' There was no room for Michael Somebody, and he
hasn't worked out well," said Gwen, turning the image of Michael several
ways up, to determine its components. But it was too Impressionist. "I
suppose 'cop' means capture?" said she.

"That's it," said Sister Nora. "I think I know who Michael is. He's
Michael Rackstraw, a boy. Dave's Uncle had a bad impression of him--said
he would live to be hanged at an early date. He wouldn't be surprised to
hear that that young Micky had been pinched, any minute. 'Pinched' is
the same as 'copped.' Uncle Moses' slang is out-of-date."

She looked again at the undeciphered inscription. "I think 'Michael'
explains this lot of big and little letters," she said; and read them
out as: "'m, i, K, e, y, S, f, r, e, N, g.' Mickey's friend, evidently!"

"Oh, dearie me!" said the old lady. "To think now that that dear child
should be among such dreadful ways. I do wonder now--and, indeed, my
lady and Miss Nora, I've been thinking a deal about him, with his blue
eyes and curly brown hair, and him but just turned of seven.... I have
been thinking, my lady, only perhaps it's hardly for me to say ... I
_have_ been a wondering whether this ... elderly person ... only God
forgive me if I do her wrong!... whether this Mrs. Picture...." Granny
Marrable wavered in her indictment--hoped perhaps that one of the ladies
would catch her meaning and word her interpretation.

Sister Nora understood, and was quite ready with one. "Oh yes, I see
what you mean, Mrs. Marrable--whether the old woman is the right sort of
old woman for Dave. And it's very natural and quite right of you to
wonder. _I_ should if I hadn't seen the boy's parents--his uncle and
aunt.... Oh yes, of course, they are not his parents in the vulgar
sense! Don't be commonplace, Gwen!... nice, quiet, old-fashioned sort of
folk, devoted to the children. As for the prizefighting, I don't think
anything of that. I'm sure he fought fair; and it was the same for both
anyhow! He's an old darling, _I_ think. I'll show him to you, Gwen, down
his native court. Really, dear Granny Marrable, I don't think you need
be the least uneasy. We'll go and see Dave the moment we get up to
London--won't we, Gwen?"

"We'll go there first," said Gwen. But for all this reassurance the old
lady was clearly uneasy. "With regard to the boy Michael," said she
hesitatingly, "did you happen, ma'am, to _see_ the boy Michael.... I
mean, did he?..."

"Did he turn up when I was there, you mean? Well--no, he didn't! But
after all, what does the boy Michael come to in it? He'd made a slide
down the middle of the Court, and Uncle Moses prophesied his death on
the gallows! But, dear me, all children make slides--girls as well as
boys. I used to make slides, all by myself, in Scotland."

Granny Marrable's mind ran back seventy years or so. "Yes, indeed, that
is true; and so did I." She nodded towards the chimneyshelf, where the
mill-model stood--Dave's model. "There's the mill where I had my
childhood, and it's there to this day, they tell me, and working. And
the backwater above the dam, it's there, too, I lay, where my sister
Maisie and I made a many slides when it froze over in the winter
weather. And there's me and Maisie in our lilac frocks and white
sun-bonnets. Five-and-forty years ago she died, out in Australia. But
I've not forgotten Maisie."

She could mention Maisie more serenely than Mrs. Prichard, _per contra_,
could mention Phoebe. But, then, think how differently the forty-five
years had been filled out in either case. Maisie had been forced to
_ricordarsi del tempo felice_ through so many years of _miseria_.
Phoebe's journey across the desert of Life had paused at many an oasis,
and their images remained in her mind to blunt the tooth of Memory. The
two ladies at least heard nothing in the old woman's voice that one does
not hear in any human voice when it speaks of events very long past.

Gwen showed an interest in the mill. "You and your sister were very much
alike," she said.

"We were twins," said Granny Marrable. But, as it chanced, Gwen at this
moment looked at her watch, and found it had stopped. She missed the old
woman's last words. When she had satisfied herself that the watch was
still going she found that Granny Marrable's speech had lost its slight
trace of sadness. She had become a mere recorder, _viva voce_. "Maisie
married and went abroad--oh dear, near sixty years ago! She died out
there just after our father--yes, quite forty-five--forty-six years
ago!" Her only conscious suppression was in slurring over the gap
between Maisie's departure and her husband's; for both ladies took her
meaning to be that her sister married to go abroad, and did not return.

It was more conversation-making than curiosity that made Gwen
ask:--"Where was 'abroad'? I mean, where did your sister go?" The old
lady repeated:--"To where she met her death, in Australia.
Five-and-forty years ago. But I have never forgotten Maisie." Gwen,
looking more closely at the mill-model as one bound to show interest,
said:--"And this is where you used to slide on the ice with her, on the
mill-dam, all that time ago. Just fancy!" The reference to Maisie was
the merest chat by the way; and the conversation, at this mention of the
ice, harked back to Sapps Court.

"Of course you made slides, Granny Marrable," said Sister Nora; "and
very likely somebody else tumbled down on the slides. But you have never
been hanged, and Michael won't be hanged. It was only Uncle Moses's fun.
And as for old Mrs. Picture, I daresay if the truth were known, Mrs.
Picture's a very nice old lady? I like her for taking such pains with
Dave's letter-writing. But we'll see Mrs. Picture, and find out all
about it. Won't we, Gwen?" Gwen assented _con amore_, to reassure the
Granny, who, however, was evidently only silenced, not convinced, about
this elderly person in London, that sink of iniquities.

Gwen resumed her seat and took another cup of tea, really to please her
hosts, as the tea was too strong for anything. Then Feudalism asserted
itself as it so often does when County magnates foregather with village
minimates--is that the right word? Landmarks, too, indisputable to need
recognition were ignored altogether, and all the hearsays of the
countryside were reviewed. The grim severance between class and class
that up-to-date legislation makes every day more and more well-defined
and bitter had no existence in fifty-four at Chorlton-under-Bradbury.
Granny Marrable and the ogress, for instance, could and did seek to know
how the gentleman was that met with the accident in July. Of course,
_they_ knew the story of the gentleman's relation with "Gwen o' the
Towers," and both visitors knew they knew it; but that naturally did not
come into court. It underlay the pleasure with which they heard that Mr.
Adrian Torrens was all but well again, and that the doctors said his
eyesight would not be permanently affected. Gwen herself volunteered
this lie, with Sir Coupland's assurance in her mind that, if Adrian's
sight returned, it would probably do so outright, as a salve to her
conscience.

"There now!" said Widow Thrale. "There will be good hearing for Keziah
when she comes nigh by us next, maybe this very day. For old Stephen
he's just gone near to breaking his heart over it, taking all the fault
to himself." Keziah was Keziah Solmes, Stephen Solmes's old wife, whose
sentimentalism would have saved Adrian Torrens's eyesight if she had not
had such an obstinate husband. Stephen was a connection of the departed
saddler, the speaker's husband.

Said Sister Nora as they rose to rejoin the carriage:--"Now
remember!--you're not to fuss over Dave, Mrs. Thrale. _We'll_ see that
he comes to no harm." The ogress did not seem so uneasy about the child,
saying:--"It's the picture of the man running from the Police Granny
goes by, and 'tis no more than any boy might draw." Whereat Sister Nora
said, laughing: "You needn't get scared about Mickey, if that's it. He's
just a young monkey." But the old woman seemed still to be concealing
disquiet, saying only:--"I had no thought of the boy." She had formed
some misapprehension of Dave's surrounding influences, which seemed hard
to clear up.

Riding home Gwen turned suddenly to her cousin, after reflective
silence, saying:--"What makes the old Goody so ferocious against the
little boy's Mrs. Picture?" To which the reply was:--"Jealousy, I
suppose. What a beautiful sunset! That means wind." But Sister Nora was
talking rather at random, and there may have been no jealousy of old
Maisie in the heart of old Phoebe.

Moreover, Gwen's was not an inquiry-question demanding an answer. It was
interrogative chat. She was thinking all the while how amused Adrian
would have been with Dave's letter and the escaped prisoner. Then her
thought was derailed by one of the sudden jerks that crossed the line so
often in these days. Chat with herself must needs turn on the mistakes
she had made in not borrowing that letter to enclose with her next one
to Adrian, for him to ... to _what_? There came the jerk! What could he
see? Indeed, one of the sorest trials of this separation from him was
the way her correspondence--for she had insisted on freedom in this
respect--was handicapped by his inability to read it. How could she
allow all she longed to say to pass under the eyes even of Irene, dear
friend though she had become? She would have given worlds for an
automaton that could read aloud, whose speech would repeat all its eyes
saw, without passing the meaning of it through an impertinent mind.

Sister Nora was quite in her confidence about her love-affair; in fact,
she had seen Adrian for a moment, her arrival at the Towers on her way
from Scotland after her father's death having overlapped his
departure--which had been delayed a few days by pretexts of a shallow
nature--just long enough to admit of the introduction. She inclined to
partisanship with the Countess. Why--see how mad the whole thing was!
The girl had fancied herself in love with him after seeing him barely
once, for five minutes. It never could last. She was, however, quite
prepared to back Gwen if it did show signs of being, or becoming, a
_grande passion_. Meanwhile, evidently the kindest thing was to turn
her mind in another direction, and the inoculation of an Earl's
daughter with the virus of an enthusiasm which has been since called
_slumming_ presented itself to her in the light of an effort-worthy end.
Sister Nora was far ahead of her time; it should have fallen twenty
years later.

But she was not going to imperil her chances of success by using too
strong a _virus_ at the first injection. Caution was everything. This
projected visit to Sapps Court was a perfect stepping-stone to a
stronger regimen, such as an incursion into the purlieus of Drury Lane.
Tom-all-alone's might overtax the nervous system of a neophyte. The
full-blown horrors which civilisation creates wholesale, and remedies
retail, were not to be grappled with by untrained hands. A time might
come for that; meanwhile--Sapps Court, clearly!

The two ladies had a quiet drive back to the Towers. How very quiet the
latter end of a drive often is, as far as talk goes! Does the Ozymandian
silence on the box react upon the rank and file of the expedition, or is
it the hypnotic effect of hoof-monotony? Lady Gwen and Miss Grahame
scarcely exchanged a word until, within a mile of the house, they
identified two pedestrians. Of whom their conversation was precisely
what follows, not one word more or less:--

"There they are, Cousin Chloe, exactly as I prophesied."

"Well--why shouldn't they be?"

"I didn't say anything about shoulds and shouldn't. I merely referred to
facts.... Come--_say_ you think it ridiculous!"

"I can't see why. Their demeanour appears to me unexceptionable, and
perfectly dignified. Everything one would expect, knowing the
parties...."

"Are they going to walk about like that to all eternity, being
unexceptionable? That's what I want to know?"

"You are too impatient, dear!"

"They have been going on for months like that; at least, it _seems_
months. And never getting any nearer! And then when you talk to them
about each other, they speak of each other _respectfully_! They really
do. He says she is a shrewd observer of human nature, and she says he
appears to have had most interesting experiences. Indeed, I'm not
exaggerating."

"My dear Gwen, what _do_ you expect?"

"Oh--_you_ know! You're only making believe. Why, when I said to him
that she had been a strikingly pretty girl in her young days, and had
refused no end of offers of marriage, he ... _What_ do you say?"

"I said 'not no end.'"

"Well--of course not! But I thought it as well to say so."

"And what did he say to that?"

"He got his eyeglass right to look at her, as if he had never seen her
before, and came to a critical decision:--'Ye-es, yes, yes--so I should
have imagined. Quite so!' It amounted to acquiescing in her having gone
off, and was distinctly rude. She's better than that when I speak to her
about him certainly. This morning she said he smoked too many cigars."

"How absurd you are, Gwen! Why was that better?"

"H'm--it's a little difficult to say! But it _is_ better, distinctly.
There--they've heard us coming!"

"Why?"

"Because they both jumped farther off. They were far enough already,
goodness knows!... Good evening, Percy! Good evening, Aunt Constance!
We've had such a lovely drive home from Chorlton. I suppose the others
are on in front." And so forth. Every _modus vivendi_, at arm's length,
between any and every single lady and gentleman, was to be fooled to the
top of its bent, in their service.

The carriage was aware it was _de trop_, but was also alive to the
necessity of pretending it was not. So it interested itself for a moment
in some palpable falsehoods about the cause of the pedestrians figuring
as derelicts; and then, representing itself as hungering for the society
of their vanguard, started professedly to overtake it. It was really
absolutely indifferent on the subject.

"I suppose," said Miss Grahame enigmatically, as soon as inaudibility
became a certainty, "I suppose that's why you wanted Miss
Smith-Dickenson to come to Cavendish Square?"

Gwen did not treat this as a riddle; but said, equally
inexplicably:--"He could call." And very little light was thrown on the
mystery by the reply:--"Very well, Gwen dear, go your own way." Perhaps
a little more, though not much, by Gwen's marginal comment:--"You know
Aunt Constance lives at an outlandish place in the country?"

"Do you know, Gwen dear," said Miss Grahame, after reflection, "I really
think we ought to have offered them a lift up to the house. Stop,
Blencorn!" Blencorn stopped, without emotion. Gwen said:--"What
nonsense, Cousin Chloe! They're perfectly happy. Do leave them alone. Go
on, Blencorn!" Who, utterly unmoved, went on. But Sister Nora
said:--"No, Gwen dear, we really ought! Because I know Mr. Pellew has to
catch his train, and he'll be late. Don't go on, Blencorn!" Gwen
appearing to assent reluctantly, the arrangement stood; as did the
horses, gently conversing with each other's noses about the caprices of
the carriage.



CHAPTER XXIV

     HOW IT CAME ABOUT THAT THE LADY AND GENTLEMAN COULD JUMP FARTHER
     OFF. WHAT MISS DICKENSON WANTED TO SAY AND DIDN'T, AND THE REPLY
     MR. PELLEW DIDN'T MAKE, IN FULL. OF A SPLIT PATHWAY, AND THE
     SHREWDNESS OF RABBITS. BUT THERE WAS NO RABBIT, AND WHEN BLENCORN
     STOPPED AGAIN, THEY OVERTOOK THE CARRIAGE. THEIR FAREWELL, AND HOW
     MR. PELLEW RAN AGAINST THE EARL


The Hon. Percival was called away to town that evening, and was to catch
the late train at Grantley Thorpe, where it stopped by signal. There was
no need to hurry, as he belonged to the class of persons that catch
trains. This class, when it spends a holiday at a country-house, dares
to leave its packing-up, when it comes away, to its valet or lady's-maid
_pro tem._, and knows to a nicety how low it is both liberal and
righteous to assess their services.

If this gentleman had not belonged to this class, it is, of course,
possible that he would still have joined the party that had walked over,
that afternoon, to see the Roman Villa at Ticksey, the ancient
Coenobantium, in company with sundry Antiquaries who had lunched at the
Towers, and had all talked at once in the most interesting possible way
on the most interesting possible subjects. It was the presence of these
gentlemen that, by implication, supplied a reason why Gwen and Sister
Nora should prefer the others, on in front, to the less pretentious
stragglers whom they had overtaken.

Archaic Research has an interest short of the welfare of Romeo and
Juliet; or, perhaps, murders. But neither of these topics lend
themselves, at least until they too become ancient history, to
discussion by a Society, or entry on its minutes. Perhaps it was the
accidental occurrence of the former one, just as the party started to
walk back to the Towers, that had caused Mr. Percival and Aunt Constance
to lag so far behind it, and substitute their own interest in a
contemporary drama for the one they had been professing, not very
sincerely, in hypocausts and mosaics and terra-cottas.

For this lady had then remarked that, for her part, she thought the
Ancient Romans were too far removed from our own daily life for any but
Antiquarians to enter sympathetically into theirs. She herself doted on
History, but was inclined to draw the line at Queen Ann. It would be
mere affectation in her to pretend to sympathize with Oliver Cromwell or
the Stuarts, and as for Henry the Eighth he was simply impossible. But
the Recent Past touched a chord. Give her the four Georges. This was
just as she and the Hon. Percival began to let the others go on in
front, and the others began to use their opportunity to do so.

Three months ago the gentleman might have decided that the lady was
talking rot. Her position now struck him as original, forcible, and new.
But he was so keenly alive to the fact that he was not in the least in
love with her, that it is very difficult to account for his leniency
towards this rot. It showed itself as even more than leniency, if he
meant what he said in reply:--"By Jove, Miss Dickenson, I shouldn't
wonder if you were right. I never thought of it that way before!"

"I'm not quite sure I ever did," she answered; telling the truth; and
not seeming any the worse, in personality, for doing so. "At least,
until I got rather bored by having to listen. I really hate speeches and
lectures and papers and things. But what I said is rather true, for all
that. I'm sure I shall be more interested in the house the Prince Regent
was drunk in, where I'm going to stay in town, than in any number of
atriums. It _does_ go home to one more--now, doesn't it?"

Mr. Pellew did not answer the question. He got his eyeglass right, and
looked round--he had contracted a habit of doing this--to see if Aunt
Constance was justifying the tradition of her youth, reported by her
adopted niece. He admitted that she was. Stimulated by this conviction,
he decided on:--"Are you going to stay in town? Where?"

"At Clotilda's--Sister Nora, you know. In Cavendish Square. I hope it's
like what she says. Scarcely anything has been moved since her mother
died, when she was a baby, and for years before that the drawing-rooms
were shut up. Why did you ask?" This was a perfectly natural question,
arising out of the subject before the house.

Nevertheless it frightened the gentleman into modifying what he meant to
say next, which was:--"May I call on you there?" He gave it up, as too
warm on the whole, considering the context, and said instead:--"I could
leave your book." Something depended on the lady's answer to this. So
she paused, and worded it:--"By all means bring it, if you prefer doing
so," instead of:--"You needn't take any trouble about returning the
book."

Only the closest analysis can be even with the contingencies of some
stages in the relativities of grown-ups, however easily one sees through
the common human girl and boy. Miss Dickenson's selected answer just
saved the situation by the skin of its teeth. For there certainly was a
situation of a sort. Nobody was falling in love with anybody, that saw
itself; but for all that a fatality dictated that Mr. Pellew and Aunt
Constance were in each other's pockets more often than not. Neither had
any wish to come out, and popular observation supplied the language the
story has borrowed to describe the fact.

The occupant of Mr. Pellew's pocket was, however, dissatisfied with her
answer about the book. Her tenancy might easily become precarious. She
felt that the maintenance of Cavendish Square, as a subject of
conversation, would soften asperities and dispel misunderstandings, if
any. So, instead of truncating the subject of the book-return, she
interwove it with the interesting mansion of Sister Nora's family,
referring especially to the causes of her own visit to it. "Gwen and
Cousin Clo, as she calls her, very kindly asked me to go there if I came
to London; and I suppose I shall, if my sister Georgie and her husband
are not at Roehampton. Anyway, even if I am not there, I am sure they
will be delighted to see you.... Oh no!--Roehampton's much too far to
come with it, and I can easily call for it." This was most ingenious,
for it requested Mr. Pellew to make his call a definite visit, while
depersonalising that visit by a hint at her own possible absence. This
uncertainty also gave latitude of speech, her hypothetical presence
warranting an attitude which would almost have implied too warm a
welcome from a certainty. She even could go so far as to add:--"However,
I should like to show you the Prince's drawing-room--they call it so
because he got drunk there; it's such an honour, you see!--so I hope I
shall be there."

"Doosid int'ristin'--shall certainly come! Gwen's to go to London to get
poor Torrens out of her head--that's the game, isn't it?"

"That sort of thing, I believe. Change of scene and so on." Miss
Dickenson spoke as one saturated with experience of refractory lovers,
not without a suggestion of having in her youth played a leading part in
some such drama.

"Well--I'm on his side. P'r'aps that's not the right way to put it; I
suppose I ought to say _their_ side. Meaning, the young people's, of
course! Yes, exactly."

"One always takes part against the stern parent." The humour of this
received a tributary laugh. "But do you really think Philippa wrong,
Mr. Pellew? I must say she seems to me only reasonable. The whole thing
was so absurdly sudden."

Mr. Pellew was selecting a cigar--why does one prefer smoking the best
one first?--and was too absorbed to think of anything but "Dessay!" as
an answer. His choice completed, he could and did postpone actually
striking a match to ask briefly:--"Think anything'll come of it?"

Miss Dickenson, being a lady and non-smoker, could converse
consecutively, as usual. "Come of what, Mr. Pellew? Do you mean come of
sending Gwen to London to be out of the young man's way, or come of ...
come of the ... the love-affair?"

"Well--whichever you like! Either--both!" The cigar, being lighted, drew
well, and the smoker was able to give serious attention. "What do you
suppose will be the upshot?"

"Impossible to say! Just look at all the circumstances. She sees him
first of all for five minutes in the Park, and then he gets shot. Then
she sees him when he's supposed to be dead, just long enough to find out
that he's alive. Then she doesn't see him for a fortnight--or was it
three weeks? Then she sees him and finds out that his eyesight is
destroyed...."

"That's not certain."

"Perhaps not. We'll hope not. She finds out--what she finds out, suppose
we say! Then they get left alone at the piano the whole of the
afternoon, and ..."

"And all the fat was in the fire?"

"What a coarse and unfeeling way of putting it, Mr. Pellew!"

"Well--_I_ saw it was, the moment I came into the room. So did you, Miss
Dickenson! Don't deny it."

"I certainly had an impression they had been precipitate."

"Exactly. Cut along!"

"And then, you know, he was to have gone home next day, and didn't. He
was really here four days after that; and, of course, all that time it
got worse."

"_They_ got worse?"

"I was referring to their infatuation. It comes to the same thing.
Anyhow, there was plenty of time for it, or for them--which ever one
calls it--to get up to fever-heat. Four days is plenty, at their time of
life. But the question is, will it last?"

"I should say no!... Well, no--I should say yes!"

"Which?"

"H'm--well, perhaps _no!_ Yes--_no!_ At the same time, the parties are
peculiar. He'll last--there's no doubt of that!... And I don't see any
changed conditions ahead.... Unless...."

"Unless what?"

"Unless he gets his eyesight again."

"Do you mean that Gwen will put him off, if he sees her?"

"No--come now--I say, Miss Dickenson--hang it all!"

"Well, I didn't know! How was I to?"

Some mysterious change in the conditions of the conversation came about
unaccountably, causing a laugh both joined in with undisguised
cordiality; they might almost be said to have hob-nobbed over a
unanimous appreciation of Gwen. Its effect was towards a mellower
familiarity--an expurgation of starch, which might even hold good until
one of them wrote an order for some more. For this lady and gentleman,
however much an interview might soften them, had always hitherto
restiffened for the next one. At this exact moment, Mr. Pellew entered
on an explanation of his meaning in a lower key, for seriousness; and
walked perceptibly nearer the lady. Because a dropped voice called for
proximity.

"What I meant to say was, that pity for the poor chap's misfortune may
have more to do with Gwen's feelings towards him--you understand?--than
she herself thinks."

"I quite understand. Go on."

"If he were to recover his sight outright there would be nothing left to
pity him for. Is it not conceivable that she might change altogether?"

"She would not admit it, even to herself."

"That is very likely--pride and _amour propre_, and that sort of thing!
But suppose that he suspected a change?"

"I see what you mean."

"These affairs are so confoundedly ... ticklish. Heaven only knows
sometimes which way the cat is going to jump! It certainly seems to me,
though, that the peculiar conditions of this case supply an element of
insecurity, of possible disintegration, that does not exist in ordinary
everyday life. You must admit that the circumstances are ... are
abnormal."

"Very. But don't you think, Mr. Pellew, that circumstances very often
_are_ abnormal?--more often than not, I should have said. Perhaps that's
the wrong way of putting it, but you know what I mean." Mr. Pellew
didn't. But he said he did. He recognised this way of looking at the
unusual as profound and perspicuous. She continued, reinforced by his
approval:--"What I was driving at was that when two young folks are
very--as the phrase goes--spooney, they won't admit that peculiar
conditions have anything to do with it. They have always been destined
for one another by Fate."

"How does that apply to Gwen and Torrens?"

"Merely that when Mr. Torrens's sight comes back.... What?"

"Nothing. I only said I was glad to hear you say _when_, not _if_. Go
on."

"When his sight comes back--unless it comes back very quickly--they will
be so convinced they were intended for one another from the beginning of
Time, that they won't credit the accident with any share in the
business."

"Except as an Agent of Destiny. I think that quite likely. It supplies a
reason, though, for not getting his sight back in too great a hurry. How
long should you say would be safe?"

"I should imagine that in six months, if it is not broken off, it will
have become chronic. At present they are rather ... rather ..."

"Rather underdone. I see. Well--I don't understand that anyone wants to
take them off the hob...."

"I think her mother does."

"Not exactly. She only wishes them to stand on separate hobs for three
months. They will hear each other simmer. My own belief is that they
will be worked up to a sort of frenzy, compared to which those two
parties in Dante ... you know which I mean?..."

"Paolo and Francesca?"

Mr. Pellew thought to himself how well enformed Miss Dickenson was. He
said aloud:--"Yes, them. Paolo and Francesca would be quite
lukewarm--sort of negus!--compared to our young friends. Correspondence
is the doose. Not so bad in this case, p'r'aps, because he can't read
her letters himself.... I don't know, though--that might make it
worse.... Couldn't say!" And he seemed to find that cigar very good,
and, indeed, to be enjoying himself thoroughly.

Had Aunt Constance any sub-intent in her next remark? Had it any
hinterland of discussion of the ethics of Love, provocative of practical
application to the lives of old maids and old bachelors--if the one,
then the other, in this case--strolling in a leisurely way through
bracken and beechmast, fancy-free, no doubt? If she had, and her
companion suspected it, he was not seriously alarmed, this time. But
then he was off to London in a couple of hours.

Her remark was:--"You seem to be quite an authority on the subject, Mr.
Pellew."

"No--you don't mean that? Does me a lot of credit, though! Guessin', I
am, all through. No experience--honour bright!"

"You don't expect me to believe that, Mr. Pellew?"

"Needn't believe it, unless you like, Miss Dickenson. But it's true, for
all that. Never was in love in my life!"

"You must have found life very dull, Mr. Pellew. How a man can contrive
to exist without.... Isn't that wheels?" It didn't matter whether it was
or not, but the lady's speech had stumbled into a pitfall--she was
exploring a district full of them--and she thought the wheels might
rescue her.

But the gentleman was not going to let her off, though he was ready to
suppose the wheels were the carriage coming back. "It won't catch us up
for ever so long, you'll see! Such a quiet evening as this, one hears
miles off...." He interrupted his own speech by a variation of tone,
repeating the pitfall words:--"'Contrive to exist without'"--and then
supplied as sequel:--"'womankind somehow or other.' That's what you mean
to say, isn't it?"

"Yes." No qualification!--more pitfalls, perhaps.

"Only I never said anything of the sort! Never meant it, anyhow. What I
meant was that I had never caught the disorder like my blind friend. He
went off at score like Orlando in 'Winter's Tale.'"

"In 'As You Like It.'"

"I meant 'As You Like It.' I suppose it was because he happened to come
across thingummybob--Rosalind."

"It always is."

"P'r'aps I never came across Rosalind. Anyhow, I give you my honour I
never had any experience to make me an authority on the subject. I
expect you are a much better one than I."

"Why?" Miss Dickenson's share of the conversation had become very dry
and monosyllabic.

What was passing in her mind, and reducing her to monosyllables, was the
thought that she was a woman, and, as such, handicapped in speech with a
man; while he could say all he pleased about himself, and expect her to
listen to it with interest. They had been gradually becoming intimate
friends, and this intimacy had ripened sensibly even during this short
chat, the sequel of the separation from the Archaeological Congress,
which it suited them to believe only just out of sight and hearing:
quite within shot considered as _chaperons_. Their familiarity had got
to such a pitch that the Hon. Percival had contrived to take her into
his confidence about his own life, and she had to remain tongue-tied
about hers, being a woman.

How could she say to him:--"I have never had the ghost of a love-affair
in the whole of my colourless, but irreproachable, life. A mystic usage
of my family of four sisters, a nervous invalid mother, and an
absent-minded father, determined my status in early girlhood. I was to
show a respectful interest in the love-affairs of my sisters, who were
handsome and pretty and charming and attractive and _piquantes_, while I
was relatively plain and backward, besides having an outcrop on one
cheek which has since been successfully removed. I was not to presume
upon my position as a sister to express opinions about these said
love-affairs, because I was not supposed to know anything about such
matters. They were not in my department. My _rôle_ was a domestic one,
and I had a high moral standpoint; which I would gladly have dispensed
with, but the force of family tradition overpowered me. It has been a
poor consolation to me to carry about this standpoint like a campstool
to the houses of the friends I visit at intervals, now that my sisters
are all married, and my mother has departed this life, and my father has
married a Mrs. Dubosc, with whom I don't agree. I lead a life of
constant resentment against unattached mankind, who decide, after
critical inspection, that they won't, when I have really never asked
them to. You and I have been more companionable--more like keeping
company, as Lutwyche would say--than any man I ever came across, and I
should like to be able to say to you that, even as you never met with
Rosalind, even so I never met with Orlando, but without any phase of my
career to correspond with the one you so delicately hinted at just now,
in your own. For I fancied I read between your lines that your scheme of
life had not been precisely that of an anchorite. Pray understand that I
have never supposed it was so, and that I rather honour your attempt to
indicate the fact to me without outraging my maidenly--old maidish, if
you will--susceptibilities"?

It was because Miss Constance Dickenson, however improbable it may seem,
had wanted to say all this and a great deal more, and could not see her
way to any of it, that she had become dry and monosyllabic. It was
because of this compulsory silence that she felt that even her
brief:--"Why?" in answer to Mr. Pellew's suggestion that an Orlando must
have come on her stage though no Rosalind had come on his, struck her
after it had passed her lips as a false step.

He in his turn was at a loss to get something worded so as not to
overstep his familiarity-licence. Rough-hewn, it might have run
thus:--"Because no girl, as pretty as you must have been, fifteen or
twenty years ago, ever goes without a lover _in posse_, though he may
never work out as a husband _in esse_, nor even a _fiancé_." He did not
see his way to polishing and finishing it so that it would be safe. He
could manage nothing better than "Obviously!" He said it twice
certainly, and threw away the end of his cigar to repeat it. But he
might not have done this if he had not been so near departure.

Somehow, it left them both silent. Sauntering along on the new-fallen
beechmast, struck by the gleams of a sunset that seemed to be giving
satisfaction to the ringdoves overhead, it could not be necessary to
prosecute the conversation. All the same, if it had paused on a
different note, an incredibly slight incident that counted for something
quite measurable in the judgment of each, might have had no importance
whatever.

But really it was so slight an incident that the story is almost ashamed
to mention it. It was this. An island of bracken, with briars in its
confidence, not negotiable by skirts--especially in those days--must
needs split a path of turf-velvet wide enough for acquaintances, into
two paths narrow enough for lovers. Practically, the choice between
walking in one of these at the risk of some little rabbit
misinterpreting their relations, and going round the island, lay with
the gentleman. The Hon. Percival did not mince the matter, as he might
have done last week, but diminished his distance from his companion in
order that one narrow pathway should accommodate both. It was just after
they had passed the island that Miss Dickenson exclaimed:--"There's the
carriage," and Gwen perceived their consciousness of its proximity. The
last episode of the story comes abreast of the present one.

The story is ashamed of its own prolixity. But how is justice to be done
to the gradual evolution of a situation if hard-and-fast laws are to be
laid down, restricting the number of words that its chronicler shall
employ? Condemn him by all means, but admit at least that every smallest
incident of the foregoing narrative had its share of influence on the
future of its actors.

It is true that nothing very crucial followed. For when, after the
carriage had pulled up and interrupted the current of conversation, and
gone on again leaving it doubtful how it should be resumed, it again
stopped for the pedestrians to overtake it, it became morally incumbent
on them to do so, and also prudent to accept its statement that it was
nearly half-past six, and to take advantage of a lift that it offered.
For Mr. Pellew must not miss that train. The carriage may have noticed
that it never overtook the Archaeological Congress, which must have
walked very quick, unless indeed the two stragglers walked very slow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Dickenson must have dressed for dinner much quicker than they
walked along the avenue. For when Mr. Pellew, after a short snack, on
his way to put himself in the gig beside his traps, looked in at the
drawing-room to see if there was anyone he had failed to say good-bye
to, he found that lady very successfully groomed in spite of her
alacrity, and suggesting surprise at its success. Fancy her being down
before everyone else after all! Here is the conversation:

"Well, good-bye! I'll remember the book. I've enjoyed my visit
enormously."

"It has been quite delightful. We've had such wonderful weather. Don't
put yourself out of the way to bring the book, though. I don't want it
back yet a while."

"All right. Thursday morning you leave here, didn't I hear you say? I
shall have read it by then. I could drop round Thursday evening. Just
suit me!"

"That will do perfectly. Only not if it's the least troublesome to bring
it."

"Oh no; not the very slightest! Nine?--half-past?"

"Nine--any time. I would say come to dinner, only I haven't mentioned it
to Miss Grahame, and I don't know her arrangements...."

"Bless me, no--the idea! I'll drop round after dinner at the Club. Nine
or half-past."

"We shall expect you. Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" But Mr. Pellew, turning to go and leaving his eyes behind
him, collided with the Earl, who was adhering to a conscientious rule of
always being punctual for dinner.

"Oh--Percy! You'll lose your train. Stop a minute!--there was something
I wanted to say. What _was_ it?... Oh, I know. Gwen's address in
London--have you got it? She's going to stay with her cousin, you
know--hundred-and-two, Cavendish Square. She'll be glad to see you if
you call, I know." This was founded on a misapprehension, which the
family resented, that it was not able to take care of itself in his
absence. The Countess would have said:--"Fancy Gwen wanting to be
provided with visitors!"

This estimable nobleman was destined to suspect he had put his foot in
it, this time, from the way in which his suggestion was received. An
inexplicable _nuance_ of manner pervaded his two guests, somewhat such
as the Confessional might produce in a penitent with a sense of humour,
who had committed a funny crime. It was, you see, difficult to assign a
plausible reason why Mr. Pellew and Miss Dickenson should have already
signed a treaty on the subject.

Perhaps it was not altogether disinterested in the gentleman to look at
his watch, and accept its warning that nothing short of hysterical haste
would catch his train for him. However, the grey mare said, through her
official representative in the gig behind her, that we should do it if
the train was a minute or so behind. So possibly he was quite sincere.



CHAPTER XXV

     CONCERNING CAVENDISH SQUARE, AND ITS WHEREABOUTS IN THE EARLY
     FIFTIES. MRS. FITZHERBERT AND PRINCESS CAROLINE. TWO LONG-FORGOTTEN
     CARD-PACKS. DUMMY, AND HOW MR. PELLEW TOOK HIS HAND. GWEN'S
     PERVERTED WHIST-SENSE. THE DUST OF AGES, AT ITS FINEST. HOW IT
     TURNED THE TALK, AND MOULDED EVENT. HOW GWEN'S PEN SCRATCHED ON
     INTO THE NIGHT


Aesthetic Topography is an interesting study. Seen by its light, at the
date of this story, Oxford Street was certainly at one and the same time
the South of the North of London, and the North of the South. For
whereas Hanover Square, which is only a stone's throw to the south of
it, is, so to speak, saturated with Piccadilly--and when you are there
you may just as well be in Westminster at once--it is undeniable that
Cavendish Square is in the zone of influence of Regent's Park, and that
Harley and Wimpole Streets, which run side by side north from it, never
pause to breathe until they all but touch its palings. Once in Regent's
Park, how can Topography--the geometric fallacy apart--ignore St. John's
Wood? And once St. John's Wood is admitted, how is it possible to turn a
cold shoulder to Primrose Hill? Cross Primrose Hill, and you may just as
well be out in the country at once.

But there!--our impressions may be but memories of fifty years ago, and
our reader may wonder why Cavendish Square suggests them.

He himself, probably very much our junior--a bad habit other people
acquire as Time goes on--may consider Harley Street and Wimpole Street
just as much town as Hanover Square, and St. John's Wood--even Primrose
Hill!--as on all fours with both. We forgive him. One, or possibly we
ought to say several, should learn to be tolerant of the new-fangled
opinions of hot-headed youth. We were like that ourself, when a boy. But
let him have his own way. These streets shall be unmitigated Town now,
to please him, in spite of the walks Dr. Johnson had in Marylebone
Fields. To be sure, Marylebone Fields soon became Gardens then-abouts,
like Ranelagh, and you drove along Harley Street to a musical
entertainment there, with music by Pergolesi and Galuppi.

The time of this story is post-Johnsonian, but it is older than its
readers; unless, indeed, a chance oldster now and then opens it to see
if it is a proper book to have in the house. The world in the early
fifties was very unlike what it is in the present century, and _that_
isn't yet in its teens. It was also very unlike what it had been in the
days when the family mansion in Cavendish Square, that had not had a
family in it then for forty years, was as good as new. It was so, no
doubt, for a good while after George the Third ceased to be King,
because the thorough griming it has had since had hardly begun, and
fields were sweet at Paddington, and the Regent could be bacchanalian in
that big drawing-room on the first floor without any consciousness that
he had a Park in the neighbourhood. Oh dear--how near the country
Cavendish Square was in those days!

By the time Queen Victoria was on the throne the grime had set in in
earnest, and was hard at work long before the fifty-one Exhibition
reported progress--progress in bedevilment, says the Pessimist? Never
mind him! Let him sulk in a corner while the Optimist dwells on the
marvellous developments of which fifty-one was only symptomatic--the
quick-firing guns and smokeless powder; the mighty ships, a dozen of
them big enough to take all the Athenians of the days of Pericles to the
bottom at once; the machines that turn out books so cheap that their
contents may be forgotten in six months, and no one be a penny the
worse; the millionaires who have so much money they can't spend
it--heaps and heaps of wonders up-to-date that no one ever feels
surprised at nowadays. The Optimist will tell you all about them. For
the moment, let's pretend that none of them have come to pass, and get
back to Cavendish Square at the date of the story, and the suite of
rooms on the second floor that had been Sister Nora's town anchorage
when she first made Dave Wardle's acquaintance as an unconscious
Hospital patient, and that had been renovated since her father's death
to serve as a _pied-à-terre_ until she could be sure of her arrangements
in the days to come.

Her friends were not the least too tired, thank you, after the journey,
to be shown the great drawing-room, on which the touching incident in
the life of a Royal Personage had conferred an historical dignity. "I
think--" said she "--only I haven't quite made up my mind yet--that I
shall call this ward Mrs. Fitzherbert, and the next room Princess
Caroline. Or the other way round. Which do you think?" For one of her
schemes was to turn the old family mansion into a Hospital.

"Let me see!" said Gwen. "I've forgotten my history. Mrs. Fitzherbert
was his wife, wasn't she?"

Miss Dickenson was always to be relied on for general information.
"Unquestionably," said she. "But he repudiated her for political
reasons, a course open to him as heir to the throne. Legally, Princess
Caroline of Brunswick was his lawful wife...."

"And, lawfully," said Gwen, "Mrs. Fitzherbert was his legal wife.
Nothing can be clearer. Yes--I should say certainly call the big room
Mrs. Fitzherbert. Whom shall you call the other rooms after, Clo?"

"All the others. There's any number! Mrs. Robinson, Lady Jersey, Lady
Conyngham ... one for every room in the house, and several over. Just
fancy!--the room has never been altered, since those days. It was
polished up for my poor mother--whom no doubt I saw in my youth, but
took no notice of. You see, I wasn't of an age to take notice, when she
departed to Kingdom-come, and my father exiled himself to Scotland...."

"And he kept it packed up like this--how long?"

"Well--you know how old I am. Twenty-seven."

Aunt Constance corrected dates. "George the Fourth," said she
chronologically, "ascended the throne in 1820. Consequently he cannot
have become intoxicated in this room...."

Sister Nora interrupted. Of course he couldn't--not in her father's
time. The cards and dice were going in her great-uncle's time, who drank
himself to death forty years ago. "There used to be some packs of
cards," said she, "in one of these drawers. I know I saw some there,
only it's a long time back--almost the only time I ever came into the
room. I'll look.... Take care of the dust!"

It was lucky that the cabinet-maker who framed that inlaid table knew
his business--they did, in his day--or the rounded front might have
called for a jerk, instead of giving easily to the pull it had awaited
so patiently, through decades. "There they are!" said Gwen, "with
nobody to deal them. Poor cards--locked up in the dark all these years!
Do let's have them out and play dummy to-night."

A spirit of Conservatism suggested that it would be impious to disturb a
_status quo_ connected with Royalty. But Gwen said, touching a visible
ace:--"Just think, Clo, if _you_ were an ace, and had a chance of being
trumps, how would you like to be shut up in a drawer again?" This appeal
to our common humanity had its effect, and a couple of packs were
brought out for use. No language could describe the penetrating powers
of the dust that accompanied their return to active duties. It ended the
visit _en passant_ of these three ladies, who were not sorry to find
themselves in an upstairs suite of rooms with a kitchen and a miniature
household, just established regardless of expense. Because three hundred
a year was what Miss Grahame was "going to" live upon, as soon as she
had "had time to turn round," and for the moment it was absurd to draw
hard and fast lines. Just wait and give her time, to get a little
settled!

The fatigue of the journey was enough to negative any idea of going out
anywhere, and indeed there was nothing in the way of theatre or concert
that was at all tempting. But it was not enough to cause collapse, and
whist became plausible within half an hour after dinner. There was
something delightful in the place, too, with its windows opening on the
tree-tops of the Square, and the air of a warm autumn evening bringing
in the sound of a woebegone brass band from afar, mixed with the endless
hum of wheels with hoof-beats in the heart of it, like currants in a
cake. The air was all the sweeter that a whiff of chimney-smoke broke
into it now and again, and emphasized its quality. When the band left
off the "Bohemian Girl" and rested, and imagination was picturing the
trombone in half, at odds with condensation, a barrel-organ was able to
make itself heard, with _Il Pescatore_, till the band began again with
The Sicilian Bride, and drowned it.

Miss Dickenson had been discreet about her expectation of a visitor. She
maintained her discretion even when the sound of a hansom's lids,
followed by "Yes--this house!" and a double knock below, turned out not
to be a mistake, but the Hon. Percival Pellew, Carlton Club. She
nevertheless roused the interested suspicion of Gwen and her hostess,
who looked at each other, and said respectively:--"Oh, it's my cousin
Percy," and "Oh, Mr. Pellew"; the former adding:--"He can take Dummy's
hand"; the latter,--"Oh, of course, ask him to come up, Maggie! Don't
let him go away on any account." But neither of these ladies expressed
any surprise at the rather prompt recrudescence of Mr. Pellew, last seen
at the Towers two days since.

The only flaw in a pretext that Mr. Pellew had come to leave Tennyson's
"Princess," with his card in it, and run away as if the book-owner would
bite him, was perhaps the ostentation with which that lady left his
detention to her hostess. It would have been at once more candid and
more skilful to say, "Oh yes, it's my book. But I didn't want Mr. Pellew
to bother about bringing it back," with a judicious infusion of
enthusiasm that the visitor's efforts to get away should fail. However,
the flaw was slight, and no one cared about the transparency of the
pretext. Moreover, Maggie, a new importation from the Highlands, thought
that her young ladyship, whose beauty had overwhelmed her, was at the
bottom of it--not Aunt Constance.

"Now you _are_ here, Percy, you had better make yourself useful. Sit as
we are. I'm not sorry you're come, because I hate playing dummy." This
was Gwen, naturally.

The impersonality of Dummy furnished a topic to tide over the
assimilation of things, and help the social _fengshui_ to plausibility.
There was a fillah--said Mr. Pellew--at the Club, who wouldn't take
Dummy unless that fiction was accommodated with a real chair. And there
was another fillah who couldn't play unless the vacant chair was taken
away. Something had happened to this fillah when he was a boy, and
anything like a ghost was uncongenial to him. You shouldn't lock up
children in the dark or make grimaces at them if you wanted them not to
be nervous in after-life ... and so forth.

Gwen was a bad whist-player, sometimes taking a very perverted view of
the game. As, for instance, when, after Mr. Pellew had dealt, she asked
her partner how many trumps she held. "Because, Clo," said she, "I've
only got two, and unless you've got at least four, I don't see the use
of going on." Public opinion condemned this attitude as unsportsmanlike,
and demanded another deal. Gwen welcomed the suggestion, having only a
Knave and a Queen in all the rest of her hand.

Her partner expressed disgust. "I think," she said, "you might have held
your tongue, Gwen, and played it out. But I shan't tell you why."

"Oh, I know, of course, without your telling me. You're made of trumps.
I'm so sorry, dear! There--see!--I've led." She played Knave.

"This," said Mr. Pellew, with shocked gravity, "is not whist."

"Well," said Gwen, "I can _not_ see why one shouldn't say how many
cards one has of any suit. Everyone knows, so it must be fair. Everyone
sees Dummy's hand."

"I see your point. But it's not whist."

"Am I to play, or not?" said Aunt Constance. She looked across at her
partner, as a serious player rather amused at the childish behaviour of
their opponents. A sympathetic bond was thereby established--solid
seriousness against frivolity.

"Fire away!" said Gwen. "Second player plays lowest." Miss Dickenson
played the Queen. "_That's_ not whist, aunty," said Gwen triumphantly.
Her partner played the King. "There now, you see!" said Gwen. She
belonged to the class of players who rejoice aloud, or show depression,
after success or failure.

This time her exultation was premature. Mr. Pellew, without emotion,
pushed the turn-up card, a two, into the trick, saying to his
partner:--"Your Queen was all right. Quite correct!" The story does not
vouch for this. It may have been wrong.

"Do you _mean_ to _say_, Cousin Percy"--thus Gwen, with indignant
emphasis--"that you've not got a club in your hand, at the very first
round. You _cannot_ expect us to believe _that_!" Mr. Pellew pointed out
that if he revoked he would lose three tricks. "Very well," said Gwen.
"I shall keep a very sharp look out." But no revoke came, and she had to
console herself as a loser with the reflection that it was only the odd
trick, after all--one by cards and honours divided.

This is a fair sample of the way this game went on establishing a
position of moral superiority for Mr. Pellew and his partner, who looked
down on the irregularities of their opponents from a pinnacle of True
Whist. Their position as superior beings tended towards mutual
understandings. A transition state from their relations in that
easy-going life at the Towers to the more sober obligations of the
metropolis was at least acceptable; and this isolation by a better
understanding of tricks and trumps, a higher and holier view of ruffing
and finessing, appeared to provide such a state. There was partnership
of souls in it, over and above mere vulgar scoring.

Nothing of interest occurred until, in the course of the second rubber,
Gwen made a misdeal. Probably she did so because she was trying at the
same time to prove that having four by honours was absurd in itself--an
affront to natural laws. It was the merest accident, she maintained,
when all the court-cards were dealt to one side--no merit at all of the
players. Her objection to whist was that it was a mixture of skill and
chance. She was inclined to favour games that were either quite the one
or quite the other. Roulette was a good game. So was chess. But whist
was neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring.... Misdeal! The
analysis of games stopped with a jerk, the dealer being left without a
turn-up card.

"But what a shame!" said Gwen. "Is it fair I should lose my deal when
the last card's an ace? How would any of you like it?" The appeal was
too touching to resist, though Mr. Pellew again said this wasn't whist.
A count of the hands showed that Aunt Constance held one card too few
and Gwen one too many. A question arose. If a card were drawn from the
dealer's hand, was the trump to remain on the table? Controversy ensued.
Why should not the drawer have her choice of thirteen cards, as in every
analogous case? On the other hand, said Gwen, that ace of hearts was
indisputably the last card in the pack; and therefore the trump-card, by
predestination.

Mr. Pellew pointed out that it mattered less than Miss Dickenson
thought, as if she pitched on this very ace to make up her own thirteen,
its teeth would be drawn. It would be no longer a turn-up card, and some
new choice of trumps would have to be made, somehow; by _sortes
Virgilianae_, or what not. Better have another deal. Gwen gave up the
point, under protest, and Miss Dickenson dealt. Spades were trumps, this
time.

It chanced that Gwen, in this deal, held the Knave and Queen of hearts.
She led the Knave, and only waiting for the next card, to be sure that
it was a low one, said deliberately to her partner:--"Don't play your
King, Cousin Clo; Percy's got the ace," in defiance of all rule and
order.

"Can't help it," said Cousin Clo. "Got nothing else!" Out came the King,
and down came the ace upon it, naturally.

"There now, see what I've done," said Gwen. "Got your King squashed!"
But she was consoled when Mr. Pellew pointed out that if Miss Grahame
had played a small card her King would almost certainly have fallen to a
trump later. "It was quite the right play," said he, "because now your
Queen makes. You couldn't have made with both."

"I believe you've been cheating, and looking at my hand," said Gwen.
"How do you know I've got the Queen?"

"How did you know I had got the ace?" said Mr. Pellew. And really this
was a reasonable question.

"By the mark on the back. I noticed it when I turned it up, when hearts
were trumps, last deal. I don't consider that cheating. All the same, I
enjoy cheating, and always cheat whenever I can. Card games are so very
dull, when there's no cheating."

"But, Gwen dear, I don't see any mark." This was Miss Grahame, examining
the last trick. She put the ace, face down, before this capricious
whist-player, who, however, adhered to her statement, saying
incorrigibly:--"Well, look at it!"

"I only see a shadow," said Mr. Pellew. But it wasn't a shadow. A shadow
moves.

Explanation came, on revision of the ace's antecedents. It had lain in
that drawer five-and-twenty years at least, with another card
half-covering it. In the noiseless air-tight darkness where it lay,
saying perhaps to itself:--"Shall I ever take a trick again?" there was
still dust, dust of thought-baffling fineness! And it had fallen, fallen
steadily, with immeasurable slowness and absolute impartiality, on all
the card above had left unsheltered. There was the top-card's
silhouette, quite recognisable as soon as the shadow was disestablished.

"It will come out with India-rubber," said Miss Grahame.

"I shouldn't mess it about, if I were you," said Gwen. "I know
India-rubber. It grimes everything in, and makes black streaks." Which
was true enough in those days. The material called bottle-rubber was
notable for its power of defiling clean paper, and the sophisticated
sort for becoming indurated if not cherished in one's trouser-pockets.
The present epoch in the World's history can rub out quite clean for a
penny, but then its _dramatis personae_ have to spend their lives dodging
motor-cars and biplanes, and holding their ears for fear of gramophones.
Still, it's _something_!

Mr. Pellew suggested that the best way to deal with the soiled card
would be for whoever got it to exhibit it, as one does sometimes when a
card's face is seen for a moment, to make sure everyone knows. We were
certainly not playing very strictly. This was accepted _nem. con._

But the chance that had left that card half-covered was to have its
influence on things, still. Who can say events would have run in the
same grooves had it not directed the conversation to dust, and caused
Mr. Pellew to recollect a story told by one of those Archaeological
fillahs, at the Towers three days ago? It was that of the tomb which,
being opened, showed a forgotten monarch of some prehistoric race,
robed, crowned, and sceptred as of old; a little shrunk, perhaps, a bit
discoloured, but still to be seen by his own ghost, if earth-bound and
at all interested. Still to be seen, even by Cook's tourists, had he but
had a little more staying-power. But he was never seen, as a matter of
fact, by any man but the desecrator of his tomb. For one whiff of fresh
air brought him down, a crumbling heap of dust with a few imperishable
ornaments buried in it. His own ghost would not have known him again;
and, in less time than it takes to tell, the wind blew him about, and he
had to take his chance with the dust of the desert.

"I suppose it isn't true," said Gwen incredulously. "Things of that sort
are generally fibs."

"Don't know about this one," said Mr. Pellew, sorting his cards. "Funny
coincidence! It was in the _Quarterly Review_--very first thing I opened
at--Egyptian Researches.... That's our trick, isn't it?"

"Yes--my ten. I'll lead.... Yes!--I think I'll lead a diamond. I always
envy you men your Clubs. It must be so nice to have all the newspapers
and reviews...." Aunt Constance said this, of course.

"It wasn't at the Club. Man left it at my chambers three
months ago--readin' it by accident yesterday evening--funny
coincidence--talkin' about it same morning! Knave takes. No--you can't
trump. You haven't got a trump."

"Now, however did you know that?" said Gwen.

"Very simple. All the trumps are out but two, and I've got them here in
my hand. See?"

"Yes, I see. But I prefer real cheating, to taking advantages of things,
like that.... What are you putting your cards down for, Cousin Percy?"

"Because that's game. Game and the rubber. We only want two by cards,
and there they are!"

When rubbers end at past ten o'clock at night, well-bred people wait for
their host to suggest beginning another. Ill-bred ones, that don't want
one, say suddenly that it must be getting late--as if Time had slapped
them--and get at their watches. Those that do, say that that clock is
fast. In the present case no disposition existed, after a good deal of
travelling, to play cards till midnight. But there was no occasion to
hustle the visitor downstairs.

Said Miss Dickenson, to concede a short breathing pause:--"Pray, Mr.
Pellew, when a gentleman accidentally leaves a book at your rooms, do
you make no effort to return it to him?"

"Well!" said Mr. Pellew, tacitly admitting the implied impeachment. "It
_is_ rather a jolly shame, when you come to think of it. I'll take it
round to him to-morrow. Gloucester Place, is it--or York Place--end of
Baker Street?... Can't remember the fillah's name to save my life.
Married a Miss Bergstein--rich bankers. Got his card at home, I expect.
However, that's where he lives--York Place. He's a Sir Somebody
Something.... What were you going to say?"

"Oh--nothing.... Only that it would have been very interesting to read
that account. However, Sir Somebody Something must be wanting his
_Quarterly Review_.... Never mind!"

Gwen said:--"What nonsense! He's bought another copy by this time. He
can afford it, if he's married a Miss Bergstein. Bring it round
to-morrow, Percy, to keep Aunt Constance quiet. We shan't take her with
us to see Clo's little boy. We should make too many." Then, in order to
minimise his visit next day, Mr. Pellew sketched a brief halt in
Cavendish Square at half-past three precisely to-morrow afternoon, when
Miss Dickenson could "run her eye" through the disintegration of that
Egyptian King, without interfering materially with its subsequent
delivery at Sir Somebody Something's. It was an elaborate piece of
humbug, welcomed with perfect gravity as the solution of a perplexing
and difficult problem. Which being so happily solved, Mr. Pellew could
take his leave, and did so.

"Didn't I do that capitally, Clo?"

"Do which, dear?"

"Why--making her stop here to see him. Or giving her leave to stop; it's
the same thing, only she would rather do it against her will. I mean
saying we should make too many at Scraps Court, or whatever it is."

"Oh yes--quite a stroke of genius! Gwen dear, what an inveterate
matchmaker you are!"

"Nonsense, Clo! I never...." Here Gwen hung fire for a moment,
confronted by an intractability of language. She took the position by
storm, _more suo_:--"I never _mutchmoke_ in my life.... What?--Well, you
may laugh, Clo, but I never _did_! Only when two fools irritate one by
not flying into each other's arms, and wanting to all the time.... Oh,
it's exasperating, and I've no patience!"

"You are quite sure they do ... want to?"

"Oh yes--I think so. At least, I'm quite sure Percy does."

"Why not Aunt Constance?"

"Because I can't imagine anyone wanting to rush into any of my cousins'
arms--my he-cousins. It's a peculiarity of cousins, I suppose. If any of
mine had been palatable, he would have caught on, and it would have come
off. Because they all want _me_, always."

"That's an old story, Gwen dear." The two ladies looked ruefully at one
another, with a slight shoulder-shrug apiece over a hopeless case. Then
Miss Grahame said:--"Then you consider Constance Dickenson is still
palatable?" She laughed on the word a little--a sort of protest. "At
nearly forty?"

"Oh dear, yes! Not that she's forty, nor anything like it. She's
thirty-six. Besides, it has nothing to do with age. Or very little.
Why--how old is that dear old lady at Chorlton that was jealous of your
little boy's old woman in London?"

"Old Goody Marrable? Over eighty. But the other old lady is older still,
and Dave speaks well of her, anyhow! We shall see her to-morrow. We must
insist on that."

"Well--I could kiss old Goody Marrable. I should be sorry for her bones,
of course. But they're not her fault, after all! She's quite an old
darling. I hope Aunt Connie and Percy will manage a little common sense
to-morrow. They'll have the house to themselves, anyhow. Ta bye-bye,
Chloe dear!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Grahame looked in on her way to her own room to see that Miss
Dickenson had been provided with all the accessories of a good night--a
margin of pillows and blankets _à choix_, and so on. Hot-water-bottle
time had scarcely come yet, but hospitality might refer to it. There
was, however, a word to say touching the evening just ended. What did
Miss Grahame think of Gwen? Aunt Constance's _parti pris_ in life was a
benevolent interest in the affairs of everybody else.

Miss Grahame thought Gwen was all right. The amount of nonsense she had
talked to-night showed she was a little excited. A sort of ostentatious
absurdity, like a spoiled child! Well--she has been a spoiled child. But
she--the speaker--always had believed, did still believe, that Gwen was
a fine character underneath, and that all her nonsense was on the
surface.

"Will she hold to it, do you think?"

"How can I tell? I should say yes. But one never knows. She's writing
him a long letter now. She's in the next room to me, and I heard her
scratching five minutes after she said good-night. I hope she won't
scribble all night and keep me awake. My belief is she would be better
for some counter-excitement. A small earthquake! Anything of that sort.
Good-night! It's very late." But it came out next day that Gwen's pen
was still scratching when this lady got to sleep an hour after.



CHAPTER XXVI

     A PROFESSIONAL CONSULTATION ACROSS A COUNTER, AND HOW THE STORY OF
     THE MAN IN HYDE PARK WAS TOLD BY DOLLY. HOW AUNT M'RIAR KNEW THE
     NAME WAS NOT "DARRABLE." HOW SHE TOLD UNCLE MO WHOSE WIFE SHE WAS
     AND WHOSE MOTHER MRS. PRITCHARD WAS. HOW POLLY DAVERILL JUNIOR HAD
     DIED UNBAPTIZED, AND ATTEMPTS TO BULLY THE DEVIL ARE FUTILE. HOW
     HER MOTHER WAS FORMERLY BARMAID AT THE ONE TUN, BUT BECAME AUNT
     M'RIAR LATER, AND HOW THE TALLOW CANDLE JUST LASTED OUT. HOW DOLLY,
     VERY SOUND ASLEEP, WAS GOOD FOR HER AUNT


"I shouldn't take any violent exercise, if I was you, Mr. Wardle," said
Mr. Ekings, the Apothecary, whose name you may remember Michael
Ragstroar had borrowed and been obliged to relinquish. "I should be very
careful what I ate, avoiding especially pork and richly cooked food. A
diet of fowls and fish--preferably boiled...."

"Can't abide 'em!" said Uncle Moses, who was talking over his symptoms
with Mr. Ekings at his shop, with Dolly on his knee. "And whose a-going
to stand Sam for me, livin' on this and livin' on that? Roasted
chicking's very pretty eating, for the sake of the soarsages, when
you're a Lord Mayor; but for them as don't easy run to half-crowns for
mouthfuls, a line has to be drawed. Down our Court a shilling has to go
a long way, Dr. Ekings."

The medical adviser shook his head weakly. "You're an intractable
patient, Mr. Moses," he said. He knew that Uncle Moses's circumstances
were what is called moderate. So are a church mouse's; and, in both
cases, the dietary is compulsory. Mr. Ekings tried for a common ground
of agreement. "Fish doesn't mount up to much, by the pound," he said,
vaguely.

"Fishes don't go home like butcher's meat," said Uncle Moses.

"You can't expect 'em to do that," said Mr. Ekings, glad of an
indisputable truth. "But there's a vast amount of nourishment in 'em,
anyway you put it."

"So there is, Dr. Ekings. In a vast amount of 'em. But you have to eat
it all up. Similar, grass and cows. Only there's no bones in the grass.
Now, you know, what I'm wanting is a pick-me-up--something with a nice
clean edge in the smell of it, like a bottle o' salts with holes in the
stopper. And tasting of lemons. I ain't speaking of the sort that has to
be shook when took. Nor yet with peppermint. It's a clear sort to see
through, up against the light, what I want."

Mr. Ekings, a humble practitioner in a poor neighbourhood, supplied more
mixtures in response to suggestions like Uncle Mo's, than to legitimate
prescriptions. So he at once undertook to fill out the order, saying in
reply to an inquiry, that it would come to threepence, but that Uncle Mo
must bring or send back the bottle. He then added a few drops of chloric
ether and ammonia, and some lemon to a real square bottleful of aq. pur.
haust., and put a label on it with superhuman evenness, on which was
written "The Mixture--one tablespoonful three times a day." Uncle Moses
watched the preparation of this _elixir vitae_ with the extremest
satisfaction. He foresaw its beneficial effect on his system, which he
had understood was to blame for his occasional attacks of faintness,
which had latterly been rather more frequent. Anything in such a clean
phial, with such a new cork, would be sure to do his system good.

Mrs. Riley came in for a bottle which was consciously awaiting her in
front of the leeches, and identified it as "the liniment," before Mr.
Ekings could call to mind where he'd stood it. She remarked, while
calculating coppers to cover the outlay, that she understood it was to
be well r-r-r-rhubbed in with the parrum of her hand, and that she was
to be thr-rusted not to lit the patiint get any of it near his mouth,
she having been borrun in Limerick morr' than a wake ago. She remarked
to Uncle Mo that his boy was looking his bist, and none the wurruss for
his accidint. Uncle Mo felt braced by the Celtic atmosphere, and thanked
Mrs. Riley cordially, for himself and Dave.

"Shouldn't do that, if I was you, Mr. Wardle," said Mr. Ekings the
Apothecary, as Uncle Mo hoisted Dolly on his shoulder to carry her home.

"No more shouldn't I, if you was me, Dr. Ekings," was the intractable
patient's reply. "Why, Lard bless you, man alive, Dolly's so light it's
as good as a lift-up, only to have her on your shoulders! Didn't you
never hear tell of gravitation? Well--that's it!" But Uncle Mo was out
of his depth.

"It'll do ye a powerful dale of good, Mr. Wardle," said Mrs. Riley.
"Niver you mind the docther!" And Uncle Mo departed, braced again, with
his _elixir vitae_ in his left hand, and Dolly on his right shoulder,
conversing on a topic suggested by Dr. Ekings's remarks about diet.

"When Dave tooktid Micky to see the fisses corched in the Turpentine,
there was a jenklum corched a fiss up out of the water, and another
jenklum corched another fiss up out of the water...." Dolly was pursuing
the subject in the style of the Patriarchs, who took their readers'
leisure for granted, and never grudged a repetition, when Uncle Mo
interrupted her to point out that it was not Dave who took Michael
Ragstroar to Hy' Park, but _vice versa_. Also that the whole proceeding
had been a disgraceful breach of discipline, causing serious alarm to
himself and Aunt M'riar, who had nearly lost their reason in
consequence--the exact expression being "fritted out of their wits." If
that young Micky ever did such a thing again, Uncle Mo said, the result
would be a pretty how-do-you-do, involving possibly fatal consequences
to Michael, and certainly local flagellation of unheard-of severity.

Dolly did not consider this was to the point, and pursued her narrative
without taking notice of it. "There was a jenklum corched a long fiss,
and there was another jenklum corched a short fiss, and there was
another jenklum corched a short fiss...." This seemed to bear frequent
repetition, but came to an end as soon as history ceased to supply the
facts. Then another phase came, that of the fishers who didn't corch no
fiss, whose name appeared to be Legion. They lasted as far as the arch
into Sapps Court, and Uncle Mo seemed rather to relish the monotony than
otherwise. He would have made a good Scribe in the days of the Pharaohs.

But Dolly came to the end of even the unsuccessful fishermen. Just as
they reached home, however, she produced her convincing incident, all
that preceded it having evidently been introduction pure and simple.
"And there was a man saided fings to Micky, and saided fings to Dave,
and saided fings to...." Here Dolly stuttered, became confused, and
ended up weakly: "No, he didn't saided no fings, to no one else."

A little _finesse_ was necessary to land the _elixir vitae_ on the
parlour chimney-piece, and Dolly on the hearthrug. Then Uncle Mo sat
down in his own chair to recover breath, saying in the course of a
moment:--"And what did the man say to Dave, and what did he say to young
Sparrowgrass?" He did not suppose that "the man" was a person capable of
identification; he was an unknown unit, but good to talk about.

"He saided Mrs. Picture." Dolly placed the subject she proposed to treat
broadly before her audience, with a view to its careful analysis at
leisure.

"What on 'arth did he say Mrs. Picture for? _He_ don't know Mrs.
Picture." The present tense used here acknowledged the man's
authenticity, and encouraged the little maid--three and three-quarters,
you know!--to further testimony. It came fairly fluently, considering
the witness's recent acquisition of the English language.

"He doos know Mrs. Picture, ass he doos, and he saided Mrs. Picture to
Micky, ass he did." This was plenty for a time, and during that time the
witness could go on nodding with her eyes wide open, to present the
subject lapsing, for she had found out already how slippery grown-up
people are in argument. Great force was added by her curls, which lent
themselves to flapping backwards and forwards as she nodded.

It was impossible to resist such evidence, outwardly at least, and Uncle
Mo appeared to accept it. "Then the man said Mrs. Picture to Dave," said
he. "And Dave told it on to you, was that it?" He added, for the general
good of morality:--"_You're_ a nice lot of young Pickles!"

But this stopped the nodding, which changed suddenly to a negative
shake, of great decision. "The man never saided nuffint to Dave, no he
didn't."

"Thought you said he did. You're a good 'un for a witness-box! Come up
and sit on your old uncle. The man said Mrs. Picture to young
Sparrowgrass--was that it?" Dolly nodded violently. "And young
Sparrowgrass he passed it on to Dave?" But it appeared not, and Dolly
had to wrestle with an explanation. It was too much involved for
letterpress, but Uncle Mo thought he could gather that Dave had been
treated as a mere bystander, supposed to be absorbed in angling, during
a conversation between Michael Ragstroar and the Man. "Dave he came home
and told you what the Man said to Micky--was that it?" So Uncle Mo
surmised aloud, not at all clear that Dolly would understand him. But,
as it turned out, he was right, and Dolly was glad to be able to attest
his version of the facts. She resumed the nodding, but slower, as though
so much emphasis had ceased to be necessary. "Micky toldited Dave," she
said. She then became immensely amused at a way of looking at the event
suggested by her uncle. The Man had told Micky; Micky had told Dave;
Dave had told Dolly; and Dolly had told Uncle Mo, who now intensified
the interest of the event by saying he should tell Aunt M'riar. Dolly
became vividly anxious for this climax, and felt that this was life
indeed, when Uncle Mo called out to Aunt M'riar:--"Come along here,
M'riar, and see what sort of head and tail you can make of this here
little Dolly!" Whereupon Aunt M'riar came in front out at the back, and
listened to a repetition of Dolly's tale while she dried her arms, which
had been in a wash-tub.

"Well, Mo," she said, when Dolly had repeated it, more or less
chaotically, "if you ask me, what I say is--you make our Dave speak out
and tell you, when he's back from school, and say you won't have no
nonsense. For the child is that secretive it's all one's time is worth
to be even with him.... What's the Doctor's stuff for you've been
spending your money on at Ekingses?"

"Only a stimulatin' mixture for to give tone to the system. Dr. Ekings
says it'll do it a world o' good. Never known it fail, he hasn't."

"Have you been having any more alarming symptoms, Mo, and never told
me?"

"Never been better in my life, M'riar. But I thought it was getting on
for time I should have a bottle o' stuff, one sort or other. Don't do to
go too long without a dose, nowadays." Whereupon Aunt M'riar looked
incredulous, and read the label, and smelt the bottle, and put it back
on the mantelshelf. And Uncle Mo asked for the wineglass broke off
short, out of the cupboard; because it was always best to be beforehand,
whether you had anything the matter or not.

Whatever Aunt M'riar said, Dave was not secretive. Probably she meant
communicative, and was referring to the fact that Dave, whenever he was
called on for information, though always prompt to oblige, invariably
made reply to his questioner in an undertone, in recognition of a mutual
confidence, and exclusion from it of the Universe. He had a soul above
the vulgarities of publication. Aunt M'riar merely used a word that
sounded well, irrespective of its meaning--a common literary practice.

Therefore Dave, when applied to by Uncle Mo for particulars of what "the
Man" said, made a statement of which only portions reached the general
public. This was the usual public after supper; for Mr. Alibone's
companionship in an evening pipe was an almost invariable incident at
that hour.

"What's the child a-sayin' of, Mo?" said Aunt M'riar.

"Easy a bit, old Urry Scurry!" said Uncle Mo, drawing on his imagination
for an epithet. "Let me do a bit of listening.... What was it the party
said again, Davy--just _pre_cisely?..." Dave was even less audible than
before in his response to this, and Uncle Mo evidently softened it for
repetition:--"Said if Micky told him any--etceterer--lies he'd rip his
heart out? Was that it, Dave?"

"Yorce," said Dave, aloud and emphatically. "_This_ time!" Which seemed
to imply that the speaker had refrained from doing so, to his credit, on
some previous occasion. Dave laid great stress on this point.

Aunt M'riar seemed rather panic struck at the nature of this revelation.
"Well now, Mo," said she, "I do wonder at you, letting the child tell
such words! And before Mr. Alibone, too!"

Mr. Jerry's expression twinkled, as though he protested against being
credited with a Pharisaical purity, susceptible to shocks. Uncle Mo
said, with less than usual of his easy-going manner:--"I'm a going,
M'riar, to get to the bottom of this here start. So you keep outside o'
the ropes!" and then after a little by-play with Dave and Dolly, which
made the hair of both rougher than ever, he said suddenly to
Dave:--"Well, and wasn't you frightened?"

"Micky wasn't frightened," said Dave, discreetly evasive. He objected to
pursuing the subject, and raised a new issue. The sketch that followed
of the interview between Micky and the Man was a good deal blurred by
constant India-rubber, but its original could be inferred from
it--probably as follows, any omissions to conciliate public censorship
being indicated by stars. Micky speaks first:

"Who'll you rip up? You lay 'ands upon me, that's all! You do, and I'll
blind your eyesight, s'elp me! Why, I'd summing a Police Orficer, and
have you took to the Station, just as soon as look at you...." It may be
imagined here that Michael's voice rose to a half-shriek, following some
movement of the Man towards him. "I would, by Goard! You try it on,
that's all!"

"Shut up with your * * row, you * * young * * ... No, master, I ain't
molestin' of the boy; only just frightening him for a bit of a spree!
_I_ don't look like the sort to hurt boys, do I, guv'nor?" This was
addressed to a bystander, named in Dave's report as "the gentleman." Who
was accompanied by another, described as "the lady." The latter may have
said to the former:--"I think he looks a very kind-hearted man, my dear,
and you are making a fuss about nothing." The latter certainly said
"Hggrromph!" or something like it, which the reporter found difficult to
render. Then the man assumed a hypocritical and plausible manner, saying
to Michael:--"I'm your friend, my boy, and there's a new shilling for
you, good for two * * tanners any day of the week." Micky seemed to have
been softened by this, and entered into a colloquy with the donor,
either not heard or not understood by Dave, whose narrative seemed to
point to his having been sent to a distance, with a doubt about
inapplicable epithets bestowed on him by the Man, calling for asterisks
in a close report. Some of these were probably only half-understood,
even by Micky; being, so to speak, the chirps of a gaol-bird. But Dave's
report seemed to point to "Now, is that * * young * * to be trusted not
to split?" although he made little attempt to render the asterisky parts
of speech.

Uncle Mo and Mr. Jerry glanced at one another, seeming to understand a
phrase that had puzzled Aunt M'riar.

"That was it, Mo," said Mr. Jerry, exactly as if Uncle Mo had spoken,
"_spit upon_ meant _split upon_." Dave in his innocence had supposed
that a profligacy he was himself sometimes guilty of had been referred
to. He felt that his uncle's knee was for the moment the stool of
repentance, but was relieved when a new reading was suggested. There
could be no disgrace in splitting, though it might be painful.

"And, of course," said Uncle Mo, ruffling Dave's locks, "of course, you
kept your mouth tight shut--hay?" Dave, bewildered, assented. He
connected this _bouche cousue_ with his own decorous abstention, not
without credit to himself. Who shall trace the inner workings of a small
boy's brain? "Instead of telling of it all, straight off, to your poor
old uncle!" There was no serious indignation in Uncle Mo's tone,
but the boy was too new for nice distinctions. The suggestion of
disloyalty wounded him deeply, and he rushed into explanation.
"Becorze--becorze--becorze--becorze," said he--"becorze Micky said _not_
to!" He arrived at his climax like a squib that attains its ideal.

"Micky's an owdacious young varmint," said Uncle Mo. "Small boys that
listened to owdacious young varmints never used to come to much good,
not in _my_ time!" Dave looked shocked at Uncle Mo's experience. But he
had reservations to offer as to Micky, which distinguished him from
vulgar listeners to incantations. "Micky said not to, and Micky said
Uncle Mo didn't want to hear tell of no Man out in Hoy' Park, and me to
keep my mouth shut till I was tolded to speak."

"And you told him to speak, and he spoke!" said Mr. Jerry, charitably
helping Dave. "You couldn't expect any fairer than that, old Mo." Public
opinion sanctioned a concession in this sense, and Dave came off the
stool of repentance.

"Very good, then!" said Uncle Mo. "That's all squared, and we can cross
it off. But what I'm trying after is, how did this here ...
bad-languagee"--he halted a minute to make this word--"come to know
anything about Goody Prichard upstairs?"

"Did he?" said Mr. Jerry, who of course had only heard Dave on the
subject.

"This young party said so," said Uncle Mo, crumpling Dolly to identify
her, "at the very first go off. Didn't you, little ginger-pop, hay?"
This new epithet was a passing recognition of the suddenness with which
Dolly had broken out as an informant. It gratified her vanity, and made
her chuckle.

Dave meanwhile had been gathering for an oratorical effort, and now
culminated. "I never told Dolly nuffint _about_ Mrs. Picture upstairs.
What _I_ said was 'old widder lady.'"

"Dolly translated it, Mo, don't you see?" said Mr. Jerry. Then, to
illuminate possible obscurity, he added:--"Off o' one slate onto the
other! Twig?"

"I twig you, Jerry." Uncle Mo winked at his friend to show that he was
alive to surroundings and tickled Dave suddenly from a motive of policy.
"How come this cove to know anything about any widder lady--hay? That's
a sort of p'int we've got to consider of." Dave was impressed by his
uncle's appearance of profound thought, and was anxious not to lag
behind in the solution of stiff problems. He threw his whole soul into
his answer. "Because he was _The Man_." Nathan the prophet can scarcely
have been more impressive. Perhaps, on the occasion Dave's answer
recalls, someone said:--"Hullo!" in Hebrew, and gave a short whistle.
That was what Mr. Jerry did, this time.

Uncle Mo enjoined self-restraint, telegraphically; and said,
verbally:--"What man, young Legs? Steady a minute, and tell us who he
was." Which will be quite intelligible to anyone whose experience has
included a small boy in thick boots sitting on his knee, and becoming
excited by a current topic.

Dave restrained his boots, and concentrated his mind on a statement. It
came with pauses and repetitions, which may be omitted. "He worze the
same Man as when you and me and Micky, only not Dolly, see him come
along down the Court Sunday morning. _Munce_ ago!" This was emphatic, to
express the date's remoteness. "He wanted for to be told about old Widow
Darrable who lived down this Court, and Micky he said no such name, nor
yet anywhere's about this neighbourhood, he said. And the Man he said
Micky was a young liar. And Micky he said who are you a-callin'
liar?..."

"_What_ name did he say?" Uncle Mo interrupted, with growing interest.
Dave repeated his misapprehension of it, which incorporated an idea
that similar widows would have similar surnames. If one was Marrable, it
was only natural that another should be Darrable.

Aunt M'riar, whose interest also had been some time growing, struck in
incisively. "The name was Daverill. He's mixed it up with the old lady
in the country he calls his granny." She was the more certain this was
so owing to a recent controversy with Dave about this name, ending in
his surrender of the pronunciation "Marrowbone" as untenable, but
introducing a new element of confusion owing to Marylebone Church, a
familiar landmark.

There was something in Aunt M'riar's manner that made Uncle Mo
say:--"Anything disagreed, M'riar?" Because, observe, his interest in
this mysterious man in the Park turned entirely on Mrs. Prichard's
relations with him, and he had never imputed any knowledge of him to
Aunt M'riar. Why should he? Indeed, why should we, except from the
putting of two and two together? Of which two twos, Uncle Mo might have
known either the one or the other--according to which was which--but not
both. This story has to confess occasional uncertainty about some of its
facts. There may have been more behind Uncle Mo's bit of rudeness about
Aunt M'riar's disquiet than showed on the surface. However, he never
asked any questions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Those who have ever had the experience of keeping their own counsel for
a long term of years know that every year makes it harder to take others
into confidence. A concealed troth-plight, marriage, widowhood--to name
the big concealments involving no disgrace--gets less and less easy to
publish as time slips by, even as the hinges rust of doors that no man
opens. There may be nothing to blush about in that cellar, but the key
may be lost and the door-frame may have gripped the door above, or the
footstone jammed it from below, and such fungus-growth as the darkness
has bred has a claim to freedom from the light. Let it all rest--that is
its owner's word to his own soul--let it rest and be forgotten! All the
more when the cellar is full of garbage, and he knows it.

There was no garbage in Aunt M'riar's cellar that she was guilty of, but
for all that she would have jumped at any excuse to leave that door
tight shut. The difficulty was not so much in what she had to tell--for
her conscience was clear--as in rousing an unprepared mind to the
hearing of it. Uncle Mo, quite the reverse of apathetic to anything that
concerned the well-being of any of his surroundings, probably accounted
Aunt M'riar's as second to none but the children's. Nevertheless, the
difficulty of rousing him to an active interest in this hidden
embarrassment of hers, of which he had no suspicion, was so palpable to
Aunt M'riar, that she was sorely put to it to decide on a course of
action. And the necessity for action was not imaginary. Keep in mind
that all Uncle Mo's knowledge of Aunt M'riar's antecedents was summed up
in the fact of her widowhood, which he took for granted--although he had
never received it _totidem verbis_ when she first came to supplant Mrs.
Twiggins--and which had been confirmed as Time went on, and no husband
appeared to claim her. Even if he could have suspected that her husband
was still living, there was nothing in the world to connect him with
this escaped convict. No wonder Uncle Mo's complete unconsciousness
seemed to present an impassable barrier to a revelation. Aunt M'riar had
not the advantages of the Roman confessional, with its suggestive
_guichet_. Had some penitent, deprived of that resource, been driven
back on the analogous arrangement of a railway booking-office, the
difficulty of introducing the subject could scarcely have been greater.

However, Aunt M'riar was not going to be left absolutely without
assistance. That evening--the evening, that is, of the day when Dave
told the tale of the Man in the Park--Uncle Moses showed an unusual
restlessness, following on a period of thoughtfulness and silence. After
supper he said suddenly:--"I'm a-going to take a turn out, M'riar. Any
objection?"

"None o' my making, Mo. Only Mr. Jerry, he'll be round. What's to be
told him?"

"Ah--I'll tell you. Just you say to Jerry--just you tell him...."

"What'll I tell him?" For Uncle Mo appeared to waver.

"Just you tell him to drop in at The Sun, and bide till I come. They've
a sing-song going on to-night, with the pianner. He'll make hisself
happy for an hour. I'll be round in an hour's time, tell him."

"And where are you off for all of an hour, Mo?"

"That's part of the p'int, M'riar. Don't you be too inquis-eye-tive....
No--I don't mind tellin' of ye, if it's partic'lar. I'm going to drop
round to the Station to shake hands with young Simmun Rowe--they've made
him Inspector there--he's my old pal Jerky Rowe's son I knew from a boy.
Man under forty, as I judge. But he won't let me swaller up _his_ time,
trust him! Tell Jerry I'll jine him at half-after nine, the very
latest."

"I'll acquaint him what you say, Mo. And you bear in mind what Mr.
Jeffcoat at The Sun had to say about yourself, Mo."

"What was it, M'riar? Don't you bottle it up."

"Why, Mr. Jeffcoat he said, after passing the time of day, round in
Clove Street, 'I look to Mr. Wardle to keep up the character of The
Sun,' he said. So you bear in mind, Mo."

Whereupon Uncle Mo departed, and Aunt M'riar was left to her own
reflections, the children being abed and asleep by now; Dolly certainly,
probably Dave.

Presently the door to the street was pushed open, and Mr. Jerry
appeared. "I don't see no Moses?" said he.

Aunt M'riar gave her message, over her shoulder. To justify this she
should have been engaged on some particular task of the needle, easiest
performed when seated. Mr. Alibone, to whom her voice sounded unusual,
looked round to see. He only saw that her hands were in her lap, and no
sign was visible of their employment. This was unlike his experience of
Aunt M'riar. "Find the weather trying, Mrs. Wardle?"

"It don't do me any harm."

"Ah--some feels the heat more than others."

Aunt M'riar roused herself to reply:--"If you're meaning me, Mr.
Alibone, it don't touch me so much as many. Only my bones are not so
young as they were--that's how it came I was sitting down. Now,
supposin' you'd happened in five minutes later, you might have found me
tidin' up. I've plenty to do yet awhile." But this was not convincing,
although the speaker wished to make it so; probably it would have been
better had less effort gone to the utterance of it. For Aunt M'riar's
was too obvious.

Mr. Jerry laughed cheerfully, for consolation. "Come now, Aunt M'riar,"
said he, "_you_ ain't the one to talk as if you was forty, and be making
mention of your bones. Just you let them alone for another fifteen year.
That'll be time." Mr. Jerry had been like one of the family, so
pleasantry of this sort was warranted.

It was not unwelcome to Aunt M'riar. "I'm forty-six, Mr. Jerry," she
said. "And forty-six is six-and-forty."

"And fifty-six is six-and-fifty, which is what I am, this very next
Michaelmas. Now I call that a coincidence, Mrs. Wardle."

Aunt M'riar reflected. "I should have said it was an accident, Mr.
Jerry. Like anythin' else, as the sayin' is. You mention to Mo, not to
be late, no more than need be. Not to throw away good bedtime!" Mr.
Jerry promised to impress the advantages of early hours, and went his
way. But his reflections on his short interview with Aunt M'riar took
the form of asking himself what had got her, and finding no answer to
the question. Something evidently had, from her manner, for there was
nothing in what she said.

He asked the same question of Uncle Mo, coming away from The Sun, where
they did not wait for the very last tune on the piano, to the disgust of
Mr. Jeffcoat, the proprietor. "What's got Aunt M'riar?" said Uncle Mo,
repeating his words. "Nothin's got Aunt M'riar. She'd up and tell me
fast enough if there was anything wrong. What's put you on that lay,
Jerry?"

"I couldn't name any one thing, Mo. But going by the looks of it, I
should judge there was a screw loose in somebody's wheelbarrow. P'r'aps
I'm mistook. P'r'aps I ain't. S'posing you was to ask her, Mo!--asking
don't cost much."

Uncle Moses seemed to weigh the outlay. "No," he said. "Asking wouldn't
send me to the work'us." And when he had taken leave of his friend at
their sundering-point, he spent the rest of his short walk home in
speculation as to what had set Jerry off about Aunt M'riar. It was with
no misgiving of hearing of anything seriously amiss that he said to her,
as he sat in the little parlour recovering his breath, after walking
rather fast, while she cultured the flame of a candle whose wick had
been cut off short:--"Everything all right, M'riar?" He was under the
impression that he asked in a nonchalant, easy-going manner, and he was
quite mistaken. It was only perfectly palpable that he meant it to be
so, and he who parades his indifference is apt to overreach himself.

Aunt M'riar had been making up her mind that she must tell Mo what she
knew about this man Daverill, at whatever cost to herself. It would have
been much easier had she known much less. Face to face with an
opportunity of telling it, her resolution wavered and her mind,
imperfectly made up, favoured postponement. To-morrow would do. "Ho
yes," said she. "Everything's all right, Mo. Now you just get to bed.
Time enough, I say, just on to midnight!" But her manner was defective
and her line of argument ill-chosen. Its result was to produce in her
hearer a determination to discover what had got her. Because it was
evident that Jerry was right, and that _something_ had.

"One of the kids a-sickenin' for measles! Out with it, M'riar! Which is
it--Dave?"

"No, it ain't any such a thing. Nor yet Dolly.... Anyone ever see such a
candle?"

"Then it's scarlatinar, or mumps. One or other on 'em!"

"Neither one nor t'other, Mo. 'Tain't neither Dave nor Dolly, this
time." But something or other was somebody or something, that was clear!
Aunt M'riar may have meant this, and yet not seen how very clear she
made it. She recurred to that candle, and a suggestion of Uncle Mo's.
"It's easy sayin', 'Run the toller off,' Mo; but who's to do it with
such a little flame?"

Presently the candle, carefully fostered, picked up heart, and the
tension of doubt about its future was relieved. "She'll do now," said
Uncle Mo, assigning it a gender it had no claim to. "But what's gone
wrong, M'riar?"

The appeal for information was too simple and direct to allow of keeping
it back; without, at least, increasing its implied importance. Aunt
M'riar only intensified this when she answered:--"Nothing at all! At
least, nothing to nobody but me. Tell you to-morrow, Mo! It's time we
was all abed. Mind you don't wake up Dave!" For Dave was becoming his
uncle's bedfellow, and Dolly her aunt's; exchanges to vary monotony
growing less frequent as the children grew older.

But Uncle Mo did not rise to depart. He received the candle, adolescent
at last, and sat holding it and thinking. He had become quite alive now
to what had impressed Mr. Jerry in Aunt M'riar's appearance and manner,
and was harking back over recent events to find something that would
account for it. The candle's secondary education gave him an excuse. Its
maturity would have left him no choice but to go to bed.

A light that flashed through his mind anticipated it. "It's never that
beggar," said he, and then, seeing that his description was
insufficient:--"Which one? Why, the one we was a-talking of only this
morning. Him I've been rounding off with Inspector Rowe--our boy's man
he saw in the Park. You've not been alarmin' yourself about _him_?" For
Uncle Mo thought he could see his way to alarm for a woman, even a
plucky one, in the mere proximity of such a ruffian. He would have gone
on to say that the convict was, by now, probably again in the hands of
the police, but he saw as the candle flared that Aunt M'riar's usually
fresh complexion had gone grey-white, and that she was nodding in
confirmation of something half-spoken that she could not articulate.

He was on his feet at his quickest, but stopped at the sound of her
voice, reviving. "What--what's that, M'riar?" he cried. "Say it again,
old girl!" So strange and incredible had the words seemed that he
thought he heard, that he could not believe in his own voice as he
repeated them:--"_Your_ husband!" He was not clear about it even then;
for, after a pause long enough for the candle to burn up, and show him,
as he fell back in his seat, Aunt M'riar, tremulous but relieved at
having spoken, he repeated them again:--"Your _husband_! Are ye sure
you're saying what you mean, M'riar?"

That it was a relief to have said it was clear in her reply:--"Ay, Mo,
that's all right--right as I said it. My husband. You've known I had a
husband, Mo." His astonishment left him speechless, but he just managed
to say:--"I thought him dead;" and a few moments passed. Then she added,
as though deprecatingly:--"You'll not be angry with me, Mo, when I tell
you the whole story?"

Then he found his voice. "Angry!--why, God bless the wench!--what call
have I to be angry?--let alone it's no concern of mine to be meddlin'
in. Angry! No, no, M'riar, if it's so as you say, and you haven't gone
dotty on the brain!"

"I'm not dotty, Mo. You'll find it all right, just like I tell you...."

"Well, then, I'm mortal sorry for you, and there you have it, in a word.
Poor old M'riar!" His voice went up to say:--"But you shan't come to no
harm through that character, if that's what's in it. I'll promise ye
that." It fell again. "No--I won't wake the children.... I ain't quite
on the shelf yet, nor yet in the dustbin. There's my hand on it,
M'riar."

"I know you're good, Mo." She caught at the hand he held out to give
her, and kept it. "I know you're good, and you'll do like you say. Only
I hope he won't come this way no more. I hope he don't know I'm here."
She seemed to shudder at the thought of him.

"Don't he know you're here? That's rum, too. But it's rum, all round.
Things _are_ rum, sometimes. Now, just you take it easy, M'riar, and if
there's anything you'll be for telling me--because I'm an old friend
like, d'ye see?--why, just you tell me as much as comes easy, and no
more. Or just tell me nothing at all, if it sootes you better, and I'll
set here and give an ear to it." Uncle Mo resumed his former seat, and
Aunt M'riar put back the hand he released in her apron, its usual place
when not on active service.

"There's nothing in it I wouldn't tell, Mo--not to you--and it won't use
much of the candle to tell it. I'd be the easier for you to know, only
I'm not so quick as some at the telling of things." She seemed puzzled
how to begin.

Uncle Moses helped. "How long is it since you set eyes on him?"

"Twenty-five years--all of twenty-five years."

Uncle Mo was greatly relieved at hearing this. "Well, but,
M'riar--twenty-five years! You're shet of the beggar--clean shet of him!
You are _that_, old girl, legally and factually. But then," said he,
"when was you married to him?"

"I've got my lines to show for that, Mo. July six, eighteen
twenty-nine."

Uncle Mo repeated the date slowly after her, and then seemed to plunge
into a perplexing calculation, very distorting to the natural repose of
his face. Touching his finger-tips appeared to make his task easier.
After some effort, which ended without clear results, he said:--"What
I'm trying to make out is, how long was you and him keeping house?
Because it don't figure up. How long should you say?"

"We were together six weeks--no more."

"And you--you never seen him since?"

"Never since. Twenty-five years agone, this last July!" At which Uncle
Mo was so confounded that words failed him. His only resource was a long
whistle. Aunt M'riar, on the contrary, seemed to acquire narrative
powers from hearing her own voice, and continued:--"I hadn't known him a
twelvemonth, and I should have been wiser than to listen to him--at my
age, over one-and-twenty!"

"But you made him marry you, M'riar?"

"I did that, Mo. And I have the lines and my ring, to show it. But I
never told a soul, not even mother. I wouldn't have told her, to be
stopped--so bad I was!... What!--Dolly--Dolly's mother? Why, she was
just a young child, Dave's age!... How did I come to know him? It was
one day in the bar--he came in with Tom Spring, and ordered him a quart
of old Kennett. He was dressed like a gentleman, and free with his
money...."

"I knew old Tom Spring--he's only dead this two years past. I s'pose
that was The Tun, near by Piccadilly, I've heard you speak on."

"... That was where I see him, Mo, worse luck for the day! The One Tun
Inn. They called him the gentleman from Australia. He was for me and him
to go to Brighton by the coach, and find the Parson there. But I stopped
him at that, and we was married in London, quite regular, and we went to
Brighton, and then he took me to Doncaster, to be at the races. There's
where he left me, at the Crown Inn we went to, saying he'd be back afore
the week was out. But he never came--only letters came with money--I'll
say that for him. Only no address of where he was, nor scarcely a word
to say how much he was sending. But I kep' my faith towards him; and the
promise I made, I kep' all along. And I've never borne his name nor said
one word to a living soul beyond one or two of my own folk, who were
bound to be quiet, for their sake and mine. Dolly's mother, she came to
know in time. But the Court's called me Aunt M'riar all along."

A perplexity flitted through Uncle Mo's reasoning powers, and vanished
unsolved. Why had he accepted "Aunt M'riar" as a sufficient style and
title, almost to the extent of forgetting the married name he had heard
assigned to its owner five years since? He would probably have forgotten
it outright, if the post had not, now and then--but very rarely--brought
letters directed to "Mrs. Catchpole," which he had passed on, if he saw
them first, with the comment:--"I expect that's meant for you, Aunt
M'riar"; treating the disposition of some person unknown to use that
name as a pardonable idiosyncrasy. When catechized about her, he had
been known to answer:--"She ain't a widder, not to my thinking, but her
husband he's as dead as a door-nail. Name of Scratchley; or
Simmons--some such a name!" As for the designation of "Mrs. Wardle" used
as a ceremonial title, it was probably a vague attempt to bring the
household into tone. Whoever knows the class she moved in will have no
trouble in recalling some case of a similar uncertainty.

This is by way of apology for Uncle Mo's so easily letting that
perplexity go, and catching at another point. "What did he make you
promise him, M'riar? Not to let on, I'll pound it! He wanted you to keep
it snug--wasn't that the way of it?"

"Ah, that was it, Mo. To keep it all private, and never say a word."
Then Aunt M'riar's answer became bewildering, inexplicable. "Else his
family would have known, and then I should have seen his mother. Seein'
I never did, it's no wonder I didn't know her again. I might have, for
all it's so many years." It was more the manner of saying this than the
actual words, that showed that she was referring to a recent meeting
with her husband's mother.

Uncle Mo sat a moment literally open-mouthed with astonishment. At
length he said:--"Why, when and where, woman alive, did you see his
mother?"

"There now, Mo, see what I said--what a bad one I am at telling of
things! Of course, Mrs. Prichard upstairs, she's Ralph Daverill's
mother, and he's the man who got out of prison in the _Mornin' Star_
and killed the gaoler. And he's the same man came down the Court that
Sunday and Dave see in the Park. That's Ralph Thornton Daverill, and
he's my husband!"

Uncle Mo gave up the idea of answering. The oppression of his
bewilderment was too great. It seemed to come in gusts, checked off at
intervals by suppressed exclamations and knee-slaps. It was a knockdown
blow, with no one to call time. But then, there were no rules, so when a
new inquiry presented itself, abrupt utterance followed:--"Wasn't there
any?... wasn't there any?..." followed by a pause and a difficulty of
word-choice. Then in a lowered voice, an adjustment of its terms, due to
delicacy:--"Wasn't there any consequences--such as one might expect, ye
know?"

Aunt M'riar did not seem conscious of any need for delicacies. "My baby
was born dead," she said. "That's what you meant, Mo, I take it?" Then
only getting in reply:--"That was it, M'riar," she went on:--"None knew
about it but mother, when it was all over and done with, later by a year
and more. I would have called the child Polly, being a girl, if it had
lived to be christened.... Why would I?--because that was the name he
knew me by at The Tun."

Uncle Mo began to say:--"If the Devil lets him off easy, I'll ..." and
stopped short. It may have been because he reflected on the limitations
of poor Humanity, and the futility of bluster in this connection, or
because he had a question to ask. It related to Aunt M'riar's
unaccountable ignorance throughout of Daverill's transportation to
Norfolk Island, and the particular felony that led to it. "If you was
not by way of seeing the police-reports, where was all your friends, to
say never a word?"

"No one said nothing to me," said Aunt M'riar. She seemed hazy as to the
reason at first; then a light broke:--"They never knew his name, ye see,
Mo." He replied on reflection:--"Course they didn't--right you are!" and
then she added:--"I only told mother that; and she's no reader."

A mystery hung over one part of the story--how did she account for
herself to her family? Was she known to have been married, or had
popular interpretation of her absence inclined towards charitable
silence about its causes--asked no questions, in fact, giving up
barmaids as past praying for? She seemed to think it sufficient light on
the subject to say:--"It was some length of time before I went back
home, Mo," and he had to press for particulars.

His conclusion, put briefly, was that this deserted wife, reappearing
at home with a wedding-ring after two years' absence, had decided that
she would fulfil her promise of silence best by giving a false married
name. She had engineered her mother's inspection of her marriage-lines,
so as to leave that good woman--a poor scholar--under the impression
that Daverill's name was Thornton; not a very difficult task. The name
she had chosen was Catchpole; and it still survived as an identifying
force, if called on. But it was seldom in evidence, "Aunt M'riar"
quashing its unwelcome individuality. The general feeling had been that
"Mrs. Catchpole" might be anybody, and did not recommend herself to the
understanding. There was some sort o' sense in "Aunt M'riar."

The eliciting of these points, hazily, was all Uncle Mo was equal to
after so long a colloquy, and Aunt M'riar was not in a condition to tell
more. She relit another half-candle that she had blown out for economy
when the talk set in, and called Uncle Mo's attention to the moribund
condition of his own:--"There's not another end in the house, Mo," said
she. So Uncle Mo had to use that one, or get to bed in the dark.

He had been already moved to heartfelt anger that day against this very
Daverill, having heard from his friend the Police-Inspector the story of
his arrest at The Pigeons, at Hammersmith; and, of course, of the
atrocious crime which had been his latest success with the opposite sex.
This Police-Inspector must have been Simeon Rowe, whom you may remember
as stroke-oar of the boat that was capsized there in the winter, when
Sergeant Ibbetson of the river-police met his death in the attempt to
capture Daverill. Uncle Mo's motive in visiting the police-station had
not been only to shake hands with the son of an old acquaintance. He had
carried what information he had of the escaped convict to those who were
responsible for his recapture.

       *       *       *       *       *

If you turn back to the brief account the story gave of Maisie
Daverill's--or Prichard's--return to England, and her son's marriage,
and succeed in detecting in Polly the barmaid at the One Tun any trace
of the Aunt M'riar with whom you were already slightly acquainted, it
will be to the discredit of the narrator. For never did a greater change
pass over human identity than the one which converted the _beauté de
diable_ of the young wench just of age, who was serving out stimulants
to the Ring, and the Turf, and the men-about-town of the late twenties,
to that of the careworn, washtub-worn, and needle-worn manipulator of
fine linen and broidery, who had been in charge of Dolly and Dave
Wardle since their mother's death three years before. Never was there a
more striking testimony to the power of Man to make a desolation of the
life of Woman, nor a shrewder protest against his right to do so. For
Polly the Barmaid, look you, had done nothing that is condemned by the
orthodox moralities; she had not even flown in the face of her legal
duty to her parents. Was she not twenty-one, and does not that magic
numeral pay all scores?

The Australian gentleman had one card in his pack that was Ace of Trumps
in the game of Betrayal. He only played it when nothing lower would take
the trick. And Polly got little enough advantage from the sanction of
the Altar, her marriage-lines and her wedding-ring, in so far as she
held to the condition precedent of those warrants of respectability,
that she should observe silence about their existence. The only
duplicity of which she had been guilty was the assumption of a false
married name, and that had really seemed to her the only possible
compromise between a definite breach of faith and passive acceptance of
undeserved ill-fame. And when the hideous explanation of Daverill's long
disappearance came about, and _éclaircissement_ seemed inevitable, she
saw the strange discovery she had made of his relation to Mrs. Prichard,
as an aggravation to the embarrassment of acknowledging his past
relation to herself.

There was one feeling only that one might imagine she might have felt,
yet was entirely a stranger to. Might she not have experienced a
longing--a curiosity, at any rate--to set eyes again on the husband who
had deserted her all those long years ago? And this especially in view
of her uncertainty as to how long his absence had been compulsory? As a
matter of fact, her only feeling about this terrible resurrection was
one of shrinking as from a veritable carrion, disinterred from a grave
she had earned her right to forget. Why need this gruesome memory be
raked up to plague her?

The only consolation she could take with her to a probably sleepless
pillow was the last charge of the old prizefighter to her not to fret.
"You be easy, M'riar. He shan't come a-nigh _you_. I'll square _him_
fast enough, if he shows up down this Court--you see if I don't!" But
when she reached it, there was still balm in Gilead. For was not Dolly
there, so many fathoms deep in sleep that she might be kissed with
impunity, long enough to bring a relieving force of tears to help the
nightmare-haunted woman in her battle with the past?

As for Mo, his threat towards this convicted miscreant had no connection
with his recent interview with his police-officer friend--no hint of
appeal to Law and Order. The anger that burnt in his heart and sent the
blood to his head was as unsullied, as pure, as any that ever Primeval
Man sharpened flints to satisfy before Law and Order were invented.



CHAPTER XXVII

     HOW UNCLE MO MADE THE DOOR-CHAIN SECURE, AND A SUNFLOWER LOOKED ON
     THE WHILE. HOW AUNT M'RIAR STOPPED HER EARS. A BIT OF UNCLE MO'S
     MIND. HOW DOLLY KISSED HIM THROUGH THE DOOR-CRACK, BUT NOT MRS.
     BURR. CONCERNING RATS, TO WHICH UNCLE MO TOOK THE OPPOSITE VIEW. OF
     ONE, OR SOME, WHICH TRAVELLED OUT TO AUSTRALIA WITH OLD MRS.
     PRICHARD. HOW DAVE MET THREE LADIES IN A CARRIAGE, NONE OF WHOM
     KISSED HIM. HOW UNCLE MO WENT UPSTAIRS WITH THE CHILDREN, IN
     CONNECTION WITH THE RATS HE HAD DISCREDITED, AND STAYED UP QUITE A
     TIME. HOW HE INTERVIEWED MR. BARTLETT ABOUT THEM


"You're never fidgeting about _him_?" said Aunt M'riar to Uncle Mo, one
morning shortly after she had told him the story of her marriage. "He's
safe out of the way by now. You may rely on your police-inspectin'
friend to inspect _him_. Didn't he as good as say he was took, Mo?"

"That warn't precisely the exact expression used, M'riar," said Uncle
Mo, who was doing something with a tool-box at the door that opened on
the front-garden that opened on the Court. Dolly was holding his tools,
by permission--only not chisels or gouges, or gimlets, or bradawls, or
anything with an edge to it--and the sunflower outside was watching
them. Uncle Mo was extracting a screw with difficulty, in spite of the
fact that it was all but out already. He now elucidated the cause of
this difficulty, and left the Police Inspector alone. "'Tain't stuck, if
you ask me. I should say there never had been no holt to this screw from
the beginning. But by reason there's no life in the thread, it goes
round and round rayther than come out.... Got it!--wanted a little
coaxin', it did." That is to say, a few back-turns with very light
pressure brought the screw-head free enough for a finger-grip, and the
rest was easy. "It warn't of any real service," said Uncle Mo. "One size
bigger would ketch and hold in. This here one's only so much
horse-tentation. Now I can't get a bigger one through the plate, and I
can't rimer out the hole for want of a tool--not so much as a small
round file.... Here's a long 'un, of a thread with the first. He'll
ketch in if there's wood-backin' enough.... That's got him! Now it'll
take a Hemperor, to get _that_ out." Uncle Mo paused to enjoy a moment's
triumph, then harked back:--"No--the precise expression made use of was,
they might put their finger on him any minute."

"Which don't mean the same thing," said Aunt M'riar.

"No more it don't, M'riar, now you mention it. But he won't trust his
nose down this Court. If he does, and I ain't here, just you do like I
tell you...."

Aunt M'riar interrupted. "I couldn't find it in me to give him up, Mo.
Not for all I'm worth!" She spoke in a quick undertone, with a stress in
her voice that terrified Dolly, who nearly let go a hammer she had been
allowed to hold, as harmless.

"Not if you knew what he's wanted for, this time?"

"Don't you tell me, Mo. I'd soonest know nothing.... No--no--don't you
tell me a word about it!" And Aunt M'riar clapped her hands on her ears,
leaving an iron, that she had been trying to abate to a professional
heat, to make a brown island on its flannel zone of influence. All her
colour--she had a fair share of it--had gone from her cheeks, and Dolly
was in two minds whether she should drop the hammer and weep.

Uncle Mo's reassuring voice decided her to do neither, this time. "Don't
you be frightened, M'riar," said he. "I wasn't for telling you his last
game. Nor it wouldn't be any satisfaction to tell. I was only going to
say that if he was to turn up in these parts, just you put the chain
down--it's all square and sound now--and tell him he'll find me at The
Sun." He closed the door and put the chain he had been revising on its
mettle; adding as he did so, in defiance of Astronomy:--"'Tain't any so
far off, The Sun." Dolly's amusement at the function of the chain, and
its efficacy, was so great as to cause her aunt to rule, as a point of
Law, that six times was plenty for any little girl, and that she must
leave her uncle a minute's peace.

Dolly granting this, Aunt M'riar took advantage of it, to ask what
course Uncle Mo would pursue, if she complied with his instructions. "If
you gave him up to the Police, Mo," she said, "and I'd sent him to you,
it would be all one as if I'd done it."

"I'll promise not to give him to the Police, if he comes to me off of
your sending, M'riar. In course, if he's only himself to thank for
coming my way, that's another pair of shoes."

"But if it was me, what'll you do, Mo?" Aunt M'riar wasn't getting on
with those cuffs.

"What'll I do? Maybe I'll give him ... a bit of my mind."

"No--what'll you do, Mo?" There was a new apprehension in her voice as
she dropped it to say:--"He's a younger man than you, by nigh twenty
years."

The anticipation of that bit of Uncle Mo's mind had gripped his jaw and
knitted his brow for an instant. It vanished, and left both free as he
answered:--"You be easy, old girl! I won't give him a chance to do _me_
no harm." Aunt M'riar bent a suspicious gaze on him for a moment, but it
ended as an even more than usually genial smile spread over the old
prizefighter's face, and he gave way to Dolly's request to be sut out
only dest this once more; which ended in a Pyramus and Thisbe
accommodation of kisses through as much thoroughfare as the chain
permitted. They were painful and dangerous exploits; but it was not on
either of those accounts that Mrs. Burr, coming home rather early,
declined to avail herself of Dolly's suggestion that she also should
take advantage of this rare opportunity for uncomfortable endearments;
but rather in deference to public custom, whose rules about kissing
Dolly thought ridiculous.

The door having to be really shut to release the chain, its reopening
seemed to inaugurate a new chapter, at liberty to ignore Dolly's
flagrant suggestions at the end of the previous one. Besides, it was
possible for Uncle Mo to affect ignorance; as, after all, Dolly was
outside. Mrs. Burr did not tax him with insincerity, and the subject
dropped, superseded by less interesting matter.

"I looked in to see," said Aunt M'riar, replying to a question of Mrs.
Burr's. "The old lady was awake and knitting, last time. First time
she'd the paper on her knee, open. Next time she was gone off sound."

"That's her way, ma'am. Off and on--on and off. But she takes mostly to
the knitting. And it ain't anything to wonder at, I say, that she drops
off reading. I'm sure I can't hold my eyes open five minutes over the
newspaper. And books would be worse, when you come to read what's wrote
in them, if it wasn't for having to turn over the leaves. Because you're
bound to see where, and not turn two at once, or it don't follow on."
Aunt M'riar and Uncle Mo confirmed this view from their own experience.
It was agreed further that small type--Parliamentary debates and the
like--was more soporific than large, besides spinning out the length and
deferring the relaxation of turning over, when in book-form. Short
accidents, and not too prolix criminal proceedings were on the whole
the most palatable forms of literature. It was not to be wondered at
that old Mrs. Prichard should go to sleep over the newspaper at her age,
seeing that none but the profoundest scholars could keep awake for five
minutes while perusing it. The minute Dave came in from school he should
take Dolly upstairs to pay the old lady a visit, and brighten her up a
bit.

"Very like she's been extra to-day"--thus Mrs. Burr continued--"by
reason of rats last night, and getting no sleep."

"There ain't any rats in your room, missis," said Uncle Mo. "We should
hear 'em down below if there was."

"What it is if it ain't rats passes me then, Mr. Wardle. I do assure you
there was a loud crash like a gun going off, and we neither of us hardly
got any sleep after."

"Queer, anyhow!" said Uncle Mo. But he evidently doubted the statement,
or at least thought it exaggerated.

"I'll be glad to tell her you take the opposite view to rats, Mr.
Moses," said Mrs. Burr. "For it sets her on fretting when she gets
thinking back. And now she'll never be tired of telling about the rats
on the ship when she was took out to Australia. Running over her face,
and starting her awake in the night! It gives the creeps only to hear."

"There, Dolly, now you listen to how the rats run about on Mrs. Picture
when she was on board of the ship." Thus Aunt M'riar, always with that
haunting vice of perverting Art, Literature, Morals, and Philosophy to
the oppressive improvement of the young. She seldom scored a success,
and this time she was hoisted with her own petard. For Dolly jumped with
delight at the prospect of a romance of fascinating character, combining
Zoölogy and Travel. She applied for a place to hear it, on the knee of
Mrs. Burr, who, however, would have had to sit down to supply it. So she
was forced to be content with a bald version of the tale, as Mrs. Burr
had to see to getting their suppers upstairs. She was rather
disappointed at the size and number of the rats. She enquired:--"Was
they large rats, or small?" and would have preferred to hear that they
were about the size of small cats--not larger, for fear of
inconveniencing old Mrs. Picture. And a circumstance throwing doubt on
their number was unwelcome to her. For it appeared that old Mrs. Picture
slept with her fellow-passengers in a dark cabin, and no one might light
a match all night for fear of the Captain. And rats ran over those
passengers' faces! But it may have been all the same rat, and to Dolly
that seemed much less satisfactory than troops. She was rather cast
down about it, but there was no need to discourage Dave. She could
invent some extra rats, when he came back from school.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lay down the book, you who read, and give but a moment's thought to the
strangeness of these two episodes, over half a century apart. One, in
the black darkness of an emigrant's sleeping-quarters on a ship
outward-bound, all its tenants huddled close in the stifling air; child
and woman, weak and strong, sick and healthy even, penned in alike to
sleep their best on ranks of shelves, a mere packed storage of human
goods, to be delivered after long months of battle with the seas, ten
thousand miles from home. Or, if you shrink from the thought that
Maisie's luck on her first voyage was so cruel as that, conceive her
interview with those rodent fellow-passengers as having taken place in
the best quarters money could buy on such a ship--and what would _they_
be, against a good steerage-berth nowadays?--and give her, at least, a
couch to herself. Picture her, if you will, at liberty to start from it
in terror and scramble up a companion ladder to an open deck, and pick
her way through shrouds and a bare headway of restless sprits above, and
Heaven knows what of coiled cordage and inexplicable bulkhead underfoot,
to some haven where a merciful old mariner, alone upon his watch, shuts
his eyes to his duty and tolerates the beautiful girl on deck, when he
is told by her that she cannot sleep for the rats. Make the weather
fair, to keep the picture at its best, and let her pass the hours till
the coming of the dawn, watching the mainmast-truck sway to and fro
against the Southern Cross, as the breeze falls and rises, and the
bulwark-plash is soft or loud upon the waters.

And then--all has vanished! That was half a century ago, and more. And a
very little girl with very blue eyes and a disgracefully rough shock of
golden curls has just been told of those rats, and has resolved to add
to their number--having power to do so, like a Committee--when she comes
to retell the tale to her elder brother; and then they will both--and
this is the strangest of all!--they will both go and make a noisy and
excited application to an authority to have it confirmed or
contradicted. And this authority will be that girl who sat on that deck
beneath the stars, and listened to the bells sounding the hours through
the night, to keep the ship's time for a forgotten crew, on a ship that
may have gone to the bottom many a year ago, on its return voyage home
perhaps--who knows?

Before Dave heard Dolly's version of the rats, he had a tale of his own
to tell, coming in just after Mrs. Burr had departed. As he was excited
by the event he was yearning to narrate, he did not put it so lucidly as
he might have done. He said:--"Oy saw the lady, and another lady, and
another lady, all in one carriage. And they see me. And the lady"--he
still pronounced this word _loydy_--"she see me on the poyvement, and
'Stop' she says. And then she says, 'You're Doyvy, oyn't you, that had
the ax-nent?' I says these was my books I took to scrool...."

"Didn't you _say_ you was Davy?" said Uncle Mo. And Aunt M'riar she
actually said:--"Well, I never!--not to tell the lady who you was!"

Dave was perplexed, looking with blue-eyed gravity from one to the
other. "The loydy said I _was_ Doyvy," said he, in a slightly injured
tone. He did not at all like the suggestion that he had been guilty of
discourtesy.

"In course the lady knew, and knew correct," said Uncle Mo, drawing a
distinction which is too often overlooked. "Cut along and tell us some
more. What more did the lady say?"

Dave concentrated his intelligence powerfully on accuracy:--"The loydy
said to the yuther loydy--the be-yhooterful loydy...."

"Oh, there was a beautiful lady, was there?"

Dave nodded excessively, and continued:--"Said here's a friend of mine,
Doyvy Wardle, and they was coming to poy a visit to, to-morrow
afternoon."

"And what did the other lady say?"

Dave gathered himself together for an effort of intense fidelity:--"She
said--she said--'He's much too dirty to kiss in the open street'--she
said, 'and better not to touch.' Yorce!" He seemed magnanimous towards
Gwen, in spite of her finical delicacy.

Aunt M'riar turned his face to the light, by the chin. "What's the child
been at?" said she.

"The boys had some corks," was Dave's explanation. Nothing further
seemed to be required; Uncle Mo merely remarking: "It'll come off with
soap." However, there was some doubt about the identity of these
carriage ladies. Was one of them the original lady of the rings; who had
taken Dave for a drive or _vice versa_. "Not her!" said Dave; and went
on shaking his head so long to give his statement weight, that Aunt
M'riar abruptly requested him to stop, as her nervous system could not
bear the strain. It was enough, she said, to make her eyes come out by
the roots.

"She must have been somebody else. She couldn't have been nobody," said
Uncle Mo cogently. "Spit it out, old chap, Who was she?"

It was easy to say who she was; the strain of attestation had turned on
who she wasn't. Dave became fluent:--"Whoy, the loydy what was a
cistern, and took me in the roylwoy troyne and in the horse-coach to
Granny Marrowbone." For he had never quite dissociated Sister Nora from
ball-taps and plumbings. He added after reflection:--"Only not dressed
up like then!"

At this point Dolly, whose preoccupation about those rats had stood,
between her and a reasonable interest in Dave's adventure, struck in
noisily and rudely with disjointed particulars about them, showing a
poor capacity for narrative, and provoking Uncle Mo to tickling her with
a view to their suppression. Aunt M'riar seized the opportunity to
capture Dave and subject him to soap and water at the sink.

As soon as the boys' corks, or the effect of using them after ignition
as face-pigments, had become a thing of the past, Dave and Dolly were
ready to pay their promised visit to Mrs. Prichard. Uncle Mo suggested
that he might act as their convoy as far as the top-landing. This was a
departure from precedent, as stair-climbing was never very welcome to
Uncle Mo. But Aunt M'riar consented, the more readily that she was all
behind with her work. Uncle Mo not only went up with the children, but
stayed up quite a time with the old lady and Mrs. Burr. When he came
down he did not refer to his conversation with them, but went back to
Dave's encounter with his aristocratic friends in the street.

"The lady that sighted our boy out," said he, "she'll be Miss
What's-her-name that come on at the Hospital--her with the clean white
tucker...." This referred to a vaguely recollected item of the costume
in which Sister Nora was dressed up at the time of Dave's accident. It
had lapsed, as inappropriate, during her nursing of her father in
Scotland, and had not been resumed.

"That's her," said Aunt M'riar. "Sister of Charity--that's what _she_
is. The others are ladyships, one or both. They all belong." The tone of
remoteness might have been adopted in speaking of inhabitants of Mars
and Venus.

"I thought her the right sort, herself," said Uncle Mo, implying that
others of her _monde_ might be safely assumed to be the wrong sort,
pending proof of the contrary. "Anyways, she's coming to pay Dave a
visit, and I'll be glad of a sight of her, for one!"

"Oh, I've no fault to find, Mo, if that's what you mean." Aunt M'riar
was absorbed in her mystery, doing justice to what was probably a lady's
nightgear, of imperial splendour. So she probably had spoken rather at
random; and, indeed, seemed to think apology necessary. She took
advantage of the end of an episode to say, while contemplating the
perfection of two unimpeachable cuffs:--"So long as the others don't
give theirselves no airs." Isolated certainly, as to structure; but,
after all, has speech any use except to communicate ideas?

Uncle Mo presumably understood, as he accepted the form of speech,
saying:--"And so long as we do ourselves credit, M'riar."

"Well, Mo, you never see me do anything but behave."

"That I never did, M'riar. Right you are!" Which ended a little colloquy
that contained or implied a protest against the compulsory association
of classes, expressed to a certain extent by special leniency towards an
exceptional approach from without. Having entered his own share of the
protest, Uncle Mo announced his intention of seeking Mr. Bartlett the
builder, to speak to him about them rats. This saying Aunt M'riar did
not even condemn as enigmatical, so completely did all that relates to
buildings lie outside her jurisdiction.

"I've got my 'ands so full just now," said Mr. Bartlett, when Uncle Mo
had explained the object of his visit, "or I'd step round to cast an eye
on that bressumer. Only you may make your mind easy, and say I told you
to it. If we was all of us to get into a perspiration whenever a board
creaked or a bit of loose parging come down a chimley, we shouldn't have
a minute's peace of our lives. Some parties is convinced of Ghosts the
very first crack! Hysterical females in partic'lar." Mr. Bartlett did
not seem busy, externally; but he contrived to give an impression that
he was attending to a job at Buckingham Palace.

Uncle Mo felt abashed at his implied rebuke. It was not deserved, for he
was guiltless of superstition. However, he had accepted the position of
delegate of the top-floor, which, of course, was an hysterical floor,
owing to the sex of its tenants. For Mr. Bartlett's meaning was the
conventional one, that all women were hysterical, not some more than
others. Uncle Mo felt that his position was insecure; and that he had
better retire from it. Noises, he conceded, was usually nothing at all;
but he had thought he would mention them, in this case.

Mr. Bartlett professed himself sincerely obliged to all persons who
would mention noises, in spite of their equivocal claims to existence.
It might save a lot of trouble in the end, and you never knew. As soon
as he had a half an hour to spare he would give attention. Till Tuesday
he was pretty well took up. No one need fidget himself about the noises
he mentioned; least of all need the landlord be communicated with, as he
was not a Practical Man, but in Independent Circumstances. Moreover, he
lived at Brixton.



CHAPTER XXVIII

     OF A RAID ON DOLLY'S GARDEN. THAT YOUNG DRUITT'S BEHAVIOUR TO HIS
     SISTER. MR. RAGSTROAR'S ACCIDENT, AND HIS MOKE. HOW THE TWO LADIES
     CAME AT LAST. LADY GWENDOLEN RIVERS, AND HOW DOLLY GOT ON HER LAP.
     HOW DAVE WENT UPSTAIRS TO GET HIS LETTER. HOW MRS. PRICHARD HAD
     TAKEN MRS. MARROWBONE TO HEART, AND VICE VERSA. HOW DOLLY GOT A
     LOCK OF GWEN'S HAIR, AND VICE VERSA. HOW DAVE DELAYED AND DOLLY AND
     GWEN WENT TO FETCH HIM. A REMARKABLE SOUND. THEN GOD-KNOWS-WHAT,
     OUTSIDE!


An effort of horticulture was afoot in the front-garden of No. 7, Sapps
Court. Dave Wardle and Dolly were engaged in an attempt to remedy a
disaster that had befallen the Sunflower. There was but one--the one
that had been present when Uncle Mo was adjusting that door-chain.

Its career had been cut short prematurely. For a boy had climbed up over
the end wall of those gardens acrost the Court, right opposite to where
it growed; and had all but cut through the stem, when he was cotched in
the very act by Michael Ragstroar. That young coster's vigorous
assertion of the rights of property did a man's heart good to see,
nowadays. The man was Uncle Mo, who got out of the house in plenty of
time to stop Michael half-murdering the marauder, as soon as he
considered the latter had had enough, he being powerfully outclassed by
the costermonger boy. Why, he was only one of them young Druitts, when
all was said and done! Michael felt no stern joy in him--a foeman not
worth licking, on his merits. But the knife that he left behind, with a
buckhorn handle, was a fizzing knife, and was prized in after-years by
Michael.

The Wardle household had gone into mourning for the Sunflower. Was it
not the same Sunflower as last year, reincarnated? Dolly sat under it,
shedding tears. Uncle Mo showed ignorance of gardening, saying it might
grow itself on again if you giv' it a chance; not if you kep' on at it
like that. Dave disagreed with this view, but respectfully. His Hospital
experience had taught him the use of ligatures; and he kept on at it,
obtaining from Mrs. Burr a length of her wide toyp to tie it in
position. If limbs healed up under treatment, why not vegetation? The
operator was quite satisfied with his handiwork.

In fact, Dave and Dolly both foresaw a long and prosperous life for the
flower. They rejected Aunt M'riar's suggestion, that it should be cut
clear off and stood in water, as a timid compromise--a stake not worth
playing for. And Michael Ragstroar endorsed the flattering tales Hope
told, citing instances in support of them derived from his own
experience, which appeared to have been exceptional. As, for instance,
that over-supplies of fruit at Covent Garden were took back and stuck on
the stems again, as often as not. "I seen 'em go myself," said he. "'Ole
cartloads!"

"Hark at that unblushing young story!" said Aunt M'riar, busy in the
kitchen, Michael being audible without, lying freely. "He'll go on like
that till one day it'll surprise me if the ground don't open and swallow
him up."

But Uncle Mo had committed himself to an expression of opinion on the
vitality of vegetables. He might condemn exaggeration, but he could
scarcely repudiate a principle he had himself almost affirmed. He took
refuge in obscurity. "'Tain't for the likes of us, M'riar," said he,
shaking his head profoundly, "to be sayin' how queer starts there mayn't
be. My jiminy!--the things they says in lecters, when they gets the
steam up!" He shook his head a little quicker, to recover credit for a
healthy incredulity, and arranged a newspaper he was reading against
difficulties, to gain advantages of position and a better discrimination
of its columns.

"If it was the freckly one with the red head," said Aunt M'riar,
referring back to the fracas of the morning, "all I can say is, I'm
sorry you took Micky off him." From which it appeared that this culprit
was not unknown. Indeed, Aunt M'riar was able to add that Widow Druitt
his mother couldn't call her soul her own for that boy's goings on.

"He'd got a tidy good punishing afore I got hold of the scruff of my
man's trousers," said Uncle Mo, who seemed well contented with the
culprit's retribution; and, of course, _he_ knew. "Besides," he added,
"he had to get away over them bottles." That is to say, the wall-top,
bristling with broken glass. Humanity had paved the way for the enemy's
retreat. Uncle Mo added inquiry as to how the freckly one's behaviour to
his family had come to the knowledge of Sapps Court.

"You can see acrost from Mrs. Prichard's. He do lead 'em all a life,
that boy! Mrs. Burr she saw him pour something down his sister's back
when she was playing scales. Ink, she says, by the look. But, of course,
it's a way off from here, over to Mrs. Druitt's."

"Oh--she's the one that plays the pyanner. Same tune all through--first
up, then down! Good sort of tune to go to sleep to!"

"'Tain't a tune, Mo. It's _scales_. She's being learned how. One day
soon she'll have a tune to play. An easy tune. Mrs. Prichard says _she_
could play several tunes before she was that girl's age. Then she hadn't
no brother to werrit her. I lay that made a difference." Aunt M'riar
went on to mention other atrocities ascribed by Mrs. Burr to the freckly
brother. His behaviour to his musical sister had, indeed, been a matter
of serious concern to the upstairs tenants, whose window looked directly
upon the back of Mrs. Druitt's, who took in lodgers in the main street
where Dave had met with his accident.

The boy Michael was suffering from enforced leisure on the day of this
occurrence, as his father's cart had met with an accident, and was under
repair. Its owner had gone to claim compensation personally from the
butcher whose representative had ridden him down; not, he alleged, by
misadventure, but from a deep-rooted malignity against all poor but
honest men struggling for a livelihood. No butcher, observe, answers
this description. Butchers are a class apart, whose motives are
extortion, grease, and blood. They wallow in the last with joy, and
practise the first with impunity. If they can get a chance to run over
you, they'll do it! Trust them for that! Nevertheless, so hopeless would
this butcher's case be if his victim went to a lawyer, that it was worth
having a try at it afore he done that--so Mr. Rackstraw put it, later.
Therefore, he had this afternoon gone to High Street, Clapham, to apply
for seven pun' thirteen, and not take a penny less. Hence his son's
ability to give attention to local matters, and a temporary respite to
his donkey's labours in a paddock at Notting Hill. As for Dave, and for
that matter the freckly boy, it was not term-time with them, for some
reason. Dave was certainly at home, and was bidden to pay a visit to
Mrs. Prichard in the course of the afternoon, if those lady-friends of
his whom he met in the street yesterday did not come to pay _him_ a
visit. It was not very likely they would, but you never could tell. Not
to place reliance!

Uncle Mo kept looking at his watch, and saying that if this here lady
meant to turn up, she had better look alive. Being reproved for
impatience by Aunt M'riar, he said very good, then--he'd stop on to the
hour. Only it was no use runnin' through the day like this, and nothing
coming of it, as you might say. This was only the way he preferred of
expressing impatience for the visit. It is a very common one, and has
the advantages of concealing that impatience, putting whomsoever one
expects in the position of an importunate seeker of one's society, and
suggesting that one is foregoing an appointment in the City to gratify
him. Uncle Mo did unwisely to tie himself to the hour, as he became
thereby pledged to depart, he having no particular wish to do so, and no
object at all in view.

But he was not to be subjected to the indignity of a recantation. As the
long hand of his watch approached twelve, and he was beginning to feel
on the edge of an embarrassment, Dave left off watering the Sunflower,
and ran indoors with the news that there were two ladies coming down the
Court, one of whom was Sister Nora, and the other "the other lady."
Dave's conscience led him into a long and confused discrimination
between this other lady and the other other lady, who had shared with
her the back-seat in that carriage yesterday. It was quite unimportant
which of the two had come, both being unknown to Dave's family.
Moreover, there was no time for the inventory of their respective
attributes Dave wished to supply. He was still struggling with a detail,
in an undertone lest it should transpire in general society, when he
found himself embraced from behind, and kissed with appreciation. He had
not yet arrived at the age when one is surprised at finding oneself
suddenly kissed over one's shoulder by a lady. Besides, this was his old
acquaintance, whom he was delighted to welcome, but who made the
tactical mistake of introducing "the other lady" as Lady Gwendolen
Rivers. Stiffness might have resulted, if it had not been for the
conduct of that young lady, which would have thawed an iceberg. It was
not always thus with her; but, when the whim was upon her, she was
irresistible.

"I know what Dave was saying to you when we came in, Mr. Wardle," said
she, after capturing Dolly to sit on her knee, and coming to an anchor.
"He was telling you exactly what his friend had said to him about me. He
was Micky. I've heard all about Micky. This chick's going to tell me
what Micky said about me. Aren't you, Dolly?" She put Dolly at different
distances, ending with a hug and a kiss, of which Dolly reciprocated the
latter.

Dolly would have embarked at once on a full report, if left to herself.
But that unfortunate disposition of Aunt M'riar's to godmother or
countersign the utterances of the young, very nearly nipped her
statement in the bud. "There now, Dolly dear," said the excellent
woman, "see what the lady says!--you're to tell her just exactly what
Micky said, only this very minute in the garden." Which naturally
excited Dolly's suspicion, and made her impute motives. She retired
within herself--a self which, however, twinkled with a consciousness of
hidden knowledge and a resolution not to disclose it.

Gwen's tact saved the position. "Don't you tell _them_, you know--only
me! You whisper it in my ear.... Yes--quite close up, like that." Dolly
entered into this with zest, the possession of a secret in common with
this new and refulgent lady obviously conferring distinction.

Sister Nora--not otherwise known to Sapps Court--was resuming history
during the past year for the benefit of Uncle Mo. She had seen nothing
of Dave, or, indeed, of London, since October; till, yesterday, when she
got back from Scotland, whom should she see before she had been five
minutes out of the station but Dave himself! Only she hardly knew him,
his face was so black. Here Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar shook penitential
heads over his depravity. Sister Nora paid a passing tribute to the
Usages of Society, which rightly discourage the use of burnt cork on the
countenance, and proceeded. She had heard of him, though, having paid a
visit to Widow Thrale in the country, where he got well after the
Hospital.

This was a signal for Dave to find his voice, and he embarked with
animation on a variegated treatment of subjects connected with his visit
to the country. A comparison of his affection for Widow Thrale and
Granny Marrable, with an undisguised leaning to the latter; a reference
to the lady with the rings, her equipage, and its driver's nose; Farmer
Jones's bull, and its untrustworthy temper; the rich qualities of
duckweed; the mill-model on the mantelshelf, and individualities of his
fellow-convalescents. This took time, although some points were only
touched lightly.

Possibly Uncle Moses thought it might prove prolix, as he said:--"If I
was a young shaver now, and ladies was to come to see me, I should get a
letter I was writing, to show 'em." The delicacy and tact with which
this suggestion was offered was a little impaired by Aunt
M'riar's:--"Yes, now you be a good boy, Dave, and ..." and so forth.

Many little boys would not have been so magnanimous as Dave, and would
have demurred or offered passive resistance. Dave merely removed Sister
Nora's arm rather abruptly from his neck, saying:--"Storp a minute!" and
ran up the stairs that opened on the kitchen where they were sitting.
There was more room there than in the little parlour.

Uncle Moses explained:--"You see, ladies, this here young Dave, for all
he's getting quite a scholar now, and can write any word he can spell,
yet he don't take to doing it quite on his own hook just yet a while. So
he gets round the old lady upstairs, for to let him set and write at her
table. Then she can tip him a wink now and again, when he gets a bit
fogged."

"That's Mrs. Picture," said Gwen, interested. But she did not speak loud
enough to invite correction of her pronunciation of the name, and Sister
Nora merely said:--"That's her!" and nodded. Dolly at once launched into
a vague narrative of a misadventure that had befallen her putative
offspring, the doll that Sister Nora had given her last year. Struvvel
Peter had met with an accident, his shock head having got in a
candle-flame in Mrs. Picture's room upstairs, so that he was quite
smooth before he could be rescued. The interest of this superseded other
matter.

"Davy he's a great favourite with the ladies," said Uncle Mo, as
Struvvel Peter subsided. "He ain't partic'lar to any age. Likes 'em a
bit elderly, if anythin', I should say." He added, merely to generalise
the conversation, and make talk:--"Now this here old lady in the country
she's maybe ten years younger than our Mrs. Prichard, but she's what you
might call getting on in years."

"Prichard," said Gwen, for Sister Nora's ear. "I thought it couldn't be
Picture."

"Prichard, of course! How funny we didn't think of it--so obvious!"

"Very--when one knows! I think I like Picture best."

Aunt M'riar, not to be out of the conversation, took a formal exception
to Uncle Mo's remark:--"The ladies they know how old Old Mrs. Marrable
in the country is, without your telling of 'em, Mo."

"Right you are, M'riar! But they don't know nothing about old Mrs.
Prichard." Uncle Mo had spoken at a guess of Mrs. Marrowbone's age, of
which he knew nothing. It was a sort of emulation that had made him
assess _his_ old lady as the senior. He felt vulnerable, and changed the
conversation. "That young Squire's taking his time, M'riar. Supposin'
now I was just to sing out to him?"

But both ladies exclaimed against Dave being hurried away from his old
lady. Besides, they wanted to know some more about her--what sort of
classification hers would be, and so on. There were stumbling-blocks in
this path. Better keep clear of classes--stick to generalities, and hope
for lucky chances!

"What made Dave think the old souls so much alike, Mrs. Wardle?" said
Sister Nora. "Children are generally so sharp to see differences."

"It was a kind of contradictiousness, ma'am, no better I do think,
merely for to set one of 'em alongside the other, and look at." Aunt
M'riar did not really mean contradictiousness, and can hardly have meant
_contradistinction_, as that word was not in her vocabulary. We incline
to look for its origin in the first six letters, which it enjoys in
common with contrariwise and contrast. This, however, is Philology, and
doesn't matter. Let Aunt M'riar go on.

"Now just you think how alike old persons do get, by reason of change.
'Tain't any fault of their own. Mrs. Prichard she's often by way of
inquiring about Mrs. Marrowbone, and I should say she rather takes her
to heart."

"How's that, Mrs. Wardle? Why 'takes her to heart'?" A joint question of
the ladies.

"Well--now you ask me--I should say Mrs. Prichard she wants the child
all to herself." Aunt M'riar's assumption that this inquiry had been
made without suggestion on her own part was unwarranted.

"_I'll_ tell you, ladies," said Uncle Mo, rolling with laughter. "The
old granny's just as jealous as any schoolgirl! She's _that_, and you
may take my word for it." He seemed afraid this might be interpreted to
Mrs. Prichard's disadvantage; for he added, recovering gravity:--"Not
that I blame her for it, mind you!"

"Do you hear _that_, Gwen?" said Sister Nora. "Mrs. Picture's jealous of
Granny Marrowbone.... I must tell you about that, Mrs. Wardle. It's
really as much as one's place is worth to mention Mrs. Prichard to Mrs.
Marrable. I assure you the old lady believes I-don't-know-what about
her--thinks she's a wicked old witch who will make the child as bad as
herself! She does, indeed! But then, to be sure, Goody Marrable thinks
everyone is wicked in London.... What's that, Gwen?"

"We want a pair of scissors, Dolly and I do. Do give us a pair of
scissors, Aunt Maria.... Yes, go on, Clo. I hear every word you say. How
very amusing!... Thank you, Aunt Maria!" For Gwen and Dolly had just
negotiated an exchange of locks of hair, which had distracted the full
attention of the former from the conversation. She had, however, heard
enough to confirm a half-made resolution not to leave the house without
seeing Mrs. Prichard.

"Ass! Vis piece off vat piece," says Dolly, making a selection from the
mass of available gold, which Gwen snips off ruthlessly.

"Well!" says Aunt M'riar, with her usual record of inexperience of
childhood. "I never, never did, in all my christened days!"

"Quip off a bid, bid piece with the fidders," says Dolly, delighted at
the proceeding. "A bid piece off me at the vethy top." The ideal in her
mind is analogous to the snuffing of a candle. A lock of a browner gold
than the one she gives it for is secured--big enough, but not what she
had dreamed of.

Uncle Mo was seriously concerned at Dave's prolonged absence. Not that
he anticipated any mishap!--it was only a question of courtesy to
visitors. Supposing Aunt M'riar was to go up and collar Dave and fetch
him down, drastically! Uncle Mo always shirked stair-climbing, partly
perhaps because he so nearly filled the stairway. He overweighted the
part, aesthetically.

Gwen perceived her opportunity. "Please do nothing of the sort, Aunt
Maria," said she. "Look here! Dolly and I are going up to fetch him.
Aren't we, Dolly?"

It would have needed presence of mind to invent obstacles to prevent
this, and neither Uncle Mo nor Aunt M'riar showed it, each perhaps
expecting Action on the other's part. Moreover, Dolly's approval took
such a tempestuous form that opposition seemed useless. Besides, there
was that fatal assurance about Gwen that belongs to young ladies who
have always had their own way in everything. It cannot be developed in
its fulness late in life.

Aunt M'riar's protest was feeble in the extreme. "Well, I should be
ashamed to let a lady carry me! That I should!" If Aunt M'riar had known
the resources of the Latin tongue, she might have introduced the
expression _ceteris paribus_. No English can compass that amount of
slickness; so her speech was left crude.

Uncle Mo really saw no substantial reason why this beautiful vision
should not sweep Dolly upstairs, if it pleased her. He may have felt
that a formal protest would be graceful, but he could not think of the
right words. And Aunt M'riar had fallen through. Moreover, his memory
was confident that he had left his bedroom-door shut. As to miscarriage
of the expedition into Mrs. Prichard's territory, he had no misgiving.

Miss Grahame was convinced that the incursion would have better results
if she left it to its originator, than if she encumbered it with her own
presence. After all, the room could be no larger than the one she sat
in, and might be smaller. Anyhow, they could get on very well without
her for half an hour. And she wanted a chat with Dave's guardians; she
did not really know them intimately.

"The two little ones must be almost like your own children to you, Mr.
Wardle," said she, to broach the conversation.

"Never had any, ma'am," said Uncle Mo, literal-minded from
constitutional good-faith.

"If you _had_ had any was what I meant." Perhaps the reason Miss
Grahame's eye wandered after Aunt M'riar, who had followed Gwen and
Dolly--to "see that things were straight," she said--was that she felt
insecure on a social point. Uncle Mo's eye followed hers.

"Nor yet M'riar," said he, seeing a precaution necessary. "Or perhaps I
should say _one_. Not good for much, though! Born dead, I believe--years
before ever my brother married her sister. Never set eyes on M'riar's
husband! Name of Catchpole, I believe.... That's her coming down." He
raised his voice, dropped to say this, as she came within
hearing:--"Yes--me and M'riar we share 'em up, the two young characters,
but we ain't neither of us their legal parents. Not strickly as the Law
goes, but we've fed upon 'em like, in a manner of speaking, from the
beginning, or nigh upon it. Little Dave, he's sort of kept me a-going
from the early days, afore we buried his poor father--my brother David,
you see. He died down this same Court, four year back, afore little
Dolly was good for much, to look at.... They all right, M'riar?"

"They're making a nice racket," said Aunt M'riar. "So I lay there ain't
much wrong with _them_." She picked up a piece of work to go on with,
and explored a box for a button to meet its views. Evidently a garment
of Dolly's. Probably this was a slack season for the higher needlework,
and the getting up of fine linen was below par.

Uncle Mo resumed:--"So perhaps you're right to put it they are like my
own children, and M'riar's." He was so chivalrously anxious not to
exclude his co-guardian from her rights that he might have laid himself
open to be misunderstood by a stranger. Miss Grahame understood him,
however. So she did, thoroughly, when he went on:--"I don't take at all
kindly, though, to their growing older. Can't be helped, I suppose.
There's a many peculiar starts in this here world, and him as don't
like 'em just has to lump 'em. As I look at it, changes are things one
has to put up with. If we had been handy when we was first made, we
might have got our idears attended to, to oblige. Things are fixtures,
now."

Miss Grahame laughed, and abstained consciously from referring to the
inscrutable decrees of Providence which called aloud for recognition.
"Of course, children shouldn't grow," she said. "I should like them to
remain three, especially the backs of their necks." Uncle Mo's
benevolent countenance shone with an unholy cannibalism, as he nodded a
mute approval. There was something very funny to his hearer in this old
man's love of children, and his professional engagements of former
years, looked at together.

Aunt M'riar took the subject _au serieux_. "Now you're talking silly,
Mo," she said. "If the children never grew, where would the girls be?
And a nice complainin' you men would make then!"

Miss Grahame made an effort to get away from abstract Philosophy. "I'm
afraid it can't be helped now, anyhow," said she. "Dave _is_ growing,
and means to be a man. Oh dear--he'll be a man before we know it. He'll
be able to read and write in a few months."

Uncle Mo's face showed a cloud. "Do ye really think that, ma'am?" he
said. "Well--I'm afeared you may be right." He looked so dreadfully
downcast at this, that Miss Grahame was driven to the conclusion that
the subject was dangerous.

She could not, however, resist saying:--"He _must_ know _some_ time, you
know, Mr. Wardle. Surely you would never have Dave grow up uneducated?"

"Not so sure about that, ma'am!" said Uncle Mo, shaking a dubious head.
"There's more good men spiled by schoolmasters than we hear tell of in
the noospapers." What conspiracy of silence in the Press this pointed at
did not appear. But it was clear from the tone of the speaker that he
thought interested motives were at the bottom of it.

Now Miss Grahame was said by critical friends--not enemies; at least,
they said not--to be over-anxious to confer benefits of her own
selection on the Human Race. Her finger-tips, they hinted, were itching
to set everyone else's house in order. Naturally, she had a strong bias
towards Education, that most formidable inroad on ignorance of what we
want to know nothing about. Uncle Mo regarded the human mind, if not as
a stronghold against knowledge, at least as a household with an
inalienable right to choose its guests. Miss Grahame was in favour of
invitations issued by the State, and _visé'd_ by the Church. Everything
was to be correct, and sanctioned. But it was quite clear to her that
these views would not be welcome to the old prizefighter, and she was
fain to be content with the slight protest against Obscurantism just
recorded. In short, Miss Grahame found nothing to say, and the subject
had to drop.

She could, however, lighten the air, and did so. "What on earth are they
about upstairs?" said she. "I really think I might go up and see." And
she was just about to do so, with the assent of Aunt M'riar, when the
latter said suddenly:--"My sakes and gracious! What's that?" rather as
though taken aback by something unaccountable than alarmed by it.

Uncle Mo listened a moment, undisturbed; then said,
placidly:--"Water-pipes, _I_ should say." For in a London house no
sound, even one like the jerk of a stopped skid on a half-buried
boulder, is quite beyond the possible caprice of a choked supply-pipe.

Miss Grahame would have accepted the sound as normal, with some
reservation as to the strangeness of everyday noises in this house, but
for Aunt M'riar's exclamation, which made her say:--"Isn't that right?"

It was not, and the only human reply to the question was a further
exclamation from Aunt M'riar--one of real alarm this time--at a
disintegrating cracking sound, fraught with an inexplicable sense of
insecurity. "_That_ ain't water-pipes," said Uncle Mo.

Then something--something terrifying--happened in the Court outside.
Something that came with a rush and roar, and ended in a crash of
snapping timber and breaking glass. Something that sent a cloud of dust
through the shivered window-panes into the room it darkened. Something
that left behind it no sound but a sharp cry for help and moaning cries
of pain, and was followed by shouts of panic and alarm, and the tramp of
running feet--a swift flight to the spot of helpers who could see it
without, the thing that had to be guessed by us within. Something that
had half-beaten in the door that Uncle Mo, as soon as sight was
possible, could be seen wrenching open, shouting loudly,
inexplicably:--"They are underneath--they are underneath!"

_Who_ were underneath? The children? And underneath what?

A few seconds of dumb terror seemed an age to both women. Then, Gwen on
the stairs, and her voice, with relief in its ring of resolution. "Don't
talk, but come up _at once_! The old lady _must_ be got down,
_somehow_! Come up!" A consciousness of Dolly crying somewhere, and of
Dave on the landing above, shouting:--"Oy say, oy say!" more, Miss
Grahame thought, as a small boy excited than one afraid; and then, light
through the dust-cloud. For Uncle Mo, with a giant's force, had released
the jammed door, and a cataract of brick rubbish, falling inwards, left
a gleam of clear sky to show Gwen, beckoning them up, none the less
beautiful for the tension of the moment, and the traces of a rough
baptism of dust.

What was it that had happened?



CHAPTER XXIX

     OF A LADY AND GENTLEMAN ON THE EDGE OF A LONG VOYAGE TOGETHER.
     SHALL THEY TAKE THE TICKETS? HOW MR. PELLEW HEARD SEVERAL CLOCKS
     STRIKE ONE. HOW HE CALLED NEXT DAY, AND HEARD ABOUT THE CHOBEY
     FAMILY. THE PROFANITY OF POETS, WHEN PROFANE. HOW MR. PELLEW
     SOMETIMES WENT TO CHURCH. THE POPULAR SUBJECT OF LOVE, IN THE END.
     MRS. AMPHLETT STARFAX'S VIEWS. KISSING FROM A NEW STANDPOINT. HOW
     MR. PELLEW FORGOT, OR RECOLLECTED, HIMSELF. BONES, BELOW, AND HIS
     BAD GUESSING. HOW THE CARRIAGE CAME BACK WITH A FRIEND IT HAD
     PICKED UP, WHOM MR. PELLEW CARRIED UPSTAIRS. UNEQUIVOCAL SIGNS OF
     AN ATTACHMENT WHICH


Had Gwen really been able to see to the bottom of her cousin's, the Hon.
Percival's mind, she might not have felt quite so certain about his
predispositions towards her adopted aunt. The description of these two
as wanting to rush into each other's arms was exaggerated. It would have
been fairer to say that Aunt Constance was fully prepared to consider an
offer, and that Mr. Pellew was beginning to see his way to making one.

The most promising feature in the lady's state of mind was that she was
formulating consolations, dormant now, but actively available if by
chance the gentleman did not see his way. She was saying to herself that
if another flower attracted this bee, she herself would thereby only
lose an admirer with a disposition--only a slight one perhaps, but still
undeniable--to become corpulent in the course of the next few years. She
could subordinate her dislike of smoking so long as she could suppose
him ever so little in earnest; but, if he did waver by any chance, what
a satisfaction it would be to dwell on her escape from--here a mixed
metaphor came in--the arms of a tobacco shop! She could shut her eyes,
if she was satisfied of the sincerity of a redeeming attachment to
herself, to all the contingencies of the previous life of a middle-aged
bachelor about town; but they would no doubt supply a set-off to his
disaffection, if that was written on the next page of her book of Fate.
In short, she would be prepared in that case to accept the conviction
that she was well rid of him. But all this was subcutaneous. Given only
the one great essential, that he was not merely philandering, and then
neither his escapades in the past, nor his cigars, nor even his
suggestions towards a corporation, would stand in the way of a
whole-hearted acceptance of a companion for life who had somehow managed
to be such a pleasant companion during that visit at the Towers. At
least, she would be better off than her four sisters. For this lady had
a wholesome aversion for her brothers-in-law, tending to support the
creed which teaches that the sacrament of marriage makes of its
votaries, or victims, not only parties to a contract, but one flesh, and
opens up undreamed-of possibilities of real fraternal dissension.

The gentleman, on the other hand, was in what we may suppose to be a
corresponding stage of uncertainty. He too was able to perceive, or
affect a perception, that, after all, if he came to the scratch and the
scratch eventuated--as scratches do sometimes--in a paralysis of
astonishment on the lady's part that such an idea should ever have
entered into the applicant's calculations, it wouldn't be a thing to
break his heart about exactly. He would have made rather an ass of
himself, certainly. But he was quite prepared not to be any the worse.

This was, however, not subcutaneous, with him. He said it to himself,
quite openly. His concealment of himself from himself turned on a sort
of passive resistance he was offering to a growing reluctance to hear a
negative to his application. He was, despite himself, entertaining the
question:--Was this woman whom he had been assessing and wavering over,
_more masculino_, conceivably likely to reject him on his merits? Might
she not say to him:--"I have seen your drift, and found you too pleasant
an acquaintance to condemn offhand. But now that you force me to ask
myself the question, 'Can I love you?' you leave me no choice but to
answer, 'I can't.'" And he was beginning to have a misgiving that he
would very much rather that that scratch, if ever he came to it, should
end on very different lines from this. All this, mind you, was under the
skin of his reflections.

As he walked away slowly in the moonlight, with the appointment fresh in
his mind to return next day on a shallow archaeological pretext, he may
have been himself at a loss for his reason for completing a tour of the
square, and pausing to look up at the house before making a definite
start for his Club, or his rooms in Brook Street. Was any reason
necessary, beyond the fineness of the night? He had an indisputable
right to walk round Cavendish Square without a reason, and he exercised
it. He rather resented the policeman on his beat saying goodnight to
him, as though he were abnormal, and walked away in the opposite
direction from that officer, who was searchlighting areas for want of
something to do, with an implication of profound purpose. He decided on
loneliness and a walk exactly the length of a cigar, throwing its last
effort to burn his fingers away on his doorstep. He carried the
animation of his thoughts on his face upstairs to bed with him, for it
lasted through a meditation at an open window, through a chorus of cats
about their private affairs, and the usual controversy about the hour
among all the town-clocks, which becomes embittered when there is only
one hour to talk about, and compromise is impossible. Mr. Pellew heard
the last opinion and retired for the night at nine minutes past. But he
first made sure that that _Quarterly Review_ was in evidence, and
glanced at the Egyptian article to confirm his impression of the
contents. They were still there. He believed all his actions were sane
and well balanced, but this was credulity. One stretches a point
sometimes, to believe oneself reasonable.

It was a model September afternoon--and what can one say more of
weather?--when at half-past three precisely Mr. Pellew's hansom overshot
the door of 102, Cavendish Square, and firmly but amiably insisted on
turning round to deposit its fare according to the exact terms of its
contract. Its proprietor said what he could in extenuation of its
maladroitness. They shouldn't build these here houses at the corners of
streets; it was misguiding to the most penetrating intellect. He
addressed his fare as Captain, asking him to make it another sixpence.
He had been put to a lot of expense last month, along of the strike, and
looked to the public to make it up to him. For the cabbies had struck,
some weeks since, against sixpence a mile instead of eightpence. Mr.
Pellew's heart was touched, and he conceded the other sixpence.

There at the door was Miss Grahame's open landaulet, and there were she
and Gwen in it, just starting to see the former's little boy. That was
how Dave was spoken of, at the risk of creating a scandal. They
immediately lent themselves to a gratuitous farce, having for its
object the liberation of Mr. Pellew and Miss Dickenson from external
influence.

"Constance _was_ back, wasn't she?" Thus Miss Grahame; and Gwen had the
effrontery to say she was almost certain, but couldn't be quite sure. If
she wasn't there, she would have to go without that pulverised Pharaoh,
as Sir Somebody Something's just yearnings for his _Quarterly_ were not
to be made light of. "Don't you let Maggie take the book up to her,
Percy. You go up in the sitting-room--you know, where we were playing
last night?--and if she doesn't turn up in five minutes don't you wait
for her!" Then the two ladies talked telegraphically, to the exclusion
of Mr. Pellew, to the effect that Aunt Constance had only gone to buy a
pair of gloves in Oxford Street, and was pledged to an early return. The
curtain fell on the farce, and a very brief interview with Mary at the
door ended in Mr. Pellew being shown upstairs, without reservation. So
he and Aunt Constance had the house to themselves.

To do them justice, the attention shown to the covering fiction of the
book-loan was of the very smallest. It could not be ignored altogether;
so Miss Dickenson looked at the article. She did not read a word of it,
but she looked at it. She went further, and said it was interesting.
Then it was allowed to lie on the table. When the last possible book has
been printed--for even Literature must come to an end some time, if Time
itself does not collapse--that will be the last privilege accorded to
it. It will lie on the table, while all but a few of its predecessors
will stand on a bookshelf.

"It's quite warm out of doors," said Mr. Pellew.

"Warmer than yesterday, I think," said Miss Dickenson. And then talk
went on, stiffly, each of its contribuents execrating its stiffness, but
seeing no way to relaxation.

"Sort of weather that generally ends in a thunderstorm."

"Does it? Well--perhaps it does."

"Don't you think it does?"

"I thought it felt very like thunder an hour ago."

"Rather more than an hour ago, wasn't it?"

"Just after lunch--about two o'clock."

"Dessay you're right. I should have said a quarter to." Now, if this
sort of thing had continued, it must have ended in a joint laugh, and
recognition of its absurdity. Aunt Constance may have foreseen this,
inwardly, and not been prepared to go so fast. For she accommodated the
conversation with a foothold, partly ethical, partly scientific.

"Some people feel the effect of thunder much more than others. No doubt
it is due to the electrical condition of the atmosphere. Before this was
understood, it was ascribed to all sorts of causes."

"I expect it's nerves. Haven't any myself! Rather like tropical storms
than otherwise."

Here was an opportunity to thaw the surface ice. The lady could have
done it in an instant, by talking to the gentleman about himself. That
is the "Open Sesame!" of human intercourse. She preferred to say that in
their village--her clan's, that is--in Dorsetshire, there was a sept
named Chobey that always went into an underground cellar and stopped its
ears, whenever there was a thunderstorm.

Mr. Pellew said weakly:--"It runs in families." He had to accept this
one as authentic, but he would have questioned its existence if
anonymous. He could not say:--"How do you know?" to an informant who
could vouch for Chobey. Smith or Brown would have left him much freer.
The foothold of the conversation was giving way, and a resolute effort
was called for to give it stability. Mr. Pellew thought he saw his way.
He said:--"How jolly it must be down at the Towers--day like this!"

"Perfectly delicious!" was the answer. Then, in consideration of the
remoteness of mere landscape from personalities, it was safe to
particularise. "I really think that walk in the shrubbery, where the
gentian grew in such quantity, is one of the sweetest places of the kind
I ever was in."

"I know I enjoyed my ..." Mr. Pellew had started to say that he enjoyed
himself there. He got alarmed at his own temerity and backed out ... "my
cigars there," said he. A transparent fraud, for the possessive pronoun
does not always sound alike. "My," is one thing before "self," another
before "cigars." Try it on both, and see. Mr. Pellew felt he was
detected. He could slur over his blunder by going straight on; any topic
would do. He decided on:--"By-the-by, did you see any more of the dog?"

"Achilles? He went away, you know, with Mr. Torrens and his sister, a
few days after."

"I meant that. Didn't you say something about seeing him with the
assassin--the old gamekeeper--what was his name?"

"Old Stephen Solmes? Yes. I saw them walking together, apparently on the
most friendly terms. Gwen told me afterwards. They were walking towards
his cottage, and I believe Achilles saw him safe home, and came back."

"Just so. Torrens told me about the dog when old Solmes came to say
good-bye to him, and do a little more penance in sackcloth and ashes. I
am using Torrens's words. The old chap made a scene--went down on his
knees and burst out crying--and the dog tried to console him. Torrens
seemed quite clear about what was passing in the dog's mind."

"What did he say the dog meant? Can you remember?" Miss Dickenson was
settling down to chat, perceptibly.

"Pretty well. Achilles had wished to say that he personally, so far from
finding fault with Mr. Solmes for trying to shoot him, fully recognised
that he drew trigger under a contract to do so, given circumstances
which had actually come about. He would not endeavour to extenuate his
own conduct, but submitted that he was entitled to a lenient judgment,
on the ground that a hare, the pursuit of which was the indirect cause
of the whole mishap, had jumped up from behind a stone.... Well--I
suppose I oughtn't to repeat all a profane poet thinks fit to say...."

"Please do! Never mind the profanity!" It really was a stimulus to the
lady's curiosity.

Mr. Pellew repeated the apology which the collie's master had ascribed
to him. Achilles had only acted in obedience to Instincts which had been
Implanted in him in circumstances for which he was not responsible, and
which might, for anything he knew, have been conceived in a spirit of
mischief by the Author of all Good. This levity was stopped by a shocked
expression on the lady's face. "Well," said the gentleman, "you mustn't
blow _me_ up, Miss Dickenson. I am only repeating, as desired, the words
of a profane poet. He had apologized, he told me, for what he said, when
his sister boxed his ears."

"Serve him right. But what was his apology?"

"That he owed it to Achilles, who was unable to speak for himself, to
lay stress on what he conceived to be the dog's Manichaean views, which
he had been most unwillingly forced to infer from his practice of
suddenly barking indignantly at the Universe, in what certainly seemed
an unprayerful spirit."

"It was only Mr. Torrens's nonsense. He wanted to blaspheme a little,
and jumped at the opportunity. They are all alike, Poets. Look at Byron
and Shelley!"

Mr. Pellew, for his own purposes no doubt, managed here to insinuate
that he himself was not without a reverent side to his character. These
fillahs were no doubt the victims of their own genius, and presumably
Mr. Torrens was a bird of the same feather. He himself was a stupid
old-fashioned sort of fillah, and couldn't always follow this sort of
thing. It was as delicate a claim as he could make to sometimes going
to Church on Sunday, as was absolutely consistent with Truth.

To his great relief, Miss Dickenson did not catechize him closely about
his religious views. She only remarked, reflectively and vaguely:--"One
hardly knows what to think. Anyone would have said my father was a
religious man, and what does he do but marry a widow, less than three
years after my mother's death!"

Certainly the coherency of this speech was not on its surface. But Mr.
Pellew accepted it contentedly enough. At least, it clothed him with
some portion of the garb of a family friend; say shoes or gloves, not
the whole suit. Whichever it was, he pulled them on, and felt they
fitted. He began to speak, and stopped; was asked what he was going to
say, and went on, encouraged:--"I was going to say, only I pulled up
because it felt impertinent...."

"Not to me! Please tell me exactly!"

"I was going to ask, how old is your father? Is he older than me?"

"Why, of course he is! I'm thirty-six. How old are you? Tell the truth!"
At this exact moment a funny thing happened. The _passée_ elderly young
lady vanished--she who had been so often weighed, found wanting, and
been put back in the balance for reconsideration. She vanished, and a
desirable _alter ego_--Mr. Pellew's, as he hoped--was looking across at
him from the sofa by the window, swinging the tassel of the red blind
that kept the sun in check, and hushed it down to a fiery glow on the
sofa's occupant waiting to know how old he was.

"I thought I had told you. Nearly forty-six."

"Very well, then! My father is five-and-twenty years your senior."

"If you had to say exactly _why_ you dislike your father's having
married again, do you think you could?"

"Oh dear, no! I'm quite sure I couldn't. But I think it detestable for
all that."

"I'm not sure that you're right. You may be, though! Are you sure it
hasn't something to do with the ... with the party he's married?"

"Not at all sure." Dryly.

"Can't understand objecting to a match on its own account. It's always
something to do with the outsider that comes in--the one one knows least
of."

"You wouldn't like this one." It may seem inexplicable, that these words
should be the cause of the person addressed taking the nearest chair to
the speaker, having previously been a nomad with his thumbs in the
armholes of his waistcoat. Close analysis may connect the action with an
extension of the family-friendship wardrobe, which it may have
recognised--a neckcloth, perhaps--and may be able to explain why it
seemed doubtful form to the Hon. Percival to keep his thumbs in those
waistcoat-loops. To us, it is perfectly easy to understand--without any
analysis at all--why, at this juncture, Miss Dickenson said:--"I suppose
you know you may smoke a cigarette, if you like?"

In those days you might have looked in tobacconist's shopwindows all day
and never seen a cigarette. It was a foreign fashion at which sound
smokers looked askance. Mossoos might smoke it, but good, solid John
Bull suspected it of being a kick-shaw not unconnected with Atheism. He
stuck to his pipe chiefly. Nevertheless, it was always open to skill to
fabricate its own cigarettes, and Mr. Pellew's aptitude in the art was
known to Miss Dickenson. The one he screwed up on receipt of this
licence was epoch-making. The interview had been one that was going to
last a quarter of an hour. This cigarette made its duration
indeterminate. Because a cigarette is not a cigar. The latter is like a
chapter in a book, the former like a paragraph. At the chapter's end
vacant space insists on a pause for thought, for approval or
condemnation of its contents. But every paragraph is as it were kindled
from the last sentence of its predecessor; as soon as each ends the next
is ready. The reader aloud is on all fours with the cigarette-smoker. He
doesn't always enjoy himself so much, but that is neither here nor
there.

It was not during the first cigarette that Mr. Pellew said to Aunt
Constance:--"Where is it they have gone to-day, do you know?" That first
one heard, if it listened, all about the lady's home in Dorsetshire and
her obnoxious stepmother. It may have wondered, if it was an observant
cigarette, at the unreserve with which the narrator took its smoker into
the bosom of her confidence, and the lively interest her story provoked.
If it had--which is not likely, considering the extent of its
experience--a shrewd perception of the philosophy of reciprocity,
probably it wondered less. It heard to the end of the topic, and Mr.
Pellew asked the question above stated, as he screwed up its successor,
and exacted the death-duty of an ignition from it.

"They ought to be coming back soon," was the answer. "I told them I
wouldn't have tea till they came. They're gone to see a _protégée_ of
Clotilda's, who lives down a Court. It's not very far off; under a mile,
I should think. We saw him in the street, coming from the
railway-station. He looked a nice boy. That is to say, he would have
looked nice, only he and his friends had all been blacking their faces
with burnt cork."

"What a lark! Why didn't you go to the Court?... I'm jolly glad you
didn't, you know, but you might have...." This was just warm enough for
the position. With its slight extenuation of slang, it might rank as
mere emphasized civility.

It was Miss Dickenson's turn to word something ambiguous to cover all
contingencies. "Yes, I should have been very sorry if you had come to
bring the book, and not found me here." This was clever, backed by a
smile. She went on:--"They thought two would be quite enough,
considering the size of the Court."

A spirit of accommodation prevailed. Oh yes--Mr. Pellew quite saw that.
Very sensible! "It don't do," said he, "to make too much of a descent on
this sort of people. They never know what to make of it, and the thing
don't wash!" But he was only saying what came to hand; because he was
extremely glad Miss Dickenson had not gone with the expedition. How far
he perceived that his own visit underlay its arrangements, who can say?
His perception fell short of being ignorant that he was aware of it.
Suppose we leave it at that!

Still, regrets--scarcely Jeremiads--that she had not been included would
be becoming, all things considered. They could not be misinterpreted. "I
was sorry not to go," she said. "His father was a prizefighter and seems
interesting, according to Clotilda. Her idea is to get Gwen enthusiastic
about people of this sort, or any of her charitable schemes, rather than
dragging her off to Switzerland or Italy. Besides, she won't go!"

"That's a smasher! The idea, I suppose, is to get her away and let the
Torrens business die a natural death. Well--it won't!"

"You think not?"

"No thinking about it! Sure of it! I've known my cousin Gwen from a
child--so have you, for that matter!--and I know it's useless. If she
will, she will, you may depend on't; and if she won't she won't, and
there's an end on't. You'll see, she'll consent to go fiddling about for
three months or six months to Wiesbaden or Ems or anywhere, but she'll
end by fixing the day and ordering her trousseau, quite as a matter of
course! As for _his_ changing--pooh!" Mr. Pellew laughed aloud. Miss
Dickenson looked a very hesitating concurrence, which he felt would bear
refreshing. He continued:--"Why, just look at the case! A man loses his
eyesight and is half killed five minutes after seeing--for the first
time, mind you, for the first time!--my cousin Gwen Rivers, under
specially favourable circumstances. When he comes to himself he finds
out in double quick time that she loves him? _He_ change? Not he!"

"Do tell me, Mr. Pellew.... I'm only asking, you know; not expressing
any opinion myself.... Do tell me, don't you think it possible that it
might be better for both of them--for Gwen certainly, if it ... if it
never...."

"If it never came off? If you ask me, all I can say is, that I haven't
an opinion. It is so absolutely their affair and nobody else's. That's
my excuse for not having an opinion, and you see I jump at it."

"Of course it is entirely their affair, and one knows. But one can't
help thinking. Just fancy Gwen the wife of a blind country Squire. It is
heartbreaking to think of--now isn't it?"

But Mr. Pellew was not to be moved from his position. "It's their own
look out," said he. "Nobody else's!" He suddenly perceived that this
might be taken as censorious. "Not finding fault, you know! You're all
right. Naturally, you think of Gwen."

"Whom ought I to think of? Oh, I see what you mean. It's true I don't
know Mr. Torrens--have hardly seen him!"

"I saw him a fairish number of times--one time with another. He's a sort
of fillah ... a sort of fillah you can't exactly describe. Very unusual
sort of fillah!" Mr. Pellew held his cigarette a little way off to look
at it thoughtfully, as though it were the usual sort of fellow, and he
was considering how he could distinguish Mr. Torrens from it.

"You mean he's unusually clever?"

"Yes, he's that. But that's not exactly what I meant, either. He's
clever, of course. Only he doesn't give you a chance of knowing it,
because he turns everything to nonsense. What I wanted to say was, that
whatever he says, one fancies one would have said it oneself, if one had
had the time to think it out."

Miss Dickenson didn't really identify this as a practicable shade of
character, but she pretended she did. In fact she said:--"Oh, I know
exactly what you mean. I've known people like that," merely to lubricate
the conversation. Then she asked: "Did you ever talk to the Earl about
him?"

"Tim? Yes, a little. He doesn't disguise his liking for him, personally.
He's rather ... rather besotted about him, I should say."

"_She_ isn't." How Mr. Pellew knew who was meant is not clear, but he
did.

"Her mother, you mean," said he. "Do you know, I doubt if Philippa
dislikes him? I shouldn't put it that way. But I think she would be glad
for the thing to die a natural death for all that. Eyes apart, you
know." When people begin to make so very few words serve their purpose
it shows that their circumferences have intersected--no mere tangents
now. A portion of the area of each is common to both. Forgive geometry
this intrusion on the story, and accept the metaphor.

"Yes, that's what it is," said Aunt Constance. And then in answer to a
glance that, so to speak, asked for a confirmation of a telegram:--"Oh
yes, I know we both mean the same thing. You were thinking of that old
story--the old love-affair. I quite understand." She might have added
"this time," because the last time she knew what Mr. Pellew meant she
was stretching a point, and he was subconscious of it.

"That's the idea," said he. "I fancy Philippa's feelings must be rather
difficult to define. So must his papa's, I should think."

"I can't fancy anything more embarrassing."

"Of course Tim has a mighty easy time of it, by comparison."

"Does he necessarily know anything about it?"

"He must have heard of it. It wasn't a secret, though it wasn't
announced in the papers. These things get talked about. Besides, she
would tell him."

"Tell him? Of course she would! She would tell him that that young
Torrens was a 'great admirer' of hers."

"Yes--I suppose she _would_ make use of some expression of that sort.
Capital things, expressions!"

Aunt Constance seemed to think this phrase called for some sort of
elucidation. "I always feel grateful," said she, "to that
Frenchman--Voltaire or Talleyrand or Rochefoucauld or somebody--who said
language was invented to conceal our thoughts. That was what you meant,
wasn't it?"

"Precisely. I suppose Sir Torrens--this chap's papa--told the lady he
married ..."

"She was a Miss Abercrombie, I believe."

"Yes--I believe she was.... Told her he was a great admirer of her
ladyship once on a time--a boyish freak--that sort of thing! Pretends
all the gilt is off the gingerbread now. Wish I had been there when Sir
Hamilton turned up at the Towers, after the accident."

"I _was_ there."

"Well! And then?"

"Nothing and then. They were--just like anybody else. When I saw them
was after his son had begun to pull round. Till then I fancy neither he
nor the sister ..."

"Irene. ''Rene,' he calls her. Jolly sort of girl, and very handsome."

"Neither Irene nor her father came downstairs much. It was after you
went away."

"And what did they say?--him and Philippa, I mean."

"Oh--say? What _did_ they say? Really I can't remember. Said what a long
time it was since they met. Because I don't believe they _had_ met--not
to shake hands--for five-and-twenty years!"

"What a rum sort of experience! Do you know?... only of course one can't
say for certain about anything of this sort ..."

"Do I know? Go on."

"I was going to say that if I had been them, I should have burst out
laughing and said what a couple of young asses we were!" The Hon.
Percival was very colloquial, but syntax was not of the essence of the
contract, if any existed.

Aunt Constance was not in the mood to pooh-pooh the _tendresses_ of a
youthful passion. She was, if you will have it so, sentimental. "Let me
think if I should," said she, with a momentary action of closing her
eyes, to keep inward thought free of the outer world. In a moment they
were open again, and she was saying:--"No, I should not have done
anything of the sort. One laughs at young people, I know, when they are
so very inflammatory. But what do we think of them when they are not?"
She became quite warm and excited about it, or perhaps--so thought Mr.
Pellew as he threw his last cigarette-end away through that open
window--the blaze of a sun that was forecasting its afterglow made her
seem so. Mr. Pellew having thrown away that cigarette-end
conscientiously, and made a pretence of seeing it safe into the front
area, was hardly bound to go back to his chair. He dropped on the sofa,
beside Miss Dickenson, with one hand over the back. He loomed over her,
but she did not shy or flinch.

"What indeed!" said he seriously, answering her last words. "A young man
that does not fall in love seldom comes to any good." He was really
thinking to himself:--"Oh, the mistakes I should have been saved in
life, if only this had happened to me in my twenties!" He was not making
close calculation of what the lady's age would have been in those days.

She was dwelling on the abstract question:--"You know, say what one may,
the whole of their lives is at stake. And we never think them young
geese when the thing comes off, and they become couples."

"No. True enough. It's only when it goes off and they don't."

"And what is so creepy about it is that we never know whether the couple
is the right couple."

"Never know anything at all about anything beforehand!" Mr. Pellew was
really talking at random. Even the value of this trite remark was
spoiled. For he added:--"Nor afterwards, for that matter!"

Miss Dickenson admitted that we could not lay too much stress on our own
limitations. But she was not in the humour for platitudes. Her mind was
running on a problem that might have worried Juliet Capulet had she
never wedded her Romeo and taken a dose of hellebore, but lived on to
find that County Paris had in him the makings of a lovable mate. Quite
possible, you know! It was striking her that if a trothplight were
nothing but a sort of civil contract--civil in the sense of courteous,
polite, urbane, accommodating--an exchange of letters through a callous
Post Office--a woman might be engaged a dozen times and meet the males
implicated in after-life, without turning a hair. But even a hand-clasp,
left to enjoy itself by its parents--not nipped in the bud--might poison
their palms and recrudesce a little in Society, long years after! While,
as for lips....

Something crossed her reflections, just on the crux of them--their most
critical point of all. "There!" said she. "Did you hear that? I knew we
should have thunder."

But Mr. Pellew had heard nothing and was incredulous. He verified his
incredulity, going to the window to look out. "Blue sky all round!" said
he. "Must have been a cart!" He went back to his seat, and the
explanation passed muster.

Miss Dickenson picked up her problem, with that last perplexity hanging
to it. No, it was no use!--- that equable deportment of Sir Hamilton and
Philippa remained a mystery to her. She, however--mere single Miss
Dickenson--could not of course guess how these two would see themselves,
looking back, with all the years between of a growing Gwen and Adrian;
to her, it was just the lapse of so much time, nothing more--a year or
so over the time she had known Philippa. For Romeo and Juliet were
metaphors out of date when she came on the scene, and Philippa was a
Countess.

She was irritated by the inability she felt to comment freely on these
views of the position. It would have been easier--she saw this--to do so
had Mr. Pellew gone back to his chair, instead of sitting down again
beside her on the sofa. It was her own fault perhaps, because she could
not have sworn this time that she had not seemed to make room. That
unhappy sex--the female one--lives under orders to bristle with
incessant safeguards against misinterpretation. Heaven only knows--or
should we not rather say, Hell only knows?--what latitudes have claimed
"encouragement" as their excuse! That lady in Browning's poem never
should have looked at the gentleman so, had she meant he should not love
her. So _he_ said! But suppose she saw a fly on his nose--how then?

Therefore it would never have done for Miss Dickenson to go into close
analysis of the problems suggested by the meeting of two undoubted
_fiancés_ of years long past, and the inexplicable self-command with
which they looked the present in the face. She had to be content with
saying:--"Of course we know nothing of the intentions of Providence. But
it's no use pretending that it would not feel very--queer." She had to
clothe this word with a special emphasis, and backed it with an implied
contortion due to teeth set on edge. She added:--"All I know is, I'm
very glad it wasn't _me_." After which she was clearly not responsible
if the topic continued.

Mr. Pellew took the responsibility on himself of saying with deep-seated
intuition:--"I know precisely what you mean. You're perfectly right.
Perfectly!"

"A hundred little things," said the lady. The dragging in of ninety-nine
of these, with the transparent object of slurring over the hundredth,
which each knew the other was thinking of, merely added to its
vividness. Aunt Constance might just as well have let it alone, and
suddenly talked of something else. For instance, of the Sun God's
abnormal radiance, now eloquent of what he meant to do for the
metropolis when he got a few degrees lower, and went in for setting, in
earnest. Or if she shrank from that, as not prosaic enough to dilute the
conversation down to mere chat-point, the Ethiopian Serenaders who had
just begun to be inexplicable in the Square below. But she left the
first to assert its claim to authorship of the flush of rose colour that
certainly made her tell to advantage, and the last to account for the
animation which helped it. For the enigmatic character of South Carolina
never interferes with a certain brisk exhilaration in its bones. She
repeated in a vague way:--"A hundred things!" and shut her lips on
particularisation.

"I don't know exactly how many," said Mr. Pellew gravely. He sat drawing
one whisker through the hand whose elbow was on the sofa-back, with his
eyes very much on the flush and the animation. "I was thinking of one in
particular."

"Perhaps _I_ was. I don't know."

"I was thinking of the kissin'."

"Well--so was I, perhaps. I don't see any use in mincing matters." She
had been the mincer-in-chief, however.

"Don't do the slightest good! When it gets to kissin'-point, it's all
up. If I had been a lady, and broken a fillah off, I think I should have
been rather grateful to him for getting out of the gangway. Should have
made a point of getting out, myself."

The subject had got comfortably landed, and could be philosophically
discussed. "I dare say everyone does not feel the point as strongly as I
do," said Miss Dickenson. "I know my sister Georgie--Mrs. Amphlett
Starfax--looks at it quite differently, and thinks me rather a ... prig.
Or perhaps _prig_ isn't exactly the word. I don't know how to put
it...."

"Never mind. I know exactly what you mean."

"You see, the circumstances are so different. Georgie had been engaged
six times before Octavius came on the scene. But, oh dear, how I _am_
telling tales out of school!..."

"Never mind Georgie and Octavius. They're not your sort. You were saying
how you felt about it, and that's more interesting. Interests me more!"
Conceive that at this point the lady glanced at the speaker ever so
slightly. Upon which he followed a slight pause with:--"Yes, why are you
a _prig_, as she thought fit to put it?"

"Because I told her that if ever I found a young man who suited me--and
_vice versa_--and it got to ... to what you called just now
'kissing-point,' I should not be so ready as she had been to pull him
off like an old glove and throw him away. That was when I was very
young, you know. It was just after she jilted Ludwig, who afterwards
married my sister Lilian--Baroness Porchammer; my eldest sister...."

"Oh, _she_ jilted Ludwig, and _he_ married your sister Lilian, was that
it?" Mr. Pellew, still stroking that right whisker thoughtfully, was
preoccupied by something that diverted interest from this family
history.

Aunt Constance did not seem to notice his abstraction, but talked on.
"Yes--and what is so funny about Georgie with Julius is that they don't
seem to mind kissing now from a new standpoint. Georgie particularly. In
fact, I've seen her kiss him on both sides and call him an old stupid.
However, as you say, the cases are not alike. Perhaps if Philippa's old
love had married her sister--Lady Clancarrock of Garter, you
know--instead of Uncle Cosmo, as they call him, they could have got used
to it, by now. Only one must look at these things from one's own point
of view, and by the light of one's experience." A ring on her right hand
might have been one of the things, and the sun-ray through the
blind-slip the light of her experience, as she sat accommodating the
flash-light of the first to the gleam of the second.

If everyone knew to a nicety his or her seeming at the precise point of
utterance of any speech, slight or weighty, nine-tenths of our wit or
profundity would remain unspoken. Man always credits woman with knowing
exactly what she looks like, and engineering speech and seeming towards
the one desired end of impressing him--important Him! He acquits himself
of studying the subject! Probably he and she are, as a matter of fact,
six of the one and half a dozen of the other. Of this one thing the
story feels certain, that had Miss Dickenson been conscious of her
neighbour's incorporation into a unit of magnetism--he being its
victim--of her mere outward show in the evening light with the
subject-matter of her discourse, this little lecture on the ethics of
kissing would never have seen the light. But let her finish it. Consider
that she gives a pause to the ring-gleam, then goes on, quite in
earnest.

"It's very funny that it should be so, I know--but there it is! If I had
ever been engaged, or on the edge of it--I never have, really and
truly!--and the infatuated youth had ... had complicated matters to that
extent, I never should have been able to wipe it off. That's an
expression of a small niece of mine--three-and-a-quarter.... Oh
dear--but I never _said_ you might!..."

For the gentleman's conduct had been extraordinary! unwarranted,
perhaps, according to some. According to others, he may only have
behaved as a many in his position would have behaved half an hour
sooner. "I am," said he, "the infatuated youth. Forgive me, Aunt
Constance!" For he had deliberately taken that lady in his arms and
kissed her.

The foregoing is an attempt to follow through an interview the
development of events which led to its climax--a persistent and
tenacious attempt, more concerned with its purpose than with inquiring
into the interest this or that reader may feel who may chance to light
upon this narrative. No very close analysis of the sublatent impulses
and motives of its actors is professed or attempted; only a fringe of
guesswork at the best. But let a protest be recorded against the
inevitable vernacular judgment in disfavour of the lady. "Of
course--the minx! As if she didn't know what she was about the whole
time. As if she wasn't leading him on!" Because that is the attitude of
mind of the correct human person in such a case made and provided. That
is, if an inevitable automatic action can be called an attitude of mind.
Is rotation on its axis an attitude of a wheel's mind? To be sure,
though, a wheel may turn either of two ways. A ratchet-wheel is needed
for this metaphor.

However, the correct human person may be expressing a universal opinion.
This is only the protest of the story, which thinks otherwise. But even
if it were so, was not Miss Dickenson well within her rights? The story
claims that, anyhow. At the same time, it records its belief that
four-fifths of the _dénouement_ was due to Helios. The magic golden
radiance intoxicated Mr. Pellew, and made him forget--or
remember--himself. The latter, the story thinks. That ring perhaps had
its finger in the pie--but this may be to inquire too curiously.

One thing looks as though Miss Dickenson had not been working out a
well-laid scheme. Sudden success does not stop the heart with a jerk, or
cause speechlessness, even for a moment. Both had happened to her by the
time she had uttered her _pro forma_ remonstrance. Her breath lasted it
out. Then she found it easiest to remain passive. She was not certain it
would not be correct form to make a show of disengaging herself from the
arms that still held her. But--she didn't want to!

This may have justified Mr. Pellew's next words:--"You do forgive me,
don't you?" more as assertion than inquiry.

She got back breath enough to gasp out:--"Oh yes--only don't talk! Let
me think!" And then presently:--"Yes, I forgive you in any case.
Only--I'll tell you directly. Let's look out of the window. I want to
feel the air blow.... You startled me rather, that's all!"

Said Mr. Pellew, at the window, as he reinstated an arm dispossessed
during the transit:--"I did it to ... to _clinch_ the matter, don't you
see? I thought I should make a mess of it if I went in for eloquence."

"It was as good as any way. I wasn't the least angry. Only...."

"Only what?"

"Only by letting you go on like this"--half a laugh came in here--"I
don't consider that I stand committed to anything."

"I consider that _I_ stand committed to everything." The arm may have
slightly emphasized this.

"No--that's impossible. It _must_ be the same for both."

"Dearest woman! Just as you like. But I know what I mean." Indeed, Mr.
Pellew did seem remarkably clear about it. Where, by-the-by, was that
_passée_ young lady, and that middle-aged haunter of Clubs? Had they
ever existed?

Bones was audible from below, as they stood looking out at the west,
where some cirro-stratus clouds were waiting to see the sun down beyond
the horizon, and keep his memory golden for half an hour. Bones was
affecting ability to answer conundrums, asked by an unexplained person
with a banjo, who treated him with distinction, calling him "Mr. Bones."
Both were affecting an air of high courtesy, as of persons familiar with
the Thrones and Chancelleries of Europe. The particulars of these
conundrums were inaudible, from distance, but the scheme was clear.
Bones offered several solutions, of a fine quality of wit, but wrong. He
then produced a sharp click or snap, after his kind, and gave it up. His
friend or patron then gave the true solution, whose transcendent humour
was duly recognised by Europe, and moved Bones to an unearthly dance,
dryly but decisively accompanied on his instrument. A sudden outburst of
rhythmic banjo-thuds and song followed, about Old Joe, who kicked up
behind and before, and a yellow girl, who kicked up behind Old Joe. Then
the Company stopped abruptly and went home to possible soap and water.
Silence was left for the lady and gentleman at No. 102 to speak to one
another in undertones, and to wonder what o'clock it was.

"They ought to be back by now," says she. "I wonder they are so late.
They are making quite a visitation of it."

Says he:--"Gwen is fascinated with the old prizefighter. Just like her!
I don't care how long they stop; do you?"

"I don't think it matters," says she, "to a quarter of an hour. The
sunset is going to be lovely." This is to depersonalise the position. A
feeble attempt, under the circumstances.

It must have been past the end of that quarter of an hour, when--normal
relations having been resumed, of course--Miss Dickenson interrupted a
sub-vocal review of the growth of their acquaintance to say, "Come in!"
The tap that was told to come in was Maggie. Was she to be making the
tea? Was she to lay it? On the whole she might do both, as the delay of
the absentees longer was in the nature of things impossible.

But, subject to the disposition of Mr. Pellew's elbows on the
window-sill, they might go on looking out at the sunset and feel
_réglés_. Short of endearments, Maggie didn't matter.

The self-assertion of Helios was amazing. He made nothing of what one
had thought would prove a cloud-veil--tore it up, brushed it aside. He
made nothing, too, of the powers of eyesight of those whose gaze dwelt
on him over boldly.

"It _is_ them," said Miss Dickenson, referring to a half-recognised
barouche that had turned the corner below. "But who on earth have they
got with them? I can't see for my eyes."

"Only some friend they've picked up," said Mr. Pellew. But he rubbed his
own eyes, to get rid of the sun. Recovered sight made him exclaim:--"But
what are the people stopping for?... I say, something's up! Come along!"
For, over and above a mysterious impression of the unusual that could
hardly be set down to the bird's-eye view as its sole cause, it was
clear that every passer-by was stopping, to look at the carriage.
Moreover, there was confusion of voices--Gwen's dominant. Mr. Pellew did
not wait to distinguish speech. He only repeated:--"Come along!" and was
off downstairs as fast as he could go. Aunt Constance kept close behind
him.

She was too bewildered to be quite sure, offhand, why Gwen looked so
more than dishevelled, as she met them at the stairfoot, earnest with
excitement. Not panic-struck at all--that was not her way--but at
highest tension of word and look, as she made the decision of her voice
heard:--"Oh, there you are, Mr. Pellew. Make yourself useful. Go out and
bring her in. Never mind who! Make haste. And Maggie's to fetch the
doctor." Mr. Pellew went promptly out, and Miss Dickenson was
beginning:--"Why--what?..." But she had to stand inquiry over. For
nothing was possible against Gwen's:--"Now, Aunt Connie dear, don't ask
questions. You shall be told the whole story, all in good time! Let's
get her upstairs and get the doctor." They both followed Mr. Pellew into
the street, where a perceptible crowd, sprung from nowhere, was already
offering services it was not qualified to give, in ignorance of the
nature of the emergency that had to be met, and in defiance of a
policeman.

Mr. Pellew had taken his instructions so quickly from Miss Grahame,
still in the carriage, that he was already carrying the doctor's
patient, whoever and whatever she was, but carefully as directed, into
the house. At any rate it was not Miss Grahame herself, for that lady's
voice was saying, collectedly:--"I don't think it's any use Maggie
going, Gwen, because she doesn't know London. James must fetch him, in
the carriage. Dr. Dalrymple, 65, Weymouth Street, James! Tell him he
_must_ come, at once! Say _I_ said so." It was then that Aunt Constance
perceived in the clear light of the street, that not only was the
person Mr. Pellew was carrying into the house--whom she could only
identify otherwise as having snow-white hair--covered with dust and
soiled, but that Gwen and Miss Grahame were in a like plight, the latter
in addition being embarrassed by a rent skirt, which she was fain to
hold together as she crossed the doorstep. Once in the house she made
short work of it, finishing the rip, and acquiescing in the publicity of
a petticoat. It added to Aunt Constance's perplexity that the carriage
and James appeared in as trim order as when they left the door three
hours since. These hours had been eventful to her, and she was really
feeling as if the whole thing must be a strange dream.

She got no explanation worth the name at the time of the incident. For
Gwen's scattered information after the old snow-white head was safe on
her own pillow--she insisted on this--and its owner had been guaranteed
by Dr. Dalrymple, was really good for very little. The old lady was
Cousin Clo's little boy's old Mrs. Picture, and she was the dearest old
thing. There had been an accident at the house while they were there,
and a man and a woman had been hurt, but no fatality. The man had not
been taken to the Hospital, as his family had opposed his going on the
ground of his invulnerability. The old prizefighter was uninjured, as
well as those two nice children. They might have been killed. But as to
the nature of the accident, it remained obscure, or perhaps the
ever-present consciousness of her own experience prevented Aunt
Constance getting a full grasp of its details. The communication,
moreover, was crossed by that lady's exclamation:--"Oh dear, the events
of this afternoon!" just at the point where the particulars of the
mishap were due, to make things intelligible.

At which exclamation Gwen, suddenly alive to a restless conscious manner
of Aunt Constance's, pointed at her as one she could convict without
appeal, saying remorselessly:--"Mr. Pellew has proposed and you have
accepted him while we were away, Aunt Connie! Don't deny it. You're
engaged!"

"My dear Gwen," said Miss Dickenson, "if what you suggest were true, I
should not dream for one moment of concealing it from you. But as for
any engagement between us, I assure you there is no such thing. Beyond
showing unequivocal signs of an attachment which...."

Gwen clapped the beautiful hands, still soiled with the dirt of Sapps
Court, and shook its visible dust from her sleeve. Her laugh rang all
through the House. "_That's_ all right!" she cried. "He's shown
unequivocal signs of an attachment which. Well--what more do you want?
Oh, Aunt Connie, I'm _so_ glad!"

All that followed had for Miss Dickenson the same dream-world character,
but of a dream in which she retained presence of mind. It was needed to
maintain the pretext of unruffled custom in her communications with her
male visitor; the claim to be, before all things, normal, on the part of
both, in the presence of at least one friend who certainly knew all
about it, and another who may have known. Because there was no trusting
Gwen. However, she got through it very well.

Regrets were expressed that Sir Somebody Something had not got his
_Quarterly_ after all; but it would do another time. Hence consolation.
After Mr. Pellew had taken a farewell, which may easily have been a
tender one, as nobody saw it, she heard particulars of the accident,
which shall be told here also, in due course.

Some embarrassment resulted from Gwen's headstrong action in bringing
the old lady away from the scene of this accident. She might have been
provided for otherwise, but Gwen's beauty and positiveness, and her
visible taking for granted that her every behest would be obeyed, had
swept all obstacles away. As for her Cousin Clotilda, she was secretly
chuckling all the while at the wayward young lady's reckless incurring
of responsibilities towards Sapps Court.



CHAPTER XXX

     THE LETTER GWEN WROTE TO MR. TORRENS, TO TELL OF IT. MATILDA, WHO
     PLAYED SCALES, BUT NOT "THE HARMONIOUS BLACKSMITH." THE OLD LADY'S
     JEALOUSY OF GRANNY MARROWBONE, AND DAVE'S FIDELITY TO BOTH. HOW
     BEHEMOTH HICCUPPED, AND DAVE WENT TO SEE WHAT WAS BROKEN. THE
     EARTHQUAKE AT PISA. IT WAS OWING TO THE REPAIRS. HOW PETER JACKSON
     APPEARED BY MAGIC. HOW MR. BARTLETT SHORED NO. 7 UP TEMPORY, AND
     THE TENANTS HAD TO MAKE THE BEST OF WHAT WAS LEFT OF IT. UNCLE MO's
     ENFORCED BACHELOR LIFE


If love-letters were not so full of their writers' mutual satisfaction
with their position, what a resource amatory correspondence would be to
history!

In the letters to her lover with which Gwen at this time filled every
available minute, the amatory passages were kept in check by the hard
condition that they had to be read aloud to their blind recipient. So
much so that the account which she wrote to him of her visit to Sapps
Court will be very little the shorter for their complete omission.

It begins with a suggestion of suppressed dithyrambics, the suppression
to be laid to the door of Irene. But with sympathy for her, too--for how
can she help it? It then gets to business. She is going to tell "the
thing"--spoken of thus for the first time--in her own way, and to take
her own time about it. It is not even to be read fast, but in a
leisurely way; and, above all, Irene is not to look on ahead to see what
is coming; or, at least, if she does she is not to tell. Quite enough
for the present that he should know that she, Gwen, has escaped without
a scratch, though dusty. She addresses her lover, most unfairly, as "Mr.
Impatience," in a portion of the letter that seems devised expressly to
excite its reader's curiosity to the utmost. The fact is that this young
beauty, with all her inherent stability and strength of character, was
apt to be run away with by impish proclivities, that any good, serious
schoolgirl would have been ashamed of. This letter offered her a rare
opportunity for indulging them. Let it tell its own tale, even though we
begin on the fifth page.

"I must pause now to see what sort of a bed Lutwyche has managed to
arrange for me, and ring Maggie up if it isn't comfortable. Not but what
I am ready to rough it a little, rather than that the old lady should be
moved. She is the dearest old thing that ever was seen, with the
loveliest silver hair, and must have been surpassingly beautiful, I
should say. She keeps on reminding me of someone, and I can't tell who.
It may be Daphne Palliser's grandmother-in-law, or it may be old Madame
Edelweissenstein, who's a _chanoinesse_. But the nice old lady on the
farm I told you of keeps mixing herself up in it--and really all old
ladies are very much alike. By-the-by, I haven't explained her yet.
Don't be in such a hurry!... There now!--my bed's all right, and I
needn't fidget. Clo says so. The old lady is asleep with a stayed pulse,
says Dr. Dalrymple, who has just gone. And anything more beautiful than
that silver hair in the moonlight I never saw. Now I really must begin
at the beginning.

"Clo and I started on our pilgrimage to Sapps Court at half-past three,
without the barest suspicion of anything pending, least of all what I'm
going to tell. Go on. We left Mr. Percival Pellew on the doorstep,
pretending he was going to leave a book for Aunt Constance, and go away.
Such fun! He went upstairs and stopped two hours, and I do believe
they've got to some sort of decorous trothplight. Only A. C. when
accused, only says he has shown unmistakable evidence of something or
other, I forget what. Why on earth need people be such fools? There they
both _are_, and what more _can_ they want? She admits, however, that
there is 'no engagement'! When anybody says _that_, it means they've
been kissing. You ask Irene if it doesn't. Any female, I mean. Now go
on.

"A more secluded little corner of the world than Sapps Court I never
saw! Clo's barouche shot us out at the head of the street it turns out
of, and went to leave a letter at St. John's Wood and be back in half an
hour. We had no idea of a visitation, then. Besides, Clo had to be at
Down Street at half-past five. There is an arch you go in by, and we
nearly stuck and could go neither way. I was sorry to find the houses
looked so respectable, but Clo tells me she can take me to some much
better ones near Drury Lane. Dave, the boy, and his Uncle and Aunt, and
a little sister, Dolly, whom I nearly ate, live in the last house down
the Court. When we arrived Dolly was watering a sunflower, almost
religiously, in the front-garden eight feet deep. It would die vethy
thoon, she said, if neglected. She told us a long screed, about Heaven
knows what--I think it related to the sunflower, which a naughty boy had
chopped froo wiv a knife, and Dave had tighted on, successfully.

"The old prizefighter is just like Dr. Johnson, and I thought he was
going to hug Clo, he was so delighted to see her, and so affectionate.
So was Aunt Maria, a good woman who has lost her looks, but who must
have had some, twenty years ago. I got Dolly on my knee, and _we_ did
the hugging, Dolly telling me secrets deliciously, and tickling. She is
four next birthday, a fact which Aunt Maria thought should have produced
a sort of what the _Maestro_ calls _precisione_. I preferred Dolly as
she was, and we exchanged locks of hair.

"We had only been there a very short time when Uncle Moses suggested
that Dave should fetch a letter he was writing, from 'Old Mrs.
Prichard's Room' upstairs, and Dave--who is a dear little chap of six or
seven or eight--rushed upstairs to get it. I forgot how much I told you
about the family, but I know I said something in yesterday's letter.
Anyhow, 'old Mrs. Prichard' was not new to me, and I was very curious to
see her. So when more than five minutes had passed and no Dave
reappeared, I proposed that Dolly and I should go up to look for him,
and we went, Aunt Maria following in our wake, to cover contingencies.
She went back, after introducing me to the very sweet old lady in a
high-backed chair, who comes in as the explanation of the beginning of
this illegible scrawl. How funny children are! I do believe Uncle Moses
was right when he said that Dave, if anything, preferred his loves to be
'a bit elderly.' I am sure these babies see straight through wrinkles
and decay and toothless gums to the burning soul the old shell
imprisons, and love it. Do you recollect that picture in the Louvre we
both had seen, and thought the same about?--the old man with the sweet
face and the appalling excrescence on the nose, and the little boy's
unflinching love as he looks up at him. Oh, that nose!!! However, there
is nothing of that in old Mrs. Picture, as Dave called her, according to
her own spelling. _Her_ face is simply perfect.... There!--I went in to
look at it again by the moonlight, and I was quite right. And as for her
wonderful old white hair!... I could write for ever about her.

"I think our incursion must have frightened the old soul, because she
had lived up there by herself, except for her woman-friend who is out
all day, and Aunt Maria and the children now and then, since she came to
the house; so that a perfect stranger rushing in lawlessly--well, can't
you fancy? However, she really stood it very well, considering.

"'I have heard of you, ma'am, from Dave. He's told me all about your
rings. Where is the boy?... Haven't you, Dave--told me all about the
lady's rings?'

"Dave came from some absorbing interest at the window, to say:--'It
wasn't her,' with a sweet, impressive candour. He went back immediately.
Something was going on outside. I explained, as I was sharp enough to
guess, that my mother was the lady with the rings. I got into
conversation with the old lady, and we soon became friends. She was very
curious about 'old Mrs. Marrable' in the country. Indeed, I believe
Uncle Mo was not far wrong when he said she was as jealous as any
schoolgirl. It is most amusing, the idea of these two octogenarians
falling out over this small bone of contention!

"While we talked, Dave and Dolly looked out of the window, Dave
constantly supplying bulletins of the something that was going on
without. I could not make it out at first, and his interjections of 'Now
she's took it off'--'Now she's put it on again'--made me think he was
inspecting some lady who was 'trying on' in the opposite house. It
appeared, however, that the thing that was taken off and put on was not
a dress, but some sort of plaister or liniment applied to the face of a
boy, the miscreant who had made a raid on Dave's garden that morning,
and spoiled his sunflower (see _ante_). It was because Dave had become
so engrossed in this that he had not come downstairs again with his
letter.

"The old lady, I am happy to say, was most amiable, and took to me
immensely. I couldn't undertake to say now exactly how we got on such
good terms so quickly. We agreed about the wickedness of that boy,
especially when Dave reported ingratitude on his part towards the
sister, who was tending him, whom he smacked and whose hair he pulled.
To think of his smacking that dear girl that played the piano so nicely
all day! And pulling her back-tails so she called out when she was
actually succouring his lacerated face. I gathered that her name may
have been Matilda, and that she wore plaits.

"'I think her such a nice, dear girl,' said old Mrs. Picture--I like
that name for her--'because she plays the piano all day long, and I sit
here and listen, and think of old times.' I asked a question. 'Why, no,
my dear!--I can't say she knows any tunes. But she plays her scales all
day, very nicely, and makes me think of when my sister and I played
scales--oh, so many years ago! But we played tunes too. I sometimes
think I could teach her "The Harmonious Blacksmith," if only we was a
bit nearer.' I could see in her old face that she was back in the Past,
listening to a memory. How I wished I had a piano to play 'The
Harmonious Blacksmith' for her again!

"I got her somehow to talk of herself and her antecedents, but rather
stingily. She married young and went abroad, but she seemed not to want
to talk about this. I could not press her. She had come back home--from
wherever she was--many years after her husband's death, with an only
son, the survivor of a family of four children. He was a man, not a boy;
at least, he married a year or so after. She 'could not say that he was
dead.' Otherwise, she knew of no living relative. Her means of
livelihood was an annuity 'bought by my poor son before....'--before
something she either forgot to tell, or fought shy of--the last, I
think. 'I'm very happy up here,' she said. 'Only I might not be, if I
was one of those that wanted gaiety. Mrs. Burr she lives with me, and it
costs her no rent, and she sees to me. And my children--I call 'em
mine--come for company, 'most every day. Don't you, Dave?'

"Dave tore himself away from the pleasing spectacle of his enemy in
hospital, and came to confirm this. 'Yorce!' said he, with emphasis. 'Me
and Dolly!' He recited rapidly all the days of the week, an appointment
being imputed to each. But he weakened the force of his rhetoric by
adding:--'Only not some of 'em always!' Mrs. Picture then said:--'But
you love your old granny in the country better than you do me, don't
you, Davy dear?' Whereupon Dave shouted with all his voice:--'I
_doesn't_!' and flushed quite red, indignantly.

"The old lady then said, most unfairly:--'Then which do you love best,
dear child? Because you must love _one_ best, you know!' I thought
Dave's answer ingenious:--'I loves whichever it _is_, best.' If only all
young men were as candid about their loves, wouldn't they say the same?

"Dolly had picked up the recitation of the days of the week for her own
private use, and was repeating it _ad libitum_ in a melodious undertone,
always becoming louder on Flyday, Tackyday, Tunday. She was hanging over
the window-sill watching the surgical case opposite. How glad I am now
when I recollect my impulse to catch the little maid and keep her on my
knee! Dolly's good Angel prompted this, and had a hand in my inspiration
to tell the story of Cinderella, with occasional refrains of song which
I do believe old Mrs. Picture enjoyed as much as the two smalls. I
shudder as I think what it would have been if they had still been at the
window when it came--the thing I have been so long postponing.

"It came without any warning that it would have been possible to act
upon. We might certainly have shouted to those below to stand clear, _if
we had ourselves understood_. But how _could_ we? You can have no idea
how bewildering it was.

"When something you can't explain portends Heavens-know-what, what
on earth can you do? Pretend it's ghosts, and very curious and
interesting? I think I might have done so this time, when an alarming
noise set all our nerves on the jar. It was not a noise capable of
description--something like Behemoth hiccuping goes nearest. Only I
didn't want to frighten the babies, so I said nothing about the ghosts.
Dolly said it wasn't her--an obvious truth. Old Mrs. Picture said it
must have been her chair--an obvious fallacy. She then deserted her
theory and suggested that Dave should 'go down and see if anything was
broken,' which Dave immediately started to do, much excited.

"I felt very uncomfortable and creepy, for it recalled the shock of
earthquake Papa and I were in at Pisa two years ago--it is a feeling one
never gets over, that _terremotitis_, as Papa called it. I believe I was
more alarmed than Dolly, and as for Dave, I am sure that so far he
thought the whole thing the best fun imaginable. Picture to yourself, as
he slams the door behind him and shouts his message to the world below,
that I remain seated facing the light, while Dolly on my knee listens
to a postscript of Cinderella. My eyes are fixed on the beauty of the
old side-face I see against the light. Get this image clear, and then I
will tell you what followed.

"Even as I sat looking at the old lady, that noise came again, and
plaster came tumbling down from the ceiling, obscuring the window
behind. As I fixed my eyes upon it, falling, I saw beyond it what really
made me think at first that I was taking leave of my senses. The houses
opposite seemed to shoot straight up into the air, as though they were
reflections in a mirror which had fallen forward. An instant after, I
saw what had happened. It was the window that was moving, not the
houses.

"It was so odd! I had time to see all this and change my mind, before
the great crash came to explain what had happened. For until the roar of
a cataract of disintegrated brickwork, followed by a cloud of choking
dust, showed that the wall of the room had fallen outwards, leaving the
world clear cut and visible under a glorious afternoon sky until that
dust-cloud came and veiled it, I could not have said what the thing was,
or why. There seemed to be time--good solid time!--between the sudden
day-blaze and the crash below, and I took advantage of it to wonder what
on earth was happening.

"Then I knew it all in an instant, and saw in another instant that the
ceiling was sagging down; for aught I knew, under the weight of a
falling roof.

"Old Mrs. Picture was not frightened at all. 'You get this little Dolly
safe, my dear,' said she to me. 'I can get myself as far as the landing.
But don't you fret about me. I'm near my time.' She seemed quite alive
to the fact that the house was falling, but at eighty, what did that
matter? She added quite quietly:--'It's owing to the repairs.' Dolly
suddenly began to weep, panic-struck.

"I saw that Mrs. Picture could not rise from her chair, though she
tried. But what could I do? Any attempt of mine to pick her up and carry
her would only have led to delay. I saw it would be quicker to get help,
and ran for it, overtaking Dave on the stairs.

"Below was chaos. The kitchen where I had left my cousin talking with
Uncle Mo and Aunt Maria was all but darkened, and the place was a cloud
of dust. I could see that Uncle Mo was wrenching open the street-door,
which seemed to have stuck, and then that it opened, letting in an
avalanche of rubbish, and some light. Cries came from outside, and Aunt
Maria called out that it was Mrs. Burr. Thereon Uncle Mo, crying 'Stand
clear, all!' began flinging the rubbish back into the room with
marvellous alacrity for a man of his years, and no consideration at all
for glass or crockery. I felt sick, you may fancy, when it came home to
me that someone was crying aloud with pain, buried under that heap of
fallen brickwork.

"But we could be of no use yet a while, so I told Clo and Aunt Maria to
come upstairs and help to get the old lady down. They did as they were
bid, being, in fact, terrified out of their wits, and quite unable to
make suggestions. A male voice came from within the room where I had
just left Mrs. Picture by herself. I took it quite as a matter of
course.

"'You keep out on that landing, some of you, till I tell you to come in.
This here floor won't carry more than my weight.' This was what I heard
a man say, speaking from where the window had been, mysteriously. I was
aware that he had stepped from some ladder on to the floor of the room,
jumping on it recklessly as though to test its bearing power. Then that
he had gathered up my old new acquaintance in a bundle, carefully made
in a few seconds, and had said:--'Come along down!' to all whom it might
concern. He shepherded us, all three women and the two children, into a
back-bedroom below, and went away, leaving his bundle on the bed;
saying, after glancing round at the cornice:--'You'll be safe enough
here for a bit, just till we can see our way.' He had a peculiar hat or
cap, and I saw that he was a fireman. I did not know that firemen held
any intercourse with human creatures. It appears that they do
occasionally, under reserves.

"Then it was that I became alarmed about my old lady. Her face had lost
what colour it had, and her finger-tips had become blue and lifeless.
But she spoke, faintly enough, although quite clearly, always urging us
to go to a safer place, and leave her to her luck. This was, of course,
nonsense. Nor was there any safer place to go to, so far as I understood
the position. Aunt Maria went down to find brandy, if possible, in the
heart of the confusion below. She found half a wineglassful somewhere,
and brought back with it a report of progress. They had to be cautious
in removing the rubbish, so that no worse should come to the sufferer it
had half buried. We kept it from the old lady that this was her
fellow-lodger, Mrs. Burr, and made her take some brandy, whether she
liked it or no. I then went down to see for myself, and Clo came too.

"The police had taken prompt possession of the Court, and only a
limited force of volunteers were allowed to share in the removal of the
rubbish. Uncle Mo and the fireman, who seemed to be a personal friend,
were attacking the ruin from within, throwing the loose bricks back into
the kitchen, and working for the dear life.

"As we came in they halted, in obedience to, 'Easy a minute, you inside
there. Gently does it,' from the spontaneous leading mind, whoever he
was, without. Uncle Mo, streaming with perspiration, and forgetful of
social niceties, turned to me saying:--'You go back, my dear, you go
back! 'Tain't for you to see. You go back!' I replied:--'Nonsense, Mr.
Wardle! What do you take me for?' For had I not stood beside _you_, my
darling, when you lay dead in the Park?

"I could see what had taken place. The woman had been just about to
knock at the door when the wall fell from above. Nothing had struck her
direct, else she would almost surely have been killed. The ruin had
fallen far enough from the house to avoid this, but the recoil of its
disintegration (I'm so proud of that expression) had jammed her against
the wall and choked the door.... I'm so sleepy I can't write another
word."

       *       *       *       *       *

No doubt the sequel described how Mrs. Burr, rescued alive, but
insensible, was borne away on a stretcher to the Hospital, and how the
party were released from the house, whose complete collapse must have
presented itself to their excited imaginations as more than a
possibility. No doubt also obscure points were made plain; as, for
instance, the one which is prominent in the short newspaper report,
which runs as follows:--"A singular fall of brickwork, the consequences
of which might easily have proved fatal, occurred on Thursday last at
Sapps Court, Marylebone, when the greater part of the front-wall of No.
7 fell forward into the street, blocking the main entrance and causing
for a time the greatest alarm to the inhabitants, who, however, were all
ultimately rescued uninjured. A remarkable circumstance was that the
cloud of dust raised by the shower of loose brickwork was taken for
smoke and was sufficient to cause an alarm of fire; as a matter of fact,
two engines had arrived before the circumstances were explained. The
mistake was not altogether unfortunate, as an escape ladder which was
passing at the time was of use in reaching the upper floors, whose
tenants were at one time in considerable danger. A sempstress, Mrs.
Susan Burr, living upstairs, was returning home at the moment of the
calamity, and was severely injured by the falling brickwork, but no
serious result is anticipated. A costermonger of the name of Rackstraw
also received some severe contusions, but if we may trust the report of
his son, an intelligent lad of thirteen, he is very little the worse by
his misadventure."

Although "no serious result was anticipated" in Mrs. Burr's case--in the
newspaper sense of the words, which referred to the Coroner--the results
were serious enough to Mrs. Burr. She was disabled from work
indefinitely, and was too much damaged to hope to leave the Hospital,
for weeks at any rate. A relative was found, ready to take charge of her
when that time should arrive, but apparently not ready to disclose her
own name. For, so far as can be ascertained, she was never spoken of at
Sapps Court otherwise than as "Mrs. Burr's married niece."

Mr. Bartlett was on the spot, within an hour, taking measures for the
immediate safety of the inmates, and his own ultimate pecuniary
advantage. He pointed out it was quite unnecessary for anyone to turn
out of the rooms below, although he admitted that the open air had got
through the top story. His immediate resources were quite equal to a
temporary arrangement practicable in a couple of hours or so. A
contrivance of inconceivable slightness, involving no drawbacks whatever
to families occupying the premises it was engendered in, was necessary
to hold the roof up tempory, for fear it should come with a run. It was
really a'most nothing in the manner of speaking. You just shoved a
len'th of quartering into each room, all down the house to the bottom,
with a short scaffold-board top and bottom to distribute out the weight,
and tapped 'em across with a 'ammer, and there you were! The top one
ketched the roof coming down, and you had no need to be apprehensive,
because it would take a tidy weight--double what Mr. Bartlett was going
to put upon it.

This was a security against a complete collapse of the roof and upper
floor, but if it come on heavy rain, what would keep Aunt M'riar's room
dry? She and Dolly could not sleep in a puddle. Mr. Bartlett, however,
pledged himself to make all that good with a few yards of tarpauling,
and Aunt M'riar and Dolly went to bed, with sore misgivings as to
whether they would wake alive next day. Dolly woke in the night and
screamed with terror at what she conceived was a spectre from the grave,
but which was really nothing but a short length of scaffold-pole
standing upright at the foot of her bed.

This was bad enough, but it further appeared next day that a new floor
would be _de rigueur_ overhead in Mrs. Prichard's room. Not only were
sundry timber balks shoved up against the house outside so they couldn't
constitoot a hindrance to anyone--so Mr. Bartlett said when he giv' in a
price for the job--but the street-door wouldn't above half shet to, and
all the windows had to be seen to. Add to this afflictions from
tarpaulings that would keep you bone-dry even if there come a
thunderstorm--or perhaps, properly speaking, that would have done so
only they were just a trifle wore at critical points--and smells of damp
plaster that quite took away the relish from your food, and you will
form some idea what remaining in the house during the repairs meant to
Uncle Mo and his belongings.

Not that Dolly and Dave took their sufferings to heart much. The
novelties of the position went far to compensate them for its drawbacks.
One supreme grief there was for them, certainly. The avalanche of
brickwork had destroyed, utterly and irrevocably, that cherished
sunflower. They had clung to a lingering hope that, as soon as the
claims of humanity had been discharged by the rescue of the victims of
the catastrophe, the attention of the rescuers would be directed to
carefully removing the _débris_ from above their buried treasure. They
were shocked at the callous indifference shown to its fate. It was an
early revelation of the heartlessness of mankind. Nevertheless, the
shattered sunflower was recovered in the end, and Dolly took it to bed
with her, and cried herself to sleep over it.

       *       *       *       *       *

So it seemed impossible for Dave and Dolly, and their uncle and aunt,
all to remain on in the half-wrecked house. But then--where had they to
go to? It was clear that Dolly and her aunt would have to turn out, and
the only resource seemed to be that they should go away for a while to
her grandmother's, an old lady at Ealing, who existed, but went no
further. She had never entered Sapps Court, but her daughters, Aunt
M'riar and Dolly's mother, had paid her dutiful visits. There was no
ill-feeling--none whatever! So to Ealing Aunt M'riar went, two or three
days later, and Dave went too, although he was convinced Uncle Mo
couldn't do without him.

The old boy himself remained in residence, being fed by The Rising Sun;
which sounds like poetry, but relates to chops and sausages and a
half-a-pint, a monotonous dietary on which he subsisted until his family
returned a month later to a reinstated mansion. He lived a good deal at
The Sun during this period, relying on the society of his host and his
friend Jerry. His retrospective chats with the latter recorded his
impressions of the event which had deprived him of his household, and
left him a childless wanderer on the surface of Marylebone.

"Red-nosed Tommy," said he, referring to Mr. Bartlett, "he wouldn't have
put in that bit of bressemer to ketch up those rotten joists over
M'riar's room if I hadn't told him. We should just have had the floor
come through and p'r'aps my little maid and M'riar squashed dead right
off. You see, they would have took it all atop, and no mistake. Pore
Susan got it bad enough, but it wasn't a dead squelch in her case. It
come sideways." Uncle Mo emptied his pipe on the table, and thoughtfully
made the ash do duty first for Mrs. Burr, and then for Aunt M'riar and
Dolly, by means of a side-push and a top-squash with his finger. He
looked at the last result sadly as he refilled his pipe--a
hypothetically bereaved man. Dolly might have been as flat as that!

"How's Susan Burr getting on?" asked Mr. Alibone.

"That's according to how much money you're inclined to put on the
doctors. Going by looks only--what M'riar says--she don't give the idea
of coming to time. Only then, there's Sister Nora--Miss Grahame they
call her now; very nice lady--she's on the doctor's side, and says Mrs.
Burr means to pull round. Hope so!"

"How's Carrots--Carrots senior--young Radishes' dad?"

"Oh--him? _He's_ all right. He ain't the sort to take to bein' doctored.
He's getting about again."

"I thought a bit of wall came down on him."

"Came down bodily, he says. But it don't foller that it did, because he
says so. Anyhow, he got a hard corner of his nut against it. _He_ ain't
delicate. He says he'll have it out of the landlord--action for
damages--wilful neglect--'sorlt and battery--that kind o' thing!"

"Won't Mrs. Burr?"

"Couldn't say--don't know if a woman counts. But it don't matter. Sister
Nora, she'll see to _her_. Goes to see her every day. She or the other
one. I say, Jerry!..."

"What say, old Mo?"

"You haven't seen the other one."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" Mr. Jerry spoke perceptively, appreciatively.
For Uncle Mo, by partly closing one eye, and slightly varying the
expression of his lips, had contrived somehow to convey the idea that he
was speaking of dazzling beauty, not by any means unadorned.

"I tell you this, Jerry, and you can believe me or not, as you like. If
I was a young feller, I'd hang about Hy' Park all day long only to get a
squint at her. My word!--there's nothing to come anigh her--ever I saw!
And there she was, a-kissing our little Dolly, like e'er a one of us!"

"What do you make out her name to be?" said Mr. Jerry.

"Sister Nora called her _Gwen_," replied Mo, speaking the name
mechanically but firmly. "But what the long for that may be, I couldn't
say. 'Tain't Gwenjamin, anyhow." He stopped to light his pipe.

"It was this young ladyship that carried off old Prichard in a two-horse
carriage, I take it."

Uncle Mo nodded. "Round to Sister Nora's--in Cavendish Square--with a
black Statute stood upright--behind palin's. M'riar she's been round to
see the old lady there, being told to. And seemin'ly this here young
Countess"--Uncle Mo seemed to object to using this word--"she's a-going
to carry the old lady off to the Towels, where she lives when she's at
home...."

"The Towels? Are you sure it isn't _Towers_? Much more likely!"

Uncle Mo made a mental note about Jerry, that he was tainted with John
Bull's love of a lord. How could anything but a reverent study of
Debrett have given such an insight into the names of Nobs' houses? "It
don't make any odds, that I can see!" was his comment. The correction,
however, resulted in an incumbrance to his speech, as he was only half
prepared to concede the point. He continued:--"She's a-going, as I
understand from M'riar, to pack off Mrs. Prichard to this here Towels,
or Towers, accordin' as we call it. And, as I make it out, she'll keep
her there till so be as Mr. Bartlett gets through the repairs. Or she'll
send her back to a lodgin'; or not, as may be. Either, or eye-ther."
Having thus, as it were, saturated his speech with freedom of
alternative, Uncle Mo dismissed the subject, in favour of Gwen's beauty.
"But--to look at her!" said he. The old man was quite in love.

Mr. Jerry disturbed his contemplation of the image Gwen had left him.
"How long does Bartlett mean to be over the job?" he asked.

"He means to complete in a month. If you trust his word. I can't say I
do."

"When _will_ he complete, Mo? That's the question. What's the answer?"

"The Lord alone knows." Uncle Mo shook his head solemnly. But he
recalled his words. "No--He don't! Even the Devil don't know. I tell you
this, Jerry--there never was a buildin' job finished at any time spoke
of aforehand. It's always _after_ any such a time. And if you jump on
for to catch it up, it's _afterer_."

"Best to hold one's tongue about it, eh? Anyway, the old lady's got a
berth for a time. Rum story! She'd have been put to it if it hadn't been
for the turn things took. When's she to go?"

"To these here Towels, or Towers, whichever you call 'em? M'riar didn't
spot that. When she's took back, I suppose. When the young lady goes."

"What'll your young customer say to Mrs. Prichard being gone, when his
aunt brings him back?"

Uncle Mo seemed to cogitate over this. He had not perhaps been fully
alive to the disappointment in store for Dave when he came back and
found no Mrs. Picture at Sapps Court. Poor little man! The old
prizefighter's tender heart was touched on his boy's behalf. But after
all there would be worse trials than this on the rough road of life for
Dave. "He'll have to lump it, I expect, Jerry," said he. "Besides, Mrs.
P., she'll come back as soon as the new plaster's dry. She's not going
to stop at the Towels--Towers--whatever they are!--for a thousand
years."



CHAPTER XXXI

     HOW GWEN GOT AT MRS. PRICHARD's HISTORY, OR SOME OF IT. ONE CRIME
     MORE OF HER SON'S. THE WALLS OF TROY, AND THOSE OF SAPPS COURT.
     AUNT M'RIAR'S VISIT OF INSPECTION. HOW SHE CALLED ON MRS.
     RAGSTROAR, WHO SENT HER SECRETIVE SON ROUND. HIS MESSAGE FROM MR.
     WIX. WHO WAS COMING TO SEE HIS MOTHER, UNLESS SHE WAS SOMEBODY
     ELSE. A MESSAGE TO MR. WIX, UNDERTAKEN BY MICHAEL. UNCLE MO's JOY
     AT THE PROSPECT OF DAVE AND DOLLY


How very improbable the Actual would sometimes feel, were it not for our
knowledge of the events which led up to it!

Nothing could have been more improbable _per se_ than that old Mrs.
Prichard, upstairs at No. 7, down Sapps Court, should become the guest
of the Earl and Countess of Ancester, at The Towers in Rocestershire.
But a number of improbable antecedent events combined to make it
possible, and once its possibility was established, it only needed one
more good substantial improbability to make it actual. Gwen's
individuality was more than enough to supply this. But just think what
a succession of coincidences and strange events had preceded the demand
for it!

To our thinking the New Mud wanted for Dave's _barrage_ was responsible
for the whole of it. But for that New Mud, Dave would not have gone to
the Hospital. But for the Hospital, he would never have excited a tender
passion in the breast of Sister Nora; would never have visited Granny
Marrowbone; would never have been sought for by The Aristocracy at his
residence in Sapps Court. Some may say that at this point nothing else
would have occurred but for the collapse of Mr. Bartlett's brickwork,
and that therefore the rarity of sound bricks in that conglomerate was
the _vera causa_ of the events that followed. But why not equally the
imperfection of old Stephen's aim at Achilles? If he had killed
Achilles, it is ten to one Gwen would have gone abroad with her mother,
instead of being spirited away to Cavendish Square by her cousin in
order that she should thereby become entangled in slums. Or for that
matter, why not the death of the Macganister More? Had he been living
still, Cousin Clo would never have visited Ancester Towers at all.

No--no! Depend upon it, it was the New Mud. But then, Predestination
would have been dreadfully put out of temper if, instead of imperious
impulsive Gwen, ruling the roast and the boiled, and the turbot with
_mayonnaise_, and everything else for that matter, some young woman who
could be pulverised by a reproof for Quixotism had been her understudy
for the part, and she herself had had mumps or bubonic plague at the
time of the accident. In that case Predestination would hardly have
known which way to turn, to get at some sort of compromise or
accommodation that would square matters. For there can be no reasonable
doubt that what did take place was quite in order, and that--broadly
speaking--everyone had signed his name over the pencil marks, and filled
in his witness's name and residence, in the Book of Fate. If Gwen's
understudy had been called on, there would have been--to borrow a
favourite expression of Uncle Mo's--a pretty how-do-you-do, on the part
of Predestination.

Fortunately no such thing occurred, and Predestination's powers of
evasion were not put to the test. The Decrees of Fate were fulfilled as
usual, and History travelled on the line of least resistance, to the
great gratification of The Thoughtful Observer. In the case of lines of
compliance with the will of Gwen, there was no resistance at all. Is
there ever any, when a spoiled young beauty is ready to kiss the
Arbiters of Destiny as a bribe, rather than give way about a whim,
reasonable or unreasonable?

And, after all, so many improbabilities having converged towards
creating the situation, there was nothing so very unreasonable in Gwen's
whim that old Mrs. Picture should go back with her to the Towers. It was
only the natural solution of a difficulty in a conjunction of
circumstances which could not have varied materially, unless Gwen and
her cousin had devolved the charge of the old lady on some
Institution--say the Workhouse Infirmary--or a neighbour, or had
forsaken her altogether. They preferred carrying her off, as the story
has seen, in a semi-insensible state from the shock, to their haven in
Cavendish Square. Next day an arrangement was made which restored to
Gwen--who had slept on a sofa, when she was not writing the letter
quoted in the foregoing text--the couch she had insisted on dedicating
to "Old Mrs. Picture," as she continued to call her.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was very singular that Gwen, who had seen the old twin sister--as
_we_ know her to have been--should have fallen so in love with the one
whose acquaintance she last made. The story can only accept the fact
that it was so, without speculating on its possible connection with the
growth of a something that is not the body. It may appear--or may
not--to many, that, in old Maisie's life, a warp of supreme love,
shuttle-struck by a weft of supreme pain, had clothed her soul, as it
were, in a garment unlike her sister's; a garment some eyes might have
the gift of seeing, to which others might be blind. Old Granny Marrable
had had her share of trouble, no doubt; but Fate had shown her fair
play. Just simple everyday Death!--maternity troubles lived through in
shelter; nursing galore, certainly--who escapes it? Of purse troubles,
debts and sordid plagues, a certain measure no doubt, for who escapes
_them_? But to that life of hers the scorching fires that had worked so
hard to slay her sister's heart, and failed so signally, had never
penetrated. Indeed, the only really acute grief of her placid life had
been the supposed death of this very sister, now so near her, unknown.
Still, Gwen might, of course, have taken just as strongly to Granny
Marrable if some slight chance of their introduction had happened
otherwise.

The old lady remained at Cavendish Square three weeks, living chiefly in
an extra little room, which had been roughly equipped for service, to
cover the contingency. As Miss Lutwyche seemed to fight shy of the task,
Maggie, the Scotch servant, took her in hand, grooming her carefully and
exhibiting her as a sort of sweet old curiosity picked up out of a
dustheap, and now become the possession of a Museum. Aunt Constance, who
kept an eye of culture on Maggie's dialect, reported that she had said
of the old lady, that she was a "douce auld luckie": and that she stood
in need of no "bonny-wawlies and whigmaleeries," which, Miss Grahame
said, meant that she had no need of artificial decoration. She was very
happy by herself, reading any easy book with big enough print. And
though she was probably not so long without the society of grown people
as she had often been at Sapps Court, she certainly missed Dave and
Dolly. But she seemed pleased and gratified on being told that Dave was
not gone, and was at present not going, anywhere near old Mrs. Marrable
in the country.

The young lady broached her little scheme to her venerable friend, or
_protégée_, as soon as it became clear that a return to the desolation
to which Mr. Bartlett had converted Sapps Court might be a serious
detriment to her health. Mr. Bartlett himself admitted the facts, but
disputed the inferences to be drawn from them. Yes--there was, and there
would be, a trifle of myesture hanging round; nothing in itself, but
what you might call traces of ewaporation. You saw similar phenomena in
sinks, and at the back of cesterns. But you never come across anyone the
worse for 'em. He himself benefited by a hatmosphere, as parties called
it nowadays, such as warn't uncommon in basements of unoccupied
premises, and in morasses. But you were unable to account for other
people's constitutions not being identical in all respects with your
own. Providence was inscrutable, and you had to look at the symptoms.
These were the only guides vouchsafed to us. He would, however, wager
that as soon as the paperhanger was out of the house and the plaster
giv' a chance to 'arden, all the advantages of a bone-dry residence
would be enjoyed by an incoming tenant.

Portions of this opinion leaked out during a visit of Aunt M'riar to
Mrs. Prichard, at Cavendish Square, she having come from Ealing by the
'bus to overhaul the position with Uncle Mo, and settle whether she and
Dave and Dolly could return next week with safety. They had decided in
the negative, and Mr. Bartlett had said it was open to them to soote
themselves. Uncle Mo's sleeping-room had, of course, been spared by the
accident, so he only suffered from a clammy and depressing flavour that
wouldn't hang about above a day or two. At least, Mr. Bartlett said so.

Gwen treated the idea that Mrs. Prichard should so much as talk about
returning to her quarters, with absolute derision.

"I'm going to keep you here and see you properly looked after, Mrs.
Picture, till I go to the Towers. And then I shall just take you with
me." For she had installed the name Picture as the old lady's working
designation with such decision that everyone else accepted it, though
one or two used it in inverted commas. "I always have my own way," she
added with a full, rich laugh that Lord William Bentinck might have
heard on his black pedestal in the Square below.

Aunt M'riar departed, not to be too late for her 'bus, and Gwen stayed
for a chat. She often spent half an hour with the old lady, trying
sometimes to get at more of her past history, always feeling that she
was met by reticence, never liking to press roughly for information.

The two thin old palms that had once been a beautiful young girl's
closed on the hand that was even now scarcely in its fullest glory of
life, as its owner's eyes looked down into the old eyes that had never
lost their sweetness. The old voice spoke first. "Why--oh why," it said,
"are you so kind to me? My dear!"

"Is it strange that I should be kind to you?" said Gwen, speaking
somewhat to herself. Then louder, as though she had been betrayed into a
claim to benevolence, and was ashamed:--"The kindness comes to very
little, when all's said and done. Besides, you can ..." She paused a
moment, taking in the pause a seat beside the arm-chair, without loosing
the hand she held; then made her speech complete:--"Besides, you can pay
it all back, you know!"

"I pay! How can I pay it back?"

"You can. I'm quite in earnest. You can pay me back everything I can do
for you--everything and more--by telling me.... Now, you mustn't be put
out, you know, if I tell you what it is." Gwen was rather frightened at
her own temerity.

"My dear--just fancy! Why should I want you not to know--anything I can
tell, if I can remember it to tell you? What is it?"

"How you come to be living in Sapps Court. And why you are so poor.
Because you _are_ poor."

"No, I have a pound a week still. I have been better off--yes! I have
been well off."

"But how came you to live in Sapps Court?"

"How came I?... Let me see!... I came there from Skillicks, at
Sevenoaks, where I was last. Six shillings was too much for me alone. It
is only seven-and-sixpence at Sapps for both of us. It was through poor
Susan Burr that I came there. To think of her in the Hospital!"

"She's going on very nicely to-day. I went to see her with my cousin. Go
on. It was through her?..."

"Through her I came to Sapps. She wanted to be in town for her work, and
found Sapps. She had no furniture, or just a bed. And I had been able to
keep mine. Then, you see, I wanted a helping hand now and again, and she
had her sight, and could make shift to keep order in the place. I had
every comfort, be sure!" This was spoken with roused emphasis, as though
to dissipate uneasiness about herself.

"I saw you had some nice furniture," said Gwen. "I was on the look out
for your desk, where Dave's letters were written."

"Yes, it's mahogany. I was frightened about it, for fear it should be
scratched. But Davy's Aunt Maria was saying Mr. Bartlett's men had been
very civil and careful, and all the furniture was safe in the bedroom at
the back, and the door locked."

"But where did the furniture come from?"

"From the house."

"The house where you lived with your husband?"

The old woman started. "Oh no! Oh no--no! All that was long--long ago."
She shrank from disinterring all but the most recent past.

But it was the deeper stratum of oblivion that had to be reached,
without dynamite if possible. "I see," Gwen said. "Your own house after
his death?"

Memory was restive, evidently--rather resented the inquiry. Still, a
false inference could not be left uncorrected. "Neither my husband's nor
mine," was the answer. "It was my son's house, after my husband's
death." Its tone meant plainly:--"I tell you this, for truth's sake.
But, please, no more questions!"

Gwen's idea honestly was to drop the curtain, and her half-dozen words
were meant for the merest epilogue. When she said:--"And he is dead,
too?" she only wanted to round off the conversation. She was shocked
when the two delicate old hands hers lay between closed upon it almost
convulsively, and could hardly believe she heard rightly the articulate
sob, rather than speech, that came from the old lady's lips.

"Oh, I hope so--I hope so!"

"Dear Mrs. Picture, you _hope_ so?" For Gwen could not reconcile this
with the ideal she had formed of the speaker. At least, she could not be
happy now without an explanation.

Then she saw that it would come, given time and a sympathetic listener.
"Yes, my dear, I hope so. For what is his life to him--my son--if he is
alive? The best I can think of for him, is that he is long dead."

"Was he mad or bad?"

"Both, I hope. Perhaps only mad. Then he would be neither bad nor good.
But he was lost for me, and we were well apart: before he was"--she
hesitated--"sent away...."

"Sent away! Yes--where?"

"I ought not to tell you this ... but will you promise me?..."

"To tell no one? Yes--I promise."

"I know you will keep your promise." The old lady kept on looking into
the beautiful eyes fixed on hers, still caressing the hand she held, and
said, after a few moments' silence:--"He was sent to penal servitude,
not under his own name. They said his name was ... some short name ...
at the trial. That was at Bristol." Then, after another pause, as though
she had read Gwen's thoughts in her scared, speechless face:--"It was
all right. He deserved his sentence."

"Oh, I am so glad!" Gwen was quite relieved. "I was afraid he was
innocent. I thought he could not be guilty, because of you. But was he
really wicked--_bad_, I mean--as well as legally guilty?"

"I like to hope that he was mad. The offence that sent him to Norfolk
Island was scarcely a wicked one. It was only burglary, and it was a
Bank." The old face looked forgiving over this, but set itself in lines
of fixed anger as she added:--"It was not like the thing that parted
us."

"You wish not to tell me that?"

"My dear, it is not a thing for you to hear." The gentleness of the
speaker averted the storm of indignation and contempt which similar
expressions of the correctitudes had more than once excited in this
rebellious young lady.

But Gwen felt at liberty to laugh a little at them, or could not resist
the temptation to do so. "Oh dear!" she cried. "Am I a new-born baby, to
be kept packed in cotton-wool, and not allowed to hear this and hear
that? Do, dear Mrs. Picture--you don't mind my calling you by Dave's
name?--do tell me what it was that parted you and your son. _I_ shall
understand you. I'm not Mary that had a little lamb."

"Well, my dear, when I was about your age, before I was married, I'm not
at all sure that _I_ should have understood. Perhaps that is really the
reason why I took the girl's part...."

"Why you took the girl's part?" said Gwen, who had _not_ understood, so
far, and was puzzled at the expression.

"Yes. I believed her story. They tried to throw the blame on her; he
did, himself. My dear, it was his cowardice and treachery that made me
hate him. You are shocked at that?"

"No--at least, I mean, I don't believe you meant it."

"I meant it at the time, my dear. And I counted him as dead, and tried
to forget him. But it is hard for a mother to forget her son."

"I should have thought so." Gwen was not quite happy about old Mrs.
Picture's inner soul. How about a possible cruel corner in it?

The old lady seemed to suspect this question's existence, unexpressed.
Apology in her voice hinted at need of forgiveness--pleaded against
condemnation. "But," she said, after a faltered word or two, short of
speech, "you do not know, my dear, how bad a man can be. How should
you?"

Perhaps the tone of her voice threw a light on some obscurity accepted
ambiguities had left. For Gwen said, rather suddenly: "You need not tell
me any more. You have told me plenty and I understand it." And so she
did, for working purposes, though perhaps some latitudes in the sea of
this Ralph Daverill's iniquities were by her unexplored and
unexplorable.

This particular atrocity of his has no interest for the story, beyond
the fact that it was the one that led to his separation from his mother,
and that it accounts for the very slight knowledge that she seems to
have had of the details of his conviction and deportation. It must have
happened between his desertion of his lawful wife, Dave's Aunt M'riar,
and his ill-advised attempt at burglary. Whether his offence against
"the girl" whose part his mother took was made the subject of a criminal
indictment is not certain, but if it was he must have escaped with a
slight punishment, to be able to give his attention to the strong room
of that Bank so soon after. Those who are inclined to think that his
mother was unforgiving towards her own son, to the extent of
vindictiveness, may find an excuse for her in a surmise which some facts
connected with the case made plausible, that he adduced some childish
levities on this girl's part as a warrant for his atrocious behaviour
towards her, and so escaped legal penalty. Those who know with what
alacrity male jurymen will accept evasions of this sort, will admit that
this is at least possible.

This is conjecture, by the way, as Gwen asked to know no more of the
incident, seeming to shrink from further knowledge of it in fact. She
allowed it to pass out of the conversation, retaining the pleasant and
wholesome attempt to redistribute the Bank's property as at least fit
for discussion, and even pardonable--an act due to a mistaken economic
theory--redistribution of property by a free lance, not wearing the
uniform of a School of Political Thought.

"But how long was his term of service?" she asked, coming back into the
fresher air of mere housebreaking.

"I am afraid it was for fourteen years. But I have never known. I can
hardly believe it now, but I know it is true for all that, that he was
convicted and transported without the trial coming to my ears at the
time. I only knew that he had disappeared, and thought it was by his own
choice. And what means had I of finding him, if I had wanted to? _That_
I never did."

"Because of ... because of the girl?"

"Because of the girl Emma.... Oh yes! I was his mother, but ..." She
stopped short. Her meaning was clear; some sons would cripple the
strongest mother's love.

"Then you had to give up the house," said Gwen, to help her away from
the memory that stung her, vividly.

"I gave it up and sold the furniture, all but one or two bits I kept by
me--Dave Wardle's desk, and the arm-chair. I went to a lodging at
Sidcup--a pretty place with honeysuckles round my window. I lived there
a many years, and had friends. Then the railway came, and they pulled
the cottage down--Mrs. Hutchinson's. And all the folk I knew were driven
away--went to America, many of them; all the Hutchinsons went. I
remember that time well. But oh dear--the many moves I had after that! I
cannot tell them all one from another...."

"It tires you to talk. Never mind now. Tell me another time."

"No--I'm not tired. I can talk. Where was I? Oh--the lodgings! I moved
many times--the last time to Sapps Court, not so very long ago. I made
friends with Mrs. Burr at Skillicks, as I told you."

"And that is what made you so poor?"

"Yes. I have only a few hundred pounds of my own, an annuity--it comes
to sixty pounds a year. I have learned how to make it quite enough for
me." Nevertheless, thought Gwen to herself, the good living in her
temporary home in Cavendish Square had begun to tell favourably. Enough
is seldom as good as a feast on sixty pounds a year. The old lady
seemed, however, to dismiss the subject, going on with something
antecedent to it:--"You see now, my dear, why I said 'I hope.' What
could the unhappy boy be to me, or I to him? But I shall never know
where he died, nor when."

Gwen tried to get at more about her past; but, at some point antecedent
to this parting from her son, she seemed to become more reserved, or
possibly she had overtasked her strength by so much talk. Gwen noticed
that, in all she had told her, she had not mentioned a single name of a
person. Some slight reference to Australia, which she had hoped would
lead naturally to more disclosure, seemed rather, on second thoughts, to
furnish a landmark or limit, with the inscription: "Thus far and no
farther." You--whoever you are, reading this--may wonder why Gwen, who
had so lately heard of Australia, and Mrs. Marrable's sister who went
there over half-a-century ago, did not forthwith put two and two
together, and speculate towards discovery of the truth. It may be
strange to you to be told that she _was_ reminded of old Mrs. Marrable's
utterance of the word "Australia" when old Mrs. Prichard spoke it, and
simply let the recollection drop idly, _because_ it was so unlikely the
two two's would add up. To be sure, she had quite forgotten, at the
moment, _what_ the old Granny at Chorlton had said about the Antipodes.
It is only in books that people remember all through, quite to the end.

Bear this in mind, that this sisterhood of Maisie and Phoebe was
entrenched in its own improbability, and that one antecedent belief of
another mind at least would have been needed to establish it. A hint, a
suggestion, might have capitalised a dozen claims to having said so all
along. But all was primeval silence. There was not a murmur in Space to
connect the two.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Bartlett, the builder, after inspecting the collapse of the wall,
lost no time in drawing up a contract to reinstate same and make good
roof, replacing all defective work with new where necessary; only in his
haste to come to his impressive climax--"the work to be done to the
satisfaction of yourself or your Surveyor for the sum of £99.8.4
(ninety-nine pounds eight shillings and fourpence),"--he spelt this last
word _nesseracy_. He called on the landlord, the gentleman of
independent means at Brixton, with this document in his pocket and a
strong conviction of his own honesty in his face, and pointed out that
what he said all along had come to pass. As his position had been that
unless the house was rebuilt--by him--at great expense, it was pretty
sure to come tumbling down, as these here old houses mostly did, it was
difficult for the gentleman of independent means to gainsay him,
especially as the latter's wife became a convert to Mr. Bartlett on the
spot. It was his responsible and practical manner that did it. She
directed her husband--a feeble sample of the manhood of Brixton--not to
set up his judgment against that of professional experience, but to
affix his signature forthwith to the document made and provided. He
said weakly:--"I suppose I must." The lady said:--"Oh dear, no!--he must
do as he liked." He naturally surrendered at discretion, and an almost
holy expression of contentment stole over Mr. Bartlett's countenance,
superseding his complexion, which otherwise was apt to remain on the
memory after its outlines were forgotten.

To return once more to the drying of the premises after their
reconstruction. The accepted view seemed to be that as soon as Mr.
Bartlett and his abettors cleared out and died away, the walls would
begin to dry, and would make up for lost time. Everyone seemed inclined
to palliate this backwardness in the walls, and to feel that they,
themselves, had they been in a like position, could not have done much
drying--with all them workmen in and out all day; just think!

But now a new era had dawned, and what with letting the air through, and
setting alight to a bit of fire now and again, and the season keeping
mild and favourable, with only light frosts in the early morning--only
what could you expect just on to Christmas?--there seemed grounds for
the confidence that these walls would do themselves credit, and yield up
their chemically uncombined water by evaporation. HO2, who existed in
those days, was welcome to stay where he was.

However, these walls refused to come to the scratch on any terms. Homer
is silent as to how long the walls of Ilium took to dry; they must have
been wet if they were built by Neptune. But one may be excused for
doubting if they took as long as wet new plaster does, in premises
parties are waiting to come into, and getting impatient, in London.
Ascribe this laxity of style to the historian's fidelity to his sources
of information.

Not that it would be a fair comparison, in any case. For the walls of
Troy were peculiar, having become a meadow with almost indecent haste
during the boyhood of Ascanius, who was born before Achilles lost his
temper; and before the decease of Anchises, who was old enough to be
unable to walk at the sacking of the city. But no doubt you will say
that that is all Virgil, and Virgil doesn't count.

The point we have to do with is that the walls at No. 7 did _not_ dry.
And you must bear in mind that it was not only Mrs. Prichard's apartment
that was replastered, but that there was a lot done to the ceiling of
Aunt M'riar's room as well, and a bit of the cornice tore away where the
wall gave; so that the surveyor he ordered, when he come to see it, all
the brickwork to come down as far as flush with the window, which had to
be allowed extra for on the contract. Hence the decision--and even that
was coming on to November--that the children should stop with their
granny at Ealing while their aunt come up to get things a little in
order, and the place well aired.

Aunt M'riar's return for this purpose drags the story on two or three
weeks, but may just as well be told now as later.

When she made this second journey up to London, she found Mr. Bartlett's
ministrations practically ended, his only representatives being a man, a
boy, and a composite smell, whereof one of the components was the smell
of the man. Another, at the moment of her arrival, putty, was going
shortly to be a smell of vivid green paint, so soon as ever he had got
these two or three panes made good. For he was then going to put a
finishing coat on all woodwork previously painted, and leave his pots in
the way till he thought fit to send for them, which is a house-painter's
prerogative. He seemed to be able to absorb lead into his system without
consequences.

"There's been a young sarsebox making inquiry arter you, missis," said
this artist, striving with a lump of putty that no incorporation could
ever persuade to become equal to new. He was making it last out, not to
get another half-a-pound just yet a while. "Couldn't say his name, but I
rather fancy he belongs in at the end house."

Aunt M'riar identified the description, and went up to her room
wondering why that young Micky had been asking for her. Uncle Moses was
away, presumably at The Sun. She busied herself in endeavours to
reinstate her sleeping-quarters. Disheartening work!--we all know it,
this circumventing of Chaos. Aunt M'riar worked away at it, scrubbed the
floor and made the bed, taking the dryness of the sheets for granted
because it was only her and not Dolly to-night, and she could give them
a good airing in the kitchen to-morrow. The painter-and-glazier,
without, painted and glazed; maintaining a morose silence except when he
imposed its observance also on a boy who was learning the trade from him
very gradually, and suffering from _ennui_ very acutely. He said to this
boy at intervals:--"You stow that drumming, young Ebenezer, and 'and me
up the turps"--or some other desideratum. Which suspended the drumming
in favour of active service, after which it was furtively resumed.

Uncle Mo evidently meant to be back late. The fact was, his home had no
attraction for him in the absence of his family, and the comfort of The
Sun parlour was seductive. Aunt M'riar's visit was unexpected, as she
had not written in advance. So when the painter-and-glazier began to
prepare to leave his tins and pots and brushes and graining-tools behind
him till he could make it convenient to call round and fetch them, Aunt
M'riar felt threatened by loneliness. And when he finally took his
leave, with an assurance that by to-morrow morning any person so
disposed might rub his Sunday coat up against _his_ day's work, and
never be a penny the worse, Aunt M'riar felt so forsaken that she just
stepped up the Court to hear what she might of its news from Mrs.
Ragstroar, who was momentarily expecting the return of her son and
husband to domestic dulness, after a commercial career out Islington
way. They had only got to stable up their moke, whose home was in a
backyard about a half a mile off, and then they would seek their
Penates, who were no doubt helping to stew something that smelt much
nicer than all that filthy paint and putty.

"That I could not say, ma'am," said Mrs. Ragstroar, in answer to an
inquiry about the object of Micky's visit. "Not if you was to offer five
pounds. That boy is Secrecy Itself! What he do know, and what he do not
know, is 'id in his 'art; and what is more, he don't commoonicate it to
neither me nor his father. Only his great-aunt! But I can send him
round, as easy as not."

Accordingly, about half an hour later, when Aunt M'riar was beginning to
wonder at the non-appearance of Uncle Mo, Master Micky knocked at her
door, and was admitted.

"'Cos I've got a message for you, missis," said he. He accepted the
obvious need of his visit for explanation, without incorporating it in
words. "It come from that party--party with a side-twist in the
mug--party as come this way of a Sunday morning, askin' for old Mother
Prichard--party I see in Hy' Park along of young Dave...."

Aunt M'riar was taken aback. "How ever come you to see more of _him_?"
said she. For really this was, for the moment, a greater puzzle to her
than why, being seen, he should send _her_ a message.

Micky let the message stand over, to account for it. "'Cos I did see
him, and I ain't a liar. I see him next door to my great-aunt, as ever
is. Keep along the 'Ammersmith Road past the Plough and Harrow, and so
soon as ever you strike the Amp'shrog, you bear away to the left, and
anybody'll tell you The Pidgings, as soon as look at you. Small 'ouse,
by the river. Kep' by Miss Horkings, now her father's kicked. Female
party." This was due to a vague habit of the speaker's mind, which
divided the opposite sex into two genders, feminine and neuter; the
latter including all those samples, unfortunate enough--or fortunate
enough, according as one looks at it--to present no attractions to
masculine impulses. Micky would never have described his great-aunt as a
female party. She was, though worthy, neuter beyond a doubt.

Aunt M'riar accepted Miss Hawkins, without further analysis. "_She_
don't know me, anyways," said she. "Nor yet your Hyde Park man, as far
as I see. How come he to know my name? Didn't he never tell you?" She
was incredulous about that message.

"He don't know nobody's name, as I knows on. Wot he said to me was a
message to the person of the house at the end o' the Court. Same like
you, missis!"

"And what was the message?"

"I'll tell you that, missis, straight away and no lies." Micky gathered
himself up, and concentrated on a flawless delivery of the message:--"He
said he was a-coming to see his mother; that's what _he_ said--his
_mother_, the old lady upstairs. Providin' she wasn't nobody else! He
didn't say no names. On'y he said if she didn't come from Skillick's she
_was_ somebody else."

"Mrs. Prichard, she came from Skillick's, I know. Because she said so.
That's over three years ago." Aunt M'riar was of a transparent, truthful
nature. If she had been more politic, she would have kept this back.
"Didn't he say nothing else?" she asked.

"Yes, he did, and this here is what it was:--'Tell the person of the
house,' he says, 'to mention my name,' he says. 'Name o' Darvill,' he
says. So I was a-lyin', missis, you see, by a sort o' chance like, when
I said he said no names. 'Cos he _did_. He said his own. Not but what he
goes by the name of Wix."

"What does he want of old Mrs. Prichard now?"

"A screw. Sov'rings, if he can get 'em. Otherwise bobs, if he can't do
no better."

"Mrs. Prichard has no money."

"He says she has and he giv' it her. And he's going to have it out of
her, he says."

"Did he say that to you?"

"Not he! But he said it to Miss Horkings. Under his nose, like." No
doubt this expression, Michael's own, was a derivative of "under the
rose." It owed something to _sotto voce_, and something to the way the
finger is sometimes laid on the nose to denote acumen.

"Look you here, Micky! You're a good boy, ain't you?"

"Middlin'. Accordin'." An uncertain sound. It conveyed a doubt of the
desirability of goodness.

"You don't bear no ill-will neither to me, nor yet to old Mrs.
Prichard?"

"Bones alive, no!" This also may have been coined at home. "That was the
idear, don't you twig, missis? I never did 'old with windictiveness,
among friends."

"Then you do like I tell you. When are you going next to your aunt at
Hammersmith?"

Micky considered a minute, as if the number of his booked engagements
made thought necessary, and then said decisively: "To-morrow mornin', to
oblige."

"Very well, then! You go and find out this gentleman...."

"He ain't a gentleman. He's a varmint."

"You find him out, and say old Mrs. Prichard she's gone in the country,
and you can't say where. No more you can't, and I ain't going to tell
you. So just you say that!"

"I'm your man, missis. On'y I shan't see him, like as not. He don't stop
in one place. The orficers are after him--the police."

Then Aunt M'riar showed her weak and womanish character. Let her excuse
be the memory of those six rapturous weeks, twenty-five years ago, when
she was a bride, and all her life was rosy till she found herself
deserted--left to deal as she best might with Time and her loneliness.
You see, this man actually _was_ her husband. Micky could not understand
why her voice should change as she said:--"The police are after
him--yes! But you be a good boy, and leave the catching of him to them.
'Tain't any concern of yours. Don't you say nothing to them, and they
won't say nothing to you!"

The boy paused a moment, as though in doubt; then said with
insight:--"I'll send 'em the wrong way." He thought explanation due,
adding:--"I'm fly to the game, missis." Aunt M'riar had wished not to be
transparent, but she was not good at this sort of thing. True, she had
kept her counsel all those years, and no one had seen through her, but
that was mere opacity in silence.

She left Micky's apprehension to fructify, and told him to go back and
get his supper. As he opened the door to go Uncle Mo appeared, coming
along the Court. The sight of him was welcome to Aunt M'riar, who was
feeling very lonesome. And as for the old boy himself, he was quite
exhilarated. "Now we shall have those two young pagins back!" he said.



CHAPTER XXXII

     WHY NOT KEEP COMPANY WHEN YOU HAVE A CHANCE? GUIZOT AND
     MONTALEMBERT. MRS. BEMBRIDGE CORLETT's EYEGLASSES. KINKAJOUS. THE
     PYTHON'S ATTITUDE. AN OSTRICH'S CARESS. HOW SIR COUPLAND MERRIDEW
     CALLED ON LADY GWENDOLEN WITH A LETTER. ROYALTY. NECROSIS.
     ILLEGIBILITY. SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS. HOW GWEN CALLED AGAIN IN SAPPS
     COURT, AND KNOCKED IN VAIN. HOW OLD MRS. PRICHARD WAS SPIRITED AWAY
     TO ROCESTERSHIRE, AND THOUGHT SHE WAS DREAMING


Mr. Percival Pellew and Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson had passed, under
the refining influence of Love, into a new phase, that of not being
formally engaged. It was to be distinctly understood that there was to
be nothing precipitate. This condition has its advantages; very
particularly that it postpones, or averts, family introductions. Yet it
cannot be enjoyed to the full without downright immorality, and it
always does seem to us a pity that people should be forced into Evil
Courses, in order to shun the terrors of Respectability. Why should not
some compromise be possible? The life some couples above suspicion
contrive to lead, each in the other's pocket as soon as the eyes of
Europe wander elsewhere, certainly seems to suggest a basis of
negotiation.

No doubt you know that little poem of Browning about the lady and
gentleman who watched the Seine, and saw Guizot receive Montalembert,
who rhymed to "flare"? Of course, the case was hardly on all fours with
that of our two irreproachables, but we suspect a point in common. We
feel sure that those lawless loiterers in a dissolute capital were
joyous at heart at having escaped the fangs of the brothers of the one,
and the sisters of the other, respectively, although at the cost of
having the World's bad names applied to both. In this case there were no
brothers on the lady's part, and only one sister on the gentleman's. But
Aunt Constance was not sorry for a breathing-pause before being
subjected to an inspection through glasses by the Hon. Mrs. Bembridge
Corlett, which was the name of the unique sister-sample, and herself
subjecting Mr. Pellew to a similar overhauling by her own numerous
relatives. She had misgivings about the _accolade_ he might receive from
Mrs. Amphlett Starfax, and also about the soul-communion which her
sister Lilian, who had a sensitive nature, demanded as the price of
recognition in public a second time of all persons introduced to her
notice.

Mr. Pellew's description of the Hon. Mrs. Corlett had impressed her with
the necessity of being ready to stand at bay when the presentation came
off.

"Dishy will look at you along the top of her nose, with her chin in the
air," said he. "But you mustn't be alarmed at that. She only does it
because her glasses--we're all short-sighted--slip off her nose at
ordinary levels. And when you come to think of it, how can she hold them
on with her fingers when she looks at you. Like taking interest in a
specimen!"

"I am a little alarmed at your sister Boadicea, Percy, for all that,"
said Miss Dickenson, and changed the conversation. This was only a day
or two after the Sapps Court accident, and the phase of not being
formally engaged had begun lasting as long as possible, being found
satisfactory. So old Mrs. Prichard was a natural topic to change to.
"Isn't it funny, this whim of Gwen's, about the old lady you carried
upstairs?"

"What whim of Gwen's?"

"Oh, don't you know. Of course you don't! Gwen's fallen in love with
her, and means to take her to the Towers with her when she goes back."

"Very nice for the old girl. What's she doing that for?"

"It's an idea of hers. However, there is some reason in it. The old
lady's apartments must be dry before she goes back to them, and that may
be weeks."

"Why can't she stop where she is?"

"All by herself? At least, only the cook! When Miss Grahame goes to
Devonshire, Maggie goes with her, to lady's-maid her."

"I thought we were going to be pastoral, and only spend three hundred a
year on housekeeping."

"So we are--how absurdly you do put things, Percy!--when we make a fair
start. But just till we begin in earnest, there's no need for such
strictness. Anyhow, if Maggie doesn't go to Devonshire, she'll go back
to her parents at Invercandlish. So the old lady can't stop. And Gwen
will go back to the Towers, of course. I don't the least believe they'll
hold out six months, those two.... What little ducks Kinkajous are! Give
me a biscuit.... No--one of the soft ones!"

For, you see, they were at the Zoölogical Gardens. They had felt that
these Gardens, besides being near at hand, were the kind of Gardens in
which the eyes of Europe would find plenty to occupy them, without
staring impertinently at a lady and gentleman who were not formally
engaged. Who would care to study them and _their_ ways when he could see
a Thibetan Bear bite the nails of his hind-foot, or observe the habits
of Apes, or sympathize with a Tiger about his lunch? Our two visitors to
the Gardens had spent an hour on these and similar attractions, noting
occasionally the flavour that accompanies them, and had felt after a
visit to the Pythons, that they could rest a while out of doors and
think about the Wonders of Creation, and the drawbacks they appear to
suffer from. But a friendly interest in a Python had lived and
recrudesced as the Kinkajou endeavoured to get at some soft biscuit, in
spite of a cruel wire screen no one bigger than a rat could get his
little claw through.

"I don't believe that fillah _was_ moving. He was breathing. But he
wasn't moving. I know that chap perfectly well. He never moves when
anyone is looking at him, out of spite. He hears visitors hope he'll
move, and keeps quite still to disappoint them." It was Mr. Pellew who
said this. Miss Dickenson shook her head incredulously.

"He _was_ moving, you foolish man. You should use your eyes. That long
straight middle piece of him on the shelf moved; in a very dignified
way, considering. The move moved along him, and went slowly all the way
to his tail. When I took my eyes off I thought the place was moving,
which is a proof I'm right.... Oh, you little darling, you've dropped
it! I'm so sorry. I must have another, because this has been in the mud,
and you won't like it." This was, of course, to the Kinkajou.

Mr. Pellew supplied a biscuit, but improved the occasion:--"Now if this
little character could only keep his paws off the Public, he wouldn't
want a wire netting. Couldn't you give him a hint?"

"I could, but he wouldn't take it. He's a little darling, but he's
pig-headed...." A pause, and then a quick explanatory side-note:--"Do
you know, I think that's Sir Coupland Merridew coming along that path. I
hope he isn't coming this way.... I'm afraid he is, though. You know who
I mean? He was at the Towers...."

"I know. Yes, it's him. He's coming this way. If he sees it's us, he'll
go off down the side-path. But he won't see--he's too short-sighted.
Can't be helped!"

"Oh dear--what a plague people are! Let's be absorbed in the Kinkajou.
He'll pass us."

But the great surgeon did nothing of the sort. On the contrary he
said:--"I saw it was you, Miss Dickenson." Then he reflected about her
companion, and said he was Mr. Pellew, he thought, and further:--"Met
you at Ancester in July." It was a great relief that he did _not_
say:--"You are a lady and gentleman, and can perhaps explain yourselves.
_I_ can't!" He appeared to decide on silence about _them_, as
irrelevant, and went on to something more to the purpose--"Perhaps you
know if the family are in town--any of them?" Miss Dickenson testified
to the whereabouts of Lady Gwendolen Rivers, and Sir Coupland wrote it
in a notebook. There seemed at this point to be an opportunity to say
how delightful the Gardens were this time of the year, so Miss Dickenson
seized it.

"I didn't come to enjoy the gardens," said the F.R.C.S. "I wish I had
time. I came to see to a broken scapula. Keeper in the Ostrich
House--bird pecked him from behind. Did it from love, apparently. Said
to be much attached to keeper. Two-hundred-and-two, Cavendish Square, is
right, isn't it?"

"Two-hundred-and-two; corner house.... Must you go on? Sorry!--you could
have told us such interesting things." The effect of this one word "us,"
indiscreetly used, was that Sir Coupland, walking away to his carriage
outside the turnstiles, wondered whether it would come off, and if it
did, would there be a family? Which shows how very careful you have to
be, when you are a lady and gentleman.

The former, in this case, remained unconscious of her _lapsus linguae_;
saying, in fact:--"I think we did that very well! I wonder whether he
will go and see Gwen!"

"I hope he will. Do you know, I couldn't help suspecting that he had
something to say about Torrens's eyesight--something good. Perhaps it
was only the way one has of catching at straws. Still, unless he has,
why should he want to see Gwen? He couldn't want to tell her there was
no hope--to rub it in!"

"I see what you mean. But I'm afraid he only put down the address for us
to tell her he did so--just to get the credit of a call without the
trouble."

"When did you take to Cynicism, madam?... No--come, I say--that's not
fair! It's only my second cigar since I came to the Gardens...." The
byplay needed to make this intelligible may be imagined, without
description.

Does not the foregoing lay further stress on the curious fact that the
_passée_ young lady and the oscillator between Pall Mall and that Club
at St. Stephen's--this describes the earlier seeming of these two--have
really vanished from the story? Is it not a profitable commentary on
the mistakes people make in the handling of their own lives?

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Coupland Merridew was not actuated by the contemptible motive Aunt
Constance had ascribed to him. Moreover, the straw Mr. Pellew caught at
was an actual straw, though it may have had no buoyancy to save a
swimmer. It must have had _some_ though, or Sir Coupland would never
have thrown it to Gwen, struggling against despair about her lover's
eyesight. Of course he did not profess to do so of set purpose; that
would have pledged him to an expression of confidence in that straw
which he could hardly have felt.

When he called at Cavendish Square two days later at an unearthly hour,
and found Gwen at breakfast, he accounted for his sudden intrusion by
producing a letter recently received from Miss Irene Torrens, of which
he said that, owing to the peculiarity of the handwriting, he had
scarcely been able to make out anything beyond that it related to her
brother's blindness. Probably Lady Gwendolen knew her handwriting
better than he did. At any rate, she might have a shot at trying
to make it out. But presently, when she had time! He, however,
would take a cup of coffee, and would then go on and remove a
portion of a diseased thigh-bone from a Royal leg--that of Prince
Hohenslebenschlangenspielersgeiststein--only he never could get the name
right.

The story surmises that, having carefully read every word of the letter,
he chose this way of letting Gwen know of a fluctuation in Adrian's
eye-symptoms; which, he had inferred, would not reach her otherwise. But
he did not wish false hopes to be built on it. The deciphering of the
illegibilities by Gwen, under correctives from himself, would exactly
meet the case.

"I can _not_ see that 'Rene's writing is so very illegible," said Gwen.
"Now be quiet and let me read it." She settled down to perusal, while
Sir Coupland sipped his coffee, and watched her colour heighten as she
read. That meant, said he to himself, that he must be ready to throw
more cold water on this letter than he had at first intended.

Said Gwen, when she had finished:--"Well, that seems to me very plain
and straightforward. And as for illegibility, I know many worse hands
than 'Re's."

"What's that word three lines down?... Yes, that one!"

"'Dreaming.'"

"I thought it was 'drinking.'"

"It certainly is 'dreaming' plain enough!"

"What do you make of it? Don't read it all through. Tell me the upshot."

"I don't mind reading it. But I'll tell it short, as you're in a hurry.
Adrian dropped asleep on the sofa, and woke with a start,
saying:--'What's become of Septimius Severus on the bookshelf?' It was a
bust, it seems. 'Re said:--'How did you know it had been moved?' and he
seemed quite puzzled and said:--'I can't tell. I forgot I was blind, and
saw the whole room.' Then 'Re said, he must have been dreaming. 'But,'
said he, 'you say it _has_ been moved.' So what does 'Re do but say he
_must_ have heard somehow that it was moved, _because_ it was impossible
that he should have been able to see only just that much and no more....
Oh dear!" said Gwen, breaking off suddenly. "What a pleasure people do
seem to take in being silly!"

Sir Coupland proceeded to show deference to correct form. "It is far
more likely," said he, "that Mr. Torrens had heard someone say the bust
was moved, and had forgotten it till he woke up out of a dream, than
that he should have a sudden flash of vision." A more cautious method
than Irene's, of assuming the point at issue.

Gwen paid no attention to this, putting it aside to apologize to Irene.
"However, 'Re had the sense to write straight to you about it. I'll say
that for her." Then she read the letter again while Sir Coupland spun
out his cup of coffee. She was still dwelling on it when he looked at
his watch suddenly and said: "I must be off. Consider Prince
Hohenschlangen's necrosis!" Then said Gwen, pinning him to truth with
the splendour of her eyes:--"You are perfectly and absolutely certain,
Dr. Merridew, that a momentary gleam of true vision in such a case would
be _impossible_?"

"I never said _that_," said Sir Coupland.

"What _did_ you say?" said Gwen.

"As improbable as you please, short of impossible. Now I'm off.
Impossible's a long word, you know, and very hard to spell." Sir
Coupland went off in a hurry, leaving Irene's letter in Gwen's
possession, which was dishonourable; because he had really read the
injunction it contained, on no account to show it to Gwen in case she
should build false hopes on it. But then Gwen had not read this passage
aloud to him, so he did not know it officially.

Lunch was the next conclave of the small household, and although Mr.
Pellew was there--it was extraordinary how seldom he was anywhere
else!--Irene's letter was freely handed round the table and made the
subject of comment.

"It won't do to build upon it," said Cousin Clo.

"Why not?" said Gwen.

"It never does to be led away," said Miss Dickenson. Her reputation for
sagacity had to be maintained.

"Doesn't it?" said Gwen.

Mr. Pellew was bound, in consideration of his company, to dwell upon the
desirableness of keeping an even mind. Having done full justice to this
side of the subject, he added a rider. He had always said the chances
were ten to one Torrens would recover his eyesight, and this sort of
thing looked uncommonly like it. Now didn't it? Whereupon Gwen, who
shook hands with him across the table to show her approval, said that
anyhow she must hear Adrian's own account of this occurrence from his
own mouth forthwith, and she should go back to-morrow to the Towers, and
insist upon driving over to Pensham Steynes, whether or no!

Miss Grahame remonstrated with her later, when Aunt Constance and her
swain had departed to some dissipation--the story is not sure it was not
Madame Tussaud's--and pointed out that she really had solemnly promised
not to see Mr. Torrens for six months. She admitted this, but
counterpointed out that she could just see him for half an hour to hear
his own account of the incident, and then they could begin fair. She was
a girl of her word, and meant to keep it. Only, no date had been fixed.
As for her pledges to assist her cousin's schemes for benefiting Sapps
Court and its analogues, in Drury Lane or elsewhere, was she not going
to carry off the old fairy godmother she had discovered and give her
such a dose of fresh air and good living as she had not had for twenty
years past? Could any Patron Saint of Philanthropy ask more?

Gwen, of course, had her way. She did not cut her visit to Cavendish
Square needlessly short. She remained there long enough to give some
colour to the pretext that she was exploring slums with philanthropy in
view, and actually to make a visit with her cousin to the reconstructed
home of the Wardles in Sapps Court. But no response came to knocking at
door or window, and it was evident that Aunt M'riar had not returned.
Michael Ragstroar, the making of whose acquaintance on this occasion
gratified both ladies, offered to go to The Sun for Uncle Mo and bring
him round; but his offer was declined, as their time was limited. This
must have been a few days before the return of Aunt M'riar and the
children, and in the interim her young ladyship had taken flight to the
home of her ancestors, contriving somehow to convey away with her her
new-made old friend, and to provide her with comfortable lodgment in the
housekeeper's quarters, making Mrs. Masham, the housekeeper, responsible
for her comforts.

As for the old lady herself, she was very far from being sure that she
was not dreaming.

END OF PART I



WHEN GHOST MEETS GHOST

PART II



CHAPTER I

     MICKY'S AUNT, WHO HAD A COLD. MASCHIL THE CHIEF MUSICIAN, AND DOEG
     THE EDOMITE. A SUNDAY-RAPTURE. THE BEER. HOW MISS JULIA HAWKINS
     THOUGHT THE GLASS A FRAUD. HOW MICKY DELIVERED HIS MESSAGE. A
     CONDITIONAL OFFER OF MARRIAGE. JANUS HIS BASKET. ALETHEA'S AUNT
     TREBILCOCK. A SHREWD AND HOOKY KITTEN WHO GOT OUT. HER MAJESTY'S
     HORSE-SLAUGHTERER. OF A LEAN LITTLE GIRL. HER BROTHER'S NOSE. HOW
     MR. WIX KNOCKED AT AUNT M'RIAR'S DOOR. THE CHAIN. HOW AUNT M'RIAR
     IMPRESSED MR. WIX AS AN IDIOT. WHO WAS THE WOMAN? HOW SHE OPENED
     THE DOOR FOR MICKY'S SAKE, AND LOOKED HARD AT HER HUSBAND. HIS
     LAWFUL WIFE! SCRIPTURE READINGS IN HELL. HOW SHE WENT TO FETCH ALL
     THE MONEY SHE HAD IN THE HOUSE. HOW MR. WIX CAPTURED UNCLE MO'S OLD
     WATCH. HOW AUNT M'RIAR TRIPPED UNCLE MO UP


The return of the two young pagans to Sapps Court, and the complete
re-establishment of Uncle Mo's household, had to be deferred yet one or
two more days, to his great disappointment. On the morning following
Aunt M'riar's provisional return, the weather set in wet, and the old
boy was obliged to allow that there ought to be a fire in the grate of
Aunt M'riar's wrecked bedroom for at least a couple of days before Dolly
returned to sleep in it. He attempted a weak protest, saying that his
niece was a dry sort of little party that moisture could not injure. But
he conceded the point, to be on the safe side.

Aunt M'riar said never a word to him about the message she had received
from the convict through the boy Micky, and the answer she had returned.
She had not forgotten Uncle Mo's communications with that Police
Inspector, and felt confident that her reception of a message from Mr.
Wix at his old haunt would soon be known to the latter if she did not
keep her counsel about it. The words she used in her heart about it were
nearly identical with Hotspur's. Uncle Moses would not utter what he did
not know. She had not a thought of blame for Mo, for she knew that her
disposition to shield this man was idiosyncrasy--could not in the nature
of things be shared, even by old and tried friends.

There was a fine chivalric element about this defensive silence of hers.
The man was now nothing to her--dust and ashes, dead and done with! This
last phrase was the one her heart used about him--not borrowed from
Browning any more than its other speech from Shakespeare. "I've done
with _him_ for good and all," said she to herself. "But the Law shall
not catch him along o' me." He was vile--vile to her and to all
women--but she could bear her own wrong, and she was not bound to fight
the battles of others. He was a miscreant and a felon, the mere blood on
those hands was not his worst moral stain. He was foul from the terms of
his heritage of life, with the superadded foulness of the galleys. But
she _had_ loved him once, and he was her husband.

Micky kept his word, going over to his great-aunt the following Sunday;
to oblige, as he said. Mrs. Treadwell had a cold, and was confined to
the house; but the boy was a welcome visitor. "There now, Michael," said
she, "I was only just this minute thinking to myself, if Micky was here
he could go on reading me the Psalms, where I am, instead of me putting
my eyes out. For the sight is that sore and inflamed, and my glasses
getting that wore out from being seen through so much, that I can't
hardly make out a word."

Micky's only misgivings on his visits to Aunt Elizabeth Jane were
connected with a Family Bible to which his old relative was devoted, and
with her disposition to make him read the Psalms aloud. Neither of them
attached any particular meaning to the text; she being contented with
its religious _aura_ and fitness for Sunday, and he absorbed in the
detection of correct pronunciation by spelling, a syllable at a time. So
early an allusion to this affliction disheartened Micky on this
occasion, and made him feel that his long walk from Sapps Court had been
wasted, so far as his own enjoyment of it was concerned.

"Oh, 'ookey, Arntey," said he dejectedly, "I say now--look here! Shan't
I make it Baron Munch Hawson, only just this once?" For his aunt
possessed, as well as the Holy Scriptures, a copy of Baron Munchausen's
Travels and a Pilgrim's Progress. Conjointly, they were an Institution,
and were known as Her Books.

But she resisted the secular spirit. "On Sunday morning, my dear!" she
exclaimed, shocked. "How ever you _can_! Now if on'y your father was to
take you to Chapel, instead of such a bad example, see what good it
would do you both."

The ounce of influence that Aunt Elizabeth Jane alone possessed told on
Michael's stubborn spirit, and he did not contest the point. "Give us
the 'Oly Bible!" said he briefly. "Where's where you was?"

"That's a good boy! Now you just set down and read on where I was. 'To,
the, chief, musician,' and the next word's a hard word and you'll have
to spell it." For, you see, Aunt Elizabeth Jane's method was to go
steadily on with a text, and not distinguish titles and stage
directions.

So her nephew, being docile, tackled the fifty-second Psalm, and did not
flinch from _m_, _a_, _s_, mass--_c_, _h_, _i_, _l_, chill; total,
Mass-Chill--nor from _d_, _o_, do; _e_, _g_, hegg; total, Do-Hegg. But
when he came to Ahimelech, he gave him up, and had to be told. However,
he laboured on through several verses, and the old charwoman listened in
what might be called a Sunday-rapture, conscious of religion, but not
attaching any definite meaning to the words. As for Micky, he only
perceived that David and Saul, Doeg the Edomite, and Ahimelech the
Priest, were religious, and therefore bores. He had a general idea that
the Psalmist could not keep his hair on. He might have enjoyed the
picturesque savagery of the story if Aunt Elizabeth Jane had known it
well enough to tell him. But when you read for flavour, and ignore
import, the plot has to go to the wall.

Aunt Elizabeth Jane kept her nephew to his unwelcome devotional
enterprise until the second "Selah"--a word which always seemed to
exasperate him--provoked his restiveness beyond his powers of restraint.
"I say, Aunt Betsy," said he, "shan't I see about gettin' in the beer?"
This touched a delicate point, for his visit being unexpected, rations
were likely to be short.

Some reproof was necessary. "There now, ain't you a tiresome boy,
speaking in the middle!" But this was followed by: "Well, my dear, I
can't take anything myself, the cold's that heavy on me. But that's no
reason against a glass for you, after your walk. On'y I tell you, you'll
have to make your dinner off potatoes and a herring, that you will, by
reason there's nothing else for you. And all the early shops are shut an
hour ago."

Then Michael showed how great his foresight and resource had been.
"Bought a mutting line-chop coming along, off of our butcher. Fivepence
'a'pen'y. Plenty for two if you know how to cook it right, and don't cut
it to waste." In this he showed a thoughtfulness beyond his years, for
the knowledge that the amount of flesh, on any bone, may be
doubled--even quadrupled--by the skill of its carver, is rarely found
except in veterans.

Aunt Elizabeth Jane paid a tribute of admiration. "My word!" said she,
"who ever would have said a boy could! Now you shall cook that chop
while I tell you how." So the fifty-second Psalm lapsed, and Michael was
at liberty to forget Doeg the Edomite.

But the glass of beer claimed attention first, because it would never do
to leave that chop to get cold while he went for it next door. Aunt
Elizabeth Jane allowed Michael to take the largest glass, as he had read
so good and bought his own chop, and with it he crossed the wall into
the garden of The Pigeons, as the story has seen him do before.

Miss Juliarawkins, summoned by a whistle through the keyhole, looked a
good deal better in sackcloth and ashes than she had done in several
discordant colours. She was going to stop as long as ever she could in
mourning for her father, so as to get the wear out of the stuff, and
make it of some use. Some connection might die, by good luck. She was
one of those that held with making the same sackcloth and ashes do for
two.

She looked critically at the rather large tumbler Micky had brought for
his beer, and made difficulties about filling of it right up, even with
the top. For this was a supply under contract. A glass full was to be
paid for as a short half-pint. But as Miss Hawkins truly said, no glass
had any call to be half as big as Saint Paul's. Her customer, however,
was not to be put off in this way. A glass was a glass, and a half-pint
was a half a pint. There was no extry reduction when the glass was
undersized. You took the good with the bad.

A voice Micky knew growled from a recess:--"Give the young beggar full
measure, Juli_ar_. What he means is, you go by a blooming average."

Miss Hawkins filled up the glass this once, but said:--"You tell your
Aunt Treadwell she'll have to keep below the average till Christmas. _I_
never see such a glass!"

Micky was not sorry to find that he could deliver his message direct. He
had not hoped to come upon the man himself. He paid for his beer on
contract terms, and said confidentially:--"I say, missis, I got a
message for him in there."

"Mrs. Treadwell's nephew Michael from next door says he's got a message
for you, and you can say if you'll see him. Or not." This was spoken
snappishly, as though a coolness were afoot.

The man replied with mock amiability, meant to irritate. "You can send
him in here, Juliar. You're open to." But when in compliance with the
woman's curt:--"You hear--you can go in," the boy entered the little
back-parlour, he turned on him suddenly and fiercely, saying:--"You're
the * * * young nark of some damned teck--some * * * copper, by Goard!"

If the boy had flinched before this accusation, which meant that he was
a police-spy employed by a detective, he might have repented it. But
Micky was no coward, and stood his ground; all the more firmly that he
fully grasped the man's precarious position, in the very house where he
had been once before captured. He answered resolutely:--"I could snitch
upon you this minute, master, if I was to choose. But you aren't no
concern of mine, further than I've got a message for you."

"The boy's all safe," said Miss Hawkins briefly, outside. Whereupon the
man, after a subsiding growl or two, said:--"You gave the party my
message? What had she got to say back again? You may mouth it out and
cut your lucky."

Micky gave his message in a plain and business-like manner. "Mrs. Wardle
she's back after the accident, and Mrs. Prichard she's in the country,
and she don't know where."

"Who don't know where? Mrs. Prichard?"

"Mrs. Wardle. I said you was a-coming to see your mother, onlest the old
lady wasn't your mother. Then you shouldn't come."

"What did she say about Skillicks?"

"Said Mrs. Prichard come from Skillickses. Three year agone."

"You hear that, Miss Hawkins?" Mr. Wix seemed pleased, as one who had
scored, adding:--"I knew it was the old woman.... Anything else she
said?"

Micky appeared to consider his answer; then replied:--"Said I wasn't to
split upon you."

"What the Hell does she say that for? She don't know who I am."

Micky considered again, and astutely decided, perceiving his mistake, to
say as little as possible about Aunt M'riar's seeming interest in Mr.
Wix's safety from the Law. Then he said:--"She don't know nothing about
you, but when I says to her the Police was after you, she cuts in sharp,
and says, she does, that was no concern o' mine, and I was to say
nothing to them, and they wouldn't say nothing to me."

Mr. Wix said, "Rum!" and Miss Hawkins, who had been keeping her ears
open close at hand, looked in through the barcasement to say:--"You go
_there_, Wix, and back to gaol you go! I only tell you." And retired,
leaving the convict knitting tighter the perplexed scowl on his face. He
called after her:--"Come back here, you Juliar!"

"I can hear you."

"What the Devil do you mean?"

"Can't you see for yourself? This woman don't want the boy to get fifty
pound. If I was in her shoes, I shouldn't neither." Micky only heard
this imperfectly.

"You wouldn't do anything under a hundred, _you_ wouldn't. Good job for
me they don't double the amount.... Easy does it, Juliar--only a bit of
my fun!" For Miss Hawkins, even as a woman stung by a cruel insult, had
shown her flashing eyes, heightened colour, and panting bosom at the
bar-opening as before. Mr. Wix seemed gratified. "Pity you don't flare
up oftener, Juliar," said he. "You've no idea what a much better woman
you look. Damn it, but you _do_!"

The woman made an effort, and choked her anger. "God forgive you, Wix!"
said she, and fell back out of sight. Michael thought he heard her sob.
He was not too young to understand this little drama, which took less
time to act than to tell.

The convict had lost the thread of his examination, and had to hark
back. _Why_ was it, Mrs. Prichard had gone away into the country?... Oh,
the house had fallen down, had it? But, then, how came Mrs. Wardle to be
living in it still? Because, said Michael, it was only the wall fell off
of the front, and now Mr. Bartlett he'd made all that good, and Mrs.
Prichard was only kep' out by the damp. Did Mrs. Wardle _really_ not
know where Mrs. Prichard was? She had not told Michael, that was all he
could say. Old Mo he'd never slept out of the house, only the family.
And they was coming back soon now. Was old Mo an invalid, who never went
out? "No fear!" said Michael. "He's all to rights, only a bit oldish,
like. He spends the afternoons round at The Sun, and then goes home to
supper." The interview ended with a present of half-a-bull to Micky from
the convict, which the boy seemed to stickle at accepting. But he took
it, and it strengthened his resolution not to turn informer, which was
probably Mr. Wix's object.

He came away with an impression that Miss Hawkins had said:--"The boy's
lying. How could the front-wall of a house fall down?" But he had heard
no more and was glad to come away. He went back to his Aunt Betsy and
cooked his chop under her tutelage. What a time he had been away, said
she!

If Micky had remembered word for word the whole of this interview, he
might have had misgivings of the effect of one thing he had said
unawares. It was his reference to Uncle Mo's absence at The Sun during
the late afternoon. Manifestly, it left the house in Mr. Wix's
imagination untenanted, during some two hours of the day, except by Aunt
M'riar, and the children perhaps. And what did _they_ matter?

"You're mighty wise, Juliar, about the party of the house and the
fifty-pun' reward." So said the convict when the woman came back, after
seeing that Micky had crossed the wall unmolested by authority. "Folk
ain't in any such a hurry to get a man hanged when they know what'll
happen if they fail of doing it. Not even for fifty pound!"

"What _will_ happen?"

"Couldn't say to a nicety. But she would stand a tidy chance of getting
ripped up, next opportunity." He seemed pleased at his expression of
this fact, as he took the first pulls at a fresh pipe, on the
window-seat with his boots against the shutter and a grip of interlaced
fingers behind his close-cut head for support. Why in Heaven's name does
the released gaol-bird crop his hair? One would have thought the first
instinct of regained freedom would have been to let it grow.

Miss Hawkins looked at him without admiration. "I often wonder," said
she, "at the many risks I run to shelter you, for you're a bloody-minded
knave, and that's the truth. It was a near touch but I might have lost
my licence, last time."

"The Beaks were took with your good looks, Juliar. They're good judges
of a fine woman. An orphan you was, too, and the mourning sooted you,
prime!" He looked lazily at her, puffing--not without admiration, of a
sort. Her resentment seemed to gratify him more than any subserviency.
He continued:--"Well, nobody can say I haven't offered to make an honest
woman of _you_, Juliar."

"Much it was worth, your offer! As if you was free! And me to sell The
Pigeons and go with you to New York! No--no! I'm better off as I am,
than that."

"I'm free, accordin' to Law. Never seen the girl, nor heard from
her--over twenty years now--twenty-three at least. Scot-free of _her_,
anyhow! Don't want none of her, cutting in to spoil my new start in
life. Re-spectable man--justice of peace, p'r'aps." He puffed at his
pipe, pleased with the prospect. Then he sounded the keynote of his
thought, adding:--"Why--how much could you get for the freehold of this
little tiddleywink?"

If Miss Julia had been ever so well disposed towards being made
technically an honest woman by her betrayer of auld lang syne, this
declaration of his motives might easily have hardened her heart against
him. What fatuity of affection could have survived it? Yet his candour
was probably his only redeeming feature. He was scarcely an invariable
hypocrite; he was merely heartless, sensual, and cruel to the full
extent of man's possibilities. Nevertheless, he could and would have
lied black white with a purpose. He was, this time, thrown off his
guard, as it were, and truthful by accident. Whether the way in which
the woman silently repelled his offer was due to her disgust at its
terms, or whether she had her doubts of the soundness of his
jurisprudence, the story can only guess. Probably the latter. She merely
said:--"I'm going to open the house," and left his inquiry unanswered.
This was notice to him that his free run of the lower apartments was
ended. He went upstairs to some place of concealment.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What was you and young Carrots so busy about below here?" said Uncle Mo
next day, coming down the stairs to breakfast in the kitchen an hour
later than Aunt M'riar.

"Telling me of his Aunt Betsy yesterday. Mind your shirt-sleeve. It's
going in the butter."

"What's Aunt Betsy's little game?... No, it's all right--the butter's
too hard to hurt.... Down Chiswick way, ain't she?"

"Hammersmith." Aunt M'riar wasn't talkative; but then, this morning, it
was bloaters. They should only just hot through, or they dry.

"Who was the bloke he was talking about? Somebody he called _him_."
Uncle Mo's ears had been too sharp.

"There!--I've no time to be telling what a boy says. No one any good,
I'll go bail!" Whereupon, as Uncle Mo's curiosity was not really keenly
excited, the subject dropped.

But, as a matter of fact, Michael had contrived in a short time to give
an account of his experience of yesterday. And he had left Aunt M'riar
in a state of disquiet and apprehension which had to be concealed,
somehow. For she was quite clear that she would not take Mo into her
confidence. She saw she had to choose between risking an interview with
this convict husband of hers, and giving him up to the Law, probably to
the gallows.

The man would come again to seek out his old mother, to extort money
from her; that was beyond a doubt. But would he of necessity recognise
the wife of twenty-three years ago in the very middle-aged person Aunt
M'riar saw in the half of a looking-glass that Mr. Bartlett's careful
myrmidons had not broken? Would she recognise him? Need either see the
other? Well--no! Communications might be restricted to speech through a
door with the chain up.

She took the boy Michael freely into her confidence about her
unwillingness to see this man. But that she could do on the strength of
his bad character; her own relation to him of course remained concealed.
She puzzled her confidant not a little by her seeming inconsistency--so
repugnant was she to the miscreant himself, yet so anxious that he
should not fall into the hands of the Police. Micky kept his perplexity
to himself, justifying his mother's estimate of his character.

But this much was clearly understood between them, that should the
convict be seen by Micky on his way to the house, he should forthwith
take one of two courses. If Uncle Mo was absent at the time, he was to
warn Aunt M'riar of Mr. Wix's approach. If otherwise, he was to warn the
unwelcome visitor of the risk he would run if he persisted in his
attempt to procure an interview. Of course the chances were that Micky
would be away on business, selling apples, potatoes, and turnips.

As it turned out, however, he was able to observe one of the conditions
of this compact.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was on the Tuesday following the boy's visit to his great-aunt that
Mrs. Tapping had words with her daughter Alethea. They arose out of
Alethea's young man, an upstart. At least, he was so designated by Mrs.
Tapping, for aspiring to the hand of this young lady; who, though plain
by comparison with her mother at the same age, and no more figure than
what you see, was that sharp with her tongue when provoked, it made your
flesh curdle within you to hear her expressions. We need hardly say that
we have to rely on her mother for these facts. It was, however, the
extraction of Alethea that determined the presumptuousness of her young
man's aspirations. He was marrying into two families, the Tappings and
the Davises, which, though neither of them lordly, had always held their
heads high and their behaviour according. Whereas this young Tom was
metaphorically nobody, though actually in a shoe-shop and giving
satisfaction to his employers, with twenty-one shillings a week certain
and a rise at Christmas. You cannot do that unless you are a physical
entity, but when your grandmother is in an almshouse and your father met
his death in an inferior capacity at a Works, you have no call to give
yourself airs, and the less you say the better.

This brief sketch of the _status quo_ was given to Mrs. Riley by Mrs.
Tapping, in her woollen shawl for the first time, because of the sharp
edge in the wind, with a basket on her arm that Janus would have found
useful, owing to its two lids, one each side the handle. They were at
the entrance to Mrs. Riley's shop, and that good woman was bare-armed
and bonnetless in the cold north wind. She had not lost her Irish
accent.

"It is mesilf agrays with you intoirely," said she sympathetically.

"Not but what I do freely admit," said Mrs. Tapping, pursuing her topic
in a spirit of magnanimity, "that young Rundle himself never makes bold,
and is always civil spoke, which we might expect, seeing what is called
for, measuring soles. For I always do say that the temptation to forget
theirself is far more than human, especially flattenin' down the toe to
get the len'th, though of course the situation would be sacrificed, and
no character." This was an allusion to the delicacy of the position of
one who adjusts a sliding spanner to the foot of Beauty, to determine
its length to a nicety. The subject suggests curious questions.
Suppose--to look at its romantic side, as easier of discussion--that
you, young lady, were passionately adored by the young man at your
shoe-shop, and he were to kiss your foot as Vivien did Merlin's, could
you--would you--complain at the desk and lose him his situation? And how
about the Pope? Is his Holiness never measured--_sal a reverentia!_--for
his shoes? Or does the Oecumenical Council guess, and strike an
average? However, the current of the story need not be interrupted to
settle that.

"He intinds will," said Mrs. Riley. This was merely a vague compliment
to Alethea's suitor. "Ye see, me dyurr, it's taking the young spalpeen's
part she'll be, for shure! It is the nature of thim." That is to say,
lovers.

"But never to the point of calling tyrant, Mrs. Riley. Nor ojus
vulgarity. Nor epithets I will not repeat, relating to family
connections. Concerning which, _I_ say, God forgive Alethear! For the
accommodation at a nominal rent of persons in reduced circumstances is
not an almshouse, say what she may. And her Aunt Trebilcock is not a
charitable object, nor yet a deserving person, having mixed with the
best. And in so young a girl texts are not becoming, to a parent."

"Which was the tixt, thin?" said Mrs. Riley, interested. "I'm bel'avin'
ye, me dyurr!" This was to encourage Mrs. Tapping, and disclaim
incredulity.

"Since you're asking me, Mrs. Riley ma'am, I will not conceal from you
the Scripture text used only this morning by my own daughter, to my
face. 'Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a
fall.' Whereupon I says to Alethear, 'Alethear,' I says, 'be truthful,
and admit that old Mrs. Rundle and your Aunt Trebilcock are on a
dissimular footing, one being distinctly a Foundation in the Whitechapel
Road, and the other Residences, each taking their own Milk.'" Some
further particulars came in here, relating to the bone of that mornin's
contention, which had turned on Mrs. Tapping's objections to her
daughter's demeaning, or bemeaning, herself, by marrying into a lower
rank of life than her own.

All this conversation of these two ladies has nothing to do with the
story. The only reason for referring to it is that it took place at this
time, just opposite Mrs. Riley's shop, and led her to remark:--"You lave
the young payple alone, Mrs. Tapping, and they'll fall out. You'll only
kape thim on, by takin' order with thim. Thrust me. Whativer have ye got
in the basket?"

Mrs. Tapping explained that she was using it to convey a kitten, born in
her establishment, to Miss Druitt at thirty-four opposite, who had
expressed anxiety to possess it. It was this kitten's expression of
impatience with its position that had excited Mrs. Riley's curiosity.
"Why don't ye carry the little sowl across in your hands, me dyurr?"
said she; not unreasonably, for it was only a stone's-throw. Mrs.
Tapping added that this was no common kitten, but one of preternatural
activity, and possessed of diabolical tentacular powers of entanglement.
"I would not undertake," said she, "to get it across the road, ma'am,
only catching hold. Nor if I got it safe across, to onhook it, without
tearing." Mrs. Riley was obliged to admit the wisdom of the Janus
basket. She knew how difficult it is to be even with a kitten.

This one was destined to illustrate the resources of its kind. For as
Mrs. Tapping endeavoured to conduct the conversation back to her
domestic difficulties, she was aware that the Janus basket grew suddenly
lighter. Mrs. Riley exclaimed at the same moment:--"Shure, and the
little baste's in the middle of the road!" So it was, hissing like a
steam-escape, and every hair on its body bristling with wrath at a large
black dog, who was smelling it in a puzzled, thoughtful way, _sans
rancune_. A cart, with an inscription on it that said its owner was
"Horse-Slaughterer to Her Majesty," came thundering down the street,
shaking three drovers seriously. The dog, illuminated by some new idea,
started back to bark in a sudden panic-stricken way. Who could tell what
new scourge this was that dogdom had to contend with?

Her Majesty's Horse-Slaughterer pulled his cart up just in time. It
would else have run over a man who was picking the kitten up. All the
males concerned exchanged execrations, and then the cart went on. The
dog's anxiety to smell the phenomenon survived, till the man kicked him
and told him to go to Hell.

"Now who does this here little beggar belong to?" said the man, whom
Mrs. Riley did not like the looks of. Mrs. Tapping claimed the cat, and
expressed wonder as to how it had got out of the basket. Heaven only
knew! It is only superhuman knowledge, divine or diabolical, that knows
how cats get out of baskets; or indeed steel safes, or anything.

"As I do not think, mister," said Mrs. Tapping--deciding at the last
moment not to say "my good man"--"it would be any use to try getting of
it inside of this basket out here in the street, let alone its aptitude
for getting out when got in, I might trouble you to be so kind as to
fetch it into my shop next door here, by the scruff of its neck
preferable.... Thank you, mister!" She had had some idea of making it
"Sir," but thought better of it.

The kitten, deposited on the counter, concerned itself with a
blue-bottle fly. The man remarked that it was coming on to rain. Mrs.
Tapping had not took notice of any rain, but believed the statement. Why
is it that one accepts as true any statement made by a visibly
disreputable male? Mrs. Tapping did not even look out at the door, for
confirmation or contradiction. She was so convinced of this rain that
she suggested that the man should wait a few minutes to see if it didn't
hold up, because he had no umbrella. His reply was:--"Well, since you're
so obliging, Missis, I don't mind if I do. My mate I'm waiting for,
he'll be along directly." He declined a chair or stool, and waited,
looking out at the door into the _cul de sac_ street that led to Sapps
Court, opposite. Mrs. Tapping absented herself in the direction of a
remote wrangle underground, explaining her motive. She desired that her
daughter, whose eyesight was better than her own, should thread a piece
of pack-thread through a rip in the base of the Janus basket, which had
to account for the kitten's appearance in public. She did not seem
apprehensive about leaving the shop ungarrisoned.

But had she been a shrewder person, she might have felt misgivings about
this man's character, even if she had acquitted him of such petty theft
as running away with congested tallow candles. For no reasonable theory
could be framed of a mate in abeyance, who would emerge from anywhere
down opposite. A mate of a man who seemed to be of no employment, to
belong to no recognised class, to wear description-baffling clothes--not
an ostler's, nor an undertaker's, certainly; but some suspicion of one
or other, Heaven knew why!--and never to look straight in front of him.
Without some light on his vocation, imagination could provide no mate.
And this man looked neither up nor down the street, but remained
watching the _cul de sac_ from one corner of his eye. It was not coming
on to rain as alleged, and he might have had a better outlook nearer the
door. But he seemed to prefer retirement.

The wrangle underground fluctuated slightly, went into another key, and
then resumed the theme. A lean little girl came in, who tapped on the
counter with a coin. She called out "'A'p'orth o' dips!" taking a tress
of her hair from between her teeth to say it, and putting it back to
await the result. She had a little brother with her, who was old
enough to walk when pulled, but not old enough to discipline his
own nose, being dependent on his sister's good offices, and her
pocket-handkerchief. He offered a sucked peardrop to the kitten, who
would not hear of it.

There certainly was no rain, or Mrs. Riley would never have remained
outside, with those bare arms and all. There she was, saying
good-evening to someone who had just come from Sapps Court. The man in
the shop listened, closely and curiously.

"Good-avening, Mr. Moses, thin! Whin will we see the blessed chilther
back? Shure it's wakes and wakes and wakes!" Which written, looks odd;
but, spoken, only conveyed regretful reference to the time Dave and
Dolly had been away, without taxing the hearer's understanding. "They
till me your good lady's been sane, down the Court."

Uncle Mo had just come out, on his way to a short visit to The Sun. He
was looking cheerful. "Ay, missis! Their aunt's bringin' of 'em back
to-morrow from Ealing. _I_'ll be glad enough to see 'em, for one."

"And the owld sowl upstairs. Not that I iver set my eyes on her, and
that's the thrruth."

"Old Mother Prichard? Why--that's none so easy to say. So soon as her
swell friends get sick of her, I suppose. She's being cared for, I take
it, at this here country place."

"'Tis a nobleman's sate in the Norruth, they sid. Can ye till the name
of it, to rimimber?" Mrs. Riley had an impression shared by many, that
noblemen's seats are, broadly speaking, in the North. She had no
definite information.

Uncle Mo caught at the chance of warping the name, uncorrected. "It's
the Towels in Rocestershire," said he with effrontery. "Some sort of a
Dook's, good Lard!" Then to change the subject:--"She won't have no
place to come back to, not till Mrs. Burr's out and about again."

"The axidint, at the Hospital. No, indade! And how's the poor woman,
hersilf? It was the blissin' of God she wasn't kilt on the spot!"

"It warn't a bad bit of luck. She'll be out of hospital next week, I'm
told. They're taking their time about it, anyhow! Good-night to ye,
missis! The rain's holdin' off." And Uncle Mo departed. Aunt M'riar had
insisted on his not discontinuing any of his lapses into bachelorhood
proper; which implies pub or club, according to man's degree.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just a few minutes ago--speaking abreast of the story--Aunt M'riar,
getting ready at last to do a little work after so much tidying up, had
to go to the door to answer a knock. Its responsible agent was Michael,
excited. "It's _him_!" said he. "I seen him myself. Over at Tappingses.
And Mr. Moses, he's a-conversing with Missis Riley next door." He went
on to offer to make an affidavit, as was his practice, not only on the
Testament, but on most any book you could name.

It was not necessary: Aunt M'riar believed him. "You tell him," she
replied, "that Mrs. Prichard's gone away, and no time fixed for coming
back. Then he'll go. If he don't go, and comes along, just you say to
him Mr. Wardle he'll be back in a minute. He'll be only a short time at
The Sun."

"I'll say wotsumever you please, Missis Wardle. Only that won't carry no
weight, not if I says it ever so. He's a sly customer. Here he is
a-coming. Jist past the post!" That is, the one Dave broke his head off.

Aunt M'riar's heart thumped, and she felt sick. "_You_ say there's no
one in the house then," said she. This was panic, and loss of judgment.
For the interview was palpable to anyone approaching down the Court.
Micky must have felt this, but he only said:--"I'll square him how I
can, missis," and withdrew from the door. Mr. Wix's lurching footstep,
with the memory of its fetters on it, approached at its leisure. He
stopped and looked round, and saw the boy, who acknowledged his stare.
"I see you a-coming," said Michael.

Mr. Wix said:--"Young Ikey." He appeared to consider a course of action.
"Now do you want another half-a-bull?"

"Ah!" Micky was clear about that.

"Then you do sentry-go outside o' this, in the street, and if you see a
copper turning in here, you run ahead and give the word. Understand?
This is Wardle's, ain't it?"

"That's Wardle's. But there ain't nobody there."

"You young liar. I saw you talking through the door, only this minute."

"That warn't anybody, only Aunt M'riar. Party you wants is away--gone
away for a change. Mr. Moses ain't there, but he'll be back afore you
can reckon him up. You may knock at that door till you 'ammer in the
button, and never find a soul in the house, only Aunt M'riar. You try!
'Ammer away!" There was a _faux air_ of self-justification in this,
which did not bear analysis. Possibly Micky thought so himself, for he
vanished up the Court. He would at least be able to bring a false alarm
if any critical juncture arose.

The ex-convict watched him out of sight, and then knocked at the door,
and waited. The woman inside had been listening to his voice with a
quaking heart--had known it for that of her truant husband of twenty
years ago, through all the changes time had made, and in spite of such
colour of its own as the prison taint had left in it. And he stood there
unsuspecting; not a thought in his mind of who she was, this Aunt
M'riar! Why indeed should he have had any?

She could not trust her voice yet, with a heart thumping like that. She
might take a moment's grace, at least, for its violence to subside. She
sat down, close to the door, for she felt sick and the room went round.
She wanted not to faint, though it was not clear that syncope would make
matters any the worse. But the longer he paused before knocking again,
the better for Aunt M'riar.

The knock came, a _crescendo_ on the previous one. She _had_ to respond
some time. Make an effort and get it over!

"That * * * young guttersnipe's given me a bad character," muttered Wix,
as he heard the chain slipped into its sheath. Then the door opened, and
a tremulous voice came from within.

"What is it ... you want?" it said. Its trepidation was out of all
proportion to the needs of the case. So thought Mr. Wix, and decided
that this Aunt M'riar was some poor nervous hysteric, perhaps an idiot
outright.

"Does an old lady by the name of Prichard live here, mistress?" He hid
his impatience with this idiot, assuming a genial or conciliatory
tone--a thing he perfectly well knew how to do, on occasion. "An old
lady by the name of Prichard.... You've got nothing to be frightened of,
you know. I'm not going to do _her_ any harm, nor yet you." He spoke as
to the idiot, in a reassuring tone. For the hysterical voice had tried
again for speech, and failed.

Aunt M'riar mustered a little more strength. "Old Mrs. Prichard's away
in the country," she said almost firmly. "She's not likely to be back
yet awhile. Can I take any message?"

"Are _you_ going in the country?"

"For when she comes back, I should have said."

"Ah--but when will that be? Next come strawberry-time, perhaps! I'll
write to her."

"I can't give her address." Aunt M'riar had an impression that the
omission of "you" after "give" just saved her telling a lie here. Her
words might have meant: "I am not at liberty to give her address to
anyone." It was less like saying she did not know it.

His next words startled her. "_I_ know her address. Got it written down
here. Some swell's house in Rocestershire." He made a pretence of
searching among papers.

Aunt M'riar was so taken by surprise at this that she had said
"Yes--Ancester Towers" before she knew it. She was not a person to
entrust secrets to.

"Right you are, mistress! Ancester Towers it is." He was making a
pretence, entirely for his own satisfaction, of confirming this from a
memorandum. Mr. Wix had got what he wanted, but he enjoyed the success
of his ruse. Of course, he had only used what he had just overheard from
Uncle Moses.

The thought then crossed Aunt M'riar's mind that unless she inquired of
him who he was, or why he wanted Mrs. Prichard, he would guess that she
knew already. It was the reaction of her concealed knowledge--a sort of
innocent guilty conscience. It was not a reasonable thought, but a vivid
one for all that--vivid enough to make her say:--"Who shall I say asked
for her?"

"Any name you like. It don't matter to me. I shall write to her myself."

Guilty consciences--even innocent ones--can never leave well alone. The
murderer who has buried his victim must needs hang about the spot to be
sure no one is digging him up. One looks back into the room one lit a
match in, to see that it is not on fire. A diseased wish to clear
herself from any suspicion of knowing anything about her visitor,
impelled Aunt M'riar to say:--"Of course I don't know the name you go
by." Obviously she would have done well to let it alone.

A person who had never borne an _alias_ would have thought nothing of
Aunt M'riar's phrase. The convict instantly detected the speaker's
knowledge of himself. Another thought crossed his mind:--How about that
caution this woman had given to Micky? Why was she so concerned that the
boy should not "split upon" him? "Who the devil are you?" said he
suddenly, half to himself. It was not the form in which he would have
put the question had he reflected.

The exclamation produced a new outcrop of terror or panic in Aunt
M'riar. She found voice to say:--"I've told you all I can, master." Then
she shut the door between them, and sank down white and breathless on
the chair close at hand, and waited, longing to hear his footsteps go.
She seemed to wait for hours.

Probably it was little over a minute when the man outside knocked
again--a loud, sepulchral, single knock, with determination in it. Its
resonance in the empty house was awful to the lonely hearer.

But Aunt M'riar's capacity for mere dread was full to the brim. She was
on the brink of the reaction of fear, which is despair--or, rather,
desperation. Was she to wait for another appalling knock, like that, to
set her heartstrings vibrating anew? To what end? No--settle it now,
under the sting of this one.

She again opened the door as before. "I've told you all I know about
Mrs. Prichard, and it's true. You must just wait till she comes back. I
can't tell you no more."

"I don't want any more about Mrs. Prichard. I want to see side of this
door. Take that * * * chain off, and speak fair. I sent you a civil
message through that young boy. He gave it you?"

"He told me what you said."

"What did he say I said? If he told you any * * * lies, I'll half murder
him! What did he say?"

"He said you was coming to see your mother, and Mrs. Prichard she must
be your mother if she comes from Skillicks. So I told him she come from
Skillicks, three year agone. Then he said you wanted money of Mrs.
Prichard...."

"How the devil did he know that?"

"He said it. And I told him the old lady had no money. It's little
enough, if she has."

"And that was all?"

"All about Mrs. Prichard."

"Anything else?"

"He told me your name."

"What name?"

"Thornton Daverill." The moment Aunt M'riar had said this she was sorry
for it. For she remembered, plainly enough considering the tension of
her mind, that Micky had only given her the surname. Her oversight had
come of her own bitter familiarity with the name. Think how easy for her
tongue to trip!

"Anything else?"

"No--nothing else."

"You swear to Goard?"

"I have told you everything."

"Then look you here, mistress! I can tell you this one thing. That young
boy never told you Thornton. I've never named the name to a soul since I
set foot in England. How the devil come you to know it?"

Aunt M'riar was silent. She had given herself away, and had no one but
herself to thank for it.

"How the devil come you to know it?" The man raised his voice harshly to
repeat the question, adding, more to himself:--"You're some * * * jade
that knows me. Who the devil _are_ you?"

The woman remained dumb, but on the very edge of desperation.

"Open this damned door! You hear me? Open this door--or, look you, I
tell you what I'll do! Here's that * * * young boy coming. I'll twist
his neck for him, by Goard, and leave him on your doorstep. You put me
to it, and I'll do it. I'm good for my word." A change of tone, from
savage anger to sullen intent, conveyed the strength of a controlled
resolve, that might mean more than threat. At whatever cost, Aunt M'riar
could not but shield Micky. It was in her service that he had provoked
this man's wrath.

She wavered a little, closed the door, and slipped the chain-hook up to
its limit. Even then she hesitated to withdraw it from its socket. The
man outside made with his tongue the click of acceleration with which
one urges a horse, saying, "Look alive!" She could see no choice but to
throw the door open and face him. The moment that passed before she
could muster the resolution needed seemed a long one.

That she was helped to it by an agonising thirst, almost, of curiosity
to see his face once more, there can be no doubt. But could she have
said, during that moment, whether she most desired that he should have
utterly forgotten her, or that he should remember her and claim her as
his wife? Probably she would not have hesitated to say that worse than
either would be that he should recognise her only to slight her, and
make a jest, maybe, of the memories that were his and hers alike.

She had not long to wait. It needed just a moment's pause--no more--to
be sure no sequel of recognition would follow the blank stare that met
her gaze as she threw back the door, and looked this husband of hers
full in the face. None came, and her heart throbbed slower and slower.
It would be down to self-command in a few beats. Meanwhile, how about
that chance slip of her tongue? "Thornton" had to be accounted for.

The man's stare was indeed blank, for any sign of recognition that it
showed. It was none the less as intent and curious as was the scrutiny
that met it, looking in vain for a false lover long since fled, not a
retrievable one, but a memory of a sojourn in a garden and a collapse in
a desert. So little was left, to explain the past, in the face some
violence had twisted askew, close-shaved and scarred, one white scar on
the temple warping the grip in which its contractions held a cold green
orb that surely never was the eye that was a girl-fool's _ignis fatuus_,
twenty odd years ago. So little of the flawless teeth, which surely
those fangs never were!--fangs that told a tale of the place in which
they had been left to decay; for such was prison-life three-quarters of
a century since. It was strange, but Aunt M'riar, though she knew that
it was he, felt sick at heart that he should be so unlike himself.

He was the first to speak. "You'll know me again, mistress," he said. He
took his eyes off her to look attentively round the room. Uncle Mo's
sporting prints, prized records of ancient battles, caught his eye.
"Ho--that's it, is it?" said he, with a short nod of illumination, as
though he had made a point as a cross-examiner. "That's where we
are--Figg and Broughton--Corbet--Spring?... That's your game, is it? Now
the question is, where the devil do I come in? How come you to know my
name's Thornton? That's the point!"

Now nothing would have been easier for Aunt M'riar than to say that Mrs.
Prichard had told her that her only surviving son bore this name. But
the fact is that the old lady, quite a recent experience, had for the
moment utterly vanished from her thoughts, and the man before her had
wrenched her mind back into the past. She could only think of him as the
cruel betrayer of her girlhood, none the less cruel that he had failed
in his worst plot against her, and used a legitimate means to cripple
her life. She could scarcely have recalled anything Mrs. Prichard had
said, for the life of her. She was face to face with the past, yet
standing at bay to conceal her identity.

Think how hard pressed she was, and forgive her for resorting to an
excusable fiction. It was risky, but what could she do? "I knew your
wife," said she briefly. "Twenty-two years agone."

"You mean the girl I married?" He had had to marry one of them, but
could only marry one. That was how he classed her. "What became of that
girl, I wonder? Maybe you know? Is she alive or dead?"

"I couldn't say, at this len'th of time." Then, she remembered a
servant, at the house where her child was born, and saw safety for her
own fiction in assuming this girl's identity. Invention was stimulated
by despair. "She was confined of a girl, where I was in service. She
gave me letters to post to her husband. R. Thornton Daverill." That was
safe, anyhow. For she remembered giving letters, so directed, to this
girl.

The convict sat down on the table, looking at her no longer, which she
found a relief. "Did that kid live or die?" said he. "Blest if I
recollect!"

"Born dead. She had a bad time of it. She came back to London, and I
never see any more of her." Aunt M'riar should have commented on this
oblivion of his own child. She was letting her knowledge of the story
influence her, and endangering her version of it.

The man stopped and thought a little. Then he turned upon her suddenly.
"How came you to remember that name for twenty-two years?" said he.

A thing she recollected of this servant-girl helped her at a pinch. "She
asked me to direct a letter when she hurt her hand," she said. "When
you've wrote a name, you bear it in mind."

"What did she call the child?"

"It was born dead."

"What did she mean to call it?"

The answer should have been "She didn't tell me." But Aunt M'riar was a
poor fiction-monger after all. For what must she say but "Polly, after
herself"?

"Not Mary?"

Then Aunt M'riar forgot herself completely. "No--Polly. After the name
you called her, at The Tun." She saw her mistake, too late.

Daverill turned his gaze on her again, slowly. "You seem to remember a
fat lot about this and that!" said he. He got down off the table, and
stepped between Aunt M'riar and the door, saying: --"Come you here,
mistress!" The harshness of his voice was hideous to her. He caught her
wrist, and pulled her to the window. The only gas-lamp the Court
possessed shone through it on her white face. "Now--what's your * * *
married name?"

Aunt M'riar could not utter a word.

"I can tell you. You're that * * * young Polly, and your name's
Daverill. You're my lawful wife--d'ye hear?" He gave a horrible laugh.
"Why, I thought you was buried years ago!"

She began gasping hysterically:--"Leave me--leave me--you are nothing to
me now!" and struggled to free herself. Yet, inexpressibly dreadful as
the fact seemed to her, she knew that her struggle was not against the
grasp of a stranger. Think of that bygone time! The thought took all the
spirit out of her resistance.

He returned to his seat upon the table, drawing her down beside him.
"Yes, Polly Daverill," said he, "I thought you dead and buried, years
ago. I've had a rough time of it, since then, across the water." He
paused a moment; then said quite clearly, almost passionlessly:--"God
curse them all!" He repeated the words, even more equably the second
time; then with a rough bear-hug of the arm that gripped her
waist:--"What have _you_ got to say about it, hay? Who's your * * *
husband now? Who's your prizefighter?"

The terrified woman just found voice for:--"He's not my husband." She
could not add a word of explanation.

The convict laughed unwholesomely, beneath his breath. "_That's_ what
you've come to, is it? Pretty Polly! Mary the Maid of the Inn! The man
you've got is not your husband. Sounds like the parson--Holy Scripture,
somewhere! I've seen him. He's at the lush-ken down the road. Now you
tell the truth. When's he due back here?"

She had only just breath for the word seven, which was true. It was past
the half-hour, and he would not have believed her had she said sooner.
But it was as though she told him that she knew she was helplessly in
his power for twenty-five minutes. Helplessly, that is, strong
resolution and desperation apart!

"Then he won't be here till half-past. Time and to spare! Now you listen
to me, and I'll learn you a thing or two you don't know. You are
my--lawful--wife, so just you listen to me! Ah, would you?..." This was
because he had supposed that a look of hers askant had rested on a knife
upon the table within reach. It was a pointed knife, known as "the bread
knife," which Dolly was never allowed to touch. He pulled her away from
it, caught at it, and flung it away across the room. "It's a narsty,
dangerous thing," he said, "safest out of the way!" Then he went
on:--"You--are--my--lawful--wife, and what St. Paul says mayhap you
know? 'Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as it is fit in the
Lord.' ... What!--me not know my * * * Testament! Why!--it's the only *
* * book you get a word of when you're nursing for Botany Bay fever. God
curse 'em all! Why--the place was Hell--Hell on earth!"

Aunt M'riar now saw too late that she should not have opened that door,
at any cost. But how about Micky? Surely, however, that was a mere
threat. What had this man to gain by carrying it out? Why had she not
seen that he would never run needless risk, to gain no end?

The worst thorn in her heart was that, changed as he was from the
dissolute, engaging youth that she had dreamed of reforming, she still
knew him for himself. He was, as he said, her husband. And, for all that
she shrank from him and his criminality with horror, she was obliged to
acknowledge--oh, how bitterly!--that she wanted help against herself as
much as against him. She was obliged to acknowledge the grisly force of
Nature, that dictated the reimposition of the yoke that she had through
all these years conceived that she had shaken off. And she knew that she
might look in vain for help to Law, human or theological. For each in
its own way, and for its own purposes, gives countenance to the only
consignment of one human creature to the power of another that the slow
evolution of Justice has left in civilised society. Each says to the
girl trapped into unholy matrimony, from whom the right to look inside
the trap has been cunningly withheld:--"Back to your lord and master! Go
to him, he is your husband--kiss him--take his hand in thine!" Neither
is ashamed to enforce a contract to demise the self-ownership of one
human being to another, when that human being is a woman. And yet Nature
is so inexorable that the victim of a cruel marriage often needs help
sorely--help against herself, to enable her, on her own behalf, to shake
off the Devil some mysterious instinct impels her to cling to. Such an
instinct was stirring in Aunt M'riar's chaos of thought and feeling,
even through her terror and her consciousness of the vileness of the man
and the vileness of his claim over her. The idea of using the power that
her knowledge of his position gave her never crossed her mind. Say
rather that the fear that a call for help would consign him to a just
retribution for his crimes was the chief cause of her silence.

A dread that she might be compelled to do so was lessened by his next
speech. "You've no call to look so scared, Polly Daverill. You do what
I tell you, and be sharp about it. What are you good for?--that's the
question! Got any money in the house?"

She felt relieved. Now he would take his arm away. That arm was all the
worse from the fact that her shrinking from it was one-sided. "A
little," she answered. "It's upstairs. Let me get it."

He relaxed the arm. "Go ahead!" he said. "I'll follow up."

She cried out with sudden emphasis:--"No--I will not. I will not." And
then with subdued earnestness:--"Indeed I will bring it down. Indeed I
will."

"You won't stick up there, by any chance, till your man that's not your
husband happens round?"

She addressed him by name for the first time. "Thornton, did I ever tell
you a lie?"

"I never caught you in one, that I know of. Cut along!"

She went like a bird released. Once in her room, and clear of him, she
could lock her door and cry for help. She turned the key, and had
actually thrown up the window-sash, when her own words crossed her
mind--her claim to veracity. No--she would keep a clear conscience, come
what might. She glanced up the Court, and saw Micky coming through the
arch; then closed the window, and took an old leather purse from the
drawer of the looking-glass Mr. Bartlett's men had not broken. It
contained the whole of her small savings.

After she left the room, Daverill had glanced round for valuables. An
old silver watch of Uncle Mo's, that always stopped unless allowed to
lie on its back, was ticking on the dresser. The convict slipped it into
his pocket, and looked round for more, opening drawers, looking under
dish-covers. Finding nothing, he sat again on the table, with his hands
in the pockets of his velveteen corduroy coat. His face-twist grew more
marked as he wrinkled the setting of a calculating eye. "I should have
to square it with Miss Juliar," said he, in soliloquy. He was evidently
clear about his meaning, whatever it was.

The boy came running down the Court, and entering the front-yard, whose
claim to be a garden was now _nil_, tapped at the window excitedly.
Daverill went to the door and opened it.

"Mister Moses coming along. Stopping to speak to Tappingses. You'd best
step it sharp, Mister Wix!"

"Polly Daverill, look alive!" The convict shouted at the foot of the
stairs, and Aunt M'riar came running down. "Where's the * * * cash?"
said he.

"It's all I've got," said poor Aunt M'riar. She handed the purse to
him, and he caught it and slipped it in a breast-pocket, and was out in
the Court in a moment, running, without another word. He vanished into
the darkness.

Five minutes later, Uncle Mo, escaping from Mrs. Tapping, came down the
Court, and found the front-door open and no light in the house. He
nearly tumbled over Aunt M'riar, in a swoon, or something very like it,
in the chair by the door.



CHAPTER II

     HOW ADRIAN TORRENS COULD SING WITHOUT WINCING. FIGARO. DICTATION OF
     LETTERS. HOW ADRIAN BROKE DOWN. THE LERNAEAN HYDRA'S EYE-PEEPS. HOW
     ADRIAN COULD SEE NOTHING IN ANY NUMBER OF LOOKING-GLASSES. HOW
     GWEN, IN SPITE OF APPEARANCES, HELD TO THE SOLEMN COMPACT. SIR
     MERRIDEW'S TREACHERY. SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS. HOW GWEN HAD BEEN TO LOOK
     AT ARTHUR'S BRIDGE. A KINKAJOU IS NOT A CARCAJOU. OF THE
     PECULIARITIES OF FIRST-CLASS SERVANTS. MRS. PICTURE'S STORY
     DIVULGED BY GWEN. HOW DAVE'S RIVAL GRANNIES WERE SAFEST APART


Old folk and candles burn out slowly at the end. But before that end
comes they flicker up, once, twice, and again. The candle says:--"Think
of me at my best. Remember me when I shone out thus, and thus; and never
guttered, nor wanted snuffing. Think of me when you needed no other
light than mine, to look in Bradshaw and decide that you had better go
early and ask at the Station." Thus says the candle.

And the old man says to the old woman, and she says it back to
him:--"Think of me in the glorious days when we were dawning on each
other; of that most glorious day of all when we found each other out,
and had a tiff in a week and a reconciliation in a fortnight!" Then each
is dumb for a while, and life ebbs slowly, till some chance memory stirs
among the embers, and a bright spark flickers for a moment in the dark.
The candle dies at last, and smells, and mixes wi