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Title: The Third Miss Symons
Author: Mayor, F. M. (Flora Macdonald), 1872-1932
Language: English
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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 "The Third Miss Symons" ***

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    THE THIRD
    MISS SYMONS

    F. M. Mayor

    _With a Preface by John Masefield_

    First published in Great Britain 1913

    Copyright F. M. Mayor 1913



PREFACE


Miss Mayor's story is of a delicate quality, not common here, though
occurring at intervals, and always sure of a choice, if not very large,
audience among those who like in art the refined movement and the gentle
line. Her subject, like her method, is one not commonly chosen by women
writers; it is simply the life of an unmarried idle woman of the last
generation, a life (to some eyes) of wasted leisure and deep futility,
but common enough, and getting from its permitted commonness a
justification from life, who is wasteful but roughly just. Miss Mayor
tells this story with singular skill, more by contrast than by drama,
bringing her chief character into relief against her world, as it passes
in swift procession. Her tale is in a form becoming common among our
best writers; it is compressed into a space about a third as long as the
ordinary novel, yet form and manner are so closely suited that all is
told and nothing seems slightly done, or worked with too rapid a hand.
Much that is tiresome in the modern novel, the pages of analysis and of
comment, the long descriptions and the nervous pathology, are omitted by
Miss Mayor's method, which is all for the swift movement and against the
temptations to delay which obstruct those whose eyes are not upon life;
she condenses her opportunities for psychology and platitude into a
couple of shrewd lines and goes on with her story, keeping her freshness
and the reader's interest unabated. The method is to draw the central
figure rapidly past a succession of bright lights, keeping the lights
various and of many colours and allowing none of them to shine too long.
This comparatively passive creative method suits the subject; for her
heroine has the fate to be born in a land where myriads of women of her
station go passively like poultry along all the tramways of their
parishes; life is something that happens to them, it is their duty to
keep to the tracks, and having enough to eat and enough to put on
therewith to be content, or if not content, sour, but in any case to
seek no further over the parochial bounds. Her heroine, born into such a
tradition, continues in it, partly by the pressure of custom and family
habit, both always very powerful and often deadly in this country, and
partly from a want of illumination in herself, her instructors, and in
the life about her. The latter want is the fatal defect in her: it is
the national defect, "the everlasting prison remediless" into which so
many thousands of our idle are yearly thrown; it is from this that she
really suffers; it is to this that she succumbs, while the ivy of her
disposition grows over and smothers whatever light may be in her. Like
water in flood-time revolving muddily over the choked outlet, her life
revolves over the evil in it without resolution or escape; her brain,
like so many of the brains in civilization, is but slightly drawn upon
or exercised; she is not so much wasted as not used. Having by fortune
and tradition nothing to do, she remains passive till events and time
make her incapable of doing, while the world glitters past in its
various activity, throwing her incapacity into ever stronger relief,
till her time is over and the general muddle is given a kind of
sacredness, even of beauty, by ceasing. She has done nothing but live
and been nothing but alive, both to such passive purpose that the
ceasing is pitiful; and it is by pushing on to this end, instead of
shirking it, and by marking the last tragical fact which puts a dignity
upon even the meanest being, that Miss Mayor raises her story above the
plane of social criticism, and keeps it sincere. A lesser writer would
have been content with less, and having imagined her central figure
would have continued to stick pins into it, till the result would have
been no living figure, but a record of personal judgments, perhaps even,
as sometimes happens, of personal pettiness, a witch's waxen figure
plentifully pricked before the consuming flame. Miss Mayor keeps on the
side of justice, with the real creators, to whom there is nothing simple
and no one unmixed, and in this way gets beauty, and through beauty the
only reality worth having.

In a land like England, where there is great wealth, little education
and little general thought, people like Miss Mayor's heroine are common;
we have all met not one or two but dozens of her; we know her emptiness,
her tenacity, her futility, savagery and want of light; all circles
contain some examples of her, all people some of her shortcomings; and
judgment of her, even the isolation of her in portraiture, is dangerous,
since the world does not consist of her and life needs her. In life as
in art those who condemn are those who do not understand; and it is
always a sign of a writer's power, that he or she keeps from direct
praise or blame of imagined character. Miss Mayor arrives at an
understanding of her heroine's character by looking at her through a
multitude of different eyes, not as though she were her creator, but as
if she were her world, looking on and happening, infinitely active and
various, coming into infinite contrast, not without tragedy, but also
never without fun. The world is, of course, the comparatively passive
feminine world, but few modern books (if any) have treated of that
world so happily, with such complete acceptance, unbiassed and
unprejudiced, yet with such selective tact and variety of gaiety. She
comes to the complete understanding of Henrietta by illuminating all the
facets in her character and all the threads of her destiny, and this is
an unusual achievement, made all the more remarkable by a brightness and
quickness of mind which give delightful life to a multitude of incidents
which are in themselves new to fiction. Her touch upon all her world is
both swift and unerring; but the great charm of her work is its
brightness and unexpectedness; it lights up so many little unsuspected
corners in a world that is too plentifully curtained.

    JOHN MASEFIELD, 1913



THE THIRD MISS SYMONS

CHAPTER I


Henrietta was the third daughter and fifth child of Mr. and Mrs. Symons,
so that enthusiasm for babies had declined in both parents by the time
she arrived. Still, in her first few months she was bound to be
important and take up a great deal of time. When she was two, another
boy was born, and she lost the honourable position of youngest. At five
her life attained its zenith. She became a very pretty, charming little
girl, as her two elder sisters had done before her. It was not merely
that she was pretty, but she suddenly assumed an air of graciousness and
dignity which captivated everyone. Some very little girls do acquire
this air: what its source is no one knows. In this case certainly not
Mr. and Mrs. Symons, who were particularly clumsy. Etta, as she was
called, was often summoned from the nursery when visitors came; so were
Minna and Louie her elder sisters, but all the ladies wanted to talk to
Etta. Minna and Louie had by this time, at nine and eleven, advanced to
the ugly, uninteresting stage, and they owed Henrietta a grudge because
she had annexed the petting that used to fall to them. They had their
revenge in whispering interminable secrets to one another, of which Etta
could hear stray sentences. "Ellen says she knows Arthur was very
naughty, because ... But we won't tell Etta." She was very susceptible
to notice, and the petting was not good for her.

When she was eight her zenith was past, and her plain stage began. Her
charm departed never to return, and she slipped back into
insignificance. At eight she could no longer be considered a baby to
play with, and a good deal of fault-finding was deemed necessary to
counteract the previous spoiling. In Henrietta's youth, sixty years ago,
fault-finding was administered unsparingly. She did not understand why
she was more scolded than the others, and decided that it was because
Ellen and Miss Weston and her mother had a spite against her.

Mrs. Symons was not fond of children, and throughout Henrietta's
childhood she was delicate, so that Henrietta saw very little of her.
Her chief recollections of her mother were of scoldings in the
drawing-room when she had done anything specially naughty.

If she had been one of two or one of three in a present-day family she
would have been more precious. But as one of four daughters--another
girl was born when she was eight--she was not much wanted. Mr. Symons
was a solicitor in a country town, and the problem of providing for his
seven, darkened the years of childhood for the whole Symons family. The
children felt that their parents found them something of a burden, and
in those days there was no cult of childhood to soften the hard reality.

The two older boys had a partnership together, into which they
occasionally admitted Minna and Louie. Minna and Louie had, beside their
secrets, a friend named Rosa. Harold, the youngest boy, did not want any
person--only toy engines. He and Etta should have been companions, but
he said she cried and told tales, though she told no more tales than he
did.

A large family should be such a specially happy community, but it
sometimes occurs that there is a girl or boy who is nothing but a middle
one, fitting in nowhere. So it was with Henrietta, till the youngest
child was born.

Unfortunately she had an almost morbid longing, unusual in a child, to
be loved and of importance. Now she would have given anything to have
heard Minna and Louie's secrets, not for the sake of the secrets, but as
a sign that she was thought worthy of confidence. She ran everyone's
errands continually, but she broke the head off Arthur's carnation as
she was bringing it from his bedroom to the garden, and she let out
William's secret, which he had told her in an unusual fit of affability,
in order that she might curry favour with Minna. This infuriated
William, and did not conciliate Minna. She grew fast and was a little
delicate. It made her irritable, but her brothers and sisters, who were
all growing with great regularity, could not be expected to understand
delicacy. She always said she was sorry after she had been cross, but
they, who did not have tempers, could not see that that made things any
better.

In her loneliness she made for herself, like many other forlorn
children, a phantom friend. It was a little girl two years older than
she was, for Henrietta preferred to look up, and be herself in an
inferior position. For this reason she did not much care for dolls,
where she was decidedly the superior. She called her friend Amy. Amy
slept with her, helped her with her lessons, told her secrets
perpetually, and grumbled about the other children.

One day they all had a game at Hide and Seek. The lot fell on her and
William, now fourteen, to hide. They ensconced themselves in a dark spot
in a little grove at the end of the garden. The others could not find
them, and there was plenty of time for talk. William was a kind boy and
rather a chatterbox, ready to expand to any listener, even a sister of
nine. Henrietta never knew how it was that she told him about Amy. It
had always been her firm resolve that this was to be her own dead
secret, never revealed. But the unusual warmth of the interview went to
her head. It was in a kind of intoxication of happiness that she poured
out her confidence. The shrubbery was so dark that William's face could
not be seen, but he began fidgeting, and soon broke in: "I say, what
hours the others are, it must be tea-time. Let's go and find them."

It was kind of William to snub her confidence so gently, but the
disappointment was cruel. She had been lifted up to such a height of
happiness. When Ellen brushed her hair at night she noticed her dismal
looks, and being really concerned at Henrietta's want of control, she
said bracingly that little girls must never be whiney-piney. When the
lamp was put out, Henrietta sobbed herself to sleep, and she looked back
on that evening as the most miserable of her childhood.

It was not long after this that the last child was born, the baby girl.
They had all been sent away, and Henrietta, who had gone by herself to
an aunt, came back later than the others; they had seen the new arrival,
and had got over their very moderate excitement. Ellen asked Henrietta
if she would like to have a peep at her little sister. When Henrietta
saw it, she determined that it should be her own baby. "Oh, you little
darling, you darling, darling baby!" she murmured over and over again.

"Now you are happy, aren't you, Miss Etta?" said Ellen; she had always
felt sorry for Henrietta out in the cold.

The baby very much improved Etta's circumstances. Ellen allowed her to
help, and she had something to care for, so she had less occasion for
interviews with her phantom friend. As she grew older the baby Evelyn
requited her affection with a gratifying preference, but she was very
sweet-natured and would like everybody, and not make a party against
Minna and Louie as Henrietta desired. She came to the pretty age, and
was prettier and more charming than any of them. When the pretty age
ought to have passed she remained as attractive as ever, and continued
to enjoy a universal popularity. This was disappointing to Henrietta;
she would have preferred them to be pariahs together. Still, it was
always Etta that Evelyn liked best.

When Evelyn was four and Henrietta thirteen, Evelyn was given a canary.
It never became interesting, for it would not eat off her finger, but
she cared for it as much as a child of four can be considered to care
for anything. The canary died and was buried when Evelyn had a cold and
was in bed, and Henrietta went by herself into the town, contrary to
rules, and spent all her savings at a little, low bird-shop getting a
mangey canary. She brought it back and put it into the cage, and when
Evelyn, convalescent, came into the nursery, she attempted to palm off
the new canary as Evelyn's original bird. This strange behaviour brought
her to great disgrace. Her only explanation was, "I didn't want Evelyn
to know that Dickie was dead. I think death is so dreadful, and I don't
want her to know anything dreadful." Mrs. Symons and the governess
thought this most inexplicable.

"Etta is a very difficult child," said Mrs. Symons; "she always has been
so unlike the others, and now this dreadful untruth. I always feel an
untruth is very different from anything else. Going into that horrid,
dirty little shop! You must watch her most carefully, Miss Weston, and
let me know if there is any further deceit."

"I never had noticed anything before, Mrs. Symons, but I will be
particularly careful." And Miss Weston took the most elaborate
precautions that there should be no cheating at lessons, which Henrietta
resented keenly, having, like the majority of girls, an extreme horror
of cheating.



CHAPTER II


Soon after the incident of the canary, the three older girls went to
school. When her first home-sickness was passed, Henrietta enjoyed the
life. It was strict, but home had been strict, and there was much more
variety here. She was clever, and took eager delight in her lessons;
dull, stupid Miss Weston had found her beyond her.

She would have liked school even more if her temper had been under
better control. But at thirteen she had settled down to bad temper as a
habit. She did not exactly put her feelings into thoughts, but there was
an impression in her mind that as she had been out of it so much of her
life she should be allowed to be bad-tempered as a consolation. This
brought her into constant conflicts, which made no one so unhappy as
herself.

She had two great interests at school, Miranda Hardcastle and Miss
Arundel. Miranda was the kind of girl whom everybody is always going to
adore, very pretty, very amusing, and with much cordiality of manner.
Henrietta fell a victim at once, and Miranda, who drank in all
adoration, gave Henrietta some good-natured friendship in return.
Henrietta fagged for her, did as many of her lessons as she could,
applauded all her remarks, amply rewarded by Miranda's welcoming smile
and her, "I've been simply pining for you, my child; come and hear me my
French at once, like a seraphim."

This happy state of things continued until unfortunately Henrietta's
temper, over which she had kept an anxious guard in Miranda's presence,
showed signs of activity. The first time this occurred Miranda opened
her large eyes very wide and said, "What's come over my young friend,
has it got the hydrophobia? I shall try and cure it by kindness and give
it some chocolate."

Henrietta's clouds dispersed, but she was not always so easily restored
to good-humour; and Miranda, with the whole school at her feet, was not
going to stand bad temper, the fault on the whole least easily forgiven
by girls. Henrietta had a heartrending scene with her: at fifteen she
liked heartrending scenes. Miranda was too fond of popularity to give
Henrietta up entirely, so the two remained friendly, but they were no
longer intimate.

Miss Arundel was the head-mistress's sister, and undertook all the
serious teaching that was not in the hands of masters. She did not have
many outward attractions of face and form, but schoolgirls will know
that that is not of much importance. She was adored, possibly because
she had a bad temper (bad temper is an asset in a teacher), which was
liable to burst forth unexpectedly; then she was clever and
enthusiastic, and gave good lessons. She marked out Henrietta, and it
came round that she had said, "Etta Symons is an interesting girl, she
has possibilities. I wonder how she will turn out." It came round also
that Miss Arundel had said, "I only wish she had more control and
tenacity of purpose," but this sentence Henrietta put out of her head.
The first sentence she thought of for hours on end, and set to work to
be more interesting than ever; in fact for some days she was so affected
and exasperating that Miss Arundel could hardly contain herself. Still,
even Miss Arundel's sarcasm was endurable, anything was endurable, after
that gratifying remark.

When Miranda ceased to be her special friend, she transferred her whole
heart and soul to Miss Arundel. She waylaid her with flowers, hung about
in the passage on the chance of seeing her walk by, and waited on her as
much as she dared. Some teachers apparently enjoy girl adorations, and
even take pains to secure them. Miss Arundel had had enough of them to
find them disagreeable. She therefore gave out in the presence of two or
three of Henrietta's circle that she thought it was a pity Etta Symons
wasted so much of her pocket-money on buttonholes which gave very little
pleasure to anyone, certainly not to her, who particularly disliked
strong scents; she thought the money could be much better expended.

Jessie Winsley repeated this speech to Henrietta, little thinking what
anguish it would cause. Henrietta had very little pride, very little
proper pride some people might have said; she did not at all mind giving
a great deal more than she got. But this speech, which was not, after
all, so very malignant, drove her to despair. She went to Miranda, who
hugged her, and said: "Old cat! barbaric old cat! Never think of her
again, she isn't worth it. Try dear little Stanley, he's a pet; men are
much nicer." Stanley was the drawing-master.

But after all one must have a little encouragement to start an
adoration, and as Henrietta never could draw, she got none from Stanley.
Besides she was constant, so instead, she brooded over Miss Arundel. She
had not been so unhappy, when she had her Miranda and her Arundel. Now
she had lost them both. Miss Arundel, with her cool, unaffectionate
interest, had, of course, never been "had" at all, but Henrietta had
imagined that when Miss Arundel said "Yes, quite right, that's a good
answer," it was a kind of beginning of friendship. She, Henrietta, small
and insignificant, was singled out for Miss Arundel's friendship; that
was what she thought. She did not realize that it was possible to care
merely for intellectual development.

When she was prepared for Confirmation, there were serious talks about
her character. The Vicar, whose classes she attended, was mostly
concerned with doctrines, and Mrs. Marston with what one might call a
list of ideal vices and temptations which pupils must guard themselves
against. Miss Arundel talked to her about her untidy exercise books,
her unpunctuality, her loud voice in the corridor, and her round
shoulders, and explained very properly that inattention in these
comparatively small matters showed a general want of self-control. She
did not speak about bad temper, for Henrietta was much too frightened of
her to show any signs of temper in her proximity. Miss Arundel did not
give her an opportunity of unburdening herself of the problem that
weighed on her mind, not that she would have taken the opportunity if it
had occurred, not after that speech about the buttonholes. This was the
problem: Why was it that people did not love her?--she to whom love was
so much that if she did not have it, nothing else in the world was worth
having. There had been Evelyn, it is true, but now Evelyn did lessons
with a little friend of her own age, and she and the friend were all in
all, and did not want Henrietta in the holidays. Henrietta reflected
that she was not uglier, or stupider, or duller than anyone else. There
was a large set at school who were ugly, stupid, and dull, and they were
devoted to one another, though they none of them cared about her. Why
had God sent her into the world, if she was not wanted? She found the
problem insoluble, but a certain amount of light was thrown on it by one
of the girls.

She had been snarling with two or three of her classmates over the
afternoon preparation, and had flounced off in a rage by herself. She
felt a touch on her arm, and turning round saw Emily Mence, a rather
uncouth, clever girl, whom she hardly knew.

"I just came to say, Why _are_ you such an idiot?"

"Me?"

"Yes, why do you lose your temper like that? All the girls are laughing
at you; they always do when you get cross."

"Then I think it's horrid of them."

"Well, you can't be surprised; of course people won't stand you, if
you're so cross."

"Won't they?" said Henrietta. "And the one thing I want in the world is
to be liked."

"Do you really? Fancy wanting these girls to like you; they're such
silly little things."

"I shouldn't mind that if only they liked me."

"_I_ like you," said Emily. "Do you remember you said Charles I.
deserved to have his head cut off because he was so stupid, and all the
others gushed over him?"

"Did I?"

"I don't like the other girls to laugh at you; that's why I thought I
would tell you."

They walked up and down the path and talked about Charles I. Here there
seemed the beginning of a friendship, but it was nipped in the bud, for
Emily left unexpectedly at the end of the term. Henrietta received no
further overtures from any of the girls.

Emily's words had made an impression however, and for six weeks
Henrietta took a great deal of pains with her temper. For this
concession on her part she expected Providence to give her an immediate
and abundant measure of popularity. It did not. The Symons family had
not the friend-making quality--a capricious quality, which withholds
itself from those who have the greatest desire, and even apparently the
best right, to possess it. The girls were kind, kinder, on the whole,
than the grown-up world, and they were perfectly willing to give her
their left arms round the garden, but their right would be occupied by
their real friends, to whom they would be telling their experiences, and
Henrietta would only come in for a, "Wasn't it sickening, Etta?" now
and then. She was disappointed, and she relaxed her efforts. She had
missed the excitement of saying disagreeable things. The day had become
chilly without them. By the middle of the term she was as disagreeable
as ever.

She very rarely received good advice in her life, and now that she had
got it, she made no use of it. If she had, it might have changed the
whole of her future. But from henceforth, on birthdays, New Year's Eves,
and other anniversaries, when she took stock of herself and her
character, she ignored her temper, and would not count it as a factor
that could be modified. There were others as lonely as herself at
school, there are always many lonely in a community; but she did not
realize this, and felt herself exceptional. She imagined that she was
overwhelmed with misery at this time, but really the life was so busy,
and she was so fond of the lessons, and did them so well, that she was
not to be pitied as much as she thought.

It was clear she was to be lonely at school and lonely at home. Where
was she to find relief? There was a supply of innocuous story-books for
the perusal of Mrs. Marston's pupils on Saturday half-holidays,
innocuous, that is to say, but for the fact that they gave a completely
erroneous view of life, and from them Henrietta discovered that heroines
after the sixteenth birthday are likely to be pestered with adorers. The
heroines, it is true, were exquisitely beautiful, which Henrietta knew
she was not, but from a study of "Jane Eyre" and "Villette" in the
holidays, Charlotte Brontë was forbidden at school owing to her excess
of passion, Henrietta realized that the plain may be adored too, so she
had a modest hope that when the magic season of young ladyhood arrived,
a Prince Charming would come and fall in love with her. This hope filled
more and more of her thoughts, and all her last term, when other girls
were crying at the thought of leaving, she was counting the days to her
departure.



CHAPTER III


Henrietta was eighteen when she left school. Minna and Louie had gone
two or three years before, and by the time Henrietta came home, Minna
was engaged to be married. There was nothing particular about Minna. She
was capable, and clear-headed, and rather good-looking, and could dress
well on a little money. She was not much of a talker, but what she said
was to the point. On these qualifications she married a barrister with
most satisfactory prospects. They were both extremely fond of one
another in a quiet way, and fond they remained. She was disposed of
satisfactorily.

Louie was prettier and more lively. She was having a gay career of
flirtations, when Henrietta joined her. She did not at all want a
younger sister, particularly a sister with a pretty complexion. Three
years of parties had begun to tell on her own, which was of special
delicacy. She and Henrietta had never grown to like one another, and now
there went on a sort of silent war, an unnecessary war on Louie's side,
for she had a much greater gift with partners than Henrietta, and her
captives were not annexed.

But for her complexion there was nothing very taking in Henrietta.
Whoever travels in the Tube must have seen many women with dark-brown
hair, brown eyes, and too-strongly-marked eyebrows; their features are
neither good nor bad; their whole aspect is uninteresting. They have no
winning dimples, no speaking lines about the mouth. All that one can
notice is a disappointed, somewhat peevish look in the eyes. Such was
Henrietta. The fact that she had not been much wanted or appreciated
hitherto began to show now she was eighteen. She was either shy and
silent, or talked with too much positiveness for fear she should not be
listened to; so that though she was not a failure at dances and managed
to find plenty of partners, there were none of the interesting episodes
that were continually occurring on Louie's evenings, and for a year or
two her hopes were not realized. The Prince Charming she was waiting for
came not.

Sometimes Louie was away on visits, and Henrietta went to dances
without her. At one of these, as usual a strange young man was
introduced. There was nothing special about him. They had the usual talk
of first dances. Then he asked for a second, then for a third. He was
introduced to her mother. She asked him to call. He came. He talked
mostly to her mother, but it was clear that it was Henrietta he came to
see. Another dance, another call, and meetings at friends' houses, and
wherever she was he wanted to be beside her. It was an exquisitely happy
month. He was a commonplace young man, but what did that matter? There
was nothing in Henrietta to attract anyone very superior. And perhaps
she loved him all the more because he was not soaring high above her,
like all her previous divinities, but walking side by side with her.
Yes, she loved him; by the time he had asked her for the third dance she
loved him. She did not think much of his proposing, of their marrying,
just that someone cared for her. At first she could not believe it, but
by the end of the month the signs clearly resembled those of Louie's
young men. Flowers, a note about a book he had lent her, a note about a
mistake he had made in his last note; she was sure he must care for
her. The other girls at the dances noticed his devotion, and asked
Henrietta when it was to be announced. She laughed off their questions,
but they gave her a thrill of delight. All must be well.

And if they had married all would have been well. There might have been
jars and rubs, with Henrietta's jealous disposition there probably would
have been, but they would have been as happy as the majority of married
couples; she would have been happier, for to many people, even to some
women, it is not, as it was to her, the all-sufficing condition of
existence to love and be loved.

At the end of the month Louie came home. Henrietta had dreaded her
return. She had no confidence in herself when Louie was by. Louie made
her cold and awkward. She would have liked to have asked her not to come
into the room when he called, but she was too shy; there had never been
any intimacy between the sisters. Mrs. Symons however, spoke to Louie.
"A very nice young fellow, with perfectly good connections, not making
much yet, but sufficient for a start. It would do very well."

Louie would not have considered herself more heartless than other
people, but she was a coquette, and she did not want Henrietta to be
settled before her. The next time the young man came, he found in the
drawing-room not merely a very much prettier Miss Symons, that in itself
was not of much consequence, but a Miss Symons who was well aware of her
advantages, and knew moreover from successful practice exactly how to
rouse a desire for pursuit in the ordinary young man.

Henrietta saw at once, though she fought hard, that she had no chance.

"Are you going to the Humphreys to-morrow?" he said to Louie.

"If Henrietta's crinoline will leave any room in the carriage," answered
Louie, "I shall try to get a little corner, perhaps under the seat, or
one could always run behind. I crushed--see, what did I crush?--a little
teeny-tiny piece of flounce one terrible evening; didn't I, Henrietta?
And I was never allowed to hear the last of it."

She smiled a special smile, only given to the most favoured of her
partners. The young man thought how pretty this sisterly teasing was on
the part of the lovely Miss Symons; Henrietta saw it in another light.

"My crinolines are not larger than yours, you know they are not."

"Methinks the lady doth protest too much, don't you, Mr. Dockerell?"

"And you always take the best seat in the carriage, so it is nonsense to
say ..."

He noticed for the first time how loud her voice was.

"Please let us change the conversation," said Louie gently, "it can't be
at all interesting for Mr. Dockerell. I am ready to own anything you
like, that you don't wear crinolines at all, if that will please you."

"If there is any difficulty, could not my mother take one of you
to-morrow night?" (It was Louie he looked at.) "She is staying with me
for a week. Couldn't we call for you? It would be a great pleasure."

"Oh, thank you," began Henrietta.

"Really," said Louie, "you make me quite ashamed of my poor little joke.
I don't think we have come quite to such a state of things that two
sisters can't sit in the same carriage. I hear you are a most alarmingly
good archer, Mr. Dockerell, and I want to ask you to advise me about my
bow, if you will be so kind." To be asked advice, of course, completed
the conquest.

Mr. Dockerell had not been so much in love with Etta as with marrying.
It took him a very short time to change, but when he had made his offer
and Louie had discovered that he was too dull a young man for her, he
did not transfer his affections back to Henrietta. She would gladly have
taken him if he had. He left the neighbourhood, and not long after
married someone else.

In this grievous trouble Henrietta did not know where to turn for
comfort. Mrs. Symons was one of those women who are much more a wife
than a mother. She could enter into all Mr. Symons' feelings quite
remarkably, even his most out-of-the-way masculine feelings, but her
daughters, who on the whole were very ordinary young women, she did not
understand. Perhaps Henrietta was not altogether ordinary, but after all
it is not exceptional to want to be loved. Nor did Mrs. Symons care
particularly for her daughters; she liked her sons much better, she
would perhaps have been happier without daughters; and she liked
Henrietta the least, connecting her still with those disagreeable
childish interviews when Henrietta had been brought down, black and
sulky, to be scolded.

Henrietta was now passing through what is not an extraordinary
experience in a woman's life. She had loved and been loved, and then had
been disappointed. Her mother in her distress was no more comfort than,
I was going to say, the servants, but she was much less, for Ellen, now
Mrs. Symons' maid, gave poor Henrietta some of the sympathy for which
she hungered.

Evelyn was away, her parents had consented to her being educated with
the little friend abroad, and if she had been at home, she was only
fourteen, too young to be of much use. However Henrietta poured out her
bitterness to her in a long letter, and Evelyn wrote back full of loving
sentiment and sentimentality. Henrietta wrote also to Miranda, and had a
sympathetic letter in answer, most sympathetic, considering that Miranda
had just consummated a triumphant engagement to the son of an earl.

Mrs. Symons could not help thinking that Henrietta had stupidly muddled
her affairs, and wasted the good chance which had been contrived for
her. This was the view she presented to her husband, so that though they
tried not to show it in their manner, they both felt a little
aggrieved.

It was to William that she turned, though she remembered clearly the
disappointing interview of her childhood. William, now a solicitor in
London, came home for a few days' holiday. The Sunday of his visit was
wet. When Mr. and Mrs. Symons were both asleep in the drawing-room, he
and Henrietta sat in the former school-room, and kept up friendly
small-talk about the neighbourhood. There was something so solid and
comfortable about his face that she felt she must tell him. She wanted
to lean on someone; she had not, she never had, any satisfaction, any
pride in battling for herself. Yet she knew that William's face was
deceptive; it would be much better not to speak. She determined,
therefore, that she would say very little, and speak as coolly as she
could. She began, but before she could stop herself, the whole story was
out, and much more than the story, unbridled abuse of Louie, who was
William's favourite sister. She only stopped at last, because her sobs
made it impossible to speak.

"It does seem unlucky," said William, "very unlucky. I should talk it
over with mother."

"Mother thinks it was my own fault. I know she does."

"Well--um--write to Minna; yes, you might write to Minna."

"Minna is only interested in the baby. She hardly ever writes; besides,
she never cared about me at all. She would be glad."

"Oh, well, I shouldn't think it was worth while taking it to heart. Just
go out to plenty of dances and be jolly; you mustn't mope. If you can
get Aunt Mercer to give you a bed, I'll take you to the play. That will
do you all the good in the world."

"It's very kind of you, William."

"Oh, that's all right. Well," going to the window, "it's no good staying
in all the afternoon, it makes one so hipped. I shall take a turn and
look in on Beardsley on my way back. Tell mother not to wait supper for
me."

She knew she had better have said nothing. He hated the recesses of the
heart being revealed, particularly those special recesses of a woman's
heart; he had thought her unmaidenly. But he was sorry for her; he took
her to the play, a rousing farce, for he was one of those who naively
consider that two hours of laughing can compensate for months of misery,
and even be a remedy. He gave her a brooch also, and said to his
mother, "I think Etta gets low by herself, now Minna is married and
Louie is away. Why shouldn't she go for some visits?"

It may seem strange that Henrietta should have spread broadcast a grief
which most people would keep hidden in their own hearts. But it is one
of the saddest things about lonely people, that, having no proper
confidant, they tell to all and sundry what ought never to be told to
more than one. When, however, the overmastering desire for sympathy had
passed, words cannot express her regret that she had spoken. For years
and years afterwards it would suddenly come upon her, "I told him and he
despised me," and she would beat her foot on the floor with all her
might, in a useless transport of remorse.

Both Louie and Henrietta had felt it was wiser not to see too much of
one another after Mr. Dockerell's proposal. Louie had gone away for a
month or six weeks, and when she came back, Henrietta went for a long
visit to Minna.

With two babies, the youngest very delicate, Minna was completely
absorbed. She was emphatically Mrs. Willard now, not Minna Symons. Mrs.
Symons had told her something of Henrietta's circumstances, and Minna
considered that the best balm would be her babies. So they might have
been for people with a natural admiration for babies, but this Henrietta
had not got. If Minna's children had been neglected she would have loved
them dearly, but when they were surrounded by the jealous care of
mother, nurse, nursemaid, and (if any space was left for him) father,
there was nothing for her but to look on as an outsider.

It was during this visit that she heard of the young man's engagement.
She did not realize, till she heard, how tightly she had been clinging
to the hope that he might come back. Close following on that came the
news that Louie was engaged to a most amiable and agreeable colonel.
This made her more bitter, if it was possible to be more bitter, against
Louie than before. Louie was not merely let off scot-free for what she
did, but was to have every happiness given to her. Why? The old problem
of her Confirmation year pressed itself on her, only now she felt less
mournful and more acrid.

Her troubles made her peevish and disagreeable, as was apparent from
Minna's kindly admonition.

"I think," said she, as they sat sewing one morning, "that I really
ought to warn you not to talk quite so loud and so positively. I don't
like saying anything, but of course I am older than you, and that is the
sort of thing that spoils a girl's chances. Men don't like it. And your
temper--even Arthur noticed it, and he is not at all an observant man. I
daresay you hardly realize the importance of a good temper, Etta, but in
my opinion it makes more difference in life than anything else."

Henrietta came back three days before Louie's wedding. Louie repented
the injury she had done, and on the last night she came into Henrietta's
room and apologized. "You know, Etty, I am very sorry, very, very sorry.
Of course I had no idea how you felt about him. He wasn't the sort of
man one could take very seriously, at least that was what I thought.
Anyhow I wouldn't worry about it any more, for you know I think he
cannot have been very seriously touched, or he would have made some
effort to see you again, surely, after his little episode with me."

Louie felt more than her words conveyed, but she could not demean
herself to show too much.

"Perhaps you didn't mean it unkindly," said Henrietta; "I shall try to
believe you, but you've wrecked my life."

"Etta is so exaggerated and hysterical," said Louie afterwards, talking
things over. But as a matter of fact Henrietta spoke only the sober
truth.



CHAPTER IV


After Louie's wedding Henrietta went to stay with an aunt, her father's
eldest sister, almost a generation older than he was. She lived in a
little white house in the country, with a green verandah and French
windows. She was a kind, nice old lady, not well off, a humble
great-aunt to the whole village. Children continually came to eat her
mulberries; girls were found places; sick people were sent jelly, and
there was always a great deal of sewing and knitting for poor friends.

She did her best to make the visit pass cheerfully; she had some little
scheme of pleasure for each day, and so many people came and went that,
though not exciting, the life could not possibly be called dull.

Henrietta did not know whether Mrs. Symons had mentioned her trouble to
her aunt; she hoped not. Now that the first shock was over, she had
become sensitive on the subject, and did not wish to speak about it.
From a little speech her aunt made, it is possible that Mrs. Symons had
said something.

One day as they sat talking comfortably and confidentially over the
fire, the conversation turned on her aunt's past days. She had been left
motherless, the eldest of a large family, when she was nineteen or
twenty. It was evidently her duty to devote herself to the younger ones,
and when a man presented himself whom she loved and by whom she was
loved, she felt that she could not be spared from home.

Henrietta saw that she was bracing herself to say something. At last out
it came:

"You know, my dear, I think in spite of--I mean that there are many
things besides--though when one has hoped--still life can be very happy,
very peaceful, without. Why, there is this garden, and there are those
three darling little children next door."

Henrietta knew that this unanalysable sentence was meant to comfort her.
She felt grateful, but she was not comforted. Her aunt's life was the
sweetest and happiest possible for old age, but could she at twenty
settle down to devising treats for other people's children, or sewing
garments for the poor? It made her feel sick and dismal to think of it.
Besides, their circumstances were not similar. Her aunt, fortified by
the spirit of self-sacrifice, had resigned what she loved, but she had
the reward of being the most necessary member of her circle. Henrietta
had had no scope for self-sacrifice, for she had never had anything to
give up. In fact she envied her aunt, for she realized now that Mr.
Dockerell could never have cared for her. And far from being the most
necessary member of her family, her difficulty was to squeeze into a
place at all.

The visit came to an end. She went home, and regular life began again.
Since one ordinary young man had been attracted to her when she was
twenty, there seemed no reason why other ordinary men should not
continue to be attracted. As he had been in love with marrying rather
than with her, so she had been in love with being loved rather than with
him. She would have accepted almost any pleasant young man, provided he
had had the supreme merit of caring for her. But the inscrutable fate
which rules these matters, decreed that it was not to be. No other
suitor presented himself.

For one thing, she went to fewer parties now. After Louie's marriage,
Mrs. Symons, who had worked hard in the good cause of finding husbands,
began to flag. Henrietta was not so gratifying to take out as Louie had
been, particularly as her complexion went off early, and without her
complexion she had nothing to fall back on. So Mrs. Symons gave herself
up to the luxury of bad health, and said she could not stand late hours.
When Henrietta did go out, her experience made her feel that she was
unlikely to please; and though no one can define what produces
attractiveness, it is safe to say that one of the most necessary
elements is to believe oneself attractive.

Mr. Symons had not hitherto taken great interest in his daughters, but
when Minna and Louie were married, he became fonder of them. He was one
of those men whose good opinion of a woman is much strengthened if
confirmed by another man. His daughters' husbands had confirmed his
opinion in the most satisfactory way by marrying them, whereas his good
opinion of Henrietta, far from being confirmed, had been rather
weakened. Minna and Louie's virtues, husbands, and houses were often
extolled now, and there was nothing to extol in her. Henrietta felt this
continually. Her parents did not speak to her of her misfortunes; she
was left alone, which is perhaps what most girls would have liked best.
Not so Henrietta.

The three years after Louie's marriage were the most miserable of
Henrietta's life. If she did not go out to parties, what was she to do?
The housekeeping? The housekeeping, as in many cases, was not nearly
enough to provide her mother with occupation. It certainly could not be
divided into occupation for two. Nursing her mother? Her mother much
preferred that Ellen, on whom she had become very dependent, should do
what was necessary, and for companionship she had all she wanted in her
husband. He was away for several hours in the day however, and during
his absence Henrietta did drive out with her mother, read to her, and
sit with her, and as they were so much together and shared the small
events of the country town, they were to a certain extent drawn
together. But Mrs. Symons always treated Henrietta _de haut en bas_,
and snubbed her when she thought necessary, as if she had been a child
of ten, so that Henrietta was constrained and a little timid with her.
There was the suggestion of a feeling that Mrs. Symons was to be pitied
for having Henrietta still on her hands. If Henrietta had refused to be
snubbed, there would have been none of that suggestion. Evelyn was still
away at school. There were a certain number of girls of Henrietta's age
whom she saw from time to time, but as her mother did not wish to be
disturbed by entertaining, they were not asked to the house, and
therefore did not ask Henrietta to theirs. Besides, she was sensitive,
thinking, truly, that they were discussing her misfortune, and did not
want to see them.

In addition to the poignancy of disappointment, of present dulness and
aimlessness, Henrietta realized forcibly, though perhaps not forcibly
enough for the truth, that the years between eighteen and thirty were
her marrying years, which, slowly as they passed from the point of view
of her happiness, went only too fast, when she considered that once gone
they could never come back, and that as they fled, they took her chances
with them.

Fifty years ago the large majority of the girls of her class married
early, and the years of home life after school were arranged on the
supposition that they were a short period of preparation for marriage.
It did not matter to Minna and Louie that they had no interests to fill
their days, that their life had been nothing but parties and intervals
of waiting for parties, because it had only lasted four or five years.
It had done what it was intended to do, it had settled them very
comfortably with husbands. But with Henrietta, the condition which was
meant to be temporary, seemed spreading itself out to be permanent, and
with the parties taken away, she was hard put to it to fill up her days.
She longed inexpressibly for school, for its restrictions, its monotony
and variety. And to think that when she had the luck to be there, she
had counted the days to being a young lady. When she remembered how she
had almost wept at Miss Arundel's description of Joan of Arc, her mouth
watered for lessons. As for Miss Arundel herself, she hungered and
thirsted after her.

At last she had a happy thought; she decided that she would read
Italian, read Dante. Miss Arundel had taught her Italian, and she would
write to Miss Arundel, and ask her to recommend a good translation. She
remembered that Miss Arundel and Mrs. Marston had occasionally had
favourite old pupils to stay with them. She imagined how one letter
might lead to another, and how at last Miss Arundel might invite her to
stay too. She wrote her letter with great care and great delight,
constantly changing her words, for none seemed good enough for Miss
Arundel, and making a fair copy, as if it were an exercise to be sent up
for correction.

Miss Arundel received the letter, read it through, came to the
signature, and could not for the life of her remember who Henrietta
Symons was. So many girls had passed through her hands, and she lived in
the present rather than the past. A teacher was ill, she was very busy,
the letter slipped her memory. One evening it came into her head, and
she asked her sister, "By the by, who was Henrietta Symons?"

"I recollect the name perfectly," said Mrs. Marston. "Let me see; yes,
now I know. There were three of them, one was Minnie, I believe, and I
think Etta had a bad headache at the picnic. It was a blazing day that
year, the hottest I ever remember, and I had to come back early with
her."

"Of course; I remember now," said Miss Arundel. "A girl with very marked
eyebrows." And she wrote back a postcard, "Tr. of D.'s D. C. Carey, 2
vols., Ward and Linsell. M. Arundel."

The postcard made Henrietta inclined to back out of Dante. But by this
time she had arranged to read with a neighbour, Carrie Bostock, so she
had to make a start. They did start, but as they neither understood the
Italian, nor the translation, nor the notes, they found continual
excuses for not reading, till Carrie boldly suggested "I Promessi
Sposi," which went much better. They did not read for long, however, for
Carrie became engaged, it seemed to Henrietta that everybody she knew
was becoming engaged, and Carrie considered her engagement an occupation
which gave her no time for anything else, certainly no time for Italian.

Henrietta found she did not read by herself. The two years away from
school made it difficult to start. Perhaps it may seem strange that a
girl who had been so eager at school, should not care to work by herself
at home. But when there are no competitors and no Miss Arundel, work
loses much of its zest for everyone except the real student, who is
rarely to be found among men, still more rarely among women. And the
last thing Henrietta would ever be was unusual.

Clever, interesting schoolgirls are not at all uncommon, though not so
general as clever, interesting children. But there are few who remain
clever and interesting when they grow up. Uninspiring surroundings, and
contact with life, or mere accumulation of years, take something away.
Or perhaps it simply is that when they are grown up they are judged by a
more severe standard. Miss Arundel had been disappointed again and
again. But she would not have been surprised that Henrietta let
everything go, for she had always observed in her an unfortunate strain
of weakness.

Besides being weak, Henrietta was always affected by the people she was
with, and the atmosphere of home life was not encouraging to study.
"Reading Italian, my dear?" her mother would say. "Oh, can't you find
anything better to do than that? Surely there must be some mending;"
while her father advised her, through her mother, "not to become too
clever; it was a great pity for a girl to get too clever."

After all, there seemed no earthly reason why she should read Italian;
it gave no pleasure to herself or to anyone else. So she spent most of
the long leisure hours sitting by the window and thinking. She often
said to herself the verse of a poem then just published by Christina
Rossetti. She had seen it on a visit, copied it out, and learned it:

    "Downstairs I laugh and sport and jest with all,
       But in my solitary room above
     I turn my face in silence to the wall:
       My heart is breaking for a little love."

It did not quite apply to Henrietta, for she was not sporting and
jesting downstairs with anyone, but that verse was the greatest comfort
to her of those dreary years. The writer _must_ have been through it
all, she thought; she knows what it is. Not to be alone, to have
someone, though an unknown one, who could share it, lightened her
burden, when she was in a mood that it should be lightened.

She made up verses too, and wrote them in a pretty album she bought for
the purpose. They relieved her heart a little--at any rate it was a
distraction to think of the rhymes. She would have shown them to Carrie,
if she had had the slightest encouragement, but as Carrie gave no
encouragement, there was no one to see them.

    "While Nature op'ed her lavish hand
     And fairest flowers displayed,
     'Twas his to taste of sunny joys,
     'Twas mine to sit in shade.

    "Oh, talk not to me of a lasting devotion!
     It shrivels, it ceases, it fades and it dies.
     In the heart of a man 'tis a fleeting emotion;
     Alas, in a woman eternal it lies!"

A poet would have said that anyone capable of writing that was incapable
of feeling, but he would have been wrong.

Sometimes Henrietta used to have a phantom lover like the phantom friend
of her childhood, but now--had she more or less imagination as a
child?--she could not bear it. She imagined the phantom, and then she
wanted him so intensely that she had to forget him. The aspect of
certain days would be connected with some peculiarly mournful moments.
She wondered which was the most depressing, the dark setting in at four
o'clock and leaving her seven hours of drawing-room fancy work (for it
disturbed her mother if she went to bed before eleven), or the summer
sun that would not go down.

If only some kind stroke of misfortune had taken away all Mr. Symons'
money. Disagreeable poverty would have been a great comfort to her. She
would have been forced to make an effort; not to brood and concentrate
herself on her misery. But Mr. Symons, on the contrary, continued to get
richer, and throughout her fairly long, dull life, Henrietta was always
cursed with her tidy little income.

But interminable as the time seemed, it passed. It passed, so that
reading her old journal with the record of her happy month, she found
that it had all happened five years ago, and was beginning to be
forgotten. She felt as if it had not happened to her, but to some
ordinary girl who had ordinary prosperity. At the same time her lot did
not seem so bitter as it had done; she had become used to it. Though she
herself hardly realized it, and certainly could not have said when the
change had come, she was not now particularly unhappy. It was an
alleviation that her mother was more of an invalid, so that some of the
responsibilities of the household devolved on her, and her mother
leaned on her a little. She was certainly not the prop of the house, or
the lodestar to which they all turned for guidance, none of the
satisfactory things women are called in poetry, but she was not such an
odd-man-out as she had been.



CHAPTER V


And now the even course of Henrietta's life was interrupted. Evelyn
returned home. She and her friend were both grown up into young ladies.
Many letters had passed between the sisters, but it was so long since
they had seen one another that each felt a little shy at the meeting.

Evelyn was very lovely, made to please and be pleased, a regular
mid-Victorian heroine, universally courted. Though always courted she
was never spoilt, and was a most affectionate sister and daughter. But
the old particular bond which had attached her and Henrietta no longer
existed. She was equally affectionate to Minna and Louie.

Still, her coming made a great difference to Henrietta. There was a
person of her own generation and way of thinking to converse with; they
could have jokes together, and Evelyn was still full of schoolgirl
enthusiasm. She had numberless schemes of occupation, duets, French
readings, and splashwork. And when she went away on visits, there were
her letters, much more intimate than those of a year or two earlier,
full of allusions to their new occupations, and teasing of a kind,
complimentary sort, which was new and very delightful to Henrietta.

They were arranging flowers in the school-room one afternoon, roses
which had been brought to Evelyn by an admirer. They dropped some on the
floor, both stooped to pick them up, and they knocked their heads
together. Evelyn got up laughing, but felt her hand suddenly snatched,
and kissed with a long, eager kiss. She turned round, startled. "What is
it?" she said.

"I couldn't help it," said Henrietta, half hysterically. "If you knew
what it is to me to have you back. I can't tell you."

"Is it, dear?" said Evelyn. "I'm so glad." And she smoothed Henrietta's
forehead with a pretty gesture full of sweetness, but with a touch of
condescension in it. She had listened already to so many passionate
declarations about herself (one that very afternoon) that she was not so
much impressed by Henrietta's as most younger sisters would have been.
Still she could not help contrasting herself in her triumphant youth
with Henrietta, disregarded by everyone and snubbed. Mr. and Mrs. Symons
never snubbed Evelyn, and she thought for a moment, "Oh, I'm thankful
I'm not her"; but she put the thought away as unkind, and supposed
vaguely that Henrietta was so good she did not mind.

Now that Evelyn was come back, Mrs. Symons roused herself from her
invalidism to provide amusements for her. So little was possible at home
that almost at once a round of gay visits was arranged. Minna was less
engrossed now that the babies were older, and took her out to parties;
and Louie had all the officers of her husband's regiment at command.
These same attractions had been offered to Henrietta. Louie had been
most sincerely anxious to atone for the past, and had invited her again
and again, but Henrietta had always refused; for though the original
wound was healed, she still cherished resentment against Louie.

Evelyn's was a career of triumph. Her letters, and Louie's and Minna's
were full of officers and parties. This roused Henrietta's old
discontent. Why was Evelyn to have everything and she nothing? She
promptly answered herself, "Because Evelyn is so sweet and beautiful,
she deserves everything she can get." But the question refused to be
snubbed, and asked itself again. She hated herself for envying, and
continued to envy.

Evelyn came home from her visits very much excited and interested about
herself, but still not unmindful of Henrietta.

"Let me come in to your room, Etty, and tell you everything. I had a
perfect time with Louie; she was a dear. She was always saying, 'Now,
who shall we have to dinner? You must settle;' so I just gave the word,
and whoever I wanted was produced. Louie wishes you would go too. Do go,
you would have such fun. She gave me a note for you."

"MY DEAR ETTA," the note ran,

"The 9th is having a dance on the 28th. I wish you would come and stay
with us for it. Come, and bring Evelyn. I particularly want to have her
for it. There is a special reason. Everyone is enchanted with the dear
little thing. I shall be disappointed if you don't come too. It all
happened such years ago, surely we may forget it; and Edward is always
asking me why I do not have you, and it seems so absurd, when I have no
proper reason to give. I shall really think it too bad of you, if you
don't come.

    Your affec.,
        L. N. CARRINGTON."

Henrietta, thinking over the matter, found there was no reason why she
should not go. At twenty-seven she felt herself rather older than this
generation at forty-eight, and thought it ridiculous that she should be
going to a dance. But once she was there, Louie made her feel so much at
home, she found her remarks were so warmly welcomed, and her few
hesitating sallies so much enjoyed, that she began to think that after
all she was not completely on the shelf.

"Don't go to-morrow, Etta--stay here. There's the Steeplechase on
Friday; I want you to see that."

"No, thank you, Louie," said Henrietta; "I can't leave mother longer.
It's been very delightful, more delightful than you can realize,
perhaps--you're so much accustomed to it; but I must get back."

"Now, that really is nonsense, Etta. Mother has Ellen, and she has
father, and she is pretty well for her; you said so yourself."

But Henrietta persisted in her refusal, for she had all the strong,
though sometimes unthinking, sense of duty of her generation.

"Well, if you will go, you must. But now you have begun coming, come
often. Write a line whenever you like and propose yourself."

As they said good-night, Louie whispered, "Have you forgiven me, Etty?"

"Yes," said Henrietta, "that's all past and gone."

"For a matter of fact," said Louie, "he is not very happy with her; they
don't get on. The Moffats know him, and Mrs. Moffatt told me."

"Oh, I am sorry," said Henrietta, but she was not displeased.

Evelyn stayed behind, and Louie talked Henrietta over with her. "Poor,"
ever since her marriage Henrietta had been "poor" to Louie, "Poor Etta
really isn't bad-looking, and when she gets animated she isn't
unattractive. If I could have her here often, I believe I could do
something for her."

When Evelyn came home a week or so later, she had an announcement to
make. She had become engaged to an officer, a friend of the
Carringtons, who had been staying in the house. He was delightful, the
engagement was everything that was to be desired, and Evelyn was
radiant.

Henrietta knew that such an announcement was bound to come sooner or
later, but she had so longed for a few years' happy intercourse
together. She tried to think only of Evelyn, but she could not keep back
all that was in her mind.

"Think of me left all alone. It was so dreary, and when you came you
made everything different. Now it will go back to what it was before."

"No, no, Etty darling; you will come and stay with us for months and
months."

"No, I shan't. When you have got him you won't want me."

"Yes, I shall. I shall want you all the more. I love you more than I've
ever done in my life, my darling sister. We've always been special, we
two, haven't we, ever since I can remember?"

Henrietta was a little comforted, and did not realize that though
Evelyn's tenderness was absolutely sincere, it came from the strange
expansion of the heart which accompanies true love, and was not
habitual.

The marriage took place almost at once, for the Captain's regiment was
ordered on foreign service, and Evelyn went away to regions where it was
not possible for Henrietta to visit her.

But if she had lived in England, Henrietta would not have felt herself
at liberty to go away for long. After she got home, she felt glad she
had not extended her visit to the Carringtons, for Mrs. Symons was not
so well, and she died shortly afterwards, and Henrietta reigned in her
stead.



CHAPTER VI


The household changed now; two new elements were introduced: William
came from London to be a partner in his father's firm, and lived at
home, and Harold, who had been employed by an engineer in the North,
found work in the neighbourhood and came back too. So that Henrietta's
life became at once much fuller of interest and importance than it had
been for years. As the only lady of the house, she was bound to be
considered, to make decisions, to have much authority in her own hands,
and at twenty-seven she greatly appreciated authority. If she was not to
have love, she would at any rate have position, and the servants found
her an exacting mistress. Mrs. Symons, though she had given over certain
duties to Henrietta, had kept herself head of the house to the time of
her death. She had a way with servants: they always liked her, and
stayed with her; but latterly she had let things slide, and when
Henrietta took her place she found much to criticize. Most of the
servants left, but some stayed, and agreed with Ellen that it was "just
Miss Henrietta's way; she was funny sometimes." However, they got used
to her, and things jogged along pretty quietly.

When Ellen left to be married, and there was no one in the kitchen to
make allowances for her, she had much more difficulty, and Mr. Symons
was occasionally disturbed in his comfortable library by an indignant
apparition, which declared amid gulps that it had "no wish whatever to
make complaints, but really Miss Henrietta----!"

Mr. Symons thought this very hard. "Can't you manage to make them
decently contented? We never used to have this sort of thing," he would
say. Henrietta would defend herself by counter-charges, and on the whole
felt the incident was creditable to her, as showing that she was a
power, and a rather dreaded power, in the house.

The men thought also that they were under a needlessly harsh yoke.
Henrietta grumbled when they were late for meals, or creased the
chintzes, or let the dog in with muddy paws. From a combination of
kindness, weakness, and letting things slide, they made no complaints.
Mr. Symons always remembered and felt sorry for the episode which
Henrietta herself had almost forgotten, and he was determined to make up
to her by letting her be as unpleasant as she liked at home.

If only they had spoken strongly while there was yet time. They did not
realize, it is difficult for those in the same house to realize, where
things were tending. Henrietta's temper became less violent; there are
fewer occasions for losing a temper when one is grown up, but she took
to nagging like a duck to water.

But if they made no complaints, the men left her to herself. Mr. Symons
spent many hours at his club, and her brothers entertained their friends
in the smoking-room. She was vaguely disappointed; she had an idea,
gleaned from novels and magazines, that as the home daughter to a
widowed father, the home sister to two brothers, she would be consulted,
leant on, confided in. Mr. Symons missed his wife at every turn, but he
never felt Henrietta could take her place. Her nagging shut up his heart
against her. He thought it silly, rather unfairly, perhaps, for she
inherited the habit from her mother, and he had never thought _her_
nagging silly.

As to William and Harold, they had come to the ages of thirty-five and
twenty-six without any wish for confidence, and why should they wish to
confide in Henrietta? She was not wise and she was not sympathetic. The
mere fact that they lived in the same house with her caused no automatic
opening of the heart. Well on in middle life, William became engaged,
and suddenly poured out everything to his love, but for the present he
and Harold were content to go through life never saying anything about
themselves to anybody. In fact, they hardly ever thought of Henrietta.
She would have been astonished if she had known what an infinitesimal
difference she made in their lives.

As mistress of the house, Henrietta was promoted to the circle of the
married ladies, and the happiest hours of her life were spent in visits
she and they interchanged, when they talked about servants,
arrangements, prices, and health.

They were not intimate friends. Perhaps the women of fifty years ago did
not have the faculty of staunch and close friend-making possessed by
our generation. And now Henrietta did not very much want to make
friends. She would have thought intimacy a little schoolgirlish, a
little beneath a middle-aged lady's dignity.

Her parents had been a very ordinary couple in a country town. They and
the society they frequented were uncultivated, and uninterested in
everything that was going on in the world outside. The men, of course,
were occupied with their professions, and almost all the ladies had
large growing families, which gave full scope for their energies.
Henrietta had not their duties, and was better off than the majority of
them, but she did not find time hang heavy on her hands. Long ere this
she had learnt the art of getting through the day with the minimum of
employment. Now, of course, her various duties gave her a certain amount
to do, but not enough to occupy her mind profitably. She often said, "I
am so busy I really haven't a moment to spare," and quite sincerely
declined the charge of a district, because she had no time. If any
visitors were coming to stay, she spoke of the preparations and the work
they entailed, as if all was performed by her single pair of hands.
"What with Louie and Edward coming to-morrow, and Harold going to the
Tyrol on Wednesday, I cannot think how I shall manage, but I suppose,"
with a resigned smile, "I shall get through somehow." She was persuaded
into visiting a small hospital once a fortnight for an hour, and the day
and hour were much dreaded by her entourage, so vastly did they loom on
the horizon, and so submissively must every other event wait on their
convenience.

Minna and Louie often came on visits with their children. The three
sisters got on much better than formerly, though Minna and Louie were
both too much absorbed in their own interests to give Henrietta a large
place in their thoughts. Minna's husband failed early in health, before
he had had time to fulfil his promising early prospects, while Louie's
Colonel, when he retired from the army, occupied his leisure in
speculation, and greatly diminished that attractive fortune of his. All
three sisters had a certain amount of money left to them by their
mother, but in spite of this Minna and Louie were now both,
comparatively speaking, poor, while Henrietta, with no one dependent on
her, and a large allowance from her father, was comfortably off. Louie
and Minna quite gave up talking of "poor Henrietta," and "Really
Henrietta has done very well for herself," was a remark frequently
exchanged.

Henrietta had always been generous, and her sisters soon came to expect
as a right that she should rescue them in times of domestic need: pay
for a nephew's schooling, send a delicate niece to the sea, and give
very substantial presents at birthdays and Christmas. Their point of
view seemed to be that if anyone had been so lucky as to keep out of the
bothers of marriage, the least she could do was to help her unfortunate
sisters. Still, they disliked being beholden to Henrietta, and, half
intentionally, set their children against her to relieve their feelings.
The children were not bad children, but Henrietta found their visits
burdensome. She was becoming a little set and unwilling to be disturbed,
and she said the children were spoilt. Minna and Louie had determined
they would not be the strict parents of the elder generation, whereas
Henrietta, who remembered all the snubbing of her youth, wanted to have
her turn of giving snubs, and this did not make her popular. She never
grew very fond of these children, but kept her affection for something
else.

For it is not to be supposed that a heart with such peculiar longing for
love was to be satisfied with a life in which feeling played so little
part. She had put aside the desire for a lover now. She was not one of
the women whom nothing will satisfy but marriage; on the whole she did
not care very much for men. She wanted what she had always wanted,
something to love and something to love her. And she had good reason to
hope that at last that wish might be realized, for it was agreed between
her and Evelyn that if there were any children, she was to bring them up
while Evelyn was abroad. Round this hope she built many happy schemes.

Henrietta had seen very little of Evelyn all this time--the regiment
went from one foreign station to another--but very affectionate letters
passed between the two.

For some years no children were born. Then came a little girl. "She is
to be called Etta," said Evelyn's letter, "and you know she is your baby
as well as ours. Do you remember what you did for me in old days? I
think of how you will do the same for baby, and I could not bear for
anyone else to do it but you." The baby died in the first year. Then
came a little boy, who lived an even shorter time; then another little
girl. The parents and Henrietta hardly dared to hope this time. But the
perilous first year passed, then, although she was always very delicate,
a second, third, and fourth. Then, when the plans were maturing for her
coming home, she died too. It seems sometimes as if Death cannot leave a
certain family alone, but comes back to it again and again.

"Evelyn is broken-hearted," her husband wrote, "and if she stays in this
horrible India I believe I shall lose her too. I am going to exchange if
I can to a home regiment, or I shall leave the army. I do not care what
we do as long as I get her away. In the midst of it all she keeps
thinking of how you will feel it. I believe a good cry with you is the
one thing that might comfort her."

Henrietta took this letter to her father, and implored him to let her go
out to India at once. But this Mr. Symons, though kind and sympathetic
and truly sorry for Evelyn, could not bring himself to allow. He was
getting to the age when he shrank from violent upheavals. Herbert said
they were leaving India. By the time she arrived they would probably be
gone, and then what a wild goose chase it would be. Then, of course, she
could not go alone, and who was to go with her? Her brothers could not
spare the time, and he did not feel up to going, and she must have a man
with her. Edward? No, certainly not. Since his speculations, Edward was
in bad odour. No, it would be much better to write a kind letter--he
would write too--and drop this really foolish scheme, which would, among
other things, be very costly, more costly than he felt prepared to face
just then.

She said she would go alone.

"Then you would go entirely without my sanction. It is a perfectly
impossible thing for a young lady to contemplate. You have never even
been on the Continent, and you think of travelling to India unattended."

She had never acted in opposition to her parents, though she had often
been domineering to her father in small matters, when he had not
resisted. She was always weak, she could only fight when the other side
would not fight back. She said, "Oh, father, I must go," and when he
said, "Nonsense, I couldn't think of it," she collapsed, partly from
cowardice, partly from duty, though her father was not in the least
strong-willed either, and with a little serious resistance would have
been made to yield. She felt bitterly the reproach in Evelyn's letter,
"If only you could have come."

She did not feel as wildly wretched as fifteen years ago, because now in
middle age what she passed through at the moment was not of the same
desperate importance; but then she had a small corner of hope hidden
away that perhaps something might happen, whereas now she realized
clearly that the prospect which had given her her chief interest and
delight was destroyed for ever.

The trouble told on her, she caught a chill, which developed into
pneumonia. She was dangerously ill for some weeks, and when she was
better, she was long in getting up her strength, because she had no wish
to get well.

Minna and Louie thought it odd that Henrietta should "fret so much about
Evelyn's children whom she had never seen. She has always seemed to make
so much more fuss over them than over her own nephews and nieces in
England. Of course, it was natural that dear Evelyn herself should be
distracted, but for Henrietta it almost seemed a little exaggerated."

When she was well enough to travel, the doctor recommended the South of
France for the winter, and she went away with a married friend, the
Carrie Bostock of the Italian readings.

It was all very pleasant and entertaining to Henrietta, who had never
been abroad, never even away from her own family. In the Riviera she
could to a certain extent drown thought, but she counted the days with
consternation, as each one in its flight brought her nearer to taking up
life again at home.

One afternoon she received a letter from her father.

"MY DEAR HENRIETTA," it ran,

"I do not know if you will be surprised to hear that I am engaged to be
married to Mrs. Waters. We have not known one another very long, but I
must say I very soon felt that she would be one who could take your dear
mother's place. I think it is very possible that you may have observed
whither matters were tending. I feel certain that we shall all be very
happy together, and I hope you will write her a warm letter of welcome
to our family. She will, I am sure, be both mother and sister to you,
etc."

The news was staggering to Henrietta. She had been so engrossed in her
own trouble that she had observed nothing of what was going on around
her. Mrs. Waters, a widow, who had lately settled in the neighbourhood,
had been several times to their house and had entertained them at hers,
but that she should be anything more than a friendly acquaintance had
never entered Henrietta's head. She was to be ousted, her mother was to
be ousted, and she was to give a warm welcome to the interloper. Her
forgotten temper burst forth. She wrote a violent letter to her father,
hurling at him all the ridiculous exaggerated things that most people
feel at the beginning of a rage, but which few are so mad as to commit
to paper. She refused altogether to write to Mrs. Waters.

She also relieved herself by contradicting everything Carrie said, thus
giving her a good excuse for those long talks to a third party, which
frequently take place when friends have been abroad together, beginning,
"I really had no idea she _could_."

After she had written the letter, as usual she was very much ashamed.
She wrote again unsaying all she had said, but her father had been too
much wounded to reply.

She came back just a little before the wedding to see him in quite a new
light--a lover, for he at sixty-five and Mrs. Waters at forty-seven had
fallen in love.

When Henrietta saw more of her stepmother to be, she had in honesty to
own that she liked her. She was not only very attractive, but she was so
thoroughly nice and kind, so intent on making people happy, so entirely
without airs of patronage, and Henrietta could see how everybody warmed
under her smile.

Henrietta had settled that she would not live at home after the
marriage. Neither she nor her father could forget the letter, it was
better that they should part. She had again asked his forgiveness, but
neither felt at ease with the other.

She stayed for a few weeks after Mr. and Mrs. Symons came back from the
honeymoon, and saw almost with consternation, how the spirit of the
house changed. It became peaceful, cordial, harmonious; it would not
have been known for the same house. The whole household liked Mrs.
Symons; even her own dog deserted Henrietta. It was not that she was
ousted from her place, it was that Mrs. Symons created a place, which
never had been hers. She had had no idea in all these twelve years how
little she had made herself liked. She had had her chance, her one great
chance, in life, and she had missed it.

When she went away, there were kind good wishes for her prosperity,
interest in her plans, many hopes that she would visit them, but no
regret; with a clearness and honesty of sight she unfortunately
possessed she realized that--no regret.

What was the use of twelve years in which she had sincerely tried to do
her best, if she had not built up some little memorial of affection? It
was the old complaint of all her life, "I am not wanted." The anguish
she had shared with Evelyn and her husband had been much sharper, but in
the midst of it there had been consolation in the exquisite union they
had felt with the children and with one another. Here there was nothing
to cheer her; there is not much consolation when one fails where it
seems quite easy for others to succeed.

Now that it became evident that she would be so little missed, she was
in haste to get the parting over and be gone. But her unadventurous
spirit shrank from going out in the world to manage by itself. She was
very doubtful what she should do. She would not have been welcomed by
Minna or Louie, even if she had wished to live with them. Her second
brother was in some inaccessible foreign place. Evelyn and Herbert were
also far out of reach. He had exchanged into a regiment which was
quartered at Halifax, in Canada.

But the distance, however great, might have been faced, if she had
not had a miserable quarrel with Herbert. It began with some
misunderstanding about the tombstone on the youngest little girl's
grave, to which Henrietta had wished to contribute. She had written to
Evelyn from the Riviera in all the soreness of worn-out nerves and grief
from which the sublimity has gone. The very fact that they had been
drawn so close to one another made her specially irritable to Evelyn.
After one or two of her letters, an answer came from Herbert:

"Evelyn is very ill from all she has been through, and the doctor says
it is most important that she should be kept from every sort of worry.
She was so much distressed at your last letter, and answering you took
so much out of her, that I have taken the liberty of keeping this one
from her. You have no right to write to her in this way, and I must ask
you to drop all correspondence for the present if your letters are to be
in the same strain."

Henrietta declared that he was trying to come between her and her
sister, and that if that was the case she should never trouble them
again. She did not write at all for several weeks, then she felt
remorseful, but Herbert could not forgive her. He wrote coldly that
Evelyn was still so unhinged as to be incapable of receiving letters
without undue excitement.



CHAPTER VII


Even now, when there is a certain amount of choice and liberty, a woman
who is thrown on her own resources at thirty-nine, with no previous
training, and no obvious claims and duties, does not find it very easy
to know how to dispose of herself. But a generation ago the problem was
far more difficult. Henrietta was well off for a single woman, but she
was incapable, and not easy to get on with. She would have thought it
derogatory to do any form of teaching--teaching, the natural refuge of a
workless woman.

Three or four courses presented themselves. First, philanthropy. She was
not really more philanthropic than she had been at twenty, when her aunt
had described to her the happiness of living for others. But she felt at
nearly forty that charitable work was a reasonable way of filling up her
time, on the whole, the most reasonable.

She never had had much to do with poor people. Mrs. Symons had helped
the charwoman, and the gardener, and the driver from the livery-stables,
when they were in special difficulties, and Henrietta had continued to
do so, and had had her hour at the hospital. That was all. There were
the servants, of course, but with the exception of Ellen she looked on
servants more as machines made for her convenience, liable to get out of
order unless they were constantly watched.

Entirely without enthusiasm, and with a dreary fighting against her lot,
she made inquiries among her acquaintances as to where she might find
charitable work. At length somebody knew somebody, who knew somebody who
was working in London under a clergyman. After further inquiries it was
found that the somebody was a lady, who would be very glad if Henrietta
would come and live with her, while she saw how she liked the work.

The clergyman, the lady, and all the other workers, were earnest,
enthusiastic, high-minded, and full of common sense. Henrietta was not
one of these things. She was also very inaccurate, unpunctual, and
forgetful, and if her failings were pointed out to her in the gentlest
way she took offence, not because she was conceited, but because at her
age she was beyond having things pointed out. She stayed at the work six
months, and during that time she was always offended with somebody, and
sometimes with everybody.

The work was conducted more on charity organization lines than was usual
in those days; money was not given without due consideration and
consultation. This was difficult, and required more thinking than
Henrietta cared for, so she saved herself trouble by bestowing five
shillings whenever she wanted, feeling at the bottom of her heart that
if she could not be liked for herself, she would buy liking rather than
not be liked at all. The five shillings, however, did not buy either
gratitude or affection. She had always had a grudging way with people of
a different class from herself, and a conviction, in spite of
indiscriminate alms, that she was being taken in. This infringement of
the rules drove the Vicar to exasperation. His whole heart was in his
work, and Henrietta's disloyalty hindered him at every turn.

"Can't she be asked to give up meddling in the parish?" he said to his
wife.

"No dear, you know she can't, and she is very generous, even if she is
tiresome. She has often been very helpful to you. You ought to be
grateful."

"I'm not grateful," he said, striding about the room; "and then she is
so petty, always these absurd squabbles. She hasn't got a spark of love
for God or man. That's at the root of it all. We don't want a person of
that sort here. If she cared about the people, even if she did pauperize
them, I might think her a fool, but I could respect her; but you know
she doesn't care for a soul but herself."

"I don't think it is that, but she's in great trouble, I'm sure she is.
When you were preaching about sorrow last Sunday, I saw her eyes were
filled with tears."

"Were they?" he said, "I'm sorry. But look here, dear, I don't think
this sort of work ought to be used as a soothing syrup, or as a
rubbish-shoot for loafers, who don't know what else to do. If people
aren't doing it because they think it's the greatest privilege in the
world to be allowed to do it, I can't see that they do much good."

"I think you're too hard on her."

"Am I? I expect I am. I know I'm fagged to death. She gives Mrs.
Wilkins pounds on the sly, which the old lady's been transforming into
gin, and then when I explain the circumstances and implore her to leave
well alone, she talks my head off with a torrent of incoherent
statements, which have nothing whatever to do with the point."

It certainly was true that Henrietta did not do much good, and no one
was more aware of this than herself. She stood outside the community,
and looked in at them like a hungry beggar at a feast. How she envied
their happiness, but she did not feel that she was, or ever could be, a
partaker with them. As months passed on, she drew no nearer to them.
They were all so busy, so strong in their union with one another, they
did not seem to have time to stretch out a friendly hand to one who was
at least as much in need of it as Mrs. Wilkins.

The lady she lived with found her trying. "A very trying person" was the
phrase that went the round about her, "always criticizing small
arrangements about the meals and the housekeeping," for Henrietta could
not at first reconcile herself to having no authority to exert, and this
jangling was not a good preparation for sisterly sympathy towards her.

The Vicar's wife might have become friends with her, but during the six
months Henrietta was in the parish Mrs. Wharton was ill and hardly able
to see anyone. Besides, she was shy, and the only time that Henrietta
came to tea they never succeeded in getting beyond a comparison of
foreign hotels.

Henrietta would have liked to confide her troubles, but as she grew
older she had become a great deal more reserved, and also these troubles
she was ashamed to speak of. To think that she had made her own sister,
ill and miserable as she was, more ill and more miserable, she could not
forgive herself; she was even harder on herself than Herbert had been.

As Mr. Wharton had said, it was useless engaging in this arduous work
when her heart was elsewhere. When her six months of trial came to an
end, it was clear that the only thing for her was to go. No one could
pretend they were sorry, and as everyone imagined she was glad, there
seemed no reason to disguise their feelings. They would have been
surprised if they had known her thoughts as she sat at the evening
service on her last Sunday. "Whatever I do, I fail; what is the use of
my living? Why was I born?"

She said to Mr. Wharton in her farewell interview: "I know I have been
very stupid at learning what was to be done, and I have not been willing
to take advice. Now I look back, I see the mistakes I have made, and I
have done harm instead of good. I want to give you"--she named a large
sum considering the size of her income--"to spend as you think right, I
hope that may help to make amends. I am very sorry."

He heard a quiver in her voice, and the dislike and irritation he had
felt all the six months faded away.

"This is much too generous of you," he stammered. "It is my fault, all
my fault. I have been so irritable, I haven't made allowances. My wife
tells me of it constantly. I wish you would forgive me and give us
another chance. Stay six months longer."

His awkwardness and distress almost disarmed her, but she had felt his
snubs, and at nearly forty she was not going to be encouraged like a
child. So that though for many reasons she longed to stay, she answered:
"Thank you, it was a purely temporary arrangement; I have other plans."

As she walked home she wondered what the other plans were.

When in doubt, go abroad. She went abroad again for three months. Her
companion was picked up from nowhere in particular, an odd woman like
herself.

They went to Italy. Neither of them cared in the smallest degree for
sculpture, architecture, painting, archæology, poetry, history,
politics, scenery, languages, or foreigners. These last Henrietta
regarded as inferior Anglo-Indians regard natives, referring to them
always as "those wretches."

Like most women she loved certain aspects in her garden at home, which
were connected with incidents in her life. There was a path bordered by
roses, along which they had walked when Evelyn announced her engagement,
and a special old apple-tree reminded her of the night her mother died.
But to go and admire what Baedeker called a magnificent _coup d'oeil_
was no sort of pleasure to her.

However, she and Miss Gurney had one unending amusement, which Italy is
peculiarly able to supply. They could make short visits to different
towns, and fit sights into their days, as one fits pieces into a puzzle.
Henrietta found this sport most satisfying.



CHAPTER VIII


Just as they were getting tired of tables d'hôte dinners, there came to
their hotel an enthusiast for learning. It was before the days of
women's colleges; they were established, but frequented only by
pioneers, in whose ranks no Henriettas are to be found. But courses of
lectures were so ordinary that not even the most timid could look
askance at them. As philanthropy had failed, and no one could pretend
that art could be a resource for Henrietta,--her career of sketches and
two part-songs had been phenomenally short (invaluable as it has proved
itself for many Englishwomen suffering from her complaint)--everything
pointed to study as the next solution on the list.

Study. Henrietta had not read a book which required any mental exertion
since her dozen chapters of "I Promessi Sposi," fifteen years ago.
Still, the lectures sounded pleasant to her; they were a novelty, they
were--she could not think of anything else they were--a novelty must be
their claim to distinction.

She and the travelling friend found a boarding-house near the
lecture-room. London and the lodgings both looked dismal after the
brightness of abroad, but they were excited at the prospect of
establishing themselves on their own account. It was enterprising, but
not too enterprising.

Henrietta found a band of enthusiasts at the lecture; it seemed her fate
to run up against enthusiasm she could not share. Young ladies,
middle-aged ladies, even old ladies, all listening spellbound--at least
if not absolutely spellbound, spellbound compared to Henrietta--to an
elderly gentleman discoursing on Aristotle. For most of them Aristotle,
and the satisfaction of using their minds were sufficient, but a little
knot of middle-aged women in the front, with hair inclined to be short,
and eyes bursting with intelligence, used learning as a symbol of
emancipation. Lectures were their vote. Now they would be in prison.

Henrietta listened for five minutes, then suddenly her thoughts darted
to her portmanteau: she had lost the key at Dieppe. They went on to the
incivility at the Custom-house, the incivility of the waiter at Bâle,
the incivility of the gardener at her old home, the geranium bed in the
garden--would her stepmother attend to it?--her father, was his eyesight
really failing? She came back with a jump to find that the lecture had
moved on several pages. She listened with fair success for another five
minutes, then her mind wandered to her landlady at the lodgings; was she
perfectly honest, did her expression inspire confidence? There was that
pearl brooch Louie had given her; it was Louie's birthday to-morrow, she
must write, and hear also how Tom was getting on in this his second term
at school, she must send him a hamper. She had settled the contents of
the hamper when she found that someone was speaking to her. The lecturer
was asking whether she felt she would care to write a paper. He hoped as
many ladies as possible would make an attempt at the papers; it would be
a great pleasure and interest to him to look through them, etc.

On the way back she found Miss Gurney entranced with everything; she
seemed to have picked up a great deal more than Henrietta. They went at
once to a library and a bookshop to get what they had been advised to
read, and Miss Gurney bought reams of paper. She was hard at work the
whole evening. Henrietta had one of the books open before her, but she
found the same difficulty in concentrating herself that she had done at
the lecture. Miss Gurney was rapidly filling an exercise book with an
abstract, and was keeping up a conversation as well.

"Ah _that_ was the piece I couldn't quite understand this morning. Yes I
see, now it is quite clear. Look, Miss Symons. Oh, I shall learn Greek,
I certainly shall, as he said, it will make it twenty times more
interesting."

What were they all so excited about? Henrietta had never cared about
abstract questions, and she could not see that there was any object in
discovering what the ancient Greeks thought about them more than two
thousand years ago. The evening before, she and Miss Gurney had had an
interesting conversation on the weekly averages of house-books. Then she
felt comfortable and on the solid earth. Why then, was she attending
lectures on Aristotle? Well, because Miss Gurney had a friend whose
cousin had married the lecturer, Professor Amery, and in the difficult
problem of choosing a subject, when there was nothing she really cared
to know about, this was as good a reason as any other.

Then Henrietta remembered how she and Emily Mence years ago at school,
had argued the whole of Saturday afternoon about Mary Queen of Scots,
and had not been on speaking terms the following day, because Emily had
called Mary frivolous. Had she ever really been that queer little girl?
Still she was anxious to give the lecturer a chance, most anxious, for
she had already had to suffer from Minna and Louie's sympathy that the
parish work was a failure. She read three chapters and fell asleep in
the middle of the fourth, and went to bed half an hour earlier than
usual. Next morning she could not remember a word of what she had read,
but for two dates and one sentence, which remained in her head. "Even
now, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, in spite of an
unparalleled advance in our knowledge of the natural sciences, the world
has not yet produced a mind, which can equal that of Aristotle in its
astounding versatility and profundity of learning." She determined to
persevere, but was it her subconscious self which discovered a vast
arrear of letters which it was incumbent on her to answer before she
thought of anything else?

After the lecture there was a class at which everyone talked. Even the
dear old lady next to Henrietta was asking a quavering question. Yes, a
little delicate old lady had energy to keep the current of the lecture
in her head. She said that Aristotle's problem whether it was possible
for slaves to have ordinary virtues, made her think of the difference in
the Christian teaching of St. Paul's epistles. Had any of the other
Greek philosophers been more humane in their views on slavery? Then
another voice struck in, and compared the ancient idea of slavery with
the slave code of the United States. The voice was rather strident, but
not unpleasant. It had a great deal to say, and for some minutes seemed
likely to take the lecture altogether from the mouth of the lecturer.
Henrietta looked in its direction, and saw a small apple-cheeked elderly
lady. The voice and the face both set her thinking, and by the end of
the lecture she was certain that the elderly lady was Miss Arundel. She
spoke, and when Miss Arundel had recollected who she was (it took a
little time), Henrietta received a most cordial invitation to tea.

Miss Arundel lived with a niece in a couple of rooms quite close to
Henrietta. Mrs. Marston was dead, and Miss Arundel had retired from the
school with just enough to live in decent comfort.

"So now, after teaching all my life, I am giving myself the treat of
learning, and I can't tell you how I am enjoying it, Miss Symons. Ada
and I both like Professor Amery so much." And she prosed on about the
lecture and the books she was reading, and did not much care to talk
over the old times, which were still very dear to Henrietta. It amazed
Henrietta to think that she had once blushed and trembled at the look of
this fussy, garrulous little governess.

She might be something of a bore, but there was no question of her
happiness, her interest in life. She had been getting up at six the last
three mornings that she might finish a book, a large book in two volumes
with close print, that had to be returned to the library. Henrietta
could imagine nothing in the world for which she would get up at six
o'clock. Then her thoughts went like lightning to the morning when the
telegram had come telling of little Madeline's death. The wound she had
thought healed burst out afresh; for a few seconds she felt as if she
could hardly breathe. Get up at six o'clock, of course she would have
forfeited her sleep with joy, night after night. In the midst of envy,
she felt something like contempt for Miss Arundel as a child running
after shadows.

On her way home, she compared her past with Miss Arundel's. Miss Arundel
could look back on busy, successful, happy years. Her room was filled
with tributes from old pupils, they were continually writing to her and
coming to see her, that Henrietta knew; she did not know how often they
had thanked her, and told her what they owed her.

Then she envied Miss Arundel's powers of mind. After forty years of
unceasing and exhausting work she seemed as fresh as a schoolgirl, and
far more capable of learning, while Henrietta after twenty years of
rest, had not merely lost all the qualities she had had as a child, but
had gained none from age and experience to take their place. The
realization of this fact startled and humiliated her. If her powers had
already declined at forty, what was to happen in the twenty years of
life that she might reasonably count upon as still before her?

She thought of Miss Arundel's words: "Etta Symons is a girl with
possibilities; I shall be interested to see how she will turn out." Miss
Arundel had long forgotten them, and now looked on Henrietta simply as a
co-member of the lectures, but she said to her niece after Henrietta had
been to tea, "What a very no-how person Miss Symons is; I should like to
shake her."

Henrietta tried her hardest to work at the lectures, to recover if
possible what she had lost, but it was no use. A person of more
character and determination might have succeeded, in spite of the long
years of mental self-indulgence, so might a person more ready to take
advice. But at forty, as I have said, she felt she was beyond advice, so
she would not notice Miss Gurney's hints. She chose to despise her
numberings and brackets, though she was half-envious of them. And,
however contemptible these aids may be to a real student, they were
evidently the one hope for Henrietta's foggy mind.

She began a paper on the sly, and with much sweat of brow the following
sentence emerged: "There are a number of celebrated writers in ancient
Greece, and among the number we may notice Aristotle, who wrote a number
of celebrated books, among which two called the 'Ethics' and 'Republic'
are very celebrated. He also wrote many other works, but none are so
celebrated as the two above mentioned." She had not written a paper for
twenty-three years, and she felt as helpless as if she were trying to
express herself in French. Her essays had been well thought of at
school.

As she was floundering along, up came Miss Gurney and looked over her
shoulder. "Oh Miss Symons, I should have a margin if I were you; I know
Professor Amery likes a margin for the corrections, he said so himself.
Oh, and you don't mind my saying so, but Aristotle did not write a
republic. Shall I just scratch that out? That was Plato. And I should
have a new paragraph there; and I always find, I don't know if you will,
that it makes it easier to underline some of the words."

"I am not at all certain that I am going to write a paper," said
Henrietta. "I just wrote a few notes down to amuse myself."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, dear. Well, if you should think of doing the paper,
you must read this article, it's such a help, it really puts all one
wants to say."

"Oh no, I shouldn't care to read that at all."

"Oh do. Let me put it here, and then you can look at it."

"No, thank you."

Miss Gurney went out, and Henrietta sat at her paper for two hours and a
half. It was so bad, so unintelligible, that she actually cried over it,
and when she heard Miss Gurney's step, she carried it off to her bedroom
and locked the door. Miss Gurney was after her in an instant.

"How are you getting on with your paper, dear? Can I be of any help?"

She did finish it at last, and gave it to Mr. Amery. She knew it was
bad, but she was too ignorant to know quite how bad. Professor Amery,
with the extreme courtesy of elderly gentlemen, wrote: "I think there
are one or two points which I have not made quite clear. Would you care
to talk them over with me after the class?" But this offer was so
alarming that Henrietta "cut" her lectures for two weeks.

There would have been more chance for her, if only she could have become
in the least interested. She tried the French Revolution next term for
a change, but liked it no better than Aristotle. Intellectual life was
dead and buried in her long ago. What would have really suited her best
in the present circumstances would have been shorthand and type-writing,
but at that time no such occupation was open to her.

She would perhaps have jogged on indefinitely at the lectures, if Miss
Gurney, whose great interest was novelty and change, and whose abstracts
of learned books had lately become much less voluminous, had not jumped
at a suggestion to take a delicate niece abroad, and proposed that
Henrietta should come too. So Henrietta consented, and with little
regret they gave up the lodgings, and said good-bye to learning.



CHAPTER IX


Henrietta paid her father a visit before they started abroad. The
promise of the first days was amply fulfilled; the whole house was
happy, and Henrietta was touched by the warmth of her welcome. After the
squalor of lodgings home was pleasant, and her father's invitation was
cordial: "Henrietta, why don't you stay with us? Mildred," with a fond
look at his wife, "never will allow your room to be used; it's always
ready waiting for you."

It was a temptation to Henrietta, but she refused partly from pride,
from a feeling that she ought not to disturb the present comfort, but
also because it was getting a principle with her, as apparently with
many middle-aged Englishwoman, that she must always be going abroad. Yet
she knew that Miss Gurney did not particularly want to have her, and had
invited her more from laziness than from anything else.

They went abroad--it was to the Italian Lakes--and a life of sitting in
the sun, walking up and down promenades, short drives, and making and
unmaking of desultory friendships began. They grumbled a good deal to
third parties, but still they were happy enough, according to their low
standard of happiness.

As they were abroad for an indefinite period, there was none of the
feeling of rush, which they had enjoyed so much before, but sometimes
they played the Italian game, and had packed-in days; called, 6.45;
coffee, 7.30; train, 8.21; arrive at destination, 11.23; go to Croce
d'Oro for coffee, visit churches of Santa Maria and San Giovanni, and
museum: _table d'hôte_ luncheon, 1.30; drive to Roman remains, back to
Croce d'Oro for tea; separate for shopping and meet at station, 5.20,
for train, 5.30; back for special _table d'hôte_ kept for them in the
_salle à manger_. Henrietta would settle it all with Baedeker and the
railway guide the night before, and if she had felt apprehension at her
failing powers in history, her grasp of this kind of day could not have
been bettered. Everything was seen and everything was timed, and the
only person who might have something to complain of, was the delicate
niece, who went through her treat too exhausted to open her mouth,
counting the hours when she might go to her bed in peace.

At last Miss Gurney and the niece decided to return to England.
Henrietta found some Americans who wanted to stay at Montreux, and they
asked her to join them. After Montreux came Chamounix, and in the autumn
Miss Gurney's niece came out again, and she and Henrietta stayed at
Como, and then at Mentone till April. Then came Switzerland again. Then
Henrietta went to England for a round of visits, and by the end of them
she was longing to be back abroad. She said that England was depressing,
and gave her rheumatism, and that she (in the best of health and prime
of life) could not face an English winter. The fact was she did not care
for the sharing of other people's lives which is expected from a
visitor, and her long sojourn in hotels with no one but herself to
consider, had made her less easy to live with. So without exactly
knowing how, she drifted into spending almost all her time abroad. Every
other year she came back for visits in the summer, but in the spring,
autumn, and winter she wandered from one cheap _pension_ to another in
Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, or Switzerland.

If she had led a half-occupied life as keeper of her father's house, she
now learnt the art of getting through a day in which she did absolutely
nothing. When she became accustomed to it, the very smallest service
required of her was regarded as a cross. Sometimes a relation would
commission her to buy something abroad, and then the _salle à manger_
would resound with wails, because she must go round the corner, select
an article, and give orders to the shopman to despatch it to England.
The friends who asked her to engage rooms for them at an hotel, had
cause to rue their request; they never heard the end of it.

Many lonely women receive great solace from their church, and give
solace in return. Where would the church and the poor be without them?
But Henrietta was never long enough in her caravanserais to become
attached to the services of the chaplains in the _salle à manger_, and
she soon gave up churchgoing. At first she spent a great deal of time
inventing reasons to keep her conscience quiet, such as that it had
rained in the night and therefore might rain again, or that she did not
approve of chanting Amen, but later she did not see why there should be
a reason, and left her conscious to its remorse.

Bad health is another resource for unoccupied women, and it certainly
occurred to her as an occupation, but she realized that it and roving
cannot be combined, and of the two she preferred roving.

Her chief pastime was to skim through novels, any novels that could be
found, costume novels of English history by preference. This was how her
bent for learning satisfied itself. She never remembered the author, or
title, or anything of what she read, but at the same time she was
obsessed with the idea that she must always have something new, and
would constantly accuse her friends, or the library, of deceiving her
with books she had read before. "If you can't remember, what does it
matter?" her dreadfully reasonable nieces would exclaim, not realizing
that her sole interest in the novels was the collector's interest of
seeing how many new ones she could find.

A second pastime was her patience, that bond which knits together our
occidental civilization. She was always learning new patiences, and
always mixing them up with one another. This was another source of
annoyance to efficient nieces. "But that is not demon, Aunt Etta," they
would explain, playing patience severely from a sense of duty. She
cheated so persistently that there was no room for skill. "I can't
conceive why you play," they said crossly. But the reason was perfectly
clear. It stared one in the face. During the patience the clock had
moved from ten minutes past eight to twenty-five minutes to ten.

Henrietta also killed time now and then with sights; not churches or old
pictures, of course she never went near masterpieces now she had ample
leisure for seeing them, but Easter services, royal birthday
processions, or battles of flowers. As she seldom broke her routine of
idleness, these occasions excited her, not with pleasurable
anticipation, but with a nervous fluster that she might somehow miss
something; and the concierge, the porter, Madame, and the head-waiter,
would all be flying about the hotel half an hour before it was necessary
for her to start, sent on some perfectly useless errand connected with
her outing. If it rained, if something went wrong, how she grumbled. And
when she did see her show, it gave her very little pleasure. She had
not in the least a child's mind; she was not pleased by small events,
yet she grasped desperately after them, with an absurd, hazy idea that
she was defrauded of her rights, if she did not see them.

Another interest was an enormous collection of photographs of places,
which she had not cared for at the time, and could not in the least
remember; another her address-book of pensions and hotels, to which she
was always adding new volumes; above all, grumbling. Favourite subjects
were her kettle and her methylated spirits, whether the hotel would
allow her to take up milk and sugar from breakfast, whether the
chambermaid abstracted the biscuits she brought from dessert overnight.
Everyone who came in contact with Miss Symons found they were made to
listen to an endless story of a certain Elise who had stolen the
biscuits and substituted other ones that were quite four days old, and
of Elise's brazen behaviour when charged with the offence.

Her standard of comfort at a hotel was so impossible that she became an
object of terror and dislike to the waiters and chambermaids. She was
punctual in payment, but very grasping, and wrung many concessions from
the hotels by a persistence which no men and few women would have had
the courage to display. She was always seeking the ideal hotel, and for
this reason she was always wandering, and never was long enough in one
place to strike any roots and create a feeling of home. This life
corroded her character. She became more bad-tempered and nagging, always
up in arms, scenting out liberties, and thinking she was taken advantage
of. She was not a character which does well by itself, and under a
domineering manner she concealed her weakness, vacillation, and
timidity. She was divorced from every duty, every responsibility, every
natural tie, with no outlet for her interest or her sympathy. It seems
inconceivable that she should willingly have led such an existence. She
was however, much more satisfied with herself and with things in
general, than she had formerly been. She did not have stormy repentances
or outbursts against her lot; she no longer desired what was
unattainable. If she did not have a particularly high standard of
happiness or of character, neither, in her opinion, had the rest of the
world. Not that she thought much of these things. Over-thinking and
over-longing had caused her much misery in early life, and she shrank
from opening all those wounds again. She faced facts as little as she
could. She lived from day to day, and her inner self was really very
much what her outer self seemed, absorbed in the very small round of
events which concerned her. The days passed, the months passed, the
years passed. She saw them go unregretted, and when they were gone, she
did not remember them. Nothing had happened in them, bad or good, to
mark their course.

"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in
faculty, in form, in moving how express and admirable, in action how
like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world,
the paragon of animals!"



CHAPTER X


It has been shown that Henrietta had not much power of attracting
affection to herself, and she had long ceased to desire it. She was now
brought into contact with numbers of different people, and as travelling
acquaintances she liked them, but when they parted, she did not want to
see them again.

There was, however, an exception to this rule. Henrietta found many
companions in misfortune, expatriated either from health, pleasure, or
poverty. An intelligent foreigner has inquired whether there are any
single elderly ladies left in England, so innumerable are the hosts
abroad. Some, like her, had worn their personalities so thin that it
seemed likely they would eventually become shadows with no character
left; others were nice and cheerful, and made little encampments in the
wilderness, so that the unfortunates might gather round them, and almost
feel they had got a home.

It was in the room of a nice one that Henrietta met a Colonel. There are
fewer occupationless Englishmen abroad, but there is a fair
supply--half-pay officers, consumptives, and mysterious creatures, who
have no good reason for being there. They were a strange medley for
Henrietta to associate with, people whom in her palmy days, as mistress
of her father's house, she would have thought unspeakable. She had none
of this generation's tolerance and love of new sensations to attract her
to unsatisfactory people. She only really liked conventional
respectability.

This Colonel was not respectable. He was not a Colonel in the English
army, and never would say much about himself. He was very pleasant and
polite, and Henrietta, as she walked back to table d'hôte, felt she had
spent a livelier afternoon than usual. It was at the beginning of the
season, and looking back six weeks later she was astonished to find how
often they had met.

Shortly after, the lady in whose room Henrietta had first seen him,
asked her to tea. She did not seem quite so easy-going as usual, and at
last began: "You know, Miss Symons, my cousin, Colonel Hilton, is rather
a peculiar man. I've known him all my life, and I don't think there is
any harm in him, but money is his difficulty. He ought to be well off,
but it always seems to slip through his fingers."

Henrietta realized that this was a warning.

At the end of the season he proposed and she accepted him. She knew he
proposed for her money, and she knew that, besides being mercenary, he
was a poor creature in every way. Most people could not have borne long
with his society, but she, unaccustomed to companionship, felt that he
sufficed her. She did not think much of the future. When she did, she
realized that it was hardly possible they could marry. But meanwhile it
was something--she would have been ashamed to own how much--to have
someone call her "dear." Once he attained to "dearest," but he was
evidently frightened at his temerity, and did not repeat the experiment.

She announced the engagement, and a letter from Minna came flying to the
Riviera, saying that all sorts of terrible things were known about the
Colonel, and imploring Henrietta to desist. She did not desist, but very
soon the Colonel did, having discovered that her fortune was not so
large as he had been given to suppose. There was a solid something it is
true, but for Henrietta, quite middle-aged and decidedly cross (she
imagined she was never cross with him), he felt he must have a very
considerable something. He wrote a letter breaking off the engagement,
and left the Riviera abruptly, having made a good thing out of his
season. Henrietta had lent him, _he_ said--given, others said--over
three hundred pounds.

"And now we shall have a terrible piece of work," said Minna to Louie.
"You know what Henrietta always is--what she was about that other affair
with a man years ago, and again when Evelyn's little girl died. She gets
so excited and overwrought."

But Henrietta quite upset their expectations. This, which most people
might have thought the most serious misfortune which had befallen her,
affected her very little. In her heart of hearts she was saying: "Well,
when all's said and done, I've had my offer like everyone else." She was
grateful for the "dears" too. She did not realize that there had been
absolutely nothing behind them. She answered the Colonel's speedy
application for more money, and continued to send him supplies from
time to time.

Evelyn and Herbert had returned to England, and had settled on the South
Coast. Two boys had been born in Canada, and had grown and prospered.
Henrietta stayed with Evelyn for a fortnight whenever she was back in
England, but somehow the visits were not the pleasure they should have
been.

Evelyn was still delicate, and Herbert had begged Henrietta when she saw
her to make no allusion to their loss. Evelyn was delighted at showing
her boys, and Henrietta was pleased for her that she should have them,
but to her they did not in the least take the place of the dead. They
were not hers; she was almost indignant with Evelyn for caring for them
so much, and accused her in her heart of forgetfulness. This made her
irritable, which Herbert resented, and then Evelyn was nervous because
Herbert and Henrietta did not get on well together. Evelyn's letters to
her were very affectionate, the only real pleasure, in any reasonable
sense of the word, in Henrietta's life.

Sometimes Evelyn and her husband and boys came out to stay with
Henrietta. The visits were not occasions of much happiness, and a
certain day remained for years as a mild nightmare in Evelyn's memory.
They were all in Milan one spring, when the patron of the hotel
announced that his lady cousin, who lived at some out-of-the-way little
country town, had heard from her friend, a priest in that same little
town, that on Tuesday there was to be a special festa in connection with
a local saint. Would the English ladies and gentlemen care to go? The
patron himself had the contempt of an enlightened man for saints and
festas, but he knew the curious attraction which such childishness
possesses for the English tourist.

All was arranged. The railway company had never intended that the little
town should be reached from Milan, but with an early start and much
changing of trains it was possible to accomplish the journey in two
hours and a half.

They arrived. There was no surprise among the hotel omnibuses at their
appearance, for the Italians have found that the English will turn up
everywhere; but to-day they were certainly the only representatives of
their nation.

They reached the church where the festa was to take place. It was
sleeping peacefully, brooded over by a delicious, sweet smell of dirt
and stale incense. Not a soul was to be seen. But as the party marched
indignantly up and down the aisles, another smell comes to join the
incense--garlic. A merry, good-humoured little priest appears; it is the
friend of the lady cousin.

He knew no English but "Yis, Yis"; they little Italian but the
essentials for travel: "Troppo, bello, antiquo." At the word "festa" he
shook his head very sadly, and he said "Domani" so many times that, with
the help of Henrietta's little phrase-book, they found it must mean
"To-morrow." They had come the wrong day. He was very much distressed
about it. To make up, if possible, for the disappointment, he showed
them all over the church and sacristy; he did not miss one memorial
tablet, not one disappearing fresco, and knowing the taste of the
English, he said, as each new item was displayed: "Molto, _molto_
antiquo."

He was so much attracted by Evelyn's charming middle-aged beauty and her
sweet English voice that when Santa Barbara's was exhausted, he could
not resist showing them, what he cared for much more, his own little
brand-new mission church, with its brilliant rosy-cheeked images and
artificial wreaths. The boys, fifteen and seventeen, had had enough of
churches after two days at Milan, and Evelyn could hear from Herbert's
conscientious, stumping tread that he was examining the church because a
soldier must always do his duty.

At length it was over; they came out into the sunshine, and the big town
clock struck a quarter to eleven. Their train home left at 5.30. The two
churches had only used up an hour and a quarter.

"Now, dearest," said Herbert firmly, "I dare say you and Etta will like
a little rest. Suppose I and the boys get a walk in the country; and
don't wait lunch for us, you know. I dare say we can get something at
one of those little wine places one sees about."

They managed to construct a sentence for the priest, who was standing
nodding by them: "Are there any pretty walks in the neighbourhood?"

Smiling genially, he pointed to an answer which the phrase-book
translated: "The landscape presents a grandiose panorama."

Evelyn gave the priest a contribution to his mission church. He was
overwhelmed with surprise and pleasure at this good action on the part
of a heretic, it added to his pleasure that she was such a beautiful
heretic, and when, as they said good-bye, Evelyn wished that they might
meet again, he replied, with his face all over smiles, "I hope perhaps
in Paradise"; he could not speak with absolute certainty. Something in
the way he said it brought tears to Evelyn's eyes, and Henrietta, who
was looking on and listening, thought with a little envy that none of
the many priests or pastors, few even of the laity she had encountered
in her wanderings, had ever hoped to meet _her_ again either in heaven
or on earth. After many affectionate bows, he said good-bye.

The sisters were scarcely half an hour buying picture postcards (there
had been nothing else to do, so they had bought more picture postcards
than it seemed possible could be bought), when rain came on--not gentle
English rain, but the fierce cataracts of Italy, let loose for the rest
of the day. Back came Herbert and the boys, who had somehow missed the
grandiose panorama. It had, in fact, been created entirely out of
politeness by the priest.

After lunch, which they prolonged to its farthest limit, there was
nothing for it but the salon, a small room, with its window darkened by
the verandah outside. Madame brought in yesterday's _Tribuna_, and they
found an illustrated catalogue of hotels in Dresden. Oh, that three
hours and a half! The boys and Herbert would have been content to sit
with their shoulders hutched up, staring at their boots, going every
quarter of an hour to the front-door to see if it were raining as hard
there as it was out of the salon window, and Evelyn only wanted to be
left in silence with her headache. But Henrietta would tease the boys.
Whatever they did do, or whatever they did not do, seemed an occasion
for criticism. Evelyn, to divert attention, burst into long
reminiscences of the days at Willstead. Henrietta combated each
statement with a kind of sneer, as though whatever Evelyn said was bound
to be worthless. Evelyn saw Herbert, who always treated her as if she
were a wonderful queen, casting black looks at Henrietta. At last his
anger came out:

"I don't know why it seems impossible for you to talk to Evelyn with
ordinary civility, Henrietta."

"My dearest boy," said Evelyn, going and patting Herbert's shoulder,
"Etty and I don't care about ordinary civility. We love having our
little spars together. Sisters don't bother to be as polite as men are
to one another; life would be much too much of a burden!"

She gave Henrietta's hand a squeeze, as she went back to her seat, but
after this Henrietta would hardly talk at all, and the reminiscences
became a monologue from Evelyn.

At last, at long last, the train came, and Henrietta forgot her
disappointment in sleep. The happy day she had looked forward to, and
planned, and paid for, was over.

Louie and her Colonel did not thrive better as the years went on. Money
never seemed able to stay with them. Henrietta helped them long after
everyone else had become tired of them. She did not expect gratitude,
nor did she get it. In spite of her dependence, Louie managed to convey
the impression of Henrietta's inferiority, and the children spoke of her
as a butt.

"Oh, it's Aunt Etta's year; it really is rather a fag to think we shall
have her for three weeks. Ethel, it's your turn to take her in tow; I
had her all last time."

"Poor Etta!" said Minna; "she is such an interminable talker, it does
worry Arthur so. She means very well; we all know that."

Minna's children were very much of the twentieth century, and were not
going to bear with a dull old maid, merely because she was their aunt
and had been kind to them. As one of them expressed it, "Never put
yourself out for a relation, however distant. That's an axiom."

Little as the younger generation thought of her, she thought something
of them, and the second week in December, when she chose her Christmas
presents for all her nieces and nephews, was the pleasantest week in the
year to her.



CHAPTER XI


Henrietta had been fourteen years abroad, when she came to pay her
biennial visit to Evelyn.

"Who do you think has come to live here, Henrietta?" said Evelyn, as
they sat talking the first evening. "Ellen."

"Ellen?"

"Yes, our dear old Ellen--Mrs. Plumtree. She's a widow now. Her eldest
son is working here, and she is living with him and his wife. I went to
see her last week, and she was so delighted to talk over old times, and
when she heard you were coming, she was so excited. You were always her
favourite."

A few days afterwards they went, to find Ellen a very hale old lady. In
spite of having brought up a large family of her own, she had the
clearest remembrance of apparently every incident of the childhood of
"you two young ladies" (so she still called them) as though she had
never had any other interest in life.

"Oh, and, Miss Etta," she said, "what a sight you did think of Miss
Evie! I never knew a child take so to anyone before. 'She's quite a
little mother,' I often used to say to Sarah. Do you remember Sarah? She
died only last year; she suffered dreadful with her heart. Do you
remember how you always would go to put your hand into the water before
I gave Miss Evie her bath, because you wanted to be sure it wasn't too
hot? Every evening you did it; and one day you were out late, and Miss
Evie was in bed before you came in, and you cried because you hadn't
been able to do it."

Neither sister found it easy to speak, but Ellen wanted very little
encouragement.

"Sometimes as a great treat, when you was a little older, Miss Evie, I
let you sleep in Miss Etty's bed, and she used to lay and cuddle you so
pretty. And the canary, Miss Etta--do you remember that? When Miss
Evie's dickie died, you went all the way to Willstead by yourself and
bought a new canary, so that she might never know her dickie died. Your
mamma was very angry with you, I remember; but there was nothing you
wouldn't do for Miss Evie."

The sisters walked back in silence; their hearts were too full for
speech. There was no time for private conversation till night, when
Evelyn came into Henrietta's room, and flung her arms round her.

"Darling, darling Etta," she said, "I could hardly bear it, when Ellen
was talking. To think of all that you were to me, all that you did for
me, and that I should have forgotten it. Oh, how is it that we've got
apart?"

"I don't know," said Henrietta; "I don't think there is anything much to
like in me. No one does care for me. I think if no one likes one, one
doesn't deserve to be liked."

"Oh, nothing in this life goes by deserts."

"People love you, and they're quite right; you ought to be loved. You
did care for me once, though. Herbert wrote--you know, when we lost--'A
good cry with you will be more comfort to Evelyn than anything else.'
Even then, in the middle of it all, it made me happy."

"Oh, Etta, what you were to me then!"

Henrietta took Evelyn's hand and squeezed it convulsively. When she
could speak, she said: "Evelyn, do you ever think of our children?"

"Think of them--of course I do. Do you, Etta?"

"I used to, but I tried not to--it was too bitter. The children were
what I lived for, and I don't think of them often now. It's past and
gone."

"Oh, I couldn't live if I didn't. I don't think it is bitter now. These
dear boys, they're not quite the same to me as the ones that were
taken."

"I thought you'd forgotten them."

"I thought you had, Etta, and I couldn't help feeling it."

"Herbert asked me never to speak about them to you."

"Dear Herbert, he is so good--I can't tell you how good he is to me--but
he never will mention them. First of all I was so ill, I couldn't stand
talking of them, but now I can, and I do long for it. He doesn't forget
them, I know, but I think men live more in the present than we do; and
he has his work, which absorbs him very much, and it isn't quite the
same for a man. And then they were so delicate, particularly Madeline,
that I was wrapped up in them all their lives; and they were so small,
he couldn't see much of them."

"Do you feel that you could tell me about them?"

"Yes, I should like to."

They talked far into the night. Herbert was away, so that there was no
one to stop them, and when at last the dawn drove them to bed, Evelyn
said: "I can't tell you how much good you've done me. I seem to have
been living for this for fifteen years."

They neither of them slept at all that night. Both were full of remorse,
but Henrietta's was the bitterest. The life which had seemed to do quite
well enough all these years, suddenly appeared to her as it was. She
contrasted her present self with the little girl Ellen had known. Like
Jane Eyre, she "drew her own picture faithfully without softening one
defect. She omitted no hard line, smoothed away no displeasing
irregularity." She had squabbled, that very afternoon, if it is possible
to squabble when only one party does the squabbling, all the way down to
Ellen's about various quite unimportant dates in William's life. The
incident was almost as much a part of her day's routine as eating her
breakfast. Now it seemed to her a manifestation of the degradation into
which she had fallen.

The power and vividness of her memory, magnified ten times by the
mysterious agency of midnight, brought back the words of advice of Emily
Mence, of Minna, and of her aunt, just as if they had been spoken last
week. She had entirely forgotten them for years. Now they kept rushing
through her head hour after hour.

Before breakfast Evelyn came into her room, her eyes shining with
agitation, and looking so flushed that Henrietta saw what need there had
been for Herbert's caution.

"Etty," she said, "I've been thinking all night; I can't bear your
living in this horrible way: no home, away by yourself, so that we see
nothing of you. Come and live here, live with us. We shan't interfere
with you; you shall come and go as you like. Or live in the village,
there is a dear little house just made for you. Only come and be near
us."

Henrietta was sorely tempted, it was a great sacrifice to say no. But
she knew that Herbert only tolerated her for Evelyn's sake, and that the
boys, rather spoilt and self-important, found her a nuisance. She knew
also that she could not trust herself to be pleasant and good-tempered.
If she came, it would not be for Evelyn's happiness. So she refused,
and even in her fervour of love for Henrietta, Evelyn could not help
realizing it was best that she should.

At the same time that talk was a turning-point in Henrietta's life. She
never felt after it that she was completely unwanted. Although she would
not live with Evelyn, she thought she might justifiably come and be much
nearer her, and she gave up the roving life and returned to England. It
had in fact satisfied her, only because she had felt so uncared-for that
she became insignificant even to herself.

Where should she live? She knew that every place where she had relations
would not do, but this only ruled out four of the towns of the United
Kingdom. It must be a town; on that point she was clear. As she cared
for none of the special advantages of a town, its more lively society,
its greater opportunities for entertainment and intellectual interests,
she was particularly insistent that she could not do without them. What
she wanted was a house with room for herself, two maids, and a couple of
visitors. Such a house is to be found in tens and hundreds everywhere.
She went round and round England in a fruitless search.

As a _pension habituée_ the whole arrangement of her life had been
taken out of her hands; even her clothes had been settled for her by one
of those octopus London firms which like to reduce their customers to
dummies; and her transit from hotel to hotel, and from English visits
back to hotels, had become a mere automatic process. She had not made a
decision for so many years that though her nieces and nephews were witty
over her vacillation, and declared that she enjoyed being a nuisance, it
was a fact that she was trying her best to be sensible and competent.
She, with no go-between, no protector, must determine which was most
important--gravel soil or southern aspect. She felt as she had felt
years ago, when she wrote her paper for Professor Amery, only ten times
more bewildered, almost delirious.

Of course, her nieces constantly talked her over, shaking their heads
and saying: "If only Aunt Etta would let us." But however weak she was,
she was firm in this: she would _not_ be helped. The outward sign of her
bewilderment was extreme crossness, particularly to Evelyn, who was
allowed to accompany her in her search, and to hear her remarks without
making any suggestions. "I will thank you to let me decide about my own
house by myself." They had examined nine houses that day, and were both
almost weeping with exhaustion.

Evelyn could not help feeling exasperated, but when Etta stumbled the
moment after from sheer nervousness, and Evelyn caught hold of her hand,
she realized from its hot trembling grasp how hard it is to come back to
life again.

Henrietta would probably never have found the right spot, if a timely
attack of rheumatism had not persuaded her to fix on Bath. When she had
settled into her house at last, she hated it. She dismissed five
servants in two months. She was so dull, no one called; Bath was so
cold. If only she could let her house and go abroad for the winter.
Happily no suitable tenant appeared, and gradually Bath grew into a
habit and she became resigned. But it was long, very long, before she
would own that she liked it.



CHAPTER XII


And now a happier and more useful course of life began. Henrietta had
just enough rheumatism to take a course of waters sometimes. She found a
doctor who had a great _flair_ for elderly ladies; he knew when to bully
them, when to flatter them, and when to neglect them. He and the waters
made a centre round which the rest of her interests might group
themselves. Church. She found a vicar with nothing of Mr. Wharton's
enthusiasm and loftiness of aim, but with a greater realization of
people's capacities. He too had made a study of elderly ladies, who are
always such an important branch of congregations. He could see that what
Miss Symons was in his drawing-room, touchy, incompetent, and snappish
she would be in any work she did in the parish. But he was also made to
see her extreme generosity, of which she herself was entirely
unconscious. He liked and was touched by her humility. "Oh no, don't
trouble about asking me, Mr. Vaughan, nobody will want to talk to a dull
person like me. Get some nice young men for the girls, if you can." "No,
I can't have that pretty Miss Allan helping at my stall, I can get along
very well by myself. I shall bring Annie; we can manage together."

The poor people, of course, did not like her, for as she grew older she
was more convinced than ever that the lower orders must be constantly
reproved. But poor people are very magnanimous, and they were sure of a
good many presents. She was also for ever bickering with her servants,
but "poor old lady" as they said, "she's getting on now, it makes her
worry," and she found in Annie one who knew how to give at least as good
as she got. Horror of being defrauded by servants and tradespeople was a
great resource, and though she continually deplored the pleasure of life
abroad, these years of muddling in and out of her house, her garden, and
her shops, were probably the happiest in her life.

A certain conversation contributed not a little to this new happiness.
She was at a tea-party, for once she had been admitted into the circle
of tea-parties, she became much absorbed in them, and she and a
neighbour were tracing an attack of influenza from its source to its
decline, when Henrietta's hostess came up to her.

"I want to introduce you to Mrs. Manson," said she. "Mrs. Manson is a
cousin of that Mr. Dockerell you told me you knew, Miss Symons."

There had been no sentiment in Henrietta's telling, she had quoted Mr.
Dockerell as an authority on Portugal laurels.

"Ah, my cousin, Mr. Dockerell," said Mrs. Manson, "you knew him, did
you? He's dead, poor man, had you heard? He died last year."

And once started upon Mr. Dockerell, she rambled away with his life's
history, being one without much feeling, who could say everything to
anybody.

"Poor Fred, his marriage was such a mistake. She was older than him, and
a mass of nerves. She caught him. I always said it was that; anybody on
earth could have caught him. It was at Worthing; those seaside places in
the summer are very dangerous. My mother used to say: 'We must be
thankful it isn't worse.' No, he wasn't happy. There was a story that
he really liked somebody else: a Miss Simon her name was--Simon, or
something like that. Where did she come from? Oh yes, Willstead; he had
some work there at one time. 'The beautiful dark Miss Simon.' At least,
she wasn't beautiful, that was our joke; there was a pretty sister, but
she was fair. My sister always insisted he was pining after her, but
that wasn't like Fred. We used to be hard-hearted, and declare it was
indigestion."

Mr. Dockerell's death was not very much to Henrietta, he had passed so
entirely out of her life. But "a dark Miss Simon living at Willstead,
not beautiful"; she thought much of that. She could not but believe it
must be herself. "So perhaps after all he did care," she said to
herself, as she sat over the fire that evening, she had reached the age
when she liked a good deal of twilight thinking undisturbed by the gas.
But the news had come so late; if only she had known before. Those
months and years of unhappiness rose before her. Granted that Providence
had decreed they were not to marry, and looking back she did not feel as
if she wished they had married, it was all so far behind her, she
thought that she might have been given the happiness of a farewell
letter from him, telling her that she really was first in his heart. "I
should never have seen him or heard from him again; of course I should
not have wanted it, but it would have been so comfortable to have
known." She fell into her childhood's habit of daydreams, if one can
have daydreams of the past, and sat such a long time absorbed that Annie
came in at last with her matchbox. "Don't you want the gas lit, 'm? You
never rang, I was gettin' quite fidgettin' about you, your heart's not
very strong."

Henrietta was composing his last letter, each moment making it more and
more tender. She came back with a start to ordinary life, and the
magazine article on "Beauties of George II.'s Court," which lay open
before her. She dismissed her picture of what might have been with "Of
course it was impossible, it's ridiculous wondering about it. How can
one be so foolish at nearly sixty?" But she did wonder, and there is no
doubt she was very much pleased. And after all the good news was false,
he had never thought of her again.

She confided the little incident to Evelyn. Evelyn, adoring her husband
and adored by him, had been so much accustomed to men's admiration that
she did not attach great value to it. She had seen long ago her old
lovers pairing happily with somebody else: that side of life had been
over for herself many years since. Her interest now was in her sons'
possible marriages, and it was a little painful to her that Henrietta
should be so much excited about what had never after all been more than
a potential love affair. To tell the truth, she thought it a trifle
petty and not worthy the dignity of one on the verge of old age. She
wanted to be sympathetic, and she was too kind to say anything that
would wound, but Henrietta could see that Evelyn did not enter into her
feelings.

Louie's children were now started in life, and the sons were getting on
so well that even Henrietta owned they might be expected to take the
burden of their parents upon themselves. She had her nieces and nephews
to stay; Minna and Louie also came to take the waters. One or two of the
nieces were of course collecting second-hand furniture, and used Bath as
a centre for expeditions to the little country towns. The visits were
very pleasant, if they did not last more than two nights; after two
nights there would be a danger of friction, and sometimes friction
itself. Her nieces and nephews were all what she called "modern," the
harshest word but one she knew. A certain nephew and niece, alas, were
more than modern--they were the harshest word of all, "_Radical_." The
nephew had too profound a contempt for old ladies to talk about anything
more controversial than the local train service, but even that he
discovered was a topic beyond Henrietta's capacity. For it turned out,
after she had appeared to be talking very sensibly about the afternoon
trains, that she was referring to one marked with an "N.," a Thursday
excursion, which destroyed all the point of her remarks. Her nephew
explained this to her, but she would stick to her train, and declare
that the "N." was a misprint. A misprint in Bradshaw. What a mind! He
had not realized that even an aunt could be so childish. Of course she
knew she was wrong, but she tried to persuade herself that she was
right, because she was so much disappointed. She had wanted to make a
good impression on her nephew, even if he were a Radical. She thought
men superior to women, though throughout her life her affection and
veneration had been given to women--Miranda, Miss Arundel, Evelyn. She
had an innocent conviction that men knew more about everything, except
perhaps the youngest babies, and she was anxious for masculine good
opinion. Alas, to contradict her nephew several times running was not
the way to win him over.

He felt that contradiction amply justified him in wrapping himself up in
his paper for the rest of the evening, vouchsafing "um" and "ah"
occasionally after imploring pressure from his aunt. He left first thing
next morning.

Then his Radical sister came. She inspected something under Government,
and with a burning faith in womanhood hoped against hope that with time
her aunt must be converted "to think the right things." With a mere
niece Henrietta felt at liberty, and very competent, to correct. But she
little knew with whom she was reckoning.

"Servants belong to a Trade Union, Annie and Emma" (the cook) "join a
Union. How perfectly ridiculous!"

"But why ridiculous, Aunt Etta?"

"Because it is."

"No, but do tell me, Aunt Etta. I know there must be some solid reason,
and I should be so much interested to hear it."

"You should have seen Annie's hat last Sunday: enormous pink roses in
it."

"Yes," answered her niece, catching her aunt out very easily, "but as
far as that goes some ladies have enormous pink roses."

"Yes, indeed. Why, when I was young we should never----"

"And you don't object to their joining Trade Unions?"

"Yes, I do."

"But, after all, what is that Teachers' Society that Hilda belongs to"
(Hilda was another niece) "but a Trade Union? And you went on their
excursion, Hilda told me."

"That has nothing to do with it" (a favourite refuge with old ladies
when they are getting the worst of a discussion). "Of course, if
Hilda----"

"So I mean Annie's wearing garish hats is not really a reason against
her joining a Trade Union. You see my point, don't you?"

"I particularly dislike being interrupted. I hadn't finished what I was
going to say."

"I beg your pardon, Aunt Etta, I am so sorry. What was it you were going
to say?"

Henrietta could not remember, and branched off to something else.
"Wearing all this jewellery in the day is so common. That girl at the
post office had two brooches and a locket, and she kept me waiting so
long; she always does."

"Yes, but I think we must leave them to judge what they like to wear; it
is not our business really, is it? But I did just want to speak to you
about this Servants' Union, Aunt Etta. I wonder if I might give Annie a
little pamphlet I have written about it. Of course, we don't want them
to be always striking or anything of that sort. The aim of my Society is
simply to try and rouse servants to a sense of what it is they're
missing--this great power of organization and solidarity which they
ought to have. I think Annie looks such a nice intelligent girl, who
would be sure to have an influence with her friends."

"No, she's most tiresome and inconsiderate. She _would_ go out this
evening just when you were coming, because she wanted to take her mother
to the hospital, so that I had to have Mrs. Spring, and it is all very
well for Annie to say----"

"I wonder if I might read you a little piece out of my pamphlet, Aunt
Etta, just to make a few points clear. You see, I want to get you in
favour of our Union so much, because we feel that mistresses ought to be
co-operating with the servants, helping them to help themselves, and
then we shall get a really influential body of public opinion, which
will do valuable work in improving servants' conditions."

Henrietta writhed and struggled, and went off on frivolous pretexts, but
she could not escape the pamphlet, which was extremely able; so was the
author extremely able, but for a complete ignorance of human nature.
Henrietta heard all about Socialism, Land Taxes, and Adult Suffrage too,
and the more cross she became the more kindly and patiently Agatha
shouted, greeting any specially absurd ebullition with imperturbable
pleasantness, and "how interesting, I am _so_ anxious to get exactly at
your point of view." That niece was not invited again.

Henrietta often thought with affection and gratitude of the little old
aunt, who had died many years back; but, as she would have been the
first to own, her old age was not nearly so successful. Her house was
not a centre for everybody. She had some elderly ladies with whom she
exchanged visits, but young people disliked her, and children were
afraid of her.

Ever since she settled in England, she had made earnest attempts to curb
her temper. But the companion of a lifetime is not easily shaken off at
fifty-five, and more often than not she was quite unaware of crossness,
from which all around were suffering severely. On the very rare
occasions that she did realize it, she went back to the self she had
been as a child, descended from the pedestal of her age and generation,
and said she was sorry.

One day she and Annie had a long serious battle. The question in the
first instance was whether Annie had chipped off the nose of the china
pug-dog on the mantelpiece, a relic of the old house at Willstead;
Henrietta always had a tender feeling for relics. The arguments
marshalled by Annie were against Henrietta, but arguments never had much
weight with her. Besides, the battle passed on from the definite point
of the nose to vague but bitter attacks on character. Henrietta always
had in her mind an ideal servant, who accepted scolding not merely with
meekness but with gratitude, and was fond of quoting her, to the
exasperation of the real servants. After half an hour Annie began to cry
noisily, so that Henrietta's words were drowned. The interview came to
an end. Annie went downstairs and told Cook, but she wasted few tears or
thoughts on the matter, and almost at once they were laughing cheerfully
over their young men, as they sat at needlework.

Henrietta did think, fidgeting about the room while she thought, taking
things out of their places and putting them where they ought not to be,
in a fuss of discomfort. At last she rang the bell.

"The lamp, please, Annie."

"The lamp 'm," said Annie; "but you don't want it for half an hour yet,
do you, 'm, it's such a beautiful evening?"

It was impossible ever to quell Annie.

"The lamp, please," repeated Henrietta, "and I should like to--I think
you ought to--I feel that in a--what I want you to realize is that you
should keep a great watch over your temper. When one comes to my age one
sees that there is--and you should not put it off till too late as
people sometimes--as I have done."

Annie's sharp ears heard the last little murmur. Henrietta rather hoped
they would not, though it was for the sake of the murmur that she had
rung the bell.

Annie said "Yes 'm," very pleasantly, and yielded about the lamp. She
told cook afterwards, with some amusement, "She's funny, I've always
said that, but," she added, "I've known some I should say was funnier."

This opinion may be worth recording, as it was one of the highest
tributes to her character Henrietta ever received.

On the whole during those latter years she improved, and in the general
reformation of her character she raised the standard of her reading. She
confined herself in the mornings and afternoon to mildly scandalous
memoirs of Frenchwomen and biographies of Church dignitaries, keeping
her costume novels for the evening.

She often saw Evelyn, and they talked of the past, but they never
regained the almost heavenly intimacy of that night. They seldom met
without some disagreeableness from Henrietta, and she did not like the
boys, there was nothing of Evelyn in them, while they for their part
could not imagine why their mother cared for their aunt Henrietta. It
was a continual struggle for Evelyn not to be impatient with her; much
as she longed to, she could not keep on the high plane of devotion,
which had brought such happiness to both.



CHAPTER XIII


Henrietta died when she was sixty-three. Her father and stepmother were
long dead, also her second brother, whom none of the family had seen for
years. When her relations were sent for, it was very cold weather in
January, and Louie and Minna did not obey the summons. They deplored it
continually afterwards, and explained to one another how appalling the
wind had been, and what care they had to take for their children's sake,
and how Henrietta had frightened them so much the year before by sending
for them when there was no need, that they naturally could not be
expected to realize that this time it really was important.

William came, looking more benevolent than ever with his very becoming
white hair. Henrietta said that she thought it was the last time she
should see him, but he assured her it was just the cold which had pulled
her down a little, and she would be all right again as soon as the wind
changed. "It's wretched, knocks everybody up." He looked so hearty and
mundane that it almost seemed, when he was in the room, as if there
could not be such a thing as death.

They talked about the drought last summer, and William's son, who was a
planter in Ceylon, and the noise of the motor-buses in London, until
William said he must go for his train. He was allowing a quarter of an
hour too much time, for he was able to stay and talk a little while with
the doctor, who called when he was there.

"There isn't any chance, you say."

"No, I am afraid not. Miss Symons' heart has been delicate for some
years; it gives her very little strength to stand against this attack."

"Um! I was afraid so," said William, and he was glad to get out of the
house, and buy a _Pall Mall_.

The inspector niece came down (uninvited), very energetic, and very kind
in using the last few days of her holidays in nursing a disagreeable
reactionary relation. She dominated the nurse, who was much meeker than
nurses usually are, and quite quelled her poor aunt, too weak to protest
even at attacks on the monarchy. But Henrietta was much happier when the
niece's holidays came to an end, and she was left to die quietly and
dully with the nurse.

Evelyn was away in Egypt with Herbert for her health, and by a most
unfortunate accident she did not get the first telegram announcing
Henrietta's dangerous illness. Poor Henrietta asked constantly if there
was nothing from her, and as she got weaker, and a little wandering, she
kept on crying like a child: "I want Evelyn." They cabled again, and
when the answer came, "Starting home at once," it was too late, and
Henrietta was not sufficiently herself to understand it.

As soon as Evelyn got home, she went to Bath. The little house was still
as it was, but for some legacies which a careful nephew had already
abstracted. But the place of the dead seemed to have been filled even
more quickly than usual. Annie, as she said, had only waited "till the
pore old lady was taken" to marry comfortably with a saddler, and the
parlourmaid was already established in a very smart town situation.
There was an unknown caretaker to look after the house, which was to
let. Evelyn saw the doctor and the clergyman, who both spoke kindly of
Miss Symons. "We shall miss your sister very much," said Mr. Vaughan,
"she was always doing kind things,"--and he did miss her to a certain
extent, but there is a ceaseless supply of generous, touchy incapable
old ladies in England, and he could not be expected to miss her very
much. Evelyn went to see the nurse, and could hear from her more of what
she wanted. The nurse was a kind, sweet girl, the centre of an
affectionate family, and engaged to a devoted young clerk.

"Oh, Mrs. Ferrers, if only you could have come back in time," she said,
sobbing, "or if you could have written. She _did_ want you so; every
time there was a ring it was, 'Is that from her?' and I heard her say to
herself: 'I thought she would be _sure_ to come.' I simply had to go out
in the passage, I couldn't keep back my tears, and of course one must
always be bright before a patient; it is so bad for them if one isn't.
Some nieces and nephews came, and one of them stayed several days, and
two brothers, I think; and there were several members of the family
there for the funeral, and she had some simply lovely wreaths, and the
church was nice and full, numbers of her poor people were there,"
brought there, as surely the kind nurse knew, not from love of
Henrietta, but from love of funerals, "but when your wire did come I
cried for joy, though we couldn't make her take it in, poor dear; still
it seemed as if someone really cared for her. Oh, she looked so lovely
and peaceful at the end, all the trouble gone."

This was a comforting deception, which the nurse thought it justifiable
to practise on relations, for in fact death had not changed Henrietta;
there had been no transfiguration to beauty and nobility, she looked
what she had been in life--insignificant, feeble, and unhappy.

"Miss Symons asked me to give you this box," said the nurse. "She made
me promise I would give it you over and over again."

Evelyn found it was an inlaid sandalwood box, which she had sent from
India as a present from the first baby. In it she found Herbert's letter
announcing the death of little Madeline, hers and the other two babies'
photographs, and a sheet of notepaper, tied with blue ribbon. On it was
written, "I can't tell you how much good you have done me, I seem to
have been living for this for fifteen years. EVELYN, September 23,
1890." As she read it, Evelyn remembered, what she had long forgotten,
that this was what she had once said to Henrietta.

When she walked to the hotel, it was a bright, sunny afternoon, and snow
was on the ground. She went to her room to take off her things, but she
stood instead at the window, too intent on what she had heard to be
capable of anything. Her heart was almost bursting to think that
Henrietta should have treasured all these years the little love she had
given her, crumbs, which she had as it were left over from her husband
and boys, love not even for Henrietta's own sake, but for the sake of
the dead children. She with all the riches of love poured on her, and
Henrietta with so little. "I was cold, selfish, self-absorbed, I didn't
think of her, I forgot her, I criticized her; it was all my fault."

But even at this moment of exaltation Evelyn realized that it was not
her fault, but Henrietta's own; that it was because she was so unlovable
that she was so little loved.

"But if she had had the chance she wouldn't have been unlovable. She was
capable of greater love than any of us, and she never had the chance. If
there is any justice and mercy in the world how can they allow a poor,
weak human creature to have so few opportunities, such hard temptations,
and when it yields to temptation to suffer so cruelly? And now I am to
go back, and be happy with Herbert and the boys, and to feel quite truly
that I did everything I could, _I can't bear it_."

She was so much filled with her thoughts that she had not observed the
flight of time. She looked up, and was suddenly aware that the night had
come, and that the sky was shining with innumerable stars. At the same
moment she felt inextricably mingled with the stars, a rush of the most
exquisite sensation, emotion, replenishment she had ever known. She felt
through every fibre of her being that it was all perfectly well with
Henrietta, and that the bitterness, aimlessness, and emptiness of her
life was made up to her. This conviction was a thousand times more real
to her than the room in which she was standing, more real than the
stars, more real than herself. Tears of delight came raining down her
cheeks, and she found that she was saying over and over again, "Darling,
I am so glad"; poor childish words, but no more inadequate than the
noblest in the language to express her unspeakable comfort, beyond all
utterance, even beyond thought. How often she said these words, or how
long this bliss lasted she could not tell.

A strange dream-like remembrance of it stayed with her for some days.
She told her husband, and he said, "I am very glad of anything that can
be a comfort to you, dearest;" but he looked at her anxiously, and
thought it was a sign that she was to be ill again. However, she
continued well and strong. She told no one else, but from henceforth she
was perfectly happy about Henrietta.


    +----------------------------------------------------+
    | Transcriber's Note:                                |
    |                                                    |
    | Changes to the original have been made as follows: |
    |                                                    |
    | Page 42 accumalation of years changed to           |
    | accumulation                                       |
    |                                                    |
    | Page 48 teazing of a kind changed to               |
    | teasing                                            |
    |                                                    |
    | Page 60 two much absorbed changed to               |
    | too                                                |
    |                                                    |
    | Page 64 then he felt prepared changed to           |
    | than                                               |
    |                                                    |
    | Page 70 inacessible foreign place changed to       |
    | inaccessible                                       |
    +----------------------------------------------------+





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