Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Sir Tom
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret), 1828-1897
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sir Tom" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



  SIR TOM


  BY

  MRS. OLIPHANT

  AUTHOR OF "THE WIZARD'S SON," "HESTER," ETC.


  London

  MACMILLAN AND CO.

  AND NEW YORK

  1893

  _All rights reserved_


  _First Edition (3 Vols. Crown 8vo) Sept. 1884_

  _Second Edition (1 Vol. Crown 8vo) 1884_

  _Reprinted (Globe 8vo) 1888, (Crown 8vo) 1893_



                           CONTENTS.

                                                  PAGE

                           CHAPTER I.

  HOW SIR TOM BECAME A GREAT PERSONAGE              1


                           CHAPTER II.

  HIS WIFE                                          9


                           CHAPTER III.

  OLD MR. TREVOR'S WILL                            20


                           CHAPTER IV.

  YOUNG MR. TREVOR                                 29


                           CHAPTER V.

  CONSULTATIONS                                    39


                           CHAPTER VI.

  A SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS                        48


                           CHAPTER VII.

  A WARNING                                        58


                           CHAPTER VIII.

  THE SHADOW OF DEATH                              67


                           CHAPTER IX.

  A CHRISTMAS VISIT                                77


                           CHAPTER X.

  LUCY'S ADVISERS                                  86


                           CHAPTER XI.

  AN INNOCENT CONSPIRACY                           96


                           CHAPTER XII.

  THE FIRST STRUGGLE                              105


                           CHAPTER XIII.

  AN IDLE MORNING                                 115


                           CHAPTER XIV.

  AN UNWILLING MARTYR                             126


                           CHAPTER XV.

  ON BUSINESS                                     135


                           CHAPTER XVI.

  AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL                           146


                           CHAPTER XVII.

  FOREWARNED                                      157


                           CHAPTER XVIII.

  THE VISITORS                                    167


                           CHAPTER XIX.

  THE OPENING OF THE DRAMA                        179


                           CHAPTER XX.

  AN ANXIOUS CRITIC                               189


                           CHAPTER XXI.

  AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER                         200


                           CHAPTER XXII.

  A PAIR OF FRIENDS                               211


                           CHAPTER XXIII.

  THE BREAKFAST TABLE                             221


                           CHAPTER XXIV.

  THE ORACLE SPEAKS                               230


                           CHAPTER XXV.

  THE CONTESSA'S BOUDOIR                          242


                           CHAPTER XXVI.

  THE TWO STRANGERS                               259


                           CHAPTER XXVII.

  AN ADVENTURESS                                  269


                           CHAPTER XXVIII.

  THE SERPENT AND THE DOVE                        280


                           CHAPTER XXIX.

  THE CONTESSA'S TRIUMPH                          291


                           CHAPTER XXX.

  DIFFERENT VIEWS                                 301


                           CHAPTER XXXI.

  TWO FRIENDS                                     311


                           CHAPTER XXXII.

  YOUTHFUL UNREST                                 321


                           CHAPTER XXXIII.

  THE CONTESSA PREPARES THE WAY                   332


                           CHAPTER XXXIV.

  IN SUSPENSE                                     342


                           CHAPTER XXXV.

  THE DÉBUT                                       354


                           CHAPTER XXXVI.

  THE EVENING AFTER                               366


                           CHAPTER XXXVII.

  THE CONTESSA'S TACTICS                          377


                           CHAPTER XXXVIII.

  DISCOVERIES                                     388


                           CHAPTER XXXIX.

  LUCY'S DISCOVERY                                397


                           CHAPTER XL.

  THE DOWAGER'S EXPLANATION                       409


                           CHAPTER XLI.

  SEVERED                                         417


                           CHAPTER XLII.

  LADY RANDOLPH WINDS UP HER AFFAIRS              427


                           CHAPTER XLIII.

  THE LITTLE HOUSE IN MAYFAIR                     437


                           CHAPTER XLIV.

  THE SIEGE OF LONDON                             448


                           CHAPTER XLV.

  THE BALL                                        458


                           CHAPTER XLVI.

  THE BALL CONTINUED                              469


                           CHAPTER XLVII.

  NEXT MORNING                                    480


                           CHAPTER XLVIII.

  THE LAST BLOW                                   491


                           CHAPTER XLIX.

  THE EXPERIENCES OF BICE                         502


                           CHAPTER L.

  THE EVE OF SORROW                               514


                           CHAPTER LI.

  THE LAST CRISIS                                 522


                           CHAPTER LII.

  THE END                                         538



CHAPTER I.

HOW SIR TOM BECAME A GREAT PERSONAGE.


Sir Thomas Randolph had lived a somewhat stormy life during the earliest
half of his career. He had gone through what the French called a
_jeunesse orageuse_; nothing very bad had ever been laid to his charge;
but he had been adventurous, unsettled, a roamer about the world even
after the period at which youthful extravagances cease. Nobody ever knew
when or where he might appear. He set off to the farthest parts of the
earth at a day's notice, sometimes on pretext of sport, sometimes on no
pretext at all, and re-appeared again as unexpectedly as he had gone
away. He had run out his fortune by these and other extravagances, and
was at forty in one of the most uncomfortable positions in which a man
can find himself, with the external appearance of large estates and an
established and important position, but in reality with scarcely any
income at all, just enough to satisfy the mortgagees, and leave himself
a pittance not much more than the wages of a gamekeeper. If his aunt,
Lady Randolph, had not been so good to him it was uncertain whether he
could have existed at all, and when the heiress, whom an eccentric will
had consigned to her charge, fell in his way, all her friends concluded
as a matter of certainty that Sir Tom would jump at this extraordinary
windfall, this gift of a too kind Providence, which sometimes will care
for a prodigal in a way which he is quite unworthy of, while leaving the
righteous man to struggle on unaided. But for some time it appeared as
if society for once was out in its reckoning. Sir Tom did not pounce
upon the heiress. He was a person of very independent mind, and there
were some who thought he was happier in his untrammelled poverty, doing
what he pleased, than he ever had been as a great proprietor. Even when
it became apparent to the wise and far-seeing that little Miss Trevor
was only waiting till his handkerchief was thrown at her to become the
happiest of women, still he did nothing. He exasperated his kind aunt,
he made all his friends indignant, and what was more, he exposed the
young heiress hourly to many attempts on the part of the inferior class,
from which as a matter of fact she herself sprang; and it was not until
she was driven nearly desperate by those attempts that Sir Tom suddenly
appeared upon the scene, and moved, it was thought, more by a
half-fatherly kindness and sympathy for her, than either by love or
desire of wealth, took her to himself, and made her his wife, to the
great and grateful satisfaction of the girl herself, whose strange
upbringing and brief introduction into a higher sphere had spoiled her
for that homely country-town existence in which every woman flattered
and every man made love to her.

Whether Lucy Trevor was in love with him was as uncertain as whether he
was in love with her. So far as any one knew neither one nor the other
had asked themselves this question. She had, as it were, thrown herself
into his arms in sudden delight and relief of mind when he appeared and
saved her from her suitors; while he had received her tenderly when she
did this, out of kindness and pleasure in her genuine, half-childish
appreciation of him. There were, of course, people who said that Lucy
had been violently in love with Sir Tom, and that he had made up his
mind to marry her money from the first moment he saw her; but neither of
these things was true. They married with a great deal more pleasure and
ease of mind than many people do who are very much in love, for they had
mutual faith in each other, and felt a mutual repose and satisfaction in
their union. Each supplied something the other wanted. Lucy obtained a
secure and settled home, a protector and ever kind and genial guardian,
while Sir Tom got not only a good and dutiful and pleasant companion,
with a great deal of sense, and good-nature and good looks,--all of
which gifts he prized highly,--but at the same time the control of a
great fortune, and money enough at once to clear his estates and restore
him to his position as a great landowner.

There were very peculiar conditions attached to the great fortune, but
to these for the moment he paid very little heed, considering them as
fantastic follies not worth thinking about, which were never likely to
become difficulties in his way. The advantage he derived from the
marriage was enormous. All at once, at a bound, it restored him to what
he had lost, to the possession of his own property, which had been not
more than nominally his for so many years, and to the position of a man
of weight and importance, whose opinion told with all his neighbours and
the county generally, as did those of few others in the district.

Sir Tom, the wanderer, had not been thought very highly of in his
younger days. He had been called wild. He had been thought
untrustworthy, a fellow here to-day and gone to-morrow, who had no
solidity in him. But when the mortgages were all paid off, and the old
hall restored, and Sir Thomas Randolph came to settle down at home, with
his pretty little wife, and an establishment quite worthy of his name,
the county discovered in a day, almost in a moment, that he was very
much improved. He had always been clever enough, they said, for
anything, and now that he had sown his wild oats and learned how to
conduct himself, and attained an age when follies are naturally over,
there was no reason why he should not be received with open arms. Such a
man had a great many more experiences, the county thought with a certain
pride, than other men who had sown no wild oats, and had never gone
farther afield than the recognised round of European cities. Sir Tom had
been in all the four quarters of the globe; he had travelled in America
long before it became fashionable to do so, and even had been in Africa
while it was as yet untrod by any white foot but that of a missionary.
And it was whispered that in the days when he was "wild" he had
penetrated into regions nearer at hand, but more obscure and mysterious
even than Africa. All this made the county think more of him now when he
appeared staid yet genial, in the fulness of manhood, with a crisp brown
beard and a few gray hairs about his temples mingled with his abundant
locks, and that capability of paying his way which is dear to every
well-regulated community. But for this last particular the county would
not have been so tolerant, nay almost pleased, with the fact that he had
been "wild." They saw all his qualities in the halo that surrounded the
newly-decorated hall, the liberated farms, the lands upon which no
creditor had now any claim. He was the most popular man in the district
when Parliament was dissolved, and he was elected for the county almost
without opposition, he, at whom all the sober people had shaken their
heads only a few years before. The very name of "Sir Tom," which had
been given rather contemptuously to denote a somewhat careless fellow,
who minded nothing, became all at once the sign of popular amity and
kindness. And if it had been necessary to gain votes for him by any
canvassing tricks, this name of his would have carried away all
objections. "Sir Tom!" it established a sort of affectionate
relationship at once between him and his constituency. The people felt
that they had known him all his life, and had always called him by his
Christian name.

Lady Randolph was much excited and delighted with her husband's success.
She canvassed for him in a modest way, making herself pleasant to the
wives of his supporters in a unique manner of her own which was not
perhaps quite dignified considering her position, but yet was found very
captivating by those good women. She did not condescend to them as other
titled ladies do, but she took their advice about her baby, and how he
was to be managed, with a pretty humility which made her irresistible.
They all felt an individual interest thenceforward in the heir of the
Randolphs, as if they had some personal concern in him; and Lady
Randolph's gentle accost, and the pretty blush upon her cheeks, and her
way of speaking to them all, "as if they were just as good as she was,"
had a wonderful effect. When she received him in the hotel which was the
headquarters of his party, as soon as the result of the election was
known, Sir Tom, coming in flushed with applauses and victory, took his
wife into his arms and kissed her. "I owe this to you, as well as so
much else, Lucy," he said.

"Oh, don't say that! when you know I don't understand much, and never
can do anything; but I am so glad, nobody could be more glad," said
Lucy. Little Tom had been brought in, too, in his nurse's arms, and
crowed and clapped his fat little baby hands for his father; and when
his mother took him and stepped out upon the balcony, from which her
husband was speaking an impromptu address to his new constituents, with
the child in her arms, not suspecting that she would be seen, the cheers
and outcries ran into an uproar of applause. "Three cheers for my lady
and the baby," the crowd shouted at the top of its many voices; and
Lucy, blushing and smiling and crying with pleasure, instead of
shrinking away as everybody feared she would do, stood up in her modest,
pretty youthfulness, shy, but full of sense and courage, and held up the
child, who stared at them all solemnly with big blue eyes, and, after a
moment's consideration, again patted his fat little hands together, an
action which put the multitude beside itself with delight. Sir Tom's
speech did not make nearly so much impression as the baby's
"patti-cake." Every man in the crowd, not to say every woman, and with
still more reason every child, clapped his or her hands too, and shouted
and laughed and hurrahed.

The incident of the baby's appearance before the public, and the early
success he had gained--the earliest on record, the newspapers said--made
quite a sensation throughout the county, and made Farafield famous for
a week. It was mentioned in a leading article in the first newspaper in
the world. It appeared in large headlines in the placards under such
titles as "Baby in Politics," "The Nursery and the Hustings," and such
like. As for the little hero of the moment, he was handed down to his
anxious nurse just as symptoms of a whimper of fear at the alarming
tumult outside began to appear about the corners of his mouth. "For
heaven's sake take him away; he mustn't cry, or he will spoil all," said
the chairman of Sir Tom's committee. And the young mother, disappearing
too into the room behind, sat down in a great chair behind their backs,
and cried to relieve her feelings. Never had there been such a day. If
Sir Tom had not been the thoroughly good-humoured man he was, it is
possible that he might have objected to the interruption thus made in
his speech, which was altogether lost in the tumult of delight which
followed his son's appearance. But as a matter of fact he was as much
delighted as any one, and proud as man could be of his pretty little
wife and his splendid boy. He took "the little beggar," as he called
him, in his arms, and kissed the mother again, soothing and laughing at
her in the tender, kindly, fatherly way which had won Lucy.

"It is you who have got the seat," he said; "I vote that you go and sit
in it, Lady Randolph. You are a born legislator, and your son is a
favourite of the public, whereas I am only an old fogey."

"Oh, Tom!" Lucy said, lifting her simple eyes to his with a mist of
happiness in them. She was accustomed to his nonsense. She never said
anything more than "Oh, Tom!" and indeed it was not very long since she
had given up the title and ceased to say "Oh, Sir Tom!" which seemed
somehow to come more natural. It was what she had said when he came
suddenly to see her in the midst of her early embarrassments and
troubles; when the cry of relief and delight with which she turned to
him, uttering in her surprise that title of familiarity, "Oh, Sir Tom!"
had signified first to her middle-aged hero, with the most flattering
simplicity and completeness, that he had won the girl's pure and
inexperienced heart.

There was no happier evening in their lives than this, when, after all
the commotion, threatenings of the ecstatic crowd to take the horses
from their carriage, and other follies, they got off at last together
and drove home through roads that wound among the autumn fields, on some
of which the golden sheaves were still standing in the sunshine. Sir Tom
held Lucy's hand in his own. He had told her a dozen times over that he
owed it all to her.

"You have made me rich, and you have made me happy," he said, "though I
am old enough to be your father, and you are only a little girl. If
there is any good to come out of me, it will all be to your credit,
Lucy. They say in story books that a man should be ashamed to own so
much to his wife, but I am not the least ashamed."

"Oh, Tom!" she said, "how can you talk so much nonsense," with a laugh,
and the tears in her eyes.

"I always did talk nonsense," he said; "that was why you got to like me.
But this is excellent sense and quite true. And that little beggar; I am
owing you for him, too. There is no end to my indebtedness. When they
put the return in the papers it should be Sir Thomas Randolph, etc.,
returned as representative of his wife, Lucy, a little woman worth as
much as any county in England."

"O, Sir Tom," Lucy cried.

"Well, so you are, my dear," he said, composedly. "That is a mere matter
of fact, you know, and there can be no question about it at all."

For the truth was that she was so rich as to have been called the
greatest heiress in England in her day.



CHAPTER II.

HIS WIFE.


Young Lady Randolph had herself been much changed by the progress of
these years. Marriage is always the great touchstone of character at
least with women; but in her case the change from a troubled and
premature independence, full of responsibilities and an extremely
difficult and arduous duty, to the protection and calm of early married
life, in which everything was done for her, and all her burdens taken
from her shoulders, rather arrested than aided in the development of her
character. She had lived six months with the Dowager Lady Randolph after
her father's death; but those six months had been all she knew of the
larger existence of the wealthy and great. All she knew--and even in
that short period she had learned less than she might have been expected
to learn; for Lucy had not been introduced into society, partly on
account of her very youthful age, and partly because she was still in
mourning, so that her acquaintance with life on the higher line
consisted merely in a knowledge of certain simple luxuries, of larger
rooms and prettier furniture, and more careful service than in her
natural condition. And by birth she belonged to the class of small
townsfolk who are nobody, and whose gentility is more appalling than
their homeliness. So that when she came to be Sir Thomas Randolph's wife
and a great lady, not merely the ward of an important personage, but
herself occupying that position, the change was so wonderful that it
required all Lucy's mental resources to encounter and accustom herself
to it.

Sir Tom was the kindest of middle-aged husbands. If he did not adore his
young wife with the fervour of passion, he had a sincere affection for
her, and the warmest desire to make her happy. She had done a great deal
for him, she had changed his position unspeakably, and he was fully
determined that no lady in England should have more observance, more
honour and luxury, and what was better, more happiness, than the little
girl who had made a man of him. There had always been a sweet and
serious simplicity about her, an air of good sense and reasonableness,
which had attracted everybody whose opinion was worth having to Lucy;
but she was neither beautiful nor clever. She had been so brought up
that, though she was not badly educated, she had no accomplishments, and
not more knowledge than falls to the lot of an ordinary schoolgirl. The
farthest extent of her mild experiences was Sloane Street and Cadogan
Place: and there were people who thought it impossible that Sir Tom, who
had been everywhere, and run through the entire gamut of pleasures and
adventures, should find anything interesting in this bread-and-butter
girl, whom, of course, it was his duty to marry, and having married to
be kind to. But when he found himself set down in an English country
house with this little piece of simplicity opposite to him, what would
he do, the sympathising spectators said? Even his kind aunt, who felt
that she had brought about the marriage, and who, as a matter of fact,
had fully intended it from the first, though she herself liked Lucy, had
a little terror in her soul as she asked herself the same question. He
would fill the house with company and get over it in that way, was what
the most kind and moderate people thought. But Sir Tom laughed at all
their prognostications. He said afterwards that he had never known
before how pretty it was to know nothing, and to have seen nothing, when
these defects were conjoined with intelligence and delightful curiosity
and never-failing interest. He declared that he had never truly enjoyed
his own adventures and experiences as he did when he told them over to
his young wife. You may be sure there were some of them which were not
adapted for Lucy's ears: but these Sir Tom left religiously away in the
background. He had been a careless liver no doubt, like so many men, but
he would rather have cut off his right hand, as the Scripture bids, than
have soiled Lucy's white soul with an idea, or an image, that was
unworthy of her. She knew him under all sorts of aspects, but not one
that was evil. Their solitary evenings together were to her more
delightful than any play, and to him nearly as delightful. When the
dinner was over and the cold shut out, she would wait his appearance in
the inner drawing-room, which she had chosen for her special abode, with
some of the homely cares that had been natural to her former condition,
drawing his chair to the fire, taking pride in making his coffee for
him, and a hundred little attentions. "Now begin," she would say,
recalling with a child's eager interest and earnest recollection the
point at which he had left off. This was the greater part of Lucy's
education. She travelled with him through very distant regions, and went
through all kinds of adventure.

And in the season they went to London, where she made her appearance in
society, not perhaps with _éclat_, but with a modest composure which
delighted him. She understood then, for the first time, what it was to
be rich, and was amused and pleased--amused above all by the position
which she occupied with the utmost simplicity. People said it would turn
the little creature's head, but it never even disturbed her imagination.
She took it with a calm that was extraordinary. Thus her education
progressed, and Lucy was so fully occupied with it, with learning her
husband and her life and the world, that she had no time to think of the
responsibilities which once had weighed so heavily upon her. When now
and then they occurred to her and she made some passing reference to
them, there were so many other things to do that she forgot
again--forgot everything except to be happy and learn and see, as she
had now so many ways of doing. She forgot herself altogether, and
everything that had been hers, not in excitement, but in the soft
absorbing influence of her new life, which drew her away into endless
novelties and occupations, such as were, indeed, duties and necessities
of her altered sphere.

If this was the case in the first three or four years of her marriage,
when she had only Sir Tom to think of, you may suppose what it was when
the baby came, to add a hundredfold to the interests of her existence.
Everything else in life, it may be believed, dwindled into nothing in
comparison with this boy of boys--this wonderful infant. There had
never been one in the world like him it is unnecessary to say: and
everything was so novel to her, and she felt the importance of being
little Tom's mother so deeply, that her mind was quite carried away from
all other thoughts. She grew almost beautiful in the light of this new
addition to her happiness. And how happy she was! The child grew and
throve. He was a splendid boy. His mother did not sing litanies in his
praise in public, for her good sense never forsook her: but his little
being seemed to fill up her life like a new stream flowing into it, and
she expanded in life, in thought, and in understanding. She began to see
a reason for her own position, and to believe in it, and take it
seriously. She was a great lady, the first in the neighbourhood, and she
felt that, as little Tom's mother, it was natural and befitting that she
should be so. She began to be sensible of ambition within herself, as
well as something that felt like pride. It was so little like ordinary
pride, however, that Lucy was sorry for everybody who had not all the
noble surroundings which she began to enjoy. She would have liked that
every child should have a nursery like little Tom's, and every mother
the same prospects for her infant, and was charitable and tender beyond
measure to all the mothers and children within reach on little Tom's
account, which was an extravagance which her husband did not grudge, but
liked and encouraged, knowing the sentiment from which it sprang. It was
with no view to popularity that the pair thus endeavoured to diffuse
happiness about them, being so happy themselves; but it answered the
same purpose, and their popularity was great.

When the county conferred the highest honour in its power upon Sir Tom,
his immediate neighbours in the villages about took the honour as their
own, and rejoiced as, even at a majority or a marriage, they had never
rejoiced before, for so kind a landlord, so universal a friend, had
never been.

The villages were model villages on the Randolph lands. Sir Tom and his
young wife had gone into every detail about the labourers' cottages with
as much interest as if they had themselves meant to live in one of them.
There were no such trim gardens or bright flower-beds to be seen
anywhere, and it was well for the people that the Rector of the parish
was judicious, and kept Lady Randolph's charities within bounds. There
had been no small amount of poverty and distress among these rustics
when the Squire was poor and absent, when they lived in tumbledown old
houses, which nobody took any interest in, and where neither decency nor
comfort was considered; but now little industries sprang up and
prospered, and the whole landscape smiled. A wise landlord with
unlimited sway over his neighbourhood and no rivals in the field can do
so much to increase the comfort of everybody about him; and such a small
matter can make a poor household comfortable. Political economists, no
doubt, say it is demoralising: but when it made Lucy happy and the poor
women happy, how could Sir Tom step in and arrest the genial bounty? He
gave the Rector a hint to see that she did not go too far, and walked
about with his hands in his pockets and looked on. All this amused him
greatly; even the little ingratitudes she met with, which went to Lucy's
heart, made her husband laugh. It pleased his satirical vein to see how
human nature displayed itself, and the black sheep appeared among the
white even in a model village. But as for Lucy, though she would
sometimes cry over these spots upon the general goodness, it satisfied
every wish of her heart to be able to do so much for the cottagers. They
did not, perhaps, stand so much in awe of her as they ought to have
done, but they brought all their troubles to her with the most perfect
and undoubting confidence.

All this time, however, Lucy, following the dictates of her own heart,
and using what after all was only a little running over of her great
wealth to secure the comfort of the people round, was neglecting what
she had once thought the great duty of her life as entirely as if she
had been the most selfish of worldly women. Her life had been so
entirely changed--swung, as one might say, out of one orbit into
another--that the burdens of the former existence seemed to have been
taken from her shoulders along with its habits and external
circumstances. Her husband thought of these as little as herself; yet
even he was somewhat surprised to find that he had no trouble in weaning
Lucy from the extravagances of her earlier independence. He had not
expected much trouble, but still it had seemed likely enough that she
would at least propose things that his stronger sense condemned, and
would have to be convinced and persuaded that they were impracticable;
but nothing of the kind occurred, and when he thought of it Sir Tom
himself was surprised, as also were various other people who knew what
Lucy's obstinacy on the subject before her marriage had been, and
especially the Dowager Lady Randolph, who paid her nephew a yearly
visit, and never failed to question him on the subject.

"And Lucy?" she would say. "Lucy never makes any allusion? She has
dismissed everything from her mind? I really think you must be a
magician, Tom. I could not have believed it, after all the trouble she
gave us, and all the money she threw away. Those Russells, you know,
that she was so ridiculously liberal to, they are as bad as ever. That
sort of extravagant giving of money is never successful. But I never
thought you would have got it out of her mind."

"Don't flatter me," he said; "it is not I that have got it out of her
mind. It is life and all the novelties in it--and small Tom, who is more
of a magician than I am----"

"Oh, the baby!" said the dowager, with the indifference of a woman who
has never had a child, and cannot conceive why a little sprawling
tadpole in long clothes should make such a difference. "Yes, I suppose
that's a novelty," she said, "to be mother of a bit of a thing like that
naturally turns a girl's head. It is inconceivable the airs they give
themselves, as if there was nothing so wonderful in creation. And so far
as I can see you are just as bad, though you ought to know better, Tom."

"Oh, just as bad," he said, with his large laugh. "I never had a share
in anything so wonderful. If you only could see the superiority of this
bit of a thing to all other things about him----"

"Oh! spare me," cried Lady Randolph the elder, holding up her hands. "Of
course I don't undervalue the importance of an heir to the property,"
she said in a different tone. "I have heard enough about it to be pretty
sensible of that."

This the Dowager said with a slight tone of bitterness, which indeed was
comprehensible enough: for she had suffered much in her day from the
fact that no such production had been possible to her. Had it been so,
her nephew who stood by her would not (she could scarcely help
reflecting with some grudge against Providence) have been the great man
he now was, and no child of his would have mattered to the family. Lady
Randolph was a very sensible woman, and had long been reconciled to the
state of affairs, and liked her nephew, whom she had been the means of
providing for so nobly; and she was glad there was a baby; still, for
the sake of her own who had never existed, she resented the
self-exaltation of father and mother over this very common and in no way
extraordinary phenomenon of a child.

Sir Tom laughed again with a sense of superiority, which was in itself
somewhat ludicrous; but as nobody is clear-sighted in their own
concerns, he was quite unconscious of this. His laugh nettled Lady
Randolph still more. She said, with a certain disdain in her tone,--

"And so you think you have sailed triumphantly over all that
difficulty--thanks to your charms and the baby's, and are going to hear
nothing of it any more?"

Sir Tom felt that he was suddenly pulled up, and was a little resentful
in return.

"I hope," he said, "that is, I do more than hope, I feel convinced, that
my wife, who has great sense, has outgrown that nonsense, and that she
has sufficient confidence in me to leave her business matters in my
hands."

Lady Randolph shook her head.

"Outgrown nonsense--at three and twenty?" she said. "Don't you think
that's premature? and, my dear boy, take my word for it, a woman when
she has the power, likes to keep the control of her own business just as
well as a man does. I advise you not to holloa till you are out of the
wood."

"I don't expect to have any occasion to holloa; there is no wood for
that matter; Lucy, though perhaps you may not think it, is one of the
most reasonable of creatures."

"She is everything that is nice and good," said the Dowager, "but how
about the will? Lucy may be reasonable, but that is not. And she cannot
forget it always."

"Pshaw! The will is a piece of folly," cried Sir Tom. He grew red at the
very thought with irritation and opposition. "I believe the old man was
mad. Nothing else could excuse such imbecility. Happily there is no
question of the will."

"But there must be, some time or other."

"I see no occasion for it," said Sir Tom coldly; and as his aunt was a
reasonable woman, she did not push the matter any farther. But if the
truth must be told this sensible old lady contemplated the great
happiness of these young people with a sort of interested and alarmed
spectatorship (for she wished them nothing but good), watching and
wondering when the explosion would come which might in all probability
shatter it to ruins. For she felt thoroughly convinced in her own mind
that Lucy would not always forget the conditions by which she held her
fortune, and that all the reason and good sense in the world would not
convince her that it was right to ignore and baulk her father's
intentions, as conveyed with great solemnity in his will. And when the
question should come to be raised, Lady Randolph felt that it would be
no trifling one. Lucy was very simple and sweet, but when her conscience
spoke even the influence of Sir Tom would not suffice to silence it. She
was a girl who would stand to what she felt to be right if all the world
and even her husband were against her--and the Dowager, who wished them
no harm, felt a little alarmed as to the issue. Sir Tom was not a man
easy to manage, and the reddening of his usually smiling countenance at
the mere suggestion of the subject was very ominous. It would be better,
far better, for Lucy if she would yield at once and say nothing about
it. But that was not what it was natural for her to do. She would stand
by her duty to her father, just as, were it assailed, she would stand by
her duty to her husband; but she would never be got to understand that
the second cancelled the first. The Dowager Lady Randolph watched the
young household with something of the interest with which a playgoer
watches the stage. She felt sure that the explosion would come, and that
a breath, a touch, might bring it on at any moment; and then what was to
be the issue? Would Lucy yield? would Lucy conquer? or would the easy
temper with which everybody credited Sir Tom support this trial? The old
lady, who knew him so well, believed that there was a certain fiery
element below, and she trembled for the peace of the household which was
so happy and triumphant, and had no fear whatever for itself. She
thought of "the torrent's smoothness ere it dash below," of the calm
that precedes a storm, and many other such images, and so frightened did
she become at the dangers she had conjured up that she put the will
hurriedly out of her thoughts, as Sir Tom had done, and would think no
more of it. "Sufficient," she said to herself, "is the evil to the day."

In the meantime, the married pair smiled serenely at any doubts of their
perfect union, and Lucy felt a great satisfaction in showing her
husband's aunt (who had not thought her good enough for Sir Tom,
notwithstanding that she so warmly promoted the match) how satisfied he
was with his home, and how exultant in his heir.

In the following chapters the reader will discover what was the cause
which made the Dowager shake her head when she got into the carriage to
drive to the railway at the termination of her visit. It was all very
pretty and very delightful, and thoroughly satisfactory; but still Lady
Randolph, the elder, shook her experienced head.



CHAPTER III.

OLD MR. TREVOR'S WILL.


Lucy Trevor, when she married Sir Thomas Randolph, was the heiress of so
great a fortune that no one ventured to state it in words or figures.
She was not old enough, indeed, to have the entire control of it in her
hands, but she had unlimited control over a portion of it in a certain
sense, not for her own advantage, but for the aggrandisement of others.
Her father, who was eccentric and full of notions, had so settled it
that a large portion of the money should eventually return, as he
phrased it, to the people from whom it had come, and this not in the way
of public charities and institutions, as is the common idea in such
cases, but by private and individual aid to struggling persons and
families. Lucy, who was then all conscience and devotion to the
difficult yet exciting duty which her father had left to her to do, had
made a beginning of this extraordinary work before her marriage,
resisting all the arguments that were brought to bear upon her as to
the folly of the will, and the impossibility of carrying it out. It is
likely, indeed, that the trustees and guardians would have taken steps
at once to have old Trevor's will set aside but for the fact that Lucy
had a brother, who in that case would divide the inheritance with her,
but who was specially excluded by the will, as being a son of Mr.
Trevor's second wife, and entirely unconnected with the source from
which the fortune came. It was Lucy's mother who had brought it into the
family, although she was not herself aware of its magnitude, and did not
live long enough to have any enjoyment of it. Neither did old Trevor
himself have any enjoyment of it, save in the making of the will by
which he laid down exactly his regulations for its final disposal. In
any case Lucy was to retain the half, which was of itself a great sum;
but the condition of her inheritance, and indeed the occupation of her
life, according to her father's intention, was that she should select
suitable persons to whom to distribute the other half of her fortune. It
is needless to say that this commission had seriously occupied the
thoughts of the serious girl who, without any sense of personal
importance, found herself thus placed in the position of an official
bestower of fortune, having it in her power to confer comfort,
independence, and even wealth; for she was left almost entirely
unrestricted as to her disposition of the money, and might at her
pleasure confer a very large sum upon a favourite. Everybody who had
ever heard of old Trevor's will considered it the very maddest upon
record, and there were many who congratulated themselves that Lucy's
husband, if she was so lucky as to marry a man of sense, would certainly
put a stop to it--or even that Lucy herself, when she came to years of
serious judgment, would see the folly; for there was no stipulation as
to the time at which the distributions should be made, these, as well as
the selection of the objects of her bounty, being left to herself. She
had been very full of this strange duty before her marriage, and had
selected several persons who, as it turned out, did but little credit to
her choice, almost forcing her will upon the reluctant trustees, who had
no power to hinder her from carrying it out, and whose efforts at
reasoning with her had been totally unsuccessful. In these early
proceedings Sir Tom, who was intensely amused by the oddity of the
business altogether, and who had then formed no idea of appropriating
her and her money to himself, gave her a delighted support.

He had never in his life encountered anything which amused him so much,
and his only regret was that he had not known the absurd but high-minded
old English Quixote who, wiser in his generation than that noble knight,
left it to his heir to redress the wrongs of the world, while he himself
had the pleasure of the anticipation only, not perhaps unmixed with a
malicious sense of all the confusions and exhibitions of the weakness of
humanity it would produce. Sir Tom himself had humour enough to
appreciate the philosophy of the old humorist, and the droll spectator
position which he had evidently chosen for himself, as though he could
somehow see and enjoy all the struggles of self-interest raised by his
will, with one of those curious self-delusions which so often seem to
actuate the dying. Sir Tom, however, had thought it little more than a
folly even at the moment when it had amused him the most. He had thought
that in time Lucy would come to see how ridiculous it was, and would
tacitly, without saying anything, give it up, so sensible a girl being
sure in the long run to see how entirely unsuited to modern times and
habits such a disposition was. And had she done so, there was nobody who
was likely to awaken her to a sense of her duty. Her trustees, who
considered old Trevor mad, and Lucy a fool to humour him, would
certainly make no objection; and little Jock, the little brother to whom
Lucy was everything in the world, was still less likely to interfere.
When it came about that Lucy herself, and her fortune, and all her
right, were in Sir Tom's own hands, he was naturally more and more sure
that this foolish will (after giving him a great deal of amusement, and
perhaps producing a supernatural chuckle, if such an expression of
feeling is possible in the spiritual region where old Trevor might be
supposed to be) would be henceforward like a testament in black letter,
voided by good sense and better knowledge and time, the most certain
agency of all. And his conviction had been more than carried out in the
first years of his married life. Lucy forgot what was required of her.
She thought no more of her father's will. It glided away into the unseen
along with so many other things, extravagances, or if not extravagances,
still phantasies of youth. She found enough in her new life--in her
husband, her baby, and the humble community which looked up to her and
claimed everything from her--to occupy both her mind and her hands. Life
seemed to be so full that there was no time for more.

It had been no doing of Sir Tom's that little Jock, the brother who had
been Lucy's child, her Mentor, her counsellor and guide, had been
separated from her for so long. Jock had been sent to school with his
own entire concurrence and control. He was a little philosopher with a
mind beyond his years, and he had seemed to understand fully, without
any childish objection, the reason why he should be separated from her,
and even why it was necessary to give up the hope of visiting his
sister. The first year it was because she was absent on her prolonged
wedding tour: the next because Jock was himself away on a long and
delightful expedition with a tutor, who had taken a special fancy to
him. Afterwards the baby was expected, and all exciting visits and
visitors were given up. They had met in the interval. Lucy had visited
Jock at his school, and he had been with them in London on several
 occasions. But there had been little possibility of anything like their
old intercourse. Perhaps they could never again be to each other what
they had been when these two young creatures, strangely separated from
all about them, had been alone in the world, having entire and perfect
confidence in each other. They both looked back upon these bygone times
with a sort of regretful consciousness of the difference; but Lucy was
very happy in her new life, and Jock was a perfectly natural boy, given
to no sentimentalities, not jealous, and enjoying his existence too
completely to sigh for the time when he was a quaint old-fashioned
child, and knew no life apart from his sister.

Their intercourse then had been so pretty, so tender and touching; the
child being at once his sister's charge and her superior in his
old-fashioned reflectiveness, her pupil and her teacher, the little
judge of whose opinions she stood in awe, while at the same time quite
subject and submissive to her--that it was a pity it should ever come to
an end; but it is a pity, too, when children grow up, when they grow out
of all the softness and keen impressions of youth into the harder stuff
of man and woman. To their parents it is a change which has often
little to recommend it--but it is inevitable, as we all know; and so it
was a pity that Lucy and Jock were no longer all in all to each other;
but the change was in their case, too, inevitable, and accepted by both.
When, however, the time came that Jock was to arrive really on his first
long visit at the Hall, Lucy prepared for this event with a little
excitement, with a lighting up of her eyes and countenance, and a
pleasant warmth of anticipation in which even little Tom was for the
moment set aside. She asked her husband a dozen times in the previous
day if he thought the boy would be altered. "I know he must be taller
and all that," Lucy said. "I do not mean the outside of him. But do you
think he will be changed?"

"It is to be hoped so," said Sir Tom, serenely. "He is sixteen. I trust
he is not what he was at ten. That would be a sad business, indeed----"

"Oh, Tom, you know that's not what I mean!--of course he has grown
older; but he always was very old for his age. He has become a real boy
now. Perhaps in some things he will seem younger too."

"I always said you were very reasonable," said her husband, admiringly.
"That is just what I wanted you to be prepared for--not a wise little
old man as he was when he had the charge of your soul, Lucy."

She smiled at him, shaking her head. "What ridiculous things you say.
But Jock was always the wise one. He knew much better than I did. He did
take care of me whatever you may think, though he was such a child."

"Perhaps it was as well that he did not continue to take care of you. On
the whole, though I have no such lofty views, I am a better guide."

Lucy looked at him once more without replying for a moment. Was her mind
ever crossed by the idea that there were perhaps certain particulars in
which little Jock was the best guide? If so the blasphemy was
involuntary. She shook it off with a little movement of her head, and
met his glance with her usual serene confidence. "You ought to be," she
said, "Tom; but you liked him always. Didn't you like him? I always
thought so; and you will like him now?"

"I hope so," said Sir Tom.

Then a slight gleam of anxiety came into Lucy's eyes. This seemed the
only shape in which evil could come to her, and with one of those
forewarnings of Nature always prone to alarm, which come when we are
most happy, she looked wistfully at her husband, saying nothing, but
with an anxious question and prayer combined in her look. He smiled at
her, laying his hand upon her head, which was one of his caressing ways,
for Lucy, not an imposing person in any particular, was short, and Sir
Tom was tall.

"Does that frighten you, Lucy? I shall like him for your sake, if not
for his own, never fear."

"That is kind," she said, "but I want you to like him for his own sake.
Indeed, I should like you if you would, Tom," she added almost timidly,
"to like him for your own. Perhaps you think that is presuming, as if
he, a little boy, could be anything to you; but I almost think that is
the only real way--if you know what I mean."

"Now this is humbling," said Sir Tom, "that one's wife should consider
one too dull to know what she means. You are quite right, and a complete
philosopher, Lucy. I will like the boy for my own sake. I always did
like him, as you say. He was the quaintest little beggar, an old man
and a child in one. But it would have been bad for him had you kept on
cultivating him in that sort of hot-house atmosphere. It was well for
Jock, whatever it might be for you, that I arrived in time."

Lucy pondered for a little without answering; and then she said, "Why
should it be considered so necessary for a boy to be sent away from
home?"

"Why!" cried Sir Tom, in astonishment; and then he added, laughingly,
"It shows your ignorance, Lucy, to ask such a question. He must be sent
to school, and there is an end of it. There are some things that are
like axioms in Euclid, though you don't know very much about that--they
are made to be acted upon, not to be discussed. A boy must go to
school."

"But why?" said Lucy undaunted. "That is no answer." She was
untrammelled by any respect for Euclid, and would have freely questioned
the infallibility of an axiom, with a courage such as only ignorance
possesses. She was thinking not only of Jock, but had an eye to distant
contingencies, when there might be question of a still more precious
boy. "God," she said, reverentially, "must have meant surely that the
father and mother should have something to do in bringing them up."

"In the holidays, my dear," said Sir Tom; "that is what we are made for.
Have you never found that out?"

Lucy never felt perfectly sure whether he was in jest or earnest. She
looked at him again to see what he meant--which was not very easy, for
Sir Tom meant two things directly opposed to each other. He meant what
he said, and yet said what he knew was nonsense, and laughed at himself
inwardly with a keen recognition of this fact. Notwithstanding, he was
as much determined to act upon it as if it had been the most certain
truth, and in a way pinned his faith to it as such.

"I suppose you are laughing," said Lucy, "and I wish you would not,
because it is so important. I am sure we are not meant only for the
holidays, and you don't really think so, Tom; and to take a child away
from his natural teachers, and those that love him best in the world, to
throw him among strangers! Oh, I cannot think that is the best way,
whatever Euclid may make you think."

At this Sir Tom laughed, as he generally did, though never
disrespectfully, at Lucy's decisions. He said, "That is a very just
expression, my dear, though Euclid never made us think so much as he
ought to have done. You are thinking of that little beggar. Wait till he
is out of long clothes."

"Which shows all you know about it. He was shortcoated at the proper
time, I hope," said Lucy, with some indignation, "do you call these long
clothes?"

_These_ were garments which showed when he sprawled, as he always did, a
great deal of little Tom's person, and as his mother was at that time
holding him by them, while he "felt his feet," upon the carpet, the
spectacle of two little dimpled knees without any covering at all
triumphantly proved her right. Sir Tom threw himself upon the carpet to
kiss those sturdy, yet wavering little limbs, which were not quite under
the guidance of Tommy's will as yet, and taking the child from his
mother, propped it up against his own person. "For the present, I allow
that fathers and mothers are the best," he said.

Lucy stood and gazed at them in that ecstasy of love and pleasure with
which a young mother beholds her husband's adoration for their child.
Though she feels it to be the highest pride and crown of their joint
existence, yet there is always in her mind a sense of admiration and
gratitude for his devotion. She looked down upon them at her feet, with
eyes running over with happiness. It is to be feared that at such a
moment Lucy forgot even Jock, the little brother who had been as a child
to her in her earlier days; and yet there was no want of love for Jock
in her warm and constant heart.



CHAPTER IV.

YOUNG MR. TREVOR.


John Trevor, otherwise Jock, arrived at the Hall in a state of
considerable though suppressed excitement. It was not in his nature to
show the feelings which were most profound and strongest in his nature,
even if the religion of an English public school boy had not forbidden
demonstration. But he had very strong feelings underneath his calm
exterior, and the approach to Lucy's home gave him many thoughts. The
sense of separation which had once affected him with a deep though
unspoken sentiment had passed away long ago into a faint grudge, a
feeling of something lost--but between ten and sixteen one does not
brood upon a grievance, especially when one is surrounded by everything
that can make one happy; and there was a certain innate philosophy in
the mind of Jock which enabled him to see the justice and necessity of
the separation. He it was who in very early day, had ordained his own
going to school with a realisation of the need of it which is not
usually given to his age--and he had understood without any explanation
and without any complaint that Lucy must live her own life, and that
their constant brother and sister fellowship became impossible when she
married. The curious little solemn boy, who had made so many shrewd
guesses at the ways of life while he was still only a child, accepted
this without a word, working it out in his own silent soul; but
nevertheless it had affected him deeply. And when the time came at last
for a real meeting, not a week's visit in town where she was fully
occupied, and he did not well know what to do with himself--or a hurried
rapid meeting at school, where Jock's pride in introducing his tutor to
his sister was a somewhat imperfect set-off to the loss of personal
advantage to himself in thus seeing Lucy always in the company of other
people--his being was greatly moved with diverse thoughts. Lucy was all
he had in the world to represent the homes, the fathers and mothers and
sisters and brothers of his companions. The old time when they had been
all in all to each other had a more delicate beauty than the ordinary
glow of childhood. He thought there was nobody like her, with that
mingled adoration and affectionate contempt which make up a boy's love
for the women belonging to him. She was not clever: but he regarded the
simplicity of her mind with pride. This seemed to give her her crowning
charm. "Any fellow can be clever," Jock said to himself. It was part of
Lucy's superiority that she was not so. He arrived at the railway
station at Farafield with much excitement in his mind, though his looks
were quiet enough. The place, though it was the first he had ever known,
did not attract a thought from the other and more important meeting. It
was a wet day in August, and the coachman who had been sent for him gave
him a note to say that Lucy would have come to meet him but for the
rain. He was rather glad of the rain, this being the case. He did not
want to meet her on a railway platform--he even regretted the long
stretches of the stubble fields as he whirled past, and wished that the
way had been longer, though he was so anxious to see her. And when he
jumped down at the great door of the hall and found himself in the
embrace of his sister, the youth was thrilling with excitement, hope,
and pleasure. Lucy had changed much less than he had. Jock, who had been
the smallest of pale-faced boys, was now long and weedy, with limbs and
fingers of portentous length. His hair was light and limp; his large
eyes, well set in his head, had a vague and often dreamy look. It was
impossible to call him a handsome boy. There was an entire want of
colour about him, as there had been about Lucy in her first youth, and
his gray morning clothes, like the little gray dress she had worn as a
young girl were not very becoming to him. They had been so long apart
that he met her very shyly, with an awkwardness that almost looked like
reluctance, and for the first hour scarcely knew what to say to her, so
full was he of the wonder and pleasure of being by her, and the
impossibility of expressing this. She asked him about his journey, and
he made the usual replies, scarcely knowing what he said, but looking at
her with a suppressed beatitude which made Jock dull in the very
intensity of his feeling. The rain came steadily down outside, shutting
them in as with veils of falling water. Sir Tom, in order to leave them
entirely free to have their first meeting over, had taken himself off
for the day. Lucy took her young brother into the inner drawing-room,
the centre of her own life. She made him sit down in a luxurious chair,
and stood over him gazing at the boy, who was abashed and did not know
what to say. "You are different, Jock. It is not that you are taller and
bigger altogether, but you are different. I suppose so am I."

"Not much," he said, looking shyly at her. "You couldn't change."

"How so?" she asked with a laugh. "I am such a great deal older I ought
to look wiser. Let me see what it is. Your eyes have grown darker, I
think, and your face is longer, Jock; and what is that? a little down,
actually, upon your upper lip. Jock, not a moustache!"

Jock blushed with pleasure and embarrassment, and put up his hand fondly
to feel those few soft hairs. "There isn't very much of it," he said.

"Oh, there is enough to swear by; and you like school as well as ever?
and MTutor, how is he? Are you as fond of him as you used to be, Jock?"

"You don't say you're fond of him," said Jock, "but he's just as jolly
as ever, if that is what you mean."

"That is what I mean, I suppose. You must tell me when I say anything
wrong," said Lucy. She took his head between her hands and gave him a
kiss upon his forehead. "I am so glad to see you here at last," she
said.

And then there was a pause. Her first little overflow of questions had
come to an end, and she did not exactly know what to say, while Jock sat
silent, staring at her with an earnest gaze. It was all so strange, the
scene and surroundings, and Lucy in the midst, who was a great lady,
instead of being merely his sister--all these confused the boy's
faculties. He wanted time to realise it all. But Lucy, for her part,
felt the faintest little touch of disappointment. It seemed to her as if
they ought to have had so much to say to each other, such a rush of
questions and answers, and full-hearted confidence. Jock's heart would
be at his lips, she thought, ready to rush forth--and her own also, with
all the many things of which she had said to herself: "I must tell that
to Jock." But as a matter of fact, many of these things had been told by
letter, and the rest would have been quite out of place in the moment of
reunion, in which indeed it seemed inappropriate to introduce any
subject other than their pleasure in seeing each other again, and those
personal inquiries which we all so long to make face to face when we are
separated from those near to us, yet which are so little capable of
filling all the needs of the situation when that moment comes. Jock was
indeed showing his happiness much more by his expressive silence and shy
eager gaze at her than if he had plunged into immediate talk; but Lucy
felt a little disappointed, and as if the meeting had not come up to her
hopes. She said, after a pause which was almost awkward, "You would like
to see baby, Jock? How strange that you should not know baby! I wonder
what you will think of him." She rose and rang the bell while she was
speaking in a pleasant stir of fresh expectation. No doubt it would stir
Jock to the depths of his heart, and bring out all his latent feeling,
when he saw Lucy's boy. Little Tom was brought in state to see "his
uncle," a title of dignity which the nurse felt indignantly disappointed
to have bestowed upon the lanky, colourless boy who got up with great
embarrassment and came forward reluctantly to see the creature quite
unknown and unrealised, of whom Lucy spoke with so much exultation. Jock
was not jealous, but he thought it rather odd that "a little thing like
that" should excite so much attention. It seemed to him that it was a
thing all legs and arms, sprawling in every direction, and when it
seized Lucy by the hair, pulling it about her face with the most riotous
freedom, Jock felt deeply disposed to box its ears. But Lucy was
delighted. "Oh, naughty baby!" she said, with a voice of such admiration
and ecstasy as the finest poetry, Jock reflected, would never have awoke
in her; and when the thing "loved" her, at its nurse's bidding, clasping
its fat arms round her neck, and applying a wide-open wet mouth to her
cheek, the tears were in her eyes for very pleasure. "Baby, darling,
that is your uncle; won't you go to your uncle? Take him, Jock. If he is
a little shy at first he will soon get used to you," Lucy cried. To see
Jock holding back on one side, and the baby on the other, which
strenuously refused to go to its uncle, was as good as a play.

"I'm afraid I should let it fall," said Jock, "I don't know anything
about babies."

"Then sit down, dear, and I will put him upon your lap," said the young
mother. There never was a more complete picture of wretchedness than
poor Jock, as he placed himself unwillingly on the sofa with his knees
put firmly together and his feet slanting outwards to support them. "I
sha'n't know what to do with it," he said. It is to be feared that he
resented its existence altogether. It was to him a quite unnecessary
addition. Was he never to see Lucy any more without that thing clinging
to her? Little Tom, for his part, was equally decided in his
sentiments. He put his little fists, which were by no means without
force, against his uncle's face, and pushed him away, with squalls that
would have exasperated Job; and then, instead of consoling Jock, Lucy
took the little demon to her arms and soothed him. "Did they want it to
make friends against its will," Lucy was so ridiculous as to say, like
one of the women in _Punch_, petting and smoothing down that odious
little creature. Both she and the nurse seemed to think that it was the
baby who wanted consoling for the appearance of Jock, and not Jock who
had been insulted; for one does not like even a baby to consider one as
repulsive and disagreeable. The incident was scarcely at an end when Sir
Tom came in, fresh, smiling, and damp from the farm, where he had been
inspecting the cattle and enjoying himself. Mature age and settled life
and a sense of property had converted Sir Tom to the pleasure of
farming. He shook Jock heartily by the hand, and clapped him on the
back, and bade him welcome with great kindness. Then he took "the little
beggar" on his shoulder and carried him, shrieking with delight, about
the room. It seemed a very strange thing to Jock to see how entirely
these two full-grown people gave themselves up to the deification of
this child. It was not bringing themselves to his level, it was looking
up to him as their superior. If he had been a king his careless favours
could not have been more keenly contended for. Jock, who was fond of
poetry and philosophy and many other fine things, looked on at this new
mystery with wondering and indignant contempt. After dinner there was
the baby again. It was allowed to stay out of bed longer than usual in
honour of its uncle, and dinner was hurried over, Jock thought, in
order that it might be produced, decked out in a sash almost as broad as
its person. When it appeared rational conversation was at an end, Sir
Tom, whom Jock had always respected highly, stopped the inquiries he was
making, with all the knowledge and pleasure, of an old schoolboy, into
school life, comparing his own experiences with those of the present
generation--to play bo-peep behind Lucy's shoulder with the baby.
Bo-peep! a Member of Parliament, a fellow who had been at the
University, who had travelled, who had seen America and gone through the
Desert! There was consternation in the astonishment with which Jock
looked on at this unlooked-for, almost incredible, exhibition. It was
ridiculous in Lucy, but in Sir Tom!

"I suppose we were all like that one time?" he said, trying to be
philosophical, as little Tom at last, half smothered with kisses, was
carried away.

"Like _that_--do you mean like baby? You were a little darling, dear,
and I was always very, very fond of you," said Lucy, giving him the
kindest look of her soft eyes. "But you were not a beauty, like my boy."

Sir Tom had laughed, with something of the same sentiment very evident
in his mirth, when Lucy spoke. He put out his hand and patted his young
brother-in-law on the shoulder. "It is absurd," he said, "to put that
little beggar in the foreground when we have somebody here who is in
Sixth form at sixteen, and is captain of his house, and has got a school
prize already. If Lucy does not appreciate all that, I do, Jock, and the
best I can wish for Tommy is that he should have done as much at your
age."

"Oh, I was not thinking of that," said Jock with a violent blush.

"Of course he was not," said Lucy calmly, "for he always had the kindest
heart though he was so clever. If you think I don't appreciate it as you
say, Tom, it is only because I knew it all the time. Do you think I am
surprised that Jock has beaten everybody? He was like that when he was
six, before he had any education. And he will be just as proud of baby
as we are when he knows him. He is a little strange at first," said
Lucy, beaming upon her brother; "but as soon as he is used to you, he
will go to you just as he does to me."

To this Jock could not reply by betraying the shiver that went over him
at the thought, but it gave great occupation to his mind to make out how
a little thing like that could attain, as it had done, such empire over
the minds of two sensible people. He consulted MTutor on the subject by
letter, who was his great referee on difficult subjects, and he could
not help betraying his wonder to the household as he grew more familiar
and the days went on. "He can't do anything for you," Jock said. "He
can't talk; he doesn't know anything about--well, about books: I know
that's more my line than yours, Lucy--but about anything. Oh! you
needn't flare up. When he dabs his mouth at you all wet----"

"Oh! you little wretch, you infidel, you savage," Lucy cried; "his sweet
mouth! and a dear big wet kiss that lets you know he means it."

Jock looked at her as he had done often in the old days, with mingled
admiration and contempt. It was like Lucy, and yet how odd it was. "I
suppose, then," he said, "I was rather worse than _that_ when you took
me up and were good to me. What for, I wonder? and you were fond of me,
too, although you are fonder of _it_----"

"If you talk of It again I will never speak to you more," Lucy said, "as
if my beautiful boy was a thing and not a person. He is not It: he is
Tom, he is Mr. Randolph: that is what Williams calls him." Williams was
the butler who had been all over the world with Sir Tom, and who was
respectful of the heir, but a little impatient and surprised, as Jock
was, of the fuss that was made about Tommy for his own small sake.

By this time, however, Jock had recovered from his shyness--his
difficulty in talking, all the little mist that absence had made--and
roamed about after Lucy, hanging upon her, putting his arm through hers,
though he was much the taller, wherever she went. He held her back a
little now as they walked through the park in a sort of procession, Mrs.
Richens, the nurse, going first with the boy. "When I was a little
slobbering beast, like----" he stopped himself in time, "like the
t'other kind of baby, and nobody wanted me, you were the only one that
took any trouble."

"How do you know?" said Lucy; "you don't remember and I don't remember."

"Ah! but I remember the time in the Terrace, when I lay on the rug, and
heard papa making his will over my head. I was listening for you all the
time. I was thinking of nothing but your step coming to take me out."

"Nonsense!" said Lucy, "you were deep in your books, and thinking of
them only; of that--gentleman with the windmills--or Shakspeare, or some
other nonsense. Oh, I don't mean Shakspeare is nonsense. I mean you were
thinking of nothing but your books, and nobody would believe you
understood all that at your age."

"I did not understand," said Jock with a blush. "I was a little prig.
Lucy, how strange it all is, like a picture one has seen somewhere, or a
scene in a play or a dream! Sometimes I can remember little bits of it,
just as he used to read it out to old Ford. Bits of it are all in and
out of _As You Like It_, as if Touchstone had said them, or Jaques. Poor
old papa! how particular he was about it all. Are you doing everything
he told you, Lucy, in the will?"

He did not in the least mean it as an alarming question, as he stooped
over, in his awkward way holding her arm, and looked into her face.



CHAPTER V.

CONSULTATIONS.


Lucy was much startled by her brother's demand. It struck, however, not
her conscience so much as her recollection, bringing back that past
which was still so near, yet which seemed a world away, in which she had
made so many anxious efforts to carry out her father's will and
considered it the main object of her life. A young wife who is happy,
and upon whom life smiles, can scarcely help looking back upon the time
when she was a girl with a sense of superiority, an amused and
affectionate contempt for herself. "How could I be so silly?" she will
say, and laugh, not without a passing blush. This was not exactly Lucy's
feeling; but in three years she had, even in her sheltered and happy
position, attained a certain acquaintance with life, and she saw
difficulties which in those former days had not been apparent to her.
When Jock began to recall these reminiscences it seemed to her as if she
saw once more the white commonplace walls of her father's sitting-room
rising about her, and heard him laying down the law which she had
accepted with such calm. She had seen no difficulty then. She had not
even been surprised by the burden laid upon her. It had appeared as
natural to obey him in matters which concerned large external interests,
and the well-being of strangers, as it was to fill him out a cup of tea.
But the interval of time, and the change of position, had made a great
difference; and when Jock asked, "Are you doing all he told you?" the
question brought a sudden surging of the blood to her head, which made a
singing in her ears and a giddiness in her brain. It seemed to place her
in front of something which must interrupt all her life and put a stop
to the even flow of her existence. She caught her breath. "Doing all he
told me!"

Jock, though he did not mean it, though he was no longer her
self-appointed guardian and guide, became to Lucy a monitor, recalling
her as to another world.

But the effect though startling was not permanent. They began to talk it
all over, and by dint of familiarity the impression wore away. The
impression, but not the talk. It gave the brother and sister just what
they wanted to bring back all the habits of their old affectionate
confidential intercourse, a subject upon which they could carry on
endless discussions and consultations, which was all their own, like one
of those innocent secrets which children delight in, and which, with
arms entwined and heads close together, they can carry on endlessly for
days together. They ceased the discussion when Sir Tom appeared, not
with any fear of him as a disturbing influence, but with a tacit
understanding that this subject was for themselves alone. It involved
everything; the past with all those scenes of their strange childhood,
the homely living, the fantastic possibilities always in the air, the
old dear tender relationship between the two young creatures who alone
belonged to each other. Lucy almost forgot her present self as she
talked, and they moved about together, the tall boy clinging to her arm
as the little urchin had done, altogether dependent, yet always with a
curious leadership, suggesting a thousand things that would not have
occurred to her.

Lucy had no occasion now for the advice which Jock at eight years old
had so freely given her. She had her husband to lead and advise her. But
in this one matter Sir Tom was put tacitly out of court, and Jock had
his old place. "It does not matter at all that you have not done
anything lately," Jock said; "there is plenty of time--and now that I am
to spend all my holidays here, it will be far easier. It was better not
to do things so hastily as you began."

"But, Jock," said Lucy, "We must not deceive ourselves; it will be very
hard. People who are very nice do not like to take the money; and those
who are willing to take it----"

"Does the will say the people are to be nice?" asked Jock. "Then what
does that matter? The will is all against reason, Lucy. It is wrong, you
know. Fellows who know political economy would think we are all mad; for
it just goes against it, straight."

"That is strange, Jock; for papa was very economical. He never could
bear waste: he used to say----"

"Yes, yes; but political economy means something different. It is a
science. It means that you should sell everything as dear as you can,
and buy it as cheap as you can--and never give anything away----"

"That is dreadful, Jock," said Lucy. "It is all very well to be a
science, but nobody like ourselves could be expected to act upon
it--private people, you know."

"There is something in that," Jock allowed; "there are always
exceptions. I only want to show you that the will being all against
rule, it _must_ be hard to carry it out. Don't you do anything by
yourself, Lucy. When you come across any case that is promising, just
you wait till I come, and we'll talk it all over. I don't quite
understand about nice people not taking it. Fellows I know are always
pleased with presents--or a tip, nobody refuses a tip. And that is just
the same sort of thing, you know."

"Not just the same," said Lucy, "for a tip--that means a sovereign,
doesn't it?"

"It sometimes means--paper," said Jock, with some solemnity. "Last time
you came to see me at school Sir Tom gave me a fiver----"

"A what?"

"Oh, a five-pound note," said Jock, with momentary impatience; "the
other's shorter to say and less fuss. MTutor thought he had better not;
but I didn't mind. I don't see why anybody should mind. There's a fellow
I know--his father is a curate, and there are no end of them, and
they've no money. Fellow himself is on the foundation, so he doesn't
cost much. Why they shouldn't take a big tip from you, who have too
much, I'm sure I can't tell; and I don't believe they would mind," Jock
added, after a pause.

This, which would have inspired Lucy in the days of her dauntless
maidenhood to calculate at once how much it would take to make this
family happy, gave her a little shudder now.

"I don't feel as if I could do it," she said. "I wish papa had found an
easier way. People don't like you afterwards when you do _that_ for
them. They are angry--they think, why should I have all that to give
away, a little thing like me?"

"The easiest way would be an exam.," said Jock. "Everybody now goes in
for exams.; and if they passed, they would think they had won the money
all right."

"Perhaps there is something in that, Jock; but then it is not for young
men. It is for ladies, perhaps, or old people, or----"

"You might let them choose their own subjects," said the boy. "A lady
might do a good paper about--servants, or sewing, or that sort of thing;
or housekeeping--that would be all right. MTutor might look over the
papers----"

"Does he know about housekeeping?"

"He knows about most things," cried Jock, "I should like to see the
thing he didn't know. He is the best scholar we have got; and he's what
you call an all-round man besides," the boy said with pride.

"What is an all-round man?" Lucy asked, diffidently. "He is tall and
slight, so it cannot mean his appearance."

"Oh, what a muff you are, Lucy; you're awfully nice, but you are a muff.
It means a man who knows a little of everything. MTutor is more than
that, he knows a great deal of everything; indeed, as I was saying,"
Jock added defiantly, "I should just like to see the thing he didn't
know."

"And yet he is so nice," said Lucy, with a gentle air of astonishment.

MTutor was a subject which was endless with Jock, so that the original
topic here glided out of sight as the exalted gifts of that model of all
the virtues became the theme. This conversation, however, was but one of
many. It was their meeting ground, the matter upon which they found each
other as of old, two beings separated from the world, which wondered at
and did not understand them. What a curious office it was for them, two
favourites of fortune as they seemed, to disperse and give away the
foundation of their own importance! for Jock owed everything to Lucy,
and Lucy, when she had accomplished this object of her existence, and
carried out her father's will, would no doubt still be a wealthy woman,
but not in any respect the great personage she was now. This was a view
of the matter which never crossed the minds of these two. Their strange
training had made Lucy less conscious of the immense personal advantage
which her money was to her than any other could have done. She knew,
indeed, that there was a great difference between her early home in
Farafield and the house in London where she had lived with Lady
Randolph, and still more, the Hall which was her home--but she had been
not less but more courted and worshipped in her lowly estate than in her
high one, and her father's curious philosophy had affected her mind and
coloured her perceptions. She had learned, indeed, to know that there
are difficulties in attempting to enact the part of Providence, and
taking upon herself the task of providing for her fellow-creatures; but
these difficulties had nothing to do with the fact that she would
herself suffer by such a dispersion. Perhaps her imagination was not
lively enough to realise this part of the situation. Jock and she
ignored it altogether. As for Jock, the delight of giving away was
strong in him, and the position was so strange that it fascinated his
boyish imagination. To act such a part as that of Haroun-al-Raschid in
real life, and change the whole life of whatsoever poor cobbler or
fruit-seller attracted him, was a vision of fairyland such as Jock had
not yet outgrown. But the chief thing that he impressed on his sister
was the necessity of doing nothing by herself. "Just wait till we can
talk it over," he said, "two are always better than one: and a fellow
learns a lot at school. You wouldn't think it, perhaps, but there's all
sorts there, and you learn a lot when you have your eyes well open. We
can talk it all over and settle if it's good enough; but don't go and be
rash, Lucy, and do anything by yourself."

"I sha'n't, dear; I should be too frightened," Lucy said.

This was on one of his last days, when they were walking together
through the shrubbery. It was September by this time, and he might have
been shooting partridges with Sir Tom, but Jock was not so much an
out-door boy as he ought to have been, and he preferred walking with his
sister, his arm thrust through hers, his head stooping over her. It was
perhaps the last opportunity they would have of discussing their family
secrets, a matter (they thought) which really concerned nobody else,
which no one else would care to be troubled with. Perhaps in Lucy's mind
there was a sense of unreality in the whole matter; but Jock was
entirely in earnest, and quite convinced that in such an important
business he was his sister's natural adviser, and might be of a great
deal of use. It was towards evening when they went out, and a red
autumnal sunset was accomplishing itself in the west, throwing a gleam
as of the brilliant tints which were yet to come, on the still green and
luxuriant foliage. The light was low, and came into Lucy's eyes, who
shaded them with her hand. And the paths had a touch of autumnal damp,
and a certain mistiness, mellow and golden by reason of the sunshine,
was rising among the trees.

"We will not be hasty," said Jock; "we will take everything into
consideration: and I don't think you will find so much difficulty, Lucy,
when you have me."

"I hope not, dear," Lucy said; and she began to talk to him about his
flannels and other precautions he was to take; for Jock was supposed not
to be very strong. He had grown fast, and he was rather weedy and long,
without strength to support it. "We have been so happy together," she
said. "We always were happy together, Jock. Remember, dear, no wet feet,
and as little football as you can help, for my sake."

"Oh, yes," he said, with a wave of his hand; "all right, Lucy. There is
no fear about that. The first thing to think of is poor old father's
will, and what you are going to do about it. I mean to think out all
that about the examinations, and I suppose I may speak to MTutor----"

"It is too private, don't you think, Jock? Nobody knows about it. It is
better to keep it between you and me."

"I can put it as a supposed case," said Jock, "and ask what he would
advise; for you see, Lucy, you and even I are not very experienced, and
MTutor, he knows such a lot. It would always be a good thing to have his
advice, you know; he----"

There was no telling how long Jock might have gone on on this subject.
But just at this moment a quick step came round the corner of a clump of
wood, and a hand was laid on the shoulder of each. "What are you
plotting about?" asked the voice of Sir Tom in their ears. It was a
curious sign of her mental condition which Lucy remembered with shame
afterwards, without being very well able to account for it, that she
suddenly dropped Jock's arm and turned round upon her husband with a
quick blush and access of breathing, as if somehow--she could not tell
how--she had been found out. It had never occurred to her before,
through all those long drawn out consultations, that she was concealing
anything from Sir Tom. She dropped Jock's arm as if it hurt her, and
turned to her husband in the twinkling of an eye.

"Jock," she said quickly, "and I--were talking about MTutor, Tom."

"Ah! once landed on that subject, and there is no telling when we may
come to an end," Sir Tom said, with a laugh, "but never mind, I like you
all the better for it, my boy."

Jock gave an astonished look at Lucy, a half-defiant one at her husband.

"That was only by the way," he said, lifting up his shoulders with a
little air of offence. He did not condescend to any further explanation,
but walked along by their side with a lofty abstraction, looking at them
now and then from the corner of his eye. Lucy had taken Sir Tom's arm,
and was hanging upon her tall husband, looking up in his face. The
little blush of surprise--or was it of guilt?--with which she had
received him was still upon her cheek. She was far more animated than
usual, almost a little agitated. She asked about the shooting, about the
bag, and how many brace was to Sir Tom's own gun, with that conciliating
interest which is one of the signs of a conscious fault; while Sir Tom,
on his side bending down to his little wife, received all her flatteries
with so complacent a smile, and such a beatific belief in her perfect
sincerity and devotion, that Jock, looking on from his superiority of
passionless youth, regarded them both with a wondering disdain. Why did
she "make up" in that way to her husband, dropping her brother as if she
had been plotting harm? Jock was amazed, he could not understand it.
Perhaps it was only because he thus fell in a moment from being the
chief object of interest to the position of nobody at all.



CHAPTER VI.

A SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS.


Lucy's mind had sustained a certain shock when her husband appeared.
During her short married life there had not been a cloud, or a shadow of
a cloud, between them. But then there had been no question between them,
nothing to cause any question, no difference of opinion. Sir Tom had
taken all her business naturally into his hands. Whatever she wished she
had got--nay, before she expressed a wish it had been satisfied. He had
talked to her about everything, and she had listened with docile
attention, but without concealing the fact that she neither understood
nor wished to understand; and he had not only never chided her, but had
accepted her indifference with a smile of pleasure as the most natural
thing in the world. He had encouraged her in all her liberal charities,
shaking his head and declaring with a radiant face that she would ruin
herself, and that not even her fortune would stand it. But the one
matter which had given Lucy so much trouble before her marriage, and
which Jock had now brought back to her mind, was one that had never been
mentioned between them. He had known all about it, and her eccentric
proceedings and conflict with her guardians, backing her up, indeed,
with much laughter, and showing every symptom of amiable amusement; but
he had never given any opinion on the subject, nor made the slightest
allusion since to this grand condition of her father's will. In the
sunny years that were past Lucy had taken no notice of this omission.
She had not thought much on the subject herself. She had withdrawn from
it tacitly, as one is apt to do from a matter which has been productive
of pain and disappointment, and had been content to ignore that portion
of her responsibilities. Even when Jock forcibly revived the subject it
continued without any practical importance, and its existence was a
question between themselves to afford material for endless conversation
which had been pleasant and harmless. But when Sir Tom's hand was laid
on her shoulder, and his cheerful voice sounded in her ear, a sudden
shock was given to Lucy's being. It flashed upon her in a moment that
this question which she had been discussing with Jock had never been
mentioned between her and her husband, and with a sudden instinctive
perception she became aware that Sir Tom would look upon it with very
different eyes from theirs. She felt that she had been disloyal to him
in having a secret subject of consultation even with her brother. If he
heard he would be displeased, he would be taken by surprise, perhaps
wounded, perhaps made angry. In any wise it would introduce a new
element into their life. Lucy saw, with a sudden sensation of fright and
pain, an unknown crowd of possibilities which might pour down upon her,
were it to be communicated to Sir Tom that his wife and her brother were
debating as to a course of action on her part, unknown to him. All this
occurred in a moment, and it was not any lucid and real perception of
difficulties, but only a sudden alarmed compunctious consciousness that
filled her mind. She fled, as it were, from the circumstances which made
these horrors possible, hurrying back into her former attitude with a
penitential urgency. Jock, indeed, was very dear to her, but he was no
more than second, nay he was but third, in Lady Randolph's heart. Her
husband's supremacy he could not touch, and though he had been almost
her child in the old days, yet he was not, nor ever would be, her child
in the same ineffable sense as little Tom was, who was her very own, the
centre of her life. So she ran away (so to speak) from Jock with a real
panic, and clung to her husband, conciliating, nay almost wheedling him,
if we may use the word, with a curious feminine instinct, to make up to
him for the momentary wrong she had done, and which he was not aware of.
Sir Tom himself was a little surprised by the warmth of the reception
she gave him. Her interest in his shooting was usually very mild, for
she had never been able to get over a little horror she had, due,
perhaps, to her bourgeois training, of the slaughter of the birds. He
glanced at the pair with an unusual perception that there was something
here more than met the eye. "You have been egging her up to some
rebellion," he said; "Jock, you villain; you have been hatching treason
behind my back!" He said this with one of those cordial laughs which
nobody could refrain from joining--full of good humour and fun, and a
pleased consciousness that to teach Lucy to rebel would be beyond any
one's power. At any other moment she would have taken the accusation
with the tranquil smile which was Lucy's usual reply to her husband's
pleasantries; but this time her laugh was a little strained, and the
warmth of her denial, "No, no! there has been no treason," gave the
slightest jar of surprise to Sir Tom. It sounded like a false note in
the air; he did not understand what it could mean.

Jock went away the next day. He went with a basket of game for MTutor
and many nice things for himself, and all the attention and care which
might have been his had he been the heir instead of only the young
brother and dependent. Lucy herself drove in with him to Farafield to
see him off, and Sir Tom, who had business in the little town and meant
to drive back with his wife, appeared on the railway platform just in
time to say good-bye. "Now, Lucy, you will not forget," were Jock's last
words as he looked out of the window when the train was already in
motion. Lucy nodded and smiled, and waved her hand, but she did not make
any other reply. Sir Tom said nothing until they were driving along the
stubble fields in the afternoon sunshine. Lucy lay back in her corner
with that mingled sense of regret and relief with which, when we are
very happy at home, we see a guest go away--a gentle sorrow to part, a
soft pleasure in being once more restored to the more intimate circle.
She had not shaken off that impression of guiltiness, but now it was
over, and nothing further could be said on the subject for a long time
to come.

"What is it, Lucy, that you are not to forget?"

She roused herself up, and a warm flush of colour came to her face. "Oh,
nothing, Tom, a little thing we were consulting about. It was Jock that
brought it to my mind."

"I think it must be more than just a little thing. Mayn't I hear what
this secret is?"

"Oh, it is nothing, Tom," Lady Randolph repeated; and then she sat up
erect and said, "I must not deceive you. It is not merely a small
matter. Still it is just between Jock and me. It was about--papa's will,
Tom."

"Ah! that is a large matter. I don't quite see how that can be between
you and Jock, Lucy. Jock has very little to do with it. I don't want to
find fault, my dear, but I think as an adviser you will find me better
than Jock."

"I know you are far better, Tom. You know more than both of us put
together."

"That would not be very difficult," he said, with a smile.

Perhaps this calm acceptance of the fact nettled Lucy. At least she
said, with a little touch of spirit, "And yet I know something about our
kind of people better than you will ever do, Tom."

"Lucy, this is a wonderful new tone. Perhaps you may know better, but I
am doubtful if you understand the relation of things as well. What is
it, my dear?--that is to say, if you like to tell me, for I am not going
to force your confidence."

"Tom--oh dear Tom! It is not that. It is rather that it was something to
talk to Jock about. He remembers everything. When papa was making that
will----" here Lucy stopped and sighed. It had not been doing her a good
service to make her recollect that will, which had enough in it to make
her life wretched, though that as yet nobody knew. "He recollects it
all," she said. "He used to hear it read out. He remembers everything."

"I suppose, then," said Sir Tom, with a peculiar smile, "there is
something in particular which he thought you were likely to forget?"

Here Lucy sighed again. "I am afraid I had forgotten it. No, not
forgotten, but--I never knew very well what to do. Perhaps you don't
remember either. It is about giving the money away."

Sir Tom was a far more considerable person in every way than the little
girl who was his wife, and who was not clever nor of any great account
apart from her wealth; and she was devoted to him, so that he could have
very little fear how any conflict should end when he was on one side, if
all the world were on the other. But perhaps he had been spoiled by
Lucy's entire agreement and consent to whatever he pleased to wish, so
that his tone was a little sharp, not so good-humoured as usual, but
with almost a sneer in it when he replied quickly, not leaving her a
moment to get her breath, "I see; Jock having inspiration from the
fountain head, was to be your guide in that."

She looked at him alarmed and penitent, but reproachful. "I would have
done nothing, I could have done nothing, oh Tom! without you."

"It is very obliging of you Lucy to say so; nevertheless, Jock thought
himself entitled to remind you of what you had forgotten, and to offer
himself as your adviser. Perhaps MTutor was to come in, too," he said,
with a laugh.

Sir Tom was not immaculate in point of temper any more than other men,
but Lucy had never suffered from it before. She was frightened, but she
did not give way. The colour went out of her cheeks, but there was more
in her than mere insipid submission. She looked at her husband with a
certain courage, though she was so pale, and felt so profoundly the
displeasure which she had never encountered before.

"I don't think you should speak like that, Tom. I have done nothing
wrong. I have only been talking to my brother of--of--a thing that
nobody cares about but him and me in all the world."

"And that is----"

"Doing what papa wished," Lucy said in a low voice. A little moisture
stole into her eyes. Whether it came because of her father, or because
her husband spoke sharply to her, it perhaps would have been difficult
to say.

This made Sir Tom ashamed of his ill-humour. It was cruel to be unkind
to a creature so gentle, who was not used to be found fault with; and
yet he felt that for Lucy to set up an independence of any kind was a
thing to be crushed in the bud. A man may have the most liberal
principles about women, and yet feel a natural indignation when his own
wife shows signs of desiring to act for herself; and besides, it was not
to be endured that a boy and girl conspiracy should be hatched under his
very nose to take the disposal of an important sum of money out of his
hands. Such an idea was not only ridiculous in itself, but apt to make
him ridiculous, a man who ought to be strong enough to keep the young
ones in order. "My dear," he said, "I have no wish to speak in any way
that vexes you; but I see no reason you can have--at least I hope there
has been nothing in my conduct to give you any reason--to withdraw your
confidence from me and give it to Jock."

Lucy did not make him any reply. She looked at him pathetically through
the water in her eyes. If she had spoken she would have cried, and this
in an open carriage, with a village close at hand, and people coming and
going upon the road, was not to be thought of. By the time she had
mastered herself Sir Tom had cooled down, and he was ashamed of having
made Lucy's lips to quiver and taken away her voice.

"That was a very nasty thing to say," he said, "wasn't it, Lucy? I ought
to be ashamed of myself. Still, my little woman must remember that I am
too fond of her to let her have secrets with anybody but me."

And with this he took the hand that was nearest to him into both of his
and held it close, and throwing a temptation in her way which she could
not resist, led her to talk of the baby and forget everything else
except that precious little morsel of humanity. He was far cleverer than
Lucy; he could make her do whatever he pleased. No fear of any
opposition, any setting up of her own will against his. When they got
home he gave her a kiss, and then the momentary trouble was all over. So
he thought at least. Lucy was so little and gentle and fair, that she
appeared to her husband even younger than she was; and she was a great
deal younger than himself. He thought her a sort of child-wife, whom a
little scolding or a kiss would altogether sway. The kiss had been
quite enough hitherto. Perhaps, since Jock had come upon the scene, a
few words of admonition might prove now and then necessary, but it would
be cruel to be hard upon her, or do more than let her see what his
pleasure was.

But Lucy was not what Sir Tom thought. She could not endure that there
should be any shadow between her husband and herself, but her mind was
not satisfied with this way of settling an important question. She took
his kiss and his apology gratefully, but if anything had been wanted to
impress more deeply upon her mind the sense of a duty before her, of
which her husband did not approve, and in doing which she could not have
his help, it would have been this little episode altogether. Even little
Tom did not efface the impression from her mind. At dinner she met her
husband with her usual smile, and even assented when he remarked upon
the pleasantness of finding themselves again alone together. There had
been other guests besides Jock, so that the remark did not offend her;
but yet Lucy was not quite like herself. She felt it vaguely, and he
felt it vaguely, and neither was entirely aware what it was.

In the morning, at breakfast, Sir Tom received a foreign letter, which
made him start a little. He started and cried, "Hollo!" then, opening
it, and finding two or three closely-scribbled sheets, gave way to a
laugh. "Here's literature!" he said. Lucy, who had no jealousy of his
correspondents, read her own calm little letters, and poured out the
tea, with no particular notice of her husband's interjections. It did
not even move her curiosity that the letter was in a feminine hand, and
gave forth a faint perfume. She reminded him that his tea was getting
cold, but otherwise took no notice. One of her own letters was from the
Dowager Lady Randolph, full of advice about the baby. "Mrs. Russell
tells me that Katie's children are the most lovely babies that ever were
seen; but she is very fantastic about them; will not let them wear shoes
to spoil their feet, and other vagaries of that kind. I hope, my dear
Lucy, that you are not fanciful about little Tom," Lady Randolph wrote.
Lucy read this very composedly, and smiled at the suggestion. Fanciful!
Oh, no, she was not fanciful about him--she was not even silly, Lucy
thought. She was capable of allowing that other babies might be lovely,
though why the feet of Katie's children should be of so much importance
she allowed to herself she could not see. She was roused from these
tranquil thoughts by a little commotion on the other side of the table,
where Sir Tom had just thrown down his letter. He was laughing and
talking to himself. "Why shouldn't she come if she likes it?" he was
saying. "Lucy, look here, since you have set up a confidant, I shall
have one too," and with that Sir Tom went off into an immoderate fit of
laughing. The letter scattered upon the table all opened out, two large
foreign sheets, looked endless. Nobody had ever written so much to Lucy
in all her life. She could see it was largely underlined and full of
notes of admiration and interrogation, altogether an out-of-the-way
epistle. Was it possible that Sir Tom was a little excited as well as
amused? He put his roll upon a hot plate, and began to cut it with his
knife and fork in an absence of mind, which was not usual with him, and
at intervals of a minute or two would burst out with his long "Ha, ha,"
again. "That will serve you out, Lucy," he said, with a shout, "if I set
up a confidant too."



CHAPTER VII.

A WARNING.


"I wonder if I shall like her," Lucy said to herself.

She had been hearing from her husband about the Contessa di
Forno-Populo, who had promised to pay them a visit at Christmas. He had
laughed a great deal while he described this lady. "What she will do
here in a country-house in the depth of winter, I cannot tell," he said,
"but if she wants to come why shouldn't she? She and I are old friends.
One time and another we have seen a great deal of each other. She will
not understand me in the character of a Benedick, but that will be all
the greater fun," he said with a laugh. Lucy looked at him with a little
surprise. She could not quite make him out.

"If she is a friend she will not mind the country and the winter," said
Lucy; "it will be you she will want to see----"

"That is all very well, my dear," said Sir Tom, "but she wants something
more than me. She wants a little amusement. We must have a party to meet
her, Lucy. We have never yet had the house full for Christmas. Don't you
think it will be better to furnish the Contessa with other objects
instead of letting her loose upon your husband. You don't know what it
is you are treating so lightly."

"I--treat any one lightly that you care for, Tom! Oh, no; I was only
thinking. I thought she would come to see you, not a number of strange
people----"

"And you would not mind, Lucy?"

"Mind?" Lucy lifted her innocent eyes upon him with the greatest
surprise. "To be sure it is most nice of all when there is nobody with
us," she said--as if that had been what he meant. Enlightenment on this
subject had not entered her mind. She did not understand him; nor did he
understand her. He gave her a sort of friendly hug as he passed, still
with that laugh in which there was no doubt a great perception of
something comic, yet--an enlightened observer might have thought--a
little uneasiness, a tremor which was almost agitation too. Lucy too had
a perception of something a little out of the way which she did not
understand, but she offered to herself no explanation of it. She said to
herself, when he was gone, "I wonder if I shall like her?" and she did
not make herself any reply. She had been in society, and held her little
place with a simple composure which was natural to her, whoever might
come in her way. If she was indeed a little frightened of the great
ladies, that was only at the first moment before she became used to
them; and afterwards all had gone well--but there was something in the
suggestion of a foreign great lady, who perhaps might not speak English,
and who would be used to very different "ways," which alarmed her a
little; and then it occurred to her with some disappointment that this
would be the time of Jock's holidays, and that it would disappoint him
sadly to find her in the midst of a crowd of visitors. She said to
herself, however, quickly, that it was not to be expected that
everything should always go exactly as one wished it, and that no doubt
the Countess of ---- what was it she was the Countess of?--would be very
nice, and everything go well; and so Lady Randolph went away to her
baby and her household business, and put it aside for the moment. She
found other things far more important to occupy her, however, before
Christmas came.

For that winter was very severe and cold, and there was a great deal of
sickness in the neighbourhood. Measles and colds and feverish attacks
were prevalent in the village, and there were heartrending "cases," in
which young Lady Randolph at the Hall took so close an interest that her
whole life was disturbed by them. One of the babies, who was little
Tom's age, died. When it became evident that there was danger in this
case it is impossible to describe the sensations with which Lucy's brain
was filled. She could not keep away from the house in which the child
was. She sent to Farafield for the best doctor there, and everything
that money could procure was got for the suffering infant, whose
belongings looked on with wonder and even dismay, with a secret question
like that of him who was a thief and kept the bag--to what purpose was
this waste? for they were all persuaded that the baby was going to die.

"And the best thing for him, my lady," the grandmother said. "He'll be
better done by where he's agoing than he ever could have been here."

"Oh, don't say so," said Lucy. The young mother, who was as young as
herself, cried; yet if Lucy had been absent would have been consoled by
that terrible philosophy of poverty that it was "for the best." But Lady
Randolph, in such a tumult of all her being as she had never known
before, with unspeakable yearning over the dying baby, and a panic
beyond all reckoning for her own, would not listen to any such easy
consolation. She shut her ears to it with a gleam of anger such as had
never been seen in her gentle face before, and would have sat up all
night with the poor little thing in her lap if death had not ended its
little plaints and suffering. Sir Tom, in this moment of trial, came out
in all his true goodness and kindness. He went with her himself to the
cottage, and when the vigil was over appeared again to take her home. It
was a wintry night, frosty and clear, the stars all twinkling with that
mysterious life and motion which makes them appear to so many wistful
eyes like persons rather than worlds, and as if there was knowledge and
sympathy in those far-shining lights of heaven. Sir Thomas was alarmed
by Lucy's colourless face, and the dumb passion of misery and awe that
was about her. He was very tender-hearted himself at sight of the dead
baby which was the same age as his lovely boy. He clasped the trembling
hand with which his wife held his arm, and tried to comfort her. "Look
at the stars, my darling," he said, "the angels must have carried the
poor little soul that way." He was not ashamed to let fall a tear for
the little dead child. But Lucy could neither weep nor think of the
angels. She hurried him on through the long avenue, clinging to his arm
but not leaning upon it, hastening home. Now and then a sob escaped her,
but no tears. She flew upstairs to her own boy's nursery, and fell down
on her knees by the side of his little crib. He was lying in rosy sleep,
his little dimpled arms thrown up over his head, a model of baby beauty.
But even that sight did not restore her. She buried her wan face in her
hands and so gasped for breath that Sir Tom, who had followed her, took
her in his arms and carrying her to her own room laid her down on the
sofa by the fire and did all that man could to soothe her.

"Lucy, Lucy! we must thank God that all is well with our own," he said,
half terrified by the gasping and the paleness; and then she burst
forth:

"Oh, why should it be well with him, and little Willie gone? Why should
we be happy and the others miserable? My baby safe and warm in my arms,
and poor Ellen's--poor Ellen's----"

This name, and the recollection of the poor young mother, whom she had
left in her desolation, made Lucy's tears pour forth like a summer
storm. She flung her arms round her husband's neck, and called out to
him in an agony of anxiety and excitement:

"Oh, what shall we do to save him? Oh, Tom, pray, pray! Little Willie
was well on Saturday--and now--How can we tell what a day may bring
forth?" Lucy cried, wildly pushing him away from her, and rising from
the sofa.

Then she began to pace about the room as we all do in trouble, clasping
her hands in a wild and inarticulate appeal to heaven. Death had never
come across her path before save in the case of her father, an old man
whose course was run, and his end a thing necessary and to be looked
for. She could not get out of her eyes the vision of that little solemn
figure, so motionless, so marble white. The thought would not leave her.
To see the calm Lucy pacing up and down in this passion of terror and
agony made Sir Tom almost as miserable as herself. He tried to take her
into his arms, to draw her back to the sofa.

"My darling, you are over-excited. It has been too much for you," he
said.

"Oh, what does it matter about me?" cried Lucy; "think--oh, God! oh, God
I--if we should have _that_ to bear."

"My dear love--my Lucy, you that have always been so reasonable--the
child is quite well; come and see him again and satisfy yourself."

"Little Willie was quite well on Saturday," she cried again. "Oh, I
cannot bear it, I cannot bear it! and why should it be poor Ellen and
not me?"

When a person of composed mind and quiet disposition is thus carried
beyond all the bounds of reason and self-restraint, it is natural that
everybody round her should be doubly alarmed. Lucy's maid hung about the
door, and the nurse, wrapped in a shawl, stole out of little Tom's room.
They thought their mistress had the hysterics, and almost forced their
way into the room to help her. It did Sir Tom good to send these
busybodies away. But he was more anxious himself than words could say.
He drew her arms within his, and walked up and down with her. "You know,
my darling, what the Bible says, 'that one shall be taken and another
left; and that the wind bloweth where it listeth,'" he said, with a
pardonable mingling of texts. "We must just take care of him, dear, and
hope the best."

Here Lucy stopped, and looked him in the face with an air of solemnity
that startled him.

"I have been thinking," she said; "God has tried us with happiness
first. That is how He always does--and if we abuse _that_ then there
comes--the other. We have been so happy. Oh, so happy!" Her face, which
had been stilled by this profounder wave of feeling, began to quiver
again. "I did not think any one could be so happy," she said.

"Well, my darling! and you have been very thankful and good----"

"Oh, no, no, no," she cried. "I have forgotten my trust. I have let the
poor suffer, and put aside what was laid upon me--and now, now----" Lucy
caught her husband's arm with both her hands, and drew him close to her.
"Tom, God has sent his angel to warn us," she said, in a broken voice.

"Lucy, Lucy, this is not like you. Do you think that poor little woman
has lost her baby for our sake? Are we of so much more importance than
she is, in the sight of God, do you think? Come, come, that is not like
you."

Lucy gazed at him for a moment with a sudden opening of her eyes, which
were contracted with misery. She was subdued by the words, though she
only partially comprehended them.

"Don't you think," he said, "that to deprive another woman of her child
in order to warn you, would be unjust, Lucy? Come and sit down and warm
your poor little hands, and take back your reason, and do not accuse God
of wrong, for that is not possible. Poor Ellen I don't doubt is composed
and submissive, while you, who have so little cause----"

She gave him a wild look. "With her it is over, it is over!" she cried,
"but with us----"

Lucy had never been fanciful, but love quickens the imagination and
gives it tenfold power; and no poet could have felt with such a
breathless and agonised realisation the difference between the
accomplished and the possible, the past which nothing can alter, and the
pain and sickening terror with which we anticipate what may come. Ellen
had entered into the calm of the one. She herself stood facing wildly
the unspeakable terror of the other. "Oh, Tom, I could not bear it, I
could not bear it!" she cried.

It was almost morning before he had succeeded in soothing her, in
making her lie down and compose herself. But by that time nature had
begun to take the task in hand, wrapping her in the calm of exhaustion.
Sir Tom had the kindest heart, though he had not been without reproach
in his life. He sat by her till she had fallen into a deep and quiet
sleep, and then he stole into the nursery and cast a glance at little
Tom by the dim light of the night lamp. His heart leaped to see the
child with its fair locks all tumbled upon the pillow, a dimpled hand
laid under a dimpled cheek, ease and comfort and well-being in every
lovely curve; and then there came a momentary spasm across his face, and
he murmured "Poor little beggar!" under his breath. He was not
panic-stricken like Lucy. He was a man made robust by much experience of
the world, and a child more or less was not a thing to affect him as it
would a young mother; but the pathos of the contrast touched him with a
keen momentary pang. He stole away again quite subdued, and went to bed
thankfully, saying an uncustomary prayer in the emotion that possessed
him: Good God, to think of it; if that poor little beggar had been
little Tom!

Lucy woke to the sound of her boy's little babbling of happiness in the
morning, and found him blooming on her bed, brought there by his father,
that she might see him and how well he was, even before she was awake.
It was thus not till the first minute of delight was over that her
recollections came back to her and she remembered the anguish of the
previous night; and then with a softened pang, as was natural, and warm
flood of thankfulness, which carried away harsher thoughts. But her mind
was in a highly susceptible and tender state, open to every impression.
And when she knelt down to make her morning supplications, Lucy made a
dedication of herself and solemn vow. She said, like the little princess
when she first knew that she was to be made queen, "I will be good." She
put forth this promise trembling, not with any sense that she was making
a bargain with God, as more rigid minds might suppose, but with all the
remorseful loving consciousness of a child which feels that it has not
made the return it ought for the good things showered upon it, and
confronts for the first time the awful possibility that these tender
privileges might be taken away. There was a trembling all over her, body
and soul. She was shaken by the ordeal through which she had come--the
ordeal which was not hers but another's: and with the artlessness of the
child was mingled that supreme human instinct which struggles to disarm
Fate by immediate prostration and submission. She laid herself down at
the feet of the Sovereign greatness which could mar all her happiness in
a moment, with a feeling that was not much more than half Christian.
Lucy tried to remind herself that He to whom she knelt was love as well
as power. But nature, which still "trembles like a guilty thing
surprised" in that great Presence, made her heart beat once more with
passion and sickening terror. God knew, if no one else did, that she had
abandoned her father's trust and neglected her duty. "Sell all thou hast
and give to the poor." Lucy rose from her knees with anxious haste,
feeling as if she must do this, come what might and whoever should
oppose; or at least since it was not needful for her to sell all she
had, that she must hurry forth, and forestall any further discipline by
beginning at once to fulfil the duty she had neglected. She could not
yet divest herself of the thought that the baby who was dead was a
little warning messenger to recall her to a sense of the punishments
that might be hanging over her. A messenger to her of mercy, for what,
oh! what would she have done if the blow had fallen upon little Tom?



CHAPTER VIII.

THE SHADOW OF DEATH.


After this it may perhaps be surprising to hear that Lucy did nothing to
carry out that great trust with which she had been charged. She had
felt, and did feel at intervals, for a long time afterwards, as if God
Himself had warned her what might come upon her if she neglected her
duty. But if you will reflect how very difficult that duty was, and how
far she was from any opportunity of being able to discharge it! In early
days, when she was fresh from her father's teaching, and deeply
impressed with the instant necessity of carrying it out, Providence
itself had sent the Russell family, poor and helpless people, who had
not the faculty of getting on by themselves, into her way, and Lucy had
promptly, or at least as promptly as indignant guardians would permit,
provided for them in the modest way which was all her ideas reached to
at the time. But around the Hall there was nobody to whom the same
summary process could be applied. The people about were either working
people, whom it is always easy to help, or well-off people, who had no
wants which Lucy could supply. And this continued to be so even after
her fright and determination to return to the work that had been
allotted to her. No doubt, could she have come down to the hearts and
lives of the neighbours who visited Lady Randolph on the externally
equal footing which society pretends to allot to all gentlefolks, she
would have found several of them who would have been glad to free her
from her money; but then she could not see into their hearts. She did
not know what a difficult thing it was for Mr. Routledge of Newby to pay
the debts of his son when he had left college, or how hardly hit was
young Archer of Fordham in the matter of the last joint-stock bank that
stopped payment. If they had not all been so determined to hold up their
heads with the best, and keep up appearances, Lucy might have managed
somehow to transfer to them a little of the money which she wanted to
get rid of, and of which they stood so much in need. But this was not to
be thought of; and when she cast her eyes around her it was with a
certain despair that Lucy saw no outlet whatever for those bounties
which it had seemed to her heaven itself was concerned about, and had
warned her not to neglect. Many an anxious thought occupied her mind on
this subject. She thought of calling her cousin Philip Rainy, who was
established and thriving at Farafield, and whose fortune had been
founded upon her liberality, to her counsels. But if Sir Tom had
disliked the confidences between her and her brother, what would he
think of Philip Rainy as her adviser? Then Lucy in her perplexity turned
again to the thought of Jock. Jock had a great deal more sense in him
than anybody knew. He had been the wisest child, respected by everybody;
and now he was almost a man, and had learned, as he said, a great deal
at school. She thought wistfully of the poor curate of whom Jock had
told her. Very likely that poor clergyman would do very well for what
Lucy wanted. Surely there could be no better use for money than to endow
such a man, with a whole family growing up, all the better for it, and a
son on the foundation! And then she remembered that Jock had entreated
her to do nothing till he came. Thus the time went on, and her
passionate resolution, her sense that heaven itself was calling upon
her, menacing her with judgment even, seemed to come to nothing--not out
of forgetfulness or sloth, or want of will--but because she saw no way
open before her, and could not tell what to do. And after that miserable
night when Ellen Bailey's baby died, and death seemed to enter in, as
novel and terrible as if he had never been known before, for the first
time into Lucy's Paradise, she had never said anything to Sir Tom. Day
after day she had meant to do it, to throw herself upon his guidance, to
appeal to him to help her; but day after day she had put it off,
shrinking from the possible contest of which some instinct warned her.
She knew, without knowing how, that in this he would not stand by her.
Impossible to have been kinder in that crisis, more tender, more
indulgent, even more understanding than her husband was; but she felt
instinctively the limits of his sympathy. He would not go that length.
When she got to that point he would change. But she could not have him
change; she could not anticipate the idea of a cloud upon his face, or
any shadow between them. And then Lucy made up her mind that she would
wait for Jock, and that he and she together, when there were two to talk
it over, would make out a way.

All was going on well again, the grass above little Willie's grave was
green, his mother consoled and smiling as before, and at the Hall the
idea of the Christmas party had been resumed, and the invitations,
indeed, were sent off, when one morning the visitor whom Lucy had
anticipated with such dread came out of the village, where infantile
diseases always lingered, and entered the carefully-kept nursery. Little
Tom awoke crying and fretful, hot with fever, his poor little eyes heavy
with acrid tears. His mother had not been among the huts where poor men
lie for nought, and she saw at a glance what it was. Well! not anything
so very dreadful--measles, which almost all children have. There was no
reason in the world why she should be alarmed. She acknowledged as much,
with a tremor that went to her heart. There were no bad symptoms. The
baby was no more ill than it was necessary he should be. "He was having
them beautiful," the nurse said, and Lucy scarcely allowed even her
husband to see the deep, harrowing dread that was in her. By and by,
however, this dread was justified; she had been very anxious about all
the little patients in the village that they should not catch cold,
which in the careless ignorance of their attendants, and in the limited
accommodation of the cottages, was so usual, so likely, almost
inevitable. A door would be left open, a sudden blast of cold would come
upon the little sufferer; how could any one help it? Lucy had given the
poor women no peace on this subject. She had "worrited them out o' their
lives." And now, wonder above all finding out, it was in little Tom's
luxurious nursery, where everything was arranged for his safety, where
one careful nurse succeeded another by night and by day, and Lady
Randolph herself was never absent for an hour, where the ventilation was
anxiously watched and regulated, and no incautious intruder ever
entered--it was there that the evil came. When the child had shaken off
his little complaint and all was going well, he took cold, and in a few
hours more his little lungs were labouring heavily, and the fever of
inflammation consuming his strength. Little Tom, the heir, the only
child! A cloud fell over the house; from Sir Tom himself to the lowest
servant, all became partakers, unawares, of Lucy's dumb terror. It was
because the little life was so important, because so much hung upon it,
that everybody jumped to the conclusion that the worst issue might be
looked for. Humanity has an instinctive, heathenish feeling that God
will take advantage of all the special circumstances that aggravate a
blow.

Lucy, for her part, received the stroke into her very soul. She was
outwardly more calm than when her heart had first been roused to terror
by the death of the little child in the village. That which she had
dreaded was come, and all her powers were collected to support her. The
moment had arrived--the time of trial--and she would not fail. Her hand
was steady and her head clear, as is the case with finer natures when
confronted with deadly danger. This simple girl suddenly became like one
of the women of tragedy, fighting, still and strong, with a desperation
beyond all symbols--the fight with death. But Sir Tom took it
differently. A woman can nurse her child, can do something for him; but
a man is helpless. At first he got rid of his anxieties by putting a
cheerful face upon the matter, and denying the possibility of danger.
"The measles! every child had the measles. If no fuss was made the
little chap," he declared, "would soon be all right. It was always a
mistake to exaggerate." But when there could no longer be any doubt on
the subject, a curious struggle took place in Sir Tom's mind. That
baby--die? That crowing, babbling creature pass away into the solemnity
of death! It had not seemed possible, and when he tried to get it into
his mind his brain whirled. Wonder for the moment seemed to silence even
the possibility of grief. He had himself gone through labours and
adventures that would have killed a dozen men, and had never been
conscious even of alarm about himself; and the idea of a life quenched
in its beginning by so accidental a matter as a draught in a nursery
seemed to him something incomprehensible. When he had heard of a child's
death he had been used to say that the mother would feel it, no doubt,
poor thing; but it was a small event, that scarcely counted in human
history to Sir Tom. When, however, his own boy was threatened, after the
first incredulity, Sir Tom felt a pang of anger and wretchedness which
he could not understand. It was not that the family misfortune of the
loss of the heir overwhelmed him, for it was very improbable that poor
little Tom would be his only child; it was a more intimate and personal
sensation. A sort of terrified rage came over him which he dared not
express; for if indeed his child was to be taken from him, who was it
but God that would do this? and he did not venture to turn his rage to
that quarter. And then a confusion of miserable feelings rose within
him. One night he did not go to bed. It was impossible in the midst of
the anxiety that filled the house, he said to himself. He spent the
weary hours in going softly up and down stairs, now listening at the
door of the nursery and waiting for his wife, who came out now and then
to bring him a bulletin, now dozing drearily in his library downstairs.
When the first gleams of the dawn stole in at the window he went out
upon the terrace in the misty chill morning, all damp and miserable,
with the trees standing about like ghosts. There was a dripping thaw
after a frost, and the air was raw and the prospect dismal; but even
that was less wretched than the glimmer of the shaded lights, the
muffled whispering and stealthy footsteps indoors. He took a few turns
up and down the terrace, trying to reason himself out of this misery.
How was it, after all, that the little figure of this infant should
overshadow earth and heaven to a man, a reasonable being, whose mind and
life were full of interests far more important? Love, yes! but love must
have some foundation. The feeling which clung so strongly to a child
with no power of returning it, and no personal qualities to excite it,
must be mere instinct not much above that of the animals. He would not
say this before Lucy, but there could be no doubt it was the truth. He
shook himself up mentally, and recalled himself to what he attempted to
represent as the true aspect of affairs. He was a man who had obtained
most things that this world can give. He had sounded life to its depths
(as he thought), and tasted both the bitter and the sweet; and after
having indulged in all these varied experiences it had been given to
him, as it is not given to many men, to come back from all wanderings
and secure the satisfactions of mature life, wealth, and social
importance, and the power of acting in the largest imperial concerns.
Round about him everything was his; the noble woods that swept away into
the mist on every side; the fields and farms which began to appear in
the misty paleness of the morning through the openings in the trees. And
if he had not by his side such a companion as he had once dreamed of,
the beautiful, high-minded ideal woman of romance, yet he had got one
of the best of gentle souls to tread the path of life along with him,
and sympathise even when she did not understand. For a man who had not
perhaps deserved very much, how unusual was this happiness. And was it
possible that all these things should be obscured, cast into the shade,
by so small a matter as the sickness of a child? What had the baby ever
done to make itself of so much importance? Nothing. It did not even
understand the love it excited, and was incapable of making any
response. Its very life was little more than a mechanical life. The
woman who fed it was far more to it than its father, and there was
nothing excellent or noble in the world to which it would not prefer a
glittering tinsel or a hideous doll. If the little thing had grown up,
indeed, if it had developed human tastes and sympathies, and become a
companion, an intelligence, a creature with affections and
thoughts,--but that the whole house should thus be overwhelmed with
miserable anxiety and pain because of a being in the embryo state of
existence, who could neither respond nor understand, what a strange
thing it was! No doubt this instinct had been implanted in order to
preserve the germ and keep the race going; but that it should thus
develop into an absorbing passion and overshadow everything else in life
was a proof how the natural gets exaggerated, and, if we do not take
care, changes its character altogether, mastering us instead of being
kept in its fit place, and in check, as it ought to be by sense and
reason. From time to time, as Sir Tom made these reflections, there
would flit across his mind, as across a mirror, something which was not
thought, which was like a picture momentarily presented before him. One
of the most persistent of these, which flashed out and in upon his
senses like a view in a magic lantern, was of that moment in the midst
of the flurry of the election when little Tom, held up in his mother's
arms, had clapped his baby hands for his father. This for a second would
confound all his thoughts, and give his heart a pang as if some one had
seized and pressed it with an iron grasp; but the next moment he would
pick up the thread of his reflections again, and go on with them. That,
too, was merely mechanical, like all the little chap's existence up to
this point. Poor little chap! here Sir Tom stopped in his course of
thought, impeded by a weight at his heart which he could not shake off;
nor could he see the blurred and vague landscape round him--something
more blinding even than the fog had got into his eyes.

Then Sir Tom started and his heart sprang up to his throat beating
loudly. It was not anything of much importance, it was only the opening
of the window by which he himself had come out upon the terrace. He
turned round quickly, too anxious even to ask a question. If it had been
a king's messenger bringing him news that affected the whole kingdom, he
would have turned away with an impatient "Pshaw!" or struck the intruder
out of his way. But it was his wife, wrapped in a dressing-gown, pale
with watching, her hair pushed back upon her forehead, her eyes
unnaturally bright. "How is he?" cried Sir Tom, as if the question was
one of life or death.

Lucy told him, catching at his arm to support herself, that she thought
there was a little improvement. "I have been thinking so for the last
hour, not daring to think it, and yet I felt sure; and now nurse says so
too. His breathing is easier. I have been on thorns to come and tell
you, but I would not till I was quite sure."

"Thank God! God be praised!" said Sir Tom. He did not pretend to be a
religious man on ordinary occasions, but at the present moment he had no
time to think, and spoke from the bottom of his heart. He supported his
little wife tenderly on one arm, and put back the disordered hair on her
forehead. "Now you will go and take a little rest, my darling," he said.

"Not yet, not till the doctor comes. But you want it as much as I."

"No; I had a long sleep on the sofa. We are all making fools of
ourselves, Lucy. The poor little chap will be all right. We are queer
creatures. To think that you and I should make ourselves so miserable
over a little thing like that, that knows nothing about it, that has no
feelings, that does not care a button for you and me."

"Tom, what are you talking of? Not of my boy, surely--not my boy!"

"Hush, my sweet. Well," said Sir Tom, with a tremulous laugh, "what is
it but a little polypus after all? that can do nothing but eat and
sleep, and crow perhaps--and clap its little fat hands," he said, with
the tears somehow getting into his voice, and mingling with the
laughter. "I allow that I am confusing my metaphors."

At this moment the window opening upon the terrace jarred again, and
another figure in a dressing-gown, dark and ghost-like, appeared
beckoning to Lucy, "My lady! my lady!"

Lucy let go her husband's arm, thrust him away from her with passion,
gave him one wild look of reproach, and flew noiselessly like a spirit
after the nurse to her child. Sir Tom, with his laugh still wavering
about his mouth, half hysterically, though he was no weakling, tottered
along the terrace to the open window, and stood there leaning against
it, scarcely breathing, the light gone out of his eyes, his whole soul
suspended, and every part of his strong body, waiting for what another
moment might bring to pass.



CHAPTER IX.

A CHRISTMAS VISIT.


Little Tom did not die, but he became "delicate,"--and fathers and
mothers know what that means. The entire household was possessed by one
pervading terror lest he should catch cold, and Lucy's life became
absorbed in this constant watchfulness. Naturally the Christmas guests
were put off, and it was understood in respect to the Contessa di
Forno-Populo, that she was to come at Easter. Sir Tom himself thought
this a better arrangement. The Parliamentary recess was not a long one,
and the Contessa would naturally prefer, after a short visit to her old
friend, to go to town, where she would find so many people she knew.

"And even in the country the weather is more tolerable in April," said
Sir Tom.

"Oh, yes, yes. The doctor says if we keep clear of the east winds that
he may begin to go out again and get up his strength," said Lucy.

"My love, I am thinking of your visitors, and you are thinking of your
baby," Sir Tom said.

"Oh, Tom, what do you suppose I could be thinking of?" his wife cried.

Sir Tom himself was very solicitous about the baby, but to hear of
nothing else worried him. He was glad when old Lady Randolph, who was an
invariable visitor, arrived.

"How is the baby?" was her first question when he met her at the train.

"The baby would be a great deal better if there was less fuss made about
him," he said. "You must give Lucy a hint on that subject, aunt."

Lady Randolph was a good woman, and it was her conviction that she had
made this match. But it is so pleasant to feel that you have been right,
that she was half pleased, though very sorry, to think that Sir Tom (as
she had always known) was getting a little tired of sweet simplicity.
She met Lucy with an affectionate determination to be very plain with
her, and warn her of the dangers in her path. Jock had arrived the day
before. He rose up in all the lanky length of sixteen from the side of
the fire in the little drawing-room when the Dowager came in. It was
just the room into which one likes to come after a cold journey at
Christmas; the fire shining brightly in the midst of the reflectors of
burnished steel and brass, shining like gold and silver, of the most
luxurious fireplace that skill could contrive (the day of tiled stoves
was not as yet), and sending a delicious glow on the soft mossy carpets
into which the foot sank; a table with tea, reflecting the firelight in
all the polished surfaces of the china and silver, stood near; and
chairs invitingly drawn towards the fire. The only drawback was that
there was no one to welcome the visitor. On ordinary occasions Lucy was
at the door, if not at the station, to receive the kind lady whom she
loved. Lady Randolph was somewhat surprised at the difference, and when
she saw the lengthy boy raising himself up from the fireside, turned
round to her nephew and asked, "Do I know this young gentleman? There is
not light enough to see him," with a voice in which Jock, shy and
awkward, felt all the old objection to his presence as a burden upon
Lucy, which in his precocious toleration he had accepted as reasonable,
but did not like much the better for that. And then she sat down
somewhat sullenly at the fire. The next minute Lucy came hastily in with
many apologies: "I did not hear the carriage, aunt. I was in the
nursery----"

"And how is the child?" Lady Randolph said.

"Oh, he is a great deal better--don't you think he is much better, Tom?
Only a little delicate, and that, we hope, will pass away."

"Then, Lucy, my dear, though I don't want to blame you, I think you
should have heard the carriage," said Aunt Randolph. "The tea-table does
not look cheerful when the mistress of the house is away."

"Oh, but little Tom----" Lucy said, and then stopped herself, with a
vague sense that there was not so much sympathy around her as usual. Her
husband had gone out again, and Jock stood dumb, an awkward shadow
against the mantelpiece.

"My dear, I only speak for your good," the elder lady said. "Big Tom
wants a little attention too. I thought you were going to have quite a
merry Christmas and a great many people here."

"But, Aunt Randolph, baby----"

"Oh, my dear, you must think of something else besides baby. Take my
word for it, baby would be a great deal stronger if you left him a
little to himself. You have your husband, you know, to think of, and
what harm would it have done baby if there had been a little cheerful
company for his father? But you will think I have come to scold, and I
don't in the least mean that. Give me a cup of tea, Lucy. Tom tells me
that this tall person is Jock."

"You would not have known him?" said Lucy, much subdued in tone.

She occupied herself with the tea, arranging the cups and saucers with
hands that trembled a little at the unexpected and unaccustomed
sensation of a repulse.

"Well, I cannot even see him. But he has certainly grown out of
knowledge--I never thought he would have been so tall; he was quite a
little pinched creature as a child. I daresay you took too much care of
him, my dear. I remember I used to think so; and then when he was tossed
into the world or sent to school--it comes to much the same thing, I
suppose--he flourished and grew."

"I wonder," said Lucy, somewhat wistfully, "if that is really so?
Certainly it is since he has been at school that he has grown so much."
Jock all this time fidgeted about from one leg to another with
unutterable darkness upon his brow, could any one have seen it. There
are few things so irritating, especially at his age, as to be thus
discussed over one's own head.

"My dear Lucy," said Lady Randolph, "don't you remember some one
says--who was it, I wonder? it sounds like one of those dreadfully
clever French sayings that are always so much to the point--about the
advantages of a little wholesome neglect?"

"Can neglect ever be wholesome? Oh, I don't think so--I can't think
so--at least with children."

"It is precisely children that are meant," said the elder Lady
Randolph. But as she talked, sitting in the warm light of the fire, with
her cup in her hand, feeling extremely comfortable, discoursing at her
ease, and putting sharp arrows as if they had been pins into the heart
of Lucy, Sir Tom's large footsteps became audible coming through the
great drawing-room, which was dark. The very sound of him was cheerful
as he came in, and he brought the scent of fresh night air, cold but
delightful, with him. He passed by Lucy's chair and said, "How is the
little 'un?" laying a kind hand upon her head.

"Oh, better. I am sure he is better. Aunt Randolph thinks----"

"I am giving Lucy a lecture," said Lady Randolph, "and telling her she
must not shut herself up with that child. He'll get on all the better if
he is not coddled too much."

Sir Tom made no reply, but came to the fire, and drew a chair into the
cheerful glow. "You are all in the dark," he said, "but the fire is
pleasant this cold night. Well, now that you are thawed, what news have
you brought us out of the world? We are two hermits, Lucy and I. We
forget what kind of language you speak. We have a little sort of talk of
our own which answers common needs about babies and so forth, but we
should like to hear what you are discoursing about, just for a change."

"There is no such thing as a world just now," said Lady Randolph, "there
are nothing but country-houses. Society is all broken up into little
bits, as you know as well as I do. One gleans a little here and a little
there, and one carries it about like a basket of eggs."

"Jock has a world, and it is quite entire," said Sir Tom, with his
cordial laugh. "No breaking up into little bits there. If you want a
society that knows its own opinions, and will stick to them through
thick and thin, I can tell you where to find it; and to see how it holds
together and sits square whatever happens----"

Here there came a sort of falsetto growl from Jock's corner, where he
was blushing in the firelight. "It's because you were once a fellow
yourself, and know all about it."

"So it is, Jock; you are right, as usual," said Sir Tom; "I was once a
fellow myself, and now I'm an old fellow, and growing duller. Turn out
your basket of eggs, Aunt Randolph, and let us know what is going on.
Where did you come from last--the Mulberrys? Come; there must have been
some pretty pickings of gossip there."

"You shall have it all in good time. I am not going to run myself dry
the first hour. I want to know about yourselves, and when you are going
to give up this honeymooning. I expected to have met all sorts of people
here."

"Yes," said Sir Tom, and then he burst forth in a laugh, "La
Forno-Populo and a few others; but as little Tom is not quite up to
visitors, we have put them off till Easter."

"La Forno-Populo!" said Lady Randolph, in a voice of dismay.

"Why not?" said Sir Tom. "She wrote and offered herself. I thought she
might find it a doubtful pleasure, but if she likes it---- However, you
may make yourself easy, nobody is coming," he added, with a certain jar
of impatience in his tone.

"Well, Tom, I must say I am very glad of that," Lady Randolph said
gravely--and then there was a pause. "I doubt whether Lucy would have
liked her," she added, after a moment. Then with another interval, "I
think, Lucy, my love, after that nice cup of tea, and my first sight of
you, that I will go to my own room. I like a little rest before
dinner--you know my lazy way."

"And it's getting ridiculously dark in this room," Sir Tom said, kicking
a footstool out of the way. This little impatient movement was like one
of those expletives that seem to relieve a man's mind, and both the
ladies understood it as such, and knew that he was angry. Lucy, as she
rose from her tea-table to attend upon her visitor, herself in a
confused and painful mood, and vexed with what had been said to her,
thought her husband was irritated by his aunt, and felt much sympathy
with him, and anxiety to conduct Lady Randolph to her room before it
should go any farther. But the elder lady understood it very
differently. She went away, followed by Lucy through the great
drawing-room, where a solitary lamp had been placed on a table to show
the way. It had been the Dowager's own house in her day, and she did not
require any guidance to her room. Nor did she detain Lucy after the
conventional visit to see that all was comfortable.

"That I haven't the least doubt of," Lady Randolph said, "and I am at
home, you know, and will ask for anything I want; but I must have my nap
before dinner; and do you go and talk to your husband."

Lucy could not resist one glance into the nursery, where little Tom, a
little languid but so much better, was sitting on his nurse's knee
before the fire, amused by those little fables about his fingers and
toes which are the earliest of all dramatic performances. The sight of
him thus content, and the sound of his laugh, was sweet to her in her
anxiety. She ran downstairs again without disturbing him, closing so
carefully the double doors that shut him out from all draughts, not
without a wondering doubt as she did so, whether it was true, perhaps,
that she was "coddling" him, and if there was such a thing as wholesome
neglect. She went quickly through the dim drawing-room to the warm ruddy
flush of firelight that shone between the curtains from the smaller
room, thinking nothing less than to find her husband, who was fond of an
hour's repose in that kindly light before dinner. She had got to her old
place in front of the fire before she perceived that Sir Tom's tall
shadow was no longer there. Lucy uttered a little exclamation of
disappointment, and then she perceived remorsefully another shadow, not
like Sir Tom's, the long weedy boyish figure of her brother against the
warm light.

"But you are here, Jock," she said, advancing to him. Jock took hold of
her arm, as he was so fond of doing.

"I shall never have you, now _she_ has come," Jock said.

"Why not, dear? You were never fond of Lady Randolph--you don't know how
good and kind she is. It is only when you like people that you know how
nice they are," Lucy said, all unconscious that a deeper voice than hers
had announced that truth.

"Then I shall never know, for I don't like her," said Jock
uncompromising. "You'll have to sit and gossip with her when you're not
in the nursery, and I shall have no time to tell you, for the holidays
last only a month."

"But you can tell me everything in a month, you silly boy; and if we
can't have our walks, Jock (for it's cold), there is one place where
she will never come," said Lucy, upon which Jock turned away with an
exclamation of impatience.

His sister put her hand on his shoulder and looked reproachfully in his
face.

"You too! You used to like it. You used to come and toss him up and make
him laugh----"

"Oh, don't, Lucy! can't you see? So I would again, if he were like that.
How you can bear it!" said the boy, bursting away from her. And then
Jock returned very much ashamed and horror-stricken, and took the hand
that dropped by her side, and clumsily patted and kissed it, and held it
between his own, looking penitently, wistfully, in her face all the
while: but not knowing what to say.

Lucy stood looking down into the glowing fire, with her head drooping
and an air of utter dejection in her little gentle figure. "Do you think
he looks so bad as that?" she said, in a broken voice.

"Oh, no, no; that is not what I mean," the boy cried. "It's--the little
chap is not so jolly; he's--a little cross; or else he's forgotten me. I
suppose it's that. He wouldn't look at me when I ran up. He's so little
one oughtn't to mind, but it made me----your baby, Lucy! and the little
beggar cried and wouldn't look at me."

"Is that all?" said Lucy. She only half believed him, but she pretended
to be deceived. She gave a little trembling laugh, and laid her head for
a moment upon Jock's boyish breast, where his heart was beating high
with a passion of sorrow and tender love. "Sometimes," she said, leaning
against him, "sometimes I think I shall die. I can't live to see
anything happen to him: and sometimes---- But he is ever so much better;
don't you think he looks almost himself?" she said, raising her head
hurriedly, and interrogating the scarcely visible face with her eyes.

"Looks! I don't see much difference in his looks, if he wouldn't be so
cross," said Jock, lying boldly, but with a tremor, for he was not used
to it. And then he said hurriedly, "But there's that clergyman, the
father of the fellow on the foundation. I've found out all about him. I
must tell you, Lucy. He is the very man. There is no call to think about
it or put off any longer. What a thing it would be if he could have it
by Christmas! I have got all the particulars--they look as if they were
just made for us," Jock cried.



CHAPTER X.

LUCY'S ADVISERS.


Lady Randolph found her visit dull. It is true that there had been no
guests to speak of on previous Christmases since Sir Tom's marriage; but
the house had been more cheerful, and Lucy had been ready to drive, or
walk, or call, or go out to the festivities around. But now she was
absorbed by the nursing, and never liked to be an hour out of call. The
Dowager put up with it as long as she was able. She did not say anything
more on the subject for some days. It was not, indeed, until she had
been a week at the Hall that, being disturbed by the appeals of Lucy as
to whether she did not think baby was looking better than when she came,
she burst forth at last. They were sitting by themselves in the hour
after dinner when ladies have the drawing-room all to themselves. It is
supposed by young persons in novels to be a very dreary interval, but to
the great majority of women it is a pleasant moment. The two ladies sat
before the pleasant fire; Lucy with some fleecy white wool in her lap
with which she was knitting something for her child, Lady Randolph with
a screen interposed between her and the fire, doing nothing, an
operation which she always performed gracefully and comfortably. It
could not be said that the gentlemen were lingering over their wine.
Jock had retired to the library, where he was working through all the
long-collected literary stores of the Randolph family, with an
instinctive sense that his presence in the drawing-room was not desired.
Sir Tom had business to do, or else he was tired of the domestic calm.
The ladies had been sitting for some time in silence when Lady Randolph
suddenly broke forth--

"You know what I said to you the first evening, Lucy? I have not said a
word on the subject since--of course I didn't come down here to enjoy
your hospitality and then to find fault."

"Oh, Aunt Randolph! don't speak of hospitality; it is your own house."

"My dear, it is very pretty of you to say so. I hope I am not the sort
of person to take advantage of it. But I feel a sort of responsibility,
seeing it was I that brought you together first. Lucy, I must tell you.
You are not doing what you ought by Tom. Here he is, a middle-aged man,
you know, and one of the first in the county. People look to him for a
great many things: he is the member: he is a great landowner: he is
(thanks to you) very well off. And here is Christmas, and not a visitor
in the house but myself. Oh, there's Jock! a schoolboy home for his
holidays--that does not count; not a single dinner that I can hear
of----"

"Yes, aunt, on the 6th," said Lucy, with humility.

"On the 6th, and it is now the 27th! and no fuss at all made about
Christmas. My dear, you needn't tell me it's a bore. I know it is a
bore--everywhere wherever one goes; still, everybody does it. It is just
a part of one's responsibilities. You don't go to balls in Lent, and you
stand on your heads, so to speak, at Christmas. The country expects it
of you; and it is always a mistake to take one's own way in such
matters. You should have had, in the first place," said Lady Randolph,
counting on her fingers, "your house full; in the second, a ball, to
which everybody should have been asked. On these occasions no one that
could possibly be imagined to be gentlefolk should be left out. I would
even stretch a point--doctors and lawyers, and so forth, go without
saying, and those big brewers, you know, I always took in; and some
people go as far as the 'vet.,' as they call him. He was a very
objectionable person in my day, and that was where I drew the line; then
three or four dinners at the least."

"But, Aunt Randolph, how could we when baby is so poorly----"

"What has baby to do with it, Lucy? You don't have the child down to
receive your guests. With the door of his nursery shut to keep out the
noise (if you think it necessary: I shouldn't think it would matter)
what harm would it do him? He would never be a bit the wiser, poor
little dear. Yes, I dare say your heart would be with him many a time
when you were elsewhere; but you must not think of yourself."

"I did not mean to do so, aunt. I thought little Tom was my first duty."

"Now, I should have thought, my dear," said the Dowager, smiling
blandly, "that it would have been big Tom who answered to that
description."

"But, Tom----" Lucy paused, not knowing in what shape to put so obvious
a truth, "he is like me," she said. "He is far, far more anxious than he
lets you see. It is his--duty too."

"A great many other things are his duty as well; besides, there is so
much, especially in a social point of view, which the man never sees
till his wife points it out. That's one of the uses of a woman. She must
keep up her husband's popularity, don't you see? You must never let it
be said: 'Oh, Sir Tom! he is all very well in Parliament, but he does
nothing for the county.'"

"I never thought of that," said Lucy, with dismay.

"But you must learn to think of it, my love. Never mind, this is the
first Christmas since the election. But one dinner, and nothing else
done, not so much as a magic lantern in the village! I do assure you, my
dearest girl, you are very much to blame."

"I am very sorry," said Lucy, with a startled look, "but, dear aunt,
little Tom----"

"My dear Lucy! I am sure you don't wish everybody to get sick of that
poor child's very name."

Lucy sprang up from her chair at this outrage; she could not bear any
more. A flush of almost fury came upon her face. She went up to the
mantelpiece, which was a very fine one of carved wood, and leant her
head upon it. She did not trust herself to reply.

"Now, I know what you are thinking," said Lady Randolph blandly. "You
are saying to yourself, that horrid old woman, who never had a child,
how can she know?--and I don't suppose I do," said the clever Dowager
pathetically. "All that sweetness has been denied to me. I have never
had a little creature that was all mine. But when I was your age, Lucy,
and far older than you, I would have given anything--almost my life--to
have had a child."

Lucy melted in a moment, threw herself down upon the hearth-rug upon her
knees, and took Lady Randolph's hands in her own and kissed them.

"Oh, dear aunt, dear aunt!" she cried, "to think I should have gone on
so about little Tom and never remembered that you---- But we are all your
children," she said, in the innocence and fervour of her heart.

"Yes, my love." Lady Randolph freed one of her hands and put it up with
her handkerchief to her cheek. As a matter of fact she did not regret it
now, but felt that a woman when she is growing old is really much more
able to look after her own comforts when she has no children; and yet,
when she remembered how she had been bullied on the subject, and all the
reproaches that had been addressed to her as if it were her fault,
perhaps there was something like a tear. "That is why I venture to say
many things to you that I would not otherwise. Tom, indeed, is too old
to have been my son; but I have felt, Lucy, as if I had a daughter in
you." Then shaking off this little bit of sentiment with a laugh, the
Dowager raised Lucy and kissed her and put her into a chair by her own
side.

"Since we are about it," she said, "there is one other thing I should
like to talk to you about. Of course your husband knows a great deal
more of the world than you do, Lucy; but it is perhaps better that he
should not decide altogether who is to be asked. Men have such strange
notions. If people are amusing it is all they think of. Well, now, there
is that Contessa di Forno-Populo. I would not have her, Lucy, if I were
you."

"But it was she who was the special person," said Lucy, in amaze. "The
others were to come to meet her. She is an old friend."

"Oh, I know all about the old friendship," said Lady Randolph. "I think
Tom should be ashamed of himself. He knows that in other houses where
the mistress knows more about the world. Yes, yes, she is an old friend.
All the more reason, my dear, why you should have as little to say to
her as possible; they are never to be reckoned upon. Didn't you hear
what he called her. _La_ Forno-Populo? Englishmen never talk of a lady
like that if they have any great respect for her; but it can't be denied
that this lady has a great deal of charm. And I would just keep her at
arm's length, Lucy, if I were you."

"Dear Aunt Randolph, why should I do that?" said Lucy, gravely. "If she
is Tom's friend, she must always be welcome here. I do not know her,
therefore I can only welcome her for my husband's sake; but that is
reason enough. You must not ask me to do anything that is against Tom."

"Against Tom! I think you are a little goose, Lucy, though you are so
sensible. Is it not all for his sake that I am talking? I want you to
see more of the world, not to shut yourself up here in the nursery
entirely on his account. If you don't understand that, then words have
no meaning."

"I do understand it, aunt," said Lucy meekly. "Don't be angry; but why
should I be disagreeable to Tom's friend? The only thing I am afraid of
is, should she not speak English. My French is so bad----"

"Oh, your French will do very well; and you will take your own way, my
dear," said the elder lady, getting up. "You all do, you young people.
The opinion of others never does any good; and as Tom does not seem to
be coming, I think I shall take my way to bed. Good-night, Lucy.
Remember what I said, at all events, about the magic lantern. And if you
are wise you will have as little to do as possible with La Forno-Populo
as you can--and there you have my two pieces of advice."

Lucy was disturbed a little by her elder's counsel, both in respect to
the foreign lady, whom, however, she simply supposed Lady Randolph did
not like--and in regard to her own nursery tastes and avoidance of
society;--could that be why Tom sat so much longer in the dining-room
and did not come in to talk to his aunt? She began to think with a
little ache in her heart, and to remember that in her great
preoccupation with the child he had been left to spend many evenings
alone, and that he no longer complained of this. She stood up in front
of the fire and pressed her hot forehead to the mantel-shelf. How was a
woman to know what to do? Was not he that was most helpless and had most
need of her the one to devote her time to? There was not a thought in
her that was disloyal to Sir Tom. But what if he were to form the habit
of doing without her society? This was an idea that filled her with a
vague dread. Some one came in through the great drawing-room as she
stood thinking, and she turned round eagerly, supposing that it was her
husband; but it was only Jock, who had been on the watch to hear Lady
Randolph go upstairs.

"I never see you at all now, Lucy," cried Jock. "I never have a chance
but in the holidays, and now they're half over, and we have not had one
good talk. And what about poor Mr. Churchill, Lucy? I thought he was the
very man for you. He has got about a dozen children and no money.
Somebody else pays for Churchill, that's the fellow I told you of that's
on the foundation. I shouldn't have found out all that, and gone and
asked questions and got myself thought an inquisitive beggar, if it
hadn't been for your sake."

"Oh, Jock, I'm sure I am much obliged to you," said Lucy, dolefully;
"and I am so sorry for the poor gentleman. It must be dreadful to have
so many children and not to be able to give them everything they
require."

At this speech, which was uttered with something between impatience and
despair, and which made no promise of any help or succour, her brother
regarded her with a mixture of anger and disappointment.

"Is that all about it, Lucy?" he said.

"Oh, no, Jock! I am sure you are right, dear. I know I ought to bestir
myself and do something, but only---- How much do you think it would take
to make them comfortable? Oh, Jock, I wish that papa had put it all into
somebody's hands, to be done like business--somebody that had nothing
else to think of!"

"What have you to think of, Lucy?" said the boy, seriously, in the
superiority of his youth. "I suppose, you know, you are just too well
off. You can't understand what it is to be like that. You get angry at
people for not being happy, you don't want to be disturbed." He paused
remorsefully, and cast a glance at her, melting in spite of himself, for
Lucy did not look too well off. Her soft brow was contracted a little;
there was a faint quiver upon her lip. "If you really want to know,"
Jock said, "people can live and get along when they have about five
hundred a year. That is, as far as I can make out. If you gave them
that, they would think it awful luck."

"I wish I could give them all of it, and be done with it!"

"I don't see much good that would do. It would be two rich people in
place of one, and the two would not be so grand as you. That would not
have done for father at all. He liked you to be a great heiress, and
everybody to wonder at you, and then to give your money away like a
queen. I like it too," said Jock, throwing up his head; "it satisfies
the imagination: it is a kind of a fairy tale."

Lucy shook her head.

"He never thought how hard it would be upon me. A woman is never so well
off as a man. Oh, if it had been you, Jock, and I only just your
sister."

"Talking does not bring us any nearer a settlement," said Jock, with
some impatience. "When will you do it, Lucy? Have you got to speak to
old Rushton, or write to old Chervil, or what? or can't you just draw
them a cheque? I suppose about ten thousand or so would be enough. And
it is as easy to do it at one time as another. Why not to-morrow, Lucy?
and then you would have it off your mind."

This proposal took away Lucy's breath. She thought with a gasp of Sir
Tom and the look with which he would regard her--the laugh, the amused
incredulity. He would not be unkind, and her right to do it was quite
well established and certain. But she shrank within herself when she
thought how he would look at her, and her heart jumped into her throat
as she realised that perhaps he might not laugh only. How could she
stand before him and carry her own war in opposition to his? Her whole
being trembled even with the idea of conflict. "Oh, Jock, it is not just
so easily managed as that," she said faltering; "there are several
things to think of. I will have to let the trustees know, and it must
all be calculated."

"There is not much need for calculation," said Jock, "that is just about
it. Five per cent is what you get for money. You had better send the
cheque for it, Lucy, and then let the old duffers know of it afterwards.
One would think you were afraid!"

"Oh, no," said Lucy, with a slight shiver, "I am not afraid." And then
she added, with growing hesitation, "I must--speak to---- Oh! Is it you,
Tom?" She made a sudden start from Jock's side, who was standing close
by her, argumentative and eager, and whose bewildered spectatorship of
her guilty surprise and embarrassment she was conscious of through all.

"Yes, it is I," said Sir Tom, putting his hand upon her shoulders; "you
must have been up to some mischief, Jock and you, or you would not look
so frightened. What is the secret?" he said, with his genial laugh. But
when he looked from Jock, astonished but resentful and lowering, to
Lucy, all trembling and pale with guilt, even Sir Tom, who was not
suspicious, was startled. His little Lucy! What had she been plotting
that made her look so scared at his appearance? Or was it something that
had been told to her, some secret accusation against himself? This
startled Sir Tom also a little, and it was with a sudden gravity, not
unmingled with resentment, that he added, "Come! I mean to know what it
is."



CHAPTER XI.

AN INNOCENT CONSPIRACY.


"It was only something that Jock was saying," said Lucy, "but, Tom, I
will tell you another time. I wish you had come in before Lady Randolph
went upstairs. I think she was a little disappointed to have only me."

"Did she share Jock's secret?" Sir Tom said with a keen look of inquiry.
It is perhaps one advantage in the dim light which fashion delights in,
that it is less easy to scrutinise the secrets of a face.

"We are all a little put wrong when you do not come in," said Lucy. The
cunning which weakness finds refuge in when it has to defend itself came
to her aid. "Jock is shy when you are not here. He thinks he bores Lady
Randolph; and so we ladies are left to our own devices."

"Jock must not be so sensitive," Sir Tom said; but he was not satisfied.
It occurred to him suddenly (for schoolboys are terrible gossips) that
the boy might have heard something which he had been repeating to Lucy.
Nothing could have been more unlikely, had he thought of it, than that
Jock should carry tales on such a subject. But we do not stop to argue
out matters when our own self-regard is in question. He looked at the
two with a doubtful and suspicious eye.

"He will get over it as he grows older," said Lucy; but she gave her
brother a look which to Sir Tom seemed one of warning, and he was
irritated by it; he looked from one to another and he laughed; but not
with the genial laugh which was his best known utterance.

"You are prodigiously on your guard," he said. "I suppose you have your
reasons for it. Have you been confiding the Masons' secret or something
of that awful character to her, Jock?"

"Why shouldn't I tell him?" cried Jock with great impatience. "What is
the use of making all those signs? It's nothing of the sort. It's only
I've heard of somebody that is poor--somebody she ought to know of--the
sort of thing that is meant in father's will."

"Oh!" said Sir Tom. It was the simplest of exclamations, but it meant
much. He was partially relieved that it was not gossip, but yet more
gravely annoyed than if it had been.

Lucy made haste to interpose.

"I will tell you afterwards," she said. "If I made signs, as Jock said,
it was only that I might tell it you, Tom, myself, when there was more
time."

"I am at no loss for time," said Sir Tom, placing himself in the vacant
chair. The others were both standing, as became this accidental moment
before bed-time. And Lucy had been on thorns to get away, even before
her husband appeared. She had wanted to escape from the discussion even
with Jock. She had wanted to steal into the nursery, and see that her
boy was asleep, to feel his little forehead with her soft hand, and make
sure there was no fever. To be betrayed into a prolonged and agitating
discussion now was very provoking, very undesirable; and Lucy had grown
rather cowardly and anxious to push away from her, as far as she could,
everything that did not belong to the moment.

"Tom," she said, a little tremulously, "I wish you would put it off till
to-morrow. I am--rather sleepy; it is nearly eleven o'clock, and I
always run in to see how little Tom is going on. Besides," she added,
with a little anxiety which was quite fictitious, "it is keeping
Fletcher up----"

"I am not afraid of Fletcher, Lucy."

"Oh! but I am," she said. "I will tell you about it to-morrow. There is
nothing in the least settled, only Jock thought----"

"Settled!" Sir Tom said, with a curious look. "No, I hope not."

"Oh! nothing at all settled," said Lucy. She stood restlessly, now on
one foot now on the other, eager for flight. She did not even observe
the implied authority in this remark, at which Jock pricked up his ears
with incipient offence. "And Jock ought to be in bed--oh, yes, Jock, you
ought. I am sure you are not allowed to sit up so late at school. Come
now, there's a good boy--and I will just run and see how baby is."

She put her hand on her brother's arm to take him away with her, but
Jock hung back, and Sir Tom interposed, "Now that I have just settled
myself for a chat, you had better leave Jock with me at least, Lucy. Run
away to your baby, that is all right. Jock and I will entertain each
other. I respect his youth, you see, and don't try to seduce him into a
cigar--you should be thankful to me for that."

"If I was not in sixth form," said Jock sharply, nettled by this
indignity, "I should smoke; but it is bad form when you are high up in
school. In the holidays I don't mind," he added, with careless
grandeur, upon which Sir Tom, mollified, laughed as Lucy felt like
himself.

"Off duty, eh?" he said, "that's a very fine sentiment, Jock. You may be
sure it's bad form to do anything you have promised not to do. You will
say that sounds like a copy-book. Come now, Lucy, are not you going,
little woman? Do you want to have your share in the moralities?"

For this sudden change had somehow quenched Lucy's desire both to
inspect the baby and get to bed. But what could she do? She looked very
earnestly at Jock as she bade him good-night, but neither could she
shake his respect for her husband by giving him any warning, nor offend
her husband by any appearance of secret intelligence with Jock. Poor
little Lucy went away after this through the stately rooms and up the
grand staircase with a great tremor in her heart. There could not be a
life more guarded and happy than hers had been--full of wealth, full of
love, not a crumpled rose-leaf to disturb her comfort. But as she stole
along the dim corridor to the nursery her heart was beating full of all
the terrors that make other hearts to ache. She was afraid for the
child's life, which was the worst of all, and looked with a suppressed
yet terrible panic into the dark future which contained she knew not
what for him. And she was afraid of her husband, the kindest man in the
world, not knowing how he might take the discovery he had just made,
fearing to disclose her mind to him, finding herself guilty in the mere
idea of hiding anything from him. And she was afraid of Jock, that he
would irritate Sir Tom, or be irritated by him, or that some wretched
breach or quarrel might arise between these two. Jock was not an
ordinary boy; there was no telling how he might take any reproof that
might be addressed to him--perhaps with the utmost reasonableness,
perhaps with a rapid defiance. Lady Randolph thus, though no harm had
befallen her, had come into the usual heritage of humanity, and was as
anxious and troubled as most of us are; though she was so happy and well
off. She was on thorns to know what was passing in the room she had just
left.

This was all that passed. Jock, standing up against the mantelpiece,
looked down somewhat lowering upon Sir Tom in the easy chair. He
expected to be questioned, and had made up his mind, though with great
indignation at the idea that any one should find fault with Lucy, to
take the whole blame upon himself. That Lucy should not be free to carry
out her duty as seemed to her best was to Jock intolerable. He had put
his boyish faith in her all his life. Even since the time, a very early
one, when Jock had felt himself much cleverer than Lucy; even when he
had been obliged to make up his mind that Lucy was not clever at all--he
had still believed in her. She had a mission in the world which
separated her from other women. Nobody else had ever had the same thing
to do. Many people had dispensed charities and founded hospitals, but
Lucy's office in the world was of a different description--and Jock had
faith in her power to do it. To see her wavering was trouble to him, and
the discovery he had just made of something beneath the surface, a
latent opposition in her husband which she plainly shrank from
encountering, gave the boy a shock from which it was not easy to
recover. He had always liked Sir Tom; but if---- One thing, however, was
apparent, if there was any blame, anything to find fault with, it was
he, Jock, and not Lucy, that must bear that blame.

"So, Jock, Lucy thinks you should be in bed. When do they put out your
lights at school? In my time we were up to all manner of tricks. I
remember a certain dark lantern that was my joy; but that was in old
Keate's time, you know, who never trusted the fellows. You are under a
better rule now."

This took away Jock's breath, who had been prepared for a sterner
interrogation. He answered with a sudden blush, but with the rallying of
all his forces: "I light them again sometimes. It's hard on a fellow,
don't you think, sir, when he's not sleepy and has a lot to do?"

"I never had much experience of that," said Sir Tom. "We were always
sleepy, and never did anything in my time. It was for larking, I'm
afraid, that we wanted light. And so it is seen on me, Jock. You will be
a fellow of your college, whereas I----"

"I don't think so," said Jock generously. "That construe you gave me,
don't you remember, last half? MTutor says it is capital. He says he
couldn't have done it so well. Of course, that is his modest way," the
boy added, "for everybody knows there isn't such another scholar! but
that's what he says."

Sir Tom laughed, and a slight suffusion of colour appeared on his face.
He was pleased with this unexpected applause. At five-and-forty, after
knocking about the world for years, and "never opening a book," as
people say, to have given a good "construe" is a feather in one's cap.
"To be second to your tutor is all a man has to hope for," he said, with
that mellow laugh which it was so pleasant to hear. "I hope I know my
place, Jock. We had no such godlike beings in my time. Old Puck, as we
used to call him, was my tutor. He had a red nose, which was the chief
feature in his character. He looked upon us all as his natural enemies,
and we paid him back with interest. Did I ever tell of that time when we
were going to Ascot in a cab, four of us, and he caught sight of the
turn-out?"

"I don't think so," said Jock, with a little hesitation. He remembered
every detail of this story, which indeed Sir Tom had told him perhaps
more than once; for in respect to such legends the best of us repeat
ourselves. Many were the thoughts in the boy's mind as he stood against
the mantelpiece and looked down upon the man before him, going over with
much relish the tale of boyish mischief, the delight of the urchins and
the pedagogue's discomfiture. Sir Tom threw himself back in his chair
with a peal of joyous laughter.

"Jove! I think I can see him now with the corners of his mouth all
dropped, and his nose like a beacon," he cried. Jock meanwhile looked
down upon him very gravely, though he smiled in courtesy. He was a
different manner of boy from anything Sir Tom could ever have been, and
he wondered, as young creatures will, over the little world of mystery
and knowledge which was shut up within the elder man. What things he had
done in his life--what places he had seen! He had lived among savages,
and fought his way, and seen death and life. Jock, only on the
threshold, gazed at him with a curious mixture of awe and wonder and
kind contempt. He would himself rather look down upon a fellow (he
thought) who did that sort of practical joke now. MTutor would regard
such an individual as a natural curiosity. And yet here was this man who
had seen so much, and done so much, who ought to have profited by the
long results of time, and grown to such superiority and mental
elevation--here was he, turning back with delight to the schoolboy's
trick. It filled Jock with a great and compassionate wonder. But he was
a very civil boy. He was one who could not bear to hurt a
fellow-creature's feelings, even those of an old duffer whose
recollections were all of the bygone ages. So he did his best to laugh.
And Sir Tom enjoyed his own joke so much that he did not know that it
was from the lips only that his young companion's laugh came. He got up
and patted Jock on the shoulders with the utmost benevolence when this
pastime was done.

"They don't indulge in that sort of fooling nowadays," he said. "So much
the better--though I don't know that it did us much harm. Now come
along, let us go to bed, according to my lady's orders. We must all, you
know, do what Lucy tells us in this house."

Jock obeyed, feeling somewhat "shut up," as he called it, in a sort of
blank of confused discomfiture. Sir Tom had the best of it, by whatever
means he attained that end. The boy had intended to offer himself a
sacrifice, to brave anything that an angry man could say to him for
Lucy's sake, and at the same time to die if necessary for Lucy's right
to carry out her father's will, and accomplish her mission uninterrupted
and untrammelled. When lo, Sir Tom had taken to telling him schoolboy
stories, and sent him to bed with good-humoured kindness, without
leaving him the slightest opening either to defend Lucy or take blame
upon himself. He was half angry, and humbled in his own esteem, but
there was nothing for it but to submit. Sir Tom for his part, did not go
to bed. He went and smoked a lonely cigar, and his face lost its genial
smile. The light of it, indeed, disappeared altogether under a cloud, as
he sat gravely over his fire and puffed the smoke away. He had the air
of a man who had a task to do which was not congenial to him. "Poor
little soul," he said to himself. He could not bear to vex her. There
was nothing in the world that he would have grudged to his wife. Any
luxury, any adornment that he could have procured for her he would have
jumped at. But it was his fate to be compelled to oppose and subdue her
instead. The only thing was to do it quickly and decisively, since done
it must be. If she had been a warrior worthy of his steel, a woman who
would have defended herself and held her own, it would have been so much
more easy; but it was not without a compunction that Sir Tom thought of
the disproportion of their forces, of the soft and compliant creature
who had never raised her will against his or done other than accept his
suggestions and respond to his guidance. He remembered how Lucy had
stuck to her colours before her marriage, and how she had vanquished the
unwilling guardians who regarded what they thought the squandering of
her money with a consternation and fury that were beyond bounds. He had
thought it highly comic at the time, and even now there passed a gleam
of humour over his face at the recollection. He could not deny himself a
smile when he thought it all over. She had worsted her guardians, and
thrown away her money triumphantly, and Sir Tom had regarded the whole
as an excellent joke. But the recollection of this did not discourage
him now. He had no thought that Lucy would stand out against him. It
might vex her, however, dear little woman. No doubt she and Jock had
been making up some fine Quixotic plans between them, and probably it
would be a shock to her when her husband interfered. He had got to be so
fond of his little wife, and his heart was so kind, that he could not
bear the idea of vexing Lucy. But still it would have to be done. He
rose up at last, and threw away the end of his cigar with a look of
vexation and trouble. It was necessary, but it was a nuisance, however.
"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly,"
he said to himself; then laughed again, as he took his way upstairs, at
the over-significance of the words. He was not going to murder anybody;
only when the moment proved favourable, for once and only once, seeing
it was inevitable, he had to bring under lawful authority--an easy
task--the gentle little feminine creature who was his wife.



CHAPTER XII.

THE FIRST STRUGGLE.


Lucy knew nothing of this till the next forenoon after breakfast, and
after the many morning occupations which a lady has in her own house.
She looked wistfully at both her brother and her husband when they met
at table, and it was a great consolation to her, and lightening of her
heart, when she perceived that they were quite at ease with each other;
but still she was burning with curiosity to know what had passed. Sir
Tom had not said a word. He had been just as usual, not even looking a
consciousness of the unexplained question between them. She was glad and
yet half sorry that all was about to blow over, and to be as if it had
not been. After going so far, perhaps it would have been better that it
had gone farther and that the matter had been settled. This she said to
herself in the security of a respite, believing that it had passed away
from Sir Tom's mind. She wanted to know, and yet she was afraid to ask,
for her heart revolted against asking questions of Jock which might
betray to him the fear of a possible quarrel. After she had
superintended little Tom's toilet, and watched him go out for his walk
(for the weather was very mild for the time of the year), and seen Mrs.
Freshwater, the housekeeper, and settled about the dinner, always with a
little quiver of anxiety in her heart, she met Jock by a happy chance,
just as she was about to join Lady Randolph in the drawing-room. She
seized his arm with energy, and drew him within the door of the library;
but after she had done this with an eagerness not to be disguised, Lucy
suddenly remembered all that it was inexpedient for her to betray to
Jock. Accordingly she stopped short, as it were, on the threshold, and
instead of saying as she had intended, "What did he say to you?" dropped
down into the routine question, "Where are you going--were you going
out?"

"I shall some time, I suppose. What do you grip a fellow's arm for like
that? and then when I thought you had something important to say to me,
only asking am I going out?"

"Yes, clear," said Lucy, recovering herself with an effort. "You don't
take enough exercise. I wish you would not be always among the books."

"Stuff, Lucy!" said Jock.

"I am sure Tom thinks the same. He was telling me--now didn't he say
something to you about it last night?"

"That's all bosh," said the boy. "And if you want to know what he said
to me last night, he just said nothing at all, but told me old stories
of school that I've heard a hundred times. These old d---- fellows,"
(Jock did not swear; he was going to say duffers, that was all) "always
talk like that. One would think they had not had much fun in their life
when they are always turning back upon school," Jock added, with fine
sarcasm.

"Oh, only stories about school!" said Lucy with extreme relief. But the
next moment she was not quite so sure that she was comfortable about
this entire ignoring of a matter which Sir Tom had seemed to think so
grave. "What sort of stories?" she said dreamily, pursuing her own
thoughts without much attention to the answer.

"Oh, that old stuff about Ascot and about the old master that stopped
them. It isn't much. I know it," said Jock, disrespectfully, "as well as
I know my a, b, c."

"It is very rude of you to say so, Jock."

"Perhaps it is rude," the boy replied, with candour; but he did not
further explain himself, and Lucy, to veil her mingled relief and
disquietude, dismissed him with an exhortation to go out.

"You read and read," she cried, glad to throw off a little excitement in
this manner, though she really felt very little anxiety on the subject,
"till you will be all brains and nothing else. I wish you would use your
legs a little too." And then, with a little affectionate push away from
her, she left him in undisturbed possession of his books, and the
morning, which, fine as it was, was not bright enough to tempt him away
from them.

Then Lucy pursued her way to the drawing-room: but she had not gone many
steps before she met her husband, who stopped and asked her a question
or two. Had the boy gone out? It was so fine it would do him good, poor
little beggar; and where was her ladyship going? When he heard she was
going to join the Dowager, Sir Tom smilingly took her hand and drew it
within his own. "Then come here with me for a minute first," he said.
And strange to say, Lucy had no fear. She allowed him to have his way,
thinking it was to show her something, perhaps to ask her advice on some
small matter. He took her into a little room he had, full of trophies of
his travels, a place more distinctively his own than any other in the
house. When he had closed the door a faint little thrill of alarm came
over her. She looked up at him wondering, inquiring. Sir Tom took her by
her arms and drew her towards him in the full light of the window. "Come
and let me look at you, Lucy," he said. "I want to see in your eyes what
it is that makes you afraid of me."

She met his eyes with great bravery and self-command, but nothing could
save her from the nervous quiver which he felt as he held her, or from
the tell-tale ebb and flow of the blood from her face. "I--I am not
afraid of you, Tom."

"Then have you ceased to trust me, Lucy? How is it that you discuss the
most important matters with Jock, who is only a boy, and leave me out?
You do not think that can be agreeable to me."

"Tom," she said; then stopped short, her voice being interrupted by the
fluttering of her heart.

"I told you: you are afraid. What have I ever done to make my wife
afraid of me?" he said.

"Oh, Tom, it is not that! it is only that I felt--there has never been
anything said, and you have always done all, and more than all, that I
wished; but I have felt that you were opposed to me in one thing. I may
be wrong, perhaps," she added, looking up at him suddenly with a
catching of her breath.

Sir Tom did not say she was wrong. He was very kind, but very grave. "In
that case," he said, "Lucy, my love, don't you think it would have been
better to speak to me about it, and ascertain what were my objections,
and why I was opposed to you--rather than turn without a word to another
instead of me?"

"Oh!" cried Lucy, "I could not. I was a coward. I could not bear to make
sure. To stand against you, how could I do it? But if you will hear me
out, Tom, I never, never turned to another. Oh! what strange words to
say. It was not another. It was Jock, only Jock; but I did not turn even
to him. It was he who brought it forward, and I---- Now that we have
begun to talk about it, and it cannot be escaped," cried Lucy, with
sudden nervous boldness, freeing herself from his hold, "I will own
everything to you, Tom. Yes, I was afraid. I would not, I could not do
it, for I could feel that you were against it. You never said anything;
is it necessary that you should speak for me to understand you? but I
knew it all through. And to go against you and do something you did not
like was more than I could face. I should have gone on for years,
perhaps, and never had courage for it," she cried. She was tingling all
over with excitement and desperate daring now.

"My darling," said Sir Tom, "it makes me happier to think that it was
not me you were afraid of, but only of putting yourself in opposition to
me; but still, Lucy, even that is not right, you know. Don't you think
that it would be better that we should talk it over, and that I should
show you my objections to this strange scheme you have in your head, and
convince you----"

"Oh!" cried Lucy, stepping back a little and putting up her hands as if
in self-defence, "that was what I was most frightened for."

"What, to be convinced?" he laughed: but his laugh jarred upon her in
her excited state. "Well, that is not at all uncommon; but few people
avow it so frankly," he said.

She looked up at him with appealing eyes. "Oh, Tom," she cried, "I fear
you will not understand me now. I am not afraid to be convinced. I am
afraid of what you will think when you know that I cannot be convinced.
Now," she said, with a certain calm of despair, "I have said it all."

To her astonishment her husband replied by a sudden hug and a laugh.
"Whether you are accessible to reason or not, you are always my dear
little woman," he said. "I like best to have it out. Do you know, Lucy,
that it is supposed your sex are all of that mind? You believe what you
like, and the reason for your faith does not trouble you. You must not
suppose that you are singular in that respect."

To this she listened without any response at all either in words or
look, except, perhaps, a little lifting of her eyelids in faint
surprise; for Lucy was not concerned about what was common to her sex.
Nor did she take such questions at all into consideration. Therefore,
this speech sounded to her irrelevant; and so quick was Sir Tom's
intelligence that, though he made it as a sort of conventional
necessity, he saw that it was irrelevant too. It might have been all
very well to address a clever woman who could have given him back his
reply in such words. But to Lucy's straightforward, simple, limited
intellect such dialectics were altogether out of place. Her very want of
capacity to understand them made them a disrespect to her which she had
done nothing to deserve. He coloured in his quick sense of this, and
sudden perception that his wife in the limitation of her intellect and
fine perfection of her moral nature was such an antagonist as a man
might well be alarmed to meet, more alarmed even than she generously was
to displease him.

"I beg your pardon, Lucy," he said, "I was talking to you as if you were
one of the ordinary people. All this must be treated between you and me
on a different footing. I have a great deal more experience than you
have, and I ought to know better. You must let me show you how it
appears to me. You see I don't pretend not to know what the point was. I
have felt for a long time that it was one that must be cleared up
between you and me. I never thought of Jock coming in," he said with a
laugh. "That is quite a new and unlooked-for feature; but begging his
pardon, though he is a clever fellow, we will leave Jock out of the
question. He can't be supposed to have much knowledge of the world."

"No," said Lucy, with a little suspicion. She did not quite see what
this had to do with it, nor what course her husband was going to adopt,
nor indeed at all what was to follow.

"Your father's will was a very absurd one," he said.

At this Lucy was slightly startled, but she said after a moment, "He did
not think what hard things he was leaving me to do."

"He did not think at all, it seems to me," said Sir Tom; "so far as I
can see he merely amused himself by arranging the world after his
fashion, and trying how much confusion he could make. I don't mean to
say anything unkind of him. I should like to have known him: he must
have been a character. But he has left us a great deal of botheration.
This particular thing, you know, that you are driving yourself crazy
about is sheer absurdity, Lucy. Solomon himself could not do it,--and
who are you, a little girl without any knowledge of the world, to see
into people's hearts, and decide whom it is safe to trust?"

"You are putting more upon me than poor papa did, Tom," said Lucy, a
little more cheerfully. "He never said, as we do in charities, that it
was to go to deserving people. I was never intended to see into their
hearts. So long as they required it and got the money, that was all he
wanted."

"Well, then, my dear," said Sir Tom, "if your father in his great sense
and judgment wanted nothing but to get rid of the money, I wonder he did
not tell you to stand upon Beachy Head or Dover Cliff on a certain day
in every year and throw so much of it into the sea--to be sure," he
added with a laugh, "that would come to very much the same thing--for
you can't annihilate money, you can only make it change hands--and the
London roughs would soon have found out your days for this wise purpose
and interrupted it somehow. But it would have been just as sensible.
Poor little woman! Here I am beginning to argue, and abusing your poor
father, whom, of course, you were fond of, and never so much as offering
you a chair! There is something on every one of them, I believe. Here,
my love, here is a seat for you," he said, displacing a box of
curiosities and clearing a corner for her by the fire. But Lucy resisted
quietly.

"Wouldn't it do another time, Tom?" she said with a little anxiety, "for
Aunt Randolph is all by herself, and she will wonder what has become of
me; and baby will be coming back from his walk." Then she made a little
pause, and resumed again, folding her hands, and raising her mild eyes
to his face. "I am very sorry to go against you, Tom. I think I would
rather lose all the money altogether. But there is just one thing, and
oh, do not be angry! I must carry out papa's will if I were to die!"

Her husband, who had begun to enter smilingly upon this discussion, with
a certainty of having the best of it, and who had listened to her
smilingly in her simple pleas for deferring the conversation, pleas
which he was very willing to yield to, was so utterly taken by surprise
at this sudden and most earnest statement, that he could do nothing but
stare at her, with a loud alarmed exclamation, "Lucy!" and a look of
utter bewilderment in his face. But she stood this without flinching,
not nervous as many a woman might have been after delivering such a
blow, but quite still, clasping her hands in each other, facing him with
a desperate quietness. Lucy was not insensible to the tremendous nature
of the utterance she had just made.

"This is surprising, indeed, Lucy," cried Sir Tom. He grew quite pale in
that sensation of being disobeyed, which is one of the most disagreeable
that human nature is subject to. He scarcely knew what to reply to a
rebellion so complete and determined. To see her attitude, the look of
her soft girlish face (for she looked still younger than her actual
years), the firm pose of her little figure, was enough to show that it
was no rash utterance, such as many a combatant makes, to withdraw from
it one hour after. Sir Tom, in his amazement, felt his very words come
back to him; he did not know what to say. "Do you mean to tell me," he
said, almost stammering in his consternation, "that whatever I may think
or advise, and however mad this proceeding may be, you have made up your
mind to carry it out whether I will or not?"

"Tom! in every other thing I will do what you tell me. I have always
done what you told me. You know a great deal better than I do, and never
more will I go against you; but I knew papa before I knew you. He is
dead; I cannot go to him to ask him to let me off, to tell him you don't
like it, or to say it is more than I can do. If I could I would do that.
But he is dead: all that he can have is just that I should be faithful
to him. And it is not only that he put it in his will, but I gave him my
promise that I would do it. How could I break my promise to one that is
dead, that trusted in me? Oh, no, no! It will kill me if you are angry;
but even then, even then, I must do what I promised to papa."

The tears had risen to her eyes as she spoke: they filled her eyelids
full, till she saw her husband only through two blinding seas: then they
fell slowly one after another upon her dress: her face was raised to
him, her features all moving with the earnestness of her plea. The
anguish of the struggle against her heart, and desire to please him, was
such that Lucy felt what it was to be faithful till death. As for Sir
Tom, it was impossible for such a man to remain unmoved by emotion so
great. But it had never occurred to him as possible that Lucy could
resist his will, or, indeed, stand for a moment against his injunction;
he had believed that he had only to say to her, "You must not do it,"
and that she would have cried, but given way. He felt himself utterly
defeated, silenced, put out of consideration. He did nothing but stare
and gasp at her in his consternation; and, more still, he was betrayed.
Her gentleness had deceived him and made him a fool; his pride was
touched, he who was supposed to have no pride. He stood silent for a
time, and then he burst out with a sort of roar of astonished and angry
dismay.

"Lucy, do you mean to tell me that you will disobey me?" he cried.



CHAPTER XIII.

AN IDLE MORNING.


The Dowager Lady Randolph had never found the Hall so dull. There was
nothing going on, nothing even to look forward to: one formal
dinner-party was the only thing to represent that large and cordial
hospitality which she was glad to think had in her own time
characterised the period when the Hall was open. She had never pretended
to be fond of the county society. In the late Sir Robert's time she had
not concealed the fact that the less time she spent in it the better she
was pleased. But when she was there, all the county had known it. She
was a woman who loved to live a large and liberal life. It was not so
much that she liked gaiety, or what is called pleasure, as that she
loved to have people about her, to be the dispenser of enjoyment, to
live a life in which there was always something going on. This is a
temperament which meets much censure from the world, and is stigmatised
as a love of excitement, and by many other unlovely names; but that is
hard upon the people who are born with it, and who are in many cases
benefactors to mankind. Lady Randolph's desire was that there should
always be something doing--"a magic lantern at the least," she had said.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that in managing that magic lantern she
would have given as much satisfaction to everybody, and perhaps managed
to enjoy herself as much, as if it had been the first entertainment in
Mayfair. She could not stagnate comfortably, she said; and as so much of
an ordinary woman's life must be stagnation more or less gracefully
veiled, it may be supposed that Lady Randolph had learned the useful
lesson of putting up with what she could get when what she liked was not
procurable. And it was seldom that she had been set down to so languid a
feast as the present. On former occasions a great deal more had been
going on, except the last year, which was that of the baby's birth, on
which occasion Lucy was, of course, out of the way of entertainment
altogether. Lady Randolph had, indeed, found her visits to the Hall
amusing, which was delightful, seeing they were duty visits as well. She
had stayed only a day or two at that time--just long enough to kiss the
baby and talk for half an hour at a time, on two or three distinct
opportunities, to the young mother in very subdued and caressing tones.
And she had been glad to get away again when she had performed this
duty, but yet did not grudge in the least the sacrifice she had made for
her family. The case, however, was quite different now: there was no
reason in the world why they should be quiet. The baby was
delicate!--could there be a more absurd reason for closing your house to
your friends, putting off your Christmas visits, entertaining not at
all, ignoring altogether the natural expectations of the county, which
did not elect a man to be its member in order that he might shut himself
up and superintend his nursery? It was ridiculous, his aunt felt; it
went to her nerves, and made her quite uncomfortable, to see all the
resources of the house, with which she was so well acquainted, wasted
upon four people. It was preposterous--an excellent cook, the best cook
almost she had ever come across, and only four to dine! People have
different ideas of what waste is--there are some who consider all large
expenditure, especially in the entertainment of guests, to be subject to
this censure. But Lady Randolph took a completely different view. The
wickedness of having such a cook and only a family party of four persons
to dine was that which offended her. It was scandalous, it was wicked.
If Lucy meant to live in this way let her return to her bourgeois
existence, and the small vulgar life in Farafield. It was ridiculous
living the life of a nobody here, and in Sir Tom's case was plainly
suicidal. How was he to hold up his face at another election, with the
consciousness that he had done nothing at all for his county, not even
given them a ball, nor so much as a magic lantern, she repeated,
bursting with a reprobation which could scarcely find words?

All this went through her mind with double force when she found herself
left alone in Lucy's morning-room, which was a bright room opening out
upon the flower garden, getting all the morning sun, and the full
advantage of the flowers when there were any. There were none, it is
true, at this moment, except a few snow-drops forcing their way through
the smooth turf under a tree which stood at the corner of a little bit
of lawn. Lady Randolph was not very fond of flowers, except in their
proper place, which meant when employed in the decoration of rooms in
the proper artistic way, and after the most approved fashion. Thus she
liked sunflowers when they were approved by society, and modest violets
and pansies in other developments of popular taste, but did not for her
own individual part care much which she had, so long as they looked well
in her vases, and "came well" against her draperies and furniture. She
had come down on this bright morning with her work, as it is the proper
thing for a lady to do, but she had no more idea of being left here
calmly and undisturbed to do that work than she had of attempting a
flight into the inviting and brilliant, if cold and frosty, skies. She
sat down with it between the fire and the sunny window, enjoying both
without being quite within the range of either. It was an ideal picture
of a lady no longer young or capable of much out-door life, or personal
emotion; a pretty room; a sunny, soft winter morning, almost as warm as
summer, the sunshine pouring in, a cheerful fire in the background to
make up what was lacking in respect of warmth; the softest of easiest
chairs, yet not too low or demoralising; a subdued sound breaking in now
and then from a distance, which pleasantly betrayed the existence of a
household; and in the midst of all, in a velvet gown, which was very
pretty to look at, and very comfortable to wear, and with a lace cap on
her head that had the same characteristics, a lady of sixty, in perfect
health, rich enough for all her requirements, without even the thought
of a dentist to trouble her. She had a piece of very pretty work in her
hand, the newspapers on the table, books within reach. And yet she was
not content! What a delightful ideal sketch might not be made of such a
moment! How she might have been thinking of her past, sweetly, with a
sigh, yet with a thankful thought of all the good things that had been
hers; of those whom she had loved, and who were gone from earth, as only
awaiting her a little farther on, and of those about her, with such a
tender commendation of them to God's blessing, and cordial desire for
their happiness, as would have reached the height of a prayer. And she
might have been feeling a tranquil pleasure in the material things about
her: the stillness, the warmth, the dreamy quiet, even the pretty work,
and the exemption from care which she had arrived at in the peaceful
concluding chapter of existence. This is what we all like to think of as
the condition of mind and circumstances in which age is best met. But we
are grieved to say that this was not in the least Lady Randolph's pose.
Anything more distasteful to her than this quiet could not be. It was
her principle and philosophy to live in the present. She drew many
experiences from the past, and a vast knowledge of the constitutions and
changes of society; but personally it did not amuse her to think of it,
and the future she declined to contemplate. It had disagreeable things
in it, of that there could be no doubt; and why go out and meet the
disagreeable? It was time enough when it arrived. There was probably
illness, and certainly dying, in it; things which she was brave enough
to face when they came, and no doubt would encounter in quite a
collected and courageous way. But why anticipate them? She lived
philosophically in the day as it came. After all whatever you do or
think, you cannot do much more. Your one day, your hour, is your world.
Acquit yourself fitly in that, and you will be able to encounter
whatever occurs.

This was the conviction on which Lady Randolph acted. But her pursuit
for the moment was not entertaining; she very quickly tired of her work.
Work is, on the whole, tiresome when there is no particular use in it,
when it is done solely for the sake of occupation, as ladies' work so
often is. It wants a meaning and a necessity to give it interest, and
Lady Randolph's had neither. She worked about ten minutes, and then she
paused and wondered what could have become of Lucy. Lucy was not a very
amusing companion, but she was somebody; and then Sir Tom would come in
occasionally to consult her, to give her some little piece of
information, and for a few minutes would talk and give his relative a
real pleasure. But even Lucy did not come; and soon Lady Randolph became
tired of looking out of the window and then walking to the fire, of
taking up the newspaper and throwing it down again, of doing a few
stitches, then letting the work fall on her lap; and above all, of
thinking, as she was forced to do, from sheer want of occupation. She
listened, and nobody came. Two or three times she thought she heard
steps approaching, but nobody came. She had thought of perhaps going out
since the morning was so fine, walking down to the village, which was
quite within her powers, and of planning several calls which might be
made in the afternoon to take advantage of the fine day. But she became
really fretted and annoyed as the morning crept along. Lucy was losing
even her politeness, the Dowager thought. This is what comes of what
people call happiness! They get so absorbed in themselves, there is no
possibility of paying ordinary attention to other people. At last, after
completely tiring herself out, Lady Randolph got up and put down her
work altogether, throwing it away with anger. She had not lived so long
in its sole company for years, and there is no describing how tired she
was of it. She got up and went out into the other rooms in search of
something to amuse her. Little Tom had just come in, but she did not go
to the nursery. She took care not to expose herself to that. She was
willing to allow that she did not understand babies; and then to see
such a pale little thing the heir of the Randolphs worried her. He ought
to have been a little Hercules; it wounded her that he was so puny and
pale. She went through the great drawing-room, and looked at all the
additions to the furniture and decorations that Tom and Lucy had made.
They had kept a number of the old things; but naturally they had added a
good deal of _bric-à-brac_, of old things that here were new. Then Lady
Randolph turned into the library. She had gone up to one of the
bookcases, and was leisurely contemplating the books, with a keen eye,
too, to the additions which had been made, when she heard a sound near
her, the unmistakable sound of turning over the leaves of a book. Lady
Randolph turned round with a start, and there was Jock, sunk into the
depths of a large chair with a tall folio supported on the arms of it.
She had not seen him when she came in, and, indeed, many people might
have come and gone without perceiving him, buried in his corner. Lady
Randolph was thankful for anybody to talk to, even a boy.

"Is it you?" she said. "I might have known it could be nobody but you.
Do you never do anything but read?"

"Sometimes," said Jock, who had done nothing but watch her since she
came into the room. She gave him a sort of half smile.

"It is more reasonable now than when you were a child," she said; "for I
hear you are doing extremely well at school, and gaining golden
opinions. That is quite as it should be. It is the only way you can
repay Lucy for all she has done for you."

"I don't think," said Jock, looking at her over his book, "that Lucy
wants to be repaid."

"Probably not," said Lady Randolph. Then she made a pause, and looked
from him to the book he held, and then to him again. "Perhaps you don't
think," she said, "there is anything to be repaid."

They were old antagonists; when he was a child and Lucy had insisted on
carrying him with her wherever she went, Lady Randolph had made no
objections, but she had not looked upon Jock with a friendly eye. And
afterwards, when he had interposed with his precocious wisdom, and
worsted her now and then, she had come to have a holy dread of him. But
now things had righted themselves, and Jock had attained an age of which
nobody could be afraid. The Dowager thought, as people are so apt to
think, that Jock was not grateful enough. He was very fond of Lucy, but
he took things as a matter of course, seldom or never remembering that
whereas Lucy was rich, he was poor, and all his luxuries and well-being
came from her. She was glad to take an opportunity of reminding him of
it, all the more as she was of opinion that Sir Tom did not sufficiently
impress this upon the boy, to whom she thought he was unnecessarily
kind. "I suppose," she resumed, after a pause, "that you come here
always in the holidays, and quite consider it as your home?"

Jock still sat and looked at her across his great folio. He made her no
reply. He was not so ready in the small interchanges of talk as he had
been at eight, and, besides, it was new to him to have the subject
introduced in this way. It is not amusing to plant arrows of this sort
in any one's flesh if they show no sign of any wound, and accordingly
Lady Randolph grew angry as Jock made no reply. "Is it considered good
manners," she said, "at school--when a lady speaks to you that you
should make no answer?"

"I was thinking," Jock said. "A fellow, whether he is at school, or not,
can't answer all that at once."

"I hope you do not mean to be impertinent. In that case I should be
obliged to speak to my nephew," said Lady Randolph. She had not intended
to quarrel with Jock. It was only the vacancy of the morning, and her
desire for movement of some sort, that had brought her to this; and now
she grew angry with Lucy as well as with Jock, having gone so much
farther than she had intended to go. She turned from him to the books
which she had been languidly examining, and began to take them out one
after another, impatiently, as if searching for something. Jock sat and
looked at her for some time, with the same sort of deliberate
observation with which he used to regard her when he was a child, seeing
(as she had always felt) through and through her. But presently another
impulse swayed him. He got himself out behind his book, and suddenly
appeared by her side, startling her nerves, which were usually so firm.

"If you will tell me what you want," he said, "I'll get it for you. I
know where they all are. If it is French you want, they are up there. I
like going up the ladder," he added, half to himself.

Perhaps it was this confession of childishness, perhaps the unlooked-for
civility, that touched her. She turned round with a subdued half
frightened air, feeling that there was no telling how to take this
strange creature, and said, half apologetically, "I think I should like
a French--novel. They are not--so--long, you know, as the English," and
sat down in the chair he rolled towards her. Jock was at the top of the
ladder in a moment. She watched him, making a little comment in her own
mind about Tom's motive in placing books of this description in such a
place--in order to keep them out of Lucy's way, she said to herself.
Jock brought her down half a dozen to choose from, and even the eye of
Jock, who doubtless knew nothing about them, made Lady Randolph a little
more scrupulous than usual in choosing her book. She was one of those
women who like the piquancy and freedom of French fiction. She would say
to persons of like tastes that the English proprieties were tame beside
the other, and she thought herself old enough to be altogether beyond
any risk of harm. Perhaps this was why she divined Sir Tom's motive in
placing them at the top of the shelves; divined and approved, for though
she read all that came in her way, she would not have liked Lucy to
share that privilege. She said to Jock as he brought them to her,

"They are shorter than the English. I can't carry three volumes about,
you know; all these are in one; but I should not advise you to take to
this sort of reading, Jock."

"I don't want to," said Jock, briefly; then he added more gravely, "I
can't construe French like you. I suppose you just open it and go
straight on?"

"I do," said Lady Randolph, with a smile.

She was mollified, for her French was excellent, and she liked a little
compliment, of whatever kind.

"You should give your mind to it; it is the most useful of all
languages," she said.

"And Lucy is not great at it either," said Jock.

"That is true, and it is a pity," said Lady Randolph, quite restored to
good-humour. "I would take her in hand myself, but I have so many things
to do. Do you know where she is, for I have not seen her all this
morning?"

"No more have I," said Jock. "I think they have just gone off somewhere
together. Lucy never minds. She ought to pay a little attention when
there are people in the house."

"That is just what I have been thinking," Lady Randolph said. "I am at
home, of course, here; it does not matter for me, and you are her
brother--but she really ought; I think I must speak seriously to her."

"To whom are you going to speak seriously? I hope not to me, my dear
aunt," said Sir Tom, coming in. He did not look quite his usual self. He
was a little pale, and he had an air about him as of some disagreeable
surprise. He had the post-bag in his hand--for there was a post twice a
day--and opened it as he spoke. Lady Randolph, with her quick
perception, saw at once that something had happened, and jumped at the
idea of a first quarrel. It was generally the butler Williams who opened
the letter-bag; but he was out of the way, and Sir Tom had taken the
office on himself. He took out the contents with a little impatience,
throwing across to her her share of the correspondence. "Hallo," he
said. "Here is a letter for Lucy from your tutor, Jock. What have you
been doing, my young man?"

"Oh, I know what it's about," Jock said in a tone of satisfaction. Sir
Tom turned round and looked at him with the letter in his hand, as if he
would have liked to throw it at his head.



CHAPTER XIV.

AN UNWILLING MARTYR.


Lucy came into the morning-room shortly after, a little paler than
usual, but with none of the agitation about her which Lady Randolph
expected from Sir Tom's aspect to see. Lucy was not one to bear any
outward traces of emotion. When she wept her eyes recovered rapidly, and
after half an hour were no longer red. She had a quiet respect for other
people, and a determination not to betray anything which she could not
explain, which had the effect of that "proper pride" which is inculcated
upon every woman, and yet was something different. Lucy would have died
rather than give Lady Randolph ground to suppose that she had quarrelled
with her husband, and as she could not explain the matter to her, it was
necessary to efface all signs of perturbation as far as that was
possible. The elder lady was reading her letters when Lucy came in, but
she raised her eyes at once with the keenest watchfulness. Young Lady
Randolph was pale--but at no time had she much colour. She came in
quite simply, without any explanation or giving of reasons, and sat down
in her usual place near the window, from which the sunshine, as it was
now afternoon, was beginning to die away. Then Lucy gave a slight start
to see a letter placed for her on the little table beside her work. She
had few correspondents at any time, and when Jock and Lady Randolph were
both at the Hall received scarcely any letters. She took it up and
looked at its outside with a little surprise.

"I forgot to tell you, Lucy," the Dowager said at this point, "that
there was a letter for you. Tom placed it there. He said it was from
Jock's tutor, and I hope sincerely, my dear, it does not mean that Jock
has got into any scrape----"

"A scrape," said Lucy, "why should he have got into a scrape?" in
unbounded surprise; for this was a thing that never had happened
throughout Jock's career.

"Oh, boys are so often in trouble," Lady Randolph said, while Lucy
opened her letter in some trepidation. But the first words of the letter
disturbed her more than any story about Jock was likely to do. It
brought the crisis nearer, and made immediate action almost
indispensable. It ran as follows:--

     "Dear Lady Randolph--In accordance with Jock's request, which he
     assured me was also yours, I have made all the inquiries you wished
     about the Churchill family. It was not very difficult to do, as
     there is but one voice in respect to them. Mr. Churchill himself is
     represented to me as a model of all that a clergyman ought to be.
     Whatever we may think of his functions, that he should have all the
     virtues supposed to be attached to them is desirable in every point
     of view; and he is a gentleman of good sense and intelligence
     besides, which is not always implied even in the character of a
     saint. It seems that the failure of an inheritance, which he had
     every reason to expect, was the cause of his first disadvantage in
     the world; and since then, in consonance with that curious natural
     law which seems so contrary to justice, yet constantly consonant
     with fact, this evil has been cumulative, and he has had nothing
     but disappointments ever since. He has a very small living now, and
     is never likely to get a better, for he is getting old, and
     patrons, I am told, scarcely venture to give a cure to a man of his
     age lest it should be said they were gratifying their personal
     likings at the expense of the people. This seems contrary to
     abstract justice in such a case; but it is a doctrine of our time
     to which we must all bow.

     "The young people, so far as I know, are all promising and good.
     Young Churchill, whom Jock knows, is a boy for whom I have the
     greatest regard. He is one whom Goethe would have described as a
     beautiful soul. His sisters are engaged in educational work, and
     are, I am told, in their way equally high-minded and interesting;
     but naturally I know little of the female portion of the family.

     "It is extremely kind of you and Sir Thomas to repeat your
     invitation. I hope, perhaps at Easter, if convenient, to be able to
     take advantage of it. I hear with the greatest pleasure from Jock
     how much he enjoys his renewed intercourse with his home circle. It
     will do him good, for his mind is full of the ideal, and it will be
     of endless advantage to him to be brought back to the more ordinary
     and practical interests. There are very few boys of whom it can be
     said that their intellectual aspirations over-balance their
     material impulses. As usual he has not only done his work this half
     entirely to my satisfaction, but has more than repaid any services
     I can render him by the precious companionship of a fresh and
     elevated spirit.

                        "Believe me, dear Lady Randolph,
                                    "Most faithfully yours,
                                              "MAXIMUS D. DERWENTWATER."

A long-drawn breath, which sounded like a sigh, burst from Lucy's breast
as she closed this letter. She had, with humility and shrinking, yet
with a certain resolution, disclosed to her husband that when the
occasion occurred she must do her duty according to her father's will,
whether it pleased him or not. She had steeled herself to do this; but
she had prayed that the occasion might be slow to come. Nobody but Jock
knew anything about these Churchills, and Jock was going back to school,
and he was young and perhaps he might forget! But here was another who
would not forget. She read all the recommendations of the family and
their excellences with a sort of despair. Money, it was evident, could
not be better bestowed than in this way. There seemed no opening by
which she could escape; no way of thrusting this act away from her. She
felt a panic seize her. How was she to disobey Tom, how to do a thing of
so much importance, contrary to his will, against his advice? The whole
world around her, the solid walls, and the sky that shone in through the
great window, swam in Lucy's eyes. She drew her breath hard like a
hunted creature; there was a singing in her ears, and a dimness in her
sight. Lady Randolph's voice asking with a certain satisfaction, yet
sympathy, "What is the matter? I hope it is not anything very bad,"
seemed to come to her from a distance as from a different world; and
when she added, after a moment, soothingly, "You must not vex yourself
about it, Lucy, if it is just a piece of folly. Boys are constantly in
that way coming to grief:" it was with difficulty that Lucy remembered
to what she could refer. Jock! Ah, if it had been but a boyish folly,
Sir Tom would have been the first to forgive that; he would have opened
his kind heart and taken the offender in, and laughed and persuaded him
out of his folly. He would have been like a father to the boy. To feel
all that, and how good he was; and yet determinedly to contradict his
will and go against him! Oh, how could she do it? and yet what else was
there to do?

"It is not about Jock," she answered with a faint voice.

"I beg your pardon, my dear. I was not aware that you knew Jock's tutor
well enough for general correspondence. These gentlemen seem to make a
great deal of themselves now-a-days, but in my time, Lucy----"

"I do not know him very well, Aunt Randolph. He is only sending me some
information. I wish I might ask you a question," she cried suddenly,
looking into the Dowager's face with earnest eyes. This lady had perhaps
not all the qualities that make a perfect woman, but she had always been
very kind to Lucy. She was not unkind to anybody, although there were
persons, of whom Jock was one, whom she did not like. And in all
circumstances to Lucy, even when there was no immediate prospect that
the Randolph family would be any the better for her, she had always been
kind.

"As many as you like, my love," she answered, cordially.

"Yes," said Lucy; "but, dear Aunt Randolph, what I want is that you
should let me ask, without asking anything in return. I want to know
what you think, but I don't want to explain----"

"It is a strange condition," said Lady Randolph; but then she thought in
her superior experience that she was very sure to find out what this
simple girl meant without explanations. "But I am not inquisitive," she
added, with a smile, "and I am quite willing, dear, to tell you anything
I know----"

"It is this," said Lucy, leaning forward in her great earnestness; "do
you think a woman is ever justified in doing anything which her husband
disapproves?"

"Lucy!" cried Lady Randolph, in great dismay, "when her husband is my
Tom, and the thing she wants to do is connected with Jock's tutor----"

Lucy's gaze of astonishment, and her wondering repetition of the words,
"connected with Jock's tutor!" brought Lady Randolph to herself. In
society, such a suspicion being fostered by all the gossips, comes
naturally; but though she was a society-woman, and had not much faith in
holy ignorance, she paused here, horrified by her own suggestion, and
blushed at herself.

"No, no," she said, "that was not what I meant; but perhaps I could not
quite advise, Lucy, where I am so closely concerned."

At which Lucy looked at her somewhat wistfully. "I thought you would
perhaps remember," she said, "when you were like me, Aunt Randolph, and
perhaps did not know so well as you know now----"

This touched the elder lady's heart. "Lucy," she said, "my dear, if you
were not as innocent as I know you are, you would not ask your husband's
nearest relation such a question. But I will answer you as one woman to
another, and let Tom take care of himself. I never was one that was very
strong upon a husband's rights. I always thought that to obey meant
something different from the common meaning of the word. A child must
obey; but even a grown-up child's obedience is very different from what
is natural and proper in youth; and a full-grown woman, you know, never
could be supposed to obey like a child. No wise man, for that matter,
would ever ask it or think of it."

This did not give Lucy any help. She was very willing, for her part, to
accept his light yoke without any restriction, except in the great and
momentous exception which she did not want to specify.

"I think," Lady Randolph went on, "that to obey means rather--keep in
harmony with your husband, pay attention to his opinions, don't take up
an opposite course, or thwart him, be united--instead of the obedience
of a servant, you know: still less of a slave."

She was a great deal cleverer than Lucy, who was not thinking of the
general question at all. And this answer did the perplexed mind little
good. Lucy followed every word with curious attention, but at the end
slowly shook her head.

"It is not that. Lady Randolph, if there was something that was your
duty before you were married, and that is still and always your duty, a
sacred promise you had made; and your husband said no, you must not do
it--tell me what you would have done? The rest is all so easy," cried
Lucy, "one likes what he likes, one prefers to please him. But this is
difficult. What would you have done?"

Here Lady Randolph all at once, after giving forth the philosophical
view which was so much above her companion, found herself beyond her
depth altogether, and incapable of the fathom of that simple soul.

"I don't understand you, Lucy. Lucy, for heaven's sake, take care what
you are doing! If it is anything about Jock, I implore of you give way
to your husband. You may be sure in dealing with a boy that he knows
best."

Lucy sighed. "It is nothing about Jock," she said; but she did not
repeat her demand. Lady Randolph gave her a lecture upon the subject of
relations which was very wide of the question; and, with a sigh, owning
to herself that there was no light to be got from this, Lucy listened
very patiently to the irrelevant discourse. The clever dowager cut it
short when it was but half over, perceiving the same, and asked herself
not without excitement what it was possible Lucy's difficulty could be?
If it was not Jock (and a young brother hanging on to her, with no home
but hers, an inquisitive young intelligence, always in the way, was a
difficulty which anybody could perceive at a glance) what was it? But
Lucy baffled altogether this much experienced woman of the world.

And Jock watched all the day for an opportunity to get possession of
her, and assail her on the other side of the question. She avoided him
as persistently as he sought her, and with a panic which was very
different from her usual happy confidence in him. But the moment came
when she could elude him no longer. Lady Randolph had gone to her own
room after her cup of tea, for that little nap before dinner which was
essential to her good looks and pleasantness in the evening. Sir Tom,
who was too much disturbed for the usual rules of domestic life, had not
come in for that twilight talk which he usually enjoyed; and as Lucy
found herself thus plunged into the danger she dreaded, she was hurrying
after Lady Randolph, declaring that she heard baby cry, when Jock
stepped into her way, and detained her, if not by physical, at least by
moral force--

"Lucy," he said, "are you not going to tell me anything? I know you have
got the letter, but you won't look at me, or speak a word."

"Oh, Jock, how silly! why shouldn't I look at you? but I have so many
things to do, and baby--I am sure I heard baby cry."

"He is no more crying than I am. I saw him, and he was as jolly as
possible. I want awfully to know about the Churchills, and what MTutor
says."

"Jock, I think Mr. Derwentwater is rather grand in his writing. It looks
as if he thought a great deal of himself."

"No, he doesn't," said Jock, hotly, "not half enough. He's the best man
we've got, and yet he can't see it. You needn't give me any information
about MTutor," added the young gentleman, "for naturally I know all that
much better than you. But I want to know about the Churchills. Lucy, is
it all right?"

Lucy gave a little shiver though she was in front of the fire. She said,
reluctantly, "I think they seem very nice people, Jock."

"I know they are," said Jock, exultantly. "Churchill in college is the
nicest fellow I know. He read such a paper at the Poetical Society. It
was on the Method of Sophocles; but of course you would not understand
that."

"No, dear," said Lucy, mildly; and again she murmured something about
the baby crying, "I think indeed, Jock, I must go."

"Just a moment," said the boy, "Now you are satisfied couldn't we drive
into Farafield to-morrow and settle about it? I want to go with you, you
and I together, and if old Rushton makes a row you can just call me."

"But I can't leave Lady Randolph, Jock," cried Lucy, driven to her wits'
end. "It would be unkind to leave her, and a few days cannot do much
harm. When she has gone away----"

"I shall be back at school. Let Sir Tom take her out for once. He might
as well drive her in his new phaeton that he is so proud of. If it is
fine she'll like that, and we can say we have some business."

"Oh! Jock, don't press me so; a few days can't make much difference."

"Lucy," said Jock, sternly, "do you think it makes no difference to keep
a set of good people unhappy, just to save you a little trouble? I
thought you had more heart than that."

"Oh, let me go, Jock; let me go--that is little Tom, and he wants me,"
Lucy cried. She had no answer to make him--the only thing she could do
was to fly.



CHAPTER XV.

ON BUSINESS.


Ten thousand pounds! These words have very different meanings to
different people. Many of us can form little idea of what those simple
syllables contain. They enclose as in a golden casket, rest, freedom
from care, bounty, kindness, an easy existence, and an ending free of
anxiety to many. To others they are nothing more than a cipher on paper,
a symbol without any connection with themselves. To some it is great
fortune, to others a drop in the ocean. A merchant will risk it any day,
and think but little if the speculation is a failure. A prodigal will
throw it away in a month, perhaps in a night. But the proportion of
people to whom its possession would make all the difference between
poverty and wealth far transcends the number of those who are careless
of it. It is a pleasure to deal with such a sum of money even on paper.
To be concerned in giving it away, makes even the historian, who has
nothing to do with it, feel magnificent and all-bounteous. Jock, who had
as little experience to back him as any other boy of his age, felt a
vague elation as he drove in by Lucy's side to Farafield. To confer a
great benefit is always sweet. Perhaps if we analyse it, as is the
fashion of the day, we will find that the pleasure of giving has a
_fond_ of gratified vanity and self-consideration in it; but this
weakness is at least supposed to be generous, and Jock was generous to
his own consciousness, and full of delight at what was going to be done,
and satisfaction with his own share in it. But Lucy's sensations were
very different. She went with him with no goodwill of her own, like a
culprit being dragged to execution. Duty is not always willing, even
when we see it most clearly. Young Lady Randolph had a clear conviction
of what she was bound to do, but she had no wish to do it, though she
was so thoroughly convinced that it was incumbent upon her. Could she
have pushed it out of her own recollection, banished it from her mind,
she would have gladly done so. She had succeeded for a long time in
doing this--excluding the consideration of it, and forgetting the burden
bound upon her shoulders. But now she could forget it no longer--the
thongs which secured it seemed to cut into her flesh. Her heart was sick
with thoughts of the thing she must do, yet revolted against doing. "Oh,
papa, papa!" she said to herself, shaking her head at the grim,
respectable house in which her early days had been passed, as they drove
past it to Mr. Rushton's office. Why had the old man put such a burden
upon her? Why had not he distributed his money himself and left her
poor if he pleased, with at least no unnatural charge upon her heart and
life?

"Why do you shake your head?" said Jock, who was full of the keenest
observation, and lost nothing.

He had an instinctive feeling that she was by no means so much
interested in her duty as he was, and that it was his business to keep
her up to the mark.

"Don't you remember the old house?" Lucy said, "where we used to live
when you were a child? Where poor papa died--where----"

"Of course I remember it. I always look at it when I pass, and think
what a little ass I used to be. But why did you shake your head? That's
what I want to know."

"Oh, Jock!" Lucy cried; and said no more.

"That throws very little light on the question," said Jock. "You are
thinking of the difference, I suppose. Well, there is no doubt it's a
great difference. I was a little idiot in those days. I recollect I
thought the circus boy was a sort of little prince, and that it was
grand to ride along like that with all the people staring--the grandest
thing in the world----"

"Poor little circus boy! What a pretty child he was," said Lucy. And
then she sighed to relieve the oppression on her breast, and said, "Do
you ever wonder, Jock, why people should have such different lots? You
and I driving along here in what we once would have thought such state,
and look, these people that are crossing the road in the mud are just as
good as we are----"

Jock looked at his sister with a philosophical eye, in which for the
moment there was some contempt. "It is as easy as a, b, c," said Jock;
"it's your money. You might set me a much harder one. Of course, in the
way of horses and carriages and so forth, there is nothing that money
cannot buy."

This matter-of-fact reply silenced Lucy. She would have asked, perhaps,
why did I have all this money? being in a questioning frame of mind; but
she knew that he would answer shortly because her father made it, and this
was not any more satisfactory. So she only looked at him with wistful eyes
that set many much harder ones, and was silent. Jock himself was too
philosophical to be satisfied with his own reply.

"You see," he said condescendingly, "Money is the easiest explanation.
If you were to ask me why Sir Tom should be Sir Tom, and that man sweep
a crossing, I could not tell you."

"Oh," cried Lucy, "I don't see any difficulty about that at all, for Tom
was born to it. You might as well say why should baby be born to be the
heir."

Jock did not know whether to be indignant or to laugh at this feminine
begging of the question. He stared at her for a moment uncertain, and
then went on as if she had not spoken. "But money is always
intelligible. That's political economy. If you have money, as a matter
of course you have everything that money can buy; and I suppose it can
buy almost everything?" Jock said, reflectively.

"It cannot buy a moment's happiness," cried Lucy, "nor one of those
things one wishes most for. Oh Jock, at your age don't be deceived like
that. For my part," she cried, "I think it is just the trouble of life.
If it was not for this horrible money----"

She stopped short, the tears were in her eyes, but she would not betray
to Jock how great was the difficulty in which she found herself. She
turned her head away and was glad to wave her hand to a well known face
that was passing, an acquaintance of old times, who was greatly elated
to find that Lady Randolph in her grandeur still remembered her. Jock
looked on upon all this with a partial comprehension, mingled with
disapproval. He did not quite understand what she meant, but he
disapproved of her for meaning it all the same.

"Money can't be horrible," he said, "unless it's badly spent: and to say
you can't buy happiness with it is nonsense. If it don't make _you_
happy to save people from poverty it will make them happy, so somebody
will always get the advantage. What are you so silly about, Lucy? I
don't say money is so very fine a thing. I only say it's intelligible.
If you ask me why a man should be a great deal better than you or me,
only because he took the trouble to be born----"

"I am not so silly, though you think me so silly, as to ask that," said
Lucy; "that is so easy to understand. Of course you can only be who you
are. You can't make yourself into another person; I hope I understand
that."

She looked him so sweetly and seriously in the face as she spoke, and
was so completely unaware of any flaw in her reply, that Jock,
argumentative as he was, only gasped and said nothing more. And it was
in this pause of their conversation that they swept up to Mr. Rushton's
door. Mr. Rushton was the town-clerk of Farafield, the most important
representative of legal knowledge in the place. He had been the late Mr.
Trevor's man of business, and had still the greater part of Lucy's
affairs in his hands. He had known her from her childhood, and in the
disturbed chapter of her life before her marriage, his wife had taken a
great deal of notice, as she expressed it, of Lucy: and young Raymond,
who had now settled down in the office as his father's partner (but
never half such a man as his father, in the opinion of the community),
had done her the honour of paying her his addresses. But all that had
passed from everybody's mind. Mrs. Rushton, never very resentful, was
delighted now to receive Lady Randolph's invitation, and proud of the
character of an old friend. And if Raymond occasionally showed a little
embarrassment in Lucy's presence, that was only because he was by nature
awkward in the society of ladies, and according to his own description
never knew what to say.

"And what can I do for your ladyship this morning?" Mr. Rushton said,
rising from his chair. His private room was very warm and comfortable,
too warm, the visitors thought, as an office always is to people going
in from the fresh air. The fire burned with concentrated heat, and Lucy,
in her furs and suppressed agitation, felt her very brain confused. As
for Jock, he lounged in the background with his hands in his pockets,
reading the names upon the boxes that lined the walls, and now that it
had come to the crisis, feeling truly helpless to aid his sister, and
considerably in the way.

"It is a very serious business," said Lucy, drawing her breath hard. "It
is a thing you have never liked or approved of, Mr. Rushton, nor any
one," she added, in a faint voice.

"Dear me, that is very unfortunate," said the lawyer, cheerfully; "but I
don't think you have ever been much disapproved of, Lady Randolph. Come,
there is nothing you can't talk to me about--an old friend. I was in
all your good father's secrets, and I never saw a better head for
business. Why, this is Jock, I believe, grown into a man almost! I
wonder if he has any of his father's talent? Is it about him you want to
consult me? Why, that's perfectly natural, now he's coming to an age to
look to the future," Mr. Rushton said.

"Oh, no! it is not about Jock. He is only sixteen, and, besides, it is
something that is much more difficult," said Lucy. And then she paused,
and cleared her throat, and put down her muff among Mr. Rushton's
papers, that she might have her hands free for this tremendous piece of
business. Then she said, with a sort of desperation, looking him in the
face: "I have come to get you to--settle some money for me in obedience
to papa's will."

Mr. Rushton started as if he had been shot. "You don't mean----" he
cried, "You don't mean---- Come, I dare say I am making a mountain out of
a mole-hill, and that what you are thinking of is quite innocent. If not
about our young friend here, some of your charities or improvements? You
are a most extravagant little lady in your improvements, Lady Randolph.
Those last cottages you know--but I don't doubt the estate will reap the
advantage, and it's an outlay that pays; oh, yes, I don't deny it's an
outlay that pays."

Lucy's countenance betrayed the futility of this supposition long before
he had finished speaking. He had been standing with his back to the
fire, in a cheerful and easy way. Now his countenance grew grave. He
drew his chair to the table and sat down facing her. "If it is not that,
what is it?" he said.

"Mr. Rushton," said Lucy, and she cleared her throat. She looked back
to Jock for support, but he had his back turned to her, and was still
reading the names on the lawyer's boxes. She turned round again with a
little sigh. "Mr. Rushton, I want to carry out papa's will. You know all
about it. It is codicil F. I have heard of some one who is the right
kind of person. I want you to transfer ten thousand pounds----"

The lawyer gave a sort of shriek; he bolted out of his chair, pushing it
so far from him that the substantial mahogany shivered and tottered upon
its four legs.

"Nonsense!" he said, "Nonsense!" increasing the firmness of his tone
until the word thundered forth in capitals, "NONSENSE!--you are going
out of your senses; you don't know what you are saying. I made sure we
had done with all this folly----"

When it had happened to Lucy to propose such an operation as she now
proposed, for the first time, to her other trustee, she had been spoken
to in a way which young ladies rarely experience. That excellent man of
business had tried to put this young lady--then a very young lady--down,
and he had not succeeded. It may be supposed that at her present age of
twenty-three, a wife, a mother, and with a modest consciousness of her
own place and position, she was not a less difficult antagonist. She was
still a little frightened, and grew somewhat pale, but she looked
steadfastly at Mr. Rushton with a nervous smile.

"I think you must not speak to me so," she said. "I am not a child, and
I know my father's will and what it meant. It is not nonsense, nor
folly--it may perhaps have been," she said with a little sigh--"not
wise."

"I beg your pardon, Lady Randolph," Mr. Rushton said precipitately,
with a blush upon his middle-aged countenance, for to be sure, when you
think of it, to tell a gracious young lady with a title, one of your
chief clients, that she is talking nonsense, even if you have known her
all her life, is going perhaps a little too far. "I am sure you will
understand _that_ is what I meant," he cried, "unwise--the very word I
meant. In the heat of the moment other words slip out, but no offence
was intended."

She made him a little bow; she was trembling, though she would not have
him see it. "We are not here," she said, "to criticise my father." Lucy
was scarcely half aware how much she had gained in composure and the art
of self-command. "I think he would have been more wise and more kind to
have done himself what he thought to be his duty; but what does that
matter? You must not try to convince me, please, but take the
directions, which are very simple. I have written them all down in this
paper. If you think you ought to make independent inquiries, you have
the right to do that; but you will spare the poor gentleman's feelings,
Mr. Rushton. It is all put down here."

Mr. Rushton took the paper from her hand. He smiled inwardly to himself,
subduing his fret of impatience. "You will not object to let me talk it
over," he said, "first with Sir Tom?"

Lucy coloured, and then she grew pale. "You will remember," she said,
"that it has nothing to do with my husband, Mr. Rushton."

"My dear lady," said the lawyer, "I never expected to hear you, who I
have always known as the best of wives, say of anything that it has
nothing to do with your husband. Surely that is not how ladies speak of
their lords?"

Lucy heard a sound behind her which seemed to imply to her quick ear
that Jock was losing patience. She had brought him with her, with the
idea of deriving some support from his presence; but if Sir Tom had
nothing to do with it, clearly on much stronger grounds neither had her
brother. She turned round and cast a hurried warning glance at him. She
had herself no words ready to reply to the lawyer's gibe. She would
neither defend herself as from a grave accusation, nor reply in the same
tone. "Mr. Rushton," she said faltering, "I don't think we need argue,
need we? I have put down all the particulars. You know about it as well
as I do. It is not for pleasure. If you think it is right, you will
inquire about the gentleman--otherwise--I don't think there need be any
more to say."

"I will talk it over with Sir Tom," said Mr. Rushton, feeling that he
had found the only argument by which to manage this young woman. He even
chuckled a little to himself at the thought. "Evidently," he said to
himself, "she is afraid of Sir Tom, and he knows nothing about this. He
will soon put a stop to it." He added aloud, "My dear Lady Randolph,
this is far too serious a matter to be dismissed so summarily. You are
young and very inexperienced. Of course I know all about it, and so does
Sir Thomas. We will talk it over between us, and no doubt we will manage
to decide upon some course that will harmonise everything."

Lucy looked at him with grave suspicion. "I don't know," she said, "what
there is to be harmonised, Mr. Rushton. There is a thing which I have to
do, and I have shrunk from it for a long time; but I cannot do so any
longer."

"Look here," said Jock, "it's Lucy's affair, it's nobody else's. Just
you look at her paper and do what she says."

"My young friend," said the lawyer blandly, "that is capital advice for
yourself: I hope you always do what your sister says."

"Most times I do," said Jock; "not that it's your business to tell me.
But you know very well you'll have to do it. No one has got any right to
interfere with her. She has more sense than a dozen. She has got the
right on her side. You may do what you please, but you know very well
you can't stop her--neither you, nor Sir Tom, nor the old lady, nor one
single living creature; and you know it," said Jock. He confronted Mr.
Rushton with lowering brows, and with an angry sparkle in his deep-set
eyes. Lucy was half proud of and half alarmed by her champion.

"Oh hush, Jock!" she cried. "You must not speak; you are only a boy. You
must beg Mr. Rushton's pardon for speaking to him so. But, indeed, what
he says is quite true; it is no one's duty but mine. My husband will not
interfere with what he knows I must do," she said, with a little chill
of apprehension. Would he indeed be so considerate for her? It made her
heart sick to think that she was not on this point quite certain about
Sir Tom.

"In that case there will be no harm in talking it over with him," said
the lawyer briefly. "I thought you were far too sensible not to see that
was the right way. Oh, never mind about his asking my pardon. I forgive
him without that. He has a high idea of his sister's authority, which is
quite right; and so have I--and so have all of us. Certainly, certainly,
Master Jock, she has the right; and she will arrange it judiciously, of
that there is no fear. But first, as a couple of business men, more
experienced in the world than you young philanthropists, I will just,
the first time I see him, talk it over with Sir Tom. My dear Lady
Randolph, no trouble at all. Is that all I can do for you? Then I will
not detain you any longer this fine morning," the lawyer said.



CHAPTER XVI.

AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL.


They drove away again with scarcely a word to each other. It was a
bright, breezy, wintry day. The roads about Farafield were wet with
recent rains, and gleamed in the sunshine. The river was as blue as
steel, and gave forth a dazzling reflection; the bare trees stood up
against the sky without a pretence of affording any shadow. The cold to
these two young people, warmly dressed and prosperous, was nothing to
object to--indeed, it was not very cold. But they both had a slight
sense of discomfiture--a feeling of having suffered in their own
opinion. Jock, who was much regarded at school as a fellow high up, and
a great friend of his tutor, was not used to such unceremonious
treatment, and he was wroth to see that even Lucy was supposed to
require the sanction of Sir Tom for what it was clearly her own business
to do. He said nothing, however, until they had quite cleared the town,
and were skimming along the more open country roads; then he said
suddenly--

"That old Rushton has a great deal of cheek. I should have another
fellow to manage my affairs, Lucy, if I were you."

"Don't you know, Jock, that I can't? Papa appointed him. He is my
trustee; he has always to be consulted. Papa did not mind," said Lucy
with a little sigh. "He said it would be good for me to be contradicted,
and not to have my own way."

"Don't you have your own way?" said Jock, opening his eyes. "Lucy, who
contradicts you? I should like to know who it was, and tell him my mind
a bit. I thought you did whatever you pleased. Do you mean to say there
is any truth in all that about Sir Tom?"

"In what about Sir Tom?" cried Lucy, instantly on her defence; and then
she changed her tone with a little laugh. "Of course I do whatever I
please. It is not good for anybody, Jock. Don't you know we must be
crossed sometimes, or we should never do any good at all?"

"Now I wonder which she means?" said Jock. "If she does have her own way
or if she don't? I begin to think you speak something else than English,
Lucy. I know it is the thing to say that women must do what their
husbands tell them; but do you mean that it's true like _that_? and that
a fellow may order you to do this or not to do that, with what is your
own and not his at all?"

"I don't think I understand you, dear," said Lucy sweetly.

"Oh! you can't be such a stupid as that," said the boy; "you understand
right enough. What did he mean by talking it over with Sir Tom? He
thought Sir Tom would put a stop to it, Lucy."

"If Mr. Rushton forms such false ideas, dear, what does it matter? That
is not of any consequence either to you or me."

"I wish you would give me a plain answer," said Jock, impatiently. "I
ask you one thing, and you say another; you never give me any
satisfaction."

She smiled upon him with a look which, clever as Jock was, he did not
understand. "Isn't that conversation?" she said.

"Conversation!" The boy repeated the word almost with a shriek of
disdain: "You don't know very much about that, down here in the country,
Lucy. You should hear MTutor; when he's got two or three fellows from
Cambridge with him, and they go at it! That's something like talk."

"It is very nice for you, Jock, that you get on so well with Mr.
Derwentwater," said Lucy, catching with some eagerness at this way of
escape from embarrassing questions. "I hope he will come and see us at
Easter, as he promised."

"He may," said Jock, with great gravity, "but the thing is, everybody
wants to have him; and then, you see, whenever he has an opportunity he
likes to go abroad. He says it freshens one up more than anything. After
working his brain all the half, as he does, and taking the interest he
does in everything, he has got to pay attention, you know, and not to
overdo it; he must have change, and he must have rest."

Lucy was much impressed by this, as she was by all she heard of MTutor.
She was quite satisfied that such immense intellectual exertions as his
did indeed merit compensation. She said, "I am sure he would get rest
with us, Jock. There would be nothing to tire him, and whatever I could
do for him, dear, or Sir Tom either, we should be glad, as he is so good
to you."

"I don't know that he's what you call fond of the country--I mean the
English country. Of course it is different abroad," said Jock
doubtfully. Then he came back to the original subject with a bound,
scattering all Lucy's hopes. "But we didn't begin about MTutor. It was
the other business we were talking of. Is it true that Sir Tom----"

"Jock," said Lucy seriously. Her mild eyes got a look he had never seen
in them before. It was a sort of dilation of unshed tears, and yet they
were not wet. "If you know any time when Sir Tom was ever unkind or
untrue, I don't know it. He has always, always been good. I don't think
he will change now. I have always done what he told me, and I always
will. But he never told me anything. He knows a great deal better than
all of us put together. Of course, to obey him, that is my first duty.
And I always shall. But he never asks it--he is too good. What is his
will, is my will," she said. She fixed her eyes very seriously on Jock,
all the time she spoke, and he followed every movement of her lips with
a sort of astonished confusion, which it is difficult to describe. When
she had ceased Jock drew a long breath, and seemed to come to the
surface again, after much tossing in darker waters.

"I think that it must be true," he said slowly, after a pause, "as
people say--that women are very queer, Lucy. I didn't understand one
word you said."

"Didn't you, then?" she said, with a smile of gentle benignity; "but
what does it matter, when it will all come right in the end? Is that our
omnibus, Jock, that is going along with all that luggage? How curious
that is, for nobody was coming to-day that I know of. Don't you see it
just turning in to the avenue? Now that is very strange indeed," said
Lucy, raising herself very erect upon her cushions with a little
quickened and eager look. An arrival is always exciting in the country,
and an arrival which was quite unexpected, and of which she could form
no surmise as to who it could be, stirred up all her faculties. "I
wonder if Mrs. Freshwater will know what rooms are best?" she said, "and
if Sir Tom will be at home to receive them; or perhaps it may be some
friends of Aunt Randolph's, or perhaps--I wonder very much who it can
be."

Jock's countenance covered itself quickly with a tinge of gloom.

"Whoever it is, I know it will be disgusting," cried the boy. "Just when
we have got so much to talk about! and now I shall never see you any
more. Lady Randolph was bad enough, and now here's more of them! I
should just as soon go back to school at once," he said, with premature
indignation. The servants on the box perceived the other carriage in
advance with equal curiosity and excitement. They were still more
startled, perhaps, for a profound wonder as to what horses had been sent
out, and who was driving them, agitated their minds. The horses,
solicited by a private token between them and their driver which both
understood, quickened their pace with a slight dash, and the carriage
swept along as if in pursuit of the larger and heavier vehicle, which,
however, had so much the advance of them, that it had deposited its
passengers, and turned round to the servants' entrance with the luggage,
before Lady Randolph could reach the door. Williams the butler wore a
startled look upon his dignified countenance, as he came out on the
steps to receive his mistress.

"Some one has arrived," said Lucy with a little eagerness. "We saw the
omnibus."

"Yes, my lady. A telegram came for Sir Thomas soon after your ladyship
left; there was just time to put in the horses----"

"But who is it, Williams?"

Williams had a curious apologetic air. "I heard say, my lady, that it
was some of the party that were invited before Mr. Randolph fell ill.
There had been a mistake about the letters, and the lady has come all
the same--a lady with a foreign title, my lady----"

"Oh!" said Lucy, with English brevity. She stood startled, in the hall,
lingering a little, changing colour, not with any of the deep emotions
which Williams from his own superior knowledge suspected, but with
shyness and excitement. "It will be the lady from Italy, the
Contessa---- Oh, I hope they have attended to her properly! Was Sir
Thomas at home when she came?"

"Sir Thomas, my lady, went to meet them at the station," Williams said.

"Oh, that is all right," cried Lucy, relieved. "I am so glad she did not
arrive and find nobody. And I hope Mrs. Freshwater----"

"Mrs. Freshwater put the party into the east wing, my lady. There are
two ladies besides the man and the maid. We thought it would be the
warmest for them, as they came from the South."

"It may be the warmest, but it is not the prettiest," said Lucy. "The
lady is a great friend of Sir Thomas', Williams."

The man gave her a curious look.

"Yes, my lady, I was aware of that," he said.

This surprised Lucy a little, but for the moment she took no notice of
it. "And therefore," she went on, "the best rooms should have been got
ready. Mrs. Freshwater ought to have known that. However, perhaps she
will change afterwards. Jock, I will just run upstairs and see that
everything is right."

As she turned towards the great staircase, so saying, she ran almost
into her husband's arms. Sir Tom had appeared from a side door, where he
had been on the watch, and it was certain that his face bore some traces
of the new event that had happened. He was not at his ease as usual. He
laughed a little uncomfortable laugh, and put his hand on Lucy's
shoulder as she brushed against him. "There," he said, "that will do;
don't be in such a hurry," arresting her in full career.

"Oh, Tom!" Lucy for her part looked at her husband with the greatest
relief and happiness. There had been a cloud between them which had been
more grievous to her than anything else in the world. She had felt
hourly compelled to stand up before him and tell him that she must do
what he desired her not to do. The consternation and pain and wrath that
had risen over his face after that painful interview had not passed away
through all the intervening time. There had been a sort of desperation
in her mind when she went to Mr. Rushton, a feeling that she so hated
the duty which had risen like a ghost between her husband and herself,
that she must do it at all hazards and without delay. But this cloud had
now departed from Sir Tom's countenance. There was a little suffusion of
colour upon it which was unusual to him. Had it been anybody but Sir
Tom, it would have looked like embarrassment, shyness mingled with a
certain self-ridicule and sense of the ludicrous in the position
altogether. He caught his wife in his arms and met her eyes with a
certain laughing shamefacedness, "Don't," he said, "be in such a hurry,
Lucy. _Ces dames_ have gone to their rooms; they have been travelling
all night, and they are not fit to be seen. It is only silly little
English girls like you that can bear to be looked at at all times and
seasons." And with this he stooped over her and gave her a kiss on her
forehead, to Lucy's delight, yet horror--before Williams, who looked on
approving, and the footman with the traps, and Jock and all! But what a
load it took off her breast! He was not any longer vexed or disturbed or
angry. He was indeed conciliatory and apologetic, but Lucy only saw that
he was kind.

"Poor lady," cried Lucy, "has she been travelling all night? And I am so
sorry she has been put into the east wing. If I had been at home I
should have said the blue rooms, Tom, which you know are the nicest----"

"I think they are quite comfortable, my dear," said Sir Tom, with his
usual laugh, which was half-mocking half-serious, "you may be sure they
will ask for anything they want. They are quite accustomed to making
themselves at home."

"Oh, I hope so, Tom," said Lucy, "but don't you think it would be more
polite, more respectful, if I were to go and ask if they have
everything? Mrs. Freshwater is very well you know, Tom, but the mistress
of the house----"

He gave her another little hug, and laughed again. "No," he said, "you
may be sure Madame Forno-Populo is not going to let you see her till she
has repaired all ravages. It was extremely indiscreet of me to go to the
station," he continued, still with that chuckle, leading Lucy away. "I
had forgotten all these precautions after a few years of you, Lucy. I
was received with a shriek of horror and a double veil."

Lucy looked at him with great surprise, asking: "Why? wasn't she glad to
see you?" with incipient indignation and a sense of grievance.

"Not at all," cried Sir Tom, "indeed I heard her mutter something about
English savagery. The Contessa expresses herself strongly sometimes.
Freshwater and the maid, and the excellent breakfast Williams has
ordered, knowing her ways----"

"Does Williams know her ways?" asked Lucy, wondering. There was not the
faintest gleam of suspicion in her mind; but she was surprised, and her
husband bit his lip for a moment, yet laughed still.

"He knows those sort of people," he said. "I was very much about in
society at one time you must know, Lucy, though I am such a steady old
fellow now. We knew something of most countries in these days. We were
_bien vu_, he and I, in various places. Don't tell Mrs. Williams, my
love." He laughed almost violently at this mild joke, and Lucy looked
surprised. But still no shadow came upon her simple countenance. Lucy
was like Desdemona, and did not believe that there were such women. She
thought it was "fun," such fun as she sometimes saw in the newspapers,
and considered as vulgar as it was foolish. Such words could not be used
in respect to anything Sir Tom said, but even in her husband it was not
good taste, Lucy thought. She smiled at the reference to Mrs. Williams
with a kind of quiet disdain, but it never occurred to her that she too
might require to be kept in the dark.

"I dare say most of what you are talking is nonsense," she said; "but if
Madame Forno ----"--Lucy was not very sure of the name, and
hesitated--"is really very tired, perhaps it may be kindness not to
disturb her. I hope she will go to bed, and get a thorough rest. Did she
not get your second letter, Tom? and what a thing it is that dear baby
is so much better, and that we can really pay a little attention to
her."

"Either she did not get my letter, or I didn't write, I cannot say which
it was, Lucy. But now we have got her we must pay attention to her, as
you say. You will have to get up a few dinner parties, and ask some
people to stay. She will like to see the humours of the wilderness while
she is in it."

"The wilderness--but, Tom, everybody says society is so good in the
county."

"Everybody does not know the Forno-Populo," cried Sir Tom; and then he
burst out into a great laugh. "I wonder what her Grace will say to the
Contessa; they have met before now."

"Must we ask the Duchess?" cried Lucy, with awe and alarm, coming a
little nearer to her husband's side.

But Sir Tom did nothing but laugh. "I've seen a few passages of arms,"
he said. "By Jove, you don't know what war is till you see two ---- at
it tooth and nail. Two--what, Lucy? Oh, I mean fine ladies; they have no
mercy. Her Grace will set her claws into the fair countess. And as for
the Forno-Populo herself----"

"Dear Tom" said Lucy with gentle gravity, "Is it nice to speak of ladies
so? If any one called me the Randolph, I should be, oh, so----"

"You," cried her husband with a hot and angry colour rising to his very
hair, and then he perceived that he was betraying himself, and paused.
"You see, my love, that's different," he said. "Madame di Forno-Populo
is--an old stager: and you are very young, and nobody ever thought of
you but with--reverence, my dear. Yes, that's the word, Lucy, though you
are only a bit of a girl."

"Tom," said Lucy with great dignity, "I have you to take care of me, and
I have never been known in the world. But, dear, if this poor lady has
no one--and I suppose she is a widow, is she not, Tom?"

He had been listening to her almost with emotion--with a half-abashed
look, full of fondness and admiration. But at this question he drew back
a little, with a sort of stagger, and burst into a wild fit of laughter.
When he came to himself wiping his eyes, he was, there could be no
doubt, ashamed of himself. "I beg you ten thousand pardons," he cried.
"Lucy, my darling! Yes, yes--I suppose she is a widow, as you say."

Lucy looked at him while he laughed, with profound gravity, without the
slightest inclination to join in his merriment, which is a thing which
has a very uncomfortable effect. She waited till he was done, with a
mixture of wonder and disapproval in her seriousness, looking at his
laughter as if at some phenomenon which she did not understand. "I have
often heard gentlemen," she said, "talk about widows as if it were a
sort of laughable name, and as if they might make their jokes as they
pleased. But I did not think you would have done it, Tom. I should feel
all the other way," said Lucy. "I should think I could never do enough
to make it up, if that were possible, and to make them forget. Is it
their fault that they are left desolate, that a man should laugh?" She
turned away from her husband with a soft superiority of innocence and
true feeling which struck him dumb.

He begged her pardon in the most abject way; and then he left her for a
moment quietly, and had his laugh out. But he was ashamed of himself all
the same. "I wonder what she will say when she sees the Forno-Populo,"
he said to himself.



CHAPTER XVII.

FOREWARNED.


Lucy did not see her visitors till the hour of dinner. She had expected
them to appear in the afternoon at the mystic hour of tea, which calls
an English household together, but when it was represented to her that
afternoon tea was not the same interesting institution in Italy, her
surprise ceased, and though her expectations were still more warmly
excited by this delay, she bore it with becoming patience. There was no
doubt, however, that the arrival had made a great commotion in the
house, and Lucy perceived without in the least understanding it, a
peculiarity in the looks which various of the people around her cast
upon her during the course of the day. Her own maid was one of these
people, and Mrs. Freshwater, the housekeeper, who explained in a
semi-apologetic tone all the preparations she had made for the comfort
of the guests, was another. And Williams, though he was always so
dignified, thought Lucy could not help feeling an eye upon her. He was
almost compassionately attentive to his young mistress. There was a
certain pathos in the way in which he handed her the potatoes at lunch.
He pressed a little more claret upon her with a fatherly anxiety, and an
air that seemed to say, "It will do you good." Lucy was conscious of all
this additional attention without realising the cause of it. But it
found its culmination in Lady Randolph, in whom a slightly-injured and
aggrieved air towards Sir Tom was enhanced by the extreme tenderness of
her aspect to Lucy, for whom she could not do too much. "Williams is
quite right in giving you a little more wine. You take nothing," she
said, "and I am sure you want support. After your long drive, too, my
dear: and how cold it has been this morning!"

"Yes, it was cold; but we did not mind, we rather liked it, Jock and I.
Poor Madame di Forno-Populo! She must have felt it travelling all
night."

"Bravo, Lucy, that is right! you have tackled the name at last, and got
through with it beautifully," said Sir Tom with a laugh.

Lucy was pleased to be praised. "I hope I shan't forget," she said, "it
is so long: and oh, Tom, I do hope she can talk English, for you know my
French."

"I should think she could talk English!" said Lady Randolph, with a
little scorn. And what was very extraordinary was that Williams showed a
distinct but suppressed consciousness, putting his lips tight as if to
keep in what he knew about the matter. "And I don't think you need be so
sorry for the lady, Lucy," said the dowager. "No doubt she didn't mean
to travel by night. It arose from some mistake or other in Tom's letter.
But she does not mind that, you may be sure, now that she has made out
her point."

"What point?" said Sir Tom, with some heat. But Lady Randolph made no
reply, and he did not press the question. They were both aware that it
is sometimes better to hold one's tongue. And the curious thing to all
of those well-informed persons was that Lucy took no notice of all their
hints and innuendoes. She was in the greatest spirits, not only
interested about her unknown visitors and anxious to secure their
comfort, but in herself more gay than she had been for some time past.
In fact this arrival was a godsend to Lucy. The cloud had disappeared
entirely from her husband's brow. Instead of making any inquiries about
her visit to Farafield, or resuming the agitating discussion which had
ended in what was really a refusal on her part to do what he wished, he
was full of a desire to conciliate and please her. The matter which had
brought so stern a look to his face, and occasioned her an anxiety and
pain far more severe than anything that had occurred before in her
married life, seemed to have dropped out of his mind altogether. Instead
of that opposition and disapproval, mingled with angry suspicion, which
had been in his manner and looks, he was now on the watch to propitiate
Lucy; to show a gratitude for which she knew no reason, and a pride in
her which was still less comprehensible. What did it all mean, the
compassion on one side, the satisfaction on the other? But Lucy scarcely
asked herself the question. In her relief at having no new discussion
with her husband, and at his apparent forgetfulness of all displeasure
and of any question between them, her heart rose with all the glee of a
child's. It seemed to her that she had surmounted the difficulties of
her position by an intervention which was providential. It even occurred
to her innocent mind to make reflections as to the advantage of doing
what was right in the face of all difficulties. God, she said to
herself, evidently was protecting her. It was known in heaven what an
effort it had cost her to do her duty to fulfil her father's will, and
now heavenly succour was coming, and the difficulties disappearing out
of her way. Lucy would have been ready in any case with the most
unhesitating readiness to receive and do any kindness to her husband's
friend. No idea of jealousy had come into her unsuspicious soul. She had
taken it as a matter of course that this unknown lady should have the
best that the Hall could offer her, and that her old alliance with Sir
Tom should throw open his doors and his wife's heart. Perhaps it was
because Lucy's warm and simple-minded attachment to her husband had
little in it of the character of passion that it was thus entirely
without any impulse of jealousy. And what was so natural in common
circumstances became still more so in the exhilaration and rebound of
her troubled heart. Sir Tom was so kind to her in departing from his
opposition, in letting her have her way without a word. It was certain
that Lucy would not have relinquished her duty for any opposition he had
made. But with what a bleeding heart she would have done it, and how
hateful would have been the necessity which separated her from his
goodwill and assistance! Now she felt that terrible danger was over.
Probably he would not ask her what she had been about. He would not give
it his approval, which would have been most sweet of all, but if he did
not interfere, if he permitted it to be done without opposition, without
even demanding of his wife an account of her action, how much that would
be, and how cordially, with what a genuine impulse of the heart would
she set to work to carry out his wishes--he who had been so generous, so
kind to her! This was how it was that her gaiety, the ease and
happiness of her look, startled them all so much. That she should have
been amiable to the new comers was comprehensible. She was so amiable by
nature, and so ignorant and unsuspicious: but that their coming should
give her pleasure, this was the thing that confounded the spectators:
they could not understand how any other subject should withdraw her from
what is supposed to be a wife's master emotion--nay, they could not
understand how it was that mere instinct had not enlightened Lucy, and
pointed out to her what elements were coming together that would be
obnoxious to her peace. Even Sir Tom felt this, with a deepened
tenderness for his pure-minded little wife, and pride in her
unconsciousness. Was there another woman in England who would have been
so entirely generous, so unaware even of the possibility of evil? He
admired her for it, and wondered--if it was a little silly (which he had
a kind of undisclosed suspicion that it was), yet what a heavenly
silliness. There was nobody else who would have been so magnanimous, so
confident in his perfect honour and truth.

The only other element that could have added to Lucy's satisfaction was
also present. Little Tom was better than usual. Notwithstanding the cold
he had been able to go out, and was all the brighter for it, not chilled
and coughing as he sometimes was. His mother had found him careering
about his nursery in wild glee, and flinging his toys about, in
perfectly boyish, almost mannish, altogether wicked, indifference to the
danger of destroying them. It was this that brought her downstairs
radiant to the luncheon table, where Lady Randolph and Williams were so
anxious to be good to her. Lucy was much surprised by the solicitude
which she felt to be so unnecessary. She was disposed to laugh at the
care they took of her; feeling in her own mind, more triumphant, more
happy and fortunate, than she had ever been before.

As for Jock, he took no notice at all of the incident of the day. He
perceived with satisfaction, a point on which for the moment he was
unusually observant, that Sir Tom showed no intention of questioning
them as to their morning's expedition or opposing Lucy. This being the
case, what was it to the boy who went or came? A couple of ladies were
quite indifferent to him. He did not expect anything or fear anything.
His own doings interested him much more. The conversation about this new
subject floated over his head. He did not take the trouble to pay any
attention to it. As for Williams' significant looks or Lady Randolph's
anxieties, Jock was totally unconscious of their existence. He did not
pay any attention. When the party was not interesting he had plenty of
other thoughts to retire into, and the coming of new people, except in
so far as it might be a bore, did not affect him at all.

Lucy went out dutifully for a drive with Lady Randolph after luncheon.
It was still very bright, though it was cold, and after a little demur
as to the propriety of going out when it was possible her guests might
be coming downstairs, Lucy took her place beside the fur-enveloped
Dowager with her hot water footstool and mountain of wrappings. They
talked about ordinary matters for a little, about the landscape and the
improvements, and about little Tom, whose improvement was the most
important of all. But it was not possible to continue long upon
indifferent matters in face of the remarkable events which had disturbed
the family calm.

"I hope," said Lucy, "that Madame di Forno-Populo" (she was very
careful about all the syllables) "may not be more active than you think,
and come down while we are away."

"Oh, there is not the least fear," said Lady Randolph, somewhat
scornfully. "She was always a candle-light beauty. She is not very fond
of the eye of day."

"She is a beauty, then?" said Lucy. "I am very glad. There are so few.
You know I have always been--rather--disappointed. There are many pretty
people: but to be beautiful is quite different."

"That is because you are so unsophisticated, my dear. You don't
understand that beauty in society means a fashion, and not much more. I
have seen a quantity of beauties in my day. How they came to be so,
nobody knew; but there they were, and we all bowed down to them. This
woman, however, was very pretty, there was no doubt about it," said Lady
Randolph, with reluctant candour. "I don't know what she may be now. She
was enough to turn any man's head when she was young--or even a
woman's--who ought to have known better."

"Do you think then, Aunt Randolph, that women don't admire pretty
people?" It is to be feared that Lucy asked for the sake of making
conversation, which it is sometimes necessary to do.

"I think that men and women see differently--as they always do," said
Lady Randolph. She was rather fond of discriminating between the ideas
of the sexes, as many ladies of a reasonable age are. "There is a
gentleman's beauty, you know, and there is a kind of beauty that women
love. I could point out the difference to you better if the specimens
were before us; but it is a little difficult to describe. I rather
think we admire expression, you know. What men care for is flesh and
blood. We like people that are good--that is to say, who have the air of
being good, for the reality doesn't by any means follow. Perhaps I am
taking too much credit to ourselves," said the old lady, "but that is
the best description I can hit upon. We like the interesting kind--the
pensive kind--which was the fashion when I was young. Your great, fat,
golden-haired, red and white women are gentlemen's beauties; they don't
commend themselves to us."

"And is Madame di Forno-Populo," said Lucy, in her usual elaborate way,
"of that kind?"

"Oh! my dear, she is just a witch," Lady Randolph said. "It does not
matter who it is, she can bring them to her feet if she pleases!" Then
she seemed to think she had gone too far, and stopped herself: "I mean
when she was young; she is young no longer, and I dare say all that has
come to an end."

"It must be sad to grow old when one is like that," said Lucy, with a
look of sympathetic regret.

"Oh, you are a great deal too charitable, Lucy!" said the old lady: and
then she stopped short, putting a sudden restraint upon herself, as if
it were possible that she might have said too much; then after a while
she resumed: "As you are in such a heavenly frame of mind, my dear, and
disposed to think so well of her, there is just one word of advice I
will give you--don't allow yourself to get intimate with this lady. She
is quite out of your way. If she liked, she could turn you round her
little finger. But it is to be hoped she will not like; and, in any
case, you must remember that I have warned you. Don't let her, my dear,
make a catspaw of you."

"A catspaw of me!" Lucy was amused by these words--not offended, as so
many might have been--perhaps because she felt herself little likely to
be so dominated; a fact that the much older and more experienced woman
by her side was quite unaware of. "But," she said, "Tom would not have
invited her, Aunt Randolph, if he had thought her likely to do
that--indeed, how could he have been such great friends with her if she
had not been nice as well as pretty? You forget there must always be
that in her favour to me."

"Oh, Tom!" cried Lady Randolph with indignation. "My dear Lucy," she
added after a pause, with subdued exasperation, "men are the most
unaccountable creatures! Knowing him as I do, I should have thought she
was the very last person--but how can we tell? I dare say the idea
amused him. Tom will do anything that amuses him--or tickles his vanity.
I confess it is as you say, very, very difficult to account for it; but
he has done it. He wants to show off a little to her, I suppose; or else
he---- There is really no telling, Lucy. It is the last thing in the
world I should have thought of; and you may be quite sure, my dear," she
added with emphasis, "she never would have been invited at all if he had
expected me to be here when she came."

Lucy did not make any answer for some time. Her face, which had kept its
gaiety and radiance, grew grave, and when they had driven back towards
the hall for about ten minutes in silence, she said quietly "You do not
mean it, I am sure; but do you know, Aunt Randolph, you are trying to
make me think very badly of my husband; and no one has ever done that
before."

"Oh, your husband is just like other people's husbands, Lucy," cried
the elder lady impatiently. Then, however, she subdued herself, with an
anxious look at her companion. "My dear, you know how fond I am of Tom:
and I know he is fond of you; he would not do anything to harm you for
the world. I suppose it is because he has such a prodigious confidence
in you that he thinks it does not matter; and I don't suppose it does
matter. The only thing is, don't be over intimate with her, Lucy; don't
let her fix herself upon you when you go to town, and talk about young
Lady Randolph as her dearest friend. She is quite capable of doing it.
And as for Tom--well, he is just a man when all is said."

Lucy did not ask any more questions. That she was greatly perplexed
there is no doubt, and her first fervour of affectionate interest in
Tom's friend was slightly damped, or at least changed. But she was more
curious than ever; and there was in her mind the natural contradiction
of youth against the warnings addressed to her. Lucy knew very well that
she herself was not one to be twisted round anybody's little finger. She
was not afraid of being subjugated; and she had a prejudice in favour of
her husband which neither Lady Randolph nor any other witness could
impair. The drive home was more silent than the outset. Naturally, the
cold increased as the afternoon went on, and the Dowager shrunk into her
furs, and declared that she was too much chilled to talk. "Oh how
pleasant a cup of tea will be," she said.

Lucy longed for her part to get down from the carriage and walk home
through the village, to see all the cottage fires burning, and quicken
the blood in her veins, which is a better way than fur for keeping one's
self warm. When they got in, it was exciting to think that perhaps the
stranger was coming down to tea; though that, as has been already said,
was a hope in which Lucy was disappointed. Everything was prepared for
her reception, however--a sort of throne had been arranged for her, a
special chair near the fire, shaded by a little screen, and with a
little table placed close to it to hold her cup of tea. The room was all
in a ruddy blaze of firelight, the atmosphere delightful after the cold
air outside, and all the little party a little quiet, thinking that
every sound that was heard must be the stranger.

"She must have been very tired," Lucy said sympathetically.

"I dare say," said Lady Randolph, "she thinks a dinner dress will make a
better effect."

Lucy looked towards her husband almost with indignation, with eyes that
asked why he did not defend his friend. But, to be sure, Sir Tom could
not judge of their expression in the firelight, and instead of defending
her he only laughed. "One general understands another's tactics," he
said.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE VISITORS.


Sir Tom paid his wife a visit when she was in the midst of her toilette
for dinner. He came in, and looked at her dress with an air of
dissatisfaction. It was a white dress, of a kind which suited Lucy very
well, and which she was in the habit of wearing for small home parties,
at which full dress was unnecessary. He looked at her from head to
foot, and gave a little pull to her skirt with a doubtful air. "It
doesn't sit, does it?" he said; "can't you pin it, or something, to make
it come better?"

This, it need not be said, was a foolish piece of ignorance on Sir Tom's
part, and as Miss Fletcher, Lucy's maid, thought, "just like a man."
Fletcher was for the moment not well-disposed towards Sir Tom. She
said--"Oh no, Sir Thomas, my lady don't hold with pins. Some ladies may
that are all for effect; but my lady, that is not her way."

Sir Tom felt that these words inclosed a dart as sharp as any pin, and
directed at himself; but he took no notice. He walked round his wife,
eyeing her on every side; and then he gave a little pull to her hair as
he had done to her dress. "After all," he said, "it is some time since
you left school, Lucy. Why this simplicity? I want you to look your best
to-night."

"But, dear Tom," said Lucy, "you always say that I am not to be
over-dressed."

"I don't want you to be under-dressed; there is plenty of time. Don't
you think you might do a little more in the way of toilette? Put on some
lace or something; Fletcher will know. Look here, Fletcher, I want Lady
Randolph to look very well to-night. Don't you think this get-up would
stand improvement? I dare say you could do it with ribbons, or
something. We must not have her look like my grandchild, you know."

Upon which Fletcher, somewhat mollified and murmuring that Sir Thomas
was a gentleman that would always have his joke, answered boldly that
_that_ was not how she would have dressed her lady had she had the doing
of it. "But I know my place," Fletcher said, "though to see my lady
like this always goes against me, Sir Thomas, and especially with
foreigners in the house that are always dressed up to the nines and
don't think of nothing else. But if Lady Randolph would wear her blue it
could all be done in five minutes, and look far nicer and more like the
lady of the house."

This transfer was finally made, for Lucy had no small obstinacies and
was glad to please her husband. The "blue" was of the lightest tint of
shimmering silk, and gave a little background of colour, upon which
Lucy's fairness and whiteness stood out. Sir Thomas always took an
interest in his wife's dress; but it was seldom he occupied himself so
much about it. It was he who went to the conservatory to get a flower
for her hair. He took her downstairs upon his arm "as if they were out
visiting," Lucy said, instead of at home in their own house. She was
amused at all this form and ceremony, and came down to the drawing-room
with a little flush of pleasure and merriment about her, quite different
from the demure little Lady Randolph, half frightened and very serious,
with the weight on her mind of a strange language to be spoken, who but
for Sir Tom's intervention would have been standing by the fire awaiting
her visitor. The Dowager was downstairs before her, looking grave
enough, and Jock, slim and dark, supporting a corner of the mantelpiece,
like a young Caryatides in black. Lucy's brightness, her pretty shimmer
of blue, the flower in her hair, relieved these depressing influences.
She stood in the firelight with the ruddy irregular glare playing on
her, a pretty youthful figure; and her husband's assiduities, and the
entire cessation of any apparent consciousness on his part that any
question had ever arisen between them, made Lucy's heart light in her
breast. She forgot even the possibility of having to talk French in the
ease of her mind; and before she had time to remember her former alarm
there came gliding through the subdued light of the greater drawing-room
two figures. Sir Tom stepped forward to meet the stranger, who gave him
her hand as if she saw him for the first time, and Lucy advanced with a
little tremor. Here was the Contessa--the Forno-Populo--the foreign
great lady and great beauty at last.

She was tall--almost as tall as Sir Tom--and had the majestic grace
which only height can give. She was clothed in dark velvet, which fell
in long folds to her feet, and her hair, which seemed very abundant, was
much dressed with puffs and curlings and frizzings, which filled Lucy
with wonder, but furnished a delicate frame-work for her beautiful,
clear, high features, and the wonderful tint of her complexion--a sort
of warm ivory, which made all brighter colours look excessive. Her eyes
were large and blue, with long but not very dark eyelashes; her throat
was like a slender column out of a close circle of feathery lace. Lucy,
who had a great deal of natural taste, felt on the moment a thrill of
shame on account of her blue gown, and an almost disgust of Lady
Randolph's old-fashioned openness about the shoulders. The stranger was
one of those women whose dress always impresses other women with such a
sense of fitness that fashion itself looks vulgar or insipid beside her.
She gave Sir Tom her left hand in passing, and then she turned with both
extended to Lucy. "So this is the little wife," she said. She did not
pause for the modest little word of welcome which Lucy had prepared. She
drew her into the light, and gazed at her with benignant but dauntless
inspection, taking in, Lucy felt sure, every particular of her
appearance--the something too much of the blue gown, the deficiency of
dignity, the insignificance of the smooth fair locks, and open if
somewhat anxious countenance. "_Bel enfant_," said the Contessa, "your
husband and I are such old friends that I cannot meet you as a stranger.
You must let me kiss you, and accept me as one of yours too." The
salutation that followed made Lucy's heart jump with mingled pleasure
and distaste. She was swallowed up altogether in that embrace. When it
was over, the lady turned from her to Sir Tom without another word. "I
congratulate you, _mon ami_. Candour itself, and sweetness, and every
English quality"--upon which she proceeded to seat herself in the chair
which Lucy had set for her in the afternoon with the screen and the
footstool. "How thoughtful some one has been for my comfort," she said,
sinking into it, and distributing a gracious smile all round. There was
something in the way in which she seized the central place in the scene,
and made all the others look like surroundings which bewildered Lucy,
who did nothing but gaze, forgetting everything she meant to say, and
even that it was she who was the mistress of the house.

"You do not see my aunt, Contessa," said Sir Tom, "and yet I think you
ought to know each other."

"Your aunt," said the Contessa, looking round, "that dear Lady
Randolph--who is now Dowager. Chère dame!" she added, half rising,
holding out again both hands.

Lady Randolph the elder knew the world better than Lucy. She remained in
the background into which the Contessa was looking with eyes which she
called shortsighted. "How do you do, Madame di Forno-Populo!" she said.
"It is a long time since we met. We have both grown older since that
period. I hope you have recovered from your fatigue."

The Contessa sank back again into her chair. "Ah, _both_, yes!" she
said, with an eloquent movement of her hands. At this Sir Tom gave vent
to a faint chuckle, as if he could not contain himself any longer.

"The passage of time is a myth," he said; "it is a fable; it goes the
other way. To look at you----"

"Both!" said the Contessa, with a soft, little laugh, spreading out her
beautiful hands.

Lucy hoped that Lady Randolph, who had kept behind, did not hear this
last monosyllable, but she was angry with her husband for laughing, for
abandoning his aunt's side, upon which she herself, astonished, ranged
herself without delay. But what was still more surprising to Lucy, with
her old-fashioned politeness, was to see the second stranger who had
followed the Contessa into the room, but who had not been introduced or
noticed. She had the air of being very young--a dependent probably, and
looking for no attention--and with a little curtsey to the company,
withdrew to the other side of the table on which the lamp was standing.
Lucy had only time to see that there was a second figure, very slim and
slight, and that the light of the lamp seemed to reflect itself in the
soft oval of a youthful face as she passed behind it; but save for this
noiseless movement the young lady gave not the smallest sign of
existence, nor did any one notice her. And it was only when the summons
came to dinner, and when Lucy called forth the bashful Jock to offer his
awkward arm to Lady Randolph, that the unannounced and unconsidered
guest came fully into sight.

"There are no more gentlemen, and I think we must go in together," Lucy
said.

"It is a great honour for me," said the girl. She had a very slight
foreign accent, but she was not in the least shy. She came forward at
once with the utmost composure. Though she was a stranger and a
dependent without a name, she was a great deal more at her ease than
Lucy was, who was the mistress of everything. Lucy for her part was
considerably embarrassed. She looked at the girl, who smiled at her, not
without a little air of encouragement and almost patronage in return.

"I have not heard your name," Lucy at last prevailed upon herself to
say, as they went through the long drawing-room together. "It is very
stupid of me; but I was occupied with Madame di Forno-Populo----"

"You could not hear it, for it was never mentioned," said the girl. "The
Contessa does not think it worth while. I am at present in the cocoon.
If I am pretty enough when I am quite grown up, then she will tell my
name----"

"Pretty enough? But what does that matter? one does not talk of such
things," said the decorous little matron, startled and alarmed.

"Oh, it means everything to me," said the anonymous. "It is doubtful
what I shall be. If I am only a little pretty I shall be sent home; but
if it should happen to me--ah! no such luck!--to be beautiful, then the
Contessa will introduce me, and everybody says I may go far--farther,
indeed, than even she has ever done. Where am I to sit? Beside you?"

"Here, please," said Lucy, trembling a little, and confounded by the
ease of this new actor on the scene, who spoke so frankly. She was
dressed in a little black frock up to her throat; her hair in great
shining bands coiled about her head, but not an ornament of any kind
about her. A little charity girl could not have been dressed more
plainly. But she showed no consciousness of this, nor, indeed, of
anything that was embarrassing. She looked round the table with a free
and fearless look. There was not about her any appearance of timidity,
even in respect to the Contessa. She included that lady in her
inspection as well as the others, and even made a momentary pause before
she sat down, to complete her survey. Lucy, who had on ordinary
occasions a great deal of gentle composure, and had sat with a Cabinet
Minister by her side without feeling afraid, was more disconcerted than
it would be easy to say by this young creature, of whom she did not know
the name. It was so small a party that a separate little conversation
with her neighbour was scarcely practicable, but the Contessa was
talking to Sir Tom with the confidential air of one who has a great deal
to say, and Lady Randolph on his other side was keeping a stern silence,
so that Lucy was glad to make a little attempt at her end of the table.

"You must have had a very fatiguing journey?" she said. "Travelling by
night, when you are not used to it----"

"But we are quite used to it," said the girl. "It is our usual way. By
land it is so much easier: and even at sea one goes to bed, and one is
at the other side before one knows."

"Then you are a good sailor, I suppose----"

"_Pas mal_," said the young lady. She began to look at Jock, and to
turn round from time to time to the elder Lady Randolph, who sat on the
other side of her. "They are not dumb, are they?" she asked. "Not once
have I heard them speak. That is very English, so like what one reads in
books."

"You speak English very well, Mademoiselle," said the Dowager suddenly.

The girl turned round and examined her with a candid surprise. "I am so
glad you do," she said calmly: a little _mot_ which brought the colour
to Lady Randolph's cheeks.

"A pupil of the Contessa naturally knows a good many languages," she
said, "and would be little at a loss wherever she went. You have come
last from Florence, Rome, or perhaps some other capital. The Contessa
has friends everywhere--still."

This last little syllable caught the Contessa's fine ear, though it was
not directed to her. She gave the Dowager a very gracious smile across
the table. "Still," she repeated, "everywhere! People are so kind. My
invitations are so many it was with difficulty I managed to accept that
of our excellent Tom. But I had made up my mind not to disappoint him
nor his dear young wife. I was not prepared for the pleasure of finding
your ladyship here."

"How fortunate that you were able to manage it! I have been
complimenting Mademoiselle on her English. She does credit to her
instructors. Tell me, is this your first visit," Lady Randolph said,
turning to the young lady "to England?" Even in this innocent question
there was more than met the eye. The girl, however, had begun to make a
remark to Lucy, and thus evaded it in the most easy way.

"I saw you come home soon after our arrival," she said. "I was at my
window. You came with--Monsieur----" She cast a glance at Jock as she
spoke, with a smile in her eyes that was not without its effect. There
was a little provocation in it, which an older man would have known how
to answer. But Jock, in the awkwardness of his youth, blushed fiery red,
and turned away his gaze, which, indeed, had been dwelling upon her with
an absorbed but shy attention. The boy had never seen anything at all
like her before.

"My brother," said Lucy, and the young lady gave him a beaming smile and
bow which made Jock's head turn round. He did not know how to reply to
it, whether he ought not to get up to answer her salutation; and being
so uncertain and abashed and excited, he did nothing at all, but gazed
again with an absorption which was not uncomplimentary. She gave him
from time to time a little encouraging glance.

"That was what I thought. You drive out always at that early hour in
England, and always with--Monsieur?" The girl laughed now, looking at
him, so that Jock longed to say something witty and clever. Oh, why was
not MTutor here? He would have known the sort of thing to say.

"Oh not, not always with Jock," Lucy answered, with honest
matter-of-fact. "He is still at school, and we have him only for the
holidays. Perhaps you don't know what that means?"

"The holidays? yes, I know. Monsieur, no doubt, is at one of the great
schools that are nowhere but in England, where they stay till they are
men."

"We stay," said Jock, making an almost convulsive effort, "till we are
nineteen. We like to stay as long as we can."

"How innocent," said the girl with a pretty elderly look of superiority
and patronage; and then she burst into a laugh, which neither Lucy nor
Jock knew how to take, and turned back again in the twinkling of an eye
to Lady Randolph, who had relapsed into silence. "And you drive in the
afternoon," she said. "I have already made my observations. And the baby
in the middle, between. And Sir Tom always. He goes out and he goes in,
and one sees him continually. I already know all the habits of the
house."

"You were not so very tired, then, after all. Why did you not come down
stairs and join us in what we were doing?"

The young lady did not make any articulate reply, but her answer was
clear enough. She cast a glance across the table to the Contessa, and
laid her hand upon her own cheek. Lucy was a little mystified by this
pantomime, but to Lady Randolph there was no difficulty about it. "That
is easily understood," she said, "when one is _sur le retour_. But the
same precautions are not necessary with all."

A smile came upon the girl's lip. "I am sympathetic," she said. "Oh,
troppo! I feel just like those that I am with. It is sometimes a
trouble, and sometimes it is an advantage." This was to Lucy like the
utterance of an oracle, and she understood it not.

"Another time," she said kindly, "you must not only observe us from the
window, but come down and share what we are doing. Jock will show you
the park and the grounds, and I will take you to the village. It is
quite a pretty village, and the cottages are very nice now."

The young stranger's eyes blazed with intelligence. She seemed to
perceive everything at a glance.

"I know the village," she said, "it is at the park gates, and Milady
takes a great deal of trouble that all is nice in the cottages. And
there is an old woman that knows all about the family, and tells legends
of it; and a school and a church, and many other _objets-de-piété_. I
know it like that," she cried, holding out the pretty pink palm of her
hand.

"This information is preternatural," said Lady Randolph. "You are
astonished, Lucy. Mademoiselle is a sorceress. I am sure that Jock
thinks so. Nothing save an alliance with something diabolical could have
made her so well instructed, she who has never been in England before."

"Do you ask how I know all that?" the girl said laughing. "Then I
answer, novels. It is all Herr Tauchnitz and his pretty books."

"And so you really never were in England before--not even as a baby?"
Lady Randolph said.

The girl's gaiety had attracted even the pair at the other end of the
table, who had so much to say to each other. The Contessa and Sir Tom
exchanged a look, which Lucy remarked with a little surprise, and
remarked in spite of herself: and the great lady interfered to help her
young dependent out.

"How glad I am to give her that advantage, dear lady! It is the crown of
the petite's education. In England she finds the most fine manners, as
well as villages full of _objets-de-piété_. It is what is needful to
form her," the Contessa said.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE OPENING OF THE DRAMA.


"Come and sit beside me and tell me everything," said the Contessa. She
had appropriated the little sofa next the fire where Lady Randolph
generally sat in the evening. She had taken Lucy's arm on the way from
the dining-room, and drew her with her to this corner. Nothing could be
more caressing or tender than her manner. She seemed to be conferring
the most delightful of favours as she drew towards her the mistress of
the house. "You have been married--how long? Six years! But it is
impossible! And you have all the freshness of a child. And very happy?"
she said smiling upon Lucy. She had not a fault in her pronunciation,
but when she uttered these two words she gave a little roll of the "r"
as if she meant to assume a defect which she had not, and smiled with a
tender benevolence in which there was the faintest touch of derision.
Lucy did not make out what it was, but she felt that something lay under
the dazzling of that smile. She allowed the stranger to draw her to the
sofa, and sat down by her.

"Yes, it is six years," she said.

"And ver--r--y happy?" the Contessa repeated. "I am sure that dear Tom
is a model husband. I have known him a very long time. Has he told you
about me?"

"That you were an old friend," said Lucy, looking at her. "Oh yes! The
only thing is, that we are so much afraid you will find the country
dull."

The Contessa replied only with an eloquent look and a pressure of the
hand. Her eyes were quite capable of expressing their meaning without
words; and Lucy felt that she had guessed her rightly.

"We wished to have a party to meet you," Lucy said, "but the baby fell
ill--and I thought as you had kindly come so far to see Tom, you would
not mind if you found us alone."

The lady still made no direct reply. She said after a little pause,

"The country is very dull----" still smiling upon Lucy, and allowed a
full minute to pass without another word. Then she added, "And
Milady?--is she always with you?"--with a slight shrug of the shoulders.
She did not even lower her voice to prevent Lady Randolph from hearing,
but gave Lucy's hand a special pressure, and fixed upon her a
significant look.

"Oh! Aunt Randolph?" cried Lucy. "Oh no; she is only paying her usual
Christmas visit."

The Contessa drew a sigh of relief, and laid her other delicate hand
upon her breast. "You take a load off my heart," she said; then gliding
gracefully from the subject, "And that excellent Tom----? you met
him--in society?"

Lucy did not quite like the questioning, or those emphatic pressures of
her hand. She said quickly, "We met at Lady Randolph's. I was living
there."

"Oh--I see," the stranger said, and she gave vent to a little gentle
laugh. "I see!" Her meaning was entirely unknown to Lucy; but she felt
an indefinable offence. She made a slight effort to withdraw her hand;
but this the Contessa would not permit. She pressed the imprisoned
fingers more closely in her own. "You do not like this questioning.
Pardon! I had forgotten English ways. It is because I hope you will let
me be your friend too."

"Oh yes," cried Lucy, ashamed of her own hesitation, yet feeling every
moment more reluctant. She subdued her rising distaste with an effort.
"I hope," she said, sweetly, "that we shall be able to make you feel at
home, Madame di Forno-Populo. If there is anything you do not like, will
you tell me? Had I been at home I should have chosen other rooms for
you."

"They are so pretty, those words, 'at home!' so English," the Contessa
said, with smiles that were more and more sweet. "But it will fatigue
you to call me all that long name."

"Oh no!" cried Lucy, with a vivid blush. She did not know what to say,
whether this meant a little derision of her careful pronunciation, or
what it was. She went on, after a little pause, "But if you are not
quite comfortable the other rooms can be got ready directly. It was the
housekeeper who thought the rooms you have would be the warmest."

The Contessa gave her another gentle pressure of the hand. "Everything
is perfect," she said. "The house and the wife, and all. I may call you
Lucy? You are so fresh and young. How do you keep that pretty bloom
after six years--did you say six years? Ah! the English are always those
that wear best. You are not afraid of a great deal of light--no? but it
is trying sometimes. Shades are an advantage. And he has not spoken to
you of me, that dear Tom? There was a time when he talked much of
me--oh, much--constantly! He was young then--and," she said with a
little sigh--"so was I. He was perhaps not handsome, but he was
distinguished. Many Englishmen are so who have no beauty, no
handsomeness, as you say, and English women also, though that is more
rare. And you are ver-r-y happy?" the Contessa asked again. She said it
with a smile that was quite dazzling, but yet had just the faintest
touch of ridicule in it, and rippled over into a little laugh. "When we
know each other better I will betray all his little secrets to you," she
said.

This was so very injudicious on the part of an old friend, that a wiser
person than Lucy would have divined some malign meaning in it. But Lucy,
though suppressing an instinctive distrust, took no notice, not even in
her thoughts. It was not necessary for her to divine or try to divine
what people meant; she took what they said, simply, without requiring
interpretation. "He has told me a great deal," she said. "I think I
almost know his journeys by heart." Then Lucy carried the war into the
enemy's country without realising what she was doing. "You will think it
very stupid of me," she said, "but I did not hear Mademoiselle,--the
young lady's name?"

The Contessa's eyes dwelt meditatively upon Lucy: she patted her hand
and smiled upon her, as if every other subject was irrelevant. "And he
has taken you into society?" she said, continuing her examination. "How
delightful is that English domesticity. You go everywhere together?" She
had no appearance of having so much as heard Lucy's question. "And you
do not fear that he will find it dull in the country? You have the
confidence of being enough for him? How sweet for me to find the
happiness of my friend so assured. And now I shall share it for a
little. You will make us all happy. Dear child!" said the lady with
enthusiasm, drawing Lucy to her and kissing her forehead. Then she broke
into a pretty laugh. "You will work for your poor, and I, who am good
for nothing--I shall take out my _tapisserie_, and he will read to us
while we work. What a tableau!" cried the Contessa. "Domestic happiness,
which one only tastes in England. The Eden before the fall!"

It was at this moment that the gentlemen, _i.e._ Sir Tom and Jock,
appeared out of the dining-room. They had not lingered long after the
ladies. Sir Tom had been somewhat glum after they left. His look of
amusement was not so lively. He said sententiously, not so much to Jock
as to himself, "That woman is bent on mischief," and got up and walked
about the room instead of taking his wine. Then he laughed and turned to
Jock, who was musing over his orange skins. "When you get a fellow into
your house that is not much good--I suppose it must happen
sometimes--that knows too much and puts the young ones up to tricks,
what do you do with him, most noble Captain? Come, you find out a lot of
things for yourselves, you boys. Tell me what you do."

Jock was a little startled by this demand, but he rose to the occasion.
"It has happened," he said. "You know, unless a fellow's been awfully
bad, you can't always keep him out."

"And what then?" said Sir Tom. "MTutor sets his great wits to work?"

"I hope, sir," cried Jock, "that you don't think I would trouble MTutor,
who has enough on his hands without that. I made great friends with the
fellow myself. You know," said the lad, looking up with splendid
confidence, "he couldn't harm _me_----"

Sir Tom looked at him with a little drawing of his breath, such as the
experienced sometimes feel as they look at the daring of the
innocent--but with a smile, too.

"When he tried it on with me, I just kicked him," said Jock, calmly;
"once was enough; he didn't do it again; for naturally he stood a bit in
awe of me. Then I kept him that he hadn't a moment to himself. It was
the football half, when you've not got much time to spare all day. And
in the evenings he had poenas and things. When he got with two or three
of the others, one of us would just be loafing about, and call out
'Hallo, what's up?' He never had any time to go wrong, and then he got
to find out it didn't pay."

"Philosopher! sage!" cried Sir Tom. "It is you that should teach us;
but, alas, my boy, have you never found out that even that last argument
fails to tell--and that they don't mind even if it doesn't pay?"

He sighed as he spoke; then laughed out, and added, "I can at all events
try the first part of your programme. Come along and let's cry, Hallo!
what's up? It simplifies matters immensely, though," said Sir Tom, with
a serious face, "when you can kick the fellow you disapprove of in that
charming candid way. Guard the privilege; it is invaluable, Jock."

"Well," said Jock, "some fellows think it's brutal, you know. MTutor he
always says try argument first. But I just want to know how are you to
do your duty, captain of a big house, unless it's known that you will
just kick 'em when they're beastly. When it's known, even _that_ does a
deal of good."

"Every thing you say confirms my opinion of your sense," said Sir Tom,
taking the boy by the arm, "but also of your advantages, Jock, my boy.
We cannot act, you see, in that straightforward manner, more's the
pity, in the world; but I shall try the first part of your programme,
and act on your advice," he said, as they walked into the room where the
ladies were awaiting them. The smaller room looked very warm and bright
after the large, dimly-lighted one through which they had passed. The
Contessa, in her tender conference with Lucy, formed a charming group in
the middle of the picture. Lady Randolph sat by, exiled out of her usual
place, with an illustrated magazine in her hand, and an air of quick
watchfulness about her, opposite to them. She was looking on like a
spectator at a play. In the background behind the table, on which stood
a large lamp, was the Contessa's companion, with her back turned to the
rest, lightly flitting from picture to picture, examining everything.
She had been entirely careless of the action of the piece, but she
turned round at the voices of the new-comers, as if her attention was
aroused.

"You are going to take somebody's advice?" said the Contessa. "That is
something new; come here at once and explain. To do so is due to
your--wife; yes, to your wife. An Englishman tells every thought to his
wife; is it not so? Oh yes, _mon ami_, your sweet little wife and I are
the best of friends. It is for life," she said, looking with
inexpressible sentiment in Lucy's face, and pressing her hands. Then,
was it possible? a flash of intelligence flew from her eyes to those of
Sir Tom, and she burst into a laugh and clapped her beautiful hands
together. "He is so ridiculous, he makes one laugh at everything," she
cried.

Lucy remained very serious, with a somewhat forced smile upon her face,
between these two, looking from one to another.

"Nay, if you have come the length of swearing eternal friendship----"
said Sir Tom.

Jock did not know what to do with himself. He began by stumbling over
Lady Randolph's train, which though carefully coiled about her, was so
long and so substantial that it got in his way. In getting out of its
way he almost stumbled against the slim, straight figure of the girl,
who stood behind surveying the company. She met his awkward apology with
a smile. "It doesn't matter," she said, "I am so glad you are come. I
had nobody to talk to." Then she made a little pause, regarding him with
a bright, impartial look, as if weighing all his qualities. "Don't you
talk?" she said. "Do you prefer not to say anything? because I know how
to behave: I will not trouble you if it is so. In England there are some
who do not say anything?" she added with an inquiring look. Jock, who
was conscious of blushing all over from top to toe, ventured a glance at
her, to which she replied by a peal of laughter, very merry but very
subdued, in which, in spite of himself, he was obliged to join.

"So you can laugh!" she said; "oh, that is well; for otherwise I should
not know how to live. We must laugh low, not to make any noise and
distract the old ones; but still, one must live. Tell me, you are the
brother of Madame--Should I say Milady? In my novels they never do, but
I do not know if the novels are just or not."

"The servants say my lady, but no one else," said Jock.

"How fine that is," the young lady said admiringly, "in a moment to have
it all put right. I am glad we came to England; we say mi-ladi and
mi-lord as if that was the name of every one here; but it is not so in
the books. You are, perhaps Sir? like Sir Tom--or you are----"

"I am Trevor, that is all," said Jock with a blush; "I am nobody in
particular: that is, here"--he added with a momentary gleam of natural
importance.

"Ah!" cried the young lady, "I understand--you are a great person at
home."

Jock had no wish to deceive, but he could not prevent a smile from
creeping about the corners of his mouth. "Not a great person at all," he
said, not wishing to boast.

The young stranger, who was so curious about all her new surroundings,
formed her own conclusion. She had been brought up in an atmosphere full
of much knowledge, but also of theories which were but partially
tenable. She interpreted Jock according to her own ideas, which were not
at all suited to his case; but it was impossible that she could know
that.

"I am finding people out," she said to him. "You are the only one that
is young like me. Let us form an alliance--while the old ones are
working out all their plans and fighting it out among themselves."

"Fighting it out! I know some that are not likely to fight," cried Jock,
bewildered.

"Was not that right?" said the girl, distressed. "I thought it was an
_idiotisme_, as the French say. Ah! they are always fighting. Look at
them now! The Contessa, she is on the war-path. That is an American
word. I have a little of all languages. Madame, you will see--ah, that
is what you meant!--does not understand, she looks from one to another.
She is silent, but Sir Tom, he knows everything. And the old lady, she
sees it too. I have gone through so many dramas, I am blasée. It
wearies at last, but yet it is exciting too. I ask myself what is going
to be done here? You have heard perhaps of the Contessa in England,
Mr.----"

"Trevor," said Jock.

"And you pronounce it just like this--Mis-ter? I want to know; for
perhaps I shall have to stay here. There is not known very much about
me. Nor do I know myself. But if the Contessa finds for me---- I am quite
mad," said the girl suddenly. "I am telling you--and of course it is a
secret. The old lady watches the Contessa to see what it is she intends.
But I do not myself know what the Contessa intends--except in respect to
me."

Jock was too shy to inquire what that was: and he was confused with this
unusual confidence. Young ladies had not been in the habit of opening to
him their secrets; indeed he had little experience of these kind of
creatures at all. She looked at him as she spoke as if she wished to
provoke him to inquiry--with a gaze that was very open and withal bold,
yet innocent too. And Jock, on his side, was as entirely innocent as if
he had been a Babe in the Wood.

"Don't you want to know what she is going to do with me, and why she has
brought me?" the girl said, talking so quickly that he could scarcely
follow the stream of words. "I was not invited, and I am not introduced,
and no one knows anything of me. Don't you want to know why I am here?"

Jock followed the movements of her lips, the little gestures of her
hands, which were almost as eloquent, with eyes that were confused by so
great a call upon them. He could not make any reply, but only gazed at
her, entranced, as he had never been in his life before, and so anxious
not to lose the hurried words, the quick flash of the small white hands
against her dark dress, that his mind had not time to make out what she
meant.

Lucy on her side sat between her husband and the Contessa for some time,
listening to their conversation. That was more rapid, too, than she was
used to, and it was full of allusions, understood when they were
half-said by the others, which to her were all darkness. She tried to
follow them with a wistful sort of smile, a kind of painful homage to
the Contessa's soft laugh and the ready response of Sir Tom. She tried
too, to follow, and share the brightening interest of his face, the
amusement and eagerness of his listening; but by and by she got chilled,
she knew not how--the smile grew frozen upon her face, her comprehension
seemed to fail altogether. She got up softly after a while from her
corner of the sofa, and neither her husband nor her guest took any
particular notice. She came across the room to Lady Randolph, and drew a
low chair beside her, and asked her about the pictures in the magazine
which she was still holding in her hand.



CHAPTER XX.

AN ANXIOUS CRITIC.


In a few days after the arrival of Madame di Forno-Populo, there was
almost an entire change of aspect at the Hall. Nobody could tell how
this change had come about. It was involuntary, unconscious, yet
complete. The Contessa came quietly into the foreground. She made no
demonstration of power, and claimed no sort of authority. She never
accosted the mistress of the house without tender words and caresses.
Her attitude towards Lucy, indeed, was that of an admiring relation to a
delightful and promising child. She could not sufficiently praise and
applaud her. When she spoke, her visitor turned towards her with the
most tender of smiles. In whatsoever way the Contessa was occupied, she
never failed when she heard Lucy's voice to turn round upon her, to
bestow this smile, to murmur a word of affectionate approval. When they
were near enough to each other, she would take her hand and press it
with affectionate emotion. The other members of the household, except
Sir Tom, she scarcely noticed at all. The Dowager Lady Randolph
exchanged with her now and then a few words of polite defiance, but that
was all. And she had not been long at the Hall before her position there
was more commanding than that of Lady Randolph. Insensibly all the
customs of the house changed for her. There was no question as to who
was the centre of conversation in the evening. Sir Tom went to the sofa
from which she had so cleverly ousted his aunt, as soon as he came in
after dinner, and leaning over her with his arm on the mantelpiece, or
drawing a chair beside her, would laugh and talk with endless spirit and
amusement. When he talked of the people in the neighbourhood who
afforded scope for satire, she would tap him with her fan and say, "Why
do I not see these originals? bring them to see me," to Lucy's wonder
and often dismay. "They would not amuse you at all," Sir Tom would
reply, upon which the lady would turn and call Lucy to her. "My little
angel! he pretends that it is he that is so clever, that he creates
these characters. We do not believe him, my Lucy, do we? Ask them, ask
them, _cara_, then we shall judge."

In this way the house was filled evening after evening. A reign of
boundless hospitality seemed to have begun. The other affairs of the
house slipped aside, and to provide amusement for the Contessa became
the chief object of life. She had everybody brought to see her, from the
little magnates of Farafield to the Duchess herself, and the greatest
people in the county. The nursery, which had been so much, perhaps too
much, in the foreground, regulating the whole great household according
as little Tom was better or worse, was thrust altogether into the
shadow. If neglect was wholesome, then he had that advantage. Even his
mother could do no more than run furtively to him, as she did about a
hundred times a day in the intervals of her duties. His little mendings
and fallings back ceased to be the chief things in the house. His
father, indeed, would play with his child in the mornings when he was
brought to Lucy's room; but the burden of his remarks was to point out
to her how much better the little beggar got on when there was less fuss
made about him. And Lucy's one grievance against her visitor, the only
one which she permitted herself to perceive, was that she never took any
notice of little Tom. She never asked for him, a thing which was
unexampled in Lucy's experience. When he was produced she smiled,
indeed, but contemplated him at a distance. The utmost stretch of
kindness she had ever shown was to touch his cheek with a finger
delicately when he was carried past her. Lucy made theories in her mind
about this, feeling it necessary to account in some elaborate way for
what was so entirely out of nature. "I know what it must be--she must
have lost her own," she said to her husband. Sir Tom's countenance was
almost convulsed by one of those laughs, which he now found it expedient
to suppress, but he only replied that he had never heard of such an
event. "Ah! it must have been before you knew her; but she has never got
it out of her mind," Lucy cried. That hypothesis explained everything.
At this time it is scarcely necessary to say Lucy was with her whole
soul trying to be "very fond," as she expressed it, of the Contessa.
There were some things about her which startled young Lady Randolph. For
one thing, she would go out shooting with Sir Tom, and was as good a
shot as any of the gentlemen. This wounded Lucy terribly, and took her a
great effort to swallow. It went against all her traditions. With her
bourgeois education she hated sport, and even in her husband with
difficulty made up her mind to it; but that a woman should go forth and
slay was intolerable.

There were other things besides which were a mystery to her. Lady
Randolph's invariably defiant attitude for one, and the curious aspect
of the Duchess when suddenly brought face to face with the stranger. It
appeared that they were old friends, which astonished Lucy, but not so
much as the great lady's bewildered look when Madame di Forno-Populo
went up to her. It seemed for a moment as if the shock was too much for
her. She stammered and shook through all her dignity and greatness, as
she exclaimed. "_You_! here?" in two distinct outcries, gazing appalled
into the smiling and beautiful face before her. But then the Duchess
came to, after a while. She seemed to get over her surprise, which was
more than surprise. All these things disturbed Lucy. She did not know
what to make of them. She was uneasy at the change that had been
wrought upon her own household, which she did not understand. Yet it was
all perfectly simple, she said to herself. It was Tom's duty to devote
himself to the stranger. It was the duty of both as hosts to procure for
her such amusement as was to be found. These were things of which Lucy
convinced herself by various half unconscious processes of argument. But
it was necessary to renew these arguments from time to time, to keep
possession of them in order to feel their force as she wished to do. She
said nothing to her husband on the subject, with an instinctive sense
that it would be very difficult to handle. And Sir Tom, too, avoided it.
But it was impossible to pursue the same reticence with Lady Randolph,
who now and then insisted on opening it up. When the end of her visit
arrived she sent for Lucy into her own room, to speak to her seriously.
She said--

"My dear, I am due to-morrow at the Maltravers', as you know. It is a
visit I like to pay, they are always so nice; but I cannot bear the
thought of going off, Lucy, to enjoy myself and leaving you alone."

"Alone, Aunt Randolph!" cried Lucy, "when Tom is at home!"

"Oh, Tom! I have no patience with Tom," cried the Dowager. "I think he
must be mad to let that woman come upon you so. Of course you know very
well, my dear, it is of her that I want to speak. In the country it does
not so much matter; but you must not let her identify herself with you,
Lucy, in town."

"In town!" Lucy said with a little dismay; "but, dear Aunt Randolph, it
will be six weeks before we go to town; and, surely, long before
that----" She paused, and blushed with a sense of the inhospitality
involved in her words, which made Lucy ashamed of herself.

"You think so?" said Lady Randolph, smiling somewhat grimly. "Well, we
shall see. For my part, I think she will find Park Lane a very desirable
situation, and if you do not take the greatest care---- But why should I
speak to you of taking care? Of course, if Tom wished it, you would take
in all Bohemia, and never say a word----"

"Surely," said Lucy, looking with serene eyes in the elder lady's face,
"I do not know what you mean by Bohemia, Aunt Randolph; but if you think
it possible that I should object when Tom asks his friends----"

"Oh--his friends! I have no patience with you, either the one or the
other," said the old lady. "When Sir Robert was living, do you think it
was he who invited _my_ guests? I should think not indeed! especially
the women. If that was to be the case, marriage would soon become an
impossibility. And is it possible, Lucy, is it possible that you, with
your good sense, can like all that petting and coaxing, and the way she
talks to you as if you were a child?"

As a matter of fact Lucy had not been able to school herself into liking
it; but when the objection was stated so plainly, she coloured high with
a vexation and annoyance which were very grievous and hard to bear. It
seemed to her that it would be disloyal both to her husband and her
guest if she complained, and at the same time Lady Randolph's shot went
straight to the mark. She did her best to smile, but it was not a very
easy task.

"You have always taught me, Aunt Randolph," she said with great
astuteness, "that I ought not to judge of the manners of strangers by
my own little rules--especially of foreigners," she added, with a sense
of her own cleverness which half comforted her amid other feelings not
agreeable. It was seldom that Lucy felt any sense of triumph in her own
powers.

"Foreigners?" said Lady Randolph, with disdain. But then she stopped
short with a pause of indignation. "That woman," she said, which was the
only name she ever gave the visitor, "has some scheme in her head you
may be sure. I do not know what it is. It would not do her any good that
I can see to increase her hold upon Tom."

"Upon Tom!" cried Lucy. It was her turn now to be indignant. "I don't
know what you mean, Aunt Randolph," she said. "I cannot think that you
want to make me--uncomfortable. There are some things I do not like in
Madame di Forno-Populo. She is--different; but she is my husband's
friend. If you mean that they will become still greater friends seeing
more of each other, that is natural. For why should you be friends at
all unless you like each other? And that Tom likes her must be just a
proof that I am wrong. It is my ignorance. Perhaps the wisest way would
be to say nothing more about it," young Lady Randolph concluded,
briskly, with a sudden smile.

The Dowager looked at her as if she were some wonder in natural history,
the nature of which it was impossible to divine. She thought she knew
Lucy very well, but yet had never understood her, it being more
difficult for a woman of the world to understand absolute
straightforwardness and simplicity than it is even for the simple to
understand the worldly. She was silent for a moment and stared at Lucy,
not knowing what to make of her. At last she resumed as if going on
without interruption. "But she has some scheme in hand, perhaps in
respect to the girl. The girl is a very handsome creature, and might
make a hit if she were properly managed. My belief is that this has been
her scheme all through. But partly the presence of Tom--an old friend as
you say of her own--and partly the want of opportunity, has kept it in
abeyance. That is my idea, Lucy; you can take it for what it is worth.
And your home will be the headquarters, the centre from which the
adventuress will carry on----"

"Aunt Randolph!" Lucy's voice was almost loud in the pain and
indignation that possessed her. She put out her hands as if to stop the
other's mouth. "You want to make me think she is a wicked woman," she
said. "And that Tom--Tom----"

Lucy had never permitted suspicion to enter her mind. She did not know
now what it was that penetrated her innocent soul like an arrow. It was
not jealousy. It was the wounding suggestion of a possibility which she
would not and could not entertain.

"Lucy, Tom has no excuse at all," said the Dowager solemnly. "You'll
believe nothing against him, of course, and I can't possibly wish to
turn you against him; but I don't suppose he meant all that is likely to
come out of it. He thought it would be a joke--and in the country what
could it matter? And then things have never gone so far as that people
could refuse to receive her, you know. Oh no! the Contessa has her wits
too much about her for that. But you saw for yourself that the Duchess
was petrified; and I--not that I am an authority, like her Grace. One
thing, Lucy, is quite clear, and that I must say; you must not take upon
yourself to be answerable--you so young as you are and not accustomed to
society--for _that_ woman, before the world. You must just take your
courage in both hands, and tell Tom that though you give in to him in
the country, in town you will not have her. She means to take advantage
of you, and bring forward her girl, and make a _grand coup_. That is
what she means--I know that sort of person. It is just the greatest luck
in the world for them to get hold of some one that is so unexceptionable
and so unsuspicious as you."

Lady Randolph insisted upon saying all this, notwithstanding the
interruptions of Lucy. "Now I wash my hands of it," she said. "If you
won't be advised, I can do no more." It was the day after the great
dinner when the Duchess had met Madame di Forno-Populo with so much
surprise. The elder lady had been in much excitement all the evening.
She had conversed with her Grace apart on several occasions, and from
the way in which they laid their heads together, and their gestures, it
was clear enough that their feeling was the same upon the point they
discussed. All the best people in the county had been collected
together, and there could be no doubt that the Contessa had achieved a
great success. She sang as no woman had ever been heard to sing for a
hundred miles round, and her beauty and her grace and her diamonds had
been enough to turn the heads of both men and women. It was remarked
that the Duchess, though she received her with a gasp of astonishment,
was evidently very well acquainted with the fascinating foreign lady,
and though there was a little natural and national distrust of her at
first, as a person too remarkable, and who sang too well for the common
occasions of life, yet not to gaze at her, watch her, and admire, was
impossible. Lucy had been gratified with the success of her visitor.
Even though she was not sure that she was comfortable about her presence
there at all, she was pleased with the effect she produced. When the
Contessa sang there suddenly appeared out of the midst of the crowd a
slim, straight figure in a black gown, which instantly sat down at the
piano, played the accompaniments, and disappeared again without a word.
The spectators thronging round the piano saw that this was a girl, as
graceful and distinguished as the Contessa herself, who passed away
without a word, and disappeared when her office was accomplished, with a
smile on her face, but without lingering for a moment or speaking to any
one; which was a pretty bit of mystery too.

All this had happened on the night before Lady Randolph's summons to
Lucy. It was in the air that the party at the Hall was to break up after
the great entertainment; the Dowager was going, as she had said, to the
Maltravers'; Jock was going back to school; and though no limit of
Madame di Forno-Populo's visit had been mentioned, still it was natural
that she should go when the other people did. She had been a fortnight
at the Hall. That is long for a visit at a country house where generally
people are coming and going continually. And Lucy had begun to look
forward to the time when once more she would be mistress of her own
house and actions, with all visitors and interruptions gone. She had
been looking forward to the happy old evenings, the days in which baby
should be set up again on his domestic throne. The idea that the
Contessa might not be going away, the suggestion that she might still be
there when it was time to make the yearly migration to town, chilled the
very blood in her veins. But it was a thought that she would not dwell
upon. She would not betray her feeling in this respect to any one. She
returned the kiss which old Lady Randolph bestowed upon her at the end
of their interview, very affectionately; for, though she did not always
agree with her, she was attached to the lady who had been so kind to her
when she was a friendless little girl. "Thank you, Aunt Randolph, for
telling me," she said very sweetly, though, indeed, she had no intention
of taking the Dowager's advice. Lady Randolph went off in the afternoon
of the next day, for it was a very short journey to the Maltravers',
where she was going. All the party came out into the hall to see her
away, the Contessa herself as well as the others. Nothing, indeed, could
be more cordial than the Contessa. She caught up a shawl and wound it
round her, elaborately defending herself against the cold, and came out
to the steps to share in the last farewells.

When Lady Randolph was in the carriage with her maid by her side, and
her hot-water footstool under her feet, and the coachman waiting his
signal to drive away, she put out her hand amid her furs to Lucy. "Now
remember!" Lady Randolph said. It was almost as solemn as the mysterious
reminder of the dying king to the bishop. But unfortunately, what is
solemn in certain circumstances may be ludicrous in others. The party in
the Hall scarcely restrained its merriment till the carriage had driven
away.

"What awful compact is this between you, Lucy?" Sir Tom said. "Has she
bound you by a vow to assassinate me in my sleep?"

The Contessa unwound herself out of her shawl, and putting her arm
caressingly round Lucy, led her back to the drawing-room. "It has
something to do with me," she said. "Come and tell me all about it."
Lucy had been disconcerted by Lady Randolph's reminder. She was still
more disconcerted now.

"It is--something Aunt Randolph wishes me to do in the spring, when we
go to town," she said.

"Ah! I know what that is," said the Contessa. "They see that you are too
kind to your husband's friend. Milady would wish you to be more as she
herself is. I understand her very well. I understand them all, these
women. They cannot endure me. They see a meaning in everything I do. I
have not a meaning in everything I do," she added, with a pathetic look,
which went to Lucy's heart.

"No, no, indeed you are mistaken. It was not that. I am sure you have no
meaning," said Lucy, vehement and confused.

The Contessa read her innocent _distraite_ countenance like a book, as
she said--or at least she thought so. She linked her own delicate arm in
hers, and clasped Lucy's hand. "One day I will tell you why all these
ladies hate me, my little angel," she said.



CHAPTER XXI.

AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER.


In the meantime something had been going on behind-backs of which nobody
took much notice. It had been discovered long before this, in the
family, that the Contessa's young companion had a name like other
people--that is to say, a Christian name. She was called by the
Contessa, in the rare moments when she addressed her, Bice--that is to
say, according to English pronunciation, Beeshée (you would probably
call it Beetchee if you learned to speak Italian in England, but the
Contessa had the Tuscan tongue in a Roman mouth, according to the
proverb), which, as everybody knows, is the contraction of Beatrice. She
was called Miss Beachey in the household, a name which was received--by
the servants at least--as a quite proper and natural name; a great deal
more sensible than Forno-Populo. Her position, however, in the little
party was a quite peculiar one. The Contessa took her for granted in a
way which silenced all inquisitive researches. She gave no explanation
who she was, or what she was, or why she carried this girl about with
her. If she was related to herself, if she was a dependent, nobody knew;
her manner gave no clue at all to the mystery. It was very seldom that
the two had any conversation whatsoever in the presence of the others.
Now and then the Contessa would send the girl upon an errand, telling
her to bring something, with an absence of directions where to find it
that suggested the most absolute confidence in her young companion. When
the Contessa sang, Bice, as a matter of course, produced herself at the
right moment to play her accompaniments, and got herself out of the way,
noiselessly, instantly, the moment that duty was over. These
accompaniments were played with an exquisite skill and judgment, an
exact adaptation to the necessities of the voice, which could only have
been attained by much and severe study; but she never, save on these
occasions, was seen to look at a piano. For the greater part of the time
the girl was invisible. She appeared in the Contessa's train, always in
her closely-fitting, perfectly plain, black frock, without an ornament,
at luncheon and dinner, and was present all the evening in the
drawing-room. But for the rest of the day no one knew what became of
this young creature, who nevertheless was not shy, nor showed any
appearance of feeling herself out of place, or uncomfortable in her
strange position. She looked out upon them all with frank eyes, in which
it was evident there was no sort of mist, either of timidity or
ignorance, understanding everything that was said, even allusions which
puzzled Lucy; always intelligent and observant, though often with a
shade of that benevolent contempt which the young with difficulty
prevent themselves from feeling towards their elders. The littleness of
their jokes and their philosophies was evidently quite apparent to this
observer, who sat secure in the superiority of sixteen taking in
everything; for she took in everything, even when she was not doing the
elder people the honour of attending to what they were saying, with a
faculty which belongs to that age. Opinions were divided as to Bice's
beauty. The simpler members of the party, Lucy and Jock, admired her
least; but such a competent critic as Lady Randolph, who understood what
was effective, had a great opinion and even respect for her, as of one
whose capabilities were very great indeed, and who might "go far," as
she had herself said. As there was so much difference of opinion it is
only right that the reader should be able to judge, as much as is
possible, from a description. She was very slight and rather tall, with
a great deal of the Contessa's grace, moving lightly as if she scarcely
touched the ground, but like a bird rather than a cat. There was nothing
in her of the feline grace of which we hear so much. Her movements were
all direct and rapid; her feet seemed to skim, not to tread, the ground
with an airy poise, which even when she stood still implied movement,
always light, untiring, full of energy and impulse. Her eyes were
gray--if it is possible to call by the name of the dullest of tints
those two globes of light, now dark, now golden, now liquid with dew,
and now with flame. Her hair was dusky, of no particular colour, with a
crispness about the temples; but her complexion--ay, there was the rub.
Bice had no complexion at all. By times in the evening, in artificial
light, or when she was excited, there came a little flush to her cheeks,
which miraculously chased away the shadows from her paleness, and made
her radiant; but in daylight there could be no doubt that she was
sallow, sometimes almost olive, though with a soft velvety texture which
is more often seen on the dark-complexioned through all its gradations
than on any but the most delicate of white skins. A black baby has a
bloom upon its little dusky cheek like a purple peach, and this was the
quality which gave to Bice's sallowness a certain charm. Her hands and
arms were of the same indefinite tint--not white, whatever they might be
called. Her throat was slender and beautifully-formed, but shared the
same deficiency of colour. It is impossible to say how much disappointed
Lucy was in the young stranger's appearance after the first evening. She
had thought her very pretty, and she now thought her plain. To remember
what the girl had said of her chances if she turned out beautiful filled
her with a sort of pitying contempt.

But the more experienced people were not of Lucy's opinion. They thought
well, on the contrary, of Bice's prospects. Lady Randolph, as has been
said, regarded her with a certain respectfulness. She was not offended
by the saucy speeches which the girl might now and then make. She went
so far as to say even that if introduced under other auspices than those
of the Contessa, there was no telling what such a girl might do. "But
the chances now are that she will end on the stage," Lady Randolph said.

This strange girl unfolded herself very little in the family. When she
spoke, she spoke with the utmost frankness, and was afraid of nobody.
But in general she sat in the regions behind the table, with its big
lamp, and said little or nothing. The others would all be collected
about the fire, but Bice never approached the fire. Sometimes she read,
sitting motionless, till the others forgot her presence altogether.
Sometimes she worked at long strips of Berlin-wool work, the
_tapisserie_ to which, by moments, the Contessa would have recourse. But
she heard and saw everything, as has been said, whether she attended or
not, in the keenness of her youthful faculties. When the Contessa rose
to sing, she was at the piano without a word; and when anything was
wanted she gave an alert mute obedience to the lady who was her relation
or her patroness, nobody knew which, almost without being told what was
wanted. Except in this way, however, they seldom approached or said a
word to each other that any one saw. During the long morning, which the
Contessa spent in her room, appearing only at luncheon, Bice too was
invisible. Thus she lived the strangest life of retirement and
seclusion, such as a crushed dependent would find intolerable in the
midst of a family, but without the least appearance of anything but
enjoyment, and a perfect and dauntless freedom.

Bice, however, had one confidant in the house, and this, as is natural,
was the very last person who would have seemed probable--it was Jock.
Jock, it need scarcely be said, had no tendency at all to the society
of girls. Deep as he was in MTutor's confidence, captain of his house,
used to live in a little male community, and to despise (not unkindly)
the rest of the world, it is not likely that he would care much for the
antagonistic creatures who invariably interfered, he thought, with talk
and enjoyment wherever they appeared. Making an exception in favour of
Lucy and an older person now and then, who had been soothing to him when
he was ill or out of sorts, Jock held that the feminine part of the
creation was a mistake, and to be avoided in every practicable way. He
had been startled by the young stranger's advances to him on the first
evening, and her claim of fellowship on the score that he was young like
herself. But when Bice first appeared suddenly in his way, far down in
the depths of the winterly park, the boy's impulse would have been, had
that been practicable, to turn and flee. She was skimming along, singing
to herself, leaping lightly over fallen branches and the inequalities of
the humid way, when he first perceived her; and Jock had a moment's
controversy with himself as to what he ought to do. If he took to flight
across the open park she would see him and understand the reason
why--besides, it would be cowardly to fly from a girl, an inferior
creature, who probably had lost her way, and would not know how to get
back again. This reflection made him withdraw a little deeper into the
covert, with the intention of keeping her in sight lest she should
wander astray altogether, but yet keeping out of the way, that he might
exercise this secret protecting charge of his, which Jock felt was his
natural attitude even to a girl without the embarrassment of her
society. He tried to persuade himself that she was a lower boy, of an
inferior kind no doubt, but yet possessing claims upon his care; for
MTutor had a great idea of influence, and had imprinted deeply upon the
minds of his leading pupils the importance of exercising it in the most
beneficial way for those who were under them.

Jock accordingly stayed among the brushwood watching where she went. How
light she was! her feet scarcely made a dint upon the wet and spongy
grass, in which his own had sunk. She went over everything like a bird.
Now and then she would stop to gather a handful of brown rustling
brambles, and the stiff yellow oak leaves, and here and there a rusty
bough to which some rays of autumn colour still hung, which at first
Jock supposed to mean botany, and was semi-respectful of, until she took
off her hat and arranged them in it, when he was immediately
contemptuous, saying to himself that it was just like a girl. All the
same, it was interesting to watch her as she skipped and skimmed along
with an air of enjoyment and delight in her freedom, which it was
impossible not to sympathise with. She sang, not loudly, but almost
under her breath, for pure pleasure, it seemed, but sometimes would
break off and whistle, at which Jock was much shocked at first, but
gradually got reconciled to, it was so clear and sweet. After awhile,
however, he made an incautious step upon the brushwood, and the crashing
of the branches betrayed him. She stopped suddenly with her head to the
wind like a fine hound, and caught him with her keen eyes. Then there
occurred a little incident which had a very strange effect--an effect he
was too young to understand--upon Jock. She stood perfectly still, with
her face towards the bushes in which he was, her head thrown high, her
nostrils a little dilated, a flush of sudden energy and courage on her
face. She did not know who he was or what he wanted watching her from
behind the covert. He might be a tramp, a violent beggar, for anything
she knew. These things are more tragic where Bice came from, and it was
likely enough that she took him for a brigand. It was a quick sense of
alarm that sprang over her, stringing all her nerves, and bringing the
colour to her cheeks. She never flinched or attempted to flee, but stood
at bay, with a high valour and proud scorn of her pursuer. Her attitude,
the flush which made her fair in a moment, the expanded nostrils, the
fulness which her panting breath of alarm gave to her breast, made an
impression upon the boy which was ineffable and beyond words. It was his
first consciousness that there was something in the world--not boy, or
man, or sister, something which he did not understand, which feared yet
confronted him, startled but defiant. He too paused for a moment, gazing
at her, getting up his courage. Then he came slowly out from under the
shade of the bushes and went towards her. There were a few yards of the
open park to traverse before he reached her, so that he thought it
necessary to relieve her anxiety before they met. He called out to her,
"Don't be afraid, it is only me." For a moment more that fine poise
lasted, and then she clapped her hands with a peal of laughter that
seemed to fill the entire atmosphere and ring back from the clumps of
wintry wood. "Oh," she cried, "it is you!" Jock did not know whether to
be deeply affronted or to laugh too.

"I----thought you might have lost your way," he said, knitting his brows
and looking as forbidding as he knew how, by way of correcting the
involuntary sentiment that had stolen into his boyish heart.

"Then why did not you come to me?" she said, "is not that what you call
to spy--to watch when one does not know you are there?"

Jock's countenance flushed at this word. "Spy! I never spied upon any
one. I thought perhaps you might not be able to get back--so I would not
go away out of reach."

"I see," she cried, "you meant to be kind but not friendly. Do I say it
right? Why will not you be friendly? I have so many things I want to
say, and no one, no one! to say them to. What harm would it do if you
came out from yourself, and talked with me a little? You are too young
to make it any--inconvenience," the girl said. She laughed a little and
blushed a little as she said this, eyeing him all the time with frank,
open eyes. "I am sixteen; how old are you?" she added, with a quick
breath.

"Sixteen past," said Jock, with a little emphasis, to show his
superiority in age as well as in other things.

"Sixteen in a boy means no more than nine or so," she said, with a light
disdain, "so you need not have any fear. Oh, come and talk! I have a
hundred and more of things to say. It is all so strange. How would you
like to plunge in a new world like the sea, and never say what you think
of it, or ask any questions, or tell when it makes you laugh or cry?"

"I should not mind much. I should neither laugh nor cry. It is only
girls that do," said Jock, somewhat contemptuous too.

"Well! But then I am a girl. I cannot change my nature to please you,"
she said. "Sometimes I think I should have liked better to be a boy, for
you have not to do the things we have to do--but then when I saw how
awkward you were, and how clumsy, and not good for anything"--she
pointed these very plain remarks with a laugh between each and a look at
Jock, by which she very plainly applied what she said. He did not know
at all how to take this. The instinct of a gentleman to betray no angry
feeling towards a girl, who was at the same time a lady, contrasted in
him with the instinct of a child, scarcely yet aware of the distinctions
of sex, to fight fairly for itself; but the former prevailed. And then
it was scarcely possible to resist the contagion of the laugh which the
damp air seemed to hold suspended, and bring back in curls and wreaths
of pleasant sound. So Jock commanded himself and replied with an
effort--

"We are just as good for things that we care about as you--but not for
girls' things," he added, with another little fling of the mutual
contempt which they felt for each other. Then after a pause: "I suppose
we may as well go home, for it is getting late; and when it is dark you
would be sure to lose your way----"

"Do you think so?" she said. "Then I will come, for I do not like to be
lost. What should you do if we were lost? Build me a hut to take shelter
in? or take off your coat to keep me warm and then go and look for the
nearest village? That is what happens in some of the Contessa's old
books--but, ah, not in the Tauchnitz now. But it would be nonsense, of
course, for there are the red chimneys of the Hall staring us in the
face, so how could we be lost?"

"When it is dark," said Jock, "you can't see the red always; and then
you go rambling and wandering about, and hit yourself against the trees,
and get up to the ankles in the wet grass and--don't like it at all."
He laughed himself a little, with a laugh that was somewhat like a growl
at his own abrupt conclusion, to which Bice responded cordially.

"How nice it is to laugh," she said, "it gets the air into your lungs
and then you can breathe. It is to breathe I want--large--a whole world
full," she cried, throwing out her arms and opening her mouth. "Because
you know the rooms are small here, and there is so much furniture, the
windows closed with curtains, the floors all hot with carpets. Do they
shut you up as if in a box at night, with the shutters shut and all so
dark? They do me. But as soon as they are gone I open. I like far better
our rooms with big walls, and marble that is cool, and large, large
windows that you can lie and look out at, when you wake, all painted
upon the sky."

"I should think," said Jock, with the impulse of contradiction, "they
would not be at all comfortable----"

"Comfortable," she cried in high disdain, "does one want to be
comfortable? One wants to live, and feel the air, and everything that is
round."

"That's what we do at school," said Jock, waking up to a sense of the
affinities as he had already done to the diversities between them.

"Tell me about school," she cried, with a pretty imperious air; and
Jock, who never desired any better, obeyed.



CHAPTER XXII.

A PAIR OF FRIENDS.


After this it came to be a very common occurrence that Jock and Bice
should meet in the afternoon. He for one thing had lost his
companionship with Lucy, and had been straying forth forlorn not knowing
what to do with himself, taking long walks which he did not care for,
and longing for the intellectual companionship of MTutor, or even of the
other fellows who, if not intellectual, at least were acquainted with
the same things, and accustomed to the same occupations as himself. It
worked in him a tremor and commotion of a kind in which he was wholly
inexperienced, when he saw the slim figure of the girl approaching him,
through the paths of the shrubberies, or across the glades of the park.
He said to himself once or twice, "What a bore;" but those words did not
express his feelings. It was not a bore, it was something very
different. He could not explain the mingled reluctance and pleasure of
his own mood, the little tumult that arose in him when he saw her. He
wanted to turn his back and rush away, and yet he wanted to be there
waiting for her, seeing her approach step by step. He had no notion what
his own mingled sentiments meant. But Bice to all appearance had neither
the reluctance nor the excitement. She came running to her playmate
whenever she saw him with frank satisfaction. "I was looking for you,"
she would say, "Let us go out into the park where nobody can see us.
Run, or some one will be coming," and then she would fly over stock and
stone, summoning him after her. There were many occasions when Jock did
not approve, but he always followed her, though with internal
grumblings, in which he indulged consciously, making out his own
annoyance to be very great. "Why can't she let me alone?" he said to
himself; but when it occurred that Bice did leave him alone, and made no
appearance, his sense of injury was almost bitter. On such occasions he
said cutting things within himself, and was very satirical as to the
stupidity of girls who were afraid to wet their feet, and estimated the
danger of catching a cold as greater than any natural advantage. For
Jock had all that instinctive hostility to womankind, which is natural
to the male bosom, except perhaps at one varying period of life. They
had no place in the economy of his existence at school, and he knew
nothing of them nor wanted to know. But Bice, though, when he was
annoyed with her, she became to him the typical girl, the epitome of
offending woman, had at other times a very different position. It
stirred his entire being, he did not know how, when she roamed with him
about the woods talking of everything, from a point of view which was
certainly different from Jock's. Occasionally, even, he did not
understand her any more than if she had been speaking a foreign
language. She had never any difficulty in penetrating his meaning as he
had in penetrating hers, but there were times when she did not
understand him any more than he understood her. She was by far the
easiest in morals, the least Puritanical. It was not easy to shock Bice,
but it was not at all difficult to shock Jock, brought up as he was in
the highest sentiments under the wing of MTutor, who believed in moral
influence. But the fashion of the intercourse held between these two,
was very remarkable in its way. They were like brother and sister,
without being brother and sister. They were strangers to each other, yet
living in the most entire intimacy, and likely to be parted for ever
to-morrow. They were of the same age, yet the girl was, in experience of
life, a world in advance of the boy, who, notwithstanding, had the
better of her in a thousand ways. In short, they were a paradox, such as
youth, more or less, is always, and the careless close companionship
that grew up between them was at once the most natural and the most
strange alliance. They told each other everything by degrees, without
being at all aware of the nature of their mutual confidence; Bice
revealing to Jock the conditions on which she was to be brought out in
England, and Jock to Bice the unusual features of his own and his
sister's position, to the unbounded astonishment and scepticism of each.

"Beautiful?" said Jock, drawing a long breath. "But beautiful's not a
thing you can go in for, like an exam: You're born so, or you're born
not so; and you know you're not--I mean, you know you're---- Well, it
isn't your fault. Are you going to be sent away for just being--not
pretty?"

"I told you," said the girl, with a little impatience. "Being pretty is
of no consequence. I am pretty, of course," she added regretfully. "But
it is only if I turn out beautiful that she will take the trouble. And
at sixteen, I am told, one cannot yet know."

"But--" cried Jock with a sort of consternation, "you don't mind, do
you? I don't mean anything unkind, you know; I don't think it
matters--and I am sure it isn't your fault; you are not
even--good-looking," candour compelled the boy to say, as to an honest
comrade with whom sincerity was best.

"Ah!" cried Bice, with a little excitement. "Do you think so? Then
perhaps there is more hope."

Jock was confounded by this utterance, and he began to feel that he had
been uncivil. "I don't mean," he said, "that you are not--I mean that it
is not of the least consequence. What does it matter? I am sure you are
clever, which is far better. I think you could get up anything faster
than most fellows if you were to try."

"Get up! What does that mean? And when I tell you that it does matter to
me--oh much,--very much!" she cried. "When you are beautiful, everything
is before you--you marry, you have whatever you wish, you become a great
lady; only to be pretty--that does nothing for you. Ugly, however," said
the girl reflectively; "if I am ugly, then there is some hope."

"I did not say that," cried Jock, shocked at the suggestion. "I wouldn't
be so uncivil. You are--just like other people," he added encouragingly,
"not much either one way or another--like the rest of us," Jock said,
with the intention of soothing her ruffled feelings. At sixteen decorum
is not always the first thing we think of; and though Bice was not an
English girl, she was very young. She threw out a vigorous arm and
pushed him from her, so that the astonished critic, stumbling over some
fallen branches, measured his length upon the dewy sod.

"That was not I," she said demurely, as he picked himself up in great
surprise--drawing a step away, and looking at him with wide-open eyes,
to which the little fright of seeing him fall, and the spark of malice
that took pleasure in it, had given sudden brilliancy. Jock was so much
astonished that he uttered no reproach, but went on by her side, after a
moment, pondering. He could not see how any offence could have lurked
in the encouraging and consolatory words he had said.

But when they reached the other chapter, which concerned his fortunes,
Bice was not more understanding. Her gray eyes absolutely flamed upon
him when he told her of his father's will, and the conditions upon which
Lucy's inheritance was held. "To give her money away! But that is
impossible--it would be to prove one's self mad," the girl said.

"Why? You forget it's my father you're speaking of. He was not mad, he
was just," said Jock, reddening. "What's mad in it? You've got a great
fortune--far more than you want. It all came out of other people's
pockets somehow. Oh, of course, not in a dishonest way. That is the
worst of speaking to a girl that doesn't understand political economy
and the laws of production. Of course it must come out of other people's
pockets. If I sell anything and get a profit (and nobody would sell
anything if they didn't get a profit), of course that comes out of your
pocket. Well, now, I've got a great deal more than I want, and I say you
shall have some of it back."

"And I say," cried Bice, making him a curtsey, "Merci Monsieur! Grazia
Signor! oh thank you, thank you very much--as much as you like, sir, as
much as you like! but all the same I think you are mad. Your money! all
that makes you happy and great----"

"Money," said Jock, loftily, "makes nobody happy. It may make you
comfortable. It gives you fine houses, horses and carriages, and all
that sort of thing. So it will do to the other people to whom it goes;
so it is wisdom to divide it, for the more good you can get out of it
the better. Lucy has money lying in the bank--or somewhere--that she
does not want, that does her no good; and there is some one else" (a
fellow I know, Jock added in a parenthesis), "who has not got enough to
live upon. So you see she just hands over what she doesn't want to him,
and that's better for both. So far from being mad, it's"--Jock paused
for a word--"it's philosophy, it's wisdom, it's statesmanship. It is
just the grandest way that was ever invented for putting things
straight."

Bice looked at him with a sort of incredulous cynical gaze--as if asking
whether he meant her to believe this fiction--whether perhaps he was
such a fool as to think that she could be persuaded to believe it. It
was evident that she did not for a moment suppose him to be serious. She
laughed at last in ridicule and scorn. "You think," she said, "I know so
little. Ah, I know a great deal more than that. What are you without
money? You are nobody. The more you have, so much more have you
everything at your command. Without money you are nobody. Yes, you may
be a prince or an English milord, but that is nothing without money. Oh
yes! I have known princes that had nothing and the people laughed at
them. And a milord who is poor--the very donkey-boys scorn him. You can
do nothing without money," the girl said with almost fierce derision,
"and you tell me you will give it away!" She laughed again angrily, as
if such a brag was offensive and insulting to her own poverty. The boy
who had never in his life known what it was to want anything that money
could procure for him, treated the whole question lightly, and
undervalued its importance altogether. But the girl who knew by
experience what was involved in the want of it, heard with a sort of
wondering fury this slighting treatment of what was to her the
universal panacea. Her cynicism and satirical unbelief grew into
indignation. "And you tell me it is wise to give it away!"

"Lucy has got to do it, whether it is wise or not," said Jock, almost
overawed by this high moral disapproval. "We went to the lawyer about it
the day you came. He is settling it now. She is giving away--well, a
good many thousand pounds."

"Pounds are more than francs, eh?" said Bice quickly.

"More than francs! just twenty-five times more," cried Jock, proud of
his knowledge, "a thousand pounds is----"

"Then I don't believe you!" cried the girl in an outburst of passion,
and she fled from him across the park, catching up her dress and running
at a pace which even Jock with his long legs knew he could not keep up
with. He gazed with surprise, standing still and watching her with the
words arrested on his lips. "But she can't keep it up long like that,"
after a moment Jock said.

The time, however, approached when the two friends had to part. Jock
left the Hall a few days after Lady Randolph, and he was somehow not
very glad to go. The family life had been less cheerful lately, and
conversation languished when the domestic party were alone together.
When the Contessa was present she kept up the ball, maintaining at least
with Sir Tom an always animated and lively strain of talk; but at
breakfast there was not much said, and of late a little restraint had
crept even between the master and mistress of the house, no one could
tell how. The names of the guests were scarcely mentioned between them.
Sir Tom was very attentive and kind to his wife, but he was more silent
than he used to be, reading his letters and his newspapers. Lucy had
been quite satisfied when he said, though it must be allowed with a
laugh not devoid of embarrassment, that it was more important he should
master all the papers and see how public opinion was running, now when
it was so near the opening of Parliament. But a little veil of silence
had fallen over Lucy too. It cost her an effort to speak even to Jock of
common subjects and of his going away. She had thought him looking a
little disturbed, however, on the last morning, and with the newspaper
forming a sort of screen between them and Sir Tom, Lucy made an attempt
to talk to her brother as of old.

"I shall miss you very much, Jock. We have not had so much time together
as we thought."

"We have had no time together, Lucy."

"You must not say that, dear. Don't you recollect that drive to
Farafield? We have not had so many walks, it is true; but then I have
been--occupied."

"Is it ever finished yet, that business?" Jock said suddenly.

It was all Lucy could do not to give him a warning look. "I have had
some letters about it. A thing cannot be finished in a minute like
that." Instinctively she spoke low to escape her husband's ear; he had
never referred to the subject, and she avoided it religiously. It gave
her a thrill of alarm to have it thus reintroduced. To escape it, she
said, raising her voice a little: "The Contessa's letters have not been
sent to her. You must ring the bell, Jock. There are a great many for
her." The name of the Contessa always moved Sir Tom to a certain
attention. He seemed to be on the alert for what might be said of her.
He looked round the corner of the paper with a short laugh, and said,
jocularly, with mock gravity--

"It is a great thing to keep up your correspondence, Lucy. You never can
know when it may prove serviceable. If it had not been for that, she
most likely never would have come here."

Lucy smiled, though with a little restraint. "Perhaps she is sorry now,"
she said, "for it must be dull." Then she hurriedly changed the subject,
afraid lest she might seem ill-natured. "Poor Miss Bice has never any
letters," she said; "she must have very few friends."

"Oh, she has nobody at all," said Jock, "She hasn't got a relation. She
has always lived like this, in different places; and never been to
school, or--anywhere; though she has been nearly round the world."

"Poor little thing! and she is fond of children too," said Lucy. "I
found her one day with baby on her shoulder, a wet day when he could not
get out, racing up and down the long gallery with him crowing and
laughing. It was so pretty to see him----"

"Or to see her, Lucy, most people would say," said Sir Tom, interrupting
again.

"Would they? Oh, yes. But I thought naturally of baby," said the young
mother. Then she made a pause and added softly, "I hope--they--are
always kind to her."

There was a little silence. Sir Tom was behind his newspaper. He
listened, but he did not say anything, and Jock was not aware that he
was listening.

"Oh, I don't think she minds," said Jock. "She is rather jolly when you
come to know her. I say, Lucy, it will be awfully dull for her, you
know, when----"

"When what, Jock?"

"When I am gone," the boy intended to have said, but some gleam of
consciousness came over him that made him pause. He did not say this,
but grew a little red in the effort to think of something else that he
could say.

"Well, I mean here," he said, "for she hasn't been used to it. She has
been in places where there was always music playing and that sort of
thing. She never was in the country. There's plenty of books, to be
sure; but she's not very fond of reading. Few people, are, I think.
_You_ never open a book----"

"Oh yes, Jock! I read the books from Mudie's," Lucy said, with some
spirit, "and I always send them upstairs."

Jock had it on his lips to say something derogatory of the books from
Mudie's; but he checked himself, for he remembered to have seen MTutor
with one of those frivolous volumes, and he refrained from snubbing
Lucy. "I believe she can't read," he said. "She can do nothing but laugh
at one. And she thinks she's pretty," he added, with a little laugh yet
sense of unfaithfulness to the trust reposed in him, which once more
covered his face with crimson.

Lucy laughed too, with hesitation and doubt. "I cannot see it," she
said, "but that is what Lady Randolph thought. It is strange that she
should talk of such things; but people are very funny who have been
brought up abroad."

"All girls are like that," said Jock, authoritatively. "They think so
much of being pretty. But I tell her it doesn't matter. What difference
could it make? Nobody will suppose it was her fault. She says----"

"Hallo, young man," said Sir Tom. "It is time you went back to school, I
think. What would MTutor say to all these confidences with young
ladies, and knowledge of their ways!"

Jock gave his brother-in-law a look, in which defiant virtue struggled
with a certain consciousness; but he scorned to make any reply.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE BREAKFAST TABLE.


Lucy found her life much changed when Jock had gone, and she was left
alone to face the change of circumstances which had tacitly taken place.
The Contessa said not a word of terminating her visit. The departure of
Lady Randolph apparently suggested nothing to her. She could scarcely
have filled up the foreground more entirely than she did before--but she
was now uncriticised, unremarked upon. There seemed even to be no
appropriation of more than her due, for it was very natural that a
person of experience and powers of conversation like hers should take
the leading place, and simple Lucy, so much younger and with so much
less acquaintance with the world, fall into the background. And
accordingly this was what happened. Madame di Forno-Populo knew
everybody. She had a hundred mutual acquaintances to tell Sir Tom about,
and they seemed to have an old habit of intercourse, which by this time
had been fully resumed. The evenings were the time when this was most
apparent. Then the Contessa was at her brightest. She had managed to
introduce shades upon all the lamps, so as to diffuse round her a
softened artificial illumination such as is favourable to beauty that
has passed its prime: and in this ruddy gloom she sat half seen, Sir Tom
sometimes standing by her, sometimes permitted to take the other corner
of her sofa--and talked to him, sometimes sinking her voice low as her
reminiscences took some special vein, sometimes calling sweetly to her
pretty Lucy to listen to this or that. These extensions of confidence,
generally, were brought in to make up for a long stretch of more private
communications, and the aspect of the little domestic circle was on such
occasions curious enough. By the table, in a low chair, with the full
light of the lamp upon her, sat Lucy, generally with some work in her
hands; she did not read or write (exercises to which, to tell the truth,
she was not much addicted) out of politeness, lest she should seem to be
withdrawing her attention from her guest, but sat there with her slight
occupation, so as to be open to any appeal, and ready if she were
wanted. On the other side of the table, the light making a sort of
screen and division between them, sat Bice, generally with a book before
her, which, as has been said, did not at all interfere with her power of
giving a vivid attention to what was going on around her. These two said
nothing to each other, and were often silent for the whole evening, like
pieces of still life. Bice sat with her book upon the table, so that
only the open page and the hands that held the book were within the
brightness of the light, which on the other side streamed down upon
Lucy's fair shoulders and soft young face, and upon the work in her
hands. In the corner was the light continuous murmur of talk; the
half-seen figure of the Contessa, generally leaning back, looking up to
Sir Tom, who stood with his arm on the mantelpiece with much animation,
gesticulation of her hands and subdued laughter, the most lively
current of sound, soft, intensified by little eloquent breaks, by
emphatic gestures, by sentences left incomplete, but understood all the
better for being half said. There were many evenings in which Lucy sat
there with a little wonder, but no other active feeling in her mind. It
is needless to say that it was not pleasant to her. She would sit and
wonder wistfully whether her husband had forgotten she was there, but
then reminded herself that of course it was his duty to think of the
Contessa first, and consoled herself that by and by the stranger would
go away, and all would be as it had been. As time went on, the desire
that this should happen, and longing to have possession of her home
again, grew so strong that she could scarcely subdue it, and it was with
the greatest difficulty that she kept all expression of it from her
lips. And by and by, the warmth of this restrained desire so absorbed
Lucy that she scarcely dared allow herself to speak lest it should burst
forth, and there seemed to herself to be continually going on in her
mind a calculation of the chances, a scrutiny of everything the Contessa
said which seemed to point at such a movement. But, indeed, the Contessa
said very little upon which the most sanguine could build. She said
nothing of her arrangements at all, nor spoke of what she was going to
do, and answered none of Lucy's ardent and innocent fishings after
information. The evenings became more and more intolerable to Lady
Randolph as they went on. She was glad that anybody should come, however
little she might care for their society, to break these private
conferences up.

And this was not all, nor even perhaps the worst, of the vague evils not
yet defined in her mind, and which she was so very reluctant to define,
which Lucy had to go through. At breakfast, when she was alone with her
husband, matters were almost worse. Sir Tom, it was evident, began to
feel the _tête-à-tête_ embarrassing. He did not know what to say to his
little wife when they were alone. The presence of the Dowager and Jock
had freed him from any necessity of explanation, had kept him in his
usual easy way; but now that Lucy alone sat opposite to him, he was more
silent than his wont, and with no longer any of the little flow of
simple observations which had once been so delightful to her. Sir Tom
was more uneasy than if she had been a stern and jealous Eleanor, a
clear-sighted critic seeing through and through him. The contest was so
unequal, and the weaker creature so destitute of any intention or
thought of resistance, that he felt himself a coward and traitor for
thus deserting her and overclouding her home and her life. Then he took
to asking himself, Did he overcloud her? Was she sensible of any
difference? Did she know enough to know that this was not how she ought
to be treated, or was she not quite contented with her secondary place?
Such a simple creature, would she not cry--would she not show her anger
if she was conscious of anything to be grieved or angry about? He took
refuge in those newspapers which, he gave out, it was so necessary he
should study, to understand the mind of the country before the opening
of Parliament. And thus they would sit, Lucy dutifully filling out the
tea, taking care that he had the dish he liked for breakfast, swallowing
her own with difficulty yet lingering over it, always thinking that
perhaps Tom might have something to say. While he, on the other hand,
kept behind his newspaper, feeling himself guilty, conscious that
another sort of woman would make one of those "scenes" which men dread,
yet despising Lucy a little in spite of himself for the very quality he
most admired in her, and wondering if she were really capable of feeling
at all. Sometimes little Tom would be brought downstairs to roll about
the carpet and try his unsteady little limbs in a series of clutches at
the chairs and table; and on these occasions the meal was got through
more easily. But little Tom was not always well enough to come
downstairs, and sometimes Lucy thought that her husband might have
something to say to her which the baby's all-engrossing presence
hindered. Thus it came about that the hours in which the Contessa was
present and in the front of everything, were really less painful than
those in which the pair were alone with the shadow of the intruder, more
powerful even than her presence holding them apart.

One of these mornings, however, Lucy's anticipations and hopes seemed
about to be realised. Sir Tom laid down his paper, looked at her frankly
without any shield, and said, as she had so often imagined him saying,
"I want to talk to you, Lucy." How glad she was that little Tom was not
downstairs that morning!

She looked at him across the table with a brightening countenance, and
said, "Yes, Tom!" with such warm eagerness and sudden pleasure that her
look penetrated his very heart. It implied a great deal more than Sir
Tom intended and thought, and he was a man of very quick intelligence.
The expectation in her eyes touched him beyond a thousand complaints.

"I had an interview yesterday, in which you were much concerned," he
said; then made a pause, with such a revolution going on within him as
seldom happens in a mature and self-collected mind. He had begun with
totally different sentiments from those which suddenly came over him at
the sight of her kindling face. When he said, "I want to talk to you,
Lucy," he had meant to speak of her interview with Mr. Rushton, to point
out to her the folly of what she was doing, and to show her how it was
that he should be compelled to do everything that was in his power to
oppose her. He did not mean to go to the root of the matter, as he had
done before, when he was obliged to admit to himself that he had
failed--but to address himself to the secondary view of the question, to
the small prospect there was of doing any good. But when he caught her
eager, questioning look, her eyes growing liquid and bright with
emotion, her face full of restrained anxiety and hope, Sir Tom's heart
smote him. What did she think he was going to say? Not anything about
money, important as that subject was in their life--but something far
more important, something that touched her to the quick, a revelation
upon which her very soul hung. He was startled beyond measure by this
disclosure. He had thought she did not feel, and that her heart
unawakened had regarded calmly, with no pain to speak of, the new state
of affairs of which he himself was guiltily conscious; but that eager
look put an end in a moment to his delusion. He paused and swerved
mentally as if an angel had suddenly stepped into his way.

"It is about--that will of your father's," he said.

Lucy, gazing at him with such hope and expectation, suddenly sank, as it
were, prostrate in the depth of a disappointment that almost took the
life out of her. She did not indeed fall physically or faint, which
people seldom do in moments of extreme mental suffering. It was only her
countenance that fell. Her brightening, beaming, hopeful face grew
blank in a moment, her eyes grew utterly dim, a kind of mist running
over them: a sound--half a sob, half a sigh, came from her breast. She
put up her hand trembling to support her head, which shook too with the
quiver that went over her. It took her at least a minute to get over the
shock of the disappointment. Then commanding herself painfully, but
without looking at him, which, indeed, she dared not do, she said again,
"Yes, Tom?" with a piteous quiver of her lip.

It did not make Sir Tom any the less kind, and full of tender impulses,
that he was wounding his wife in the profoundest sensibilities of her
heart. In this point the greater does not include the lesser. He was
cruel in the more important matter, without intending it indeed, and
from what he considered a fatality, a painful combination of
circumstances out of which he could not escape; but in the lesser
particulars he was as kind as ever. He could not bear to see her
suffering. The quiver in her lip, the failure of the colour in her
cheeks affected him so that he could scarcely contain himself.

"My dear love," he cried, "my little Lucy! you are not afraid of what I
am going to say to you?" These words came to his lips naturally, by the
affectionate impulse of his kind nature. But when he had said them, an
impulse, which was perhaps more crafty than loving, followed. Quick as
thought he changed his intention, his purpose altogether. He could not
resist the appeal of Lucy's face; but he slipped instinctively from the
more serious question that lay between them, and resolved to sacrifice
the other, which was indeed very important, yet could be treated in an
easier way and without involving anything more painful. Sir Tom was at
an age when money has a great value, and the mere sense of possession is
pleasant; and there was a principle involved which he had determined a
few weeks ago not to relinquish. But the position in which he found
himself placed was one out of which some way of escape had to be
invented at once. "Lucy," he said, "you are frightened; you think I am
going to cross you in the matter that lies so near your heart. But you
mistake me, my dear. I think I ought to be your chief adviser in that as
in all matters. It is my duty: but I hope you never thought that I would
exercise any force upon you to put a stop to--what you thought right."

Lucy had overcome herself, though with a painful effort. She followed
with a quivering humility what he was saying. She acknowledged to
herself that this was, indeed, the great thing in her life, and that it
was only her childishness and foolishness which had made her place other
matters in the chief place. Most likely, she said to herself, Tom was
not aware of anything that required explanation; he would never think it
possible that she could be so ungracious and unkind as to grudge his
guests their place in his house. She gathered herself up hastily to meet
him when he entered upon the great question which was far more
important, which was indeed the only question between them. "I know,"
she said, "that you were always kind, Tom. If I did not ask you first it
was because----"

"We need not enter upon that, my dear. I was angry, and went too far. At
the same time, Lucy, it is a mad affair altogether. Your father himself,
had he realised the difficulty of carrying it out, would have seen this.
I only say so to let you know my opinion is unchanged. And you know
your trustees are of the same mind. But if you think this is your duty,
as I am sure you do----"

It seemed to Lucy that her duty had sailed far away from her on some sea
of strange distance and dullness where she could scarcely keep it in
sight. Her own very voice seemed strange and dull to her and far away,
as she said almost mechanically: "I do think it is my duty--to my
father----"

"I am aware that you think so, my love. As you get older you will,
perhaps, see as I do--that to carry out the spirit of your father's will
would be better than to follow so closely the letter of it. But you are
still very young, and Jock is younger; and, fortunately, you can afford
to indulge a freak of this sort. I shall let Mr. Rushton know that I
withdraw all opposition. And now, give me a kiss, and let us forget that
there ever was any controversy between us--it never went further than a
controversy, did it, darling?" Sir Tom said.

Lucy could not speak for the moment. She looked up into his face with
her eyes all liquid with tears, and a great confusion in her soul. Was
this all? as he kissed her, and smiled, leaning over her in the old kind
way, with a tenderness that was half-fatherly and indulgent to her
weakness, she did not seem at all sure what it was that had moved like a
ghost between him and her; was it in reality only this--this and no
more? She almost thought so as she looked up into his kind face. Only
this! How glad it would have made her three weeks ago to have his
sanction for the thing she was so reluctant to attempt, which it was so
much her duty to do, which Jock urged with so much pertinacity, and
which her father from his grave enjoined. If it affected her but dully
now, whose was the fault? Not Tom's, who was so generously ready to
yield to her, although he disapproved. When he retired behind his
newspaper once more with a kind smile at her, to end the matter, Lucy
sat quite still in a curious stunned confusion trying to account for it
all to herself. There could be no doubt, she thought, that it was she
who was in the wrong. She it was who had created the embarrassment
altogether. He was not even aware of any other cause. It had never
occurred to his greater mind that she could be so petty as to fret under
the interruption which their visitors had made in her life. He had
thought that the other matter was the cause of her dullness and silence,
and generously had put an end to it, not by requiring any sacrifice from
her, but by making one in his own person. She sat silent trying to
realise all this, but unable to get quite free from the confusion and
dimness that had invaded her soul.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE ORACLE SPEAKS.


Lucy went up to the nursery when breakfast was over. It was her habit to
go and take counsel of little Tom when her heart was troubled or heavy.
He was now eighteen months old, an age at which you will say the
judicial faculties are small; but a young mother has superstitions, and
there are many dilemmas in life in which it will do a woman, though the
male critic may laugh, great good to go and confide it all to her baby,
and hold that little bundle of white against her heart to conquer the
pain of it. When little Tom was lively and well, when he put his arms
about her neck and dabbed his velvety mouth against her cheek, Lucy felt
that she was approved of and her heart rose. When he was cross and cried
and pushed her away from him, as sometimes happened, she ceased to be
sure of anything, and felt dissatisfied with herself and all the world.
It was with a great longing to consult this baby oracle and see what
heaven might have to say to her through his means, that she ran
upstairs, neglecting even Mrs. Freshwater, who advanced ceremoniously
from her own retirement with her bill of fare in her hand, as Lucy
darted past. "Wait a little and I will come to you," she cried. What was
the dinner in comparison? She flew up to the nursery only to find it
vacant. The morning was clingy and damp, no weather for the delicate
child to go out, and Lucy was not alarmed but knew well enough where to
find him. The long picture gallery which ran along the front of the
house was his usual promenade on such occasions, and there she betook
herself hurriedly. There could not be much doubt as to little Tom's
whereabouts. Shrieks of baby fun were audible whenever she came within
hearing, and the sound of a flying foot careering from end to end of the
long space, which certainly was not the foot of Tom's nurse, whose voice
could be heard in cries of caution, "Oh, take care, Miss! Oh, for
goodness sake--oh, what will my lady say to me if you should trip with
him!" Lucy paused suddenly, checked by the sound of this commotion. Once
before she had surprised a scene of the kind, and she knew what it
meant. She stopped short, and stood still to get possession of herself.
It was a circumstance which pulled her up sharply and changed the
current of her mind. Her first feeling was one of disappointment and
almost irritation. Could she not even have the baby to herself, she
murmured? But there was in reality so little of the petty in Lucy's
disposition that this was but a momentary sentiment. It changed,
however, the manner of her entrance. She came in quietly, not rushing to
seize her boy as she had intended, but still with her superstition
strong in her heart, and as determined to resort to the _Sortes Tomianae_
as ever. The sight she saw was one to make a picture of. Skimming along
the long gallery with that free light step which scarcely seemed to
touch the ground was Bice, a long stream of hair flying behind her, the
child seated on her shoulder, supported by one raised arm, while the
other held aloft the end of a red scarf which she had twisted round him.
Little Tom had one hand twisted in her hair, and with his small feet
beating upon her breast, and his little chest expanded with cries of
delight, encouraged his steed in her wild career. The dark old pictures,
some full-length Randolphs of an elder age, good for little but a
background, threw up this airy group with all the perfection of
contrast. They flew by as Lucy came in, so joyous, so careless, so
delightful in pose and movement, that she could not utter the little cry
of alarm that came to her lips. Bice had never in her life looked so
near that beauty which she considered as so serious a necessity. She was
flushed with the movement, her fine light figure, too light and slight
as yet for the full perfection of feminine form, was the very
impersonation of youth. She flew, she did not glide nor run--her elastic
foot spurned the floor. She was like a runner in a Greek game. Lucy
stood breathless between admiration and pleasure and alarm, as the
animated figure turned and came fast towards her in its airy career.
Little Tom perceived his mother as they came up. He was still more
daring than his bearer. He detached himself suddenly from Bice's
shoulder, and with a shout of pleasure threw himself upon Lucy. The
oracle had spoken. It almost brought her to her knees indeed, descending
upon her like a little thunderbolt, catching her round the throat and
tearing off with a hurried clutch the lace upon her dress; while the
flying steed, suddenly arrested, came to a dead stop in front of her,
panting, blushing, and disconcerted. "There was no fear," she cried,
with involuntary self-defence, "I held him fast." Bice forgot even in
the surprise how wildly she stood with her hair floating, and the scarf
in her hand still knotted round the baby's waist.

"There was no danger, my lady. I was watching every step; and it do
Master Tom a world of good," cried the nurse, coming to the rescue.

"Why should you think I am afraid?" said Lucy. "Don't you know I am most
grateful to you for being so kind to him? and it was pretty to see you.
You looked so bright and strong, and my boy so happy."

"Miss is just our salvation, my lady," said the nurse; "these wet days
when we can't get out, I don't know what I should do without her. Master
Tom, bless him, is always cross when he don't get no air; but once set
on Miss' shoulder he crows till it do your heart good to hear him," the
woman cried.

Bice stood with the colour still in her face, her head thrown back a
little, and her breath coming less quickly. She laughed at this
applause. "I like it," she said. "I like him; he is my only little
companion. He is pleased when he sees me."

This went to Lucy's heart. "And so are we all," she said; "but you will
not let me see you. I am often alone, too. If you will come and--and
give me your company----"

Bice gave her a wistful look; then shook her head.

"I know you do not wish for us here; and why should you?" she said.

"My dear!" cried Lucy in alarm, with a glance at the woman who stood by,
all ears. And now it was that little Tom at eighteen months showed that
precocious judgment in which his mother had an instinctive belief. He
had satisfied himself with the destruction of Lucy's lace, and with
printing the impression of his mouth all over her cheeks. That little
wet wide open mouth was delicious to Lucy. No trouble had befallen her
yet that could not be wiped out by its touch. But now a new distraction
was necessary for the little hero; and his eye caught the red sash which
still was round his waist. He transferred all his thoughts to it with an
instant revolution of idea, and holding on by it like a little sailor on
a rope, drew Bice close till he could succeed in the arduous task, not
unattended by danger, of flinging himself from one to another. This game
enchanted Master Tom. Had he been a little older it would have been
changed into that daring faltering hop from one eminence, say a
footstool, to another, which flutters the baby soul. He was too insecure
in possession of those aimless little legs to venture on any such daring
feat now; but, with a valour more desperate still, he flung himself
across the gulf from Lucy's arms to those of Bice and back again, with
cries of delight. These cries, it must be allowed, were not very
articulate, but they soon became urgent, with a demand which the little
tyrant insisted upon with increasing vehemence.

"Oh, my lady," cried the nurse, "it is as plain as if he said it, and he
is saying of it, the pet, as pretty!---- He wants you to kiss Miss, he
do. Ain't that it, my own? Nursey knows his little talk. Ain't that it,
my darling lamb?"

There was a momentary pause in the strange little group linked together
by the baby's clutches. The young mother and the girl with their heads
so near each other, looked in each other's faces. In Lucy's there was a
kind of awe, in Bice's a sort of wondering wistfulness mingled with
incipient defiance. They were not born to be each other's friends. They
were different in everything; they were even on different sides in this
house--the one an intruder, belonging to the party which was destroying
the other's domestic peace. It would be vain to say that there was not a
little reluctance in Lucy's soul as she gazed at the younger girl, come
from she knew not where, established under her roof she knew not how.
She hesitated for one moment, then she bent forward almost with
solemnity and kissed Bice's cheek. She seemed to communicate her own
agitation to the girl who stood straight up with her head a little back,
half eager, half defiant. When Bice felt the touch of Lucy's lips,
however, she melted in a moment. Her slight figure swayed, she took
Lucy's disengaged hand with her own, and, stooping over it, kissed it
with lips that quivered. There was not a word said between them; but a
secret compact was thus made under little Tom's inspiration. The little
oracle clambered up upon his mother afterwards, and laid down his head
upon her shoulder and dropped off to sleep with that entire confiding
and abandonment of the whole little being which is one of the deepest
charms of childhood. Who is there with any semblance of a heart in his,
much more her, bosom, who is not touched in the tenderest part when a
child goes to sleep in his arms? The appeal conveyed in the act is one
which scarcely a savage could withstand. The three women gathered round
to see this common spectacle, so universal, so touching. Bice, who was
almost too young for the maternal sentiment, and who was a stern young
Stoic by nature, never shedding a tear, could not tell how it was that
her eyes moistened. But Lucy's filled with an emotion which was sharp
and sore with alarm. "Oh, nurse, don't call my boy a little angel!" she
said, with a sentiment which a woman will understand.

This baby scene upstairs was balanced by one of a very different
character below. Sir Tom had gone into his own room a little disturbed
and out of sorts. Circumstances had been hard upon him, he felt. The
Contessa's letter offering her visit had been a jest to him. He was one
of those who thought the best of the Contessa. He had seen a good deal
of her one time and another in his life, and she held the clue to one or
two matters which it would not have pleased him, at this mature period
of his existence, to have published abroad. She was an adventuress, he
knew, and her friends were not among the best of humanity. She had led a
life which, without being positively evil, had shut her out from the
sympathies of many good people. When a woman has to solve the problem
how to obtain all the luxuries and amusements of life without money, it
is to be expected that her attempts to do so should lead her into risky
places, where the footing was far from sure. But she had never, as Lady
Randolph acknowledged, gone so far as that society should refuse to
receive her, and Sir Tom was always an indulgent critic. If she were
coming to England, as she gave him to understand, he saw no reason why
she should not come to the Hall. For himself, it would be rather amusing
than otherwise, and Lucy would take no harm--even if there was harm in
the Forno-Populo (which he did not believe), his wife was far too
innocent even to suspect it. She would not know evil if she saw it, he
said to himself proudly; and then there was no chance that the Contessa,
who loved merriment and gaiety, could long be content with anything so
humdrum as his quiet life in the country. Thus it will be seen that Sir
Tom had got himself innocently enough into this imbroglio. He had meant
no particular harm. He had meant to be kind to a poor woman, who after
all needed kindness much; and if the comic character of the situation
touched his sense of humour, and he was not unwilling in his own person
to get a little amusement out of it, who could blame him? This was the
worst that Sir Tom meant. To amuse himself partly by the sight of the
conventional beauty and woman of the world in the midst of circumstances
so incongruous, and partly by the fluttering of the dovecotes which the
appearance of such an adventuress would cause. He liked her conversation
too, and to hear all about the more noisy company, full of talk and
diversion in which he had wasted so much of his youth. But there were
two or three things which Sir Tom did not take into his calculations.
The first was the sort of fascination which that talk, and all the
associations of the old world, and the charms of the professional
sorceress, would exercise upon himself after his settling down as the
head of a family and pillar of the State. He had not thought how much
amused he would be, how the contrast even would tickle his fancy and
affect (for the moment) his life. He laughed within himself at the
transparent way in which his old friend bade for his sympathy and
society. She was the same as ever, living upon admiration, upon
compliments whether fictitious or not, and demanding a show of devotion,
somebody always at her feet. She thought, no doubt, he said to himself,
that she had got him at her feet, and he laughed to himself when he was
alone at the thought. But, nevertheless, it did amuse him to talk to the
Contessa, and before long, what with skilful reminders of the past, what
with hints and reference to a knowledge which he would not like extended
to the world, he had begun by degrees to find himself in a confidential
position with her. "We know each other's secrets," she would say to him
with a meaning look. He was caught in her snare. On the other hand an
indefinite visit prolonged and endless had never come within his
calculation. He did not know how to put an end to the situation--perhaps
as it was an amusement for his evenings to see the siren spread her
snares, and even to be more or less caught in them, he did not sincerely
wish to put an end to it as yet. He was caught in them more or less, but
never so much as to be unaware of the skill with which the snares were
laid, which would have amused him whatever had been the seriousness of
the attendant circumstances. He did not, however, allow that he had no
desire to make an end of these circumstances, but only said to himself,
with a shrug of his shoulders, how could he do it? He could not send his
old friend away. He could not but be civil and attentive to her so long
as she was under his roof. It distressed him that Lucy should feel it,
as this morning's experience proved her to do, but how could he help it?
He made that other sacrifice to Lucy by way of reconciling her to the
inevitable, but he could do no more. When you invite a friend to be your
guest, he said to himself, you must be more or less at the mercy of that
friend. If he (or she) stays too long, what can you do? Sir Tom was not
the sort of man to be reduced to helplessness by such a difficulty. Yet
this was what he said to himself.

It vexed him, however, that Lucy should feel it so much. He could not
throw off this uneasy feeling. He had stopped her mouth as one might
stop a child's mouth with a sugar plum; but he could not escape from the
consciousness that Lucy felt her domain invaded, and that her feeling
was just. He had thrown himself into the great chair, and was pondering
not what to do, but the impossibility of doing anything, when Williams,
his confidential man, who knew all about the Contessa almost as well as
he did, suddenly appeared before him. Williams had been all over the
world with Sir Tom before he settled down as his butler at the Hall. He
was, therefore, not one who could be dismissed summarily if he
interfered in any matter out of his sphere. He appeared on the other
side of Sir Tom's writing-table with a face as long as his arm, the face
with which Sir Tom was so well acquainted--the same face with which he
had a hundred times announced the failure of supplies, the delay of
carriages, the general hopelessness of the situation. There was tragedy
in it of the most solemn kind, but there was a certain enjoyment too.

"What is the matter?" said Sir Tom; and then he jumped to his feet.
"Something is wrong with the baby," he cried.

"No, Sir Thomas; Mr. Randolph is pretty well, thank you, Sir Thomas. It
is about something else that I made so bold. There is Antonio, sir, in
the servants' hall; Madame the Countess' man."

"Oh, the Countess," cried Sir Tom, and he seated himself again; then
said, with the confidence of a man to the follower who has been his
companion in many straits, "You gave me a fright, Williams. I thought
that little shaver---- But what's the matter with Antonio? Can't you keep
a fellow like that in order without bothering me?"

"Sir Thomas," said Williams, solemnly, "I am not one as troubles my
master when things are straightforward. But them foreigners, you never
know when you have 'em. And an idle man about an establishment, that is,
so to speak, under nobody, and for ever a-kicking of his heels, and
following the women servants about, and not a blessed hand's turn to
do"--a tone of personal offence came into Williams' complaint; "there is
a deal to do in this house," he added, "and neither me nor any of the
men haven't got a moment to spare. Why, there's your hunting things, Sir
Thomas, is just a man's work. And to see that fellow loafing, and
a-hanging on about the women--I don't wonder, Sir Thomas, that it's more
than any man can stand," said Williams, lighting up. He was a married
man himself, with a very respectable family in the village, but he was
not too old to be able to understand the feelings of John and Charles,
whose hearts were lacerated by the success of the Italian fellow with
his black eyes.

"Well, well, don't worry me," said Sir Tom, "take him by the collar and
give him a shake. You're big enough." Then he laughed unfeelingly, which
Williams did not expect. "Too big, eh, Will? Not so ready for a shindy
as we used to be." This identification of himself with his factotum was
mere irony, and Williams felt it; for Sir Tom, if perhaps less slim than
in his young days, was still what Williams called a "fine figger of a
man;" whereas the butler had widened much round the waist, and was apt
to puff as he came upstairs, and no longer contemplated a shindy as a
possibility at all.

"Sir Thomas," he said, with great gravity, "if I'm corpulent, which I
don't deny, but never thought to have it made a reproach, it's neither
over-feeding nor want of care, but constitootion, as derived from my
parents, Sir Thomas. There is nothing," he added with a pensive
superiority, "as is so gen'rally misunderstood." Then Williams drew
himself up to still greater dignity, stimulated by Sir Tom's laugh. "If
this fellow is to be long in the house, Sir Thomas, I won't answer for
what may happen; for he's got the devil's own temper, like all of them,
and carries a knife like all of them."

"What do you want of me, man? Say it out! Am I to represent to Madame di
Forno-Populo that three great hulking fellows of you are afraid of her
slim Neapolitan?" Sir Tom cried impatiently.

"Not afraid, Sir Thomas, of nothing, but of breaking the law," said
Williams, quickly. Then he added in an insinuating tone: "But I tell
them, ladies don't stop long in country visits, not at this time of the
year. And a thing can be put up with for short that any man'd kick at
for long. Madame the Countess will be moving on to pay her other visits,
Sir Thomas, if I might make so bold? She is a lady as likes variety;
leastways she was so in the old times."

Sir Thomas stared at the bold questioner, who thus went to the heart of
the matter. Then he burst into a hearty laugh. "If you knew so much
about Madame the Countess," he cried, "my good fellow, what need have
you to come and consult me?"



CHAPTER XXV.

THE CONTESSA'S BOUDOIR.


The east rooms in which Madame di Forno-Populo had been placed on her
arrival at the Hall were handsome and comfortable, though they were not
the best in the house, and they were furnished as English rooms
generally are, the bed forming the principal object in each chamber. The
Contessa had looked around her in dismay when first ushered into the
spacious room with its huge couch, and wardrobes, and its unmistakable
destination as a sleeping-room merely: and it was only the addition of a
dressing-room of tolerable proportions which had made her quarters so
agreeable to her as they proved. The transformation of this room from a
severe male dressing-room into the boudoir of a fanciful and luxurious
woman, was a work of art of which neither the master nor the mistress of
the house had the faintest conception. The Contessa was never at home;
so that she was--having that regard for her own comfort which is one of
the leading features in such a life as hers--everywhere at home,
carrying about with her wherever she went the materials for creating an
individual centre (a _chez soi_, which is something far more intimate
and personal than a home), in which everything was arranged according to
her fancy. Had Lucy, or even had Sir Tom, who knew more about such
matters, penetrated into that sacred retirement, they would not have
recognised it for a room in their own house. Out of one of the
Contessa's boxes there came a paraphernalia of decoration such as would
turn the head of the aesthetic furnisher of the present day. As she had
been everywhere, and had "taste," when it was not so usual to have taste
as it is now, she had "picked up" priceless articles, in the shape of
tapestries, embroideries, silken tissues no longer made, delicate bits
of Eastern carpet, soft falling drapery of curtains, such as
artistically arranged in almost any room, impressed upon it the
Contessa's individuality, and made something dainty and luxurious among
the meanest surroundings. The Contessa's maid, from long practice, had
become almost an artist in the arrangement of these properties, without
which her mistress could not live; and on the evening of the first day
of their arrival at the Hall, when Madame di Forno-Populo emerged from
the darkness of the chamber in which she had rested all day after her
journey, she stepped into a little paradise of subdued colour and
harmonious effect. Antonio and Marietta were the authors of these
wonders. They took down Mrs. Freshwater's curtains, which were of a
solid character adapted to the locality, and replaced them by draperies
that veiled the light tenderly and hung with studied grace. They took
to pieces the small bed and made a divan covered with old brocade of the
prosaic English mattress. They brought the finest of the furniture out
of the bedchamber to add to the contents of this, and covered tables
with Italian work, and veiled the bare wall with tapestry. This made
such a magical change that the maids who penetrated by chance now and
then into this little temple of the Graces could only stand aghast and
gaze with open mouths; but no profane hand of theirs was ever permitted
to touch those sacred things. There were even pictures on the wall,
evolved out of the depths of that great coffer, which, more dear to the
Contessa even than her wardrobe, went about with her everywhere--and
precious pieces of porcelain: Madame di Forno-Populo, it need not be
said, being quite above the mean and cheap decoration made with fans or
unmeaning scraps of colour. The maids aforesaid, who obtained perilous
and breathless glimpses from time to time of all these wonders, were at
a loss to understand why so much trouble should be taken for a room that
nobody but its inmate ever saw. The finer intelligence of the reader
will no doubt set it down as something in the Contessa's favour that she
could not live, even when in the strictest privacy, without her pretty
things about her. To be sure it was not always so; in other regions,
where other habits prevailed, this shrine so artistically prepared was
open to worshippers; but the Contessa knew better than to make any such
innovation here. She intended, indeed, nothing that was not entirely
consistent with the strictest propriety. Her objects, no doubt, were her
own interest and her own pleasure, which are more or less the objects of
most people; but she intended no harm. She believed that she had a hold
over Sir Tom which she could work for her advantage, but she did not
mean to hurt Lucy. She thought that repose and a temporary absence from
the usual scenes of her existence would be of use to her, and she
thought also that a campaign in London under the warrant of the highest
respectability would further her grand object. It amused her besides,
perhaps, to flutter the susceptibilities of the innocent little
_ingénue_ whom Sir Tom had married; but she meant no harm. As for
seizing upon Sir Tom in the evenings, and occupying all his attention,
that was the most natural and simple of proceedings. She did this as
another woman played bezique. Some entertainment was a necessity, and
everybody had something. There were people who insisted upon whist--she
insisted only upon "some one to talk to." What could be more natural?
The Contessa's "some one" had to be a man and one who could pay with
sense and spirit the homage to which she was accustomed. It was her only
stipulation--and surely it must be an ungracious hostess indeed who
could object to that.

She had just finished her breakfast on one of those gray
mornings--seated before the fire in an easy-chair, which was covered
with a shawl of soft but bright Indian colouring. She had her back to
the light, but it was scarcely necessary even had there been any eyes to
see her save those of Marietta, who naturally was familiar with her
aspect at all times. Marietta made the Contessa's chocolate, as well as
arranged and kept in order the Contessa's boudoir. To such a retainer
nothing comes amiss. She would sit up till all hours, and perform
marvels of waiting, of working, service of every kind. It never occurred
to her that it "was not her place" to do anything that her mistress
required. Antonio was her brother, which was insipid, but she generally
managed to indemnify herself, one way or another, for the loss of this
legitimate method of flirtation. She had not great wages, and she had a
great deal of work, but Marietta felt her life amusing, and did not
object to it. Here in England the excitement indeed flagged a little.
Williams was stout and married, and the other men had ties of the heart
with which, as has been seen, Antonio ruthlessly interfered. Marietta
was not unwilling to give to Charles the footman, who was a handsome
young fellow, the means of avenging himself, but as yet this expedient
for a little amusement had not succeeded, and there had been a touch of
peevishness in the tone with which she asked whether it was true that
the Contessa intended remaining here. Madame di Forno-Populo was a woman
who disliked the bondage of question and reply.

"You do not amuse yourself, Marietta mia?" said the Contessa. She spoke
Italian with her servants, and she was always caressing, fond of tender
appellatives. "Patience! the country even in England is very good for
the complexion, and in London there is a great deal that is amusing.
Wheel this table away and give me the other with my writing things. The
cushion for my elbow. Thanks! You forget nothing. My Marietta, you will
have a happy life."

"Do you think so, Signora Contessa?" said the girl, a little wistfully.

The Contessa smiled upon her and said "Cara!" with an air of tenderness
that might have made any one happy. Then she addressed herself to her
correspondence, while Marietta removed into the other room not only the
tray but the table with the tray which her mistress had used. The
Contessa did not like to know or see anything of the processes of
readjustment and restoration. She glanced over her morning's letters
again with now and then a smile of satisfaction, and addressed herself
to the task of answering them with apparent pleasure. Indeed, her own
letters amused her even more than the others had done. When she had
finished her task she took up a silver whistle and blew into it a long
melodious note. She made the most charming picture, leaning back in her
chair, in a white cashmere dressing-gown covered with lace, and a little
cap upon her dark locks. All the accessories of her toilette were
exquisite, as well as the draperies about her that relieved and set off
her whiteness. Her shoes were of white plush with a cockade of lace to
correspond. Her sleeves, a little more loose than common, showed her
beautiful arms through a mist of lace. She was not more carefully nor
more elegantly dressed when she went downstairs in all her panoply of
conquest. What a pity there was no one to see it! but the Contessa did
not even think of this. In other circumstances, no doubt, there might
have been spectators, but in the meantime she pleased herself, which
after all is the first object with every well-constituted mind. She
leaned back in her chair pleased with herself and her surroundings, in a
gentle languor after her occupation, and conscious of a yellow novel
within reach should her young companion be slow of appearing. But Bice
she knew had the ears of a savage, and would hear her summons wherever
she might be.

Bice at this moment was in a very different scene. She was in the large
gallery, which was a little chill and dreary of a morning when all the
windows were full of a gray, indefinable mist instead of light, and the
ancestors were indistinguishable in their frames. She had just been
going through her usual exercise with the baby, and had joined Lucy at
the upper end of the gallery, that sport being over, and little Tom
carried off to his mid-day sleep. There was a fire there, in the
old-fashioned chimney, and Lucy had been sitting beside it watching the
sport. Bice seated herself on a stool at a little distance. She had a
half affection half dislike for this young woman, who was most near her
in age of any one in the house. For one thing they were on different
sides and representing different interests; and Bice had been trained to
dislike the ordinary housekeeping woman. They had been brought together,
indeed, in a moment of emotion by the instrumentality of the little
delicate child, for whom Bice had conceived a compassionate affection.
But the girl felt that they were antagonistic. She did not expect
understanding or charity, but to be judged harshly and condemned
summarily by this type of the conventional and proper. She believed that
Lucy would be "shocked" by what she said, and horrified by her freedom
and absence of prejudice. Yet, notwithstanding all this, there was an
attraction in the candid eyes and countenance of little Lady Randolph
which drew her in spite of herself. It was of her own will, though with
a little appearance of reluctance, that she drew near, and soon plunged
into talk--for to tell the truth, now that Jock was gone, Bice felt
occasionally as if she must talk to the winds and trees, and could not
at the hazard of her life keep silence any more. She could scarcely tell
how it was that she was led into confessions of all kinds and
descriptions of the details of her past life.

"We are a little alike," said Lucy. "I was not much older than you are
when my father died, and afterwards we had no real home: to be sure, I
had always Jock. Even when papa was living it was not very homelike, not
what I should choose for a girl. I felt how different it was when I went
to Lady Randolph, who thought of everything----"

Bice did not say anything for some time, and then she laughed. "The
Contessa does not think of everything," she said.

Lucy looked at her with a question in her eyes. She wanted to ask if the
Contessa was kind. But there was a certain domestic treachery involved
in asking such a question.

"People are different," she said, with a certain soothing tone. "We are
not made alike, you know; one person is good in one way and one in
another." This abstract deliverance was not at all in Lucy's way. She
returned to the particular point before them with relief. "England," she
said, "must seem strange to you after your own country. I suppose it is
much colder and less bright?"

"I have no country" said Bice; "everywhere is my country. We have a
house in Rome, but we travel; we go from one place to another--to all
the places that are what you call for pleasure. We go in the season.
Sometimes it is for the waters, sometimes for the sports or the
games--always _festa_ wherever we go."

"And you like that? To be sure, you are so very young; otherwise I
should think it was rather tiresome," Lucy said.

"No, it is not rather tiresome," said Bice, with a roll of her "r," "it
is horrible! When we came here I did not know why it was, but I rejoiced
myself that there was no band playing. I thought at first it was merely
_jour de relâche_: but when morning after morning came and no band, that
was heavenly," she said, drawing a long breath.

"A band playing!" Lucy's laugh at the absurdity of the idea rang out
with all the gaiety of a child. It amused her beyond measure, and Bice,
always encouraged by approbation, went on.

"I expected it every morning. The house is so large. I thought the
season, perhaps, was just beginning, and the people not arrived yet.
Sometimes we go like that too soon. The rooms are cheaper. You can make
your own arrangement."

Lucy looked at her very compassionately. "That is why you pass the
mornings in your own room," she said, "were you never then in a country
house before?"

"I do not know what is a country house. We have been in a great castle
where there was the chase every day. No, that is not what _la chasse_
means in England--to shoot I would say. And then in the evening the
theatre, tableaux, or music. But to be quiet all day and all night too,
that is what I have never seen. We have never known it. It is confusing.
It makes you feel as if all went on without any division; all one day,
all one night."

Bice laughed, but Lucy looked somewhat grave. "This is our natural life
in England," she said; "we like to be quiet; though I have not thought
we were very quiet, we have had people almost every night."

To this Bice made no reply. But at Lucy's next question she stared, not
understanding what it meant. "You go everywhere with the Contessa," she
said; "are you out?"

"Out!" Bice's eyes opened wide. She shook her head. "What is out?" she
said.

"It is when a girl begins to go to parties--when she comes out of her
home, out of the schoolroom, from being just a little girl----"

"Ah, I know! From the Convent," said Bice; "but I never was there."

"And have you always gone to parties--all your life?" asked Lucy, with
wondering eyes.

Bice looked at her, wondering too. "We do not go to parties. What is a
party?" she said. "We go to the rooms--oh yes, and to the great
receptions sometimes, and at hotels. Parties? I don't know what that
means. Of course, I go with the Contessa to the rooms, and to the tables
d'hôte. I give her my arm ever since I was tall enough. I carry her fan
and her little things. When she sings I am always ready to play. They
call me the shadow of the Contessa, for I always wear a black frock, and
I never talk except when some one talks to me. It is most amusing how
the English look at me. They say, Miss----? and then stop that I may
tell them my name."

"And don't you?" said Lucy. "Do you know; though it is so strange to say
it, I don't even know your name."

Bice laughed, but she made no attempt to supply the omission. "The
Contessa thinks it is more piquant," she said. "But nothing is decided
about me, till it is known how I turn out. If I am beautiful the
Contessa will marry me well, and all will be right."

"And is that what you--wish?" said Lucy, in a tone of horror.

"Monsieur, your brother," said Bice, with a laugh, "says I am not
pretty, even. He says it does not matter. How ignorant men are, and
stupid! And then suddenly they are old, old, and sour. I do not know
which is the worst. I do not like men."

"And yet you think of being married, which it is not nice to speak of,"
said Lucy, with disapproval.

"Not--nice? Why is that? Must not girls be married? and if so, why not
think of it?" said Bice, gravely. There was not the ghost of a blush
upon her cheek. "If you might live without being married that would
understand itself; but otherwise----"

"Indeed," cried Lucy, "you can, indeed you can! In England, at least. To
marry for a living, that is terrible."

"Ah!" cried Bice, with interest, drawing her chair nearer, "tell me how
that is to be done."

There was the seriousness of a practical interest in the girl's manner.
The question was very vital to her. There was no other way of existence
possible so far as she knew; but if there was it was well worth taking
into consideration.

Lucy felt the question embarrassing when it was put to her in this very
decisive way. "Oh," she cried with an Englishwoman's usual monosyllabic
appeal for help to heaven and earth: "there are now a great number of
ways. There are so many things that girls can do; there are things open
to them that never used to be--they can even be doctors when they are
clever. There are many ways in which they can maintain themselves."

"By trades?" cried Bice, "by work?" She laughed. "We hear of that
sometimes, and the doctors; everybody laughs; the men make jokes, and
say they will have one when they are ill. If that is all, I do not
think there is anything in it. I should not like to work even if I were
a man, but a woman----! that gets no money, that is _mal vu_. If that is
all! Work," she said, with a little oracular air, "takes up all your
time, and the money that one can earn is so small. A girl avoids saying
much to men who are like this. She knows how little they can have to
offer her; and to work herself, why, it is impossible. What time would
you have for anything?" cried the girl, with an impatient sense of the
fatuity of the suggestion. Lucy was so much startled by this view of the
subject that she made no reply.

"There is no question of working," said Bice with decision, "neither for
women, neither for men. That is not in our world. But if I am only
pretty, no more," she added, "what will become of me? It is not known. I
shall follow the Contessa as before. I will be useful to her, and
afterwards---- I prefer not to think of that. In the meantime I am young.
I do not wish for anything. It is all amusing. I become weary of the
band playing, that is true; but then sometimes it plays not badly, and
there is something always to laugh at. Afterwards, if I marry, then I
can do as I like," the girl said.

Lucy gave her another look of surprised awe, for it was really with that
feeling that she regarded this strange little philosopher. But she did
not feel herself able to pursue the subject with so enlightened a
person. She said: "How very well you speak English. You have scarcely
any accent, and the Contessa has none at all. I was afraid she would
speak only French, and my French is so bad."

"I have always spoken English all my life. When the Contessa is angry
she says I am English all over; and she--she is of no country--she is
of all countries; we are what you call vagabonds," the girl cried, with
a laugh. She said it so calmly, without the smallest shadow of shame or
embarrassment, that Lucy could only gaze at her and could not find a
word to say. Was it true? It was evident that Bice at least believed so,
and was not at all afraid to say it. This conversation took place, as
has been said, in the picture gallery, where Lady Randolph and her young
visitor had first found a ground of amity. The rainy weather had
continued, and this place had gradually become the scene of a great deal
of intercourse between the young mistress of the house and her guest.
They scarcely spoke to each other in the evening. But in the morning
after the game of romps with little Tom, by which Bice indemnified
herself for the absence of other society, Lucy would join the party, and
after the child had been carried off for his mid-day sleep, the others
left behind would have many a talk. To Lucy the revelations thus made
were more wonderful than any romance--so wonderful that she did not half
take in the strange life to which they gave a clue, nor realise how
perfectly right was Bice's description of herself and her patroness.
They were vagabonds, as she said; and like other vagabonds, they got a
great deal of pleasure out of their life. But to Lucy it seemed the most
terrible that mind could conceive. Without any home, without any
retirement or quietness, with a noisy band always playing, and a series
of migrations from one place to another--no work, no duties, nothing to
represent home occupations but a piece of _tapisserie_. She put her hand
very tenderly upon Bice's shoulder. There had been prejudices in her
mind against this girl--but they all melted away in a womanly pity.
"Oh," she said, "Cannot I help you in any way? Cannot Sir Tom--" But
here she paused. "I am afraid," she said, "that all we could think of
would be an occupation for you; something to do, which would be far, far
better, surely, than this wandering life."

Bice looked at her for a moment with a doubtful air. "I don't know what
you mean by occupation," she said.

And this, to Lucy's discomfiture, she found to be true. Bice had no idea
of occupation. Young Lady Randolph, who was herself not much instructed,
made a conscientious effort at least to persuade the strange girl to
read and improve her mind. But she flew off on all such occasions with a
laugh that was half mocking and half merry. "To what good?" she said,
with that simplicity of cynicism which is a quality of extreme youth.
"If I turn out beautiful, if I can marry whom I will, I will then get
all I want without any trouble."

"But if not?" said Lucy, too careful of the other's feelings to express
what her own opinions were on this subject.

"If not it will be still less good," said Bice, "for I shall never then
do anything or be of any importance at all; and why should I tr-rouble?"
she said, with that rattle of the r's which was about the only sign that
English was not her native speech. This was very distressing to Lucy,
who wished the girl well, and altogether Lady Randolph was anxious to
interfere on Bice's behalf, and put her on a more comprehensible
footing.

"It will be very strange when you go among other people in London," she
said. "Madame di Forno-Populo does not know England. People will want
to know who you are. And if you were to be married, since you will talk
of that," Lucy added with a blush, "your name and who you are will have
to be known. I will ask Sir Tom to talk to the Contessa--or," she said
with reluctance, "I will speak to her if you think she will listen to
me."

"I am called," said Bice, making a sweeping curtsey, and waving her hand
as she darted suddenly away, leaving Lucy in much doubt and perplexity.
Was she really called? Lucy heard nothing but a faint sound in the
distance, as of a low whistle. Was this a signal between the strange
pair who were not mother and daughter, nor mistress and servant, and yet
were so linked together. It seemed to Lucy, with all her honest English
prejudices, that to train so young a girl (and a girl so fond of
children, and, therefore, a good girl at bottom, whatever her little
faults might be) to such a wandering life, and to put her up as it were
to auction for whoever would bid highest, was too terrible to be thought
of. Better a thousand times to be a governess, or a sempstress, or any
honest occupation by which she could earn her own bread. But then to
Bice any such expedient was out of the question. Her incredulous look of
wonder and mirth came back to Lucy with a sensation of dumb
astonishment. She had no right feelings, no sense of the advantages of
independence, no horror of being sold in marriage. Lady Randolph did not
know what to think of a creature so utterly beyond all rules known to
her. She was in such a condition of mind, unsettled, unhinged, feeling
all her old landmarks breaking up, that a new interest was of great
importance to her. It withdrew her thoughts from the Contessa, and the
irksomeness of her sway, when she thought of Bice and what could be
done for her. The strange thing was that the girl wanted nothing done
for her. She was happy enough so far as could be seen. In her close
confinement and subjection she was so fearless and free that she might
have been thought the mistress of the situation. It was incomprehensible
altogether. To state the circumstances from one side was to represent a
victim of oppression. A poor girl stealing into a strange house and room
in the shadow of her patroness; unnamed, unnoticed, made no more account
of than the chair upon which she sat, held in a bondage which was almost
slavery, and intended to be disposed of when the moment came without a
reference to her own will and affections. Lucy felt her blood boil when
she thought of all this, and determined that she would leave no
expedient untried to free this white slave, this unfortunate thrall. But
the other side was one which could not pass without consideration. The
girl was careless and fearless and free, without an appearance of
bondage about her. She scoffed at the thought of escaping, of somehow
earning a personal independence--such was not for persons in her world,
she said. She was not horrified by her own probable fate. She was not
unhappy, but amused and interested in her life, and taking everything
gaily, both the present quiet and the tumult of the many "seasons" in
watering-places and other resorts of gaiety through which, young as she
was, she had already gone. She had looked at Lucy with a smile, which
was half cynical, and altogether decisive, when the anxious young matron
had pointed out to her the way of escaping from such a sale and bargain.
She did not want to escape. It seemed to her right and natural. She
walked as lightly as a bird with this yoke upon her shoulders. Lucy had
never met anything of this kind before, and it called forth a sort of
panic in her mind. She did not know how to deal with it; but neither
would she give it up. She had something else to think upon, when the
Contessa, lying back on her sofa, almost going to sleep before Sir Tom
entered, roused herself on the moment to occupy and amuse him all the
evening. Instead of thinking of that and making herself unhappy, Lucy
looked the other way at Bice reading a novel rapidly at the other side
of the table, with all her young savage faculties about her to see and
hear everything. How to get her delivered from her fate! To make her
feel that deliverance was necessary, to save her before she should be
sacrificed, and take her out of her present slavery. It was very strange
that it never occurred to Lucy to free the girl by making her one of the
recipients of the money she had to give away. She was very faithful to
the letter of her father's will, and he had excluded foreigners. But
even that was not the reason. The reason was that it did not occur to
her. She thought of every way of relieving the too-contented thrall
before her except that way. And in the meantime the time wore on, and
everything fell into a routine, and not a word was said of the
Contessa's plans. It was evident, for the time being at least, that she
meant to make no change, but was fully minded, notwithstanding the
dullness of the country, to remain where she was.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE TWO STRANGERS.


The Contessa did not turn her head or change her position when Bice
entered. She said, "You have not been out?" in a tone which was half
question and half reproof.

"It rained, and there is nothing to breathe but the damp and fog."

"What does it matter? it is very good for the complexion, this damp; it
softens the skin, it clears your colour. I see the improvement every
day."

"Do you think so?" said Bice, going up to the long mirror which had been
established in a sort of niche against the wall, and draped as
everything was draped, with graceful hangings. She went up to it and put
her face close, looking with some anxiety at the image which she found
there. "I do not see it," she said. "You are too sanguine. I am no
better than I was. I have been racing in the long gallery with the
child; that makes one's blood flow."

"You do well," said the Contessa, nodding her head. "I cannot take any
notice of the child; it is too much for me. They are odious at that
age."

"Ah! they are delightful," said Bice. "They are so good to play with,
they ask no questions, and are always pleased. I put him on my shoulder
and we fly. I wish that I might have a gymnastique, trapeze,
what-you-call it, in that long gallery; it would be heaven."

The Contessa uttered an easy exclamation meaning nothing, which
translated into English would have been a terrible oath. "Do not do it,
in the name of----they will be shocked, oh, beyond everything."

Bice, still standing close to the glass, examining critically her cheek
which she pinched, answered with a laugh. "She is shocked already. When
I say that you will marry me well, if I turn out as I ought, she is full
of horror. She says it is not necessary in England that a young girl
should marry, that there are other ways."

The Contessa started to her feet. "Giove!" she cried, "Baccho! that
insipidity, that puritan. And I who have kept you from every soil. _She_
speak of other ways. Oh, it is too much!"

Bice turned from the glass to address a look of surprise to her
patroness. "Reassure yourself, Madama," she said. "What Milady said was
this, that I might work if I willed, and escape from marrying--that to
marry was not everything. It appears that in England one may make one's
living as if (she says) one were a man."

"As if one were a man!"

"That is what Milady said," Bice answered demurely. "I think she would
help me to work, to get something to do. But she did not tell me what it
would be; perhaps to teach children; perhaps to work with the needle. I
know that is how it happens in the Tauchnitz. You do not read them, and,
therefore, do not know; but I am instructed in all these things. The
girl who is poor like me is always beautiful; but she never thinks of it
as we do. She becomes a governess, or perhaps an artiste; or even she
will make dresses, or at the worst _tapisserie_."

"And this she says to you--to you!" cried the Contessa, with flaming
eyes.

"Oh, restrain yourself, Madama! It does not matter at all. She makes the
great marriage just the same. It is not Milady who says this, it is in
the Tauchnitz. It is the English way. Supposing," said Bice, "that I
remain as I am? Something will have to be done with me. Put me, then, as
a governess in a great family where there is a son who is a great
nobleman, or very rich; and you shall see it will so happen, though I
never should be beautiful at all."

"My child," said the Contessa, "all this is foolishness. You will not
remain as you are. I see a little difference every day. In a little time
you will be dazzling; you will be ready to produce. A governess! It is
more likely that you will be a duchess; and then you will laugh at
everybody--except me," said Madame di Forno-Populo, tapping her breast
with her delicate fingers, "except me."

Bice looked at her with a searching, inquiring look. "I want to ask
something," she said. "If I should be beautiful, you were so before
me--oh, more, more!--you we----are very lovely, Madama."

The Contessa smiled--who would not smile at such a speech? made with all
the sincerity and simplicity possible--simplicity scarcely affected by
the instinct which made Bice aware before she said it, that to use the
past tense would spoil all. The Contessa smiled. "Well," she said, "and
then?"

"They married you," said Bice with a curious tone between philosophical
remark and interrogation.

"Ah!" the Contessa said. She leaned back in her chair making herself
very comfortable, and shook her head. "I understand. You think then it
has been a--failure in my case? Yes, they married me--that is to say
there was no they at all. I married myself, which makes a great
difference. Ah, yes, I follow your reasoning very well. This woman you
say was beautiful, was all that I hope to be, and married; and what has
come of it? It is quite true. I speak to you as I speak to no one, Bice
mia. The fact was we deceived each other. The Conte expected to make his
fortune by me, and I by him. I was English, you perceive, though no one
now remembers this. Poor Forno-Populo! He was very handsome; people were
pleased to say we were a magnificent pair--but we had not the _sous_:
and though we were fond of each other, he proceeded in one direction to
repair his fortunes, and I--on another to--_enfin_ to do as best I
could. But no such accident shall happen in your case. It is not only
your interest I have in hand; it is my own. I want a home for my
declining years."

She said this with a smile at the absurdity of the expression in her
case, but Bice at sixteen naturally took the words _au pied de la
lettre_, and did not see any absurdity in them. To her forty was very
much the same as seventy. She nodded her head very seriously in answer
to this, and turning round to the glass surveyed herself once more, but
not with that complacency which is supposed to be excited in the
feminine bosom by the spectacle. She was far too serious for vanity--the
gaze she cast upon her own youthful countenance was severely critical,
and she ended by a shrug of her shoulders, as she turned away. "The only
thing is," she said, "that perhaps the young brother is right, and at
present I am not even pretty at all."

The Contessa had a great deal to think of during this somewhat dull
interval. The days flowed on so regular, and with so little in them,
that it was scarcely possible to take note of the time at all. Lucy was
always scrupulously polite and sometimes had little movements of anxious
civility, as if to make up for impulses that were less kind. And Sir
Tom, though he enjoyed the evenings as much as ever, and felt this
manner of passing the heavy hours to retain a great attraction, was at
other times a little constrained, and made furtive attempts to find out
what the Contessa's intentions were for the future, which betrayed to a
woman who had always her wits about her, a certain strain of the old
bonds, and uneasiness in the indefinite length of her visit. She had
many reasons, however, for determining to ignore this uneasiness, and to
move on upon the steady tenor of her way as if unconscious of any reason
for change, opposing a smiling insensibility to all suggestions as to
the approaching removal of the household to London. It seemed to the
Contessa that the association of her _débutante_ with so innocent and
wealthy a person as Lady Randolph would do away with all the prejudices
which her own dubious antecedents might have provoked; while the very
dubiousness of those antecedents had procured her friends in high
quarters and acquaintances everywhere, so that both God and Mammon were,
so to speak, enlisted in her favour, and Bice would have all the
advantage, without any of the disadvantage, of her patroness' position,
such as it was. This was so important that she was quite fortified
against any pricks of offence, or intrusive consciousness that she was
less welcome than might have been desired. And in the end of January,
when the entire household at the Hall had begun to be anxious to make
sure of her departure, an event occurred which strengthened all her
resolutions in this respect, and made her more and more determined,
whatever might be the result, to cling to her present associations and
shelter.

This was the arrival of a visitor, very unexpected and unthought of, who
came in one afternoon after the daily drive, often a somewhat dull
performance, which Lucy, when there was nothing more amusing to do,
dutifully took with her visitor. Madame di Forno-Populo was reclining in
the easiest of chairs after the fatigue of this expedition. There had
been a fresh wind, and notwithstanding a number of veils, her delicate
complexion had been caught by the keen touch of the breeze. Her cheeks
burned, she declared, as she held up a screen to shield her from the
glow of the fire. The waning afternoon light from the tall window behind
threw her beautiful face into shadow, but she was undeniably the most
important person in the tranquil domestic scene, occupying the central
position, so that it was not wonderful that the new comer suddenly
ushered in, who was somewhat timid and confused, and advanced with the
hesitating step of a stranger, should without any doubt have addressed
himself to her as the mistress of the house. Lucy, little and young, who
was moving about the room, with her light step and in the simple dress
of a girl, appeared to Mr. Churchill, who had many daughters of his own,
to be (no doubt) the eldest, the mother's companion. He came in with a
slightly embarrassed air and manner. He was a man beyond middle age,
gray haired, stooping, with the deprecating look of one who had been
obliged in many ways to propitiate fate in the shape of superiors,
officials, creditors, all sorts of alien forces. He came up with his
hesitating step to the Contessa's chair. "Madam," he said, with a voice
which had a tremor in it, "my name will partly tell you the confused
feelings that I don't know how to express. I am come in a kind of
bewilderment, scarcely able to believe that what I have heard is
true----"

The Contessa gazed at him calmly from the depths of her chair. The
figure before her, thin, gray haired, submissive, with the long clerical
coat and deprecating air, did not promise very much, but she had no
objection to hear what he had to say in the absolute dearth of subjects
of interest. Lucy, to whom his name seemed vaguely familiar, without
recalling any distinct idea, and who was a little startled by his
immediate identification of the Contessa, came forward a little and put
a chair for him, then withdrew again, supposing his business to be with
her guest.

"I will not sit down," Mr. Churchill said, faltering a little, "till I
have said what I have no words to say. If what I am told is actually
true, and your ladyship means to confer upon me a gift so--so
magnificent--oh! pardon me--I cannot help thinking still that there must
be some extraordinary mistake."

"Oh!" Lucy began, hurriedly making a step forward again; but the
Contessa, to her surprise, accepted the address with great calm.

"Be seated, sir," Madame di Forno-Populo said, with a dignity which Lucy
was far from being able to emulate. "And pray do not hesitate to say
anything which occurs to you. I am already interested----" She waved her
hand to him with a sort of regal grace, without moving in any other way.
She had the air of a princess not deeply concerned indeed, but
benevolently willing to listen. It was evident that this reception of
him confused the stranger more and more. He became more deeply
embarrassed in sight of the perfect composure with which he was
contemplated, and cleared his throat nervously three or four times.

"I think," he said, "that there must be some mistake. It was, indeed,
impossible that it should be true; but as I heard it from two quarters
at once--and it was said to be something in the nature of a
trust---- But," he added, looking with a nervous intentness at the
unresponsive face which he could with difficulty see, "it must be, since
your ladyship does not recognise my name, a--mistake. I felt it was so
from the beginning. A lady of whom I know nothing!--to bestow what is
really a fortune--upon a man with no claim----"

He gave a little nervous laugh as he went on--the disappointment, after
such a dazzling giddy hope, took away every vestige of colour from his
face. "I will sit down for a moment, if you please," he said suddenly.
"I--am a little tired with the walk--you will excuse me, Lady
Randolph----"

"Oh, sir," cried Lucy, coming forward, "forgive me that I did not
understand at once. It is no mistake at all. Oh, I am afraid you are
very much fatigued, and I ought to have known at once when I heard your
name."

He put out his hand in his deprecating way as she came close to the
chair into which he had dropped. "It is nothing--nothing--my dear young
lady: in a moment," he said.

"My Lucy," said the Contessa, "this is one of your secret bounties. I am
quite interested. But do not interrupt; let us hear it out."

"It is something which is entirely between Mr. Churchill and me," cried
Lucy. "Indeed, it would not interest you at all. But, pray, don't think
it is a mistake," she said, earnestly turning to him. "It is quite
right--it is a trust--there is nothing that need distress you. I am
obliged to do it, and you need not mind. Indeed, you must not mind. I
will tell you all about it afterwards."

"My dear young lady!" the clergyman said. He was relieved, but he was
perplexed; he turned still towards the stately lady in the chair--"If it
is really so, which I scarcely can allow myself to believe, how can I
express my obligation? It seems more than any man ought to take; it is
like a fairy tale. I have not ventured to mention it to my children, in
case,---- Thanks are nothing," he cried, with excitement; "thanks are
for a trifle, a little every-day service; but this is a fortune; it is
something beyond belief. I have been a poor man all my life, struggling
to do my best for my children; and now, what I have never been able to
do with all my exertions, you--put me in a position to do in a moment.
What am I to say to you? Words can't reach such a case. It is simply
unspeakable--incredible; and why out of all the world you should have
chosen me----"

He had to stop, his emotion getting the better of him. Bice had come
into the room while this strange scene was going on, and she stood in
the shadow, unseen by the speaker, listening too.

"Pray compose yourself," said the Contessa, in her most gracious voice.
"Your expressions are full of feeling. To have a fortune given to one
must be very delightful; it is an experience that does not often happen.
Probably a little tea, as I hear tea is coming, will restore
Mr. ---- Pardon me, they are a little difficult to catch those, your
English names."

The Contessa produced a curious idiom now and then like a work of art.
It was almost the only sign of any uncertainty in her English; and while
the poor clergyman, not quite understanding in his own emotion what she
was saying, made an effort to gulp it down and bring himself to the
level of ordinary life, the little stir of the bringing-in of tea
suddenly converted everything into commonplace. He sat in a confusion
that made all dull to him while this little stir went on. Then he rose
up and said, faltering: "If your ladyship will permit me, I will go out
into the air a little. I have got a sort of singing in my ears. I
am--not very strong; I shall come back presently if you will allow me,
and try to make my acknowledgments--in a less confused way."

Lucy followed him out of the room; he was not confused with her. "My
dear young lady," he said, "my head is going round and round. Perhaps
you will explain it all to me." He looked at her with a helpless,
appealing air. Lucy had the appearance of a girl of his own. He was not
afraid to ask her anything. But the great lady, his benefactress, who
spoke so regally and responded so little to his emotion, alarmed him.
Lucy, too, on her side, felt as if she had been a girl of his own. She
put her arm within his, and led him to the library, where all was quiet,
and where she felt by instinct--though she was not bookish--that the
very backs of the books would console him and make him feel himself at
home.

"It is very easy to explain," she said. "It is all through my brother
Jock and your son, who is at school with him. And it is I who am Lady
Randolph," she said, smiling, supporting him with her arm through his.
The shock would have been almost too much for poor Mr. Churchill if she
had not been so like a child of his own.

The moment this pair had left the room the Contessa raised herself
eagerly from the chair. She looked round to Bice in the background with
an imperative question. "What does this all mean?" she said, in a voice
as different from the languor of her former address as night from day.
"Who is it that gives away fortunes, that makes a poor man rich? Did you
know all that? Is it that chit of a girl, that piece of
simplicity--that--Giove! You have been her friend; you know her secrets.
What does it mean?"

"She has no secrets," said Bice, coming slowly forward. "She is not like
us, she is like the day."

"Fool!" the Contessa said, stamping her foot--"don't you see there must
be something in it. I am thinking of you, though you are so ungrateful.
One knows she is rich, all the money is hers; but I thought it had gone
to Sir Tom. I thought it was he who could-- ... Happily, I have always
kept her in hand; and you, you have become her friend----"

"Madama," said Bice, with ironical politeness, "since it happens that
Milady is gone, shall I pour out for you your cup of tea?"

"Oh, tea! do I care for tea? when there are possibilities--possibilities!"
said the Contessa. She got up from her chair and began to pace about the
room, a grand figure in the gathering twilight. As for Bice, some demon of
perversity possessed her. She began to move about the tea-table, making
the china ring, and pouring out the tea as she had said, betook herself to
the eating of cake with a relish which was certainly much intensified by
the preoccupation of her patroness. She remembered well enough, very well,
what Jock had told her, and her own incredulity; but she would have died
rather than give a sign of this--and there was a tacit defiance in the way
in which she munched her cake under the Contessa's excited eyes, but this
was only a momentary perversity.



CHAPTER XXVII.

AN ADVENTURESS.


"When he told me first, I was angry like you, I would not believe it.
Money! that is a thing to keep, I said, not to give away."

"To give away!" Few things in all her life, at least in all her later
life, had so moved the Contessa. She was walking about the pretty room
in an excitement which was like agitation, now sitting down in one
place, now in another, turning over without knowing it the things on the
table, arranging a drapery here and there instinctively. To how few
people in the world would it be a matter of indifference that money, so
to speak, was going begging, and might fall into their hands as well as
another's! The best of us on this argument would prick up our ears.
Nobody cared less for money in itself than Madame di Forno-Populo. She
liked not to spend it only, but to squander--to make it fly on all
hands. To be utterly extravagant one must be poor, and the money hunger
which belongs to poverty is almost, one might say, a disinterested
quality, so little is it concerned with the possession of the thing
coveted. "Oh," she said, "this is too wonderful! and you are sure you
have not been deceived by the language? You know English so well--are
you sure that you were not deceived?"

Bice did not deign any reply to this question. She gave her head a
slight toss of scorn. The suggestion that she could be mistaken was
unworthy of an answer, and indeed was not put in seriousness, nor did
the Contessa wait for a reply. "What then," the Contessa went on, "is
the position of Sir Tom? Has he no control? Does he permit this? To have
it taken away from himself and his family, thrown into the sea, parted
with--Oh, it is too much! But how can it be done? I was aware that
settlements were very troublesome, but I had not thought it
possible--Bice! Bice! this is very exciting, it makes one's heart beat!
And you are her friend."

"I am her--friend?" Bice turned one ear to her patroness with a startled
look of interrogation.

"Oh!" cried the Contessa once more; by which exclamation, naturally
occurring when she was excited, she proved that she was of English
race. "What difficulty is there in my meaning? You have English enough
for that. What! do you feel no impatience when you hear of money running
away?--going into a different channel--to strangers--to people that have
nothing to do with it--that have no right to it--anybody--a clergyman,
a----"

Her feelings were too much for her. She threw herself into a chair, out
of breath.

"He looked a very good man," said Bice, with that absolute calm which is
so exasperating to an excited woman, "and what does it matter, if it has
to be given away, who gets it? I should give it to the beggars. I should
fling it for them, as you do the _bajocchi_ when you are out driving."

"You are a fool! you are a fool!" cried the Contessa, "or rather you are
a child, and don't understand anything. Fling it to the beggars? Yes, if
it was in shillings or even sovereigns. You don't understand what money
is."

"That is true, Madama, for I never had any," cried the girl, with a
laugh. She was perfectly unmoved--the desire of money was not in her as
yet, though she was far more enlightened as to its uses than most
persons of her age. It amused her to see the excitement of her
companion; and she knew very well what the Contessa meant, though she
would not betray any consciousness of it. "If I marry," she said, "then
perhaps I shall know."

"Bice! you are not a fool--you are very sharp, though you choose not to
see. Why should not you have this as well as another?--oh, much better
than another! I can't stand by and see it all float into alien channels,
while you--it would not be doing my duty while you---- Oh, don't look at
me with that blank face, as if it did not move you in the least! Would
it be nothing to have it in your power to dress as you like, to do as
you like, to go into the world, to have a handsome house, to enjoy
life?----"

"But, yes!" said Bice, "is it necessary to ask?" She was still as calm
as if the question they were discussing had been of the very smallest
importance. "But we are not good poor people that will spend the money
_comme il faut_. If we had it we should throw it away. Me also--I would
throw it away. It would be for nothing good; why should it be given to
us? Oh no, Madama. The good old clergyman had many children. He will not
waste the money--which we should. What do you care for money, but to
spend it fast, fast; and I too----"

"You are a child," said the Contessa. "No, perhaps I am not what people
call good, though I am poor enough--but you are a child. If it was given
to you it would be invested; you would have power over the income only.
You could not throw it away, nor could I, which, perhaps, is what you
are thinking of. You are just the person she wants, so far as I can see.
She objects to my plan of putting you out in the world; she says it
would be better if you were to work; but this is the best of all. Let
her provide for you, and then it will not need that you should either
marry or work. This is, beyond all description, the best way. And you
are her friend. Tell me, was it before or after the boy informed you of
this that you advised yourself to become her friend?"

"Contessa!" cried Bice, with a shock of angry feeling which brought the
blood to her face. She was not sensitive in many matters which would
have stung an English girl; but this suggestion, which was so
undeserved, moved her to passion. She turned away with an almost tragic
scorn, and seizing the _tapisserie_, which was part of the Contessa's
_mise en scene_, flung a long strip of the many-coloured embroidery over
her arm, and began to work with a sort of savage energy. The Contessa
watched her movements with a sudden pause in her own excitement. She
stopped short in the eagerness of her own thoughts, and looked with keen
curiosity at the young creature upon whom she had built so many
expectations. She was not an ungenerous or mercenary woman, though she
had many faults, and as she gazed a certain compunction awoke within
her, mingled with amusement. She was sorry for the unworthy suggestion
she had made, but the sight of the girl in her indignation was like a
scene in a play to this woman of the world. Her youthful dignity and
wrath, her silent scorn, the manner in which she flung her needle
through the canvas, working out her rage, were full of entertainment to
the Contessa. She was not irritated by the girl's resentment; it even
took off her thoughts from the primary matter to watch this exhibition
of feeling. She gave vent to a little laugh as she noted how the needle
flew.

"Cara! I was nasty when I said that. I did not mean it. I suffered
myself to talk as one talks in the world. You are not of the world--it
is not applicable to you."

"Yes, Madama, I am of the world," cried Bice. "What have I known else?
But I did not mean to become Milady's friend, as you say. It was by
accident. I was in the gallery only to amuse myself, and she came--it
was not intention. I think that Milady is----"

Here Bice stopped, looked up from the sudden fervour of her working,
threw back her head, and said nothing more.

"That Milady is--what?" the Contessa cried.

A laugh so joyous, so childish, that no one could have refused to be
sympathetic, burst from Bice's lips. She gave her patroness a look of
merriment and derision, in which there was something tender and sweet.
"Milady is--sorry for me," she said.

This speech had a strange effect upon the Contessa. She coloured, and
the tears seemed to flood in a moment to her eyes. "Poor child!" she
said--"poor child! She has reason. But that amuses you, Bice mia," she
said, in a voice full of the softest caressing, looking at her through
those sudden tears. The Contessa was an adventuress, and she had brought
up this girl after her own traditions; but it was clear as they looked
at each other that they loved each other. There was perfect confidence
between them. Bice looked with fearless laughing eyes, and a sense of
the absurdity of the fact that some one was sorry for her, into the face
of her friend.

"She thinks I would be happier if I worked. To give lessons to little
children and be their slave would be better, she thinks. To know nothing
and see nothing, but live far away from the world and be independent,
and take no trouble about my looks, or, if I please--that is Milady's
way of thinking," Bice said.

The Contessa's face softened more and more as she looked at the girl.
There even dropped a tear from her full eyes. She shook her head. "I am
not sure," she said, "dear child, that I am not of Milady's opinion.
There are ways in which it is better. Sometimes I think I was most happy
when I was like that--without money, without experience, with no
wishes."

"No wishes, Madama! Did you not wish to go out into the beautiful bright
world, to see people, to hear music, to talk, to please? It is
impossible. Money, that is different, and experience that is different:
but to wish, every one must do that."

"Bice, you have a great deal of experience for so young a girl. You have
seen so much. I ought to have brought you up otherwise, perhaps, but how
could I? You have always shared with me, and what I had I gave you. And
you know besides how little satisfaction there is in it--how sick one
becomes of a crowd of faces that are nothing to you, and of music that
goes on just the same whatever you are feeling--and this to please, as
you call it! Whom do I please? Persons who do not care at all for me
except that I amuse them sometimes--who like me to sing; who like to
look at me; who find themselves less dull when I am there. That is all.
And that will be all for you, unless you marry well, my Bice, which it
is the object of my life to make you do."

"I hope I shall marry well," said the girl, composedly. "It would be
very pleasant to find one's self above all shifts, Madama. Still that is
not everything; and I would much rather have led the life I have led,
and enjoyed myself and seen so much, than to have been the little
governess of the English family--the little girl who is always so quiet,
who walks out with the children, and will not accept the eldest son even
when he makes love to her. I should have laughed at the eldest son. I
know what they are like--they are so stupid; they have not a word to
say; that would have amused me; but in the Tauchnitz books it is all
honour and wretchedness. I am glad I know the world, and have seen all
kinds of people, and wish for everything that is pleasant, instead of
being so good and having no wishes as you say."

The Contessa laughed, having got rid of all her incipient tears. "There
is more life in it," she said. "You see now what it is--this life in
England; one day is like another, one does the same things. The
newspaper comes in the morning, then luncheon, then to go out, then tea,
dinner; there is no change. When we talk in the evening, and I remind
Sir Tom of the past when I lived in Florence, and he was with me every
day,"--the Contessa once more uttered that easy exclamation which would
sound so profane in English. "_Quelle vie!_" she cried, "how much we got
out of every day. There were no silences! They came in one after another
with some new thing, something to see and to do. We separated to dress,
to make ourselves beautiful for the evening, and then till the morning
light came in through the curtains, never a pause or a weariness. Yes!
sometimes one had a terrible pang. There would be a toilette, which was
ravishing, which was far superior to mine--for I never had money to
dress as I wished--or some one else would have a success, and attract
all eyes. But what did that matter?" the Contessa cried, lighting up
more and more. "One did not really grudge what lasted only for a time;
for one knew next day one would have one's turn. Ah!" she said, with a
sigh, "I knew what it was to be a queen, Bice, in those days."

"And so you do still, Madama," said the girl, soothingly.

Madama di Forno-Populo shook her head. "It is no longer the same," she
said. "You have known only the worst side, my _poverina_. It is no
longer one's own palace, one's own people, and the best of the
strangers, the finest company. You saw the Duchess at Milady's party the
other day. To see me made her lose her breath. She could not refuse to
speak to me--to salute me--but it was with a consternation! But, Bice,
that lady was only too happy to be invited to the Palazzo Populino. To
make one of our expeditions was her pride. I believe in my soul," cried
the Contessa, "that when she looks back she remembers those days as the
most bright of her life."

Bice's clear shining eyes rested upon her patroness with a light in them
which was keen with indignation and wonder. She cried, "And why the
change--and why the change, Madama?" with a high indignant tone, such as
youth assumes in presence of ingratitude and meanness. Bice knew much
that a young girl does not usually know; but the reason why her best
friend should be thus slighted was not one of these things.

The Contessa shrank a little from her gaze. She rose up again and went
to the window and looked out upon the wintry landscape, and standing
there with her face averted, shrugged her shoulders a little and made
answer in a tone of levity very different from the sincerer sound of her
previous communications. "It is poverty, my child, poverty, always the
easiest explanation! I was never rich, but then there had been no crash,
no downfall. I was in my own palace. I had the means of entertaining. I
was somebody. Ah! very different; it was not then at the baths, in the
watering-places, that the Contessa di Forno-Populo was known. It is
this, my Bice, that makes me say that sometimes I am of Milady's
opinion; that to have no wishes, to know nothing, to desire
nothing--that is best. When I knew the Duchess first I could be of
service to her. Now that I meet her again it is she only that can be of
service to me."

"But----" Bice began and stopped short. She was, as has been said, a
girl of many experiences. When a very young creature is thus prematurely
introduced to a knowledge of human nature she approaches the subject
with an impartiality scarcely possible at an older age. She had seen
much. She had been acquainted with those vicissitudes that occur in the
lives of the seekers of pleasure almost since ever she was born. She had
been acquainted with persons of the most gay and cheerful appearance,
who had enjoyed themselves highly, and called all their acquaintances
round them to feast, and who had then suddenly collapsed and after an
interval of tears and wailings had disappeared from the scene of their
downfall. But Bice had not learnt the commonplace lesson so deeply
impressed upon the world from the Athenian Timon downwards, that a
downfall of this kind instantly cuts all ties. She was aware, on the
contrary, that a great deal of kindness, sympathy, and attempts to aid
were always called forth on such occasions; that the women used to form
a sort of rampart around the ruined with tears and outcries, and that
the men had anxious meetings and consultations and were constantly going
to see some one or other upon the affairs of the downfallen. Bice had
not seen in her experience that poverty was an argument for desertion.
She was so worldly wise that she did not press her question as a simple
girl might have done. She stopped short with an air of bewilderment and
pain, which the Contessa, as her head was turned, did not see. She gave
up the inquiry; but there arose in her mind a suspicion, a question,
such as had not ever had admission there before.

"Ah!" cried the Contessa, suddenly turning round, clasping her hands,
"it was different indeed when my house was open to all these English,
and they came as they pleased. But now I do not know, if I am turned out
of this house, this dull house in which I have taken refuge, where I
shall go. I don't know where to go!"

"Madama!" Bice sprang to her feet too, and clasped her hands.

"It is true--it is quite true. We have spent everything. I have not the
means to go even to a third-rate place. As for Cannes it is impossible.
I told you so before we came here. Rome is impossible--the apartment is
let, and without that I could not live at all. Everything is gone. Here
one may manage to exist a little while, for the house is good, and Sir
Tom is rather amusing. But how to get to London unless they will take us
I know not, and London is the place to produce you, Bice. It is for that
I have been working. But Milady does not like me; she is jealous of me,
and if she can she will send us away. Is it wonderful, then, that I am
glad you are her friend? I am very glad of it, and I should wish you to
let her know that to no one could she give her money more fitly. You
see," said the Contessa, with a smile, resuming her seat and her easy
tone, "I have come back to the point we started from. It is seldom one
does that so naturally. If it is true (which seems so impossible) that
there is money to give away, no one has a better right to it than you."

Bice went away from this interview with a mind more disturbed than it
had ever been in her life before. Naturally, the novel circumstances
which surrounded her awakened deeper questions as her mind developed,
and she began to find herself a distinct personage. They set her
wondering. Madame di Forno-Populo had been of a tenderness unparalleled
to this girl, and had sheltered her existence ever since she could
remember. It had not occurred to her mind as yet to ask what the
relations were between them, or why she had been the object of so much
affection and thought. She had accepted this with all the composure of a
child ever since she was a child. And the prospect of achieving a
marriage should she turn out beautiful, and thus being in a position to
return some of the kindness shown her, seemed to Bice the most natural
thing in the world. But the change of atmosphere had done something, and
Lucy's company, and the growth, perhaps, of her own young spirit. She
went away troubled. There seemed to be more in the world and its
philosophy than Bice's simple rules could explain.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE SERPENT AND THE DOVE.


On the very next day after this conversation took place a marked change
occurred in the manner of the Contessa. She had been always caressing to
Lucy, calling her by pretty names, and using a hundred tender
expressions as if to a child; but had never pretended to talk to her
otherwise than in a condescending way. On this occasion, however, she
exerted herself to a most unusual extent during their drive to captivate
and charm Lady Randolph; and as Lucy was very simple and accessible to
everything that seemed kindness, and the Contessa very clever and with
full command of her powers, it is not wonderful that her success was
easy. She led her to talk of Mr. Churchill, who had been kept to dinner
on the previous night, and to whom Sir Tom had been very polite, and
Lucy anxiously kind, doing all that was possible to put the good man at
his ease, though with but indifferent success. For the thought of such
an obligation was too great to be easily borne, and the agitation of his
mind was scarcely settled, even by the commonplaces of the dinner, and
the devotion which young Lady Randolph showed him. Perhaps the grave
politeness of Sir Tom, which was not very encouraging, and the curiosity
of the great lady, whom he had mistaken for his benefactress,
counterbalanced Mr. Churchill's satisfaction, for he did not regain his
confidence, and it was evidently with great relief of mind that he got
up from his seat when the carriage was announced to take him away. The
Contessa had given her attention to all he said and did, with a most
lively and even anxious interest, and it was from this that she had
mastered so many details which Bice had reluctantly confirmed by her
report of the information she had derived from Jock. It was not long
before Madame di Forno-Populo managed to extract everything from Lucy.
Lady Randolph was not used to defend herself against such inquiries, nor
was there any reason why she should do so. She was glad indeed when she
saw how sweetly her companion looked, and how kind were her tones, to
talk over her own difficult position with another woman, one who was
interested, and who did not express her disapproval and horror as most
people did. The Contessa, on the contrary, took a great deal of
interest. She was astonished, indeed, but she did not represent to Lucy
that what she had to do was impossible or even vicious, as most people
seemed to suppose. She listened with the gravest attention; and she gave
a soothing sense of sympathy to Lucy's troubled soul. She was so little
prepared for sympathy from such a quarter that the unexpectedness of it
made it more soothing still.

"This is a great charge to be laid upon you," the Contessa said, with
the most kind look. "Upon you so young and with so little experience.
Your father must have been a man of very original mind, my Lucy. I have
heard of a great many schemes of benevolence, but never one like this."

"No?" said Lucy, anxiously watching the Contessa's eye, for it was so
strange to her to have sympathy on this point, that she felt a sort of
longing for it, and that this new critic, who treated the whole matter
with more moderation and reasonableness than usual, should approve.

"Generally one endows hospitals or builds churches; in my country there
is a way which is a little like yours; it is to give marriage
portions--that is very good I am told. It is done by finding out who is
the most worthy. And it is said also that not the most worthy is always
taken. Don't you remember there is a Rosiere in Barbe Bleue? Oh, I
believe you have never heard of Barbe Bleue."

"I know the story," said Lucy, with a smile, "of the many wives, and the
key, and sister Anne--sister Anne."

"Ah! that is not precisely what I mean; but it does not matter. So it is
this which makes you so grave, my pretty Lucy. I do not wonder. What a
charge for you! To encounter all the prejudices of the world which will
think you mad. I know it. And now your husband--the excellent Tom--he,"
said the Contessa, laying a caressing and significant touch upon Lucy's
arm, "does not approve?"

"Oh, Madame di Forno-Populo, that is the worst of it," cried Lucy, whose
heart was opened, and who had taken no precaution against assault on
this side; "but how do you know? for I thought that nobody knew."

The Contessa this time took Lucy's hand between hers, and pressed it
tenderly, looking at her all the time with a look full of meaning. "Dear
child," she said, "I have been a great deal in the world. I see much
that other people do not see. And I know his face, and yours, my little
angel. It is much for you to carry upon those young shoulders. And all
for the sake of goodness and charity."

"I do not know," said Lucy, "that it is right to say that; for, had it
been left to me, perhaps I should never have thought of it. I should
have been content with doing just what I could for the poor. No one,"
said Lucy, with a sigh, "objects to that. When people are quite poor it
is natural to give them what they want; but the others----"

"Ah, the others," said the Contessa. "Dear child, the others are the
most to be pitied. It is a greater thing, and far more difficult to give
to this good clergyman enough to make his children happy, than it is to
supply what is wanted in a cottage. Ah yes, your father was wise, he was
a person of character. The poor are always cared for. There are none of
us, even when we are ourselves poor, who do not hold out a hand to them.
There is a society in my Florence which is like you. It is for the
_Poveri Vergognosi_. You don't understand Italian? That means those who
are ashamed to beg. These are they," said the Contessa impressively,
"who are to be the most pitied. They must starve and never cry out; they
must conceal their misery and smile; they must put always a fair front
to the world, and seem to want nothing, while they want everything. Oh!"
The Contessa ended with a sigh, which said more than words. She pressed
Lucy's hand, and turned her face away. Her feelings were too much for
her, and on the delicate cheek, which Lucy could see, there was the
trace of a tear. After a moment she looked round again, and said, with
a little quiver in her voice: "I respect your father, my Lucy. It was a
noble thought, and it is original. No one I have ever heard of had such
an intention before."

Lucy, at this unlooked-for applause, brightened with pleasure; but at
the same time was so moved that she could only look up into her
companion's face and return the pressure of her hand. When she recovered
a little she said: "You have known people like that?"

"Known them? In my country," said the Contessa (who was not an Italian
at all), "they are as plentiful as in England--blackberries. People with
noble names, with noble old houses, with children who must never learn
anything, never be anything, because there is no money. Know them! dear
child, who can know better? If I were to tell you my history! I have for
my own part known--what I could not trouble your gentle spirit to hear."

"But, Madame di Forno-Populo, oh! if you think me worthy of your
confidence, tell me!" cried Lucy. "Indeed, I am not so insensible as you
may think. I have known more than you suppose. You look as if no harm
could ever have touched you," Lucy cried, with a look of genuine
admiration. The Contessa had found the right way into her heart.

The Contessa smiled with mournful meaning and shook her head. "A great
deal of harm has touched me," she said; "I am the very person to meet
with harm in the world. A solitary woman without any one to take care of
me, and also a very silly one, with many foolish tastes and
inclinations. Not prudent, not careful, my Lucy, and with very little
money; what could be more forlorn? You see," she said, with a smile "I
do not put all this blame upon Providence, but a great deal on myself.
But to put me out of the question----"

Lucy put a hand upon the Contessa's arm. She was much moved by this
revelation.

"Oh! don't do that," she said; "it is you I want to hear of."

Madame di Forno-Populo had an object in every word she was saying, and
knew exactly how much she meant to tell and how much to conceal. It was
indeed a purely artificial appeal that she was making to her companion's
feelings; and yet, when she looked upon the simple sympathy and generous
interest in Lucy's face, her heart was touched.

"How good you are," she said; "how generous! though I have come to you
against your will, and am staying--when I am not wanted."

"Oh! do not say so," cried Lucy with eagerness; "do not think
so--indeed, it was not against my will. I was glad, as glad as I could
be, to receive my husband's friend."

"Few women are so," said the Contessa gravely. "I knew it when I came.
Few, very few, care for their husband's friend--especially when she is a
woman----"

Lucy fixed her eyes upon her with earnest attention. Her look was not
suspicious, yet there was investigation in it.

"I do not think I am like that," she said simply.

"No, you are not like that," said the Contessa. "You are the soul of
candour and sweetness; but I have vexed you. Ah, my Lucy, I have vexed
you. I know it--innocently, my love--but still I have done it. That is
one of the curses of poverty. Now look," she said, after a momentary
pause, "how truth brings truth! I did not intend to say this when I
began" (and this was perfectly true), "but now I must open my heart to
you. I came without caring much what you would think, meaning no
harm--Oh, trust me, meaning no harm! but since I have come all the
advantages of being here have appeared to me so strongly that I have set
my heart upon remaining, though I knew it was disagreeable to you."

"Indeed:" cried Lucy, divided between sincerity and kindness: "if it was
ever so for a moment, it was only because I did not understand."

"My sweetest child! this I tell you is one of the curses of poverty. I
knew it was disagreeable to you; but because of the great advantage of
being in your house, not only for me, but for Bice, for whom I have
sworn to do my best--Lucy, pardon me--I could not make up my mind to go
away. Listen! I said to myself, I am poor, I cannot give her all the
advantages; and they are rich; it is nothing to them--I will stay, I
will continue, though they do not want me, not for my sake, for the sake
of Bice. They will not be sorry afterwards to have made the fortune of
Bice. Listen, dear one; hear me out. I had the intention of forcing
myself upon you--oh no! the words are not too strong--in London, always
for Bice's sake, for she has no one but me; and if her career is
stopped---- I am not a woman," said the Contessa, with dignity, "who am
used to find myself _de trop_. I have been in my life courted, I may say
it, rather than disagreeable; yet this I was willing to bear--and impose
myself upon you for Bice's sake----"

Lucy listened to this moving address with many differing emotions. It
gave her a pang to think that her hopes of having her house to herself
were thus permanently threatened. But at the same time her heart
swelled, and all her generous feelings were stirred. Was she indeed so
poor a creature as to grudge to two lonely women the shelter and
advantage of her wealth and position? If she did this, what did it
matter if she gave money away? This would indeed be keeping to the
letter of her father's will, and abjuring its meaning. She could not
resist the pathos, the dignity, the sweetness of the Contessa's appeal,
which was not for herself but for Bice, for the girl who was so good to
baby, and whom that little oracle had bound her to with links of
gratitude and tenderness. "Oh," Lucy said to herself, "if I should ever
have to appeal to any one for kindness to him!" And Bice was the
Contessa's child--the child of her heart, at least--the voluntary charge
which she had taken upon her, and to which she was devoting herself. Was
it possible that only because she wanted to have her husband to herself
in the evenings, and objected to any interruption of their privacy, a
woman should be made to suffer who was a good woman, and to whom Lucy
could be of use? No, no, she cried within herself, the tears coming to
her eyes; and yet there was a very real pang behind.

"But reassure yourself, dear child," said the Contessa, "for now that I
see what you are doing for others, I cannot be so selfish. No; I cannot
do it any longer. In England you do not love society; you love your home
unbroken; you do not like strangers. No, my Lucy, I will learn a lesson
from your goodness. I too will sacrifice--oh, if it was only myself and
not Bice!"

"Contessa," said Lucy with an effort, looking up with a smile through some
tears, "I am not like that. It never was that you were--disagreeable. How
could you be disagreeable? And Bice is--oh, so kind, so good to my boy.
You must never think of it more. The town house is not so large as the
Hall, but we shall find room in it. Oh, I am not so heartless, not so
stupid, as you think! Do you suppose I would let you go away after you
have been so kind as to open your heart to me, and let me know that we
are really of use? Oh, no, no! And I am sure," she added, faltering
slightly, "that Tom--will think the same."

"It is not Tom--excellent, _cher_ Tom! that shall be consulted," cried
the Contessa. "Lucy, my little angel! if it is really so that you will
give my Bice the advantage of your protection for her _début_---- But
that is to be an angel indeed, superior to all our little, petty,
miserable---- Is it possible, then," cried the Contessa, "that there is
some one so good, so noble in this low world?"

This gratitude confused Lucy more than all the rest. She did her best to
deprecate and subdue; but in her heart she felt that it was a great
sacrifice she was making. "Indeed, it is nothing," she said faintly. "I
am fond of her, and she has been so good to baby; and if we can be of
any use--but oh, Madame di Forno-Populo," Lady Randolph cried, taking
courage. "Her _début_? do you really mean what she says that she must
marry----"

"That I mean to marry her," said the Contessa, "that is how we express
it," with a very concise ending to her transports of gratitude. "Sweet
Lucy," she continued, "it is the usage of our country. The parents, or
those who stand in their place, think it their duty. We marry our
children as you clothe them in England. You do not wait till your little
boy can choose. You find him what is necessary. Just so do we. We choose
so much better than an inexperienced girl can choose. If she has an
aversion, if she says I cannot suffer him, we do not press it upon her.
Many guardians will pay no attention, but me," said the Contessa,
putting forth a little foreign accent, which she displayed very
rarely--"I have lived among the English, and I am influenced by their
ways. Neither do I think it right," she added, with an air of candour,
"to offer an old person, or one who is hideous, or even very
disagreeable. But, yes, she must marry well. What else is there that a
girl of family can do?"

Lucy was about to answer with enthusiasm that there were many things she
could do; but stopped short, arrested by these last words. "A girl of
family,"--that, no doubt, made a difference. She paused, and looked
somewhat wistfully in her companion's face. "We think," she said, "in
England that anything is better than a marriage without----"

The Contessa put up her hand to stay the words. "Without love---- I know
what you are going to say; but, my angel, that is a word which Bice has
never heard spoken. She knows it not. She has not the habit of thinking
it necessary--she is a good girl, and she has no sentiment. Besides, why
should we go so fast? If she produces the effect I hope---- Why should
not some one present himself whom she could also love? Oh yes; fall in
love with, as you say in English--such an innocent phrase; let us hope
that, when the proper person comes who satisfies my requirements,
Bice--to whom not a word shall be said--will fall in love with him
_comme il faut_!"

Lucy did not make any reply. She was troubled by the light laugh with
which the Contessa concluded, and with the slight change of tone which
was perceptible. But she was still too much moved by her own emotion to
have got beyond its spell, and she had committed herself beyond recall.
While the Contessa talked on with--was it a little, little change?--a
faint difference, a levity that had not been in her voice before? Lucy's
thoughts went back upon what she had done with a little tremor. Not this
time as to what Tom might say, but with a deeper wonder and pang as to
what might come of it; was she going voluntarily into new danger, such
as she had no clue to, and could not understand? After a little while
she asked almost timidly--

"But if Bice should not see any one----"

"You mean if no one suitable should present himself?" The Contessa
suddenly grew very grave. She put her hands together with a gesture of
entreaty. "My sweet one, let us not think of that. When she is dressed
as I shall dress her, and brought out--as you will enable me to bring
her out. My Lucy, we do not know what is in her. She will shine, she
will charm. Even now, if she is excited, there are moments in which she
is beautiful. If she fails altogether---- Ah, my love, as I tell you,
there is where the curse of poverty comes in. Had she even a moderate
fortune, poor child; but alas, orphan, with no one but me----"

"Is she an orphan?" said Lucy, feeling ashamed of the momentary failure
of her interest, "and without relations--except----"

"Relations?" said the Contessa; there was something peculiar in her tone
which attracted Lucy's attention, and came back to her mind in other
days. "Ah, my Lucy, there are many things in this life which you have
never thought of. She has relations who think nothing of her, who would
be angry, be grieved, if they knew that she existed. Yes, it is terrible
to think of, but it is true. She is, on one side, of English parentage.
But pardon me, my sweetest, I did not mean to tell you all this: only,
my Lucy, you will one time be glad to think that you have been kind to
Bice. It will be a pleasure to you. Now let us think of it no more.
Marry; yes, she must marry. She has not even so much as your poor
clergyman; she has nothing, not a penny. So I must marry her, there is
nothing more to be said."



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE CONTESSA'S TRIUMPH.


And it was with very mingled sensations that Sir Tom heard from Lucy
(for it was from her lips he heard it) the intimation that Madame di
Forno-Populo was going to be so good as to remain at the Hall till they
moved to London, and then to accompany them to Park Lane. Sir Tom was
taken entirely by surprise. He was not a man who had much difficulty in
commanding himself, or showing such an aspect as he pleased to the
general world; but on this occasion he was so much surprised that his
very jaw dropped with wonder and astonishment. It was at luncheon that
the intimation was made, in the Contessa's presence, so that he did not
venture to let loose any expression of his feelings. He gave a cry, only
half uttered, of astonishment, restrained by politeness, turning his
eyes, which grew twice their size in the bewilderment of the moment,
from Lucy to the Contessa and back again. Then he burst into a
breathless laugh--a twinkle of humour lighted in those eyes which were
big with wonder, and he turned a look of amused admiration towards the
Contessa. How had she done it? There was no fathoming the cleverness of
women, he said to himself, and for the rest of the day he kept bursting
forth into little peals of laughter all by himself. How had she managed
to do it? It was a task which he himself would not have ventured to
undertake. He would not, he said to himself, have had the slightest idea
how to bring forward such a proposition. On the contrary, had not his
sense that Lucy had much to forgive in respect to this invasion of her
home and privacy induced him to make a great sacrifice, to withdraw his
opposition to those proceedings of hers of which he so much disapproved?
And yet in an afternoon, in one interview, the Contessa had got the
upper hand! Her cleverness was extraordinary. It tickled him so that he
could not take time to think how very little satisfied he was with the
result. He, too, had fallen under her enchantments in the country, in
the stillness, if not dulness, of those long evenings, and he had been
very willing to be good to her for the sake of old times, to make her as
comfortable as possible, to give her time to settle her plans for her
London campaign. But that she should begin that campaign under his own
roof, and that Lucy, his innocent and simple wife, should be visible to
the world as the friend and ally of a lady whose name was too well known
to society, was by no means satisfactory to Sir Tom. When his first
astonishment and amazement was over, he began to look grave; but what
was he to do? He had so much respect for Lucy that when the idea
occurred to him of warning her that the Contessa's antecedents were not
of a comfortable kind, and that her generosity was mistaken, he rejected
it again with a sort of panic, and did not dare, experienced and
courageous as he was, to acknowledge to his little wife that he had
ventured to bring to her house a woman of whom it could be said that she
was not above suspicion. Sir Tom had dared a great many perils in his
life, but he did not venture to face this. He recoiled from before it,
as he would not have done from any lion in the way. He could not even
suggest to her any reticence in her communications, any reserve in
showing herself at the Contessa's side, or in inviting other people to
meet her. If all his happiness depended upon it, he felt that he could
not disturb Lucy's mind by any such warning. Confess to her that he had
brought to her a woman with whom scandal had been busy, that he had
introduced to her as his friend, and recommended to honour and kindness,
one whose name had been in all men's mouths! Sir Tom ran away morally
from this suggestion as if he had been the veriest coward; he could not
breathe a word of it in Lucy's ear. How could he explain to her that
mixture of amazement at the woman's boldness, and humorous sense of the
incongruity of her appearance in the absolute quiet of an English home,
without company, which, combined with ancient kindness and careless good
humour, had made him sanction her first appearance? Still less, how
could he explain the mingling of more subtle sensations, the
recollections of a past which Sir Tom could not himself much approve of,
yet which was full of interest still, and the formation of an
intercourse which renewed that past, and brought a little tingling of
agreeable excitement into life when it had fallen to too low an ebb to
be agreeable in itself? He would not say a word of all this to Lucy. Her
purity, her simplicity, even her want of imagination and experience, her
incapacity to understand that debatable land between vice and virtue in
which so many men find little harm, and which so many women regard with
interest and curiosity, closed his mouth. And then he comforted himself
with the reflection that, as his aunt herself had admitted, the Contessa
had never brought herself openly within the ban. Men might laugh when
the name of La Forno-Populo was introduced, and women draw themselves up
with indignation, or stare with astonishment not unmingled with
consternation as the Duchess had done; but they could not refuse to
recognise her, nor could any one assert that there was sufficient reason
to exclude her from society. Not even when she was younger, and
surrounded by worshippers, could this be said. And now when she was
less---- But here Sir Tom paused to ask himself, was she less attractive
than of old? When he came to consider the question he was obliged to
allow that he did not think so; and if she really meant to bring out
that girl---- Did she mean to bring out that girl? Could she make up her
mind to exhibit beside her own waning (if they were waning) charms the
first flush of this young beauty? Sir Tom, who thought he knew women (at
least of the kind of La Forno-Populo), shook his head and felt it very
doubtful whether the Contessa was sincere, or if she could indeed make
up her mind to take a secondary place. He thought with a rueful
anticipation of the sort of people who would flock to Park Lane to renew
their acquaintance with La Forno-Populo. "By Jove! but shall they
though? Not if I know it," said Sir Tom firmly to himself.

Williams, the butler, was still more profoundly discomposed. He had
opened his mind to Mrs. Freshwater on various occasions when his
feelings were too many for him. Naturally, Williams gave the Contessa
the benefit of no doubt as to her reputation. He was entirely convinced,
as is the fashion of his class, that all that could have been said of
her was true, and that she was as unfit for the society of the
respectable as any wretched creature could be. "That foreign madam" was
what he called her, in the privacy of the housekeeper's room, with many
opprobrious epithets. Mrs. Freshwater, who was, perhaps, more
good-natured than was advantageous to the housekeeper and manager of a
large establishment, was melted whenever she saw her, by the Contessa's
gracious looks and ways, but Williams was immovable. "If you'd seen what
I've seen," he said, shaking his head. The women, for Lucy's maid
Fletcher sometimes shared these revelations, were deeply excited by
this--longing, yet fearing to ask what it was that Williams had seen.
"And when I think of my lady, that is as innocent as the babe unborn,"
he said, "mixed up in all that---- You'll see such racketing as never was
thought of," cried Williams. "I know just how things will go. Night
turned into day, carriages driving up at all hours, suppers going on
after the play all the night through, masks and dominoes
arriving;--no--to be sure this is England. There will be no _veglionis_,
at least--which in England, ladies, would be masked balls--with Madam
the Countess and her gentlemen--and even ladies too, a sort of
ladies--in all sorts of dresses."

"O-oh!" the women cried.

They were partially shocked, as they were intended to be, but partially
their curiosity was excited, and a feeling that they would like to see
all these gaieties and fine dresses moved their minds. The primitive
intelligence always feel certain that "racketing" and orgies that go on
all night, must be at least guiltily delightful, exciting, and amusing,
if nothing else. They were not of those who "held with" such
dissipation; still for once in a way to see it, the responsibility not
being theirs, would be something. They held their breath, but it was not
altogether in horror; there was in it a mixture of anticipation too.

"And I know what will come of it," said Williams. "What has come afore:
the money will have to come out o' some one's pocket; and master never
knew how to keep his to himself, never, as long as I've known him. To be
sure, he hadn't got a great deal in the old days. But I know what'll
happen; he'll just have to pay up now--he's that soft," said Williams;
"a man that can't say no to a woman. Not that I care for the money. I'd
a deal sooner he gave her an allowance, or set her up in some other
place, or just give her a good round sum--as he could afford to do--and
get shut of her. That is what I should advise. Just a round sum and get
shut of her."

"I've always heard," said Miss Fletcher, "as the money was my lady's,
and not from the Randolph side at all."

"What's hers is his," said Williams; "what's my lady's is her husband's;
and a good bargain too--on her side."

"I declare," cried Fletcher energetically, stung with that sense of
wrong to her own side which gives heat to party feeling--"I declare if
any man took my money to keep up his--his--his old sweetheart, I'd
murder him. I'd take his life, that's what I should do."

"Poor dear," said Mrs. Freshwater, wiping her eyes with her apron. "Poor
dear! She'll never murder no one, my lady. Bless her innocent face. I
only hope as she'll never find it out."

"Sooner than she don't find it out I'll tell her myself," cried
Williams. "Now I don't understand you women. You'd let my lady be
deceived and made game of, rather than tell her."

"Made game of!" cried Fletcher, with a shriek of indignation. "I should
like to see who dared to do that."

"Oh, they'll dare do it, soon enough, and take their fun out of
her--it's just what them foreigners are fond of," said Williams, who
knew them and all their tricks down to the ground, as he said. Still,
however, notwithstanding his evil reports, good Mrs. Freshwater, who was
as good-natured as she was fat, could scarcely make up her mind to
believe all that of the Contessa. "She do look so sweet, and talk so
pretty, not as if she was foreign at all," the housekeeper said.

That evening, however, the Contessa herself took occasion to explain to
Sir Tom what her intentions were. She had thought the subject all over
while she dressed for dinner, with a certain elation in her success, yet
keen clear-mindedness which never deserted her. And then, to be sure,
her object had not been entirely the simple one of getting an invitation
to Park Lane. She had intended something more than this. And she was not
sure of success in that second and still more important point. She meant
that Lady Randolph should endow Bice largely, liberally. She intended to
bring every sort of motive to bear--even some that verged upon
tragedy--to procure this. She had no compunction or faltering on the
subject, for it was not for herself, she said within herself, that she
was scheming, and she did not mean to be foiled. In considering the best
means to attain this great and final object, she decided that it would
be well to go softly, not to insist too much upon the advantages she had
secured, or to give Lucy too much cause to regret her yielding. The
Contessa had the soul of a strategist, the imagination of a great
general. She did not ignore the feelings of the subject of her
experiment. She even put herself in Lucy's place, and asked herself how
she could bear this or that. She would not oppose or overwhelm the
probable benefactress to whom she, or at least Bice, might afterwards
owe so much. When Sir Tom approached her chair in the evening when he
came in after dinner, as he always did, she made room for him on the
sofa beside her. "I am going to make you my confidant," she said in her
most charming way, with that air of smiling graciousness which made Sir
Tom laugh, yet fascinated him in spite of himself. He knew that she put
on the same air for whomsoever she chose to charm; but it had a power
which he could not resist all the same. "But perhaps you don't care to
be taken into my confidence," she added, smiling, too, as if willing to
admit all he could allege as to her syren graces. She had a delightful
air of being in the joke which entirely deceived Sir Tom.

"On the contrary," he said. "But as we have just heard your plans from
my wife----"

The Contessa kissed her hand to Lucy, who occupied her usual place at
the table.

"I wonder," she said, "if you understand, being only a man, what there
is in that child; for she is but a child. You and I, we are Methuselahs
in comparison."

"Not quite so much as that," he said, with a laugh.

"Methuselahs," she said reflectively. "Older, if that is possible;
knowing everything, while she knows nothing. She is our good angel. It
is what you would not have dared to offer, you who know me--yes, I
believe it--and like me. Oh no, I do not go beyond that English word,
never! You like the Forno-Populo. I know how you men speak. You think
that there is amusement to be got from her, and you will do me the
honour to say, no harm. That is, no permanent harm. But you would not
offer to befriend me, no, not the best of you. But she who by nature is
against such women as I am--Sweet Lucy! Yes it is you I am talking of,"
the Contessa said, who was skilful to break any lengthened speeches like
this by all manner of interruptions, so that it should never tire the
person to whom it was addressed. "She, who is not amused by me, who does
not like me, whose prejudices are all against me, she it is who offers
me her little hand to help me. It is a lovely little hand, though she is
not a beauty----"

"My wife is very well," said Sir Tom, with a certain hauteur and
abruptness, such as in all their lengthened conversations he had never
shown before.

The Contessa gave him a look in which there was much of that feminine
contempt at which men laugh as one of the pretences of women. "I am
going to be good to her as she is to me," she said. "The Carnival will
be short this year, and in England you have no Carnival. I will find
myself a little house for the season. I will not too much impose upon
that angel. There, now, is something good for you to relieve your mind.
I can read you, _mon ami_, like a book. You are fond of me--oh yes!--but
not too long; not too much. I can read you like a book."

"Too long, too much, are not in my vocabulary," said Sir Tom; "have they
a meaning? not certainly that has any connection with a certain charming
Contessina. If that lady has a fault, which I doubt, it is that she
gives too little of her gracious countenance to her friends."

"She does not come down to breakfast," said the Contessa, with her soft
laugh, which in itself was a work of art. "She is not so foolish as to
put herself in competition with the lilies and the roses, the English
flowers. Poverina! she keeps herself for the afternoon which is
charitable, and the light of the lamps which is flattering. But she
remembers other days--alas! in which she was not afraid of the sun
himself, not even of the mid-day, nor of the dawn when it comes in above
the lamps. There was a certain _bal costumé_ in Florence, a year when
many English came to the Populino palace. But why do I talk of that? You
will not remember----"

There was something apparently in the recollection that touched Sir Tom.
His eye softened. An unaccustomed colour came to his middle-aged cheek.
"I! not remember? I remember every hour, every moment," he said, and
then their voices sank lower, and a murmur of reminiscences, one filling
up another, ensued between the pair. Their tone softened, there were
broken phrases, exclamations, a rapid interchange which was far too
indistinct to be audible. Lucy sat by her table and worked, and was
vaguely conscious of it all. She had said to herself that she would take
no heed any more, that the poor Contessa was too open-hearted, too
generous to harm her, that they were but two old friends talking of the
past. And so it was; but there was a something forlorn in sitting by at
a distance, out of it all, and knowing that it was to go on and last,
alas! by her own doing, who could tell how many evenings, how many long
hours to come!



CHAPTER XXX.

DIFFERENT VIEWS.


The time after this seemed to fly in the great quiet, all the
entertainments of the Christmas season being over, and the houses in the
neighbourhood gradually emptying of guests. The only visitors at the
Hall were the clergyman, the doctor, an odd man now and then whom Sir
Tom would invite in the character of a "native," for the Contessa's
amusement; and Mr. Rushton, who came from Farafield two or three times
on business, at first with a very keen curiosity, to know how it was
that Lucy had subdued her husband and got him to relinquish his
objection to her alienation of her money. This had puzzled the lawyer
very greatly. There had been no uncertainty about Sir Tom's opinion when
the subject was mooted to him first. He had looked upon it with very
proper sentiments. It had seemed to him ridiculous, incredible, that
Lucy should set up her will against his, or take her own way, when she
knew how he regarded the matter. He had told the lawyer that he had
little doubt of being able to bring her to hear reason. And then he had
written to say that he withdrew his objection! Mr. Rushton felt that
there must be some reason here more than met the eye. He made a pretence
of business that he might discover what it was, and he had done so
triumphantly, as he thought. Sir Tom, as everybody knew, had been "a
rover" in his youth, and the world was charitable enough to conclude
that in that youth there must be many things which he would not care to
expose to the eye of day. When Mr. Rushton beheld at luncheon the
Contessa, followed by the young and slim figure of Bice, it seemed to
him that everything was solved. And Lady Randolph, he thought, did not
look with very favourable eyes upon the younger lady. What doubt that
Sir Tom had bought the assent of his wife to the presence of the guests
by giving up on his side some of his reasonable rights?

"Did you ever hear of an Italian lady that Sir Tom was thick with before
he married?" he asked his wife when he came home.

"How can you ask me such a question," said that virtuous woman, "when
you know as well as I do that there were half-a-dozen?"

"Did you ever hear the name of Forno-Populo?" he asked.

Mrs. Rushton paused and did her best to look as if she was trying to
recollect. As a matter of fact all Italian names sounded alike to her,
as English names do to foreign ears. But after a moment she said boldly:
"Of course I have heard it. That was the lady from Naples, or Venice, or
some of those places, that ran away with him. You heard all about it at
the time as well as I."

And upon this Mr. Rushton smote upon his thigh, and made a mighty
exclamation. "By George!" he said, "he's got her there, under his wife's
very nose; and that's why he has given in about the money." Nothing
could have been more clearly reasoned out--there could be no doubt upon
that subject. And the presence of Bice decided the question. Bice must
be--they said, to be sure! Dates and everything answered to this view of
the question. There could be no doubt as to who Bice was. They were very
respectable, good people themselves, and had never given any scandal to
the world; but they never hesitated for a moment or thought there was
anything unnatural in attributing the most shameful scandal and domestic
treachery to Sir Tom. In fact it would be difficult to say that they
thought much less of him in consequence. It was Lucy, rather, upon whom
their censure fell. She ought to have known better. She ought never to
have allowed it. To pretend to such simplicity was sickening, Mrs.
Rushton thought.

It was early in February when they all went to London--a time when
society is in a sort of promissory state, full of hopes of dazzling
delights to come, but for the present not dazzling, parliamentary,
residential, a society made up of people who live in London, who are not
merely gay birds of fashion, basking in the sunshine of the seasons.
There was only a week or two of what the Contessa called Carnival, which
indeed was not Carnival at all, but a sober time in which dinner parties
began, and the men began to gather at the clubs. The Contessa did not
object to this period of quiet. She acquainted Lucy with all she meant
to do in the meantime, to the great confusion of that ingenious spirit.
"Bice must be dressed," the Contessa said, "which of itself requires no
little time and thought. Unhappily M. Worth is not in London. Even with
M. Worth I exert my own faculties. He is excellent, but he has not the
intuitions which come when one is very much interested in an object.
Sweet Lucy! you have not thought upon that matter. Your dress is as your
dressmaker sends it to you. Yes; but, my angel, Bice has her career
before her. It is different."

"Oh, Madame di Forno-Populo," said Lucy, "do you still think in that
way--must it still be exhibiting her, marrying her?"

"Marriage is honourable," said the Contessa. "It is what all girls are
thinking of; but me, I think it better that their parents should take it
in hand instead of the young ladies. There is something in Bice that is
difficult, oh, very difficult. If one chooses well for her, one will be
richly repaid; but if, on the contrary, one leaves it to the
conventional, the ordinary--My sweetest! your pretty white dresses, your
blues are delightful for you; but Bice is different, quite different.
And then she has no fortune. She must be piquant. She must be striking.
She must please. In England you take no trouble for that. It is not
_comme il faut_ here; but it is in our country. Each of us we like the
ways of our country best."

"I have often wondered," said Lucy, "to hear you speak such perfect
English, and Bice too. It is, I suppose, because you are so musical and
have such good ears----"

"Darling!" said the Contessa sweetly. She said this or a similar word
when nothing else occurred to her. She had her room full of lovely
stuffs, brought by obsequious shopmen, to whom Lady Randolph's name was
sufficient warrant for any extravagance the Contessa might think of. But
she said to herself that she was not at all extravagant; for Bice's
wardrobe was her stock-in-trade, and if she did not take the opportunity
of securing it while in her power, the Contessa thought she would be
false to Bice's interests. The girl still wore nothing but her black
frock. She went out in the park early in the morning when nobody was
there, and sometimes had riding lessons at an unearthly hour, so that
nobody should see her. The Contessa was very anxious on this point. When
Lucy would have taken Bice out driving, when she would have taken her
to the theatre, her patroness instantly interfered. "All that will come
in its time," she said. "Not now. She must not appear now. I cannot have
her seen. Recollect, my Lucy, she has no fortune. She must depend upon
herself for everything." This doctrine, at which Lucy stood aghast, was
maintained in the most matter-of-fact way by the neophyte herself. "If I
were seen," she said, "now, I should be quite stale when I appear. I
must appear before I go anywhere. Oh yes, I love the theatre. I should
like to go with you driving. But I should forestall myself. Some persons
do and they are never successful. First of all, before anything, I must
appear."

"Oh my child," Lucy cried, "I cannot bear to hear of all this. You
should not calculate so at your age. And when you appear, as you call
it, what then, Bice? Nobody will take any particular notice, perhaps,
and you will be so disappointed you will not know what to do. Hundreds
of girls appear every season and nobody minds."

Bice took no notice of these subduing and moderating previsions. She
smiled and repeated what the Contessa said. "I must do the best for
myself, for I have no fortune."

No fortune! and to think that Lucy, with her mind directed to other
matters, never once realised that this was a state of affairs which she
could put an end to in a moment. It never occurred to her--perhaps, as
she certainly was matter of fact, the recollection that there was a sort
of stipulation in the will against foreigners turned her thoughts into
another channel.

It was, however, during this time of preparation and quiet that the
household in Park Lane one day received a visit from Jock, accompanied
by no less a person than MTutor, the leader of intellectual life and
light of the world to the boy. They came to luncheon by appointment, and
after visiting some museum on which Jock's mind was set, came to remain
to dinner and go to the theatre. MTutor had a condescending appreciation
of the stage. He thought it was an educational influence, not perhaps of
any great utility to the youths under such care as his own, but of no
small importance to the less fortunate members of society; and he liked
to encourage the efforts of conscientious actors who looked upon their
own calling in this light. It was rather for this purpose than with the
idea of amusement that he patronised the play, and Jock, as in duty
bound, though there was in him a certain boyish excitement as to the
pleasure itself, did his best to regard the performance in the same
exalted light. MTutor was a young man of about thirty, slim and tall. He
was a man who had taken honours at college, though his admirers said not
such high honours as he might have taken; "For MTutor," said Jock,
"never would go in for pot-hunting, you know. What he always wanted was
to cultivate his own mind, not to get prizes." It was with heartfelt
admiration that this feature in his character was dwelt upon by his
disciples. Not a doubt that he could have got whatever he liked to go in
for, had he not been so fastidious and high-minded. He was fellow of his
college as it was, had got a poetry prize which, perhaps, was not the
Newdigate; and smiled indulgently at those who were more warm in the
arena of competition than himself. On other occasions when "men" came to
luncheon, the Contessa, though quite ready to be amused by them in her
own person, sternly forbade the appearance of Bice, the effect of whose
future was not, she was determined, to be spoilt by any such preliminary
peeps; but the Contessa's vigilance slackened when the visitors were of
no greater importance than this. She was insensible to the greatness of
MTutor. It did not seem to matter that he should be there sitting grave
and dignified by Lucy's side, and talking somewhat over Lucy's head, any
more than it mattered that Mr. Rushton should be there, or any other
person of an inferior level. It was not upon such men that Bice's
appearance was to tell. She took no precautions against such persons.
Jock himself at sixteen was not more utterly out of the question. And
the Contessa herself, as it happened, was much amused by MTutor; his
great ideas of everything, the exalted ideal that showed in all he did
or said, gave great pleasure to this woman of the world. And when they
came to the question of the educational influence of the stage, and the
conscientious character of the actors' work, she could not conceal her
satisfaction. "I will go with you, too," she said, "this evening." "We
shall all go," said Sir Tom, "even Bice. There is a big box, and behind
the curtain nobody will see her." To this the Contessa demurred, but,
after a little while, being in a yielding humour, gave way. "It is for
the play alone," she said in an undertone, raising her finger in
admonition, "You will remember, my child, for the play alone."

"We are all going for the play alone," said Sir Tom, cheerfully. "Here
is Lucy, who is a baby for a play. She likes melodrama best, disguises
and trap-doors and long-lost sons, and all the rest of it."

"It is a taste that is very general," said MTutor, indulgently; "but I
am sure Lady Randolph appreciates the efforts of a conscientious
interpreter--one who calls all the resources of art to his aid----"

"I don't care for the play alone," said Bice to Jock in an undertone. "I
want to see the people. They are always the most amusing. I have seen
nobody yet in London. And though I must not be seen, I may look, that
will do no harm. Then there will be the people who come into the box."

"The people who come into the box! but you know us all," said Jock,
astonished, "before we go----"

"You all?" said Bice, with some disdain. "It is easy to see _you_; that
is not what I mean; this will be the first time I put my foot into the
world. The actors, that is nothing. Is it the custom in England to look
much at the play? No, you go to see your friends."

MTutor was on the other side of this strange girl in her black frock. He
took it upon him to reply. He said: "That is the case in some countries,
but not here. In England the play is actually thought of. English actors
are not so good as the French, nor even the Italian. And the Germans are
much better trained. Nevertheless, we do what perhaps no other nation
does. We give them our attention. It is this which makes the position of
the actors more important, more interesting in England."

"Stop a little, stop a little!" cried Sir Tom; "don't let me interrupt
you, Derwentwater, if you are instructing the young ones; but don't
forget the _Comédie Française_ and the aristocracy of art."

"I do not forget it," said Mr. Derwentwater; "in that point of view we
are far behind France; still I uphold that nowhere else do people go to
the theatre for the sake of the play as we do; and it is this," he
said, turning to Bice, "that makes it possible that the theatre may be
an influence and a power."

Bice lifted her eyes upon this man with a wondering gaze of contempt.
She gave him a full look which abashed him, though he was so much more
important, so much more intellectual, than she. Then, without deigning
to take any notice, she turned to Jock at her other side. "If that is
all I do not care for going," she said. "I have seen many plays--oh,
many! I like quite as well to read at home. It is not for that I wish to
go; but to see the world. The world, that is far more interesting. It is
like a novel, but living. You look at the people and you read what they
are thinking. You see their stories going on. That is what amuses
me;--but a play on the stage, what is it? People dressed in clothes that
do not belong to them, trying to make themselves look like somebody
else--but they never do. One says--that is not I, but the people that
know--Bravo, Got! Bravo Regnier! It does not matter what parts they are
acting. You do not care for the part. Then why go and look at it?" said
Bice with straightforward philosophy.

All this she poured forth upon Jock in a low clear voice, as if there
was no one else near. Jock, for his part, was carried away by the flood.

"I don't know about Got and Regnier. But what we are going to see is
Shakespeare," he said, with a little awe, "that is not just like a
common play."

Mr. Derwentwater had been astonished by Bice's indifference to his own
instructive remarks. It was this perhaps more than her beauty which had
called his attention to her, and he had listened as well as he could to
the low rapid stream of her conversation, not without wonder that she
should have chosen Jock as the recipient of her confidence. What she
said, though he heard it but imperfectly, interested him still more. He
wanted to make her out--it was a new kind of study. While Lucy, by his
side, went on tranquilly with some soft talk about the theatre, of which
she knew very little, he thought, he made her a civil response, but gave
all his attention to what was going on at the other side; and there was
suddenly a lull of the general commotion, in which he heard distinctly
Bice's next words.

"_What_ is Shakespeare?" she said; then went on with her own
reflections. "What I want to see is the world. I have never yet gone
into the world; but I must know it, for it is there I have to live. If
one could live in Shakespeare," cried the girl, "it would be easy; but I
have not been brought up for that; and I want to see the world--just a
little corner--because that is what concerns me, not a play. If it is
only for the play, I think I shall not go."

"You had much better come," said Jock; "after all it is fun, and some of
the fellows will be good. The world is not to be seen at the theatre
that I know of," continued the boy. "Rows of people sitting one behind
another, most of them as stupid as possible--you don't call that the
world? But come--I wish you would come. It is a change--it stirs you
up."

"I don't want to be stirred up. I am all living," cried Bice. There
seemed to breathe out from her a sort of visible atmosphere of energy
and impatient life. Looking across this thrill in the air, which somehow
was like the vibration of heat in the atmosphere, Jock's eyes
encountered those of his tutor, turned very curiously, and not without
bewilderment, to the same point as his own. It gave the boy a curious
sensation which he could not define. He had wished to exhibit to Mr.
Derwentwater this strange phenomenon in the shape of a girl, with a
sense that there was something very unusual in her, something in which
he himself had a certain proprietorship. But when MTutor's eyes
encountered Jock's with an astonished glance of discovery in them, which
seemed to say that he had found out Bice for himself without the
interposition of the original discoverer, Jock felt a thrill of
displeasure, and almost pain, which he could not explain to himself.
What did it mean? It seemed to bring with it a certain defiance of, and
opposition to, this king of men.



CHAPTER XXXI.

TWO FRIENDS.


"Who was that young lady?" Mr. Derwentwater said. "I did not catch the
name."

"What young lady?" To suppose for a moment that Jock did not know who
was meant would be ridiculous, of course; but, for some reason which he
did not explain even to himself, this was the reply he made.

"My dear Jock, there was but one," said MTutor, with much friendliness.
"At your age you do not take much notice of the other sex, and that is
very well and right; but still it would be wrong to imagine that there
is not something interesting in girls occasionally. I did not make her
out. She was quite a study to me at the theatre. I am afraid the greater
part of the performance, and all the most meritorious portion of it,
was thrown away upon her; but still there were gleams of interest. She
is not without intelligence, that is clear."

"You mean Bice," said Jock, with a certain dogged air which Mr.
Derwentwater had seldom seen in him before, and did not understand. He
spoke as if he intended to say as little as was practicable, and as if
he resented being made to speak at all.

"Bice--ah! like Dante's Bice," said MTutor. "That makes her more
interesting still. Though it is not perhaps under that aspect that one
represents to oneself the Bice of Dante--_ben son, ben son, Beatrice._
No, not exactly under that aspect. Dante's Bice must have been more
grand, more imposing, in her dress of crimson or dazzling white."

Jock made no response. It was usual for him to regard MTutor devoutly
when he talked in this way, and to feel that no man on earth talked so
well. Jock in his omnivorous reading knew perhaps Dante better than his
instructor, but he had come to the age when the mind, confused in all
its first awakening of emotions, cannot talk of what affects it most.
The time had been at which he had discussed everything he read with
whosoever would listen, and instructed the world in a child's
straightforward way. At that period he had often improved Lucy's mind on
the subject of Dante, telling her all the details of that wonderful
pilgrimage through earth and heaven, to her great interest and wonder,
as something that had happened the other day. Lucy had not in those days
been quite able to understand how it was that the gentleman of Florence
should have met everybody he knew in the unseen, but she had taken it
all in respectfully, as was her wont. Jock, however, had passed beyond
this stage, and no longer told Lucy, or any one, stories from his
reading; and other sensations had begun to stir in him which he could
not put into words. In this way it was a constant admiration to him to
hear MTutor, who could always, he thought, say the right thing and never
was at a loss. But this evening he was dissatisfied. They were returning
from the theatre by a late train, and nothing but Jock's reputation and
high character as a boy of boys, high up in everything intellectual, and
without reproach in any way, besides the devoted friendship which
subsisted between himself and his tutor, could have justified Mr.
Derwentwater in permitting him in the middle of the half to go to London
to the theatre, and return by the twelve o'clock train. This privilege
came to him from the favour of his tutor, and yet for the first time his
tutor did not seem the superhuman being he had always previously
appeared to Jock. But Mr. Derwentwater was quite unsuspicious of this.

"There is something very much out of the way in the young lady
altogether," he said. "That little black dress, fitting her like a
glove, and no ornament or finery of any description. It is not so with
girls in general. It was very striking--tell me----"

"I didn't think," cried Jock, "that you paid any attention to what women
wore."

Mr. Derwentwater yielded to a gentle smile. "Tell me," he said, as if he
had not been interrupted, "who this young lady may be. Is she a daughter
of the Italian lady, a handsome woman, too, in her way, who was with
your people?" The railway carriage in which they were coursing through
the blackness of the night was but dimly lighted, and it was not easy to
see from one corner to another the expression of Jock's face.

"I don't know," said Jock, in a voice that sounded gruff, "I can't tell
who she is--I never asked. It did not seem any business of mine."

"Old fellow," said MTutor, "don't cultivate those bearish ways. Some men
do, but it's not good form. I don't like to see it in you."

This silenced Jock, and made his face flame in the darkness. He did not
know what excuse to make. He added reluctantly: "Of course I know that
she came with the Contessa; but who she is I don't know, and I don't
think Lucy knows. She is just--there."

"Well, my boy," said Mr. Derwentwater, "if there is any mystery, all
right; I don't want to be prying;" but, as was natural, this only
increased his curiosity. After an interval, he broke forth again. "A
little mystery," he said, "suits them; a woman ought to be mysterious,
with her long robes falling round her, and her mystery of long hair, and
all the natural veils and mists that are about her. It is more poetic
and in keeping that they should only have a lovely suggestive name, what
we call a Christian name, instead of a commonplace patronymic, Miss
So-and-so! Yes; I recognise your Bice as by far the most suitable
symbol."

It is impossible to say what an amount of unexpressed and inexpressible
irritation arose in the mind of Jock with every word. "Your Bice!" The
words excited him almost beyond his power of control. The mere fact of
having somehow got into opposition to MTutor was in itself an irritation
almost more than he could bear. How it was he could not explain to
himself; but only felt that from the moment when they had got into their
carriage together, Mr. Derwentwater, hitherto his god, had become almost
odious to him. The evening altogether had been exciting, but
uncomfortable. They had all gone to the theatre, where Jock had been
prepared to look on not so much at a fine piece of acting as at a
conscientious study, the laboriousness of which was one of its chief
qualities. Neither the Contessa nor Bice had been much impressed by that
fine view of the performance. Madame di Forno-Populo, indeed, had swept
the audience with her opera-glass, and paid very little attention to the
stage. She had yawned at the most important moments. When the curtain
fell she had woke up, looking with interest for visitors, as it
appeared, though very few visitors had come. Bice was put into the
corner under shelter of the Contessa, and thence had taken furtive
peeps, though without any opera-glass, with her own keen, intelligent
young eyes, at the people sitting near, whom Jock had declared not to be
in any sense of the word the world. Bice too looked up, when the box
door opened, with great interest. She kept well in the shade, but it was
evident that she was anxious to see whosoever might come. And very few
people came; one or two men who came to pay their respects to Lucy, one
or two who appeared with faces of excitement and surprise to ask if it
was indeed Madame di Forno-Populo whom they had seen? At these Bice from
out her corner gazed with large eyes; they were not persons of an
interesting kind. One of them was a Lord Somebody, who was red-faced and
had an air which somehow did not suit the place in which Lucy was, and
towards whom Sir Tom, though he knew him, maintained an aspect of
seriousness not at all usual to his cordial countenance. Bice, it was
evident, was struck with a contemptuous amaze at the appearance of these
visitors. There was a quick interchange of glances between her and the
Contessa with shrugs of the shoulders and much play of fans. Bice's
raised eyebrows and curled lips perhaps meant--"Are those your famous
friends? Is this all?" Whereas the Contessa answered deprecatingly, with
a sort of "wait a little" look. Jock, who generally was pleased to
stroll about the lobbies in a sort of mannish way in the intervals
between the acts, sat still in his place to watch all this with a
wondering sense that here was something going on in which there was a
still closer interest, and to notice everything almost without knowing
that he noted it, following in this respect, as in most others, the lead
of his tutor, who likewise addressed himself to the supervision of
everything that went on, discoursing in the meantime to Lucy about the
actors' "interpretation" of the part, and how far he, Mr. Derwentwater,
agreed with their view. To Lucy, indeed, the action of the play was
everything, and the intervals between tedious. She laughed and cried,
and followed every movement, and looked round, hushing the others when
they whispered, almost with indignation. Lucy was far younger, Jock
decided, than Bice or even himself. He, too, had learned already--how
had he learned it?--that the play going on upon the stage was less
interesting than that which was being performed outside. Even Jock had
found this out, though he could not have told how. Shakespeare, indeed,
was far greater, nobler; but the excitement of a living story, the
progress of events of which nobody could tell what would come next, had
an interest transcending even the poetry. That was what people said,
Jock was aware, in novels and other productions; but until to-night he
never believed it was true.

And then there was the journey from town, with all the curious sensation
of parting at the theatre doors, and returning from that shining world
of gaslight, and ladies' dresses, into the dimness of the railway, the
tedious though not very long journey, the plunging of the carriage
through the blackness of the night; and along with these the questions
of Mr. Derwentwater, so unlike him, so uncalled-for, as Jock could not
help thinking. What had he to do with Bice? What had any one to do with
her? So far as she belonged to any one, it was to himself, Jock; her
first friend, her companion in her walks, he to whom she had spoken so
freely, and who had told her his opinion with such simplicity. When Jock
remembered that he had told her she was not pretty his cheeks burned.
There had stolen into his mind, he could not tell how, a very different
feeling now--not perhaps a different opinion. When he reflected it did
not seem to him even now that pretty was the word to use--but the
impression of Bice which was in his mind was something that made the boy
thrill. He did not understand it, nor could he tell what it was. But it
made him quiver with resentment when there was any question about
her--anything like this cold-blooded investigation which Mr.
Derwentwater had attempted to make. It troubled Jock all the more that
it should be MTutor who made it. When our god, our model of excellence,
comes down from his high state to anything that is petty, or less than
perfect, how sore is the pang with which we acknowledge it. "To be wroth
with those we love doth work like madness in the brain." Jock had both
these pangs together. He was angry because MTutor had been interfering
with matters in which he had no concern, and he was pained because
MTutor had condescended to ask questions and invite gossip, like the
smaller beings well enough known in the boy-world as in every other,
who make gossip the chief object of their existence. Could there be
anything in the idol of his youth akin to these? He felt sore and
disappointed, without knowing why, with a dim consciousness that there
were many other people whom Mr. Derwentwater might have inquired about
without awakening any such feelings in him. When the train stopped, and
they got out, it was strange to walk down the silent, midnight streets
by MTutor's side, without the old sensation of pleasure with which the
boy felt himself made into the man's companion. He was awakened out of
his maze of dark and painful feelings by the voice of Derwentwater
calling upon him to admire the effect of the moonlight upon the river as
they crossed the bridge. For long after that scene remained in Jock's
mind against a background of mysterious shadows and perplexity. The moon
rode in the midst of a wide clearing of blue between two broken banks of
clouds. She was almost full, and approaching her setting. She shone full
upon the river, sweeping from side to side in one flood of silver,
broken only by a few strange little blacknesses, the few boats, like
houseless stragglers out by night and without shelter, which lay here
and there by a wharf or at the water's edge. The scene was wonderfully
still and solemn, not a motion to be seen either on street or stream.
"How is it, do you think," said Mr. Derwentwater, "that we think so
little of the sun when it is he that lights up a scene like this, and so
much of the moon?"

Jock was taken by surprise by this question, which was of a kind which
his tutor was fond of putting, and which brought back their old
relations instantaneously. Jock seemed to himself to wake up out of a
strange inarticulate dream of displeasure and embarrassment, and to feel
himself with sudden remorse, a traitor to his friend. He said,
faltering: "I don't know; it is always you that finds out the analogies.
I don't think that my mind is poetical at all."

"You do yourself injustice, Jock," said Derwentwater, his arm within
that of his pupil in their old familiar way. And then he said: "The moon
is the feminine influence which charms us by showing herself clearly as
the source of the light she sheds. The sun we rarely think of at all,
but only of what he gives us--the light and the heat that are our life.
Her," he pointed to the sky, "we could dispense with, save for the
beauty of her."

"I wish," said Jock, "I could think of anything so fine. But do you
think we could do without women like that?" said the inquiring young
spirit, ready to follow with his bosom bare whithersoever this refined
philosophy might lead.

"You and I will," said the instructor. "There are grosser and there are
tamer spirits to whom it might be different. I would not wrong you by
supposing that you, my boy, could ever be tempted in the gross way; and
I don't think you are of the butterfly dancing kind."

"I should rather think not!" said Jock, with a short laugh.

"Then, except as a beautiful object, setting herself forth in conscious
brightness, like that emblem of woman yonder," said MTutor with a wave
of his hand, admiring, familiar, but somewhat contemptuous, towards the
moon, "what do we want with that feminine influence? Our lives are set
to higher uses, and occupied with other aims."

Jock was perfectly satisfied with this profession of faith. He went
along the street with his tutor's arm in his, and a vague elation as of
something settled and concluded upon in his mind. Their footsteps rang
upon the pavement with a manly tramp as they paced away from the light
on the bridge into the shadow of the old houses with their red roofs.
They had gone some way before, being above all things loyal, Jock
thought it right to put in a proviso. "Not intellectually, perhaps," he
said, "but I can't forget how much I owe to my sister. I should have
been a most forlorn little wretch when I was a child, and I shouldn't be
much now, but for Lucy standing by me. It's not well to forget that, is
it, sir? though Lucy is not at all clever," he added in an undertone.

"You are a loyal soul," said MTutor, with a pressure of his arm, "but
Woman does not mean our mothers and sisters." Here he permitted himself
a little laugh. "It shows me how much inferior is my position to that of
your youth, my dear boy," he said, "when you give me such an answer.
Believe me it is far finer than anything you suppose me to be able to
say."

Jock did not know how to respond to this speech. It half angered, half
pleased him, but on the whole he was more ashamed of the supposed
youthfulness than satisfied with the approbation. No one, however young,
likes the imputation of innocence; and Jock had feelings rising within
him of which he scarcely knew the meaning, but which made him still more
sensible of the injustice of this view. He was too proud, however, to
explain himself even if he had been able to do so, and the little way
that remained was trodden in silence. The boy, however, could not help a
curious sensation of superiority as he went to his room through the
sleeping-house, feeling the stillness of the slumber into which he
stole, treading very quietly that he might not disturb any one. He
stopped for a moment with a candle in his hand and looked down the long
passage with its line of closed doors on each side, holding his breath
with a half smile of sympathy, respect for the hush of sleep, yet keen
superiority of life and emotion over all the unconscious household. His
own brain and heart seemed tingling with the activity and tumult of life
in them. It seemed to him impossible to sleep, to still the commotion in
his mind, and bring himself into harmony with that hushed atmosphere and
childish calm.



CHAPTER XXXII.

YOUTHFUL UNREST.


Easter was very early that year, about as early as Easter can be, and
there was in Jock's mind a disturbing consciousness of the holidays, and
the manner in which he was likely to spend them, which no doubt
interfered to a certain extent with his work. He ought to have been
first in the competition for a certain school prize, and he was not. It
was carried off to the disappointment of Jock's house, and, indeed, of
the greater part of the school, by a King's scholar, which was the fate
of most of the prizes. Mr. Derwentwater was deeply cast down by this
disappointment. He expressed himself on the subject indeed with all the
fine feeling for which he was distinguished. "The loss of a
distinction," he said, "is not in itself a matter to disturb us; but I
own I should be sorry to think that you were failing at all in that
intellectual energy which has already placed you so often at the head of
the lists--that, my dear fellow, I should unfeignedly regret; but not a
mere prize, which is nothing." This was a very handsome way of speaking
of it; but that MTutor was disappointed there could be no doubt. To Jock
himself it gave a keen momentary pang to see his own name only third in
that beadroll of honour; but so it was. The holidays had all that to
answer for; the holidays, or rather what they were to bring. When he
thought of the Hall and the company there, Jock felt a certain high tide
in his veins, an awakening of interest and anticipation which he did not
understand. He did not say to himself that he was going to be happy. He
only looked forward with an eager heart, with a sense of something to
come, which was different from the routine of ordinary life. MTutor
after many hindrances and hesitations was at last going to accept the
invitation of Sir Tom, and accompany his pupil. This Jock had looked
forward to as the greatest of pleasures. But somehow he did not feel so
happy about it now. He did not seem to himself to want Mr. Derwentwater.
In some ways, indeed, he had become impatient of Mr. Derwentwater. Since
that visit to the theatre, involuntarily without any cause for it, there
had commenced to be moments in which MTutor was tedious. This sacrilege
was unconscious, and never yet had been put into words; but still the
feeling was there; and the beginning of any such revolution in the soul
must be accompanied with many uneasinesses. Jock was on the stroke, so
to speak, of seventeen. He was old for his age, yet he had been almost
childish too in his devotion to his books, and the subjects of his
school life. The last year had introduced many new thoughts to his mind
by restoring him to the partial society of his sister and her house; but
into these new subjects he had carried the devotion of his studious
habits and the enthusiasm of his discipleship, transferring himself
bodily with all his traditions into the new atmosphere. But a change
somehow had begun in him, he could not tell how. He was stirred beyond
the lines of his former being--sentiments, confusions of spirit quite
new to him, were vaguely fermenting, he could not tell how; and school
work, and prizes, and all the emulations of sixth form had somehow tamed
and paled. The colour seemed to have gone out of them. And the library
of MTutor, that paradise of thought, that home of conversation, where so
many fine things used to be said--that too had palled upon the boy's
uneasy soul. He felt as if he should prefer to leave everything behind
him,--books and compositions and talk, and even MTutor himself. Such a
state of mind is sure to occur some time or other in a boy's
experiences; but in this case it was too early, and Mr. Derwentwater,
who was very deeply devoted to his pupils, was much exercised on the
subject. He had lost Jock's confidence, he thought. How had he lost his
confidence? was it that some other less wholesome influence was coming
in? Thus there were feelings of discomfort between them, hesitations as
to what to say, instinctive avoidance of some subjects, concealed
allusions to others. It might even be said that in a very refined and
superior way, such as was alone possible to such a man, Mr. Derwentwater
occasionally talked at Jock. He talked of the pain and grief of seeing a
young heart closed to you which once had been open, and of the poignant
disappointment which arises in an elder spirit when its spiritual
child--its disciple--gets beyond its leading. Jock, occupied with his
own thoughts, only partially understood.

It was in this state of mind that they set out together, amid all the
bustle of breaking up, to pay their promised visit. Jock, who up to this
moment had hated London, and looked with alarm upon society, had eagerly
accepted his tutor's proposal that after the ten days which they were to
spend at the Hall they should go to Normandy together for the rest of
the holidays, which was an arrangement very pleasant in anticipation.
But by this time neither of the two was at all anxious to carry it out.
Mr. Derwentwater had begun to talk of the expediency of giving a little
attention to one's own country. "We are just as foolish as the ignorant
masses," he said, "though we think ourselves so wise. Why not Devonshire
instead of Normandy? it is finer in natural scenery. Why not London
instead of Paris? there is no spell in mere going, as the ignorant say
'abroad.'" When you come to think of it, in just the same proportion as
one is superior to the common round of gaping British tourists, by going
on a walking tour in Normandy, one is superior to the walkers in
Normandy by choosing Devonshire.

These remarks were preliminary to the intention of giving up the plan
altogether, and by the time they set out it was tacitly understood that
this was to be the case. It was to be given up--not for Devonshire. The
pair of friends had become two--they were to do each what was good in
his own eyes. Jock would remain "at home," whether that home meant the
Hall or Park Lane, and Mr. Derwentwater, after his week's visit, should
go on--where seemed to him good.

There was a considerable party gathered in the inner drawing-room when
Jock and his companion presented themselves there. The scene was very
different from that to which Jock had been accustomed, when the
tea-table was a sort of fireside adjunct to the warmth and brightness
centred there. Now the windows were full of a clear yellow sky, shining
a little shrilly after rain, and promising in its too-clear and watery
brightness more rain to come; and many people were about, some standing
up against the light, some lounging in the comfortable chairs, some
talking together in groups, some hanging about Lucy and her tea service.
Lucy said, "Oh, is it you, Jock?" and kissed him, with a look of
pleasure; but she had not run out to meet him as of old. Lucy, indeed,
was changed, perhaps more evidently changed than any member of the
family. She was far more self-possessed than she had ever been before.
She did not now turn to her husband with that pretty look, half-smiling,
half-wistful, to know how she had got through her domestic duties. There
was a slight air of hurry and embarrassment about her eyes. The season
had not begun, and she could not have been overdone by her social
duties; but something had aged and changed her. Some old acquaintances
came forward and shook hands with Jock; and Sir Tom, when he saw who it
was, detached himself from the person he was talking to, and came
forward and gave him a sufficiently cordial welcome. The person with
whom he was talking was the Contessa. She was in her old place in the
room, the comfortable sofa which she had taken from Lady Randolph, and
where Sir Tom, leaning upon the mantelpiece, as an Englishman loves to
do, could talk to her in the easiest of attitudes. Jock, though he was
not discerning, thought that Sir Tom looked aged and changed too. The
people in general had a tired afternoon sort of look about them. They
were not like people exulting to get out of town, and out of darkness
and winter weather to the fresh air and April skies. Perhaps, however,
this effect was produced by the fact that looking for one special person
in the assembly Jock had not found her. He had never cared who was there
before. Except Lucy, the whole world was much the same to him. To talk
to her now and then, but by preference alone, when he could have her to
himself and nobody else was by, and then to escape to the library, had
been the height of his desire. Now he no longer thought of the library,
or even, save in a secondary way, of Lucy. He looked about for some one
else. There was the Contessa, sure enough, with one man on the sofa by
her side and another seated in front of her, and Sir Tom against the
mantelpiece lounging and talking. She was enchanting them all with her
rapid talk, with the pretty, swift movements of her hands, her
expressive looks and ways. But there was no shadow of Bice about the
room. Jock looked at once behind the table, where she had been always
visible when the Contessa was present. But Bice was not there. There was
not a trace of her among the people whom Jock neither knew nor cared to
know. But everything went on cheerfully, notwithstanding this omission,
which nobody but Jock seemed to remark. Ladies chattered softly as they
sipped their tea, men standing over them telling anecdotes of this
person and that, with runs of soft laughter here and there. Lucy at the
tea-table was the only one who was at all isolated. She was bending over
her cups and saucers, supplying now one and now another, listening to a
chance remark here and there, giving an abstracted smile to the person
who might chance to be next to her. What was she thinking of? Not of
Jock, who had only got a smile a little more animated than the others.
Mr. Derwentwater did not know anybody in this company. He stood on the
outskirts of it, with that look of mingled conciliation and defiance
which is natural to a man who feels himself overlooked. He was more
disappointed even than Jock, for he had anticipated a great deal of
attention, and not to find himself nobody in a fashionable crowd.

Things did not mend even at dinner. Then the people were more easily
identified in their evening clothes, exposing themselves steadily to all
observers on either side of the table; but they did not seem more
interesting. There were two or three political men, friends of Sir Tom,
and some of a very different type who were attached to the
Contessa--indeed, the party consisted chiefly of men, with a few ladies
thrown in. The ladies were not much more attractive. One of them, a Lady
Anastasia something, was one of the most inveterate of gossip
collectors, a lady who not only provided piquant tales for home
consumption, but served them up to the general public afterwards in a
newspaper--the only representatives of ordinary womankind being a mother
and two daughters, who had no particular qualities, and who duly
occupied a certain amount of space, without giving anything in return.
But Bice was not visible. She who had been so little noticed, yet so far
from insignificant, where was she? Could it be that the Contessa had
left her behind, or that Lucy had objected to her, or that she was ill,
or that--Jock did not know what to think. The company was a strange one.
Those sedate, political friends of Sir Tom found themselves with a
little dismay in the society of the lady who wrote for what she called
the Press, and the gentlemen from the clubs. One of the guests was the
young Marquis Montjoie, who had quite lately come into his title and the
world. He had been at school with Jock a few years before, and he
recognised Mr. Derwentwater with a curious mixture of awe and contempt.
"Hallo!" he had cried when he perceived him first, and he had whispered
something to the Contessa which made her laugh also. All this Jock
remarked vaguely in his uneasiness and disappointment. What was the good
of coming home, he said to himself, if---- What was the use of having so
looked forward to the holidays and lost that prize, and disappointed
everybody, if---- There rose such a ferment in Jock's veins as had never
been there before. When the ladies left the room after dinner it was he
that opened the door for them, and as Lucy looked up with a smile into
her brother's face she met from him a scowl which took away her breath.
Why did he scowl at Lucy? and why think that in all his life he had
never seen so dull a company before? Their good things after dinner were
odious to his ears; and to think, that even MTutor should be able to
laugh at such miserable jokes and take an interest in such small talk!
That fellow Montjoie, above all, was intolerable to Jock. He had been
quite low down in the school when he left, a being of no account, a
creature called by opprobrious names, and not worthy to tie the shoes of
a member of Sixth Form. But when he rattled loudly on about nothing at
all, even Sir Tom did not refuse to listen. What was Montjoie doing
here? When the gentlemen streamed into the drawing-room, a procession of
black coats, Jock, who came last, could not help being aware that he was
scowling at everybody. He met the eyes of one of those inoffensive
little girls in blue, and made her jump, looking at her as if he would
eat her. And all the evening through he kept prowling about with his
hands in his pockets, now looking at the books in the shelves, now
frowning at Lucy, who could not think what was the matter with her
brother. Was Jock ill? What had happened to him? The young ladies in
blue sang an innocent little duet, and Jock stared at the Contessa,
wondering if she was going to sing, and if the door would open and the
slim figure in the black frock come in as by a signal and place herself
at the piano. But the Contessa only laughed behind her fan, and made a
little pretence at applause when the music ceased, having talked all
through it, she and the gentlemen about her, of whom Montjoie was one
and the loudest. No, she was not going to sing. When the door opened it
was only to admit the servants with their trays and the tea which nobody
wanted. What was the use of looking forward to the holidays if---- Mr.
Derwentwater, perhaps, had similar thoughts. He came up to Jock behind
the backs of the other people, and put an uneasy question to him.

"I thought you said that Madame di Forno-Populo sang?"

"She used to," said Jock laconically.

"The music here does not seem of a high class," said MTutor. "I hope she
will sing. Italians, though their music is sensuous, generally know
something about the art."

To this Jock made no reply, but hunched his shoulders a little higher,
and dug his hands down deeper into his pockets.

"By the way, is the--young lady who was with Madame di Forno-Populo
here no longer?" said MTutor in a sort of accidental manner, as if that
had for the first time occurred to him. He raised his eyes to Jock's
face, which was foolish, and they both reddened in spite of themselves;
Mr. Derwentwater with sudden confusion, and Jock with angry dismay.

"Not that I know of," said the boy. "I haven't heard anything." Then he
went on hurriedly: "No more than I know what Montjoie's doing here.
What's he been asked here for I wonder? He can't amuse anybody much."
These words, however, were contradicted practically as soon as they were
said by a peal of laughter which rose from the Contessa's little corner,
all caused as it was evident by some pleasantry of Montjoie's.

"It seems that he does, though," said Mr. Derwentwater; and then he
added with a smile, "We are novices in society, you and I. We do best in
our own class; not to know that Montjoie will be in the very front of
society, the admired of all admirers at least for a season or two! Isn't
he a favourite of fortune, the best _parti_, a golden youth in every
sense of the word----"

"Why, he was a scug!" cried Jock, with illimitable disdain. This
mysterious and terrible monosyllable was applied at school to a youth
hopelessly low down and destitute of any personal advantages to
counterbalance his inferiority. Jock launched it at the Marquis,
evidently now in a very different situation, as if it had been a stone.

"Hush!" said MTutor blandly. "You will meet a great many such in
society, and they will think themselves quite as good as you."

Then the mother of the young ladies in blue approached and disturbed
this _tête-à-tête_.

"I think you were talking of Lord Montjoie," she said. "I hear he is so
clever; there are some comic songs he sings, which, I am told, are quite
irresistible. Mr. Trevor, don't you think you could induce him to sing
one?--as you were at school with him, and are a sort of son of the
house?"

At this Jock glowered with eyes that were alarming to see under the deep
cover of his eyebrows, and MTutor laughed out. "We had not so exalted an
opinion of Montjoie," he said; and then, with a politic diversion of
which he was proud, "Would not your daughters favour us again? A comic
song in the present state of our feelings would be more than we could
bear."

"What a clever fellow he is after all!" said Jock to himself admiringly,
"how he can manage people and say the right thing at the right moment! I
dare say Lucy will tell me if I ask her," he said, quite irrelevantly,
as the lady, well pleased to hear her daughters appreciated, sailed
away. There was something in the complete sympathy of Mr. Derwentwater's
mind, even though it irritated, which touched him. He put the question
point blank to Lucy when he found an opportunity of speaking to her. "I
say, Lucy, where is Bice? You have got all the old fogeys about the
place, and she is not here," the boy said.

"Is that why you are glooming upon everybody so?" said the unfeeling
Lucy. "You cannot call your friend Lord Montjoie an old fogey, Jock. He
says you were such friends at school."

"I--friends!" cried Jock with disdain. "Why, he was nothing but a scug."

Thus Lucy, too, avoided the question; but it was not because she had any
real reluctance to speak of Bice, though this was what Jock could not
know.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE CONTESSA PREPARES THE WAY.


"I never sing," said the Contessa, with that serene smile with which she
was in the habit of accompanying a statement which her hearers knew to
be quite untrue. "Oh never! It is one of my possibilities which are
over--one of the things which you remember of me in--other days----"

"So far back as March," said Sir Tom; "but we all recognise that in a
lady's calendar that may mean a century."

"Put it in the plural, _mon ami_--centuries, that is more correct," said
the Contessa, with her dazzling smile.

"And might one ask why this sudden acceleration of time?" asked one of
the gentlemen who were always in attendance, belonging, so to speak, to
the Contessa's side of the party. She opened out her lovely hands and
gave a little shrug to her shoulders, and elevation of her eyebrows.

"It is easy to tell: but whether I shall tell you is another
question----"

"Oh, do, do, Countess," cried young Montjoie, who was somewhat rough in
his attentions, and treated the lady with less ceremony than a less
noble youth would have ventured upon. "Come, don't keep us all in
suspense. I must hear you, don't you know; all the other fellows have
heard you. So, please, get over the preliminaries, and let's come to the
music. I'm awfully fond of music, especially singing. I'm a dab at that
myself----"

The Contessa let her eyes dwell upon this illustrious young man. "Why,"
she said, "have I been prevented from making acquaintance with the art
in which my Lord Montjoie is--a dab----"

At this there was a laugh, in which the good-natured young nobleman did
not refuse to join. "I say, you know! it's too bad to make fun of me
like this," he cried; "but I'll tell you what, Countess, I'll make a
bargain with you. I'll sing you three of mine if you'll sing me one of
yours."

The Contessa smiled with that gracious response which so often answered
instead of words. The other ladies had withdrawn, except Lucy, who
waited somewhat uneasily till her guest was ready. Though Madame di
Forno-Populo had never lost the ascendency which she had acquired over
Lady Randolph by throwing herself upon her understanding and sympathy,
there were still many things which Lucy could not acquiesce in without
uneasiness, in the Contessa's ways. The group of men about her chair,
when all the other ladies took their candles and made their way
upstairs, wounded Lucy's instinctive sense of what was befitting. She
waited, punctilious in her feeling of duty, though the Contessa had not
hesitated to make her understand that the precaution was quite
unnecessary--and though even Sir Tom had said something of a similar
signification. "She is old enough to take care of herself. She doesn't
want a chaperon," Sir Tom had said; but nevertheless Lucy would take up
a book and sit down at the table and wait: which was the more
troublesome that it was precisely at this moment that the Contessa was
most amusing and enjoyed herself most. Sir Tom's parliamentary friends
had disappeared to the smoking-room when the ladies left the room. It
was the other kind of visitors, the gentlemen who had known the
Contessa in former days, and were old friends likewise of Sir Tom, who
gathered round her now--they and young Lord Montjoie, who was rather out
of place in the party, but who admired the Contessa greatly, and thought
her better fun than any one he knew.

The Contessa gave the young man one of those speaking smiles which were
more eloquent than words. And then she said: "If I were to tell you why,
you would not believe me. I am going to retire from the world."

At this there was a little tumult of outcry and laughter. "The world
cannot spare you, Contessa." "We can't permit any such sacrifice." And,
"Retire! Till to-morrow?" her courtiers said.

"Not till to-morrow. I do more than retire. I abdicate," said the
Contessa, waving her beautiful hands as if in farewell.

"This sounds very mysterious; for an abdication is different from a
withdrawal; it suggests a successor."

"Which is an impossibility," another said.

The Contessa distributed her smiles with gracious impartiality to all,
but she kept a little watch upon young Montjoie, who was eager amid the
ring of her worshippers. "Nevertheless, it is more than a successor,"
she said, playing with them, with a strange pleasure. To be thus
surrounded, flattered more openly than men ever venture to flatter a
woman whom they respect, addressed with exaggerated admiration,
contemplated with bold and unwavering eyes, had come by many descents to
be delightful to the Contessa. It reminded her of her old triumphs--of
the days when men of a different sort brought homage perhaps not much
more real but far more delicate, to her feet. A long career of baths and
watering-places, of Baden and Homburg, and every other conceivable
resort of temporary gaiety and fashion, had brought her to this. Sir
Tom, who was not taking much share in the conversation, stood with his
arm on the mantelpiece, and watched her and her little court with
compassionate eyes. He had laughed often before; but he did not laugh
now. Perhaps the fact that he was himself no longer her first object
helped to change the aspect of affairs. He had consented to invite these
men as old acquaintances; but it was intolerable to him to see this
scene going on in the room in which his wife was; and the Contessa's
radiant satisfaction seemed almost horrible to him in Lucy's presence.
Lucy was seated at some distance from the group, her face turned away,
her head bent, to all appearance very intent upon the book she was
reading. He looked at her with a sort of reverential impatience. She was
not capable of understanding the degradation which her own pure and
simple presence made apparent. He could not endure her to be there
sanctioning the indecorum;--and yet the tenacity with which she held her
place, and did what she thought her duty to her guest, filled him with a
wondering pride. No other scene, perhaps, he thought, in all England,
could have presented a contrast so curious.

"The Contessa speaks in riddles," said one of the circle. "We want an
OEdipus."

"Oh, come, Countess," said young Montjoie, "don't hang us up like this.
We are all of us on pins and needles, don't you know? It all began about
you singing. Why don't you sing? All the fellows say it's as good as
Grisi. I never heard Grisi, but I know every note Patti's got in her
voice; and I want to compare, don't you know?"

The Contessa contemplated the young man with a sort of indulgent smile
like a mother who withholds a toy.

"When are you going away?" she said. "You will soon go back to your dear
London, to your clubs and all your delights."

"Oh, come, Countess," repeated Montjoie, "that isn't kind. You talk as
if you wanted to get rid of a fellow. I'm due at the Duke's on Friday,
don't you know?"

"Then it shall be on Thursday," said the Contessa, with a laugh.

"What shall be on Thursday?"

The others all came round her with eager questions.

"I am going on Wednesday," said one. "What is this that is going to
happen?"

"And why am I to be excluded?"

"And I? If there is to be anything new, tell us what it is."

"Inquisitors! and they say that curiosity belongs to women," said the
Contessa. "Messieurs, if I were to tell you what it was, it would be no
longer new."

"Well, but hang it all," cried young Montjoie, who was excited and had
forgotten his manners, "do tell us what it is. Don't you see we don't
even know what kind of thing you mean? If it's music----"

Madame di Forno-Populo laughed once more. She loved to mystify and raise
expectations. "It is not music," she said. "It is my reason for
withdrawing. When you see that, you will understand. You will all say
the Contessa is wise. She has foreseen exactly the right moment to
retire."

And with this she rose from the sofa with a sudden movement which took
her attendants by surprise. She was not given to shaking hands. She
withdrew quickly from Montjoie's effort to seize her delicate fingers,
which she waved to the company in general. "My Lucy," she said, "I have
kept you waiting! to this extent does one forget one's self in your
delightful house. But, my angel, you should not permit me to do it. You
should hold up your finger, and I would obey."

"Bravo," said Montjoie's voice behind their backs in a murmur of
delight. "Oh, by Jove, isn't that good? Fancy, a woman like her, and
that simple----"

One of the elder men gave Montjoie something like a kick, inappropriate
as the scene was for such a demonstration. "You little----think what you
are saying," he cried.

But Sir Tom was opening the door for the ladies, and did not hear. Lucy
was tired and pale. She looked like a child beside the stately Contessa.
She had taken no notice of Madame di Forno-Populo's profession of
submission. In her heart she was longing to run to the nursery, to see
her boy asleep, and make sure that all was well; and she was not only
tired with her vigil, but uneasy, disapproving. She divined what the
Contessa meant, though not even Sir Tom had made it out. Perhaps it was
feminine instinct that instructed her on this point. Perhaps the strong
repugnance she had, and sense of opposition to what was about to be
done, quickened her powers of divination. She who had never suspected
anybody in all her life fathomed the Contessa's intentions at a glance.
"That boy!" she said to herself as she followed up the great staircase.
Lucy divined the Contessa, and the Contessa divined that she had
divined her. She turned round when they reached the top of the stairs
and paused for a moment looking at Lady Randolph's face, lit up with the
light of her candle. "My sweetest," said the Contessa, "you do not
approve. It breaks my heart to see it. But what can I do! This is my
way, it is not yours; but to me it is the only way."

Lucy could do nothing but shake her head as she turned the way of the
nursery where her boy was sleeping. The contrast gave her a pang. Bice,
too, was no doubt sleeping the deep and dreamless sleep of youth behind
one of those closed doors; poor Bice! secluded there to increase the
effect of her eventual appearance, and about whom her protectress was
draping all those veils of mystery in order to tempt the fancy of a
commonplace youth not much more than a schoolboy! And yet the Contessa
loved her charge, and persuaded herself that she was acting for Bice's
good. Poor Bice, who was so good to little Tom! Was there nothing to be
done to save her?

"What's going to happen on Thursday?" the men of the Contessa's train
asked of Sir Tom, as they followed him to the smoking-room, where Mr.
Derwentwater, in a velvet coat, was already seated smoking a mild
cigarette, and conversing with one of the parliamentary gentlemen. Jock
hung about in the background, turning over the books (for there were
books everywhere in this well-provided house) rather with the intention
of making it quite evident that he went to bed when he liked, and could
stay up as late as any one, than from any hankering after that cigar
which a Sixth Form fellow, so conscientious as Jock was, might not
trifle with. "Oh, here are those two duffers; those saps, don't you
know," Montjoie said, with a grimace, as he perceived them on entering
the room; in which remark he was perhaps justified by the epithets which
these two superior persons applied to him. The two parties did not
amalgamate in the smoking-room any more than in other places. The new
comers surrounded Sir Tom in a noisy little crowd, demanding of him an
explanation of the Contessa's meaning. This, however, was subdued
presently by a somewhat startling little incident. The gentlemen were
discussing the Contessa with the greatest freedom. "It's rather
astounding to meet her in a good house, just like any one else," one man
forgot himself sufficiently to say, but he came to his recollection very
quickly on meeting Sir Tom's eyes. "I beg your pardon, Randolph, of
course that's not what I mean. I mean after all those years." "Then I
hope you will remember to say exactly what you mean," said Sir Tom, "on
other occasions. It will simplify matters."

This momentary incident, though it was quiet enough, and expressed in
tones rather less than more loud than the ordinary conversation, made a
sensation in the room, and produced first an involuntary stillness, and
then an eager access of talk. It had the effect, however, of making
everybody aware that the Contessa intended to make, on Thursday, some
revelation or other, an intimation which moved Jock and his tutor as
much or even more than it moved the others. Mr. Derwentwater even made
advances to Montjoie, whom he had steadily ignored, in order to
ascertain what it was. "Something's coming off, that's all we can tell,"
that young patrician said. "She is going to retire, so she says, from
the world, don't you know? That's like a tradesman shutting up shop when
he's made his fortune, or a _prima donna_ going off the stage. It ain't
so easy to make out, is it, how the Forno-Populo can retire from the
world? She can't be going to take poison, like the great Sarah, and give
us a grand dying seance in Lady Randolph's drawing-room. That would be
going a bit too far, don't you know?"

"It is going a bit too far to imagine such a thing," Derwentwater said.

"Oh, come, you know, it isn't school-time," cried Montjoie, with a
laugh. And though Mr. Derwentwater was as much superior to the little
lordling as could be conceived, he retired disconcerted from this
passage of arms. To be reminded that you are a pedagogue is difficult to
bear, especially an unsuccessful pedagogue, attempting to exert
authority which exists no longer. MTutor prided himself on being a man
of the world, but he retired a little with an involuntary sense of
offence from this easy setting down. He rose shortly after and took Jock
by the arm and led him away. "You are not smoking, which I am glad to
see--and shows your sense," he said. "Come out and have a breath of air
before we go upstairs. Can you imagine anything more detestable than
that little precocious _roué_, that washed-out little man-about-town,"
he added with some energy, as they stepped out of the open windows of
the library, left open in case the fine night should have seduced the
gentlemen on to the terrace to smoke their cigars. It was a lovely
spring night, soft and balmy, with a sensation of growth in the air, the
sky very clear, with airy white clouds all lit up by the moon. The quiet
and freshness gave to those who stepped into it a curious sensation of
superiority to the men whom they left in the warm brightly-lit room,
with its heavy atmosphere and artificial delights. It felt like a moral
atmosphere in contrast with the air all laden with human emanations,
smoke, and the careless talk of men. These two were perhaps somewhat
inclined to feel a superiority in any circumstances. They did so doubly
in these.

"He was always a little cad," said Jock.

"To hear a lady's name from his mouth is revolting," said Derwentwater.
"We are all too careless in that respect. I admire Madame di
Forno-Populo for keeping her--is it her daughter or niece?--out of the
way while that little animal is here."

"Oh, Bice would soon make him know his place," said Jock; "she is not
just like one of the girls that are civil, you know. She is not afraid
of telling you what she thinks of you. I know exactly how she'd look at
Montjoie." Jock permitted himself an abrupt laugh in the pleasure of
feeling that he knew her ways far better than any one. "She would soon
set him down--the little beast!--in his right place."

As they walked up and down the terrace their steps and voices were very
audible in the stillness of the night; and the windows were lighted in
the east wing, showing that the inhabitants were still up there and
about. While Jock spoke, one of these windows opened quite suddenly, and
for a single moment a figure like a shadow appeared in it. The light
movement, sudden as a bird's on the wing, would have betrayed her (she
felt) to Jock, even if she had not spoken. But she waved her hand and
called out "Good-night" in a voice full of laughter. "Don't talk
secrets, for we can hear you," she said. "Good-night!" And so vanished
again, with a little echo of laughter from within. The young men were
both excited and disconcerted by this interruption. It gave them a
sensation of shame for the moment as if they had been caught in a
discussion of a forbidden subject; and then a tingling ran through their
veins. Even MTutor for the moment found no fine speech in which to
express his sense of this sudden momentary tantalising appearance of the
mystic woman standing half visible out of the background of the unknown.
He did think some very fine things on the subject after a time, with a
side glance of philosophical reflection that her light laugh of mockery
as she momentarily revealed herself, was an outcome of this sceptical
century, and that in a previous age her utterance would have been a song
or a sigh. But at the moment even Mr. Derwentwater was subjugated by the
thrill of sensation and feeling, and found nothing to say.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

IN SUSPENSE.


It was thus that Bice was engaged while Lucy imagined her asleep in her
innocence, unaware of the net that was being spread for her unsuspecting
feet. Bice was neither asleep nor unsuspecting. She was innocent in a
way inconceivable to the ordinary home-keeping imagination, knowing no
evil in the devices to which she was a party; but she was not innocent
in the conventional sense. That any high feminine ideal should be
affected by the design of the Contessa or by her own participation in it
had not occurred to the girl. She had been accustomed to smile at the
high virtue of those ladies in the novels who would not receive the
addresses of the eldest son of their patroness, and who preferred a
humble village and the delights of self-sacrifice to all the grandeurs
of an ambitious marriage. That might be well enough in a novel, Bice
thought, but it was not so in life. In her own case there was no
question about it. The other way it was which seemed to her the virtuous
way. Had it been proposed to her to throw herself away upon a poor man
whom she might be supposed to love, and so prove herself incapable of
being of any use to the Contessa, and make all her previous training and
teaching of no effect, Bice's moral indignation would have been as
elevated as that of any English heroine at the idea of marrying for
interest instead of love. The possibility did not occur to her at all;
but it would have been rejected with disdain had it attempted to force
its way across the threshold of her mind. She loved nobody--except the
Contessa; which was a great defence and preservation to her thoughts.
She accepted the suggestion that Montjoie should be the means of raising
her to that position she was made for, with composure and without an
objection. It was not arranged upon secretly, without her knowledge, but
with her full concurrence. "He is not very much to look at. I wish he
had been more handsome," the Contessa said; but Bice's indifference on
this point was sublime. "What can it matter?" she said loftily. She was
not even very deeply interested in his disposition or mental qualities.
Everything else being so suitable, it would have been cowardly to shrink
from any minor disadvantage. She silenced the Contessa in the attempt to
make the best of him. "All these things are so secondary," the girl
said. Her devotion to the career chosen for her was above all weakly
arguments of this kind. She looked upon them even with a certain scorn.
And though there was in her mind some excitement as to her appearance
"in the world," as she phrased it, and her skill "to please," which was
as yet untried, it was, notwithstanding with the composure of a nature
quite unaware of any higher questions involved, that she took her part
in all the preparations. Her knowledge of the very doubtful world in
which she had lived had been of a philosophical character. She was quite
impartial. She had no prejudices. Those of whom she approved were those
who had carried out their intentions, whatever they might be, as she
should do by marrying an English Milord with a good title and much
money. She meant, indeed, to spend his money, but legitimately. She
meant to become a great lady by his means, but not to do him any harm.
Bice had an almost savage purity of heart, and the thought that any of
the stains she knew of should touch her was incredible, impossible;
neither was it in her to be unkind, or unjust, or envious, or
ungenerous. Nothing of all this was involved in the purely business
operation in which she was engaged. According to her code no professions
of attachment or pretence of feeling were necessary. She had indeed no
theories in her mind about being a good wife; but she would not be a bad
one. She would keep her part of the compact; there should be nothing to
complain of, nothing to object to. She would do her best to amuse the
man she had to live with and make his life agreeable to him, which is a
thing not always taken into consideration in marriage-contracts much
more ideal in character. He should not be allowed to be dull, that was
one thing certain. Regarding the matter in this reasonable point of
view, Bice prepared for the great event of Thursday with just excitement
enough to make it amusing. It might be that she should fail. Few
succeed at the very first effort without difficulty, she said to
herself; but if she failed there would be nothing tragical in the
failure, and the season was all before her. It could scarcely be hoped
that she would bring down her antagonist the first time she set lance in
rest.

She was carefully kept out of sight during the intervening days; no one
saw her; no one had any acquaintance with the fact of her existence. The
precautions taken were such that Bice was never even encountered on the
staircase, never seen to flit in or out of a room, and indeed did not
exist at all for the party in the house. Notwithstanding these
precautions she had the needful exercise to keep her in health and good
looks, and still romped with the baby and held conversations with the
sympathetic Lucy, who did not know what to say to express her feeling of
anxious disapproval and desire to succour, without, at the same time,
injuring in Bice's mind her nearest friend and protectress. She might,
indeed, have spared herself the trouble of any such anxiety, for Bice
neither felt injured by the Contessa's scheme nor degraded by her
precautions. It amused the girl highly to be made a secret of, to run
all the risks of discovery and baffle the curious. The fun of it was
delightful to her. Sometimes she would amuse herself by hanging till the
last practicable moment in the gallery at the top of the staircase, on
the balcony at the window, or at the door of the Contessa's room which
was commanded by various other doors; but always vanished within in time
to avoid all inquisitive eyes, with the laughter and delight of a child
at the danger escaped, and the fun of the situation. In these cases the
Contessa would sometimes take fright, but never, so light was the
temper of this scheming woman, this deep plotter and conspirator,
refused to join in the laughter when the flight was made and safety
secured. They were like a couple of children with a mystification in
hand, notwithstanding that they were planning an invasion so serious of
all the proprieties, and meant to make so disreputable and revolting a
bargain. But this was not in their ideas. Bice went out very early in
the morning before any one was astir, to take needful exercise in the
park, and gather early primroses and the catkins that hung upon the
trees. On one of these occasions she met Mr. Derwentwater, of whom she
was not afraid; and at another time, when skirting the shrubberies at a
somewhat later hour to keep clear of any stragglers, Jock. Mr.
Derwentwater talked to her in a tone which amused the girl. He spoke of
Proserpina gathering flowers, herself a----and then altered and grew
confused under her eye.

"Herself a---- What?" said Bice. "Have you forgotten what you were going
to say?"

"I have not forgotten--herself a fairer flower. One does not forget such
lovely words as these," he said, injured by the question. "But when one
comes face to face with the impersonation of the poet's idea----"

"It was poetry, then?" said Bice. "I know very little of that. It is not
in Tauchnitz, perhaps? All I know of English is from the Tauchnitz. I
read, chiefly, novels. You do not approve of that? But, yes, I like
them; because it is life."

"Is it life?" said Derwentwater, who was somewhat contemptuous of
fiction.

"At least it is England," said Bice. "The girls who will not make a good
marriage because of some one else, or because it is their parents who
arrange it. That is how Lady Randolph speaks. She says that nothing is
right but to fall--how do you call it?--in love?--It is not _comme il
faut_ even to talk of that."

Derwentwater blushed like a girl. He was more inexperienced in many ways
than Bice. "And do you regard it in another point of view?" he said.

Bice laughed out with frank disdain. "Certainly, I regard it
different--oh, quite different. That is not what happens in life."

"And do you consider life is chiefly occupied with getting married?" he
continued, feeling, along with a good deal of quite unnecessary
excitement, a great desire to know what was her way of looking at this
great subject. Visions had been flashing recently through his mind,
which pointed a little this way too.

"Altogether," said Bice, with great gravity, "how can you begin to live
till you have settled that? Till then you do not know what is going to
happen to you. When you get up in the morning you know not what may come
before the night; when you walk out you know not who may be the next
person you meet; perhaps your husband. But then you marry, and that is
all settled; henceforward nothing can happen!" said Bice, throwing out
her hands. "Then, after all is settled, you can begin to live."

"This is very interesting," said Derwentwater, "I am so glad to get at a
real and individual view. But this, perhaps, only applies to--ladies? It
is, perhaps, not the same with men?"

Bice gave him a careless, half-contemptuous glance. "I have never known
anything," she said, "about men."

There are many girls, much more innocent in outward matters than Bice,
who would have said these words with an intention _agaçante_--the
intention of leading to a great deal more badinage. But Bice spoke with
a calm, almost scornful, composure. She had no desire to _agacer_. She
looked him in the face as tranquilly as if he had been an old woman. And
so far as she was concerned he might have been an old woman; for he had
virtually no existence in his capacity of young man. Had she possessed
any clue to the thoughts that had taken rise in his mind, the new
revelation which she had conveyed to him, Bice's amazement would have
been without bounds. But instinct indicated to her that the interview
should proceed no further. She waved her hand to him as she came to a
cross road which led into the woods. "I am going this way," she cried,
darting off round the corner of a great tree. He stood and looked after
her bewildered, as her light figure skimmed along into the depths of the
shadows. "Then, after all is settled, you can begin to live," he
repeated to himself. Was it true? He had got up the morning on which he
saw her first without any thought that everything might be changed for
him that day. And now it was quite true that there lay before him an
interval which must be somehow filled up before he could begin to live.
How was it to be filled up? Would _she_ have anything to do with the
settling which must precede his recommencement of existence? He went on
with his mind altogether absorbed in these thoughts, and with a thrill
and tingling through all his veins. And that was the only time he
encountered Bice, for whom in fact, though he had not hitherto allowed
it even to himself, he had come to the Hall--till the great night.

Jock encountered her the next day not so early, at the hour indeed when
the great people were at breakfast. He had been one of the first to
come downstairs, and he had not lingered at table as persons do who have
letters to read, and the newspapers, and all that is going on to talk
about. He met her coming from the park. She put out her hand when she
saw him as if to keep him off.

"If you wish to speak to me," she said, "you must turn back and walk
with me. I do not want any one to see me, and they will soon be coming
out from breakfast."

"Why don't you want any one to see you?" Jock said.

Bice had learned the secret of the Contessa's smile; but this which she
cast upon Jock had something mocking in it, and ended in a laugh. "Oh,
don't you know?" she said, "it is so silly to be a boy!"

"You are no older than I am," cried Jock, aggrieved; "and why don't you
come down to dinner as you used to do? I always liked you to come. It is
quite different when you are not there. If I had known I should not have
come home at all this Easter," Jock cried.

"Oh!" cried Bice, "that means that you like me, then?--and so does
Milady. If I should go away altogether----"

"You are not going away altogether? Why should you? There is no other
place you could be so well as here. The Contessa never says a word, but
laughs at a fellow, which is scarcely civil; and she has those men about
her that are--not----; but you----why should you go away?" cried Jock
with angry vehemence. He looked at her with eyes lowering fiercely under
his eyebrows; yet in his heart he was not angry but wretched, as if
something were rending him. Jock did not understand how he felt.

"Oh, now, you look at me as if you would eat me," said Bice, "as if I
were the little girl in the red hood and you the wolf---- But it is
silly, for how should I stay here when Milady is going away? We are all
going to London--and then! it will soon be decided, I suppose," said
Bice, herself feeling a little sad for the first time at the idea, "what
is going to be done with me."

"What is going to be done with you?" cried Jock hoarsely, for he was
angry and grieved, and full of impatient indignation, though he scarcely
knew why.

Bice turned upon him with that lingering smile which was like the
Contessa's. But, unlike the Contessa's, it ended as usual in a laugh.
She kissed her hand to him, and darted round the corner of the shrubbery
just as some one appeared from breakfast. "Good-bye," she said, "do not
be angry," and so vanished like lightning. This was one of the cases
which made her heart beat with fun and exhilaration, when she was, as
she told the Contessa, nearly caught. She got into the shelter of the
east rooms, panting with the run she had made, her complexion brilliant,
her eyes shining. "I thought I should certainly be seen this time," she
said.

The Contessa looked at the girl with admiring eyes. "I could almost have
wished you had," she said. "You are superb like that." They talked
without a shade of embarrassment on this subject, upon which English
mothers and children would blush and hesitate.

This was the day, the great day of the revelation which the Contessa had
promised. There had been a great deal of discussion and speculation
about it in the company. No one, even Sir Tom, knew what it was. Lucy,
though she was not clever, had her wits sharpened in this respect, and
she had divined; but no one else had any conception of what was coming.
Two of the elder men had gone, very sorry to miss the great event,
whatever it was. And young Montjoie had talked of nothing else since the
promise had been made. The conversation in the drawing-room late in the
afternoon chiefly turned on this subject, and the lady visitors too
heard of it, and were not less curious. She who had the two daughters
addressed herself to Lucy for information. She said: "I hear some
novelty is expected to-night, Lady Randolph, something the Contessa has
arranged. She is very clever, is she not? and sings delightfully, I
know. There is so much more talent of that kind among foreigners than
there is among us. Is it tableaux? The girls are so longing to know."

"Oh, yes, we want so much to know," said the young ladies in blue.

"I don't think it is tableaux," Lucy said; "but I have not been told
what it is."

This the ladies did not believe, but they asked no further questions.
"It is clear that she does not wish us to know; so, girls, you must say
nothing," was the conclusion of the mother.

They said a great deal, notwithstanding this warning. The house
altogether was excited on the subject, and even Mr. Derwentwater took
part in the speculations. He looked upon the Contessa as one of those
inscrutable women of the stage, the Sirens who beguile everybody. She
had some design upon Montjoie, he felt, and it was only the youth's
impertinence which prevented Mr. Derwentwater from interfering. He
watched with the natural instinct of his profession and a strong
impulse to write to the lad's parents and have him taken away. But
Montjoie had no parents. He had attained his majority, and was supposed
by the law capable of taking care of himself. What did that woman mean
to do with the boy? She had some designs upon him. But there was nobody
to whom Mr. Derwentwater could confide his suspicions, or whom he could
ask what the Contessa meant. MTutor had not on the whole a pleasant
visit. He was disappointed in that which had been his chief object--his
favourite pupil was detached from him, he knew not how--and this other
boy, whom, though he did not love him, he could not help feeling a sort
of responsibility for, was in danger from a designing woman, a woman out
of a French play, _L'Aventurière_, something of that sort. Mr.
Derwentwater felt that he could not drag himself away, the attractions
were so strong. He wanted to see the _dénoûement_; still more he wanted
to see Bice. No drama in the world had so powerful an interest. But
though it was so impossible to go away, it was not pleasant to stay.
Jock did not want him. Lucy, though she was always sweet and friendly,
had a look of haste and over-occupation; her eyes wandered when she
talked to him; her mind was occupied with other things. Most of the men
of the party were more than indifferent; were disagreeable to him. He
thought they were a danger for Jock. And Bice never was visible; that
moment on the balcony--those few minutes in the park--the half dozen
words which had been so "suggestive," he thought, which had woke so many
echoes in his mind--these were all he had had of her. Had she intended
them to awaken echoes? He asked himself this question a thousand times.
Had she willingly cast this seed of thought into his mind to
germinate--to produce--what result? If it was so, then, indeed, all the
little annoyances of his stay would be a cheap price to pay. It did not
occur to this judicious person, whose influence over his pupils was so
great, and who had studied so deeply the mind of youth, that a girl of
sixteen was but little likely to be consciously suggestive--to sow, with
any intention in her mind, seeds of meaning to develop in his. To do him
justice, he was as unconscious of the limits of sixteen in Bice's case
as we all are in the case of Juliet. She was of no age. She was the
ideal woman capable of comprehensions and intentions as far above
anything possible to the genus boy as heaven was above earth. It would
have been a profanation, a sacrilege too dreadful to be thought of, to
compare that ethereal creature with the other things of her age with
which he was so familiar. Of her age! Her age was the age of romance, of
love, of poetry, of all ineffable things.

"I say, Countess," said Montjoie, "I hope you're not forgetting. This is
the night, don't you know. And here we are all ready for dinner and
nothing has happened. When is it coming? You are so awfully mysterious;
it ain't fair upon a fellow."

"Is every one in the room?" said the Contessa, with an indulgent smile
at the young man's eagerness. They all looked round, for everybody was
curious. And all were there--the lady who wrote for the Press, and the
lady with the two daughters, the girls in blue; and Sir Tom's
parliamentary friends standing up against the mantelpiece, and Mr.
Derwentwater by himself, more curious than any one, keeping one eye on
Montjoie, as if he would have liked to send him to the pupil-room to do
a _poena_; and Jock indifferent, with his back to the door. All the rest
were expectant except Jock, who took no notice. The Contessa's special
friends were about her chair, rubbing their hands, and ready to back the
Forno-Populo for a new sensation. The Contessa looked round, her eye
dwelling for a moment upon Lucy, who looked a little fluttered and
uncomfortable, and upon Sir Tom, who evidently knew nothing, and was
looking on with a smile.

"Now you shall see," she said, "why I abdicate," and made a sign,
clapping softly her beautiful hands.

There was a momentary pause. Montjoie, who was standing out in the clear
space in the centre of the room, turned round at the Contessa's call. He
turned towards the open door, which was less lighted than the inner
room. It was he who saw first what was coming. "Oh, by Jove!" the young
Marquis said.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE DÉBUT.


The door was open. The long drawing-room afforded a sort of processional
path for the newcomer. Her dress was not white like that of the ordinary
_débutante_. It had a yellow golden glow of colour, warm yet soft. She
walked not with the confused air of a novice perceiving herself
observed, but with a slow and serene gait like a young queen. She was
not alarmed by the consciousness that everybody was looking at her. Not
to have been looked at would have been more likely to embarrass Bice.
Her beautiful throat and shoulders were uncovered, her hair dressed
more elaborately than that of English girls in general. English
girls--the two innocents in blue, who were nice girls enough, and stood
with their mouths and eyes open in speechless wonder and
admiration--seemed of an entirely different species from this dazzling
creature. She made a momentary pause on the threshold, while all the
beholders held their breath. Montjoie, for one, was struck dumb. His
commonplace countenance changed altogether. He looked at her with his
face growing longer, his jaw dropping. It was more than a sensation, it
was such a climax of excitement and surprise as does not happen above
once or twice in a lifetime. The whole company were moved by similar
feelings, all except the Contessa, lying back in her chair, and Lucy,
who stood rather troubled, moving from one foot to another, clasping and
unclasping her hands. Jock, roused by the murmur, turned round with a
start, and eyed her too with looks of wild astonishment. She stood for a
moment looking at them all--with a smile which was half mischievous,
half appealing--on the threshold, as Bice felt it, not only of Lady
Randolph's drawing-room, but of the world.

Sir Tom had started at the sight of her as much as any one. He had not
been in the secret. He cried out, "By Jove!" like Montjoie. But he had
those instincts which are, perhaps, rather old-fashioned, of protection
and service to women. He belonged to the school which thinks a girl
should not walk across a room without some man's arm to sustain her, or
open a door for herself. He started forward with a little sense of being
to blame, and offered her his arm. "Why didn't you send for me to bring
you in if you were late?" he cried, with a tone in which there was some
tremor and vexation. The effectiveness of her appearance was terrible to
Sir Tom. She looked up at him with a look of pleasure and kindness, and
said, "I was not late," with a smile. She looked taller, more developed
in a single day. But for that little pucker of vexation on Sir Tom's
forehead they would have looked like a father and daughter, the father
proudly bringing his young princess into the circle of her adorers. Bice
swept him towards Lucy, and made a low obeisance to Lady Randolph, and
took her hand and kissed it. "I must come to you first," she said.

"Well?" said the Contessa, turning round to her retainers with a quick
movement. They were all gazing at the _débutante_ so intently that they
had no eyes for her. One of them at length replied, with something like
solemnity: "Oh, I understand what you mean, Contessa; anybody but you
would have to abdicate." "But not you," said another, who had some
kindness in his heart. The Contessa rose up with an air of triumph. "I
do not want to be compelled," she said, "I told you. I give up. I will
take your arm Mr. St. John, as a private person, having relinquished my
claims, and leave milord to the new _régime_."

This was how it came about, in the slight scuffle caused by the sudden
change of programme, that Bice, in all her splendour, found herself
going in to the dining-room on Lord Montjoie's arm. Notwithstanding that
he had been struck dumb by her beauty, little Montjoie was by no means
happy when this wonderful good fortune fell upon him. He would have
preferred to gaze at her from the other side of the table: on the whole,
he would have been a great deal more at his ease with the Contessa. He
would have asked her a hundred questions about this wonderful beauty;
but the beauty herself rather frightened the young man. Presently,
however, he regained his courage, and as lack of boldness was not his
weak point, soon began to lose the sense of awe which had been so strong
upon him. She smiled; she was as ready to talk as he was, as the
overwhelming impression she had made upon him began to be modified by
familiarity. "I suppose," he said, when he had reached this point, "that
you arrived to-day?" And then, after a pause, "You speak English?" he
added, in a hesitating tone. She received this question with so merry a
laugh that he was quite encouraged.

"Always," she said, "since I was a child. Was that why you were afraid
of me?"

"Afraid?" he said; and then he looked at her almost with a recurrence of
his first fright, till her laugh reassured him. "Yes I was frightened,"
Lord Montjoie said; "you looked so--so--don't you know? I was struck all
of a heap. I suppose you came to-day? We were all on the outlook from
something the Contessa said. You must be clever to get in without
anybody seeing you."

"I was far more clever than that," said Bice; "you don't know how clever
I am."

"I dare say," said Lord Montjoie, admiringly, "because you don't want
it. That's always the way."

"I am so clever that I have been here all the time," said Bice, with
another laugh so joyous,--"so jolly," Montjoie said, that his terrors
died away. But his surprise took another development at this
extraordinary information.

"By Jove!" he cried, "you don't mean that, Miss--Mademoiselle--I am so
awfully stupid I never heard--that is to say I ain't at all clever at
foreign names."

"Oh, never mind," cried Bice; "neither am I. But yours is delightful; it
is so easy, Milord. Ought I to say Milord?"

"Oh," cried Montjoie, a little confused. "No; I don't think so--people
don't as a rule."

"Lord Montjoie, that is right? I like always to know----"

"So do I," said Montjoie; "it's always best to ask, ain't it, and then
there can be no mistakes? But you don't mean to say _that_? You here
yesterday and all the time? I shouldn't think you could have been hid.
Not the kind of person, don't you know."

"I can't tell about being the kind of person. It has been fun," said
Bice; "sometimes I have seen you all coming, and waited till there was
just time to fly. I like leaving it till the last moment, and then there
is the excitement, don't you know."

"By Jove, what fun!" said Montjoie. He was not clever enough, few people
are, to perceive that she had mimicked himself in tone and expression.
"And I might have caught you any day," he cried. "What a muff I have
been."

"If I had allowed myself to be caught I should have been a greater--what
do you call it? You wear beautiful things to do your smoking in, Lord
Montjoie; what is it? Velvet? And why don't you wear them to
dinner?--you would look so much more handsome. I am very fond myself of
beautiful clothes."

"Oh, by Jove!" cried Montjoie again, with something like a blush.
"You've seen me in those things! I only wear them when I think nobody
sees. They're something from the East," he added, with a tone of
careless complacency; for, as a matter of fact, he piqued himself very
much upon this smoking-suit which had not, at the Hall, received the
applause it deserved.

"You go and smoke like that among other men? Yes, I perceive," said
Bice, "you are just like women, there is no difference. We put on our
pretty things for other ladies, because you cannot understand them; and
you do the same."

"Oh, come now, Miss---- Forno-Populo! you don't mean to tell me that you
got yourself up like that for the sake of the ladies?" cried the young
man.

"For whom, then?" said Bice, throwing up her head; but afterwards, with
the instinct of a young actress, she remembered her _rôle_, which it was
fun to carry out thoroughly. She laughed. "You are the most clever," she
said. "I see you are one that women cannot deceive."

Montjoie laughed, too, with gratified vanity and superior knowledge.
"You are about right there," he said. "I am not to be taken in, don't
you know. It's no good trying it on with me. I see through ladies'
little pretences. If there were no men you would not care what guys you
were; and no more do we."

Bice made no reply. She turned upon him that dazzling smile of which she
had learned the secret from the Contessa, which was unfathomable to the
observer but quite simple to the simple-minded; and then she said: "Do
you amuse yourself very much in the evening? I used to hear the voices
and think how pleasant it would have been to be there."

"Not so pleasant as you think," said the young man. "The only fun was
the Contessa's, don't you know. She's a fine woman for her age, but
she's---- Goodness! I forgot. She's your----"

"She is _passée_," said the girl calmly. "You make me afraid, Lord
Montjoie. How much of a critic you are, and see through women, through
and through." At this the noble Marquis laughed with true enjoyment of
his own gifts.

"But you ain't offended?" he said. "There was no harm meant. Even a lady
can't, don't you know, be always the same age."

"Don't you think so?" said Bice. "Oh, I think you are wrong. The
Contessa is of no age. She is the age she pleases--she has all the
secrets. I see nobody more beautiful."

"That may be," said Montjoie; "but you can't see everybody, don't you
know. She's very handsome and all that--and when the real thing isn't
there--but when it is, don't you know----"

"English is very perplexing," said Bice, shaking her head, but with a
smile in her eyes which somewhat belied her air of simplicity. "What may
that be--the real thing? Shall I find it in the dictionary?" she asked;
and then their eyes met and there was another burst of laughter,
somewhat boisterous on his part, but on hers with a ring of
lightheartedness which quenched the malice. She was so young that she
had a pleasure in playing her _rôle_, and did not feel any immorality
involved.

While this conversation was going on, which was much observed and
commented on by all the company, Jock from one end of the table and Mr.
Derwentwater from the other, looked on with an eager observation and
breathless desire to make out what was being said which gave an
expression of anxiety to the features of MTutor, and one of almost
ferocity to the lowering countenance of Jock. Both of these gentlemen
were eagerly questioned by the ladies next them as to who this young
lady might be.

"Terribly theatrical, don't you think, to come into a room like that?"
said the mother of the girls in blue. "If my Minnie or Edith had been
asked to do it they would have died of shame."

"I do not deny," said Mr. Derwentwater, "the advantage of conventional
restraints. I like the little airs of seclusion, of retirement, that
surround young ladies. But the----" he paused a little for a name, and
then with that acquaintance with foreign ways on which Mr. Derwentwater
prided himself, added, "the Signorina was at home."

"The Signorina! Is that what you call her--just like a person that is
going on the stage. She will be the--niece, I suppose?"

Jock's next neighbour was the lady who was engaged in literature. She
said to Jock: "I must get you to tell me her name. She is lovely. She
will make a great sensation. I must make a few notes of her dress after
dinner--would you call that yellow or white? Whoever dressed her knew
what they were about. Mademoiselle, I imagine, one ought to call her. I
know that's French, and she's Italian, but still---- The new beauty!
that's what she will be called. I am so glad to be the first to see her;
but I must get you to tell me her name."

Among the gentlemen there was no other subject of conversation, and but
one opinion. A little hum of curiosity ran round the table. It was far
more exciting than tableaux, which was what some of the guests had
expected to be arranged by the Contessa. Tableaux! nothing could have
been equal to the effect of that dramatic entry and sudden revelation.
"As for Montjoie, all was up with him, but the Contessa knew what she
was about. She was not going to throw away her effects," they said.
"There could be no doubt for whose benefit it all was." The Contessa
graciously baffled with her charming smile all the questions that were
poured upon her. She received the compliments addressed to her with
gracious bows, but she gave no reply to any one. As she swept out of the
room after dinner she tapped Montjoie lightly on the arm with her fan.
"I will sing for you to-night," she said.

In the drawing-room the elements were a little heterogeneous without the
gentlemen. The two girls in blue gazed at this wonderful new competitor
with a curiosity which was almost alarm. They would have liked to make
acquaintance, to draw her into their little party of youth outside the
phalanx of the elders. But Bice took no more note of them than if they
had been cabbages. She was in great excitement, all smiles and glory.
"Do I please you like this?" she said, going up to Lucy, spreading out
all her finery with the delight of a child. Lucy shrank a little. She
had a troubled anxious look, which did not look like pleasure; but Lady
Anastasia, who wrote for the newspapers, walked round and round the
_débutante_ and took notes frankly. "Of course I shall describe her
dress. I never saw anything so lovely," the lady said. Bice, in the glow
of her golden yellow, and of her smiles and delight, with the noble
correspondent of the newspapers examining her, found the acutest
interest in the position. The Contessa from her sofa smiled upon the
scene, looking on with the air of a gratified exhibitor whose show had
succeeded beyond her hopes. Lady Randolph, with an air of anxiety in her
fair and simple countenance, stood behind, looking at Bice with
protecting yet disturbed and troubled looks. The mother and daughters at
the other side looked on, she all solid and speechless with
disapproval, they in a flutter of interest and wonder and gentle envy
and offence. More than a tableau; it was like an act out of a play. And
when the gentlemen came in what a sudden quickening of the interest!
Bice rose to the action like a heroine when the great scene has come,
and the others all gathered round with a spectatorship that was almost
breathless. The worst feature of the whole to those who were interested
in Bice was her own evident enjoyment. She talked, she distributed her
smiles right and left, she mimicked yet flattered Montjoie with a
dazzling youthful assurance which confounded Mr. Derwentwater, and made
Jock furious, and brought looks of pain not only to the face of Lucy but
also to that of Sir Tom, who was less easily shocked. She was like a
young actress in her first triumph, filling her _rôle_ with a sort of
enthusiasm, enjoying it with all her heart. And when the Contessa rose
to sing, Bice followed her to the piano with an air as different as
possible from the swift, noiseless self-effacement of her performance on
previous occasions. She looked round upon the company with a sort of
malicious triumph, a laugh on her lips as of some delightful
mystification, some surprise of which she was in the secret. "Come and
listen," she said to Jock, lightly touching him on the shoulder as she
passed him. The Contessa's singing was already known. It was considered
by some with a certain contempt, by others with admiration, as almost as
good as professional. But when instead of one of her usual performances
there arose in splendid fulness the harmony of two voices, that of Bice
suddenly breaking forth in all the freshness of youth, unexpected,
unprepared for, the climax of wonder and enthusiasm was reached. Lady
Anastasia, after the first start and thrill of wonder, rushed to the
usual writing-table and dashed off a hurried note, which she fastened to
her fan in her excitement. "Everybody must know of this!" she cried. One
of the young ladies in the background wept with admiration, crying,
"Mamma, she is heavenly," while even the virtuous mother was moved.
"They must intend her for the stage," that lady said, wondering,
withdrawing from her _rôle_ of disapproval. As for the gentlemen, those
of them who were not speechless with enthusiasm were almost noisy in
their excitement. Montjoie pressed into the first rank, almost touching
Bice's dress, which she drew away between two bars, turning half round
with a slight shake of her head and a smile in her eyes, even while the
loveliest notes were flowing forth from her melodious throat. The
listeners could hear the noble lord's "by Jove," in the midst of the
music, and even detect the slight quaver of laughter which followed in
Bice's wonderful voice.

The commotion of applause, enthusiasm, and wonder afterwards was
indescribable. The gentlemen crowded round the singers--even the
parliamentary gentlemen had lost their self-control, while the young
lady who had wept forgot her timidity to make an eager approach to the
_débutante_.

"It was heavenly: it was a rapture: oh, sing again!" cried Miss Edith,
which was much prettier than Lord Montjoie's broken exclamations, "Oh,
by Jove! don't you know," to which Bice was listening with delighted
mockery.

Bice had been trained to pay very little attention to the opinions of
other girls, but she gave the young lady in blue a friendly look, and
launched over her shoulder an appeal to Jock. "Didn't you like it,
you?" she cried, with a slight clap together of her hands to call his
attention.

Jock glared at her over Miss Edith's shoulder. "I don't understand
music," he said, in his most surly voice. These were the distinct
utterances which enchanted Bice amid the murmurs of more ordinary
applause. She was delighted with them. She clapped her hands once more
with a delight which was contagious. "Ah, I know now, this is what it is
to have _succès_," she cried.

"Now," said the Contessa, "it is the turn of Lord Montjoie, who is a
dab--that is the word--at singing, and who promised me three for one."

At this there rose a hubbub of laughter, in the midst of which, though
with many protestations and remonstrances, "don't you know," that young
nobleman was driven to the fulfilment of his promise. In the midst of
this commotion, a sign as swift as lightning, but, unlike lightning,
imperceptible, a lifting of the eyebrows, a movement of a finger, was
given and noted. In such a musical assembly the performance of a young
marquis, with nobody knows how many thousands a year and entirely his
own master, is rarely without interest. Mr. Derwentwater turned his back
with marked indifference, and Jock with a sort of snort went away
altogether. But of the others, the majority, though some with laughter
and some with sneers, were civil, and listened to the performance. Jock
marched off with a disdain beyond expression; but he had scarcely issued
forth into the hall before he heard a rustle behind him, and, looking
back, to his amazement saw Bice in all the glory of her golden robes.

"Hush!" she cried, smothering a laugh, and with a quick gesture of
repression, "don't say anything. It must not be discovered that I have
run away!"

"Why have you run away? I thought you thought no end of that little
scug," cried savage Jock.

Bice turned upon him that smile that said everything and nothing, and
then flew like a bird upstairs.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE EVENING AFTER.


The outcry that rose when, after Montjoie's comic song, a performance of
the broadest and silliest description, was over, it was discovered that
Bice had disappeared, and especially the blank look of the performer
himself when turning round from the piano he surveyed the company in
vain for her, gratified the Contessa beyond measure. She smiled
radiantly upon the assembly in answer to all their indignant questions.
"It has been for once an indulgence," she said; "but little girls must
keep early hours." Montjoie was wounded and disappointed beyond measure
that it should have been at the moment of his performance that she was
spirited away. His reproaches were vehement, and there was something of
the pettishness of a boy in their indignant tones. "I shouldn't have
sung a note if I'd thought what was going on," he cried. "Contessa, I
would not have believed you could have been so mean--and I singing only
to please you."

"But think how you have pleased me--and all these ladies!" cried the
Contessa. "Does not that recompense you?" Montjoie guessed that she was
laughing at him, but he did not, in fact, see anything to laugh about.
It was natural enough that the other ladies should be pleased; still he
did not care whether they were pleased or not, and he did care much that
the object of his admiration had not waited to hear him. The Contessa
found the greatest amusement in his boyish sulk and resentment, and the
rest of the evening was passed in baffling the questions with which, now
that Bice was gone, her friends overpowered her. She gave the smallest
possible dole of reply to their interrogations, but smiled upon the
questioners with sunshiny smiles. "You must come and see me in town,"
she said to Montjoie. It was the only satisfaction she would give him.
And she perceived at a much earlier hour than usual that Lucy was
waiting for her to go to bed. She gave a little cry of distress when
this seemed to flash upon her.

"Sweet Lucy! it is for me you wait!" she cried. "How could I keep you so
late, my dear one?"

Montjoie was the foremost of those who attended her to the door, and got
her candle for her, that indispensable but unnecessary formula.

"Of course I shall look you up in town; but we'll talk of that
to-morrow. I don't go till three--to-morrow," the young fellow said.

The Contessa gave him her hand with a smile, but without a word, in that
inimitable way she had, leaving Montjoie a prey to such uncertainty as
poisoned his night's rest. He was not humble-minded, and he knew that he
was a prize which no lady he had met with as yet had disregarded; but
for the first time his bosom was torn by disquietude. Of course he must
see her to-morrow. Should he see her to-morrow? The Contessa's smile,
so radiant, so inexplainable, tormented him with a thousand doubts.

Lucy had looked on at all this with an uneasiness indescribable. She
felt like an accomplice, watching this course of intrigue, of which she
indeed disapproved entirely, but could not clear herself from a certain
guilty knowledge of. That it should all be going on under her roof was
terrible to her, though it was not for Montjoie but for Bice that her
anxieties were awakened. She followed the Contessa upstairs, bearing her
candle as if they formed part of a procession, with a countenance
absolutely opposed in expression to the smiles of Madame di
Forno-Populo. When they reached the Contessa's door, Lucy, by a sudden
impulse, followed her in. It was not the first time that she had been
allowed to cross the threshold of that little enchanted world which had
filled her with wonder on her first entrance, but which by this time she
regarded with composure, no longer bewildered to find it in her own
house. Bice sprang up from a sofa on which she was lying on their
entrance. She had taken off her beautiful dress, and her hair was
streaming over her shoulders, her countenance radiant with delight. She
threw herself upon the Contessa, without perceiving the presence of Lady
Randolph.

"But it is enchanting; it is ravishing. I have never been so happy," she
cried.

"My child," said the Contessa, "here is our dear lady who is of a
different opinion."

"Of what opinion?" Bice cried. She was startled by the sudden
appearance, when she had no thought of such an apparition, of Lucy's
face so grave and uneasy. It gave a contradiction which was painful to
the girl's excitement and delight.

"Indeed, I did not mean to find fault," said Lucy. "I was only
sorry----" and here she paused, feeling herself incapable of expressing
her real meaning, and convicted of interference and unnecessary severity
by the girl's astonished eyes.

"My dear one," said the Contessa, "it is only that we look from two
different points of view. You will not object to little Bice that she
finds society intoxicating when she first goes into it. The child has
made what you call a sensation. She has had her little _succès_. That is
nothing to object to. An English girl is perhaps more reticent. She is
brought up to believe that she does not care for _succès_. But Bice is
otherwise. She has been trained for that, and to please makes her
happy."

"To please--whom?" cried Lady Randolph. "Oh, don't think I am finding
fault. We are brought up to please our parents and people who--care for
us--in England."

Here Bice and the Contessa mutually looked at each other, and the girl
laughed, putting her hands together. "_She_ is pleased most of all," she
cried; "she is all my parents. I please her first of all."

"What you say is sweet," said the Contessa, smiling upon Lucy; "and she
is right too. She pleases me most of all. To see her have her little
triumph, looking really her very best, and her dress so successful, is
to me a delight. I am nearly as much excited as the child herself!"

Lucy looked from one to another, and felt that it was impossible for her
to say what she wished to say. The girl's pleasure seemed so innocent,
and that of her protectress and guardian so generous, so tender. All
that had offended Lucy's instincts, the dramatic effort of the
Contessa, the careful preparation of all the effects, the singling out
of young Montjoie as the object, all seemed to melt away in the girlish
delight of Bice, and the sympathetic triumph of her guardian. She did
not know what to say to them. It was she who was the culprit, putting
thoughts of harm which had not found any entrance there into the girl's
mind. She flushed with shame and an uneasy sense that the tables were
thus turned upon her; and yet how could she depart without some warning?
It was not only her own troubled uncomfortable feeling; but had she not
read the same, still more serious and decided, in her husband's eyes?

"I don't know what to say," said Lucy. "But Sir Tom thinks so too. He
will tell you better, he knows better. Lord Montjoie is--I do not know
why he was asked. I did not wish it. He is--dear Madame di Forno-Populo,
you have seen so much more than I--he is vulgar--a little. And Bice is
so young; she may be deceived."

For a moment a cloud, more dark than had ever been seen there before,
overshadowed the Contessa's face. But Bice burst forth into a peal of
laughter, clapping her hands. "Is that vulgar?" the girl cried. "I am
glad. Now I know how he is different. It is what you call fun, don't you
know?" she cried with sudden mimicry, at which Lucy herself could not
refuse to laugh.

"I waited outside to hear a little of the song. It was so wonderful that
I could not laugh; and to utter all that before you, Madama, after he
had heard you--oh, what courage! what braveness!" cried Bice. "I did not
think any one could be so brave!"

"You mean so simple, dear child," said the Contessa, whose brow had
cleared; "that is really what is so wonderful in these English men. They
are so simple, they never see how it is different. It is brave if you
please, but still more simple-minded. Little Montjoie is so. He knows no
better; not to me only, but even to you, Bice, with that voice of yours,
so pure, so fresh, he listens, then performs as you heard. It is
wonderful, as you say. But you have not told me, Lucy, my sweetest, what
you think of the little one's voice."

"I think," said Lucy, with that disapproval which she could not
altogether restrain, "that it is very wonderful, when it is so fine,
that we never heard it before----"

"Ah, Bice," cried the Contessa, "our dear lady is determined that she
will not be pleased to-night. We had prepared a little surprise, and it
is a failure. She will not understand that we love to please. She will
have us to be superior, as if we were English."

"Indeed, indeed," cried Lucy, full of compunction, "I know you are
always kind. And I know your ways are different--but----" with a sort of
regretful reflectiveness, shaking her head.

"All England is in that but," said the Contessa. "It is what has always
been said to me. In our country we love to arrange these little effects,
to have surprises, impromptus, events that are unexpected. Bice, go, my
child, go to bed, after this excitement you must rest. You did well, and
pleased me at least. My sweet Lucy," she said, when the girl with
instant obedience had disappeared into the next room, "I know how you
see it all from your point of view. But we are not as you, rich, secure.
We must make while we can our _coup_. To succeed by one _coup_, that is
my desire. And you will not interfere?"

"Oh, Contessa," cried Lucy, "will you not spare the child? It is like
selling her. She is too good for such a man. He is scarcely a man; he is
a boy. I am ashamed to think that you should care to please----him, or
any one like him. Oh, let it come naturally! Do not plan like this, and
scheme and take trouble for----"

"For an establishment that will make her at once safe and sure; that
will give her so many of the things that people care for--beautiful
houses, a good name, money---- I have schemed, as you say, for little
things much of my life," said the Contessa, shaking her head with a
mournful smile; "I have told you my history: for very, very little
things--for a box at the opera, for a carriage, things which are
nothing, sweetest Lucy. You have plenty; such things are nothing to you.
You cannot understand it. But that is me, my dear one. I have not a
higher mind like you; and shall I not scheme," cried the Contessa, with
sudden energy, "for the child, to make her safe that she may never
require scheming? Ah, my Lucy! I have the heart of a mother to her, and
you know what a mother will do."

Lucy was silent, partly touched, partly resisting. If it ever could be
right to do evil that good might come, perhaps this motive might justify
it. And then came the question how much, in the Contessa's code, was
evil, of these proceedings? She was silenced, if not satisfied. There is
a certain casuistry involved in the most Christian charity: "thinketh no
evil," sometimes even implies an effort to think that there is no harm
in evil according to the intention in it. Lucy's intellect was confused,
though not that unobtrusive faculty of judgment in her which was
infallible, yet could be kept dumb.

"My love," said the Contessa, suddenly kissing her as a sort of
dismissal, "think that you are rich and we poor. If Bice had a
provision, if she had even as much as you give away to your poor friends
and never think of again, how different would all things be for her! But
she has nothing; and therefore I prepare my little tableaux, and study
all the effects I can think of, and produce her as in a theatre, and
shut her up to _agacer_ the audience, and keep her silent and make her
sing, all for effect; yes, all for effect. But what can I do? She has
not a penny, not a penny, not even like your poor friends."

The sudden energy with which this was said was indescribable. The
Contessa's countenance, usually so ivory-pale, shone with a sort of
reflection as if of light within, her eyes blazed, her smile gave place
to a seriousness which was almost indignation. She looked like a heroine
maintaining her right to do all that human strength could do for the
forlorn and oppressed; and there was, in fact, a certain _abandon_ of
feeling in her which made her half unconsciously open the door, and do
what was tantamount to turning her visitor out, though her visitor was
mistress of the house. Her feelings had, indeed, for the moment, got the
better of the Contessa. She had worked herself up to the point of
indignation, that Lucy who could, if she would, deliver Bice from all
the snares of poverty, had not done so, and was not, so far as appeared,
intending to do so. To find fault with the devices of the poor, and yet
not to help them--is not that one of the things least easily supportable
of all the spurns of patient merit? The Contessa was doing what she
could, all she could in her own fashion, strenuously, anxiously. But
Lucy was doing nothing, though she could have done it so easily: and
yet she found fault and criticised. Madame di Forno-Populo was swept by
a great flood of instinctive resentment. She put her hostess to the door
in the strength of it, tenderly with a kiss but not less hotly, and with
full meaning. Such impulses had stood her instead of virtue on other
occasions; she felt a certain virtue as of superior generosity and
self-sacrifice in her proceedings now.

As for Lucy, still much confused and scarcely recognising the full
meaning of the Contessa's warmth, she made her way to her own room in a
haze of disturbed and uneasy feeling. Somehow--she could not tell
how--she felt herself in the wrong. What was it she had done? What was
it she had left undone? To further the scheme by which young Montjoie
was to be caught and trapped and made the means of fortune and endowment
to Bice was not possible. In such cases it is usually of the possible
victim, the man against whom such plots are formed, that the bystander
thinks; but Lucy thought of young Montjoie only with an instinctive
dislike, which would have been contempt in a less calm and tolerant
mind. That Bice, with all her gifts, a creature so full of life and
sweetness and strength, should be handed over to this trifling
commonplace lad, was in itself terrible to think of. Lucy did not think
of the girl's beauty, or of that newly-developed gift of song which had
taken her by surprise, but only and simply of herself, the warm-hearted
and smiling girl, the creature full of fun and frolic whom she had
learned to be fond of, first, for the sake of little Tom, and then for
her own. Little Tom's friend, his playmate, who had found him out in his
infant weakness and made his life so much brighter! And then Lucy asked
herself what the Contessa could mean, what it was that made her own
interference a sort of impertinence, why her protests had been received
with so little of the usual caressing deference? Thoughts go fast, and
Lucy had not yet reached the door of her own room, when it flashed upon
her what it was. She put down her candle on a table in the corridor, and
stood still to realise it. This gallery at the head of the great
staircase was dimly lighted, and the hall below threw up a glimmer,
reflected in the oaken balusters and doors of the closed rooms, and
dying away in the half-lit gloom above. There were sounds below far off
that betrayed the assembly still undispersed in the smoking-room, and
some fainter still, above, of the ladies who had retired to their rooms,
but were still discussing the strange events of the evening. In the
centre of this partial darkness stood Lucy, with her candle, the only
visible representative of all the hidden life around, suddenly pausing,
asking herself--

Was this what it meant? Undoubtedly, this was what it meant. She had the
power, and she had not used it. With a word she could make all their
schemes unnecessary, and relieve the burden on the soul of the woman who
had the heart of a mother for Bice. Tears sprang up into Lucy's eyes
unawares as this recollection suddenly seized her. The Contessa was not
perfect--there were many things in her which Lady Randolph could with
difficulty excuse to herself: but she had the heart of a mother for
Bice. Oh, yes, it was true, quite true. The heart of a mother! and how
was it possible that another mother could look on at this and not
sympathise; and how was it that the idea had never occurred to her
before--that she had never thought how changed in a moment might be
Bice's position, if only---- Here she picked up her candle again, and
went away hastily to her room. She said to herself that she was keeping
Fletcher up, and that this was unkind. But, as a matter of fact, she was
not thinking about Fletcher. There had sprung up in her soul a fear
which was twofold and contradictory. If one of those alarms was
justified, then the other would be fallacious; and yet the existence of
the one doubled the force of the other. One of these elements of
fear--the contradiction, the new terror--was wholly unthought of, and
had never troubled her peace before. She thought--and this was her old
burden, the anxiety which had already restrained her action and made her
forego what she had never failed to feel as her duty, the carrying out
of her father's will--of her husband's objection, of his opposition, of
the terrible interview she had once had with him, when she had refused
to acquiesce in his command. And then, with a sort of stealthy horror,
she thought of his departure from that opposition, and asked herself,
would he, for Bice's sake, consent to that which he had so much objected
to in other cases? This it was that made her shrink from herself and her
own thoughts, and hurry into her room for the solace of Fletcher's
companionship, and to put off as long as she could the discussion of the
question. Would Sir Tom agree to everything? Would he make no
objections--for Bice's sake?



CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE CONTESSA'S TACTICS.


That morning the whole party came down to breakfast expectant, for,
notwithstanding the Contessa's habit of not appearing, it was supposed
that the young lady whom most people supposed to have arrived very
recently must be present at the morning meal. Young Montjoie, who was
generally very late, appeared among the first; and there was a look of
curiosity and anxiety in his face as he turned towards the door every
time it was opened, which betrayed his motive. But this expectation was
not destined to be repaid. Bice did not appear at breakfast. She did not
even come downstairs, though the Contessa did, for luncheon. When Madame
di Forno-Populo came in to this meal there was a general elevation of
all heads and eager look towards her, to which she replied with her
usual smile but no explanation of any kind; nor would she make any
reply, even to direct questions. She did nothing but smile when Montjoie
demanded to know if Miss Forno-Populo was not coming downstairs, if she
had gone away, if she were ill, if she would appear before three
o'clock--with which questions he assailed her in downright fashion. When
the Contessa did not smile she put on a look of injured sweetness.
"What!" she said, "Am I then so little thought of? You have no more
pleasure, ficklest of young men, in seeing me?" "Oh, I assure you,
Countess," he cried, "that's all right, don't you know; but a fellow may
ask. And then it was your own doing to make us so excited."

"Yes, a fellow may ask," said the Contessa, smiling; but this was all
the response she would give, nothing that could really throw the least
light upon the subject of his curiosity. The other men of her following
looked on with undisguised admiration at this skilled and accomplished
woman. To see how she held in hand the youth whom they all considered as
her victim was beautiful they thought; and bets even were going amongst
them as to the certainty that she would land her big fish. Sir Tom, at
the head of the table, did not regard the matter so lightly. There was a
curve of annoyance in his forehead. He did not understand what game she
was playing. It was, without doubt, a game of some sort, and its object
was transparent enough; and Sir Tom could not easily forgive the
dramatic efforts of the previous night, or endure the thought that his
house was the scene of tactics so little creditable. He was vexed with
the Contessa, with Bice, even with Lucy, who, he could not keep from
saying to himself, should have found some means of baulking such an
intention. He was somewhat mollified by the absence of Bice now, which
seemed to him, perhaps, a tribute to his own evident disapproval; but
still he was uneasy. It was not a fit thing to take place in his house.
He saw far more clearly than he had done before that a stop should have
been put ere now to the Contessa's operations, and in the light of last
night's proceedings perceived his own errors in judgment--those errors
which he had, indeed, been sensible of, yet condoned in himself with
that wonderful charity which we show towards our own mistakes and
follies. He ought not to have asked her to the Hall; he ought not to
have permitted himself to be flattered and amused by her society, or to
have encouraged her to remain, or to have been so weak as to ask the
people she wished, which was the crowning error of all. He had invited
Montjoie, a trifling boy in whom he felt little or no interest, to
please her, without any definite idea as to what she meant, but only
with an amused sense that she had designs on the lad which Montjoie was
quite knowing enough to deliver himself from. But the turn things had
taken displeased Sir Tom. It was too barefaced, he said to himself. He,
too, felt like his more innocent wife, as if he were an accomplice in a
social crime.

"I've been swindled, don't you know," Montjoie said; "I've been taken a
mean advantage of. None of these other beggars are going away like me.
They will get all the good of the music to-night, and I shall be far
away. I could cry to think of it, I could, don't you know; but you don't
care a bit, Countess."

The Contessa, as usual, smiled. "_Enfant_!" she said.

"I am not an infant. I am just the same age as everybody, old enough to
look after myself, don't you know, and pay for myself, and all that sort
of thing. Besides, I haven't got any parents and guardians. Is that why
you take such a base advantage of me?" cried the young man.

"It is, perhaps, why----" The Contessa was not much in the way of
answering questions; and when she had said this she broke off with a
laugh. Was she going to say that this was why she had taken any trouble
about him, with a frankness which it is sometimes part of the astutest
policy to employ.

"Why what? why what? Oh, come, you must tell me now," the young man
said.

"Why one takes so much interest in you," said the Contessa sweetly.
"You shall come and see me, _cher petit Marquis_, in my little house
that is to be, in Mayfair; for you have found me, _n'est ce pas_, a
little house in Mayfair?" she said, turning to another of her train.

"Hung with rose-coloured curtains and pink glass in the windows,
according to your orders, Contessa," said the gentleman appealed to.

"How good it is to have a friend! but those curtains will be terrible,"
said the Contessa, with a shiver, "if it were not that I carry with me a
few little things in a great box."

"Oh, my dear Contessa, how many things you must have picked up!" cried
Lady Anastasia. "That peep into your boudoir made me sick with envy;
those Eastern embroideries, those Persian rugs! They have furnished me
with a lovely paragraph for my paper, and it is such a delightful
original idea to carry about one's pet furniture like one's dresses. It
will become quite the fashion when it is known. And how I shall long to
see that little house in Mayfair!"

The Contessa smiled upon Lady Anastasia as she smiled upon the male
friends that surrounded her. Her paper and her paragraphs were not to be
despised, and those little mysterious intimations about the new beauty
which it delighted her to make. Madame di Forno-Populo turned to
Montjoie afterwards with a little wave of the hand. "You are going?" she
said; "how sad for us! we shall have no song to make us gay to-night.
But come and you shall sing to us in Mayfair."

"Countess, you are only laughing at me. But I shall come, don't you
know," said Montjoie, "whether you mean it or not."

The company, who were so much interested in this conversation, did not
observe the preoccupied looks of the master and mistress of the house,
although to some of the gentlemen the gravity of Sir Tom was apparent
enough. And not much wonder that he should be grave. Even the men who were
most easy in their own code looked with a certain severity and
astonishment upon him who had opened his door to the adventuress-Contessa,
of whom they all judged the worst, without even the charitable
acknowledgment which her enemy the Dowager had made, that there was
nothing in her past history bad enough to procure her absolute expulsion
from society. The men who crowded round her when she appeared, who
flattered and paid their court to her, and even took a little credit to
themselves as intimates of the siren, were one and all of opinion that to
bring her into his house was discreditable to Sir Tom. They were even a
little less respectful to Lucy for not knowing or finding out the quality
of her guest. If Tom Randolph was beginning to find out that he had been a
fool it was wonderful he had not made the discovery sooner. For he had
been a fool, and no mistake! To bring that woman to England, to keep her
in his house, to associate her in men's minds with his wife--the worst of
his present guests found it most difficult to forgive him. But they were
all the more interested in the situation from the fact that Sir Tom was
beginning to feel the effects of his folly. He said very little during
that meal. He took no notice of the badinage going on between the Contessa
and her train. When he spoke at all it was to that virtuous mother at his
other hand, who was not at all amusing, and talked of nothing but Edith
and Minnie, and her successful treatment of them through all the nursery
troubles of their life.

Lucy, at the other end of the table, was scarcely more expansive. She
had been relieved by the absence of Bice, which, in her innocence, she
believed to be a concession to her own anxiety, feeling a certain
gratitude to the Contessa for thus foregoing the chance of another
interview with Montjoie. It could never have occurred to Lucy to suppose
that this was policy on the Contessa's part, and that her refusal to
satisfy Montjoie was in reality planned to strengthen her hold on him,
and to increase the curiosity she pretended to baffle. Lucy had no such
artificial idea in her mind. She accepted the girl's withdrawal as a
tribute to her own powers of persuasion, and a proof that though the
Contessa had been led astray by her foreign notions, she was yet ready
to perceive and adopt the more excellent way. This touched Lucy's heart
and made her feel that she was herself bound to reciprocate the
generosity. They had done it without knowing anything about the
intention in her mind, and it should be hers to carry out that intention
liberally, generously, not like an unwilling giver. She cast many a
glance at her husband while this was going through her mind. Would he
object as before? or would he, because it was the Contessa who was to be
benefited, make no objection? Lucy did not know which of the two it
would be most painful to her to bear. She had read carefully the
paragraph in her father's will about foreigners, and had found there was
no distinct objection to foreigners, only a preference the other way.
She knew indeed, but would not permit herself to think, that these were
not persons who would have commended themselves to Mr. Trevor as objects
of his bounty. Mr. Churchill, with his large family, was very
different. But to endow two frivolous and expensive women with a portion
of his fortune was a thing to which he never would have consented. With
a certain shiver she recognised this; and then she made a rush past the
objection and turned her back upon it. It was quite a common form of
beneficence in old times to provide a dower for a girl that she might
marry. What could there be wrong in providing a poor girl with something
to live upon that she might not be forced into a mercenary marriage?
While all the talk was going on at the other end of the table she was
turning this over in her mind--the manner of it, the amount of it, all
the details. She did not hear the talk, it was immaterial to her, she
cared not for it. Now and then she gave an anxious look at Sir Tom at
the other end. He was serious. He did not laugh as usual. What was he
thinking of? Would his objections be forgotten because it was the
Contessa or would he oppose her and struggle against her? Her heart beat
at the thought of the conflict which might be before her; or perhaps if
there was no conflict, if he were too willing, might not that be the
worst of all!

Thus the background against which the Contessa wove her web of smiles
and humorous schemes was both dark and serious. There were many shadows
behind that frivolous central light. Herself the chief actor, the
plotter, she to whom only it could be a matter of personal advantage,
was perhaps the least serious of all the agents in it. The others
thought of possibilities dark enough, of perhaps the destruction of
family peace in this house which had been so hospitable to her, which
had received her when no other house would; and some, of the success of
a plan which did not deserve to succeed, and some of the danger of a
youth to whom at present all the world was bright. All these things
seemed to be involved in the present crisis. What more likely than that
Lucy, at last enlightened, should turn upon her husband, who no doubt
had forced this uncongenial companion upon her, should turn from Sir Tom
altogether, and put her trust in him no longer! And the men who most
admired the Contessa were those who looked with the greatest horror upon
a marriage made by her, and called young Montjoie poor little beggar and
poor devil, wondering much whether he ought not to be "spoken to." The
men were not sorry for Bice, nor thought of her at all in the matter,
save to conclude her a true pupil of the guardian whom most of them
believed to be her mother. But in this point where the others were
wanting Lucy came in, whose simple heart bled for the girl about to be
sacrificed to a man whom she could not love. Thus tragical surmises
floated in the air about Madame di Forno-Populo, that arch plotter whose
heart was throbbing indeed with her success, and the hope of successes
to come, but who had no tragical alarms in her breast. She was perfectly
easy in her mind about Sir Tom and Lucy. Even if a matrimonial quarrel
should be the result, what was that to an experienced woman of the
world, who knew that such things are only for the minute? and neither
Bice nor Montjoie caused her any alarm. Bice was perfectly pleased with
the little Marquis. He amused her. She had not the slightest objection
to him; and as for Montjoie, he was perfectly well able to take care of
himself. So that while everybody else was more or less anxious, the
Contessa in the centre of all her webs was perfectly tranquil. She was
not aware that she wished harm to any man, or woman either. Her light
heart and easy conscience carried her quite triumphantly through all.

When Montjoie had gone away, carrying in his pocket-book the address of
the little house in Mayfair, and when the party had dispersed to walk or
ride or drive, as each thought fit, Lucy, who was doing neither, met her
husband coming out of his den. Sir Tom was full of a remorseful sense
that he had wronged Lucy. He took her by both hands, and drew her into
his room. It was a long time since he had met her with the same
effusion. "You are looking very serious," he said, "you are vexed, and I
don't wonder; but I see land, Lucy. It will be over directly--only a
week more----"

"I thought you were looking serious, Tom," she said.

"So I was, my love. All that business last night was more than I could
stand. You may think me callous enough, but I could not stand that."

"Tom!" said Lucy, faltering. It seemed an opportunity she could not let
slip--but how she trembled between her two terrors! "There is something
that I want to say to you."

"Say whatever you like, Lucy," he cried; "but for God's sake don't
tremble, my little woman, when you speak to me. I've done nothing to
deserve that."

"I am not trembling," said Lucy, with the most innocent and transparent
of falsehoods. "But oh, Tom, I am so sorry, so unhappy."

"For what?" he said. He did not know what accusation she might be going
to bring against him; and how could he defend himself? Whatever she
might say he was sure to be half guilty; and if she thought him wholly
guilty, how could he prevent it? A hot colour came up upon his
middle-aged face. To have to blush when you are past the age of blushing
is a more terrible necessity than the young can conceive.

"Oh, Tom!" cried Lucy again, "for Bice! Can we stand by and let her be
sacrificed? She is not much more than a child; and she is always so good
to little Tom."

"For Bice!" he cried. In the relief of his mind he was ready to have
done anything for Bice. He laughed with a somewhat nervous tremulous
outburst. "Why, what is the matter with her?" he said. "She did her part
last night with assurance enough. She is young indeed, but she ought to
have known better than that."

"She is very young, and it is the way she has been brought up--how
should she know any better? But, Tom, if she had any fortune she would
not be compelled to marry. How can we stand by and see her sacrificed to
that odious young man?"

"What odious young man?" said Sir Tom, astonished, and then with another
burst of his old laughter such as had not been heard for weeks, he cried
out: "Montjoie! Why, Lucy, are you crazy? Half the girls in England are
in competition for him. Sacrificed to----! She will be in the greatest
luck if she ever has such a chance."

Lucy gave him a reproachful look.

"How can you say so? A little vulgar boy--a creature not worthy to----"

"My dear, you are prejudiced. You are taking Jock's view. That worthy's
opinion of a fellow who never rose above Lower Fourth is to be received
with reservation. A fellow may be a scug, and yet not a bad fellow--that
is what Jock has yet to learn."

"Oh, Tom, I cannot laugh," said Lucy. "What can she do, the Contessa
says? She must marry the first that offers, and in the meantime she
attracts notice _like that_. It is dreadful to think of it. I think that
some one--that we--I--ought to interfere."

"My innocent Lucy," said Sir Tom, "how can you interfere? You know
nothing about the tactics of such people. I am very penitent for my
share in the matter. I ought not to have brought so much upon you."

"Oh, Tom," cried Lucy again, drawing closer to him, eager to anticipate
with her pardon any blame to which he might be liable. And then she
added, returning to her own subject: "She is of English parentage--on
one side."

Why this fact, so simply stated, should have startled her husband so
much, Lucy could not imagine. He almost gasped as he met her eyes, as if
he had received or feared a sudden blow, and underneath the brownness of
his complexion grew suddenly pale, all the ruddy colour forsaking his
face. "Of English parentage!" he said, faltering, "do you mean?--what do
you mean? Why--do you tell this to me?"

Lucy was surprised, but saw no significance in his agitation. And her
mind was full of her own purpose. "Because of the will which is against
foreigners," she said simply. "But in that case she would not be a
foreigner, Tom. I think a great deal of this. I want to do it. Oh, don't
oppose me! It makes it so much harder when you go against me."

He gazed at her with a sort of awe. He did not seem able to speak. What
she had said, though she was unconscious of any special meaning in it,
seemed to have acted upon him like a spell. There was something tragic
in his look which frightened Lucy. She came closer still and put her
hand upon his arm.

"Oh, it is not to trouble you, Tom; it is not that I want to go against
you! But give me your consent this once. Baby is so fond of her, and she
is so good to him. I want to give something to Bice. Let me make a
provision for her?" she said, pleading. "Do not take all the pleasure
out of it and oppose me. Oh, dear Tom, give me your free consent!" Lucy
cried.

He kept gazing at her with that look of awe. "Oppose you!" he said. What
was the shock he had received which made him so unlike himself? His very
lips quivered as he spoke. "God forgive me; what have I been doing?" he
cried. "Lucy, I think I will never oppose you more."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

DISCOVERIES.


This interview had an agitating and painful effect upon Lucy, though she
could not tell why. It was not what she expected or feared--neither in
one sense nor the other. He had neither distressed her by opposing her
proceedings, nor accepted her beneficence towards the Contessa with
levity and satisfaction, both of which dangers she had been prepared
for. Instead, however, of agitating her by the reception he gave to her
proposal, it was he who was agitated by something which in entire
unconsciousness she had said. But what that could be Lucy could not
divine. She had said nothing that could affect him personally so far as
she knew. She went over every word of the conversation without being
able to discover what could have had this effect. But she could find
nothing, there was no clue anywhere that her unconscious mind could
discover. She concluded finally with much compunction that it was the
implied reproach that he had taken away all pleasure in what she did by
opposing her, that had so disturbed her husband. He was so kind. He had
not been able to bear even the possibility that his opposition had been
a source of pain. "I think I will never oppose you any more." In an
answering burst of generosity Lucy said to herself that she did not
desire this; that she preferred that he should find fault and object
when he disapproved, not consent to everything. But the reflection of
the disturbance she had seen in her husband's countenance was in her
mind all day; she could not shake it off; and he was so grave that every
look she cast at him strengthened the impression. He did not approach
the circle in which the Contessa sat all the evening, but stood apart,
silent, taking little notice of anybody until Mr. Derwentwater secured
his ear, when Sir Tom, instead of his usual genial laugh at MTutor's
solemnities, discharged little caustic criticisms which astonished his
companion. Mr. Derwentwater was going away next day, and he, too, was
preoccupied. After that conversation with Sir Tom, he betook himself to
Lucy, who was very silent too, and doing little for the entertainment of
her guests. He made her sundry pretty speeches, such as are appropriate
from a departing guest.

"Jock has made up his mind to stay behind," he said. "I am sorry, but I
am not surprised. I shall lose a most agreeable travelling companion;
but, perhaps, home influences are best for the young."

"I don't know why Jock has changed his mind, Mr. Derwentwater. He wanted
very much to go."

"He would say that here's metal more attractive," said the tutor with an
offended smile; and then he paused, and, clearing his throat, asked in a
still more evident tone of offence--"Does not your young friend the
Signorina appear again? I thought from her appearance last night that
she was making her _début_."

"Yes, it was like it," said Lucy. "The Contessa is not like one of us,"
she added after a moment. "She has her own ways--and, perhaps, I don't
know--that may be the Italian fashion."

"Not at all," Mr. Derwentwater said promptly. He was an authority upon
national usages. "But I am afraid it was very transparent what the
Contessa meant," he said, after a pause.

To this Lucy made no reply, and the tutor, who was sensitive, especially
as to bad taste, reddened at his inappropriate observation. He went on
hastily; "The Signorina--or should I say Mademoiselle di
Forno-Populo?--has a great deal of charm. I do not know if she is so
beautiful as her mother----"

"Oh, not her mother," cried Lucy quickly, with a smile at the mistake.

"Is she not her mother? The young lady's face indeed is different. It is
of a higher order--it is full of thought. It is noble in repose. She
does not seem made for these scenes of festivity, if you will pardon me,
Lady Randolph, but for the higher retirements----"

"Oh, she is very fond of seeing people," said Lucy. "You must not
suppose she is too serious for her age. She enjoyed herself last night."

"There is no age," said Mr. Derwentwater, "at which one can be too
serious--and especially in youth, when all the world is before one, when
one cannot tell what effect a careless step may have one way or another.
It is just that sweet gravity that charms me. I think she was quite out
of her element, excuse me for saying so, Lady Randolph, last night."

"Do you think so? Oh, I am afraid not. I am afraid she liked it," said
Lucy. "Jock, don't you think Bice liked it. I should much rather think
not, but I am afraid--I am afraid----"

"She couldn't like that little cad," said Jock, who had drawn near with
an instinctive sense that something was going on which concerned him.
"But she's never solemn either," added the boy.

"Is that for me, Jock?" said MTutor, with a pensive gentleness of
reproach. "Well, never mind. We must all put up with little
misunderstandings from the younger generation. Some time or other you
will judge differently. I should like to have had an opportunity again
of such music as we heard last night; but I suppose I must not hope for
it."

"Oh, do you mean Lord Montjoie's song?" cried one of the young ladies in
blue, who had drawn near. "Wasn't it fun? Of course I know it wasn't to
be compared to the Contessa; but I've no musical taste. I always confess
it--that's Edith's line. But Lord Montjoie _was_ fun. Don't you think
so, dear Lady Randolph," Miss Minnie said.

Mr. Derwentwater gave her one glance, and retired, Jock following.
"Perhaps that's your opinion too," he said, "that Lord Montjoie's was
fun?"

"He's a scug," said Jock, laconically, "that's all I think about him."

Mr. Derwentwater took the lad's arm. "And yet," he said, "Jock, though
you and I consider ourselves his superiors, that is the fellow that will
carry off the prize. Beauty and genius are for him. He must have the
best that humanity can produce. You ought to be too young to have any
feeling on the subject; but it is a humiliating thought."

"Bice will have nothing to say to him," said Jock, with straightforward
application of the abstract description; but MTutor shook his head.

"How can we tell the persecutions to which Woman is subject?" he said.
"You and I, Jock, are in a very different position. But we should try to
realise, though it is difficult, those dangers to which she is subject.
Kept indoors," said MTutor, with pathos in his voice, "debarred from all
knowledge of the world, with all the authorities about her leading one
way. How can we tell what is said to her? with a host of petty maxims
preaching down a daughter's heart--strange!" cried Mr. Derwentwater,
with a closer pressure of the boy's arm, "that the most lovely existence
should thus continually be led to link itself with the basest. We must
not blame Woman; we must keep her idea sacred, whatever happens in our
own experience."

"It always sets one right to talk to you," cried Jock, full of emotion.
"I was a beast to say that."

"My boy, don't you think I understand the disturbance in your mind?"
with a sigh, MTutor said.

They had left the drawing-room during the course of this conversation,
and were crossing the hall on the way to the library, when some one
suddenly drew back with a startled movement from the passage which led
to Sir Tom's den. Then there followed a laugh, and "Oh, is it only you!"
after which there came forth a slim shadow, as unlike as possible to the
siren of the previous night. "We have met before, and I don't mind. Is
there any one else coming?" Bice said.

"Why do you hide and skulk in corners?" cried Jock. "Why shouldn't you
meet any one? Have you done something wrong?"

This made Bice laugh still more. "You don't understand," she said.

"Signorina," said Mr. Derwentwater (who was somewhat proud of having
remembered this good abstract title to give to the mysterious girl), "I
am going away to-morrow, and perhaps I shall never hear you again. Your
voice seemed to open the heavenly gates. Why, since you are so good as
to consider us different from the others, won't you sing to us once
more?"

"Sing?" said Bice, with a little surprise; "but by myself my voice is
not much----"

"It is like a voice out of heaven," Mr. Derwentwater said fervently.

"Do you really, really think so?" she said with a wondering look. She
was surprised, but pleased too. "I don't think you would care for it
without the Contessa's; but, perhaps----" Then she looked round her with
a reflective look. "What can I do? There is no piano, and then these
people would hear." After this a sudden idea struck her. She laughed
aloud like a child with sudden glee. "I don't suppose it would be any
harm! You belong to the house--and then there is Marietta. Yes! Come!"
she cried suddenly, rushing up the great staircase and waving her hand
impatiently, beckoning them to follow. "Come quick, quick," she cried;
"I hear some one coming," and flew upstairs. They followed her, Mr.
Derwentwater passing Jock, who hung back a little, and did not know
what to think of this adventure. "Come quick," she cried, darting along
the dimly-lighted corridor with a laugh that rang lightly along like the
music to which her steps were set. "Oh, come in, come in. They will
hear, but they will not know where it comes from." The young men
stupefied, hesitating, followed her. They found themselves among all the
curiosities and luxuries of the Contessa's boudoir. And in a moment Bice
had placed herself at the little piano which was placed across one of
the corners, its back covered with a wonderful piece of Eastern
embroidery which would have invited Derwentwater's attention had he been
able to fix that upon anything but Bice. As it was, he gave a half
regard to these treasures. He would have examined them all with the
devotion of a connoisseur but for her presence, which exercised a spell
still more subtle than that of art.

The sound of the singing penetrated vaguely even into the drawing-room,
where the Contessa, startled, rose from her seat much earlier than
usual. Lucy, who attended her dutifully upstairs according to her usual
custom, was dismayed beyond measure by seeing Jock and his tutor issue
from that door. Bice came with them, with an air of excitement and
triumphant satisfaction. She had been singing, and the inspiration and
applause had gone to her head. She met the ladies not with the air of a
culprit, but in all the boldness of innocence. "They like to hear me,
even by myself," she cried; "they have listened, as if I had been an
angel." And she clapped her hands with almost childish pleasure.

"Perhaps they think you are," said the Contessa, who shook her head, yet
smiled with sympathy. "You must not say to these messieurs below that
you have been in my room. Oh, I know the confidences of a smoking-room!
You must not brag, _mes amis_. For Bice does not understand the
_convenances_, nor remember that this is England, where people meet only
in the drawing-room."

"Divine forgetfulness!" murmured Derwentwater. Jock, for his part,
turned his back with a certain sense of shame. He had liked it, but he
had not thought it right. The room altogether, with its draperies and
mysteries, had conveyed to him a certain intoxication as of wrong-doing.
Something that was dangerous was in the air of it. It was seductive, it
was fascinating; he had felt like a man banished when Bice had started
from the piano and bidden them "Go away; go away!" in the same laughing
tone in which she had bidden them come. But the moment he was outside
the threshold his impulse was to escape--to rush out of sight--and
obliterate even from his own mind the sense that he had been there. To
meet the Contessa, and still more his sister, full in the face, was a
shock to all his susceptibilities. He turned his back upon them, and but
that his fellow-culprit made a momentary stand, would have fled away.
Lucy partook of Jock's feeling. It wounded her to see him at that door.
She gave him a glance of mingled reproach and pity; a vague sense that
these were siren-women dangerous to all mankind stole into her heart.

But Lucy was destined to a still greater shock. The party from the
smoking-room was late in breaking up. The sound of their steps and
voices as they came upstairs roused Lady Randolph, not from sleep--for
she had been unable to sleep--but from the confused maze of
recollections and efforts to think which distracted her placid soul. She
was not made for these agitations. The constitution of her mind was
overset altogether. The moment that suspicion and distrust came in there
was no further strength in her. She was lying not thinking so much as
remembering stray words and looks which drifted across her memory as
across a dim mirror, with a meaning in them which she did not grasp. She
was not clever. She could not put this and that together with the
dolorous skill which some women possess. It is a skill which does not
promote the happiness of the possessor, but perhaps it is scarcely more
happy to stand in the midst of a vague mass of suggestions without being
able to make out what they mean, which was Lucy's case. She did not
understand her husband's sudden excitement; what it had to do with Bice,
with the Contessa, with her own resolution and plans she could not tell,
but felt vaguely that many things deeply concerning her were in the air,
and was unhappy in the confusion of her thoughts. For a long time after
the sounds of various persons coming upstairs had died away, Lucy lay
silent waiting for her husband's appearance--but at last unable to bear
the vague wretchedness of her thoughts any longer, got up and put on a
dressing-gown and stole out into the dark gallery to go to the nursery
to look at her boy asleep, which was her best anodyne. The lights were
all extinguished except the faint ray that came from the nursery door,
and Lucy went softly towards that, anxious to disturb little Tom by no
sound. As she did so a door suddenly opened, sending a glare of light
into the dark corridor. It was the door of the Contessa's room, and with
the light came Sir Tom, the Contessa herself appearing after him on the
threshold. She was still in her dinner dress, and her appearance
remained long impressed upon Lucy's imagination like a photograph
without colour, in shadow and light. She gave Sir Tom a little packet
apparently of letters, and then she held out both hands to him, which he
took in his. Something seemed to flash through Lucy's heart like a
knife, quivering like the "pale death" of the poet, in sight and sense.
The sudden surprise and pang of it was such for a moment that she seemed
turned into stone, and stood gazing like a spectre in her white flowing
dress, her face more white, her eyes and mouth open in the misery and
trouble of the moment. Then she stole back softly into her room--her
head throbbing, her heart beating--and buried her face in her pillow and
closed her eyes. Even baby could not soothe her in this unlooked-for
pang. And then she heard his step come slowly along the gallery. How was
she to look at him? how listen to him in the shock of such an
extraordinary discovery? She took refuge in a semblance of sleep.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

LUCY'S DISCOVERY.


When it happens to an innocent and simple soul to find out suddenly at a
stroke the falsehood of some one upon whose truth the whole universe
depends, the effect is such as perhaps has never been put forth by any
attempt at psychological investigation. When it happens to a great mind,
we have Hamlet with all the world in ruins round him--all other thoughts
as of revenge or ambition are but secondary and spasmodic, since neither
revenge nor advancement can put together again the works of life or
make man delight him, or woman either. But Lady Randolph was not a
Hamlet. She had no genius, nor even a great intellect to be
unhinged--scarcely mind enough to understand how it was that the glory
had paled out of earth and sky, and all the world seemed different when
she rose from her uneasy bed next morning, pale, after a night without
sleep, in which she had not been able to have even the relief of
restlessness, but had lain motionless, without even a sigh or tear, so
crushed by the unexpected blow that she could neither fathom nor
understand what had happened to her. She was too pure herself to jump at
any thought of gross infidelity. She felt she knew not what--that the
world had gone to pieces--that she did not know how to shape it again
into anything--that she could not look into her husband's face, or
command her voice to speak to him, for shame of the thought that he had
failed in truth. Lucy felt somehow as if she were the culprit. She was
ashamed to look him in the face. She made an early visit to the nursery,
and stayed there pretending various little occupations until she heard
Sir Tom go down stairs. He had returned so much to the old ways, and now
that the house was full, and there were other people to occupy the
Contessa, had shown so clearly (as Lucy had thought) that he was pleased
to be liberated from his attendance upon her, that the cloud that had
risen between them had melted away; and indeed, for some time back, it
had been Lucy who was the Contessa's stay and support, a change at which
Sir Tom had sometimes laughed. All had been well between the husband and
wife during the early part of the season parliamentary, the beginning of
their life in London. Sir Tom had been much engrossed with the cares of
public life, but he had been delightful to Lucy, whose faith in him and
his new occupations was great. And it was exhilarating to think that the
Contessa had secured that little house in Mayfair for her own campaign,
and that something like a new honeymoon was about to begin for the pair,
whose happiness had seemed for a moment to tremble in the balance. Lucy
had been looking forward to the return to London with a more bright and
conscious anticipation of well-being than she had ever experienced. In
the first outset of life happiness seems a necessary of existence. It is
calculated upon without misgiving; it is simple nature, beyond question.
But when the natural "of course" has once been broken, it is with a
warmer glow of content that we see the prospect once more stretching
before us bright as at first and more assured. This is how Lucy had been
regarding her life. It was not so simple, so easy as it once had been,
but the happiness to which she was looking forward, and which she had
already partially entered into possession of, was all the more sweet and
dear, that she had known, or fancied herself about to know, the loss and
absence of it. Now, in a moment, all that fair prospect, that blessed
certainty, was gone. The earth was cut away from under her feet; she
felt everything to be tottering, falling round her, and nothing in all
the universe to lay hold of to prop herself up; for when the pillars of
the world are thus unrooted the heaving of the earthquake and the
falling of the ruins impart a certain vertigo and giddy instability even
to heaven.

Fletcher, Lucy's maid, who was usually discreet enough, waited upon her
mistress that morning with a certain air of importance, and of knowing
something which she was bursting with eagerness to tell, such as must
have attracted Lady Randolph's attention in any other circumstances. But
Lucy was far too much occupied with what was in her own mind to observe
the perturbation of the maid, who consequently had no resource, since
her mistress would not question her, than to introduce herself the
subject on which she was so anxious to utter her mind. She began by
inquiring if her ladyship had heard the music last night. "The music?"
Lucy said.

"Oh, my lady, haven't you heard what a singer Miss Beachy has turned
out?" Fletcher cried.

Lucy, to whom all this seemed dim and far away as if it had happened
years ago, answered with a faint smile--"Yes, she has a lovely voice."

"It is not my place," said Fletcher, "being only a servant, to make
remarks; but, my lady, if I might make so bold, it do seem to the like
of us an 'orrible thing to take advantage of a young lady like your
ladyship that thinks no harm."

"You should not make such remarks," said Lucy, roused a little.

"No, my lady; but still a woman is a woman, even though but a servant. I
said to Mrs. Freshwater I was sure your ladyship would never sanction
it. I never thought that of Miss Beachy, I will allow. I always said she
was a nice young lady; but evil communications, my lady--we all know
what the Bible says. Gentlemen upstairs in her room and her singing to
them, and laughing and talking like as no housemaid in the house as
valued her character would do----"

"Fletcher," said Lucy, "you must say no more about this. It was Mr. Jock
and Mr. Derwentwater only who were with Miss Bice--and with my
permission," she added after a moment, "as he is going away to-morrow."
Such deceits are so easy to learn.

"Oh-oh!" Miss Fletcher cried, with a quaver in her voice. "I beg your
pardon, my lady; I'm sure--I thought--there must be something
underneath, and that Miss Beachy would never---- And when she was down
with Sir Thomas in the study it would be the same, my lady?" the woman
said.

"With Sir Thomas in the study!" The words went vaguely into Lucy's mind.
It had not seemed possible to increase the confusion and misery in her
brain, but this produced a heightening of it, a sort of wave of
bewilderment and pain greater than before, a sense of additional
giddiness and failing. She gave a wave of her hand and said something,
she scarcely knew what, which silenced Fletcher; and then she went down
stairs to the new world. She did not go to the nursery even, as was her
wont; her heart turned from little Tom. She felt that to look at him
would be more than she could bear. There was no deceit in him, no
falsehood--as yet; but perhaps when he grew up he would cheat her too.
He would pretend to love her and betray her trust; he would kiss her,
and then go away and scoff at her; he would smile, and smile, and be a
villain. Such words were not in Lucy's mind, and it was altogether out
of nature that she should even receive the thought: which made it all
the more terrible when it was poured into her soul. And it cannot be
told what discoveries she seemed to make even in the course of that
morning in this strange condition of her mind. There was a haze over
everything, but yet there was an enlightenment even in the haze. She saw
in her little way, as Hamlet saw the falsehood of his courtiers, his
gallant young companions, and the schemes of Polonius, and even Ophelia
in the plot to trap him. She saw how false all these people were in
their civilities, in their extravagant thanks and compliments to her as
they went away; for the Easter recess was just over, and everybody was
going. The mother and her daughters said to her, "Such a delightful
visit, dear Lady Randolph!" with kisses of farewell and wreathed smiles;
and she perceived, somehow by a sort of second sight, that they added to
each other, "Oh, what a bore it has been; nobody worth meeting," and
"how thankful I am it's over!" which was indeed what Miss Minnie and
Miss Edith said. If Lucy had seen a little deeper she would have known
that this too was a sort of conventional falsity which the young ladies
said to each other, according to the fashion of the day, without any
meaning to speak of; but one must have learned a great many lessons
before one comes to that.

Then Jock, who had been woke up in quite a different way, took leave of
MTutor, that god of his old idolatry, without being able to refrain from
some semblance of the old absorbing affection.

"I am so sorry you are not coming with me, old fellow," Mr. Derwentwater
said.

Jock replied, "So am I," with an effort, as if firing a parting volley
in honour of his friend: but then turned gloomily with an expression of
relief. "I'm glad he's gone, Lucy."

"Then you did not want to go with him, Jock?"

"I wouldn't have gone for anything. I've just got to that--that I can't
bear him," cried Jock.

And Lucy, in the midst of the ruins, felt her head go round: though here
too it was the falsehood that was fictitious, had she but known. It is
not, however, in the nature of such a shock that any of those
alleviating circumstances which modify the character of human sentiment
can be taken into account. Lucy had taken everything for gospel in the
first chapter of existence; she had believed what everybody said; and
like every other human soul, after such a discovery as she had made, she
went to the opposite extremity now--not wittingly, not voluntarily--but
the pillars of the earth were shaken, and nothing stood fast.

They went up to town next day. In the meantime she had little or no
intercourse with the Contessa, who was preparing for the journey and
absorbed in letter-writing, making known to everybody whom she could
think of, the existence of the little house in Mayfair. It is doubtful
whether she so much as observed any difference in the demeanour of her
hostess, having in fact the most unbounded confidence in Lucy, whom she
did not believe capable of any such revulsion of feeling. Bice was more
clear-sighted, but she thought Milady was displeased with her own
proceedings, and sought no further for a cause. And the only thing the
girl could do was to endeavour by all the little devices she could think
of to show the warm affection she really felt for Lucy--a method which
made the heart of Lucy more and more sick with that sense of falsehood
which sometimes rose in her, almost to the height of passion. A woman
who had ever learned to use harsh words, or to whose mind it had ever
been possible to do or say anything to hurt another, would no doubt have
burst forth upon the girl with some reproach or intimation of doubt
which might have cleared the matter so far as Bice went. But Lucy had no
such words at her command. She could not say anything unkind. It was not
in her. She could be silent, indeed, but not even that, so far as to
"hurt the feelings" of her companion. The effect, therefore, was only
that Lucy laboured to maintain a little artificial conversation, which
in its turn reacted upon her mind, showing that even in herself there
was the same disposition to insincerity which she had begun to discover
in the world. She could say nothing to Bice about the matters which a
little while before, when all was well, she had grieved over and
objected to. Now she had nothing to say on such subjects. That the girl
should be set up to auction, that she should put forth all those arts in
which she had been trained, to attract and secure young Montjoie, or any
like him, were things which had passed beyond her sphere. To think of
them rendered her heart more sick, her head more giddy. But if Bice
married some one whom she did not love, that was not so bad as to think
that perhaps she herself all this time had been living with, and loving,
in sacred trust and faith, a man who even by her side was full of
thoughts unknown to her, given to another. Sometimes Lucy closed her
eyes in a sort of sick despair, feeling everything about her go round
and round. But she said nothing to throw any light upon the state of her
being. Sir Tom felt a little gravity--a little distance in his wife; but
he himself was much occupied with a new and painful subject of thought.
And Jock observed nothing at all, being at a stage when man (or boy) is
wholly possessed with affairs of his own. He had his troubles, too. He
was not easy about that breach with his master now that they were
separated. When Bice was kind to him a gleam of triumph, mingled with
pity, made him remorseful towards that earlier friend; and when she was
unkind a bitter sense of fellowship turned Jock's thoughts towards that
sublime ideal of masculine friendship which is above the lighter loves
of women. How can a boy think of his sister when absorbed in such a
mystery of his own?--even if he considered his sister at all as a person
whom it was needful to think about--which he did not, Lucy being herself
one of the pillars of the earth to his unopened eyes.

All this, however, made no difference in Lucy's determination. She wrote
to Mr. Rushton that very morning, after this revolution in her soul, to
instruct him as to her intentions in respect to Bice, and to her other
trustee in London to request him to see her immediately on her arrival
in Park Lane. Nothing should be changed in that matter, for why, she
said to herself, should Bice suffer because Sir Tom was untrue? It
seemed to her that there was more reason than ever why she should rouse
herself and throw off her inaction. No doubt there were many people whom
she could make, if not happy, yet comfortable. It was comfortable
(everybody said) to have enough of money--to be well off. Lucy had no
experience of what it was to be without it. She thought to herself she
would like to try, to have only what she actually wanted, to cook the
food for her little family, to nurse little Tom all by herself, to live
as the cottagers lived. There was in her mind no repugnance to any of
the details of poverty. Her wealth was an accident; it was the habit of
her race to be poor, and it seemed to Lucy that she would be happier
could she shake off now all those external circumstances which had
grown, like everything else, into falsehoods, giving an appearance of
well-being which did not exist. But other people thought it well to have
money, and it was her duty to give it. A kind of contempt rose within
her for all that withheld her previously. To avoid her duty because it
would displease Sir Tom--what was that but falsehood too? All was
falsehood, only she had never seen it before.

They reached town in the afternoon of a sweet April day, the sky aglow
with a golden sunset, against which the trees in the park stood out with
their half-developed buds: and all the freshness of the spring was in
the long stretches of green, and the softened jubilee of sound to which
somehow, as the air warms towards summer, the voices of the world
outside tune themselves. The Contessa and Bice in great spirits and
happiness, like two children home from school, had left the Randolph
party at the railway, to take possession of the little house in Mayfair.
They had both waved their hands from the carriage window and called out,
"Be sure you come and see us," as they drove away. "You will come
to-night," they had stipulated with Sir Tom and Jock. It was like a new
toy which filled them with glee. Could it be possible that those two
adventurers going off to their little temporary home with smiles so
genuine, with so simple a delight in their new beginning, were not, in
their strange way, innocent, full of guile and shifts as one was, and
the other so apt a scholar? Lucy would have joined in all this pleasure
two days ago, but she could not now. She went home to her luxurious
house, where all was ready, as if she had not been absent an hour. How
wonderfully wealth smooths away the inconveniences of change! and how
little it has to do, Lucy thought, with the comfort of the soul! No need
for any exertion on her part, any scuffling for the first arrival, any
trouble of novelty. She came from the Hall to London without any sense
of change. Had she been compelled to superintend the arrangement of her
house, to make it habitable, to make it pretty, that would have done her
good. But the only thing for her to do was to see Mr. Chervil, her
trustee, who waited upon her according to her request, and who, after
the usual remonstrances, took her instructions about the gift to Bice
very unwillingly, but still with a forced submission. "If I cannot make
you see the folly of it, Lady Randolph, and if Sir Thomas does not
object, I don't know what more is to be said." "There is nothing more to
be said," Lucy said, with a smile; but there was this difficulty in the
proceeding which she had not thought of, that Bice's name all this time
was unknown to her--Beatrice di Forno-Populo, she supposed, but the
Contessa had never called her so, and it was necessary to be exact, Mr.
Chervil said. He hailed this as an occasion of delay. He was not so
violent as he had been on previous occasions when Lucy was young; and he
did not, like Mr. Rushton, assume the necessity of speaking to Sir Tom.
Mr. Chervil was a London solicitor, and knew very little about Sir Tom.
But he was glad to seize upon anything that was good for a little delay.

After this interview was over it was a mingled vexation and relief to
Lucy to see the Dowager drive up to the door. Lady Randolph the elder
was always in London from the first moment possible. She preferred the
first bursting of the spring in the squares and parks. She liked to see
her friends arrive by degrees, and to feel that she had so far the
better of them. She came in, full as she always was of matter, with a
thousand things to say. "I have come to stay to dinner, if you will have
me," she said, "for of course Tom will be going out in the evening. They
are always so glad to get back to their life." And it was, perhaps, a
relief to have Lady Randolph to dinner, to be saved from the purely
domestic party, to which Jock scarcely added any new element; but it was
hard for Lucy to encounter even the brief questionings which were
addressed to her in the short interval before dinner. "So you have got
rid of that woman at last," Lady Randolph said; "I hear she has got a
house in Mayfair."

"Yes, Aunt Randolph, if you mean the Contessa," said Lucy.

"And that she intends to make a bold _coup_ to get the girl off her
hands. These sort of people so often succeed: I shouldn't wonder if she
were to succeed. I always said the girl would be handsome, but I think
she might have waited another year."

To this Lucy made no reply, and it was necessary for the Dowager to
carry on the conversation, so to speak, at her own cost.

"I hope most earnestly, Lucy," she said, "that now you have got clear of
them you will not mix yourself up with them again. You were placed in an
uneasy position, very difficult to get out of, I will allow; but now
that you have shaken them off, and they have proved they can get on
without you, don't, I entreat you, mix yourself up with them again."

Lucy could not keep the blood from mounting, and colouring her face. She
had always spoken of the Contessa calmly before. She tried to keep her
composure now. "Dear Aunt Randolph, I have not shaken them off. They
have gone away of themselves, and how can I refuse to see them? There is
to be a party here for them on the 26th."

"Oh, my dear, my dear, that was very imprudent! I had hoped you would
keep clear of them in London. It is one thing showing kindness to an old
friend in the country, and it is quite another----"

Here Lucy made an imperative gesture, almost commanding silence. Sir Tom
was coming into the room. She was seated in the great bay window
against the early twilight, the soft radiance of which dazzled the eyes
of the elder lady, and prevented her from perceiving her nephew's
approach. But Lady Randolph, before she rose to meet him, gave a
startled look at Lucy. "Have you found it out, then?" she said
involuntarily, in her great surprise.



CHAPTER XL.

THE DOWAGER'S EXPLANATION.


The Dowager was a woman far more clever than Lucy, who knew the world.
And she was apt perhaps, instead of missing the meaning of the facts
around her, to put too much significance in them. Now, when the little
party met at dinner, Lady Randolph saw in the faces of both husband and
wife more than was there, though much was there. Sir Tom was more grave
than became a man who had returned into life, as his aunt said, and was
looking forward to resuming the better part of existence--the House, the
clubs, the quick throb of living which is in London. His countenance was
full of thought, and there was both trouble and perplexity in it, but
not the excitement which the Dowager supposed she found there, and those
signs of having yielded to an evil influence which eyes accustomed to
the world are so ready to discover. Lucy for her part was pale and
silent. She had little to say, and scarcely addressed her husband at
all. Lady Randolph, and that was very natural, took those signs of heart
sickness for tokens of complete enlightenment, for the passion of a
woman who had entered upon that struggle with another woman for a man's
love which, even when the man is her husband, has something degrading in
it. There had been a disclosure, a terrible scene, no doubt, a stirring
up of all the passions, Lady Randolph thought. No doubt that was the
reason why the Contessa had loosed her clutches, and left the house free
of her presence; but Lucy was still trembling after the tempest, and had
not learned to take any pleasure in her victory. This was the conclusion
of the woman of the world.

The dinner was not a lengthy one, and the ladies went upstairs again,
with a suppressed constraint, each anxious to know what the other was on
her guard not to tell. They sat alone expectant for some time, making
conversation, taking their coffee, listening, and watching each how the
other listened, for the coming of the gentlemen, or rather for Sir Tom;
for Jock, in his boyish insignificance, counted for little. The trivial
little words that passed between them during this interval were charged
with a sort of moral electricity, and stung and tingled in the too
conscious silence. At length, after some time had elapsed: "I am glad I
came," said Lady Randolph, "to sit with you, Lucy, this first evening;
for of course Tom cannot resist, the first evening in town, the charms
of his club."

"His club! Oh, I think he has gone to see the house," Lucy said. "He
promised----; it is not very far off."

"The house? You mean that woman's house. Lucy, I have no patience with
you any more than I have with Tom. Why don't you put a stop to it? why
don't you--for I suppose you have found out what sort of a woman she is
by this time, and why she came here?"

"She came----to introduce Bice and establish her in the world," Lucy
said, in a faint tone. "Oh! Aunt Randolph, please do not let us discuss
it! It is not what I like to think of. Bice will be sacrificed to the
first rich man who asks her; or at least that is what the Contessa
means."

"My dear Lucy," said the Dowager, calmly, "that is reasonable enough. I
wish the Contessa meant no worse than that. Most girls are persuaded to
marry a rich man if he asks them. I don't think so much of that. But it
will not be so easy as she thinks," the Dowager added. "It is true that
beauty does much--but not everything; and a girl in that position, with
no connections, or, at least, none that she would not be better
without----"

Lucy's attention strayed from this question, which once had been so
important, and which now seemed so secondary; but the conversation must
be maintained. She said at random: "She has a beautiful voice."

"Has she? And the Contessa herself sings very well. That will no doubt
be another attraction," said Lady Randolph, in her impartial way. "But
the end of it all is, who will she get to go, and who will invite them?
It is vain to lay snares if there is nothing to be caught."

"They will be invited--here," said Lucy, faltering a little. "I told you
I am to have a great gathering on the 26th."

"I could not believe my ears. You!--and she is to appear here for the
first time to make her _début_. Good heavens, Lucy! What can I say to
you--_that_ girl!"

"Why not, Aunt Randolph?" said Lucy (oh, what does it matter--what does
it matter, that she should make so much fuss about it? she was saying
in herself); "I have always liked Bice, and she has been very good to
little Tom."

"Well," cried the angry lady, forgetting herself, and smiling the fierce
smile of wrath, "there is no doubt that it is perfectly appropriate--the
very thing that ought to happen if we lived according to the rules of
nature, without thought of conventionalities and decorums, and so
forth--oh, perfectly appropriate! If you don't object I know no one who
has any right to say a word."

Even now Lucy was scarcely roused enough to be surprised by the
vehemence of these words. "Why should I object?" she said; "or why
should any one say a word?" Her calm, which was almost indifference,
excited Lady Randolph more and more.

"You are either superhuman," she said, with exasperation, "or you
are---- Lucy, I don't know what words to use. You put one out of every
reckoning. You are like nobody I ever knew before. Why should you
object? Why, good heavens! you are the only person that has any
right---- Who should object if not you?"

"Aunt Randolph," said Lucy, rousing herself with an effort, "would you
please tell me plainly what you mean? I am not clever. I can't make
things out. I have always liked Bice. To save her from being made a
victim I am going to give her some of the money under my father's
will--and if I could give her---- What is the matter?" she cried,
stopping short suddenly, and in spite of herself growing pale.

Lady Randolph flung up her hands in dismay. She gave something like a
shriek as she exclaimed: "And Tom is letting you do this?" with horror
in her tone.

"He has promised that he will not oppose," Lucy said; "but why do you
speak so, and look so? Bice--has done no harm."

"Oh, no; Bice has done no harm," cried Lady Randolph bitterly; "nothing,
except being born, which is harm enough, I think. But do you mean to
tell me, Lucy, that Tom--a man of honour, notwithstanding all his
vagaries--Tom----lets you do this and never says a word? Oh, it is too
much. I have always stood by him. I have been his support when every one
else failed. But this is too much, that he should put the burden upon
you--that he should make _you_ responsible for this girl of his----"

"Aunt Randolph!" cried Lucy, rising up quickly and confronting the angry
woman. She put up her hand with a serious dignity that was doubly
impressive from her usual simpleness. "What is it you mean? This girl of
his! I do not understand. She is not much more than a child. You cannot,
cannot suppose that Bice--that it is she--that she is----" Here she
suddenly covered her face with her hands. "Oh, you put things in my mind
that I am ashamed to think of," Lucy cried.

"I mean," said Lady Randolph, who in the heat of this discussion had got
beyond her own power of self-restraint, "what everybody but yourself
must have seen long ago. That woman is a shameless woman, but even she
would not have had the effrontery to bring any other girl to your house.
It was more shameless, I think, to bring that one than any other; but
she would not think so. Oh, cannot you see it even now? Why, the
likeness might have told you; that was enough. The girl is Tom's girl.
She is your husband's----"

Lucy uncovered her face, which was perfectly colourless, with eyes
dilated and wide open. "What?" she whispered, looking intently into Lady
Randolph's face.

"His own child--his--daughter--though I am bitterly ashamed to say it,"
the Dowager said.

For a moment everything seemed to waver and turn round in Lucy's eyes,
as if the walls were making a circuit with her in giddy space. Then she
came to her feet with the sensation of a shock, and found herself
standing erect, with the most amazing incomprehensible sense of relief.
Why should she have felt relieved by this communication which filled her
companion with horror? A softer air seemed to breathe about Lucy, she
felt solid ground under her feet. For the first moment there seemed
nothing but ease and sweet soothing and refreshment in what she heard.

"His--daughter?" she said. Her mind went back with a sudden flash upon
the past, gathering up instantaneously pieces of corroborative evidence,
things which she had not noted at the moment, which she had forgotten,
yet which came back nevertheless when they were needed: the Contessa's
mysterious words about Bice's parentage, her intimation that Lucy would
one day be glad to have befriended her: Sir Tom's sudden agitation when
she had told him of Bice's English descent: finally, and most conclusive
of all, touching Lucy with a most unreasonable conviction and bringing a
rush of warm feeling to her heart, Baby's adoption of the girl and
recommendation of her to his mother. Was it not the voice of nature, the
voice of God? Lucy had no instinctive sense of recoil, no horror of the
discovery. She did not realise the guilt involved, nor was she painfully
struck, as some women might have been, by this evidence of her husband's
previous life "If it is so," she said quietly, "there is more reason
than ever, Aunt Randolph, that I should do everything I can for Bice. It
never came into my mind before. I see now--various things: but I do not
see why it should--make me unhappy," she added with a faint smile which
brought the water to her eyes; "it must have been--long before I knew
him. Will you tell me who was her mother? Was she a foreigner? Did she
die long ago?"

"Oh, Lucy, Lucy," cried Lady Randolph, "is it possible you don't see?
Who would take all that trouble about her? Who would burden themselves
with another woman's girl that was no concern of theirs? Who
would--can't you see? can't you see?"

There came over Lucy's face a hot and feverish flush. She grew red to
her hair, agitation and shame took possession of her; something seemed
to throb and swell as if it would burst in her forehead. She could not
speak. She could not look at her informant for shame of the revelation
that had been made. All the bewildered sensations which for the moment
had been stilled in her breast sprang up again with a feverish whirl and
tumult. She tottered back to the chair on which she had been sitting and
dropped down upon it, holding by it as if that were the only thing in
the world secure and steadfast. It was only now that Lady Randolph
seemed to awake to the risks and dangers of this bold step she had
taken. She had roused the placid soul at last. To what strange agony, to
what revenge might she have roused it? She had looked for tears and
misery, and fleeting rage and mad jealousy. But Lucy's look of utter
giddiness and overthrow alarmed her more than she could say.

"Lucy! Oh, my love, you must recollect, as you say, that it was all
long before he knew you--that there was no injury to you!"

Lucy made a movement with her hand to bar further discussion, but she
could not say anything. She pointed Lady Randolph to her chair, and made
that mute prayer for silence, for no more. But in such a moment of
excitement there is nothing that is more difficult to grant than this.

"Oh, Lucy," the Dowager cried, "forgive me! Perhaps I ought not to have
said anything. Oh, my dear, if you will but think what a painful
position it was for me. To see you so unsuspicious, ready to do
anything, and even Tom taking advantage of you. It is not more than a
week since I found it all out, and how could I keep silence? Think what
a painful position it was for me."

Lucy made no reply. There seemed nothing but darkness round her. She put
out her hand imploring that no more might be said; and though there was
a great deal more said, she scarcely made out what it was. Her brain
refused to take in any more. She suffered herself to be kissed and
blessed, and said good-night to, almost mechanically. And when the elder
lady at last went away, Lucy sat where Lady Randolph had left her, she
did not know how long, gazing woefully at the ruins of that crumbled
world which had all fallen to pieces about her. All was to pieces now.
What was she and what was the other? Why should she be here and not the
other? Two, were there?--two with an equal claim upon him? Was
everything false, even the law, even the external facts which made her
Tom's wife. He had another wife and a child. He was two, he was not one
true man; one for baby and her, another for Bice and the Contessa. When
she heard her husband coming in Lucy fled upstairs like a hunted thing,
and took refuge in the nursery where little Tom was sleeping. Even her
bourgeoise horror of betraying herself, of letting the servants suspect
that anything was wrong, had no effect upon her to-night.



CHAPTER XLI.

SEVERED.


Sir Tom came home later, so much later than he intended that he entered
the house with such a sense of compunction as had not visited him since
the days when the alarm of being caught was a part of the pleasure. He
had no fear of a lecture from Lucy, whose gifts were not of that kind;
but he was partially conscious of having neglected her on her first
night in town, as well as having sinned against her in matters more
serious. And he did not know how to explain his detention at the
Contessa's new house, or the matters which he had been discussing there.
It was a sensible relief to him not to find her in any of the
sitting-rooms, all dark and closed up, except his own room, in which
there was no trace of her. She had gone to bed, which was so sensible,
like Lucy's unexaggerated natural good sense: he smiled to
himself--though, at the same time, a wondering question within himself,
whether she felt at all, passed through his mind--a reflection full of
mingled disappointment and satisfaction. But when, a full hour after his
return, after a tranquil period of reflection, he went leisurely
upstairs, expecting to find her peacefully asleep, and found her not,
nor any evidence that she had ever been there, a great wave of alarm
passed over the mind of Sir Tom. He paused confounded, looking at her
vacant place, startled beyond expression. "Lucy!" he cried, looking in
his dismay into every corner, into his own dressing-room, and even into
the large wardrobe where her dresses hung, like shells and husks, which
she had laid aside. And then he made an agitated pause, standing in the
middle of the room, not knowing what to think. It was by this time about
two in the morning; the middle of the night, according to Lucy. Where
could she have gone? Then he bethought himself with an immediate relief,
which was soon replaced by poignant anxiety, of the only possible reason
for her absence--a reason which would explain everything--little Tom.
When this thought occurred to him all the excitement that had been in
Sir Tom's mind disappeared in a moment, and he thought of nothing but
that baby lying, perhaps tossing uneasily, upon his little bed, his
mother watching over him; most sacred group on earth to him, who,
whatever his faults might be, loved them both dearly. He took a candle
in his hand and, stepping lightly, went up the stairs to the nursery
door. There was no sound of wailing within, no pitiful little cry to
tell the tale; all was still and dark. He tried the door softly, but it
would not open. Then another terror awoke, and for the moment took his
breath from him. What had happened to the child? Sir Tom suffered enough
at this moment to have expiated many sins. There came upon him a vision
of the child extended motionless upon his bed, and his mother by him
refusing to be comforted. What could it mean? The door looked as if hope
had departed. He knocked softly, yet imperatively, divided between the
horror of these thoughts and the gentle every-day sentiment which
forbade any noise at little Tom's door. It was some time before he got
any reply--a time which seemed to him interminable. Then he suddenly
heard Lucy's voice close to the door whispering. There had been no sound
of any footsteps. Had she been there all the time listening to all his
appeals and taking no notice?

"Open the door," he said anxiously. "Speak to me. What is the matter? Is
he ill? Have you sent for the doctor? Let me in."

"We are all shut up and settled for the night," said Lucy, through the
door.

"Shut up for the night? Has he been very ill?" Sir Tom cried.

"Oh, hush, you will wake him; no, not very ill: but I am going to stay
with him," said the voice inside with a quiver in it.

"Lucy, what does this mean? You are concealing something from me. Have
you had the doctor? Good God, tell me. What is the matter? Can't I see
my boy?"

"There is nothing--nothing to be alarmed about," said Lucy from within.
"He is asleep--he is--doing well. Oh! go to bed and don't mind us. I am
going to stay with him."

"Don't mind you? that is so easy," he cried, with a broken laugh; then
the silence stealing to his heart, he cried out, "Is the child----?" But
Sir Tom could not say the word. He shivered, standing outside the closed
door. The mystery seemed incomprehensible, save on the score of some
great calamity. The bitterness of death went over him; but then he asked
himself what reason there could be to conceal from him any terrible
sudden blow. Lucy would have wanted him in such a case, not kept him
from her. In this dread moment of sudden panic he thought of everything
but the real cause, which made a more effectual barrier between them
than that closed door.

"He is well enough now," said Lucy's voice, coming faintly out of the
darkness. "Oh, indeed, there is nothing the matter. Please go away; go
to bed. It is so late. I am going to stay with him."

"Lucy," said Sir Tom, "I have never been shut out before. There is
something you are concealing from me. Let me see him and then you shall
do as you please."

There was a little pause, and then slowly, reluctantly, Lucy opened the
door. She was still fully dressed as she had been for dinner. There was
not a particle of colour in her face. Her eyes had a scared look and
were surrounded by wide circles, as if the orbit had been hollowed out.
She stood aside to let him pass without a word. The room in which little
Tom slept was an inner room. There was scarcely any light in either,
nothing but the faint glimmer of the night-lamp. The sleeping-room was
hushed and full of the most tranquil quiet, the regular soft breathing
of the sleeping child in his little bed, and of his nurse by him, who
was as completely unaware as he of any intrusion. Sir Tom stole in and
looked at his boy, in the pretty baby attitude of perfect repose, his
little arms thrown up over his head. The anxiety vanished from his
heart, but not the troubled sense of something wrong, a mystery which
altogether baffled him. Mystery had no place here in this little
sanctuary of innocence. But what did it mean? He stole out again to
where Lucy stood, scared and silent in her white dress, with a jewelled
pendant at her neck which gleamed strangely in the half light.

"He seems quite well now. What was it, and why are you so anxious?" he
asked. "Did the doctor----"

"There was no need for a doctor. It is only--myself. I must stay with
him, he might want me----" And nobody else does, Lucy was about to say,
but pride and modesty restrained her. Her husband looked at her
earnestly. He perceived with a curious pang of astonishment that she
drew away from him, standing as far off as the limited space permitted
and avoiding his eye.

"I don't understand it," he said; "there is something underneath; either
he has been more ill than you will let me know, or--there is something
else----"

She gave him no answering look, made no wondering exclamation what could
there be else? as he had hoped; but replied hurriedly, as she had done
before, "I want to stay with him. I must stay with him for to-night----"

It was with the most extraordinary sense of some change, which he could
not fathom or divine, that Sir Tom consented at last to leave his wife
in the child's room and go to his own. What did it mean? What had
happened to him, or was about to happen? He could not explain to himself
the aspect of the slight little youthful figure in her airy white dress,
with the diamonds still at her throat, careless of the hour and time,
standing there in the middle of the night, shrinking away from him,
forlorn and wakeful with her scared eyes. At this hour on ordinary
occasions Lucy was fast asleep. When she came to see her boy, if society
had kept her up late, it was in the ease of a dressing-gown, not with
any cold glitter of ornaments. And to see her shrink and draw herself
away in that strange repugnance from his touch and shadow confounded
him. He was not angry, as he might have been in another case, but
pitiful to the bottom of his heart. What could have come to Lucy? Half
a dozen times he turned back on his way to his room. What meaning could
she have in it? What could have happened to her? Her manifest shrinking
from him had terrified him, and filled his mind with confusion. But
controversy of any kind in the child's room at the risk of waking him in
the middle of the night was impossible, and no doubt, he tried to say to
himself, it must be some panic she had taken, some sudden alarm for the
child, justified by reasons which she did not like to explain to him
till the morning light restored her confidence. Women were so, he had
often heard: and the women he had known in his youth had certainly been
so--unreasoning creatures, subject to their imagination, taking fright
when no occasion for fright was, incapable of explaining. Lucy had never
been like this; but yet Lucy, though sensible, was a woman too, and if
it is not permitted to a woman to take an unreasoning panic about her
only child, she must be hardly judged indeed. Sir Tom was not a hard
judge. When he got over the painful sense that there must be something
more in this than met the eye, he was half glad to find that Lucy was
like other women--a dear little fool, not always sensible. He thought
almost the better of her for it, he said to himself. She would laugh
herself at her panic, whatever it was, when little Tom woke up fresh and
fair in the morning light.

With this idea he did what he could to satisfy himself. The situation
was strange, unprecedented in his experience; but he had many subjects
of thought on his own part which returned to his mind as the surprise of
the moment calmed down. He had a great deal to think about. Old
difficulties which seemed to have passed away for long years were now
coming back again to embarrass and confuse him. "Our pleasant vices are
made the whips to scourge us," he said to himself. The past had come
back to him like the opening of a book, no longer merely frivolous and
amusing, as in the Contessa's talk, touched with all manner of light
emotions, but bitter, with tragedy in it, and death and desolation.
Death and life: he had heard enough of the dead to make them seem alive
again, and of the living to confuse their identity altogether; but he
had not yet succeeded in clearing up the doubt which had been thrown
into his mind. That question about Bice's parentage, "English on one
side," tormented him still. He had made again an attempt to discover the
truth, and he had been foiled. The probabilities seemed all in favour of
the solution which at the first word had presented itself to him; but
still there was a chance that it might not be so.

His mind had been full and troubled enough, when he returned to the
still house, and thought with compunction how many thoughts which he
could not share with her he was bringing back to Lucy's side. He could
not trust them to her, or confide in her, and secure her help, as in
many other circumstances he would have done without hesitation. But he
could not do that in this case,--not so much because she was his wife,
as because she was so young, so innocent, so unaware of the
complications of existence. How could she understand the temptations
that assail a young man in the heyday of life, to whom many indulgences
appear permissible or venial, which to her limited and innocent soul
would seem unpardonable sins? To live even for a few years with a
stainless nature like that of Lucy, in whom there was not even so much
knowledge as would make the approaches of vice comprehensible, is a new
kind of education to the most experienced of men. He had not believed it
to be possible to be so altogether ignorant of evil as he had found her;
and how could he explain to her and gain her indulgent consideration of
the circumstances which had led him into what in her vocabulary would be
branded with the name of vice? Sir Tom even now did not feel it to be
vice. It was unfortunate that it had so happened. He had been a fool. It
was almost inconceivable to him now how for the indulgence of a
momentary passion he could have placed himself in a position that might
one day be so embarrassing and disagreeable. He had not behaved ill at
the moment; it was the woman who had behaved ill. But how in the name of
wonder to explain all this to Lucy? Lucy, who was not conscious of any
reason why a man's code of morals should be different from that of a
woman! When Sir Tom returned to this painful and difficult subject, the
immediate question as to Lucy's strange conduct died from his mind. It
became more easy, by dint of repeating it, to believe that a mere
unreasonable panic about little Tom was the cause of her withdrawal. It
was foolish, but a loving and lovely foolishness which a man might do
more than forgive, which he might adore and smile at, as men love to do,
feeling that for a woman to be thus silly is desirable, a counterpoise
to the selfishness and want of feeling which are so common in the world.
But how to make this spotless creature understand that a man might slip
aside and yet not be a dissolute man, that he might be betrayed into
certain proceedings which would not perhaps bear the inspection of
severe judges, and yet be neither vicious nor heartless. This problem,
after he had considered it in every possible way, Sir Tom finally gave
up with a sort of despair. He must keep his secret within his own bosom.
He must contrive some means of doing what, in case his hypothesis was
right, would now be clearly a duty, without exciting any suspicion on
Lucy's part. That, he thought with a compunction, would be easy enough.
There was no one whom it would cost less trouble to deceive. With these
thoughts he went to sleep in the room which seemed strangely lonely
without her presence. Perhaps, however, it was not ungrateful to him to
be alone to think all those thoughts without the additional sense of
treachery which must have ensued had he thought them in her presence.
There was no treachery. He had been all along, he thought to himself, a
man somewhat sinned against in the matter. To be sure it was
wrong--according to all rules of morals, it was necessary to admit this;
but not more wrong, not so much wrong, as most other men had been. And,
granting the impropriety of that first step, he had nothing to reproach
himself with afterwards. In that respect he knew he had behaved both
liberally and honourably, though he had been deceived. But
how--how--good heavens!--explain this to Lucy? In the silence of her
room, where she was not, he actually laughed out to himself at the
thought; laughed with a sense of all impossibility beyond all laws or
power of reasoning. What miracle would make her understand? It would be
easier to move the solid earth than to make her understand.

But it was altogether a very strange night--such a night as never had
been passed in that house before; and fearful things were about in the
darkness, ill dreams, strange shadows of trouble. When Sir Tom woke in
the morning and found no sign that his wife had been in the room or any
trace of her, there arose once more a painful apprehension in his mind.
He hurried half-dressed to the nursery to ask for news of the child, but
was met by the nurse with the most cheerful countenance, with little Tom
holding by her skirts, in high spirits, and fun of babble and glee.

"He has had a good night, then?" the father said aloud, lifting the
little fellow to his shoulder.

"An excellent night, Sir Thomas," the woman said, "and not a bit tired
with his journey, and so pleased to see all the carriages and the folks
passing."

Sir Tom put the boy down with a cloud upon his face.

"What was the cause, then, of Lady Randolph's anxiety last night?"

"Anxiety, Sir Thomas! Oh no; her ladyship was quite pleased. She do
always say he is a regular little town-bird, and always better in
London. And so she said when I was putting of him to sleep. And he never
stirred, not from the moment he went off till six o'clock this morning,
the darling. I do think now, Sir Thomas, as we may hope he's taken hold
of his strength."

Sir Tom turned away with a blank countenance. What did it mean, then? He
went back to his dressing-room, and completed his toilette without
seeing anything of Lucy. The nurse seemed quite unconscious of her
mistress's vigil by the baby's side. Where, then, had Lucy passed the
night, and why taken refuge in that nursery? Sir Tom grew pale, and saw
his own countenance white and full of trouble, as if it had been a
stranger's, in the glass. He hurried downstairs to the breakfast-room,
into which the sun was shining. There could not have been a more
cheerful sight. Some of the flowers brought up from the Hall were on the
table; there was a merry little fire burning; the usual pile of
newspapers were arranged for him by Williams's care, who felt himself a
political character too, and understood the necessity of seeing what the
country was thinking. Jock stood at the window with a book, reading and
watching the changeful movements outside. But the chair at the head of
the table was vacant. "Have you seen Lucy?" he said to Jock, with an
anxiety which he could scarcely disguise. At this moment she came in,
very guilty, very pale, like a ghost. She gave him no greeting, save a
sort of attempt at a smile and warning look, calling his attention to
Williams, who had followed her into the room with that one special dish
which the butler always condescended to place on the table. Sir Tom sat
down to his newspapers confounded, not knowing what to think or to say.



CHAPTER XLII.

LADY RANDOLPH WINDS UP HER AFFAIRS.


Lucy contrived somehow to elude all private intercourse with her husband
that morning. She was not alone with him for a moment. To his question
about little Tom and her anxiety of last night she made as slight an
answer as possible. "Nurse tells me he is all right." "He is quite well
this morning," Lucy replied with quiet dignity, as if she did not limit
herself to nurse's observations. She talked a little to Jock about his
school and how long the holidays lasted, while Sir Tom retired behind
the shield of his newspapers. He did not get much benefit from them that
morning, or instruction as to what the country was thinking. He was so
much more curious to know what his wife was thinking, that simple
little girl who knew no evil. The most astute of men could not have
perplexed Sir Tom so much. It seemed to him that something must have
happened, but what? What was there that any one could betray to her? not
the discovery that he himself thought he had made. That was impossible.
If any one else had known it he surely must have known it. It could not
be anything so unlikely as that.

But Lucy gave him no opportunity of inquiring. She went away to see the
housekeeper, to look after her domestic affairs; and then Sir Tom made
sure he should find her in the nursery, whither he took his way, when he
thought he had left sufficient time for her other occupations. But Lady
Randolph was not there. He heard from Fletcher, whose disturbed
countenance seemed to reflect his own, that her mistress had gone out.
She was the only one of the household who shared his certainty that
something had happened out of the ordinary routine. Fletcher knew that
her mistress had not undressed in the usual way; that she had not gone
to bed. Her own services had not been required either in the morning or
evening, and she had a strong suspicion that Lady Randolph had passed
the night on a sofa in the little morning-room upstairs. To Fletcher's
mind it was not very difficult to account for this. Quarrels between
husband and wife are common enough. But her consciousness and
sympathetic significance of look struck Sir Tom with a troubled sense of
the humour of the situation which broke the spell of his increasing
agitation, if but for a moment. It was droll to think that Fletcher
should be in a manner his confidant, the only participator in his woes.

Lucy had gone out half to avoid her husband, half with a determination
to expedite the business which she had begun, with very different
feelings the day before. The streets were very gay and bright on that
April morning, with all the quickening of life which many arrivals and
the approach of the season, with all its excitements, brings. Houses
were opening up, carriages coming out, even the groups of children and
nurse-maids in the Park making a sensible difference on the other side
of the great railing. It was very unusual for her to find herself in the
streets alone, and this increased the curious dazed sensation with which
she went out among all these real people, so lively and energetic, while
she was still little more than a dream-woman, possessed by one thought,
moving along, she knew not how, with a sense of helplessness and
unprotectedness, which made the novelty all the more sensible to her.
She went on for what seemed to be a long time, following mechanically
the line of the pavement, without knowing what she was doing, along the
long course of Park Lane, and then into the cheerful bustle of
Piccadilly, where, with a sense of morning ease and leisure, not like
the artificiality of the afternoon, so many people were coming and
going, all occupied in business of their own, though so different from
the bustle of more absorbing business, the haste and obstruction of the
city. Lucy was not beautiful enough or splendid enough to attract much
attention from the passers-by in the streets, though one or two
sympathetic and observant wayfarers were caught by the look of trouble
in her face. She had never walked about London, and she did not know
where she was going. But she did not think of this. She thought only on
one subject,--about her husband and that other life which he had, of
which she knew nothing, which might, for anything she could tell, have
been going on side by side with the life she knew and shared. This was
the point upon which Lucy's mind had given way. The revelation as to
Bice had startled and shaken her soul to its foundations; but after the
shock things had fallen into their place again, and she had felt no
anger, though much pain and pity. Her mind had thrown itself back into
the unknown past almost tenderly towards the mother who had died long
ago, to whom perhaps Bice had been what little Tom was now to herself.
But when the further statement reached her ears all that softening which
seemed to have swept over her disappeared in a moment. A horrible
bewilderment had seized her. Was he two men, with two wives, two lives,
two children dear to him?

It is usual to talk of women as being the most severe judges of each
other's failures in one particular at least, an accusation which no
doubt is true of both sexes, though generally applied, like so many
universal truths, to one. And an injured wife is a raging fury in those
primitive characterisations which are so common in the world. But the
ideas which circled like the flakes in a snowstorm through the mind of
Lucy were of a kind incomprehensible to the vulgar critic who judges
humanity in the general. Her ways of thinking, her modes of judging were
as different as possible from those of minds accustomed to
generalisation and lightly acquainted with the vices of the world. Lucy
knew no general; she knew three persons involved in an imbroglio so
terrible that she saw no way out of it. Herself, her husband, another
woman. Her mind was the mind almost of a child. It had resisted all that
dismal information which the chatter of society conveys. She knew that
married people were "not happy" sometimes. She knew that there were
wretched stories of which she held that they could not be true. She was
of Desdemona's mind, and did not believe that there was any such woman.
And when she was suddenly strangely brought face to face with a tragedy
of her own, that was not enough to turn this innocent and modest girl
into a raging Eleanor. She was profoundly reasonable in her simple way,
unapt to blame; thinking no evil, and full of those prepossessions and
fixed canons of innocence which the world-instructed are incapable not
only of understanding, but of believing in the existence of. A
connection between a man and a woman was to her, in one way or other, a
marriage. Into the reasons, whatever they might have been, that could
have brought about any such connection without the rites that made it
sacred, she could not penetrate or inquire. It was a subject too
terrible, from which her mind retreated with awe and incomprehension.
Never could it, she felt, have been intended so, at least on the woman's
side. The mock marriage of romance, the deceits practised on the stage
and in novels upon the innocent, she believed in without hesitation,
everything in the world being more comprehensible than impurity. There
might be villainous men, betrayers, seducers, Lucy could not tell; there
might be monsters, griffins, fiery dragons, for anything she knew; but a
woman abandoned by all her natural guard of modesties and reluctances,
moved by passion, capable of being seduced, she could not understand.
And still more impossible was it to imagine such sins as the outcome of
mere levity, without any tragic circumstances; or to conceive of the
mysteries of life as outraged and intruded upon by folly, or for the
darker bait of interest. Her heart sickened at such suggestions. She
knew there were poor women in the streets, victims of want and vice,
poor degraded creatures for whom her heart bled, whom she could not
think of for the intolerable pang of pity and shame. But all these
questions had nothing to do with the sudden revelation in which she
herself had so painful a part. These broken reflections were in her mind
like the falling of snow. They whirled through the vague world of her
troubled soul without consequence or coherence; all that had nothing to
do with her. Her husband was no villain, and the woman--the beautiful,
smiling woman, so much fairer, greater, more important than Lucy, she
was no wretched, degraded creature. What was she then? His wife--his
true wife? And if so, what was Lucy? Her brain reeled and the world went
round her in a sickening whirl. The circumstances were too terrible for
resentment. What could anger do, or any other quick-springing
short-lived emotion? What did it matter even what Lucy felt, what any
one felt? It was far beyond that. Here was fact which no emotion could
undo. A wife and a child on either side, and what was to come of it; and
how could life go on with this to think of, never to be forgotten, not
to be put aside for a moment? It brought existence to a stand-still. She
did not know what was the next step she must take, or how she could go
back, or what she must say to the man who, perhaps, was not her husband,
or how she could continue under that roof, or arrange the commonest
details of life. There was but one thing clear before her, the business
which she was bent on hurrying to a conclusion now.

She found herself in the bustle of the streets that converge upon the
circus at the end of Piccadilly as she thus went on thinking, and there
Lucy looked about her in some dismay, finding that she had reached the
limit of the little world she knew. She was afraid of plunging alone
into those bustling ways, and almost afraid of the only other
alternative, which, however, she adopted, of calling a cab and giving
the driver the address of Mr. Chervil in the city. To do this, and to
mount into the uneasy jingling cab, gave her a little shock of the
unaccustomed, which was like a breach of morals to Lucy. It seemed,
though she had been independent enough in more important matters, the
most daring step she had ever taken on her own responsibility. But the
matter of the cab, and the aspect of this unknown world into which it
conveyed her, occupied her mind a little, and stopped the tumult of her
thoughts. She seemed scarcely to know what she had come about when she
found herself set down at the door of Mr. Chervil's office, and
ascending the grimy staircase, meeting people who stared at her, and
wondered what a lady could be doing there. Mr. Chervil himself was
scarcely less surprised. He said, "Lady Randolph!" with a cry of
astonishment when she was shown in. And she found some difficulty, which
she had not thought of, in explaining her business. He reminded her that
she had given him the same instructions yesterday when he had the honour
of waiting upon her in Park Lane. He was far more respectful to Lady
Randolph than he had been to Lucy Trevor in her first attempts to carry
out her father's will.

"I assure you," he said, "I have not neglected your wishes. I have
written to Rushton on the subject. We both know by this time, Lady
Randolph, that when you have made up your mind--and you have the most
perfect right to do so--though we may not like it, nor think it anything
but a squandering of money, still we are aware we have no right to
oppose----"

"It is not that," said Lucy faintly. "It is that the circumstances have
changed since yesterday. I want to--I should like to----"

"Give up your intention? I am delighted to hear it. For you must allow
me to say, as a man of business----"

"It is not that," Lucy repeated. "I want to increase the sum. I find the
young lady has a claim--and I want it to be done immediately, without
the loss of a day. Oh, I am more, much more in earnest about it than I
was yesterday. I want it settled at once. If it is not settled at once
difficulties might arise. I want to double the amount. Could you not
telegraph to Mr. Rushton instead of writing? I have heard that people
telegraph about business."

"Double the amount! Have you thought over this? Have you had Sir
Thomas's advice? It is a very important matter to decide so suddenly.
Pardon me, Lady Randolph, but you must know that if you bestow at this
rate you will soon not have very much left to you."

"Ah, that would be a comfort!" cried Lucy; and then there came over her
the miserable thought that all the circumstances were changed, and to
have a subject of disagreement between her husband and herself removed
would not matter now. Once it had been the only subject, now---- The
suddenness of this realisation of the change filled her eyes with tears.
But she restrained herself with a great effort. "Yes," she said, "I
should be glad, very glad, to have done all my father wished--for many
things might happen. I might die--and then who would do it?"

"We need not discuss that very unlikely contingency," said Mr. Chervil.
(He said to himself: Sir Tom wouldn't, that is certain.) "But even under
Mr. Trevor's will," he added, "this will be a very large sum to
give--larger, don't you think, than he intended; unless there is some
very special claim?"

"It is a special claim," cried Lucy, "and papa made no conditions. I was
to be free in doing it. He left me quite free."

"Without doubt," the lawyer said. "I need not repeat my opinion on the
subject, but you are certainly quite free. And you have brought me the
young lady's name, no doubt, Lady Randolph? Yesterday, you recollect you
were uncertain about her name. It is important to be quite accurate in
an affair of so much importance. She is a lucky young lady. A great many
would like to learn the secret of pleasing you to this extent."

Lucy looked at him with a gasp. She did not understand the rest of his
speech or care to hear it. Her name? What was her name? If she had not
known it before, still less did she know it now.

"Oh," she cried, "what does it matter about a name? People, girls,
change their names. She is Beatrice. You might leave a blank and it
could be filled up after. She is going to--marry. She is--must
everything be delayed for that?--and yet it is of no importance--no
importance that I can see," Lucy said, wringing her hands.

"My dear Lady Randolph! Let me say that to give a very large sum of
money to a person with whose very name you are unacquainted--forgive me,
but in your own interests I must speak. Let me consult with Sir
Thomas."

"I do not wish my husband to be consulted. He has promised me not to
interfere, and it is my business, not his," Lucy said, with a flush of
excitement. And though there was much further conversation, and the
lawyer did all he could to move her, it need not be said that Lucy was
immovable. He went down to the door with her to put her into her
carriage, as he supposed, not unwilling even in that centre of practical
life to have the surrounding population see on what confidential terms
he was with this fine young lady. But when he perceived that no carriage
was there, and Lucy, not without a tremor, as of a very strange request,
and one which might shock the nerves of her companion, asked him to get
a cab for her, Mr. Chervil's astonishment knew no bounds.

"I never thought how far it was," Lucy said, faltering and apologetic.
"I thought I might perhaps have been able to walk."

"Walk!" he cried, "from Park Lane?" with consternation. He stood looking
after her as she drove away, saying to himself that the old man had
undoubtedly been mad, and that this poor young thing was evidently
cracked too. He thought it would be best to write to Sir Thomas, who was
not Sir Tom to Mr. Chervil; but if it was going to happen that the poor
young lady should show what he had no doubt was the hereditary weakness,
Mr. Chervil could not restrain a devout wish that it might show itself
decisively before half her fortune was alienated. No Sir Thomas in
existence would carry out a father-in-law's will of such an insane
character as that.

In the meanwhile Lucy jingled home in her cab, feeling more giddy, more
heartsick than ever. There now came upon her with more potency than ever,
since now it was the matter immediately before her, the question what was
she to do? What was she to do? She had eluded Sir Tom on the night before,
and obliged him to accept, without any demand for explanation, her strange
retirement. But now what was she to do? Little Tom would not answer for a
pretext again. She must either resume the former habits of her life,
subdue herself entirely, meet him with a cheerful face, ignore the sudden
chasm that had been made between them--or---- She looked with terrified
eyes at this blank wall of impossibility, and could see no way through it.
Live with him as of old, in a pretence of union where no union could be,
or explain how it was that she could not do so. Both these things were
impossible--impossible!--and what, then, was she to do?



CHAPTER XLIII.

THE LITTLE HOUSE IN MAYFAIR.


The little house in Mayfair was very bright and gay. What conventional
words are those! It was nothing of the kind. It was dim and poetical. No
light that could be kept out of it was permitted to come in. The quality
of light in London, even in April, is not exquisite, and perhaps the
Contessa's long curtains and all the delicate draperies which she loved
to hang about her were more desirable to see than that very poor thing
in the way of daylight which exists in Mayfair. Bice, who was a child of
light, objected a little to this shutting out, and she would have
objected strongly, being young enough to love the sunshine for itself,
but for the exquisite reason which the Contessa gave for the interdict
she had put upon it. "Cara," she said, "if you were all white and red
like those English girls (it is _tant soit peu_ vulgar between
ourselves, and not half so effective as your _blanc mat_), then you
might have as much light as you pleased; but to put yourself in
competition with them on their own ground--no, Bice mia. But in this
light there is nothing to desire."

"Don't you think, then, Madama," said Bice, piqued, "that no light at
all would be better still, and not to be seen the best----"

"Darling!" said the Contessa, with that smile which embodied so many
things. It answered for encouragement and applause and gentle reproof,
and many other matters which words could but indifferently say, and it
was one of her favourite ways of turning aside a question to which she
did not think fit to give any reply. And Bice swallowed her pique and
asked no more. The lamps were all shaded like the windows in this bower
of beauty. There was scarcely a corner that was not draped with some
softly-falling, richly-tinted tissue. A delicate perfume breathed
through this half-lighted world. Thus, though neither gay nor bright, it
realised the effect which in our day, in the time when everything was
different, was meant by these words. It was a place for pleasure, for
intimate society, and conversation, and laughter, and wit; for music and
soft words; and, above all, for the setting off of beauty, and the
expression of admiration. The chairs were soft, the carpets like moss;
there were flowers everywhere betraying themselves by their odour, even
when you could not see them. The Contessa had spared no expense in
making the little place--which she laughed at softly, calling it her
doll's house--as perfect as it could be made.

And here the two ladies began to live a life very different from that of
the Randolphs' simple dwelling. Bice, it need scarcely be said, had
fulfilled all the hopes of her patroness, else had she never been
produced with such bewildering mystery, yet deftness, to dazzle the eyes
of young Montjoie at the Hall. She had realised all the Contessa's
expectations, and justified the bills which Madame di Forno-Populo
looked upon with a certain complacency as they came in, as something
creditable to her, as proof of her magnificence of mind and devotion to
the best interests of her _protégée_. And now they had entered upon
their campaign. It had annoyed her in this new beginning, amid all its
excitements and hopes, to be called upon by Sir Tom for explanations
which it was not to her interest to give; which she had, indeed, when
she deliberately sowed the seed of mystery, resolved not to give. To
allow herself to be brought to book was not in her mind at all, and she
was clever enough to mystify even Sir Tom, and keep his mind in a
suspense and uncertainty very painful to him. But she had managed to
elude his inquiries, and though it had changed the demeanour of Sir Tom,
and entirely done away with the careless good humour which had been so
pleasant, still she felt herself now independent of the Randolphs, and
had begun her life very cheerfully and with every promise of great
enjoyment. The Contessa "received" every day and all day long, from the
time when she was visible, which was not, however, at a very early hour.
About four the day of the ladies began. Sometimes, indeed, before that
hour two favoured persons, not always the same, who had accompanied
them home from the Park, would be admitted to share a dainty little
luncheon. Bice now rode at the hour when everybody rides, with the
Contessa, who was a graceful horsewoman, and never looked to greater
advantage than in the saddle. The two beautiful Italians, as they were
called, had in this way, within a week of their arrival, caused a
sensation in the Row, and already their days overflowed with amusement
and society. Few ladies visited the little house in Mayfair, but then
they were not much wanted there. The Contessa was not one of those
vulgar practitioners who profess in words their preference for men's
society. But she said, so sweetly that it was barbarous to laugh (though
many of her friends did so), that, having one close companion of her own
sex, her dearest Bice, who was everything to her, she was independent of
the feminine element. "And then they are so busy, these ladies of
fashion; they have no leisure; they have so many things to do. It is a
thraldom, a heavy thraldom, though the chains are gilded." "Shall we see
you at Lady Blank Blank's to-night? You must be going to the Duchess's?
Of course we shall meet at the Highton Grandmodes!" "Ah!" cried the
Contessa, spreading out her white hands, "it is fatiguing even only to
hear of it. We love our ease, Bice and I; we go nowhere where we are
expected to go."

The gentlemen to whom this speech was made laughed "consumedly." They
even made little signs to each other behind back, and exploded again.
When she looked round at them they said the Contessa was a perfect
mimic, better than anything on the stage, and that she had perfectly
caught the tone of that old Lady Barbe Montfichet, who went everywhere
(whom, indeed, the Contessa did not know), and laughed again. But it was
not at the Contessa's power of mimicry that they laughed. It was at the
delicious falsehood of her pretensions, and the thought that if she
pleased she might appear at the Highton Grandmodes, or meet the best
society at Lady Blank Blank's. These gentlemen knew better; and it was a
joke of which they never tired. They were not, perhaps, the most
desirable class of people in society who had the _entrée_ in the
Contessa's little house; they were old acquaintances who had known her
in her progress through the world, mingled with a few young men whom
they brought with them, partly because the boys admired these two lovely
foreign women; partly because, with a certain easy benevolence that cost
them nothing, they wanted the Contessa's little girl, whoever she was,
to have her chance. But few, if any, of these astute gentlemen, young or
old, was in any doubt as to the position she held.

Nor was she altogether without female visitors. Lady Anastasia, that
authority of the press, who made the public acquainted with the
movements of distinguished strangers and was not afraid of compromising
herself, sometimes made one at the little parties and enjoyed them much.
The Dowager Lady Randolph's card was left at the Contessa's door, as was
that of the Duchess, who had looked upon her with such consternation at
Lucy's party in the country. What these ladies meant it would be curious
to know. Perhaps it was a lingering touch of kindness, perhaps a wish to
save their credit in case it should happen by some bewildering turn of
fortune that La Forno-Populo might come uppermost again. Would she dare
to have herself put forward at the Drawing-room was what these ladies
asked each other with bated breath. It was possible, nay, quite likely,
that she might succeed in doing so, for there were plenty of
good-natured people who would not refuse if she asked them, and of
course so close a scrutiny was not kept upon foreigners as upon native
subjects; while, as a matter of fact, the Dowager Lady Randolph was
right in her assertion that, so far as could be proved, there was
nothing absolutely fatal to a woman's reputation in the history of the
Contessa. Would she have the courage to dare that ordeal, or would she
set up a standard of revolt, and declare herself superior to that
hall-mark of fashion? She was clever enough, all the people who knew her
allowed, for either _rôle_; either to persuade some good woman, innocent
and ignorant enough, to be responsible for her, and elude the researches
of the Lord Chamberlain, or else to retreat bravely in gay rebellion and
declare that she was not rich enough, nor her diamonds good enough, for
that noonday display. For either part the Contessa was clever enough.

Meanwhile Bice had all the enjoyment, without any of the drawbacks of
this new life. It was far more luxurious, splendid, and even amusing,
than the old existence of the watering-places. To ride in the Park and
feel herself one of that brilliant crowd, to be surrounded by a
succession of lively companions, to have always "something going on,"
that delight of youth, and a continual incense of admiration rising
around her enough to have turned a less steady head, filled Bice's cup
with happiness. But perhaps the most penetrating pleasure of all was
that of having carried out the Contessa's expectations and fulfilled her
hopes. Had not Madame di Forno-Populo been satisfied with the beauty of
her charge, none of these expenses would have been incurred, and this
life of many delights would never have been; so that the soothing and
exhilarating consciousness of having indeed deserved and earned her
present well-being was in Bice's mind. The future, too, opened before
her a horizon of boundless hope. To have everything she now had and
more, along with that one element of happiness which had always been
wanting, the certainty that it would last, was the happy prospect within
her grasp. Her head was so steady, and the practical sense of the
advantage so great, that the excitement and pleasure did not intoxicate
her; but everything was delightful, novel, breathing confidence and
hope. The guests at the table, where she now took her place, equal in
importance to the Contessa herself, all flattered and did their best to
please her. They amused her, either because they were clever or because
they were ridiculous--Bice, with youthful cynicism, did not much mind
which it was. When they went to the opera, a similar crowd would flutter
in and out of the box, and appear afterwards to share the gay little
supper and declare that no _prime-donne_ on the stage could equal the
two lovely blending voices of the Contessa and her ward. To sit late
talking, laughing, singing, surrounded by all this worship, and to wake
up again to a dozen plans and the same routine of pleasure next day,
what heart of seventeen (and she was not quite seventeen) could resist
it? One thing, however, Bice missed amid all this. It was the long
gallery at the Hall, the nursery in Park Lane, little Tom crowing upon
her shoulder, digging his hands into her hair, and Lucy looking on--many
things, yet one. She missed this, and laughed at herself, and said she
was a fool--but missed it all the same. Lucy had come, as in duty bound,
and paid her call. She had been very grave--not like herself. And Sir
Tom was very grave; looking at her she could not tell how; no longer
with his old easy good humour, with a look of criticism and anxiety--an
uneasy look, as if he had something to say to her and could not. Bice
felt instinctively that if he ever said that something it would be
disagreeable, and avoided his presence. But it troubled her to lose this
side of her landscape, so to speak. The new was entrancing, but the old
was a loss. She missed it, and thought herself a fool for missing it,
and laughed, but felt it the more.

The only member of the household with whom she remained on the same easy
terms as before was Jock, who came to the house in Mayfair at hours when
nobody else was admitted, though he was quite unaware of the privilege
he possessed. He came in the morning when Bice, too young to want the
renewal which the Contessa sought in bed and in the mysteries of the
toilette, sometimes fretted a little indoors at the impossibility of
getting the air into her lungs, and feeling the warmth of the morning
light. She was so glad to see him that Jock was deeply flattered, and
sweet thoughts of the most boundless foolishness got in to his head.
Bice ran to her room, and found one of her old hats which she had worn
in the country, and tied a veil over her face, and came flying
downstairs like a bird.

"We may go out and run in the Park so long as no one sees us," she
cried. "Oh, come; nobody can see me through this veil."

"And what good will the air do you through that veil?" said Jock
contemptuously. "You can't see the sun through it; it makes the whole
world black. I would not go out if I were you with that thing over my
face, the only chance I had for a walk. I'd rather stay at home; but
perhaps you like it. Girls are such----"

"What? You are going to swear, and if you swear I will simply turn my
back. Well, perhaps you didn't mean it. But I mean it. Boys are
such---- What? little prudes, like the old duennas in the books, and that
is what you are. You think things are wrong that are not wrong. But it
is to an Englishman the right thing to grumble," Bice said, with a smile
of reconciliation as they stepped into the street. On that sweet morning
even the street was delightful. It restored them to perfect satisfaction
with each other as they made their way to the Park, which stretched its
long lines of waving grass almost within sight.

"And I suppose," said Jock, after a pause, "that you like being here?"

Bice gave him a look half friendly, half disdainful. "I like living,"
she said. "In the country in what you call the quiet, it is only to be
half alive: we are always living here. But you never come to see us
ride, to be among the crowd. You are never at the opera. You don't talk
as those others do----"

"Montjoie, for instance," said Jock, with a strange sense of jealousy
and pain.

"Very well, Montjoie. He is what you call fun; he has always something
to say, _bêtises_ perhaps, but what does that matter? He makes me
laugh."

"Makes you laugh! at his wit perhaps?" cried Jock. "Oh, what things
girls are! Laugh at what a duffer like that, an ass, a fellow that has
not two ideas, says."

"You have a great many ideas," said Bice; "you are clever--you know a
number of things; but you are not so amusing, and you are not so
good-natured. You scold me; and you say another, a friend, is an
ass----"

"He was never any friend of mine," said Jock, with a hot flush of anger.
"That fellow! I never had anything to say to him."

"No," said Bice, with a smiling disdain which cut poor Jock like a
knife. "I made a mistake, that was not possible, for he is a man and you
are only a boy."

To describe Jock's feelings under this blow would be beyond the power of
words. He inferior to Montjoie! he only a boy while the other was a man!
Rage was nothing in such an emergency. He looked at her with eyes that
were almost pathetic in their sense of unappreciated merit, and, deeper
sting still, of folly preferred. In spite of himself, Locksley Hall and
those musings which have become, by no fault of the poet's, the
expression of a despair which is half ridiculous, came into his mind. He
did not see the ridicule. "Having known me to decline"--his eyes became
moist with a dew of pain--"If you think that," he said slowly,
"Bice----"

Bice answered only with a laugh. "Let us make haste; let us run," she
cried. "It is so early, no one will see us. Why don't you ride, it is
like flying? And to run is next best." She stopped after a flight, swift
as a bird, along an unfrequented path which lay still in the April
sunshine, the lilac bushes standing up on each side all athrill and
rustling with the spring, with eyes that shone like stars, and that
unusual colour which made her radiant. Jock, though he could have gone
on much faster, was behind her for the moment, and came up after her,
more occupied by the shame of being outrun and laughed at than by
admiration of the girl and her beauty. She was more conscious of her own
splendour of bloom than he was: though Bice was not vain, and he was
more occupied by the thought of her than by any other thought.

"Girls never think of being able to stay," he said, "you do only what
can be done with a rush; but that's not running. If you had ever seen
the School Mile----"

"Oh no, I want to see no miles," cried Bice; "this is what I like, to
have all my fingers tingle." Then she suddenly calmed down in a moment,
and walked along demurely as the paths widened out to a more frequented
thoroughfare. "What I want," she said, "is little Tom upon my shoulder,
and to hear him scream and hold by my hair. Milady does not look as if I
pleased her now. She has come once only and looked--not as she once
looked. But she is still kind. She has made this ball for me--for me
only. Did you know? do you dance then, if nothing else? Oh, you shall
dance since the ball is for me. I love dancing--to distraction; but not
once have I had a single turn, not once, since we came to England," Bice
said with a sigh, which rose into a laugh in another moment, as she
added, "It will be for me to come out, as you say, to be introduced into
society, and after that we shall go everywhere, the Contessa says."



CHAPTER XLIV.

THE SIEGE OF LONDON.


The Contessa, but perhaps not more than half, believed what she said.
Everything was on the cards in this capricious society of England, which
is not governed by the same absolute laws as in other places. It seemed
to be quite possible that she and her charge might be asked everywhere
after their appearance at the ball which, she should take care to tell
everybody, Lucy was giving for Bice. It was always possible in England
that some leader of fashion, some great lady whose nod gave distinction,
might take pity upon Bice's youth and think it hard that she should
suffer, even if without any relentings towards the Contessa. And Madame
di Forno-Populo was very strong on the point, already mentioned, that
there was nothing against her which could give any one a right to shut
her out. The mere suggestion that the doors of society might or could be
closed in her face would have driven another woman into frantic
indignation, but the Contessa had passed that stage. She took the matter
quite reasonably, philosophically. There was no reason. She had been
poor and put to many shifts. Sometimes she had been compelled to permit
herself to be indebted to a man in a way no woman should allow herself
to be. She was quite aware of this, and was not, therefore, angry with
society for its reluctance to receive her; but she said to herself, with
great energy, that there was no cause. She was not hopeless even of the
drawing-room, nor of getting the Duchess herself, a model of all the
virtues, to present her, if the ball went off well at Park Lane. She
said to herself that there was nothing on her mind which would make her
shrink from seeking admission to the presence of the Queen. She was not
afraid even of that royal lady's penetrating eye. Shiftiness, poverty,
debts, modes of getting money that were, perhaps, equivocal, help too
lightly accepted, all these are bad enough; but they are not in a woman
the unpardonable sin. And a caprice in English society was always
possible. The young beauty of Bice might attract the eye of some one
whose notice would throw down all obstacles; or it might touch the heart
of some woman who was so high placed as to be able to defy prejudice.
And after that, of course, they would go everywhere, and every
prognostication of success and triumph would come true.

Nevertheless, if things did not go on so well as this, the Contessa had
furnished herself with what to say. She would tell Bice that the women
were jealous, that she had been pursued by their hostility wherever she
went, that a woman who secured the homage of men was always an object of
their spite and malice, that it was a sort of persecution which the
lovely had to bear from the unlovely in all regions. Knowing that it was
fully more likely that she should fail than succeed, the Contessa had
carefully provided herself with this ancient plea and would not hesitate
to use it if necessary; but these were _grands moyens_, not to be
resorted to save in case of necessity. She would herself have been
willing enough to dispense with recognition and live as she was doing
now, among the old and new admirers who had never failed her, enjoying
everything except those dull drawing-rooms and heavy parties for which
her soul longed, yet which she despised heartily, which she would have
undergone any humiliation to get admission to, and turned to ridicule
afterwards with the best grace in the world. She despised them, but
there was nothing that could make up for absence from them; they alone
had in their power the _cachet_, the symbol of universal acceptance. All
these things depended upon the ball at Park Lane. Something had been
going on there since she separated herself from that household which the
Contessa did not understand. Sir Tom, indeed, was comprehensible. The
discovery which he thought he had made, the things which she had allowed
him to divine, and even permitted him to prove for himself without
making a single assertion on her own part, were quite sufficient to
account for his changed looks. But Lucy, what had she found out? It was
not likely that Sir Tom had communicated his discovery to her. Lucy's
demeanour confused the Contessa more than words can say. The simple
creature had grown into a strange dignity, which nothing could explain.
Instead of the sweet compliance and almost obedience of former days, the
deference of the younger to the older woman, Lucy looked at her with
grave composure, as of an equal or superior. What had happened to the
girl? And it was so important that she should be friendly now and kept
in good humour! Madame di Forno-Populo put forth all her attractions,
gave her dear Lucy her sweetest looks and words, but made very little
impression. This gave her a little tremor when she thought of it; for
all her plans for the future were connected with the ball on the 26th at
Park Lane.

This ball appeared to Lucy, too, the most important crisis in her life.
She had made a sacrifice which was heroic that nothing might go wrong
upon that day. Somehow or other, she could not tell how, for the
struggle had been desperate within her, she had subdued the emotion in
her own heart and schooled herself to an acceptance of the old routine
of her life until that event should be over. All her calculations went
to that date, but not beyond. Life seemed to stop short there. It had
been arranged and settled with a light heart in the pleasure of knowing
that the Contessa had taken a house for herself, and that, consequently,
Lucy was henceforward to be once more mistress of her own. She had been
so ashamed of her own pleasure in this prospect, so full of compunctions
in respect to her guest, whose departure made her happy, that she had
thrown herself with enthusiasm into this expedient for making it up to
them. She had said it was to be Bice's ball. When the Dowager's
revelation came upon her like a thunderbolt, as soon as she was able to
think at all, she had thought of this ball with a depth of emotion which
was strange to be excited by so frivolous a matter. It was a pledge of
the warmest friendship, but those for whom it was to be, had turned out
the enemies of her peace, the destroyers of her happiness: and it was
high festival and gaiety, but her heart was breaking. Lady Randolph,
afraid of what she had done, yet virulent against the Contessa, had
suggested that it should be given up. It was easy to do such a thing--a
few notes, a paragraph in the newspaper, a report of a cousin dead, or a
sudden illness; any excuse would do. But Lucy was not to be so moved.
There was in her soft bosom a sense of justice which was almost stern,
and through all her troubles she remembered that Bice, at least, had a
claim upon all Sir Thomas Randolph could do for her, such as nobody
else could have. Under what roof but his should she make her first
appearance in the world? Lucy held sternly with a mixture of bitterness
and tenderness to Bice's rights. In all this misery Bice was without
blame, the only innocent person, the one most wronged, more wronged even
than was Lucy herself. She it was who would have to bear the deepest
stigma, without any fault of hers. Whatever could be done to advance her
(as she counted advancement), to make her happy (as she reckoned
happiness) it was right she should have it done. Lucy suppressed her own
wretchedness heroically for this cause. She bore the confusion that had
come into her life without saying a word for the sake of the other young
creature who was her fellow-sufferer. How hard it was to do she could
not have told, nor did any one suspect, except, vaguely, Sir Tom
himself, who perceived some tragic mischief that was at work without
knowing how it had come there or what it was. He tried to come to some
explanation, but Lucy would have no explanation. She avoided him as much
as it was possible to do. She had nothing to say when he questioned her.
Till the 26th! Nothing, she was resolved, should interfere with that.
And then--but not the baby in the nursery knew less than Lucy what was
to happen then.

They had come to London on the 2d, so that this day of fate was three
weeks off, and during that time the Contessa had made no small progress
in her affairs. Three weeks is a long time in a house which is open to
visitors, even if only from four o'clock in the afternoon, every day,
and without intermission; and indeed that was not the whole, for the
ladies were accessible elsewhere than in the house in Mayfair. It had
pleased the Contessa not to be visible when Lord Montjoie called at a
somewhat early hour on the very earliest day. He was a young man who
knew the world, and not one to have things made too easy for him. He was
all aflame accordingly to gain the _entrée_ thus withheld, and when the
Contessa appeared for the first time in the Park, with her lovely
companion, Montjoie was eagerly on the watch, and lost no time in
claiming acquaintance, and joining himself to her train. He was one of
the two who were received to luncheon two or three days afterwards. When
the ladies went to the opera he was on thorns till he could join them.
He was allowed to go home with them for one song, and to come in next
afternoon for a little music. And from that time forward there was no
more question of shutting him out. He came and went almost when he
pleased, as a young man may be permitted to do when he has become one of
the intimates in an easy-going, pleasure-loving household, where there
is always "something going on." He was so little flattered that never
during all these days and nights had he once been allowed to repeat the
performance upon which he prided himself, and with which he had followed
up the singing of the Contessa and Bice at the Hall. The admirable lady
whom they had met there, with her two daughters, had been eager that
Lord Montjoie should display this accomplishment of his, and the girls
had been enchanted by his singing; but the Contessa, though not so
irreproachable, would have none of it. And Bice laughed freely at the
young nobleman who had so much to bestow, and they both threw at him
delicate little shafts of wit, which never pierced his stolid
complacency, though he was quite quick withal to see the fun when other
gentlemen looked at each other over the Contessa's shoulder, and burst
into little peals of laughter at her little speeches about the Highton
Grandmodes and other such exclusive houses. Montjoie knew all about La
Forno-Populo. "But yet that little Bice," he said, "don't you know?" No
one like her had come within Montjoie's ken. He knew all about the girls
in blue or in pink or in white, who asked him to sing. But Bice, who
laughed at his accomplishment and at himself, and was so saucy to him,
and made fun of him, he allowed, to his face, that was very different.
He described her in terms that were not chivalrous, and his own emotions
in words still less ornate; but before the fortnight was over the best
judges declared among themselves that, by Jove, the Forno-Populo had
done it this time, that the little one knew how to play her cards, that
it was all up with Montjoie, poor little beggar, with other elegances of
a similar kind. The man who had taken the Contessa's house for her, and
a great deal of trouble about all her arrangements, whom she described
as a very old friend, and whose rueful sense that house-agents and
livery stables might eventually look to him if she had no success in her
enterprise did not impair his fidelity, went so far as to speak
seriously to Montjoie on the subject. "Look here, Mont," he said, "don't
you think you are going it rather too strong? There is not a thing
against the girl, who is as nice as a girl can be, but then the aunt,
you know----"

"I'm glad she is the aunt," said Montjoie. "I thought she was the
mother: and I always heard you were devoted to her."

"We are very old friends," said this disinterested adviser. "There's
nothing I would not do for her. She is the best soul out, and was the
loveliest woman I can tell you--the girl is nothing to what she was.
Aunt or cousin, I am not sure what is the relationship; but that's not
the question. Don't you think you are coming it rather strong?"

"Oh, I've got my wits about me," said Montjoie; and then he added,
rather reluctantly--for it is the fashion of his kind to be vulgar and
to keep what generosity or nobleness there is in them carefully out of
sight--"and I've no relations, don't you know? I've got nobody to please
but myself----"

"Well, that is a piece of luck anyhow," the Mentor said; and he told the
Contessa the gist of the conversation next morning, who was highly
pleased by the news.

The curious point in all this was that Bice had not the least objection
to Montjoie. She was a clever girl and he was a stupid young man, but
whether it was that her entirely unawakened heart had no share at all in
the matter, or that her clear practical view of affairs influenced her
sentiments as well as her mind, it is certain that she was quite pleased
with her fate, and ready to embrace it without the least sense that it
was a sacrifice or anything but the happiest thing possible. He amused
her, as she had said to Jock. He made her laugh, most frequently at
himself; but what did that matter? He had a kind of good looks, and that
good nature which is the product of prosperity and well-being, and a
sense of general superiority to the world. Perhaps the girl saw no man
of a superior order to compare him with; but, as a matter of fact, she
was perfectly satisfied with Montjoie. Mr. Derwentwater and Jock were
more ridiculous to her than he was, and were less in harmony with
everything she had previously known. Their work, their intellectual
occupations, their cleverness and aspirations were out of her world
altogether. The young man-about-town who had nothing to do but amuse
himself, who was always "knocking about," as he said, whose business was
pleasure, was the kind of being with whom she was acquainted. She had no
understanding of the other kind. He who had been her comrade in the
country, whose society had amused her there, and for whom she had a sort
of half-condescending affection, was droll to her beyond measure, with
his ambitions and great ideas as to what he was to do. He, too, made her
laugh; but not as Montjoie did. She laughed, though this would have
immeasurably surprised Jock, with much less sympathy than she had with
the other, upon whom he looked with so much contempt. They were both
silly to Bice,--silly as, in her strange experience, she thought it
usual and natural for men to be,--but Montjoie's manner of being silly
was more congenial to her than the other. He was more in tune with the
life she had known. Hamburg, Baden, Wiesbaden, and all the other Bads,
even Monaco, would have suited Montjoie well enough. The trade of
pleasure-making has its affinities like every other, and a tramp on his
way from fair to fair is more _en rapport_ with a duke than the world
dreams of. Thus Bice found that the young English marquis, with more
money than he knew how to spend, was far more like the elegant
adventurer living on his wits, than all those intervening classes of
society, to whom life is a more serious, and certainly a much less
festive and costly affair. She understood him far better. And instead of
being, as Lucy thought, a sacrifice, an unfortunate victim sold to a
loveless marriage for the money and the advantages it would bring, Bice
went on very gaily, her heart as unmoved as possible, to what she felt
to be a most congenial fate.

And they all waited for the 26th and the ball with growing excitement.
It would decide many matters. It would settle what was to be the
character of the Contessa's campaign. It might reintroduce her into
society under better auspices than ever, or it might--but there was no
need to foretell anything unpleasant. And very likely it would conclude
at the same source as it began, Bice's triumph--a _débutante_ who was
already the affianced bride of the young Marquis of Montjoie, the
greatest _parti_ in the kingdom. The idea was like wine, and went to the
Contessa's head.

She had in this interval of excitement a brief little note from Lucy,
which startled her beyond measure for the moment. It was to ask the
exact names of Bice. "You shall know in a few days why I ask, but it is
necessary they should be written down in full and exactly," Lucy said.
The Contessa had half forgotten, in the new flood of life about her,
what was in Lucy's power, and the further advantage that might come of
their relations, and she did not think of this even now, but felt with
momentary tremor as if some snare lay concealed under these simple
words. After a moment's consideration, however, she wrote with a bold
and flowing hand:

     "SWEET LUCY--The child's name is Beatrice Ersilia. You cannot, I am
     sure, mean her anything but good by such a question. She has not
     been properly introduced, I know--I am fantastic, I loved the Bice,
     and no more.

                                                        "DARLING, A TE."

This was signed with a cipher, which it was not very easy to make out--a
little mystery which pleased the Contessa. She thus involved in a
pleasant little uncertainty her own name, which nobody knew.



CHAPTER XLV.

THE BALL.


Lady Randolph's ball was one of the first of the season, and as it was
the first ball she had ever given, and both Lucy and her husband were
favourites in society, it was looked forward to as the forerunner of
much excitement and pleasure, and with a freshness of interest and
anticipation which, unless in April, is scarcely to be expected in town.
The rooms in Park Lane, though there was nothing specially exquisite or
remarkable in their equipment, were handsome and convenient. They formed
a good background for the people assembled under their many lights
without withdrawing the attention of any one from the looks, the
dresses, the bright eyes, and jewels collected within, which, perhaps,
after all, is an advantage in its way. And everybody who was in town was
there, from the Duchess, upon whom the Contessa had designs of so
momentous a character, down to those wandering young men-about-town who
form the rank and file of the great world and fill up all the corners.
There was, it is true, not much room to dance, but a bewildering amount
of people, great names, fine toilettes, and beautiful persons.

The Contessa timed her arrival at the most effective moment, when the
rooms were almost full, but not yet crowded, and most of the more
important guests had already arrived. It was just after the first
greetings of people seeing each other for the first time were over, and
an event of some kind was wanted. At such a moment princes and
princesses are timed to arrive and bring the glory of the assembly to a
climax. Lucy had no princess to honour her. But when out of the crowd
round the doorway there were seen to emerge two beautiful and stately
women unknown, the sensation was almost as great. One of them, who had
the air of a Queen-Mother, was in dark dress studiously arranged to be a
little older, a little more massive and magnificent than a woman of the
Contessa's age required to wear (and which, accordingly, threw up all
the more, though this, to do her justice, was a coquetry more or less
unintentional, her unfaded beauty); and the other, an impersonation of
youth, contemplated the world by her side with that open-eyed and
sovereign gaze, proud and modest, but without any of the shyness or
timidity of a _débutante_ which becomes a young princess in her own
right. There was a general thrill of wonder and admiration wherever they
were seen. Who were they, everybody asked? Though the name of the
Forno-Populo was too familiarly known to a section of society, that is
not to say that the ladies of Lucy's party, or even all the men had
heard it bandied from mouth to mouth, or were aware that it had ever
been received with less than respect: and the universal interest was
spoiled only here and there in a corner by the laugh of the male
gossips, who made little signs to each other, in token of knowing more
than their neighbours. It was said among the more innocent that this was
an Italian lady of distinction with her daughter or niece, and her
appearance, if a little more marked and effective than an English lady's
might have been, was thus fully explained and accounted for by the
difference in manners and that inalienable dramatic gift, which it is
common to believe in England, foreigners possess. No doubt their
entrance was very dramatic. The way in which they contrasted and
harmonised with each other was too studied for English traditions,
which, in all circumstances, cling to something of the impromptu, an air
of accidentalism. They were a spectacle in themselves as they advanced
through the open central space, from which the ordinary guests
instinctively withdrew to leave room for them. "Is it the Princess?"
people asked, and craned their necks to see. It must at least be a
German Serenity--the Margravine of Pimpernikel, the Hereditary Princess
of Weissnichtwo--but more beautiful and graceful than English prejudice
expects German ladies to be. Ah, Italian! that explained
everything--their height, their grace, their dark beauty, their
effective pose. The Latin races alone know how to arrange a spectacle in
that easy way, how to produce themselves so that nobody could be
unimpressed. There was a dramatic pause before them, a hum of excitement
after they had passed. Who were they? Evidently the most distinguished
persons present--the guests of the evening. Sir Tom, uneasy enough, and
looking grave and preoccupied, which was so far from being his usual
aspect, led them into the great drawing-room, where the Duchess, who had
daughters who danced, had taken her place. He did not look as if he
liked it, but the Contessa, for her part, looked round her with a
radiant smile, and bowed very much as the Queen does in a state
ceremonial to the people she knew. She performed a magnificent curtsey,
half irony, half defiance, before the Dowager Lady Randolph, who looked
on at this progress speechless. How Lucy could permit it; how Tom could
have the assurance to do it; occupied the Dowager's thoughts. She had
scarcely self-command to make a stiff sweep of recognition as the
procession passed.

The Duchess was at the upper end of the room, with all her daughters
about her. Besides the younger ones who danced, there were two
countesses supporting their mother. She was the greatest lady present,
and she felt the dignity. But when she perceived the little opening that
took place among the groups about, and, looking up, perceived the
Contessa sweeping along in that regal separation, you might have blown
her Grace away with a breath. Not only was the Duchess the most
important person in the room, but her reception of the newcomer would be
final, a sort of social life or death for the Contessa. But the
supplicant approached with the air of a queen, while the arbiter of fate
grew pale and trembled at the sight. If there was a tremor in her
Grace's breast there was no less a tremor under the Contessa's velvet.
But Madame di Forno-Populo had this great advantage, that she knew
precisely what to do, and the Duchess did not know: she was fully
prepared, and the Duchess taken by surprise: and still more that her
Grace was a shy woman, whose intellect, such as it was, moved slowly,
while the Contessa was very clever, and as prompt as lightning. She
perceived at a glance that the less time the great lady had to think the
better, and hastened forward for a step or two, hurrying her stately
pace, "Ah, Duchess!" she said, "how glad I am to meet so old an
acquaintance. And I want, above all things, to have your patronage for
my little one. Bice--the Duchess, an old friend of my prosperous days,
permits me to present you to her." She drew her young companion forward
as she spoke, while the Duchess faltered and stammered a "How d'ye do?"
and looked in vain for succour to her daughters, who were looking on.
Then Bice showed her blood. It had not been set down in the Contessa's
programme what she was to do, so that the action took her patroness by
surprise, as well as the great lady whom it was so important to
captivate. While the Duchess stood stiff and awkward, making a
conventional curtsey against her will, and with a conventional smile on
her mouth, Bice, with the air of a young princess, innocently, yet
consciously superior to all her surroundings, suddenly stepped forward,
and taking the Duchess's hand, bent her stately young head to kiss it.
There was in the sudden movement that air of accident, of impulse, which
we all love. It overcame all the tremors of the great lady. She said,
"My dear!" in the excitement of the moment, and bent forward to kiss the
cheek of this beautiful young creature, who was so deferential, so
reverent in her young pride. And the Duchess's daughters did not
disapprove! Still more wonderful than the effect on the Duchess was the
effect upon these ladies, of whose criticisms their mother stood in
dread. They drew close about the lovely stranger, and it immediately
became apparent to the less important guests that the Italian ladies,
the heroines of the evening, had amalgamated with the ducal party--as it
was natural they should.

Never had there been a more complete triumph. The Contessa stepped in
and made hay while the sun shone. She waved off with a scarcely
perceptible movement of her hand several of her intimates who would have
gathered round her, and vouchsafed only a careless word to Montjoie, who
had hastened to present himself. The work to which she devoted herself
was the amusement of the Duchess, who was not, to tell the truth, very
easily amused. But Madame di Forno-Populo had infinite resources, and
she succeeded. She selected the Dowager Lady Randolph for her butt, and
made fun of her so completely that her Grace almost exceeded the bounds
of decorum in her laughter.

"You must not, really; you must not--she is a great friend of mine," the
Duchess said. But perhaps there was not much love between the two
ladies. And thus by degrees the conversation was brought round to the
Populina palace and the gay scenes so long ago.

"You must have heard of our ruin," the Contessa said, looking full into
the Duchess's face; "everybody has heard of that. I have been too poor
to live in my own house. We have wandered everywhere, Bice and I. When
one is proud it is more easy to be poor away from home. But we are in
very high spirits to-day, the child and I," she added. "All can be put
right again. My little niece has come into a fortune. She has made an
inheritance. We received the news to-night only. That is how I have
recovered my spirits--and to see you, Duchess, and renew the beautiful
old times."

"Oh, indeed!" the Duchess said, which was not much; but then she was a
woman of few words.

"Yes, we came to London very poor," said the Contessa. "What could I do?
It was the moment to produce the little one. We have no Court. Could I
seek for her the favour of the Piedmontese? Oh no! that was impossible.
I said to myself she shall come to that generous England, and my old
friends there will not refuse to take my Bice by the hand."

"Oh no; I am sure not," said the Duchess.

As for Bice she had long ere now set off with Montjoie, who had hung
round her from the moment of her entrance into the room, and whose
admiration had grown to such a height by the cumulative force of
everybody else's admiration swelling into it, that he could scarcely
keep within those bounds of compliment which are permitted to an adorer
who has not yet acquired the right to be hyperbolical.

"Oh yes, it's pretty enough: but you don't see half how pretty it is,
for you can't see yourself, don't you know?" said this not altogether
maladroit young practitioner. Bice gave him a smile like one of the
Contessa's smiles, which said everything that was needful without giving
her any trouble. But now that the effect of her entrance was attained,
and all that dramatic business done with, the girl's soul was set upon
enjoyment. She loved dancing as she loved every other form of rapid
movement. The only drawback was that there was so little room. "Why do
they make the rooms so small?" she said pathetically; a speech which was
repeated from mouth to mouth like a witticism, as something so
characteristic of the young Italian, w hose marble halls would never be
overcrowded: though, as a matter of fact, Bice knew very little of
marble halls.

"Were you ever in the gallery at the Hall?" she asked. "To go from one
end to the other, that was worth the while. It was as if one flew."

"I never knew they danced down there," said Montjoie. "I thought it very
dull, don't you know, till you appeared. If I had known you had dances,
and fun going on, and other fellows cutting one out----"

"There was but one other fellow," said Bice gravely. "I have seen in
this country no one like him. Ah, why is he not here? He is more fun
than any one, but better than fun. He is----"

Montjoie's countenance was like a thunder-cloud big with fire and flame.

"Trevor, I suppose you mean. I never thought that duffer could dance. He
was a great sap at school, and a hideous little prig, giving himself
such airs! But if you think all that of him----"

"It was not Mr. Trevor," said Bice. Then catching sight of Lady Randolph
at a little distance, she made a dart towards her on her partner's arm.

"I am telling Lord Montjoie of my partner at the Hall," she said. "Ah,
Milady, let him come and look! How he would clap his hands to see the
lights and the flowers. But we could not have our gymnastique with all
the people here."

Lucy was very pale; standing alone, abstracted amid the gay crowd, as if
she did not very well know where she was.

"Baby? Oh, he is quite well, he is fast asleep," she said, looking up
with dim eyes. And then there broke forth a little faint smile on her
face. "You were always good to him," she said.

"So it was the baby," said Montjoie, delighted. "What a one you are to
frighten a fellow. If it had been Trevor I think I'd have killed him.
How jolly of you to do gymnastics with that little beggar; he's
dreadfully delicate, ain't he, not likely to live? But you're awfully
cruel to me. You think no more of giving a wring to my heart than if it
was a bit of rag. I think you'd like to see the blood come."

"Let us dance," said Bice with great composure. She was bent upon
enjoyment. She had not calculated upon any conversation. Indeed she
objected to conversation on this point even when it did not interfere
with the waltz. All could be settled much more easily by the Contessa,
and if marriage was to be the end, that was a matter of business not
adapted for a ballroom. She would not allow herself to be led away to
the conservatory or any other retired nook such as Montjoie felt he must
find for this affecting purpose. Bice did not want to be proposed to.
She wanted to dance. She abandoned him for other partners without the
slightest evidence of regret. She even accepted, when he was just about
to seize upon her at the end of a dance, Mr. Derwentwater, preferring to
dance the Lancers with him to the bliss of sitting out with Lord
Montjoie. That forsaken one gazed at her with a consternation beyond
words. To leave him and the proposal that was on his very lips for a
square dance with a tutor! The young Marquis gazed after her as she
disappeared with a certain awe. It could not be that she preferred
Derwentwater. It must be her cleverness which he could not fathom, and
some wonderful new system of Italian subtlety to draw a fellow on.

"I like it better than standing still--I like it--enough," said Bice.
"To dance, that is always something." Mr. Derwentwater also felt, like
Lord Montjoie, that the young lady gave but little importance to her
partner.

"You like the rhythm, the measure, the woven paces and the waving
hands," her companion said.

Bice stared at him a little, not comprehending. "But you prefer," he
continued, "like most ladies, the modern Bacchic dance, the whirl, the
round, though what the old Puritans call promiscuous dancing of men and
women together was not, I fear, Greek----"

"I know nothing of the Greeks," said Bice. "Vienna is the best place for
the valse, but Greek--no, we never were there."

"I am thinking of classic terms," said MTutor with a smile, but he liked
her all the better for not knowing. "We have in vases and in sculpture
the most exquisite examples. You have never perhaps given your attention
to ancient art? I cannot quite agree with Mr. Alma Tadema on that point.
He is a great artist, but I don't think the wild leap of his dances is
sanctioned by anything we possess."

"Do not take wild leaps," said Bice, "but keep time. That is all you
require in a quadrille. Why does every one laugh and go wrong. But it is
a shame! One should not dance if one will not take the trouble. And why
does _he_ not do anything?" she said, in the pause between two figures,
suddenly coming in sight of Jock, who stood against the wall in their
sight, following her about with eyes over which his brows were curved
heavily; "he does not dance nor ride; he only looks on."

"He reads," said Mr. Derwentwater. "The boy will be a great scholar if
he keeps it up."

"One cannot read in society," said Bice. "Now, you must remember, you go
_that_ way; you do not come after me."

"I should prefer to come after you. That is the heavenly way when one
can follow such a leader. You remember what your own Dante----"

"Oh!" murmured Bice, with a long sigh of impatience, "I have no Dante. I
have a partner who will not give himself the pains--Now," she said, with
an emphatic little pat of her foot and movement of her hands. Her soul
was in the dance, though it was only the Lancers. With a slight line of
annoyance upon her forehead she watched his performance, taking upon
herself the responsibility, pushing him by his elbow when he went wrong,
or leading him in the right way. Mr. Derwentwater had thought to carry
off his mistakes with a laugh, but this was not Bice's way of thinking.
She made him a little speech when the dance was over.

"I think you are a great scholar too," she said; "but it will be well
that you should not come forward again with a lady to dance the Lancers,
for you cannot do it. And that will sometimes make a girl to have the
air of being also awkward, which is not just."

Mr. Derwentwater grew very red while this speech was making to him. He
was a man of great and varied attainments, and had any one told him that
he would blush about so trivial a matter as a Lancers----! But he grew
very red and almost stammered as he said with humility, "I am afraid I
am very deficient, but with you to guide me--Signorina, there is one
divine hour which I never forget--when you sang that evening. May I
call? May I see you for half an hour to-morrow?"

"Oh," said Bice, with a deep-drawn breath, "here is some one else coming
who does not dance very well! Talk to him about the Greek, and Lord
Montjoie will take me. To-morrow! oh yes, with pleasure," she said as
she took Montjoie's arm and darted away into the crowd. Montjoie was
all glowing and radiant with pride and joy.

"I thought I'd hang off and on and take my chance, don't you know? I
thought you'd soon get sick of that sort. You and I go together like two
birds. I have been watching you all this time, you and old Derwentwater.
What was that he said about to-morrow? I want to talk about to-morrow
too--unless, indeed to-night----"

"Oh, Lord Montjoie," cried Bice, "dance! It was not to talk you came
here, and you can dance better than you talk," she added, with that
candour which distinguished her. And Montjoie flew away with her rushing
and whirling. He could dance. It was almost his only accomplishment.



CHAPTER XLVI.

THE BALL CONTINUED.


Other eyes than those of her lovers followed Bice through this brilliant
scene. Sir Tom had been living a strange stagnant life since that day
before he left the Hall, when Lucy, innocently talking of Bice's English
parentage, had suddenly roused him to the question--Who was Bice, and
who her parents, English or otherwise? The suggestion was very sudden
and very simple, conveying in it no intended hint or innuendo. But it
came upon Sir Tom like a sudden thunderbolt, or rather like the firing
of some train that had been laid and prepared for explosion. The tenor
of his fears and suspicions has already been indicated. Nor has it ever
been concealed from the reader of this history that there were incidents
in Sir Tom's life upon which he did not look back with satisfaction, and
which it would have grieved him much to have revealed to his wife in her
simplicity and unsuspecting trust in him. One of these was a chapter of
existence so long past as to be almost forgotten, yet unforgettable,
which gave, when he thought of it, an instant meaning to the fact that a
half-Italian girl of English parentage on one side should have been
brought mysteriously, without warning or formal introduction, to his
house by the Contessa. From that time, as has been already said, the
disturbance in his mind was great. He could get no satisfaction one way
or another. But to-night his uneasiness had taken a new and unexpected
form. Should it so happen that Bice's identity with a certain poor baby,
born in Tuscany seventeen years before, might some day be proved, what
new cares, what new charge might it not place upon his shoulders? At
such a thought Sir Tom held his very breath.

The first result of such a possibility was, that he might find himself
to stand in a relationship to the girl for whom he had hitherto had a
careless liking and no more, which would change both his life and hers;
and already he watched her with uneasy eyes and with a desire to
interfere which bewildered him like a new light upon his own character.
He could scarcely understand how he had taken it all so lightly before
and interested himself so little in the fate of a young creature for
whom it would not be well to be brought up according to the Contessa's
canons, and follow her example in the world. He remembered, in the light
of this new possibility, the levity with which he had received his
wife's distress about Bice, and how lightly he had laughed at Lucy's
horror as to the Contessa's ideas of marriage, and of what her
_protégée_ was to do. He had said if they could catch any decent fellow
with money enough it was the best thing that could happen to the girl,
and that Bice would be no worse off than others, and that she herself,
after the training she had gone through, was very little likely to have
any delicacy on the subject. But when it had once occurred to him that
the girl of whom he spoke so lightly might be his own child, an
extraordinary change came over Sir Tom's views. He laughed no longer--he
became so uneasy lest something should be done or said to affect Bice's
good name, or throw her into evil hands, that his thoughts had circled
unquietly round the house in Mayfair, and he had spent far more of his
time there on the watch than he himself thought right. He knew very well
the explanation that would be given of those visits of his, and he did
not feel sure that some good-natured friends might not have already
suggested suspicion to Lucy, who had certainly been very strange since
their arrival in town. But he would not give up his watch, which was in
a way, he said to himself, his duty, if---- He followed the girl's
movements with disturbed attention, and would hurry into the Park to
ride by her, to shut out an unsuitable cavalier, and make little
lectures to her as to her behaviour with an embarrassed anxiety which
Bice could not understand but which amused more than it benefited the
Contessa, to whom this result of her mystification was the best fun in
the world. But it was not amusing to Sir Tom. He regarded the society of
men who gathered about the ladies with disgust. Montjoie was about the
best--he was not old enough to be much more than silly--but even
Montjoie was not a person whom he would himself choose to be closely
connected with. Then came the question: If it should turn out that she
was _that_ child, was it expedient that any one should know of it? Would
it be better for her to be known as Sir Thomas Randolph's daughter, even
illegitimate, or as the relative and dependent of the Forno-Populo? In
the one case, her interests would have no guardian at all; in the other,
what a shock it would give to his now-established respectability and the
confidence all men had in him, to make such a connection known. Turning
over everything in his thoughts, it even occurred to Sir Tom that it
would be better for him to confess an early secret marriage, and thus
save his own reputation and give to Bice a lawful standing ground. The
poor young mother was dead long ago; there could be no harm in such an
invention. Lucy could not be wounded by anything which happened so long
before he ever saw her. And Bice would be saved from all stigma; if only
it was Bice! if only he could be sure!

But Sir Tom, whose countenance had not the habit of expressing anything
but a large and humorous content, the careless philosophy of a happy
temper and easy mind, was changed beyond description by the surging up
of such thoughts. He became jealous and suspicious, watching Bice with a
constant impulse to interfere, and even--while disregarding all the
safeguards of his own domestic happiness for this reason--in his heart
condemned the girl because she was not like Lucy, and followed her
movements with a criticism which was as severe as that of the harshest
moralist.

Nobody in that lighthearted house could understand what had come over
the good Sir Tom, not even the Contessa, who after a manner knew the
reason, yet never imagined that the idea, which gave her a sort of
malicious pleasure, would have led to such a result. Sir Tom had always
been the most genial of hosts, but in his present state of mind even in
this respect he was not himself. He kept his eye on Bice with a
sternness of regard quite out of keeping with his character. If she
should flirt unduly, if she began to show any of those arts which made
the Contessa so fascinating, he felt, with a mingling of self-ridicule
which tickled him in spite of his seriousness, that nothing could keep
him from interposing. He had been charmed in spite of himself, even
while he saw through and laughed at the Contessa's cunning ways; but to
see them in a girl who might, for all he knew, have his own blood in her
veins was a very different matter. He felt it was in him to interpose
roughly, imperiously--and if he did so, would Bice care? She would turn
upon him with smiling defiance, or perhaps ask what right had he to
meddle in her affairs. Thus Sir Tom was so preoccupied that the change
in Lucy, the effort she made to go through her necessary duties, the
blotting out of all her simple kindness and brightness, affected him
only dully as an element of the general confusion, and nothing more.

But the Contessa, for her part, was radiant. She was victorious all
along the line. She had received Lucy's note informing her of the
provision she meant to make for Bice only that afternoon, and her heart
was dancing with the sense of wealth, of money to spend and endless
capability of pleasure. Whatever happened this was secure, and she had
already in the first hour planned new outlays which would make Lucy's
beneficence very little of a permanent advantage. But she said nothing
of it to Bice, who might (who could tell, girls being at all times
capricious) take into her little head that it was no longer necessary to
encourage Montjoie, on whom at present she looked complacently enough as
the probable giver of all that was best in life. This was almost enough
for one day; but the Contessa fully believed in the proverb that there
is nothing that succeeds like success, and had faith in her own
fortunate star for the other events of the evening. And she had been
splendidly successful. She had altogether vanquished the timid spirit of
the Duchess, that model of propriety. Her entry upon the London world
had been triumphant, and she had all but achieved the honours of the
drawing-room. Unless the Lord Chamberlain should interfere, and why
should he interfere? her appearance in the larger world of society would
be as triumphant as in Park Lane. Her beautiful eyes were swimming in
light, the glow of satisfaction and triumph. It fatigued her a little
indeed to play the part of a virtuous chaperon, and stand or sit in one
place all the evening, awaiting her _débutante_ between the dances,
talking with the other virtuous ladies in the same exercise of patience,
and smilingly keeping aloof from all participation at first hand in the
scene which would have helped to amuse her indeed, but interfered with
the fulfilment of her _rôle_. But she had internal happiness enough to
make up to her for her self-denial. She would order that set of pearls
for Bice and the emerald pendant for herself which had tempted her so
much, to-morrow. And the Duchess was to present her, and probably this
evening Montjoie would propose. Was it possible to expect in this world
a more perfect combination of successes?

Mr. Derwentwater went off somewhat discomfited to make a tour of the
rooms after the remorseless address of Bice. He tried to smile at the
mock severity of her judgment. He, no more than Montjoie, would believe
that she meant only what she said. This accomplished man of letters and
parts agreed, if in nothing else, in this, with the young fool of
quality, that such extreme candour and plain speaking was some subtle
Italian way of drawing an admirer on. He put it into finer words than
Montjoie could command, and said to himself that it was that mysterious
adorable feminine instinct which attracted by seeming to repel. And even
on a more simple explanation it was comprehensible enough. A girl who
attached so much importance to the accomplishments of society would
naturally be annoyed by the failure in these of one to whom she looked
up. A regret even moved his mind that he had not given more attention to
them in earlier days. It was perhaps foolish to neglect our
acquirements, which after all would not take very much trouble, and need
only be brought forward, as Dogberry says, when there was no need for
such vanities. He determined with a little blush at himself to note
closely how other men did, and so be able another time to acquit himself
to her satisfaction. And even her severity was sweet; it implied that he
was not to her what other men were, that even in the more trifling
accessories of knowledge she would have him to excel. If he had been
quite indifferent to her, why should she have taken this trouble? And
then that "To-morrow; with pleasure." What did it mean? That though she
would not give him her attention to-night, being devoted to her dancing
(which is what girls are brought up to in this strangely imperfect
system), she would do so on the earliest possible occasion. He went
about the room like a man in a dream, following everywhere with his eyes
that vision of beauty, and looking forward to the next step in his
life-drama with an intoxication of hope which he did not attempt to
subdue. He was indeed pleased to experience a _grande passion_. It was a
thing which completed the mental equipment of a man. Love--not humdrum
household affection, such as is all that is looked for when the
exigencies of life make a wife expedient, and with full calculation of
all he requires the man sets out to look for her and marry her. This was
very different, an all-mastering passion, disdainful of every obstacle.
To-morrow! He felt an internal conviction that, though Montjoie might
dance and answer for the amusement of an evening, that bright and
peerless creature would not hesitate as to who should be her guide for
life.

It was while he was thus roaming about in a state of great excitement
and a subdued ecstasy of anticipation, that he encountered Jock, who had
not been enjoying himself at all. At this great entertainment Jock had
been considered a boy, and no more. Even as a boy, had he danced there
might have been some notice taken of him, but he was incapable in this
way, and in no other could he secure any attention. At a party of a
graver kind there were often people who were well enough pleased to talk
to Jock, and from men who owed allegiance to his school a boy who had
distinguished himself and done credit to the old place was always sure
of notice. But then, though high up in Sixth Form, and capable of any
eminence in Greek verse, he was nobody; while a fellow like Montjoie,
who had never got beyond the rank of lower boy, was in the front of
affairs, the admired of all admirers, Bice's chosen partner and
companion. The mind develops with a bound when it has gone through such
an experience. Jock stood with his back against the wall, and watched
everything from under his eyebrows. Sometimes there was a glimmer as of
moisture in those eyes, half veiled under eyelids heavily curved and
puckered with wrath and pain, for he was very young, not much more than
a child, notwithstanding his manhood. But what with a keenness of
natural sight, and what with the bitter enlightening medium of that
moisture, Jock saw the reality of the scene more clearly than Mr.
Derwentwater, roaming about in his dream of anticipation, self-deceived,
was capable of doing. He caught sight of Jock in his progress, and,
though it was this sentiment which had separated them, its natural
effect was also to throw them together. MTutor paused and took up a
position by his pupil's side. "What a foolish scene considered
philosophically," he said; "and yet how many human interests in
solution, and floating adumbrations of human fate! I have been dancing,"
Mr. Derwentwater continued, with some solemnity and a full sense of the
superior position involved, "with, I verily believe, the most beautiful
creature in the world."

Jock looked up, fixing him with a critical, slightly cynical regard. He
had been well aware of Mr. Derwentwater's very ineffective performance,
and divined too clearly the sentiments of Bice not to feel all a
spectator's derision for this uncalled-for self-complacency; but he made
no remark.

"There is nothing trivial in the exercise in such a combination. I
incline to think that beauty is almost the greatest of all the
spectacles that Nature sets before us. The effect she has upon us is
greater than that produced by any other influence. You are perhaps too
young to have your mind awakened on such a subject----"

To hear this foolish wisdom pouring forth, while the listener felt at
every breath how his own bosom thrilled with an emotion too deep to be
put into words, with a passion, hopeless, ridiculous, to which no one
would accord any sympathy or comment but a laugh! Heaven and earth! and
all because a fellow was some dozen years older, thinking himself a man,
and you only a boy!

"----but you have a fine intelligence, and it can never be amiss for you
to approach a great subject on its most elevated side. She is not much
older than you are, Jock."

"She is not so old as I am. She is three months younger than I am,"
cried Jock, in his gruffest voice.

"And yet she is a revelation," said Mr. Derwentwater. "I feel that I am
on the eve of a great crisis in my being. You have always been my
favourite, my friend, though you are so much younger; and in this I feel
we are more than ever sympathetic. Jock, to-morrow--to-morrow I am to
see her, to tell her---- Come out on the balcony, there is no one there,
and the moonlight and the pure air of night are more fit for such heart
opening than this crowded scene."

"What are you going to tell her?" said Jock, with his eyebrows meeting
over his eyes and his back against the wall. "If you think she'll listen
to what you tell her! She likes Montjoie. It is not that he's rich and
that, but she likes him, don't you know, better than any of us. Oh, talk
about mysteries," cried Jock, turning his head away, conscious of that
moisture which half-blinded him, but which he could not get rid of, "how
can you account for that? She likes him, that fellow, better than either
you or me!"

Better than Jock; far better than this man, his impersonation of noble
manhood, whom the most levelling of all emotions, the more than Red
Republican Love, had suddenly brought down to, nay, below, Jock's
level--for not only was he a fool like Jock, but a hopeful fool, while
Jock had penetrated the fulness of despair, and dismissed all illusion
from his youthful bosom. The boy turned his head away, and the voice
which he had made so gruff quavered at the end. He felt in himself at
that moment all the depths of profound and visionary passion, something
more than any man ever was conscious of who had an object and a hope.
The boy had neither; he neither hoped to marry her nor to get a hearing,
nor even to be taken seriously. Not even the remorse of a serious
passion rejected, the pain of self-reproach, the afterthought of pity
and tenderness would be his. He would get a laugh, nothing more. That
schoolboy, that brother of Lady Randolph's, who does not leave school
for a year! He knew what everybody would say. And yet he loved her
better than any one of them! MTutor startled, touched, went after him as
Jock turned away, and linking his arm in his, said something of the
kind which one would naturally say to a boy. "My dear fellow, you don't
mean to tell me----? Come, Jock! This is but your imagination that
beguiles you. The heart has not learned to speak so soon," MTutor said,
leaning upon Jock's shoulder. The boy turned upon him with a fiery glow
in his eyes.

"What were you saying about dancing?" he said. "They seem to be making
up that Lancers business again."



CHAPTER XLVII.

NEXT MORNING.


"You have news to tell me, Bice mia?"

There was a faint daylight in the streets, a blueness of dawn as the
ladies drove home.

"Have I? I have amused myself very much. I am not fatigued, no. I could
continue as long--as long as you please," Bice answered, who was sitting
up in her corner with more bloom than at the beginning of the evening,
her eyes shining, a creature incapable of fatigue. The Contessa lay back
in hers, with a languor which was rather adapted to her _rôle_ as a
chaperon than rendered necessary by the fatigue she felt. If she had not
been amused, she was triumphant, and this supplied a still more
intoxicating exhilaration than that of mere pleasure.

"Darling!" she said, in her most expressive tone. She added a few
moments after, "But Lord Montjoie! He has spoken? I read it in his
face----"

"Spoken? He said a great deal--some things that made me laugh, some
things that were not amusing. After all he is perhaps a little stupid,
but to dance there is no one like him!"

"And you go together--to perfection----"

"Ah!" said Bice, with a long breath of pleasure, "when the people began
to go away, when there was room! Certainly we deserted our other
partners, both he and I. Does that matter in London? He says No."

"Not, my angel, if you are to marry."

"That was what he said," said Bice, with superb calm. "Now, I remember
that was what he said; but I answered that I knew nothing of
affairs--that it was to dance I wanted, not to talk; and that it was
you, Madama, who disposed of me. It seemed to amuse him," the girl said
reflectively. "Is it for that reason you kiss me? But it was he that
spoke, as you call it, not I."

"You are like a little savage," cried the Contessa. "Don't you care then
to make the greatest marriage, to win the prize, to settle everything
with no trouble, before you are presented or anything has been done at
all?"

"Is it settled then?" said Bice. She shrugged her shoulders a little
within her white cloak. "Is that all?--no more excitement, nothing to
look forward to, no tr-rouble? But it would have been more amusing if
there had been a great deal of tr-rouble," the girl said.

This was in the blue dawn, when the better portion of the world which
does not go to balls was fast asleep, the first pioneers of day only
beginning to stir about the silent streets, through which now and then
the carriage of late revellers like themselves darted abrupt with a
clang that had in it something of almost guilt. Twelve hours after, the
Contessa in her boudoir--with not much more than light enough to see the
flushed and happy countenance of young Montjoie, who had been on thorns
all the night and morning with a horrible doubt in his mind lest, after
all, Bice's careless reply might mean nothing more than that fine system
of drawing a fellow on--settled everything in the most delightful way.

"Nor is she without a sou, as perhaps you think. She has something that
will not bear comparison with your wealth, yet something--which has been
settled upon her by a relation. The Forno-Populi are not rich--but
neither are they without friends."

Montjoie listened to this with a little surprise and impatience. He
scarcely believed it, for one thing; and when he was assured that all
was right as to Bice herself, he cared but little for the Forno-Populi.
"I don't know anything about the sous. I have plenty for both," he said,
"that had a great deal better go to you, don't you know. She is all I
want. Bice! oh that's too foreign. I shall call her Bee, for she must be
English, don't you know, Countess, none of your Bohem--Oh, I don't mean
that; none of your foreign ways. They draw a fellow on, but when it's
all settled and we're married and that sort of thing, she'll have to be
out and out English, don't you know?"

"But that is reasonable," said the Contessa, who could when it was
necessary reply very distinctly. "When one has a great English name and
a position to keep up, one must be English. You shall call her what you
please."

"There's one thing more," Montjoie said with a little redness and
hesitation, but a certain dogged air, with which the Contessa had not as
yet made acquaintance. "It's best to understand each other, don't you
know; it's sort of hard-hearted to take her right away. But, Countess,
you're a woman of the world, and you know a fellow must start fair. You
keep all those sous you were talking of, and just let us knock along our
own way. I don't want the money, and I dare say you'll find a use for
it. And let's start fair; it'll be better for all parties, don't you
know," the young man said. He reddened, but he met the Contessa's eye
unflinchingly, though the effort to respond to this distinct statement
in the spirit in which it was made cost her a struggle. She stared at
him for a moment across the dainty little table laden with knick-knacks.
It was strange in the moment of victory to receive such a sudden
decisive defeat. There was just a possibility for a moment that this
brave spirit should own itself mere woman, and break down and cry. For
one second there was a quiver on her lip; then she smiled, which for
every purpose was the better way.

"You would like," she said, "to see Bice. She is in the little
drawing-room. The lawyers will settle the rest; but I understand your
suggestion, Lord Montjoie." She rose with all her natural stately grace,
which made the ordinary young fellow feel very small in spite of
himself. The smile she gave him had something in it that made his knees
knock together.

"I hope," he said, faltering, "you don't mind, Countess. My people,
though I've not got any people to speak of, might make themselves
disagreeable about--don't you know? you--you're a woman of the world."

The Contessa smiled upon him once more with dazzling sweetness. "She is
in the little drawing-room," she said.

And so it was concluded, the excitement, the tr-rouble, as Bice said; it
would have been far more amusing if there had been a great deal more
tr-rouble. The Contessa dropped down in the corner of the sofa from
which she had risen. She closed her eyes for the moment, and swallowed
the affront that had been put upon her, and what was worse than the
affront, the blow at her heart which this trifling little lord had
delivered without flinching. This was to be the end of her schemes, that
she was to be separated summarily and remorselessly from the child she
had brought up. The Contessa knew, being of the same order of being,
that, already somewhat disappointed to find the ardour of the chase over
and all the excitement of bringing down the quarry, Bice, who cared
little more about Montjoie than about any other likely person, would be
as ready as not to throw him off if she were to communicate rashly the
conditions on which he insisted. But, though she was of the same order
of being, the Contessa was older and wiser. She had gone through a great
many experiences. She knew that rich young English peers, marquises,
uncontrolled by any parent or guardians, were fruit that did not grow on
every bush, and that if this tide of fortune was not taken at its flood
there was no telling when another might come. Now, though Bice was so
dear, the Contessa had still a great many resources of her own, and was
neither old nor tired of life. She would make herself a new career even
without Bice, in which there might still be much interest--especially
with the aid of a settled income. The careless speech about the sous was
not without an eloquence of its own. Sous make everything that is
disagreeable less disagreeable, and everything that is pleasant more
pleasant. And she had got her triumph. She had secured for her Bice a
splendid lot. She had accomplished what she had vowed to do, which many
scoffers had thought she would never do. She was about to be presented
at the English Court, and all her soils and spots from the world cleared
from her, and herself rehabilitated wherever she might go. Was it
reasonable then to break her heart over Montjoie and his miserable
conditions? He could not separate Bice's love from her, though he might
separate their lives--and that about the sous was generous. She was not
one who would have sold her affections or given up anybody whom she
loved for money. But still there were many things to be said, and for
Bice's advantage what would she not do? The Contessa ended by a
resolution which many a better woman would not have had the courage to
make. She buried Montjoie's condition in her own heart--never to hint
its existence--to ignore it as if it had not been. Many a more
satisfactory person would have flinched at this. Most of us would at
least have allowed the object of our sacrifice to be aware what we were
doing for them. The Contessa did not even, so far as this, yield to the
temptation of fate.

In the meantime Bice had gone through her own little episode. Mr.
Derwentwater came about noon, before the Contessa was up; but he did not
know the Contessa's habits, and he was admitted, which neither Montjoie
nor any of the Contessa's friends would have been. He was overjoyed to
find the lady of his affections alone. This made everything, he thought,
simple and easy for him, and filled him with a delightful confidence
that she was prepared for the object of his visit and had contrived to
keep the Contessa out of the way. His heart was beating high, his mind
full of excitement. He took the chair she pointed him to, and then got
up again, poising his hat between his hands.

"Signorina," he said, "they say that a woman always knows the impression
she has made."

"Why do you call me Signorina?" said Bice. "Yes, it is quite right. But
then it is so long that I have not heard it, and it is only you that
call me so."

"Perhaps," said Mr. Derwentwater, with a little natural complacency,
"others are not so well acquainted with your beautiful country and
language. What should I call you? Ah, I know what I should like to call
you. _Beatrice, loda di deo vera._ You are like the supreme and sovran
lady whom every one must think of who hears your name."

Bice looked at him with a half-comic attention. "You are a very learned
man," she said, "one can see that. You always say something that is
pretty, that one does not understand."

This piqued the suitor a little and brought the colour to his cheek.
"Teach me," he said, "to make you understand me. If I could show you my
heart, you would see that from the first moment I saw you the name of
Bice has been written----"

"Oh, I know it already," cried Bice, "that you have a great devotion for
poetry. Unhappily I have no education. I know it so very little. But I
have found out what you mean about Bice. It is more soft than you say
it. There is no sound of _tch_ in it at all. Beeshè, like that. Your
Italian is very good," she added, "but it is Tuscan, and the _bocca
romana_ is the best."

Mr. Derwentwater was more put out than it became a philosopher to be. "I
came," he cried, with a kind of asperity, "for a very different purpose,
not to be corrected in my Italian. I came----" but here his feelings
were too strong for him, "to lay my life and my heart at your feet. Do
you understand me now? To tell you that I love you--no, that is not
enough, it is not love, it is adoration," he said. "I have never known
what it meant before. However fair women might be, I have passed them
by; my heart has never spoken. But now! Since the first moment I saw
you, Bice----"

The girl rose up; she became a little alarmed. Emotion was strange to
her, and she shrank from it. "I have given," she said, "to nobody
permission to call me by my name."

"But you will give it to me! to your true lover," he cried. "No one can
admire and adore you as much as I do. It was from the first moment.
Bice, oh, listen! I have nothing to offer you but love, the devotion of
a life. What could a king give more? A true man cannot think of anything
else when he is speaking to the woman he loves. Nothing else is worthy
to offer you. Bice, I love you! I love you! Have you nothing, nothing in
return to say to me?"

All his self-importance and intellectual superiority had abandoned him.
He was so much agitated that he saw her but dimly through the mists of
excitement and passion. He stretched out his hands appealing to her. He
might have been on his knees for anything he knew. It seemed incredible
to him that his strong passion should have no return.

"Have you nothing, nothing to say to me?" he cried.

Bice had been frightened, but she had regained her composure. She looked
on at this strange exhibition of feeling with the wondering calm of
extreme youth. She was touched a little, but more surprised than
anything else. She said, with a slight tremor, "I think it must be all a
mistake. One is never so serious--oh, never so serious! It is not
something of--gravity like that. Did not you know? I am intended to make
a marriage--to marry well, very well--what you call a great marriage. It
is for that I am brought here. The Contessa would never listen--Oh, it
is a mistake altogether--a mistake! You do not know what is my career.
It has all been thought of since I was born. Pray, pray, go away, and do
not say any more."

"Bice," he cried, more earnestly than ever, "I know. I heard that you
were to be sacrificed. Who is the lady who is going to sacrifice you to
Mammon? she is not your mother; you owe her no obedience. It is your
happiness, not hers, that is at stake. And I will preserve you from her.
I will guard you like my own soul; the winds of heaven shall not visit
your cheek roughly. I will cherish you; I will adore you. Come, only
come to me."

His voice was husky with emotion; his last words were scarcely audible,
said within his breath in a high strain of passion which had got beyond
his control. The contrast between this tremendous force of feeling and
her absolute youthful calm was beyond description. It was more wonderful
than anything ever represented on the tragic stage. Only in the depth
and mystery of human experience could such a wonderful juxtaposition be.

"Mr. Derwentwater," she said, trembling a little, "I cannot understand
you. Go away, oh, go away!"

"Bice!"

"Go away, oh, go away! I am not able to bear it; no one is ever so
serious. I am not great enough, nor old enough. Don't you know," cried
Bice, with a little stamp of her foot, "I like the other way best? Oh,
go away, go away!"

He stood quiet, silently gazing at her till he had regained his power of
speech, which was not for a moment or two. Then he said hoarsely, "You
like--the other way best?"

She clasped her hands together with a mingling of impatience and wonder
and rising anger. "I am made like that," she cried. "I don't know how to
be so serious. Oh, go away from me. You tr-rouble me. I like the other
best."

He never knew how he got out of the strange, unnatural atmosphere of the
house in which he seemed to leave his heart behind him. The perfumes,
the curtains, the half lights, the blending draperies, were round him
one moment; the next he found himself in the greenness of the Park, with
the breeze blowing in his face, and his dream ended and done with.

He had a kind of vision of having touched the girl's reluctant hand, and
even of having seen a frightened look in her eyes as if he had awakened
some echo or touched some string whose sound was new to her. But if that
were so, it was not he, but only some discovery of unknown feeling that
moved her. When he came to himself, he felt that all the innocent
morning people in the Park, the children with their maids, the sick
ladies and old men sunning themselves on the benches, the people going
about their honest business, cast wondering looks at his pale face and
the agitation of his aspect. He took a long walk, he did not know how
long, with that strange sense that something capital had happened to
him, something never to be got over or altered, which follows such an
incident in life. He was even conscious by and by, habit coming to his
aid, of a curious question in his mind if this was how people usually
felt after such a wonderful incident--a thing that had happened quite
without demonstration, which nobody could ever know of, yet which made
as much change in him as if he had been sentenced to death. Sentenced to
death! that was what it felt like more or less. It had happened, and
could never be undone, and he walked away and away, but never got beyond
it, with the chain always round his neck. When he got into the streets
where nobody took any notice of him, it struck him with surprise, almost
offence. Was it possible that they did not see that something had
happened--a mystery, something that would never be shaken off but with
life?

He met Jock as he walked, and without stopping gave him a sort of
ghastly smile, and said, "You were right; she likes that best," and went
on again, with a sense that he might go on for ever like the wandering
Jew, and never get beyond the wonder and the pain.

And there is no doubt that Bice was glad to hear Montjoie's laugh, and
the nonsense he talked, and to throw off that sudden impression which
had frightened her. What was it? Something which was in life, but which
she had not met with before. "We are to have it all our own way, don't
you know?" Montjoie said. "I have no people, to call people, and she is
not going to interfere. We shall have it all our own way, and have a
good time, as the Yankees say. And I am not going to call you Bice,
which is a silly sort of name, and spells quite different from its
pronunciation. What are you holding back for? You have no call to be shy
with me now. Bee, you belong to me now, don't you know?" the young
fellow said, with demonstrations from which Bice shrunk a little. She
liked, yes, his way; but, but yet--she was perhaps a little savage, as
the Contessa said.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

THE LAST BLOW.


Lucy stood out stoutly to the last gasp. She did not betray herself,
except by the paleness, the seriousness which she could not banish from
her countenance. Her guests thought that Lady Randolph must be ill, that
she was disguising a bad headache, or even something more serious, under
the smile with which she received them. "I am sure you ought to be in
bed," the older ladies said, and when they took their leave of her,
after their congratulations as to the success of the evening, they all
repeated this in various tones. "I am sure you are quite worn out; I
shall send in the morning to ask how you are," the Duchess said. Lucy
listened to everything with a smile which was somewhat set and painful.
She was so worn out with emotion and pain that at last neither words nor
looks made much impression upon her. She saw the Contessa and Bice
stream by to their carriage with a circle of attendants, still in all
the dazzle and flash of their triumph; and after that the less important
crowd, the insignificant people who lingered to the last, the girls who
would not give up a last waltz, and the men who returned for a final
supper, swam in her dazed eyes. She stood at the door mechanically
shaking hands and saying "Good-night." The Dowager, moved by curiosity,
anxiety, perhaps by pity, kept by her till a late hour, though Lucy was
scarcely aware of it. When she went away at last, she repeated with
earnestness and a certain compunction the advice of the other ladies.
"You don't look fit to stand," she said. "If you will go to bed I will
wait till all these tiresome people are gone. You have been doing too
much, far too much." "It does not matter," Lucy said, in her
semi-consciousness hearing her own voice like something in a dream. "Oh,
my dear, I am quite unhappy about you!" Lady Randolph cried. "If you are
thinking of what I told you, Lucy, perhaps it may not be true." There
was a bevy of people going away at that moment, and she had to shake
hands with them. She waited till they were gone and then turned, with a
laugh that frightened the old lady, towards her.

"You should have thought of that before," she said. Perhaps it might not
be true! Can heaven be veiled and the pillars of the earth pulled down
by a perhaps? The laugh sounded even to herself unnatural, and the elder
Lady Randolph was frightened by it, and stole away almost without
another word. When everybody was gone Sir Tom stood by her in the
deserted rooms, with all the lights blazing and the blue day coming in
through the curtains, as grave and as pale as she was. They did not look
like the exhausted yet happy entertainers of the (as yet) most
successful party of the season. Lucy could scarcely stand and could not
speak at all, and he seemed little more fit for those mutual
congratulations, even the "Thank heaven it is well over," with which the
master and the mistress of the house usually salute each other in such
circumstances. They stood at different ends of the room, and made no
remark. At last, "I suppose you are going to bed," Sir Tom said. He came
up to her in a preoccupied way. "I shall go and smoke a cigar first, and
it does not seem much good lighting a candle for you." They both looked
somewhat drearily at the daylight, now no longer blue, but rosy. Then
he laid his hand upon her shoulder. "You are dreadfully tired, Lucy, and
I think there has been something the matter with you these few days. I'd
ask you what it was, but I'm dead beat, and you are dreadfully tired
too." He stopped and kissed her forehead, and took her hand in his in a
sort of languid way. "Good-night; go to bed my poor little woman," he
said.

It is terrible to be wroth with those we love. Anger against them is
deadly to ourselves. It "works like madness in the brain;" it involves
heaven and earth in a gloom that nothing can lighten. But when that
anger being just, and such as we must not depart from, is crossed by
those unspeakable relentings, those quick revivals of love, those sudden
touches of tenderness that carry all before them, what anguish is equal
to those bitter sweetnesses? Lucy felt this as she stood there with her
husband's hand upon her shoulder, in utter fatigue, and broken down in
all her faculties. Through all those dark and bitter mists which rose
about her, his voice broke like a ray of light: her timid heart sprang
up in her bosom and went out to him with an _abandon_ which, but for the
extreme physical fatigue which produces a sort of apathy, must have
broken down everything. For a moment she swayed towards him as if she
would have thrown herself upon his breast.

When this movement comes to both the estranged persons, there follows a
clearing away of difficulties, a revolution of the heart, a
reconciliation when that is possible, and sometimes when it is not
possible. But it very seldom happens that this comes to both at the same
time. Sir Tom remained unmoved while his wife had that sudden access of
reawakened tenderness. He was scarcely aware even how far she had been
from him, and now was quite unaware how near. His mind was full of cares
and doubts, and an embarrassing situation which he could not see how to
manage. He was not even aware that she was moved beyond the common. He
took his hand from her shoulder, and without another word let her go
away.

Oh, those other words that are never spoken! They are counterbalanced in
the record of human misfortune by the many other words which are too
much, which should never have been spoken at all. Thus all explanation,
all ending of the desperate situation, was staved off for another night.

Lucy woke next morning in a kind of desperation. No new event had
happened, but she could not rest. She felt that she must do something or
die, and what could she do? She spent the early morning in the nursery,
and then went out. This time she was reasonable, not like that former
time when she went out to the city. She knew very well now that nothing
was to be gained by walking or by jolting in a disagreeable cab. On the
former occasion that had been something of a relief to her; but not now.
It is scarcely so bad when some out-of-the-way proceeding like this,
some strange thing to be done, gives the hurt and wounded spirit a
little relief. She had come to the further stage now when she knew that
nothing of the sort could give any relief; nothing but mere dull
endurance, going on, and no more. She drove to Mr. Chervil's office
quietly, as she might have gone anywhere, and thus, though it seems
strange to say so, betrayed a deeper despair than before. She took with
her a list of names with sums written opposite. There was enough there
put down to make away with a large fortune. This one so much, that one
so much. This too was an impulse of the despair in her mind. She was
carrying out her father's will in a lump. It meant no exercise of
discrimination, no careful choice of persons to be benefited, such as he
had intended, but only a hurried rush at a duty which she had neglected,
a desire to be done with it. Lucy was on the eve, she felt, of some
great change in her life. She could not tell what she might be able to
do after; whether she should live through it or bring her mind and
memory unimpaired through it, or think any longer of anything that had
once been her duty. She would get it done while she could. She was very
sensible that the money she had given to Bice was not in accordance with
what her father would have wished: neither were these perhaps. She could
not tell, she did not care. At least it would be done with, and could
not be done over again.

"Lady Randolph," said Mr. Chervil, in dismay, "have you any idea of the
sum you are--throwing away?"

"I have no idea of any sum," said Lucy, gently, "except just the money I
spend, so much in my purse. But you have taught me how to calculate, and
that so much would--make people comfortable. Is not that what you said?
Well, if it was not you, it was--I do not remember. When I first got the
charge of this into my hands----"

"Lady Randolph, you cannot surely think what you are doing. At the
worst," said the distressed trustee, "this was meant to be a fund
for--beneficence all your life: not to be squandered away, thousands and
thousands in a day----"

"Is it squandered when it gives comfort--perhaps even happiness? And
how do you know how long my life may last? It may be over--in a day----"

"You are ill," said the lawyer. "I thought so the moment I saw you. I
felt sure you were not up to business to-day."

"I don't think I am ill," said Lucy; "a little tired, for I was late
last night--did not you know we had a ball, a very pretty ball?" she
added, with a curious smile, half of gratification, half of mockery. "It
was a strange thing to have, perhaps, just--at this moment."

"A very natural thing," said Mr. Chervil. "I am glad to know it; you are
so young, Lady Randolph, pardon me for saying so."

"It was not for me," said Lucy; "it was for a young lady--my
husband's----"

Was she going out of her senses? What was she about to say?

"A relation?" said Mr. Chervil. "Perhaps the young lady for whom you
interested yourself so much in a more important way? They are fortunate,
Lady Randolph, who have you for a friend."

"Do you think so? I don't know that any one thinks so." She recovered
herself a little and pointed to the papers. "You will carry that out,
please. I may be going away. I am not quite sure of my movements. As
soon as you can you will carry this out."

"Going away--at the beginning of the season!"

"Oh, there is nothing settled; and besides you know life--life is very
insecure."

"At your age it is very seldom one thinks so," said the lawyer, at which
she smiled only, then rose up, and without any further remark went away.
He saw her to her carriage, not now with any recollection of the
pleasant show and the exhibition of so fine a client to the admiration
of his neighbours. He had a heart after all, and daughters of his own;
and he was troubled more than he could say. He stood bare-headed and saw
her drive away, with a look of anxiety upon his face. Was it the same
bee in her bonnet which old Trevor had shown so conspicuously? was it
eccentricity verging upon madness? He went back to his office and wrote
to Sir Tom, enclosing a copy of Lucy's list. "I must ask your advice in
the matter instead of offering you mine," he wrote. "Lady Randolph has a
right, of course, if she chooses to press matters to an extremity, but I
can't fancy that this is right."

Lucy went home still in the same strange excitement of mind. All had
been executed that was in her programme. She had gone through it without
flinching. The ball--that strange, frivolous-tragic effort of
despair--it was over, thank heaven! and Bice had got full justice in
her--was it in her--father's house? She could not have been introduced
to greater advantage, Lucy thought, with a certain forlorn, simple
pride, had she been Sir Tom's acknowledged daughter. Oh, not to so much
advantage! for the Contessa, her guardian, her----was far more skilful
than Lucy ever could have been. Bice had got her triumph; nothing had
been neglected. And the other business was in train--the disposing of
the money. She had made her wishes fully known, and even taken great
trouble, calculating and transcribing to prevent any possibility of a
mistake. And now, now the moment had come, the crisis of life when she
must tell her husband what she had heard, and say to him that this
existence could not go on any longer. A man could not have two lives.
She did not mean to upbraid him. What good would it do to upbraid? none,
none at all; that would not make things as they were again, or return
to her him whom she had lost. She had not a word to say to him, except
that it was impossible--that it could not go on any more.

To think that she should have this to say to him made everything dark
about her as Lucy went home. She felt as if the world must come to an
end to-night. All was straightforward, now that the need of
self-restraint was over. She contemplated no delay or withdrawal from
her position. She went in to accomplish this dark and miserable
necessity like a martyr going to the cross. She would go and see baby
first, who was his boy as well as hers. Sir Tom no doubt would be in his
library, and would come out for luncheon after a while, but not until
she had spoken. But first she would go, just for a little needful
strength, and kiss her boy.

Fletcher met her at the head of the stairs.

"Oh, if you please, my lady--not to hurry you or frighten you--but nurse
says please would you step in and look at baby."

Suddenly, in a moment, Lucy's whole being changed. She forgot
everything. Her languor disappeared and her fatigue. She sprang up to
where the woman was standing. "What is it? is he ill? Is it the old----"
She hurried along towards the nursery as she spoke.

"No, my lady, nothing he has had before; but nurse thinks he looks--oh,
my lady, there will be nothing to be frightened about--we have sent for
the doctor."

Lucy was in the room where little Tom was, before Fletcher had finished
what she was saying. The child was seated on his nurse's knee. His eyes
were heavy, yet blazing with fever. He was plucking with his little hot
hands at the woman's dress, flinging himself about her, from one arm,
from one side to the other. When he saw his mother he stretched out
towards her. Just eighteen months old; not able to express a thought;
not much, you will say, perhaps, to change to a woman the aspect of
heaven and earth. She took him into her arms without a word, and laid
her cheek--which was so cool, fresh with the morning air, though her
heart was so fevered and sick--against the little cheek, which burned
and glowed. "What is it? Can you tell what it is?" she said in a whisper
of awe. Was it God Himself who had stepped in--who had come to
interfere?

Then the baby began to wail with that cry of inarticulate suffering
which is the most pitiful of all the utterances of humanity. He could
not tell what ailed him. He looked with his great dazed eyes pitifully
from one to another as if asking them to help him.

"It is the fever, my lady," said the nurse. "We have sent for the
doctor. It may not be a bad attack."

Lucy sat down, her limbs failing her, her heart failing her still more,
her bonnet and out-door dress cumbering her movements, the child tossing
and restless in her arms. This was not the form his ailments had ever
taken before. "Do you know what is to be done? Tell me what to do for
him," she said.

There was a kind of hush over all the house. The servants would not
admit that anything was wrong until their mistress should come home. As
soon as she was in the nursery and fully aware of the state of affairs,
they left off their precautions. The maids appeared on the staircases
clandestinely as they ought not to have done. Mrs. Freshwater herself
abandoned her cosy closet, and declared in an impressive voice that no
bell must be rung for luncheon--nor anything done that could possibly
disturb the blessed baby, she said as she gave the order. And Williams
desired to know what was preparing for Mr. Randolph's dinner, and
announced his intention of taking it up himself. The other meal, the
lunch, in the dining-room, was of no importance to any one. If he could
take his beef-tea it would do him good, they all said.

It seemed as if a long time passed before the doctor came; from Sir Tom
to the youngest kitchen-wench, the scullery-maid, all were in suspense.
There was but one breath, long drawn and stifled, when he came into the
house. He was a long time in the nursery, and when he came out he went
on talking to those who accompanied him. "You had better shut off this
part of the house altogether," he was saying, "hang a sheet over this
doorway, and let it be always kept wet. I will send in a person I can
rely upon to take the night. You must not let Lady Randolph sit up." He
repeated the same caution to Sir Tom, who came out with a bewildered air
to hear what he had said. Sir Tom was the only one who had taken no
fright. "Highly infectious," the Doctor said. "I advise you to send away
every one who is not wanted. If Lady Randolph could be kept out of the
room so much the better, but I don't suppose that is possible; anyhow,
don't let her sit up. She is just in the condition to take it. It would
be better if you did not go near the child yourself; but, of course, I
understand how difficult that is. Parents are a nuisance in such cases,"
the Doctor said, with a smile which Sir Tom thought heartless, though it
was intended to cheer him. "It is far better to give the little patient
over to scientific unemotional care."

"But you don't mean to say that there is danger, Doctor," cried Sir Tom.
"Why, the little beggar was as jolly as possible only this morning."

"Oh, we'll pull him through, we'll pull him through," the good-natured
Doctor said. He preferred to talk all the time, not to be asked
questions, for what could he say? Nurse looked very awful as she went
upstairs, charged with private information almost too important for any
woman to contain. She stopped at the head of the stairs to whisper to
Fletcher, shaking her head the while, and Fletcher, too, shook her head
and whispered to Mrs. Freshwater that the doctor had a very bad opinion
of the case. Poor little Tom had got to be "the case" all in a moment.
And "no constitution" they said to each other under their breath.

Thus the door closed upon Lucy and all her trouble. She forgot it clean,
as if it never had existed. Everything in the world in one moment became
utterly unimportant to her, except the fever in those heavy eyes. She
reflected dimly, with an awful sense of having forestalled fate, that
she had made a pretence that he was ill to shield herself that night,
the first night after their arrival. She had said he was ill when all
was well. And lo! sudden punishment scathing and terrible had come to
her out of the angry skies.



CHAPTER XLIX.

THE EXPERIENCES OF BICE.


Sir Tom was concerned and anxious, but not alarmed like the women. After
all it was a complaint of which children recovered every day. It had
nothing to do with the child's lungs, which had been enfeebled by his
former illness. He had as good a chance as any other in the present
malady. Sir Tom was much depressed for an hour or two, but when
everything was done that could be done, and an experienced woman arrived
to whom the "case," though "anxious," as she said, did not appear
immediately alarming, he forced his mind to check that depression, and
to return to the cares which, if less grave, harassed and worried him
more. Lucy was invisible all day. She spoke to him through the closed
door from behind the curtain, but in a voice which he could scarcely
hear and which had no tone of individuality in it, but only a faint
human sound of distress. "He is no better. They say we cannot expect him
to be better," she said. "Come down, dear, and have some dinner," said
the round and large voice of Sir Tom, which even into that stillness
brought a certain cheer. But as it sounded into the shut-up room, where
nobody ventured to speak above their breath, it was like a bell pealing
or a discharge of artillery, something that broke up the quiet, and
made, or so the poor mother thought, the little patient start in his
uneasy bed. Dinner! oh how could he ask it, how could he think of it?
Sir Tom went away with a sigh of mingled uneasiness and impatience. He
had always thought Lucy a happy exception to the caprices and vagaries
of womankind. He had hoped that she was without nerves, as she had
certainly been without those whims that amuse a man in other people's
wives, but disgust him in his own. Was she going to turn out just like
the rest, with extravagant terrors, humours, fancies--like all of them?
Why should not she come to dinner, and why speak to him only from behind
the closed door? He was annoyed and almost angry with Lucy. There had
been something the matter, he reflected, for some time. She had taken
offence at something; but surely the appearance of a real trouble might,
at least, have made an end of that. He felt vexed and impatient as he
sat down with Jock alone. "You will have to get out of this, my boy," he
said, "or they won't let you go back to school; don't you know it's
catching?" To have infection in one's house, and to be considered
dangerous by one's friends, is always irritating. Sir Tom spoke with a
laugh, but it was a laugh of offence. "I ought to have thought of it
sooner," he said; "you can't go straight to school, you know, from a
house with fever in it. You must pack up and get off at once."

"I am not afraid," cried Jock. "Do you think I am such a cad as to leave
Lucy when she's in trouble? or--or--the little one either?" Jock added,
in a husky voice.

"We are all cads in that respect nowadays," said Sir Tom. "It is the
right thing. It is high principle. Men will elbow off and keep me at a
distance, and not a soul will come near Lucy. Well, I suppose, it's all
right. But there is some reason in it, so far as you are concerned.
Come, you must be off to-night. Get hold of MTutor, he's still in town,
and ask him what you must do."

After dinner Sir Tom strolled forth. He did not mean to go out, but the
house was intolerable, and he was very uneasy on the subject of Bice. It
felt, indeed, something like a treason to Lucy, shut up in the child's
sick-room, to go to the house which somehow or other was felt to be in
opposition, and dimly suspected as the occasion of her changed looks and
ways. He did not even say to himself that he meant to go there. And it
was not any charm in the Contessa that drew him. It was that uneasy
sense of a possibility which involved responsibility, and which,
probably, he would never either make sure of or get rid of. The little
house in Mayfair was lighted from garret to basement. If the lights were
dim inside they looked bright without. It had the air of a house
overflowing with life, every room with its sign of occupation. When he
got in, the first sight he saw was Montjoie striding across the doorway
of the small dining-room. Montjoie was very much at home, puffing his
cigarette at the new comer. "Hallo, St. John!" he cried, then added with
a tone of disappointment, "Oh! it's you."

"It is I, I'm sorry to say, as you don't seem to like it," said Sir Tom.

The young fellow looked a little abashed. "I expected another fellow.
That's not to say I ain't glad to see you. Come in and have a glass of
wine."

"Thank you," said Sir Tom. "I suppose as you are smoking the ladies are
upstairs."

"Oh, they don't mind," said Montjoie; "at least the Contessa, don't you
know? She's up to a cigarette herself. I shouldn't stand it," he added,
after a moment, "in--Mademoiselle. Oh, perhaps you haven't heard. She
and I--have fixed it all up, don't you know?"

"Fixed it all up?"

"Engaged, and that sort of thing. I'm a kind of boss in this house now.
I thought, perhaps, that was why you were coming, to hear all about it,
don't you know?"

"Engaged!" cried Sir Tom, with a surprise in which there was no
qualification. He felt disposed to catch the young fellow by the throat
and pitch him out of doors.

"You don't seem over and above pleased," said Montjoie, throwing away
his cigarette, and confronting Sir Tom with a flush of defiance. They
stood looking at each other for a moment, while Antonio, in the
background, watched at the foot of the stairs, not without hopes of a
disturbance.

"I don't suppose that my pleasure or displeasure matters much: but you
will pardon me if I pass, for my visit was to the Contessa," Sir Tom
said, going on quickly. He was in an irritable state of mind to begin
with. He thought he ought to have been consulted, even as an old friend,
much more as---- And the young ass was offensive. If it turned out that
Sir Tom had anything to do with it Montjoie should find that to be the
best _parti_ of the season was not a thing that would infallibly
recommend him to a father at least. The Contessa had risen from her
chair at the sound of the voices. She came forward to Sir Tom with both
her hands extended as he entered the drawing-room. "Dear old friend!
congratulate me. I have accomplished all I wished," she said.

"That was Montjoie," said Sir Tom. He laughed, but not with his usual
laugh. "No great ambition, I am afraid. But," he said, pressing those
delicate hands not as they were used to be pressed, with a hard
seriousness and imperativeness, "you must tell me! I must have an
explanation. There can be no delay or quibbling longer."

"You hurt me, sir," she said with a little cry, and looked at her hands,
"body and mind," she added, with one of her smiles. "Quibbling--that is
one of your English words a woman cannot be expected to understand. Come
then with me, barbarian, into my boudoir."

Bice sat alone somewhat pensively with one of those favourite Tauchnitz
volumes from which she had obtained her knowledge of English life in her
hand. It was contraband, which made it all the dearer to her. She was
not reading, but leaning her chin against it lost in thought. She was
not pining for the presence of Montjoie, but rather glad after a long
afternoon of him that he should prefer a cigarette to her company. She
felt that this was precisely her own case, the cigarette being
represented by the book or any other expedient that answered to cover
the process of thought.

Bice was not used to these processes. Keen observation of the ways of
mankind in all the strange exhibitions of them which she had seen in her
life had been the chief exercise of her lively intelligence. To Mr.
Derwentwater, perhaps, may be given the credit of having roused the
girl's mind, not indeed to sympathy with himself, but into a kind of
perturbation and general commotion of spirit. Events were crowding
quickly upon her. She had accepted one suitor and refused another within
the course of a few hours. Such incidents develop the being; not,
perhaps, the first in any great degree--but the second was not in the
programme, and it had perplexed and roused her. There had come into her
mind glimmerings, reflections, she could not tell what. Montjoie was
occupied in something of the same manner downstairs, thinking it all
over with his cigarette, wondering what Society and what his uncle would
say, for whom he had a certain respect. He said to himself on the whole
that he did not care that for Society! She suited him down to the
ground. She was the jolliest girl he had ever met, besides being so
awfully handsome. It was worth while going out riding with her just to
see how the fellows stared and the women grew green with envy; or coming
into a room with her, Jove! what a sensation she would make, and how
everybody would open their eyes when she appeared blazing in the
Montjoie diamonds! His satisfaction went a little deeper than this, to
do him justice. He was, in his way, very much in love with the beautiful
creature whom he had made up his mind to secure from the first moment he
saw her. But, perhaps, if it had not been for the triumph of her
appearance at Park Lane, and the hum of admiration and wonder that rose
around her, he would not have so early fixed his fate; and the shadow of
the uncle now and then came like a cloud over his glee. After the sudden
gravity with which he remembered this, there suddenly gleamed upon him a
vision of all his plain cousins gathering round his bride to scowl her
down, and blast her with criticism and disapproval, which made him burst
into a fit of laughter. Bice would hold her own; she would give as good
as she got. She was not one to be cowed or put down, wasn't Bee! He felt
himself clapping his hands and urging her on to the combat, and
celebrated in advance with a shout of laughter the discomfiture of all
those young ladies. But she should have nothing more to do with the
Forno-Populo. No; his wife should have none of that sort about her. What
did old Randolph mean always hanging about that old woman, and all the
rest of the old fogeys? It was fun enough so long as you had nothing to
do with them, but, by Jove, not for Lady Montjoie. Then he rushed
upstairs to shower a few rough caresses upon Bice and take his leave of
her, for he had an evening engagement formed before he was aware of the
change which was coming in his life. He had been about her all the
afternoon, and Bice, disturbed in her musings by this onslaught and
somewhat impatient of the caresses, beheld his departure with
satisfaction. It was the first evening since their arrival in town,
which the ladies had planned to spend alone.

And then she recommenced these thinkings which were not so easy as those
of her lover: but she was soon subject to another inroad of a very
different kind. Jock, who had never before come in the evening, appeared
suddenly unannounced at the door of the room with a pale and heavy
countenance. Though Bice had objected to be disturbed by her lover, she
did not object to Jock; he harmonised with the state of her mind, which
Montjoie did not. It seemed even to relieve her of the necessity of
thinking when he appeared--he who did thinking enough, she felt, with
half-conscious humour, for any number of people. He came in with a sort
of eagerness, yet weariness, and explained that he had come to say
good-bye, for he was going off--at once.

"Going off! but it is not time yet," Bice said.

"Because of the fever. But that is not altogether why I have come
either," he said, looking at her from under his curved eyebrows. "I have
got something to say."

"What fever?" she said, sitting upright in her chair.

Jock took no notice of the question; his mind was full of his own
purpose. "Look here," he said huskily, "I know you'll never speak to me
again. But there's something I want to say. We've been friends----"

"Oh yes," she said, raising her head with a gleam of frank and cordial
pleasure, "good friends--_camarades_--and I shall always, always speak
to you. You were my first friend."

"That is" said Jock, taking no notice, "you were--friends. I can't tell
what I was. I don't know. It's something very droll. You would laugh, I
suppose. But that's not to the purpose either. You wouldn't have
Derwentwater to-day."

Bice looked up with a half laugh. She began to consider him closely with
her clear-sighted penetrating eyes, and the agitation under which Jock
was labouring impressed the girl's quick mind. She watched every change
of his face with a surprised interest, but she did not make any reply.

"I never expected you would. I could have told him so. I did tell him
you liked the other best. They say that's common with women," Jock said
with a little awe, "when they have the choice offered, that it is always
the worst they take."

But still Bice did not reply. It was a sort of carrying out without any
responsibility of hers, the vague wonder and questionings of her own
mind. She had no responsibility in what Jock said. She could even
question and combat it cheerfully now that it was presented to her from
outside, but for the moment she said nothing to help him on, and he did
not seem to require it, though he paused from time to time.

"This is what I've got to say," Jock went on almost fiercely. "If you
take Montjoie it's a mistake. He looks good-natured and all that; he
looks easy to get on with. You hear me out, and then I'll go away and
never trouble you again. He is not--a nice fellow. If you were to go and
do such a thing as--marry him, and then find it out! I want you to know.
Perhaps you think it's mean of me to say so, like sneaking, and perhaps
it is. But, look here, I can't help it. Of course you would laugh at
me--any one would. I'm a boy at school. I know that as well as you
do----" Something got into Jock's voice so that he paused, and made a
gulp before he could go on. "But, Bice, don't have that fellow. There
are such lots; don't have _him_. I don't think I could stand it," Jock
cried. "And look here, if it's because the Contessa wants money, I have
some myself. What do I want with money? When I am older I shall work.
There it is for you, if you like. But don't--have that fellow. Have a
good fellow, there are plenty--there are fellows like Sir Tom. He is a
good man. I should not," said Jock, with a sort of sob, which came in
spite of himself, and which he did not remark even, so strong was the
passion in him. "I should not--mind. I could put up with it then. So
would Derwentwater. But, Bice----"

She had risen up, and so had he. They were neither of them aware of it.
Jock had lost consciousness, perception, all thought of anything but her
and this that he was urging upon her. While as for Bice the tide had
gone too high over her head. She felt giddy in the presence of something
so much more powerful than any feeling she had ever known, and yet
gazed at him half alarmed, half troubled as she was, with a perception
that could not be anything but humorous of the boy's voice sounding so
bass and deep, sometimes bursting into childish, womanish treble, and
the boy's aspect which contrasted so strongly with the passion in which
he spoke. When Sir Tom's voice made itself audible, coming from the
boudoir in conversation with the Contessa, the effect upon the two thus
standing in a sort of mortal encounter was extraordinary. Bice straining
up to the mark which he was setting before her, bewildered with the
flood on which she was rising, sank into ease again and a mastery of the
situation, while Jock, worn out and with a sense that all was over, sat
down abruptly, and left, as it were, the stage clear.

"The poor little man is rather bad, I fear," said Sir Tom, coming
through the dim room. There was something in his voice, an easier tone,
a sound of relief. How had the Contessa succeeded in cheering him? "And
what is worse (for he will do well I hope) is the scattering of all her
friends from about Lucy. I am kept out of it, and it does not matter,
you see; but she, poor little woman,"--his voice softened as he named
her with a tone of tenderness--"nobody will go near her," he said.

The Contessa gave a little shiver, and drew about her the loose shawl
she wore. "What can we say in such a case? It is not for us, it is for
those around us. It is a risk for so many----"

"My aunt," said Sir Tom, "would be her natural ally; but I know Lady
Randolph too well to think of that. And there is Jock, whom we are
compelled to send away. We shall be like two crows all alone in the
house."

"Is it this you told me of, fever?" cried Bice, turning to Jock. "But it
is I that will go--oh, this moment! It is no tr-rouble. I can sit up. I
never am sleepy. I am so strong nothing hurts me. I will go directly,
now."

"You!" they all cried, but the Contessa's tones were most high. She made
a protest full of indignant virtue.

"Do you think," she said, "if I had but myself to think of that I would
not fly to her? But, child in your position! _fiancée_ only to-day--with
all to do, all to think of, how could I leave you? Oh, it is impossible;
my good Lucy, who is never unreasonable, she will know it, she will
understand. Besides, to what use, my Bice? She has nurses for day and
night. She has her dear husband, her good husband, to be with her. What
does a woman want more? You would be _de trop_. You would be out of
place. It would be a trouble to them. It would be a blame to me. And you
would take it, and bring it back and spread it, Bice--and perhaps Lord
Montjoie----"

Bice looked round her bewildered from one to another.

"Should I be _de trop_?" she said, turning to Sir Tom with anxious eyes.

Sir Tom looked at her with an air of singular emotion. He laid his hand
caressingly on her shoulder: "_De trop_? no; never in my house. But that
is not the question. Lucy will be cheered when she knows that you wanted
to come. But what the Contessa says is true; there are plenty of
nurses--and my wife--has me, if I am any good; and we would not have you
run any risk----"

"In her position!" cried the Contessa; "_fiancée_ only to-day. She owes
herself already to Lord Montjoie, who would never consent, never; it is
against every rule. Speak to her, _mon ami_, speak to her; she is a girl
who is capable of all. Tell her that now it is thought criminal, that
one does not risk one's self and others. She might bring it here, if not
to herself, to me, Montjoie, the domestics." The Contessa sank into a
chair and began fanning herself; then got up again and went towards the
girl clasping her hands. "My sweetest," she cried, "you will not be
_entétée_, and risk everything. We shall have news, good news, every
morning, three, four times a day."

"And Milady," said Bice, "who has done everything, will be alone and in
tr-rouble. Sir Tom, he must leave her, he must attend to his affairs. He
is a man; he must take the air; he must go out in the world. And
she--she will be alone: when we have lived with her, when she has been
more good, more good than any one could deserve. Risk! The doctor does
not take it, who is everywhere, who will, perhaps, come to you next,
Madama; and the nurses do not take it. It is a shame," cried the girl,
throwing up her fine head, "if Love is not as good as the servants, if
to have gratitude in your heart is nothing! And the risk, what is it? An
illness, a fever. I have had a fever----"

"Bice, you might bring--what is dreadful to think of," cried the
Contessa, with a shiver. "You might die."

"Die!" the girl cried, in a voice like a silver trumpet with a keen
sweetness of scorn and tenderness combined. "_Après_?" she said,
throwing back her head. She was not capable of those questions which Mr.
Derwentwater and his pupil had set before her. But here she was upon
different ground.

"Oh, she is capable of all! she is a girl that is capable of all," cried
the Contessa, sinking once more into a chair.



CHAPTER L.

THE EVE OF SORROW.


Sir Tom stepped out into the night some time after, holding Jock by the
arm. The boy had a sort of thrill and tremble in him as if he had been
reading poetry or witnessing some great tragic scene, which the elder
man partially understood without being at all aware that Jock had
himself been an actor in this drama. He himself had been dismissed out
of it, so to speak. His mind was relieved, and yet he was not so
satisfied as he expected to be. It had been proved to him that he had no
responsibility for Bice, and his anxiety relieved on that subject;
relieved, oh yes: and yet was he a little disappointed too. It would
have been endless embarrassment, and Lucy would not have liked it. Still
he had been accustoming himself to the idea, and, now that it was broken
clean off, he was not so much pleased as he had expected. Poor little
Bice! her little burst of generous gratitude and affection had gone to
his heart. If that little thing who (it appeared) had died in Florence
so many years ago had survived and grown a woman, as an hour ago he had
believed her to have done, that is how he should have liked her to feel
and to express herself. Such a sense of approval and admiration was in
him that he felt the disappointment the more. Yes, he supposed it was a
disappointment. He had begun to get used to the idea, and he had always
liked the girl; but of course it was a relief--the greatest relief--to
have no explanation to make to Lucy, instead of the painful one which
perhaps she would only partially believe. He had felt that it would be
most difficult to make her understand that, though this was so, he had
not been in any plot, and had not known of it any more than she did when
Bice was brought to his house. This would have been the difficult point
in the matter, and now, heaven be praised! all that was over, and there
was no mystery, nothing to explain. But so strange is human sentiment
that the world felt quite impoverished to Sir Tom, though he was much
relieved. Life became for the moment a more commonplace affair
altogether. He was free from the annoyance. It mattered nothing to him
now who she married--the best _parti_ in society, or Jock's tutor, or
anybody the girl pleased. If it had not been for that exhibition of
feeling Sir Tom would probably have said to himself, satirically, that
there could be little doubt which the Contessa's ward and pupil would
choose. But after that little scene he came out very much shaken,
touched to the heart, thinking that perhaps life would have been more
full and sweet had his apprehensions been true. She had been overcome by
the united pressure of himself and the Contessa, and for the moment
subdued, though the fire in her eye and swelling of her young bosom
seemed to say that the victory was very incomplete. He would have liked
the little one that died to have looked like that, and felt like that,
had she lived to grow a woman like Bice. Great heaven, the little one
that died! The words as they went through his mind sent a chill to Sir
Tom's breast. Might it be that they would be said again--once more--and
that far-back sin bring thus a punishment all the more bitter for being
so long delayed. Human nature will never get to believe that God is not
lying in wait somewhere to exact payment of every account.

"She understands that," said Jock suddenly. "She don't know the meaning
of other things."

"What may be the other things?" said Sir Tom, feeling a half jealousy of
anything that could be said to Bice's disadvantage. "I don't think she
is wanting in understanding. Ah, I see. You don't know how any one could
resist the influence of MTutor, Jock."

Through the darkness under the feeble lamp Jock shot a glance at his
elder of that immeasurable contempt which youth feels for the absence of
all penetration shown by its seniors, and their limited powers of
observation. But he said nothing. Perhaps he could not trust himself to
speak.

"Don't think I'm a scoffer, my boy," said Sir Tom. "MTutor's a very
decent fellow. Let us go and look him up. He would be better, to my
thinking, if he were not quite so fine, you know. But that's a trifle,
and I'm an old fogey. You are not going back to Park Lane to-night."

"After what you heard her say? Do you think I've got no heart either? If
I could have it instead of him!"

"But you can't, my boy," Sir Tom said with a pressure of Jock's arm.
"And you must not make Lucy more wretched by hanging about. There's the
mystery," he broke out suddenly. "You can't--none of us can. What might
be nothing to you or me may be death to that little thing, but it is he
that has to go through with it; life is a horrible sort of pleasure,
Jock."

"Is it a pleasure?" the boy said under his breath. Life in him at that
moment was one big heavy throbbing through all his being, full of
mysterious powers unknown, of which Death was the least--yet, coming as
he did a great shadow upon the feeblest, a terrible and awe-striking
power beyond the strength of man to understand.

After this night, so full of emotion, there came certain days which
passed without sign or mark in the dim great house looking out upon all
the lively sights and sounds of the great park. The sun rose and
reddened the windows, the noon blazed, the gray twilight touched
everything into colour. In the chamber which was the centre of all
interest no one knew or cared how the hours went, and whether it was
morning or noon or night. Instead of these common ways of reckoning,
they counted by the hours when the doctor came, when the child must have
his medicine, when it was time to refresh the little cot with cool clean
linen, or sponge the little hot hands. The other attendants took their
turns and rested, but Lucy was capable of no rest. She dozed sometimes
with her eyes half opened, hearing every movement and little cry.
Perhaps as the time went on and the watch continued her faculties were a
little blunted by this, so that she was scarcely full awake at any time,
since she never slept. She moved mechanically about, and was conscious
of nothing but a dazed and confused misery, without anticipation or
recollection. Something there was in her mind besides, which perhaps
made it worse; she could not tell. Could anything make it worse? The
heart, like any other vessel, can hold but what it is capable of, and no
more.

It is not easy to estimate what is the greatest sorrow of human life.
It is that which has us in its grip, whatever it may be. Bereavement is
terrible until there comes to you a pang more bitter from living than
from dying: and one grief is supreme until another tops it, and the sea
comes on and on in mountain waves. But perhaps of all the endurances of
nature there is none which the general consent would agree upon as the
greatest, like that of a mother watching death approach, with noiseless,
awful step, to the bed of her only child. If humanity can approach more
near the infinite in capacity of suffering, it is hard to know how. We
must all bow down before this extremity of anguish, humbly begging the
pardon of that sufferer, that in our lesser griefs, we dare to bemoan
ourselves in her presence. And whether it is the dear companion--man or
woman grown--or the infant out of her clasping arms, would seem to
matter very little. According as it happens, so is the blow the most
terrible. To Lucy, enveloped by that woe, there could have been no
change that would not have lightened something (or so she felt) of her
intolerable burden. Could he have breathed his fever and pain into
words, could he have told what ailed him, could he have said to her only
one little phrase of love, to be laid up in her heart! But the pitiful
looks of those baby eyes, now bright with fever, now dull as dead
violets, the little inarticulate murmurings, the appeals that could not
be comprehended, added such a misery as was almost too much for flesh
and blood to bear. This terrible ordeal was what Lucy had to go through.
The child, though he had, as the maids said, no constitution, and though
he had been enfeebled by illness for half his little lifetime, fought on
hour after hour and day after day. Sometimes there was a look in his
little face as of a conscious intelligence fighting a brave battle for
life. His young mother beside him rose and fell with his breath, lived
only in him, knew nothing but the vicissitudes of the sick room, taking
her momentary broken rest when he slept, only to start up when, with a
louder breath, a little cry, the struggle was resumed. The nurses could
not, it would be unreasonable to expect it, be as entirely absorbed in
their charge as was his mother. They got to talk at last, not minding
her presence, quite freely in half whispers about other "cases," of
patients and circumstances they had known. Stories of children who had
died, and of some who had been miraculously raised from the brink of the
grave, and of families swept away and houses desolated, seemed to get
into the air of the room and float about Lucy, catching her confused
ear, which was always on the watch for other sounds. Three or four times
a day Sir Tom came to the door for news, but was not admitted, as the
doctor's orders were stringent. There was no one admitted except the
doctor; no cheer or comfort from without came into the sick room. Sir
Tom did his best to speak a cheerful word, and would fain have persuaded
Lucy to come out into the corridor, or to breathe the fresh air from a
balcony. But Lucy, had she been capable of leaving the child, had a dim
recollection in her mind that there was something, she could not tell
what, interposing between her and her husband, and turned away from him
with a sinking at her heart. She remembered vaguely that he had
something else--some other possessions to comfort him--not this child
alone as she had. He had something that he could perhaps love as
well--but she had nothing; and she turned away from him with an
instinctive sense of the difference, feeling it to be a wrong to her
boy. But for this they might have comforted each other, and consulted
each other over the fever and its symptoms. And she might have stolen a
few moments from her child's bed and thrown herself on her husband's
bosom and been consoled. But after all what did it matter? Could
anything have made it more easy to bear? When sorrow and pain occupy the
whole being, what room is there for consolation, what importance in the
lessening by an infinitesimal shred of sorrow!

This had gone on for--Lucy could not tell how many days (though not in
reality for very many), when there came one afternoon in which
everything seemed to draw towards the close. It is the time when the
heart fails most easily and the tide of being runs most low. The light
was beginning to wane in those dim rooms, though a great golden sunset
was being enacted in purple and flame on the other side of the house.
The child's eyes were dull and glazed; they seemed to turn inward with
that awful blank which is like the soul's withdrawal; its little powers
seemed all exhausted. The little moan, the struggle, had fallen into
quiet. The little lips were parched and dry. Those pathetic looks that
seemed to plead for help and understanding came no more. The baby was
too much worn out for such painful indications of life. The women had
drawn aside, all their talk hushed, only a faint whisper now and then of
directions from the most experienced of the two to the subordinates
aiding the solemn watch. Lucy sat by the side of the little bed on the
floor, sometimes raising herself on her knees to see better. She had
fallen into the chill and apathy of despair.

At this time a door opened, not loudly or with any breach of the decorum
of such a crisis, but with a distinct soft sound, which denoted some
one not bound by the habits of a sick room. A step equally distinct,
though soft, not the noiseless step of a watcher, came in through the
outer room and to the bed. The women, who were standing a little apart,
gave a low, involuntary cry. It looked like health and youthful vigour
embodied which came sweeping into the dim room to the bedside of the
dying child. It was Bice, who had asked no leave, who fell on her knees
beside Lucy and stooped down her beautiful head, and kissed the hand
which lay on the baby's coverlet. "Oh, pardon me," she said, "I could
not keep away any longer. They kept me by force, or I would have come
long, long since. I have come to stay, that you may have some rest, for
I can nurse him--oh, with all my heart!"

She had said all this hurriedly in a breath before she looked at the
child. Now she turned her head to the little bed. Her countenance
underwent a sudden change. The colour forsook her cheeks, her lips
dropped apart. She turned round to the nurse with a low cry, with a
terrified question in her eyes.

"You see," said Lucy, speaking with a gasp as if in answer to some
previous argument, "she thinks so, too----" Then there was a terrible
pause. There seemed to come another "change," as the women said, over
the little face, out of which life ebbed at every breath. Lucy started
to her feet; she seized Bice's arm and raised her, which would have been
impossible in a less terrible crisis. "Go," she said; "Go, Bice, to your
father, and tell him to come, for my boy is dying Go--go!"



CHAPTER LI.

THE LAST CRISIS.


"Go to your father." Bice did not know what Lucy meant. The words
bewildered her beyond description, but she did not hesitate what to do.
She went downstairs to Sir Tom, who sat with his door opened and his
heart sinking in his bosom waiting to hear. There was no need for any
words. He followed her at once, almost as softly and as noiselessly as
she had come. And when they entered the dim room, where by this time
there was scarcely light enough for unaccustomed eyes to see, he went up
to Lucy and put his arms round her as she stood leaning on the little
bed. "My love," he said, "my love; we must be all in all to each other
now." His voice was choked and broken, but it did not reach Lucy's
heart. She put him away from her with an almost imperceptible movement.
"You have others," she said hoarsely; "I have nothing, nothing but him."
Just then the child stirred faintly in his bed, and first extending her
arms to put them all away from her, Lucy bent over him and lifted him to
her bosom. The nurse made a step forward to interfere, but then stepped
back again wringing her hands. The mother had risen into a sort of
sublimity, irresponsible in her great woe--if she had killed him to
forestall her agony a little, as is the instinct of desperation, they
could not have interfered. She sat down, and gathered the child close,
close in her embrace, his head upon her breast, holding him as if to
communicate life to him with the contact of hers. Her breath, her arms,
her whole being enveloped the little dying creature with a fulness of
passionate existence expanded to its highest. It was like taking back
the half-extinguished germ into the very bosom and core of life. They
stood round her with an awe of her, which would permit no intrusion
either of word or act. Even the experienced nurse who believed that the
little spark of life would be shaken out by this movement, only wrung
her hands and said nothing. The rest were but as spectators, gathering
round to see the tragedy accomplished and the woman's heart shattered
before their eyes.

Which was unjust too--for the husband who stood behind was as great a
sufferer. He was struck in everything a man can feel most, the instincts
of paternal love awakened late, the pride a man has in his heir, all
were crushed in him by a blow that seemed to wring his very heart out of
his breast; but neither did any one think of him, nor did he think of
himself. The mother that bare him!--that mysterious tie that goes beyond
and before all, was acknowledged by them all without a word. It was hers
to do as she pleased. The moments are long at such a time. They seemed
to stand still on that strange scene. The light remained the same; the
darkness seemed arrested, perhaps because it had come on too early on
account of clouds overhead; perhaps because time was standing still to
witness the easy parting of a soul not yet accustomed to this earth; the
far more terrible rending of the woman's heart.

Presently a sensation of great calm fell, no one could tell how, into
the room. The terror seemed to leave the hearts of the watchers. Was it
the angel who had arrived and shed a soothing from his very presence
though he had come to accomplish the end?

Another little change, almost imperceptible, Lucy beginning to rock her
child softly, as if lulling him to sleep. No one moved, or even
breathed, it seemed, for how long? some minutes, half a lifetime. Then
another sound. Oh, God in heaven! had she gone distracted, the innocent
creature, the young mother, in her anguish? She began to sing--a few low
notes, a little lullaby, in a voice ineffable, indescribable, not like
any mortal voice. One of the women burst out into a wail--it was the
child's nurse--and tried to take him from the mother's arms. The other
took her by the shoulders and turned her away. "What does it matter, a
few minutes more or less; she'll come to herself soon enough, poor
dear," said the attendant with a sob. Thus the group was diminished. Sir
Tom stood with one hand on his wife's chair, his face covered with the
other, and in his heart the bitterness of death; Bice had dropped down
on her knees by the side of that pathetic group; and in the midst sat
the mother bent over, almost enfolding the child, cradling him in her
own life. Bice was herself not much more than a child; to her all things
were possible--miracles, restorations from the dead. Her eyes were full
of tears, but there was a smile upon her quivering mouth. It was at her
Lucy looked, with eyes full of something like that "awful rose of dawn"
of which the poet speaks. They were dilated to twice their natural size.
She made a slight movement, opening to Bice the little face upon her
bosom, bidding her look as at a breathless secret to be kept from all
else. Was it a reflection or a faint glow of warmth upon the little worn
cheek? The eyes were no longer open, showing the white, but closed, with
the eyelashes shadowing against the cheek. There came into Lucy's eyes a
sort of warning look to keep the secret, and the wonderful spectacle
was, as it were, closed again, hidden with her arms and bending head.
And the soft coo of the lullaby went on.

Presently the women stole back, awed and silenced, but full of a
reviving thrill of curiosity. The elder one, who was from the hospital
and prepared for everything, drew nearer, and regarded with a
scientific, but not unsympathetic eye, the mother and the child. She
withdrew a little the shawl in which the infant was wrapped, and put her
too-experienced, instructed hands upon his little limbs, without taking
any notice of Lucy, who remained passive through this examination. "He's
beautiful and warm," said the woman, in a wondering tone. Then Bice rose
to her feet with a quick sudden movement, and went to Sir Tom and drew
his hand from his face. "He is not dying, he is sleeping," she said.
"And I think, miss, you're right. He has taken a turn for the better,"
said the experienced woman from the hospital. "Don't move, my lady,
don't move; we'll prop you with cushions--we'll pull him through still,
please God," the nurse said, with a few genuine tears.

When the doctor came some time after, instead of watching the child's
last moments, he had only to confirm their certainty of this favourable
change, and give his sanction to it; and the cloud that had seemed to
hang over it all day lifted from the house. The servants began to move
about again and bustle. The lamps were lighted. The household resumed
their occupations, and Williams himself in token of sympathy carried up
Mr. Randolph's beef-tea. When Lucy, after a long interval, was liberated
from her confined attitude and the child restored to his bed, the
improvement was so evident that she allowed herself to be persuaded to
lie down and rest. "Milady," said Bice, "I am not good for anything,
but I love him. I will not interfere, but neither will I ever take away
my eyes from him till you are again here." There was no use in this, but
it was something to the young mother. She lay down and slept, for the
first time since the illness began; slept not in broken, painful
dozings, but a real sleep. She was not in a condition to think; but
there was a vague feeling in her mind that here was some one, not as
others were, to whom little Tom was something more than to the rest.
Consciously she ought to have shrunk from Bice's presence; unconsciously
it soothed her and warmed her heart.

Sir Tom went back to his room, shaken as with a long illness, but
feeling that the world had begun again, and life was once more liveable.
He sat down and thought over every incident, and thanked God with such
tears as men too, like women, are often fain to indulge in, though they
do it chiefly in private. Then, as the effect of this great crisis began
to go off a little, and the common round to come back, there recurred to
his mind Lucy's strange speech, "You have others----" What others was he
supposed to have? She had drawn herself away from him. She had made no
appeal to his sympathy. "You have--others. I have nothing but him." What
did Lucy mean? And then he remembered how little intercourse there had
been of late between them, how she had kept aloof from him. They might
have been separated and living in different houses for all the union
there had been between them. "You have others----" What did Lucy mean?

He got up, moved by the uneasiness of this question, and began to pace
about the floor. He had no others; never had a man been more devoted to
his own house. She had not been exacting, nor he uxorious. He had lived
a man's life in the world, and had not neglected his duties for his
wife; but he reminded himself, with a sort of indignant satisfaction,
that he had found Lucy far more interesting than he expected, and that
her fresh curiosity, her interest in everything, and the just enough of
receptive intelligence, which is more agreeable than cleverness, had
made her the most pleasant companion he had ever known. It was not an
exercise of self-denial, of virtue on his part, as the Dowager and
indeed many other of his friends had attempted to make out, but a real
pleasure in her society. He had liked to talk to her, to tell her his
own past history (selections from it), to like, yet laugh at her simple
comments. He never despised anything she said, though he had laughed at
some of it with a genial and placid amusement. And that little beggar!
about whom Sir Tom could not even think to-day without a rush of water
to his eyes--could any man have considered the little fellow more, or
been more proud of him or fond? He could not live in the nursery, it was
true, like Lucy, but short of that--"Others." What could she mean? There
were no others. He was content to live and die, if but they might be
spared to him, with her and the boy. A sort of chill doubt that somebody
might have breathed into her ear that suggestion about Bice's parentage
did indeed cross his mind; but ever since he had ascertained that this
fear was a delusion, it had seemed to him the most ridiculous idea in
the world. It had not seemed so before; it had appeared probable enough,
nay, with many coincidences in its favour. And he had even been
conscious of something like disappointment to find that it was not true.
But now it seemed to him too absurd for credence; and what creature in
the world, except himself, could have known the circumstances that made
it possible? No one but Williams, and Williams was true.

It was not till next morning that the ordinary habits of the household
could be said to be in any measure resumed. On that day Bice came down
to breakfast with Sir Tom with a smiling brightness which cheered his
solitary heart. She had gone back out of all her finery to the simple
black frock, which she told him had been the easiest thing to carry.
This was in answer to his question, "How had she come? Had the Contessa
sent her?" Bice clapped her hands with pleasure, and recounted how she
had run away.

"The news were always bad, more bad; and Milady all alone. At length the
time came when I could bear it no longer. I love him, my little Tom; and
Milady has always been kind, so kind, more kind than any one. Nobody has
been kind to me like her, and also you, Sir Tom; and baby that was my
darling," the girl said.

"God bless you, my dear," said Sir Tom; "but," he added, "you should not
have done it. You should have remembered the infection."

Bice made a little face of merry disdain and laughed aloud. "Do I care
for infection? Love is more strong than a fever. And then," she added,
"I had a purpose too."

Sir Tom was delighted with her girlish confidences about her frock and
her purpose. "Something very grave, I should imagine, from those looks."

"Oh, it is very grave," said Bice, her countenance changing. "You know I
am _fiancée_. There has been a good deal said to me of Lord Montjoie;
sometimes that he was not wise, what you call silly, not clever, not
good to have to do with. That he is not clever one can see; but what
then? The clever they do not always please. Others say that he is a
great _parti_, and all that is desirable. Myself," she added with an air
of judicial impartiality, "I like him well enough; even when he does not
please me, he amuses. The clever they are not always amusing. I am
willing to marry him since it is wished, otherwise I do not care much.
For there is, you know, plenty of time, and to marry so soon--it is a
disappointment, it is no longer exciting. So it is not easy to know
distinctly what to do. That is what you call a dilemma," Bice said.

"It is a serious dilemma," said Sir Tom, much amused and flattered too.
"You want me then to give you my advice----"

"No," said Bice, which made his countenance suddenly blank, "not advice.
I have thought of a way. All say that it is almost wicked, at least very
wrong to come here (in the Tauchnitz it would be miserable to be afraid,
and so I think), and that the fever is more than everything. Now for me
it is not so. If Lord Montjoie is of my opinion, and if he thinks I am
right to come, then I shall know that, though he is not clever---- Yes;
that is my purpose. Do you think I shall be right?"

"I see," said Sir Tom, though he looked somewhat crestfallen. "You have
come not so much for us, though you are kindly disposed towards us, but
to put your future husband to the test. There is only this drawback,
that he might be an excellent fellow and yet object to the step you have
taken. Also that these sort of tests are very risky, and that it is
scarcely worth while for this, to run the risk of a bad illness, perhaps
of your life."

"That is unjust," said Bice with tears in her eyes. "I should have come
to Milady had there been no Montjoie at all. It is first and above all
for her sake. I will have a fever for her, oh willingly!" cried the
girl. Then she added after a little pause: "Why did she bid me 'go to
your father and tell him----?' What does that mean, go to my father? I
have never had any father."

"Did she say that?" Sir Tom cried. "When? and why?"

"It was when all seemed without hope. She was kneeling by the bed, and
he, my little boy, my little darling! Ah," cried Bice, with a shiver.
"To think it should have been so near! when God put that into her mind
to save him. She said 'Go to your father, and tell him my boy is dying.'
What did she mean? I came to you; but you are not my father."

He had risen up in great agitation and was walking about the room. When
she said these words he came up to her and laid his hand for a moment on
her head. "No," he said, with a sense of loss which was painful; "No,
the more's the pity, Bice. God bless you, my dear."

His voice was tremulous, his hand shook a little. The girl took it in
her pretty way and kissed it. "You have been as good to me as if it were
so. But tell me what Milady means? for at that moment she would say
nothing but what was at the bottom of her heart."

"I cannot tell you, Bice," said Sir Tom, almost with tears. "If I have
made her unhappy, my Lucy, who is better than any of us, what do I
deserve? what should be done to me? And she has been unhappy, she has
lost her faith in me. I see it all now."

Bice sat and looked at him with her eyes full of thought. She was not a
novice in life though she was so young. She had heard many a tale not
adapted for youthful ears. That a child might have a father whose name
she did not bear and who had never been disclosed to her was not
incomprehensible, as it would have been to an English girl. She looked
him severely in the face, like a young Daniel come to judgment. Had she
been indeed his child to what a terrible ordeal would Sir Tom have been
exposed under the light of those steady eyes. "Is it true that you have
made her unhappy?" she said, as if she had the power of death in her
hands.

"No!" he said, with a sudden outburst of feeling. "No! there are things
in my life that I would not have raked up; but since I have known her,
nothing; there is no offence to her in any record of my life----"

Bice looked at him still unfaltering. "You forget us--the Contessa and
me. You brought us, though she did not know. We are not like her, but
you brought us to her house. Nevertheless," said the young judge
gravely, "that might be unthoughtful, but not a wrong to her. Is it
perhaps a mistake?"

"A mistake or a slander, or--some evil tongue," he cried.

Bice rose up from the chair which had been her bench of justice, and
walked to the door with a stately step, befitting her office, full of
thought. Then she paused again for a moment and looked back and waved
her hand. "I think it is a pity," she said with great gravity. She
recognised the visionary fitness as he had done. They would have suited
each other, when it was thus suggested to them, for father and
daughter; and that it was not so, by some spite of fate, was a pity. She
found Lucy dressed and refreshed sitting by the bed of the child, who
had already begun to smile faintly. "Milady," said Bice, "will you go
downstairs? There is a long time that you have not spoken to Sir Tom. Is
he afraid of your fever? No more than me! But his heart is breaking for
you. Go to him, Milady, and I will stay with the boy."

It was not for some time that Lucy could be persuaded to go. He
had--others. What was she to him but a portion of his life? and the
child was all of hers: a small portion of his life only a few years,
while the others had a far older and stronger claim. There was no anger
in her mind, all hushed in the exhaustion of great suffering past, but a
great reluctance to enter upon the question once more. Lucy wished only
to be left in quiet. She went slowly, reluctantly, downstairs. Unhappy?
No. He had not made her unhappy. Nothing could make her unhappy now that
her child was saved. It seemed to Lucy that it was she who had been ill
and was getting better, and she longed to be left alone. Sir Tom was
standing against the window with his head upon his hand. He did not hear
her light step till she was close to him. Then he turned round, but not
with the eagerness for her which Bice had represented. He took her hand
gently and drew it within his arm.

"All is going well?" he said, "and you have had a little rest, my dear?
Bice has told me----"

She withdrew a little the hand which lay on his arm. "He is much
better," she said; "more than one would have thought possible."

"Thank God!" Sir Tom cried; and they were silent for a moment, united
in thanksgiving, yet so divided, with a sickening gulf between them.
Lucy felt her heart begin to stir and ache that had been so quiet. "And
you," he said, "have had a little rest? Thank God for that too. Anything
that had happened to him would have been bad enough; but to you,
Lucy----"

"Oh, hush, hush," she cried, "that is over; let us not speak of anything
happening to him."

"But all is not over," he said. "Something has happened--to us. What did
you mean when you spoke to me of others? 'You have others.' I scarcely
noticed it at that dreadful moment; but now---- Who are those others,
Lucy? Whom have I but him and you?"

She did not say anything, but withdrew her hand altogether from his arm,
and looked at him. A look scarcely reproachful, wistful, sorrowful,
saying, but not in words, in its steady gaze--You know.

He answered as if it had been speech.

"But I don't know. What is it, Lucy? Bice too has something she asked me
to explain, and I cannot explain it. You said to her, 'Go to your
father.' What is this? You must tell what you mean."

"Bice?" she said, faltering; "it was at a moment when I did not think
what I was saying."

"No, when you spoke out that perilous stuff you have got in your heart.
Oh, my Lucy, what is it, and who has put it there?"

"Tom," she said, trembling very much. "It is not Bice; she--that--is
long ago--if her mother had been dead. But a man cannot have two lives.
There cannot be two in the same place. It is not jealousy. I am not
finding fault. It has been perhaps without intention; but it is not
befitting--oh, not befitting. It cannot--oh, it is impossible! it must
not be."

"What must not be? Of what in the name of heaven are you speaking?" he
cried.

Once more she fixed on him that look, more reproachful this time, full
of meaning and grieved surprise. She drew away a little from his side.
"I did not want to speak," she said. "I was so thankful; I want to say
nothing. You thought you had left that other life behind; perhaps you
forgot altogether. They say that people do. And now it is here at your
side, and on the other side my little boy and me. Ah! no, no, it is not
befitting, it cannot be----"

"I understand dimly," he said; "they have told you Bice was my child. I
wish it were so. I had a child, Lucy, it is true, who is dead in
Florence long ago. The mother is dead too, long ago. It is so long past
that, if you can believe it, I had--forgotten."

"Dead!" she said. And there came into her mild eyes a scared and
frightened look. "And--the Contessa?"

"The Contessa!" he cried.

They were standing apart gazing at each other with something more like
the heat of a passionate debate than had ever arisen between them, or
indeed seemed possible to Lucy's tranquil nature, when the door was
suddenly opened and the voice of Williams saying, "Sir Thomas is here,
my lady," reduced them both in an instant to silence. Then there was a
bustle and a movement, and of all wonderful sights to meet their eyes,
the Contessa herself came with hesitation into the room. She had her
handkerchief pressed against the lower part of her face, from above
which her eyes looked out watchfully. She gave a little shriek at the
sight of Lucy. "I thought," she said, "Sir Tom was alone. Lucy, my
angel, my sweetest, do not come near me!" She recoiled to the door which
Williams had just closed. "I will say what I have to say here. Dearest
people, I love you, but you are charged with pestilence. My Lucy, how
glad I am for your little boy--but every moment they tell me increases
the danger. Where is Bice? Bice! I have come to bring her away."

"Contessa," said Sir Tom, "you have come at a fortunate moment. Tell
Lady Randolph who Bice is. I think she has a right to know."

"Who Bice is? But what has that to do with it? She is _fiancée_, she
belongs to more than herself. And there is the drawing-room in a
week--imagine, only in a week!--and how can she go into the presence of
the Queen full of infection? I acknowledge, I acknowledge," cried the
Contessa, through her handkerchief, "you have been very kind--oh, more
than kind. But why then now will you spoil all? It might make a
revolution--it might convey to Majesty herself---- Ah! it might spoil all
the child's prospects. Who is she? Why should you reproach me with my
little mystery now? She is all that is most natural; Guido's child, whom
you remember well enough, Sir Tom, who married my poor little sister, my
little girl who followed me, who would do as I did. You know all this,
for I have told you. They are all dead, all dead--how can you make me
talk of them? And Bice perhaps with the fever in her veins, ready to
communicate it--to Majesty herself, to me, to every one!"

The Contessa sank down on a chair by the door. She drew forth her fan,
which hung by her side, and fanned away from her this air of pestilence.
"The child must come back at once," she said, with little cries and
sobs--an _accès de nerfs_, if these simple people had known--through her
handkerchief. "Let her come at once, and we may conceal it still. She
shall have baths. She shall be fumigated. I will not see her or let her
be seen. She shall have a succession of headaches. This is what I have
said to Montjoie. Imagine me out in the air, that is so bad for the
complexion, at this hour! But I think of nothing in comparison with the
interests of Bice. Send for her. Lucy, sweet one, you would not spoil
her prospects. Send for her--before it is known." Then she laughed with
a hysterical vehemence. "I see; some one has been telling her it was the
poor little child whom you left with me, whom I watched over--yes, I was
good to the little one. I am not a hard-hearted woman. Lucy: it was I
who put this thought into your mind. I said--of English parentage. I
meant you to believe so--that you might give something, when you were
giving so much, to my poor Bice. What was wrong? I said you would be
glad one day that you had helped her:--yes--and I allowed also my enemy
the Dowager, to believe it."

"To believe _that_." Lucy stood out alone in the middle of the room,
notwithstanding the shrinking back to the wall of the visitor, whose
alarm was far more visible than any other emotion. "To believe
_that_--that she was your child, and----"

Something stopped Lucy's mouth. She drew back, her pale face dyed with
crimson, her whole form quivering with remorse and pain as of one who
has given a cowardly and cruel blow.

The Contessa rose. She stood up against the wall. It did not seem to
occur to her what kind of terrible accusation this was, but only that
it was something strange, incomprehensible. She withdrew for a moment
the handkerchief from her mouth. "My child? But I have never had a
child!" she said.

"Lucy," cried Sir Tom in a terrible voice.

And then Lucy stood aghast between them, looking from one to another.
The scales seemed to fall from her eyes. The perfectly innocent when
they fall under the power of suspicion go farthest in that bitter way.
They take no limit of possibility into their doubts and fears. They do
not think of character or nature. Now, in a moment the scales fell from
Lucy's eyes. Was her husband a man to treat her with such unimaginable
insult? Was the Contessa, with all her triumphant designs, her
mendacities, her mendicities, her thirst for pleasure, such a woman?
Whoever said it, could this be true?

The Contessa perceived with a start that her hand had dropped from her
mouth. She put back the handkerchief again with tremulous eagerness. "If
I take it, all will go wrong--all will fall to pieces," she said
pathetically. "Lucy, dear one, do not come near me, but send me Bice, if
you love me," the Contessa cried. She smiled with her eyes, though her
mouth was covered. She had not so much as understood, she, so
experienced, so acquainted with the wicked world, so _connaisseuse_ in
evil tales--she had not even so much as divined what innocent Lucy meant
to say.



CHAPTER LII.

THE END.


Bice was taken away in the cab, there being no reason why she should
remain in a house where Lucy was no longer lonely or heartbroken--but
not by her patroness, who was doubly her aunt, but did not love that
old-fashioned title, and did love a mystery. The Contessa would not
trust herself in the same vehicle with the girl who had come out of
little Tom's nursery, and was no doubt charged with pestilence. She
walked, marvel of marvels, with a thick veil over her face, and Sir Tom,
in amused attendance, looking with some curiosity through the gauze at
this wonder of a spring morning which she had not seen for years. Bice,
for her part, was conveyed by the old woman who waited in the cab, the
mother of one of the servants in the Mayfair house, to her humble home,
where the girl was fumigated and disinfected to the Contessa's desire.
She was presented a week after, the strictest secrecy being kept about
these proceedings; and mercifully, as a matter of fact, did not convey
infection either to the Contessa or to the still more distinguished
ladies with whom she came in contact. What a day for Madame di
Forno-Populo! There was nothing against her. The Duchess had spent an
anxious week, inquiring everywhere. She had pledged herself in a weak
hour; but though the men laughed, that was all. Not even in the clubs
was there any story to be got hold of. The Duchess had a son-in-law who
was clever in gossip. He said there was nothing, and the Lord
Chamberlain made no objection. The Contessa di Forno-Populo had not
indeed, she said loftily, ever desired to make her appearance before the
Piedmontese; but she had the stamp upon her, though partially worn out,
of the old Grand Ducal Court of Tuscany--which many people think more
of--and these two stately Italian ladies made as great a sensation by
their beauty and their stately air as had been made at any drawing-room
in the present reign. The most august and discriminating of critics
remarked them above all others. And a Lady, whose knowledge of family
history is unrivalled, like her place in the world, condescended to
remember that the Conte di Forno-Populo had married an English lady.
Their dresses were specially described by Lady Anastasia in her
favourite paper; and their portraits were almost recognisable in the
_Graphic_, which gave a special (fancy) picture of the drawing-room in
question. Triumph could not farther go.

It was not till after this event that Bice revealed the purpose which
was one of her inducements for that visit to little Tom's sick bed. On
the evening of that great day, just before going out in all her
splendour to the Duchess's reception held on that occasion, she took her
lover aside, whose pride in her magnificence and all the applause that
had been lavished on her knew no bounds.

"Listen," she said, "I have something to tell you. Perhaps, when you
hear it, all will be over. I have not allowed you to come near me nor
touch me----"

"No, by Jove! It has been stand off, indeed! I don't know what you mean
by it," cried Montjoie ruefully; "that wasn't what I bargained for,
don't you know?"

"I am going to explain," said Bice. "You shall know, then, that when I
had those headaches--you remember--and you could not see me, I had no
headaches, _mon ami_. I was with Milady Randolph in Park Lane, in the
middle of the fever, nursing the boy."

Montjoie gazed at her with round eyes. He recoiled a step, then rushing
at his betrothed, notwithstanding her Court plumes and flounces, got
Bice in his arms. "By Jove!" he cried, "and that was why! You thought I
was frightened of the fever; that is the best joke I have heard for
ages, don't you know? What a pluck you've got, Bee! And what a beauty
you are, my pretty dear! I am going to pay myself all the arrears."

"Don't," said Bice, plaintively; the caresses were not much to her mind,
but she endured them to a certain limit. "I wondered," she said with a
faint sigh, "what you would say."

"It was awfully silly," said Montjoie. "I couldn't have believed you
were so soft, Bee, with your training, don't you know? And how did you
come over _her_ to let you go? She was in a dead funk all the time. It
was awfully silly; you might have caught it, or given it to me, or a
hundred things, and lost all your fun; but it was awfully plucky," cried
Montjoie, "by Jove! I knew you were a plucky one;" and he added, after a
moment's reflection, in a softened tone, "a good little girl too."

It was thus that Bice's fate was sealed.

That afternoon Lucy received a note from Lady Randolph in the following
words:--

     "DEAREST LUCY--I am more glad than I can tell you to hear the good
     news of the dear boy. Probably he will be stronger now than he has
     ever been, having got over this so well.

     "I want to tell you not to think any more of what I said _that_
     day. I hope it has not vexed you. I find that my informant was
     entirely mistaken, and acted upon a misconception all the time. I
     can't tell how sorry I am ever to have mentioned such a thing; but
     it seemed to be on the very best authority. I do hope it has not
     made any coolness between Tom and you.

     "Don't take the trouble to answer this. There is nothing that
     carries infection like letters, and I inquire after the boy every
     day.--Your loving

                                                           M. RANDOLPH."

"It was not her fault," said Lucy, sobbing upon her husband's shoulder.
"I should have known you better, Tom."

"I think so, my dear," he said quietly, "though I have been more foolish
than a man of my age ought to be; but there is no harm in the Contessa,
Lucy."

"No," Lucy said, yet with a grave face. "But Bice will be made a
sacrifice: Bice, and----" she added with a guilty look, "I shall have
thrown away that money, for it has not saved her."

"Here is a great deal of money," said Sir Tom, drawing a letter from his
pocket, "which seems also in a fair way of being thrown away."

He took out the list which Lucy had given to her trustee, which Mr.
Chervil had returned to her husband, and held it out before her. It was
a very curious document, an experiment in the way of making poor people
rich. The names were of people of whom Lucy knew very little personally;
and yet it had not been done without thought. There was nobody there to
whom such a gift might not mean deliverance from many cares. In the
abstract it was not throwing anything away. Perhaps, had there been some
public commission to reward with good incomes the struggling and
honourable, these might not have been the chosen names; but yet it was
all legitimate, honest, in the light of Lucy's exceptional position.
The husband and wife stood and looked at it together in this moment of
their reunion, when both had escaped from the deadliest perils that
could threaten life--the loss of their child, the loss of their union.
It was hard to tell which would have been the most mortal blow.

"He says I must prevent you; that you cannot have thought what you were
doing; that it is madness, Lucy."

"I think I was nearly mad," said Lucy simply. "I thought to get rid of
it whatever might happen to me--that was best."

"Let us look at it now in our full senses," said Sir Tom.

Lucy grasped his arm with both her hands. "Tom," she said in a hurried
tone, "this is the only thing in which I ever set myself against you. It
was the beginning of all our trouble; and I might have to do that again.
What does it matter if perhaps we might do it more wisely now? All these
people are poor, and there is the money to make them well off; that is
what my father meant. He meant it to be scattered again, like seed given
back to the reaper. He used to say so. Shall not we let it go as it is,
and be done with it and avoid trouble any more?"

He stood holding her in his arms, looking over the paper. It was a great
deal of money. To sacrifice a great deal of money does not affect a
young woman who has never known any need of it in her life, but a man in
middle age who knows all about it, that makes a great difference. Many
thoughts passed through the mind of Sir Tom. It was a moment in which
Lucy's heart was very soft. She was ready to do anything for the husband
to whom, she thought, she had been unjust. And it was hard upon him to
diminish his own importance and cut off at a stroke by such a sacrifice
half the power and importance of the wealth which was his, though Lucy
might be the source of it. Was he to consent to this loss, not even
wisely, carefully arranged, but which might do little good to any one,
and to him harm unquestionable? He stood silent for some time thinking,
almost disposed to tear up the paper and throw it away. But then he
began to reflect of other things more important than money; of unbroken
peace and happiness; of Lucy's faithful, loyal spirit that would never
be satisfied with less than the entire discharge of her trust, of the
full accord, never so entirely comprehensive and understanding as now,
that had been restored between them; and of the boy given back from the
gates of hell, from the jaws of death. It was no small struggle. He had
to conquer a hundred hesitations, the disapproval, the resistance of his
own mind. It was with a hand that shook a little that he put it back.
"That little beggar," he said, with his old laugh--though not his old
laugh, for in this one there was a sound of tears--"will be a hundred
thousand or so the poorer. Do you think he'd mind, if we were to ask
him? Come, here is a kiss upon the bargain. The money shall go, and a
good riddance, Lucy. There is now nothing between you and me."

Bice was married at the end of the season, in the most fashionable
church, in the most correct way. Montjoie's plain cousins had
asked--asked! without a sign of enmity!--to be bridesmaids, "as she had
no sisters of her own, poor thing!" Montjoie declared that he was "ready
to split" at their cheek in asking, and in calling Bice "poor thing,"
she who was the most fortunate girl in the world. The Contessa took the
good the gods provided her, without grumbling at the fate which
transferred to her the little fortune which had been given to Bice to
keep her from a mercenary marriage. It was not a mercenary marriage, in
the ordinary sense of the word. To Bice's mind it was simply fulfilling
her natural career; and she had no dislike to Montjoie. She liked him
well enough. He had answered well to her test. He was not clever, to be
sure; but what then? She was well enough content, if not rapturous, when
she walked out of the church Marchioness of Montjoie on her husband's
arm. There was a large and fashionable assembly, it need not be said.
Lucy, in a first place, looking very wistful, wondering if the girl was
happy, and Sir Tom saying to himself it was very well that he had no
more to do with it than as a friend. There were two other spectators who
looked upon the ceremony with still more serious countenances, a man and
a boy, restored to each other as dearest friends. They watched all the
details of the service with unfailing interest, but when the beautiful
bride came down the aisle on her husband's arm, they turned with one
accord and looked at each other. They had been quite still until that
point, making no remark. She passed them by, walking as if on air, as
she always walked, though ballasted now for ever by that duller being at
her side. She was not subdued under her falling veil, like so many
brides, but saw everything, them among the rest, as she passed, and
showed by a half smile her recognition of their presence. There was no
mystic veil of sentiment about her; no consciousness of any mystery. She
walked forth bravely, smiling, to meet life and the world. What was
there in that beautiful, beaming creature to suggest a thought of
future necessity, trouble, or the most distant occasion for help or
succour? Perhaps it is a kind of revenge we take upon too great
prosperity to say to ourselves: "There may come a time!"

These two spectators made their way out slowly among the crowd. They
walked a long way towards their after destination without a word. Then
Mr. Derwentwater spoke:

"If there should ever come a time when we can help her, or be of use to
her, you and I--for the time must come when she will find out she has
chosen evil instead of good----"

"Oh, humbug!" cried Jock roughly, with a sharpness in his tone which was
its apology. "She has done what she always meant to do--and that is what
she likes best."

"Nevertheless----" said MTutor with a sigh.


  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  | TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:-                                         |
  |                                                              |
  | The following printers spelling errors have been corrected:- |
  |                                                              |
  | Page 66                                                      |
  | 'direst' to 'divest'                                         |
  | 'could not yet divest himself'                               |
  |                                                              |
  | Page 278                                                     |
  | 'down' to 'done'                                             |
  | 'as a simple girl might have done'                           |
  |                                                              |
  | Page 397                                                     |
  | 'pyschological' to 'psychological'                           |
  | 'any attempt at psychological investigation'                 |
  |                                                              |
  | Page 470                                                     |
  | 'unforgetable' to 'unforgettable'                            |
  | 'almost forgotten, yet unforgettable'                        |
  |                                                              |
  | The following word has been changed on page 138:-            |
  |                                                              |
  | 'uncle' to 'father'                                          |
  | There is no previous mention of an uncle and the title       |
  | 'father' makes more sense in the context of the story.       |
  |                                                              |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+


                                THE END.


                 _Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.


  MESSRS. MACMILLAN & CO.'S PUBLICATIONS.

  _POPULAR NOVELS BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

  Crown 8vo. Cloth. 3s. 6d. each.

  NEIGHBOURS ON THE GREEN.

  KIRSTEEN.

  _SCOTSMAN_--"One of the most powerful stories Mrs. Oliphant has ever
  written."

  _MURRAY'S MAGAZINE_--"One of the best books which Mrs. Oliphant's
  fertile pen has within recent years produced."

  _WORLD_--"Mrs. Oliphant has written many novels, and many good ones; but
  if she has hitherto written one so good as _Kirsteen_, we have not read
  it.... It is the highest praise we can give, when we say that there are
  passages in it which, as pictures of Scottish life and character, it
  would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to match out of Sir Walter's
  pages."

  _NATIONAL OBSERVER_--"Seldom, if ever, has Mrs. Oliphant done better
  than in _Kirsteen_.... There is humour, there is pathos, there is
  tragedy, there is even crime--in short, there is human life."

  JOYCE.

  _GUARDIAN_--"It has seldom been our lot to fall in with so engrossing a
  story."

  A BELEAGUERED CITY.

  _TIMES_--"The story is a powerful one and very original to boot."

  HESTER.

  _ACADEMY_--"At her best, she is, with one or two exceptions, the best of
  living English novelists. She is at her best in _Hester_."

  HE THAT WILL NOT WHEN HE MAY.

  _SCOTSMAN_--"The workmanship of the book is simply admirable."

  THE RAILWAY MAN AND HIS CHILDREN.

  _ANTI-JACOBIN_--"An extremely interesting story, and a perfectly
  satisfactory achievement of literary art."

  _MORNING POST_--"Mrs. Oliphant has never written a simpler, and at the
  same time a better conceived story. An excellent example of pure and
  simple fiction, which is also of the deepest interest."

  THE MARRIAGE OF ELINOR.

  _NATIONAL OBSERVER_--"In spite of yourself and of them, you become
  interested in uninteresting people, annoyed at their follies, and
  sympathetic with their trifling sorrows and joys. This is Mrs.
  Oliphant's secret."

  SIR TOM.

  _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"Has the charm of style, the literary quality and
  flavour that never fail to please."

  Globe 8vo. 2s. each.

  A SON OF THE SOIL.

  THE CURATE IN CHARGE.

  YOUNG MUSGRAVE.

  THE WIZARD'S SON.

  _SPECTATOR_--"We have read it twice, once in snippets, and once as a
  whole, and our interest has never flagged."

  A COUNTRY GENTLEMAN AND HIS FAMILY.

  _ACADEMY_--"Never has her workmanship been surer, steadier, or more
  masterly."

  THE SECOND SON.

  _MORNING POST_--"Mrs. Oliphant has never shown herself more completely
  mistress of her art.... The entire story is clever and powerful."

  _WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

  JERUSALEM, THE HOLY CITY: ITS HISTORY AND HOPE.

  With 50 Illustrations. Medium 8vo. 21s.

  _Also a limited Edition on Large Paper._ 50s. net.

  _GRAPHIC_--"An eloquent monograph on Jerusalem, written with all the
  picturesqueness and force of style which distinguishes the writer."

  _SPECTATOR_--"Mrs. Oliphant has successfully accomplished the difficult
  achievement of recasting the familiar old Hebrew stories into the
  language of our own land and century without losing their charm."

  _SCOTSMAN_--"One of the most attractive books of the year."

  _RECORD_--"It is entitled to yet higher praise than that which is due to
  it for its charm as an expression of the highest literary skill."

  _OBSERVER_--"Mrs. Oliphant has written no better literature than this.
  It is a history; but it is one of more than human interest."

  THE MAKERS OF VENICE: DOGES, CONQUERORS, PAINTERS, AND MEN OF LETTERS.
  With numerous Illustrations.

  Crown 8vo. Cloth. 10s. 6d.

  _Edition de Luxe_, with additional Plates. 8vo. 20s. net.

  _BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE_--"Even more delightful than the _Makers of
  Florence_. The writing is bright and animated, the research thorough,
  the presentation of Venetian life brilliantly vivid. It is an entirely
  workmanlike piece of work."

  THE MAKERS OF FLORENCE: DANTE, GIOTTO, SAVONAROLA, AND THEIR CITY. With
  Illustrations. Crown 8vo. Cloth. 10s. 6d.

  _Edition de Luxe_, with 20 additional Plates, reproduced from line
  engravings after pictures by Florentine artists. Medium 8vo. 20s. net.

  _EDINBURGH REVIEW_--"One of the most elegant and interesting books which
  has been inspired in our times by the arts and annals of that celebrated
  republic."

  _WESTMINSTER REVIEW_--"No one visiting Florence can better prepare for a
  just appreciation of the temper and spirit of the place, than by
  studying Mrs. Oliphant's capital treatise."

  ROYAL EDINBURGH: HER SAINTS, KINGS, AND SCHOLARS. Illustrated by GEORGE
  REID, R.S.A. Crown 8vo. Cloth. 10s. 6d.

  _PALL MALL GAZETTE_--"Is fascinating and full of interest throughout.
  Mr. Reid has long occupied a place in the very front rank of Scottish
  artists, and we have seen nothing finer from his pencil than the
  illustrations in the present volume."

  _SPECTATOR_--"Between letterpress and illustrations, _Royal Edinburgh_
  reproduces the tragedy, the glory, and the picturesqueness of Scotch
  history as no other work has done."

  AGNES HOPETOUN'S SCHOOLS AND HOLIDAYS. Illustrated.
  Globe 8vo. 2s. 6d.

  S. FRANCIS OF ASSISI. Crown 8vo. 6s.

  THE LITERARY HISTORY OF ENGLAND IN THE END
  OF THE EIGHTEENTH AND BEGINNING OF THE NINETEENTH
  CENTURY. 3 vols. 8vo. 21s.

  SHERIDAN. Crown 8vo. 1s. 6d.; sewed, 1s. [_English Men of Letters._]

  SELECTIONS FROM COWPER'S POEMS. 18mo. 2s. 6d. net.
    [_Golden Treasury Series._]


  MACMILLAN'S THREE-AND-SIXPENNY SERIES

  OF

  =WORKS BY POPULAR AUTHORS.=

  In Crown 8vo. Cloth extra. Price 3s. 6d. each.

  =By Sir SAMUEL BAKER.=

  TRUE TALES FOR MY GRANDSONS.

  =By ROLF BOLDREWOOD=

  _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"Mr. Boldrewood can tell what he knows with great
  point and vigour, and there is no better reading than the adventurous
  parts of his books."

  _PALL MALL GAZETTE_--"The volumes are brimful of adventure, in which
  gold, gold-diggers, prospectors, claim-holders, take an active part."

  ROBBERY UNDER ARMS.
  THE MINERS RIGHT.
  A COLONIAL REFORMER.
  THE SQUATTER'S DREAM.
  A SYDNEY-SIDE SAXON.
  NEVERMORE.

  =By FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT.=
  LOUISIANA; AND THAT LASS O' LOWRIE'S.

  =By HUGH CONWAY.=

  _MORNING POST_--"Life-like and full of individuality."

  _DAILY NEWS_--"Throughout written with spirit, good feeling, and
  ability, and a certain dash of humour."

  LIVING OR DEAD?
  A FAMILY AFFAIR.

  =By Mrs. CRAIK.=
  (The Author of "JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.")

  OLIVE. With Illustrations by G. BOWERS.
  THE OGILVIES. With Illustrations.
  AGATHA'S HUSBAND. With Illustrations.
  HEAD OF THE FAMILY. With Illustrations.
  TWO MARRIAGES.
  THE LAUREL BUSH.
  MY MOTHER AND I. With Illustrations.
  MISS TOMMY: A Mediaeval Romance. Illustrated.
  KING ARTHUR: Not a Love Story.
  SERMONS OUT OF CHURCH.

  =By F. MARION CRAWFORD.=

  _SPECTATOR_--"With the solitary exception of Mrs. Oliphant we have no
  living novelist more distinguished for variety of theme and range of
  imaginative outlook than Mr. Marion Crawford."

  MR. ISAACS: A Tale of Modern India. Portrait of Author.
  DR. CLAUDIUS: A True Story.
  A ROMAN SINGER.
  ZOROASTER.
  MARZIO'S CRUCIFIX.
  A TALE OF A LONELY PARISH.
  PAUL PATOFF.
  WITH THE IMMORTALS.
  GREIFENSTEIN.
  SANT' ILARIO.
  A CIGARETTE-MAKER'S ROMANCE.

  =By Sir HENRY CUNNINGHAM, K.C.I.E.=

  _ST. JAMES'S GAZETTE_--"Interesting as specimens of romance, the style
  of writing is so excellent--scholarly and at the same time easy and
  natural--that the volumes are worth reading on that account alone. But
  there is also masterly description of persons, places, and things;
  skilful analysis of character; a constant play of wit and humour; and a
  happy gift of instantaneous portraiture."

  THE COERULEANS.
  THE HERIOTS.
  WHEAT AND TARES.

  =By CHARLES DICKENS=

  THE PICKWICK PAPERS. With 50 Illustrations.
  OLIVER TWIST. With 27 Illustrations.
  NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. With 44 Illustrations.
  MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. With 41 Illustrations.
  THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP. With 97 Illustrations.
  BARNABY RUDGE. With 76 Illustrations.
  DOMBEY AND SON. With 40 Illustrations.      _September 26._
  CHRISTMAS BOOKS. With 65 Illustrations.      _October 26._
  SKETCHES BY BOZ. With 44 Illustrations.      _November 21._
  DAVID COPPERFIELD. With 41 Illustrations.      _December 21._
  AMERICAN NOTES AND PICTURES FROM ITALY. With 4 Illustrations.
  _January 26._
  THE LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS.

  =By LANOE FALCONER.=

  CECILIA DE NOEL.

  =By W. WARDE FOWLER.=

  A YEAR WITH THE BIRDS. Illustrated by BRYAN HOOK.
  TALES OF THE BIRDS. Illustrated by BRYAN HOOK.

  =By the Rev. JOHN GILMORE=

  STORM WARRIORS.

  =By THOMAS HARDY=

  _TIMES_--"There is hardly a novelist, dead or living, who so skilfully
  harmonises the poetry of moral life with its penury. Just as Millet
  could in the figure of a solitary peasant toiling on a plain convey a
  world of pathetic meaning, so Mr. Hardy with his yeomen and villagers.
  Their occupations in his hands wear a pathetic dignity, which not even
  the encomiums of a Ruskin could heighten."

  THE WOODLANDERS.
  WESSEX TALES.

  =By BRET HARTE.=

  _SPEAKER_--"The best work of Mr. Bret Harte stands entirely alone ...
  marked on every page by distinction and quality.... Strength and
  delicacy, spirit and tenderness, go together in his best work."

  CRESSY.
  THE HERITAGE of DEDLOW MARSH.
  A FIRST FAMILY OF TASAJARA.

  By the Author of "Hogan, M.P."

  HOGAN, M.P.

  =By THOMAS HUGHES.=

  TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS. With Illustrations by A. HUGHES and S. P. HALL.
  TOM BROWN AT OXFORD. With Illustrations by S. P. HALL.
  THE SCOURING OF THE WHITE HORSE, AND THE ASHEN FAGGOT.
    With Illustrations by RICHARD DOYLE.

  =By HENRY JAMES.=

  _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"He has the power of seeing with the artistic
  perception of the few, and of writing about what he has seen, so that
  the many can understand and feel with him."

  _WORLD_--"His touch is so light, and his humour, while shrewd and keen,
  so free from bitterness."

  A LONDON LIFE.
  THE ASPERN PAPERS.
  THE TRAGIC MUSE.

  =By ANNIE KEARY.=

  _SPECTATOR_--"In our opinion there have not been many novels published
  better worth reading. The literary workmanship is excellent, and all the
  windings of the stories are worked with patient fulness and a skill not
  often found."

  CASTLE DALY.
  A YORK AND A LANCASTER ROSE.
  A DOUBTING HEART.
  JANET'S HOME.
  OLDBURY.

  =By PATRICK KENNEDY.=

  LEGENDARY FICTIONS OF THE IRISH CELTS.

  =CHARLES KINGSLEY.=

  WESTWARD HO!
  HYPATIA.
  YEAST.
  ALTON LOCKE.
  TWO YEARS AGO.
  HEREWARD THE WAKE.
  POEMS.
  THE HEROES.
  THE WATER BABIES.
  MADAM HOW AND LADY WHY.
  AT LAST.
  PROSE IDYLLS.
  PLAYS AND PURITANS, &c.
  THE ROMAN AND THE TEUTON.
  SANITARY AND SOCIAL LECTURES AND ESSAYS.
  HISTORICAL LECTURES AND ESSAYS.
  SCIENTIFIC LECTURES AND ESSAYS.
  LITERARY AND GENERAL LECTURES.
  THE HERMITS.
  GLAUCUS; OR, THE WONDERS OF THE SEA-SHORE.
  With Coloured Illustrations.
  VILLAGE AND TOWN AND COUNTRY SERMONS.
  THE WATER OF LIFE, AND OTHER SERMONS.
  SERMONS ON NATIONAL SUBJECTS, AND THE KING OF THE EARTH.
  SERMONS FOR THE TIMES.
  GOOD NEWS OF GOD.
  THE GOSPEL OF THE PENTATEUCH, AND DAVID.
  DISCIPLINE, AND OTHER SERMONS.
  WESTMINSTER SERMONS.
  ALL SAINTS' DAY, AND OTHER SERMONS.

  =By HENRY KINGSLEY.=

  TALES OF OLD TRAVEL.

  =By MARGARET LEE.=

  FAITHFUL AND UNFAITHFUL.

  =By AMY LEVY.=

  REUBEN SACHS.

  =By the EARL OF LYTTON.=

  THE RING OF AMASIS.

  =By MALCOLM M'LENNAN.=

  MUCKLE JOCK, AND OTHER STORIES OF PEASANT LIFE.

  =By LUCAS MALET.=

  MRS. LORIMER.

  =By A. B. MITFORD.=

  TALES OF OLD JAPAN. Illustrated.

  =By D. CHRISTIE MURRAY.=

  _SPECTATOR_--"Mr. Christie Murray has more power and genius for the
  delineation of English rustic life than any half-dozen of our surviving
  novelists put together."

  _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"Few modern novelists can tell a story of English
  country life better than Mr. D. Christie Murray."

  AUNT RACHEL.
  JOHN VALE'S GUARDIAN.
  SCHWARTZ.
  THE WEAKER VESSEL.
  HE FELL AMONG THIEVES. By D. C. MURRAY and H. HERMAN.

  =By Mrs. OLIPHANT.=

  _ACADEMY_--"At her best she is, with one or two exceptions, the best of
  living English novelists."

  _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"Has the charm of style, the literary quality and
  flavour that never fails to please."

  A BELEAGUERED CITY.
  JOYCE.
  NEIGHBOURS ON THE GREEN.
  KIRSTEEN.
  HESTER.
  HE THAT WILL NOT WHEN HE MAY.
  THE RAILWAY MAN AND HIS CHILDREN.
  THE MARRIAGE OF ELINOR.

  =By W. CLARK RUSSELL.=

  _TIMES_--"Mr. Clark Russell is one of those writers who have set
  themselves to revive the British sea story in all its glorious
  excitement. Mr. Russell has made a considerable reputation in this line.
  His plots are well conceived, and that of _Marooned_ is no exception to
  this rule."

  MAROONED.
  A STRANGE ELOPEMENT.

  =By J. H. SHORTHOUSE.=

  _ANTI-JACOBIN_--"Powerful, striking, and fascinating romances."

  JOHN INGLESANT.
  SIR PERCIVAL.
  THE LITTLE SCHOOLMASTER MARK.
  THE COUNTESS EVE.
  A TEACHER OF THE VIOLIN.

  =By Mrs. HUMPHRY WARD.=

  MISS BRETHERTON.

  =By MONTAGU WILLIAMS, Q.C.=

  LEAVES OF A LIFE.
  LATER LEAVES.

  =By Miss CHARLOTTE M. YONGE.=

  THE HEIR OF REDCLYFFE.
  HEARTSEASE.
  HOPES AND FEARS.
  DYNEVOR TERRACE.
  THE DAISY CHAIN.
  THE TRIAL: MORE LINKS OF THE DAISY CHAIN.
  PILLARS OF THE HOUSE. Vol. I.
  PILLARS OF THE HOUSE. Vol. II.
  THE YOUNG STEPMOTHER.
  THE CLEVER WOMAN OF THE FAMILY.
  THE THREE BRIDES.
  MY YOUNG ALCIDES.
  THE CAGED LION.
  THE DOVE IN THE EAGLE'S NEST.
  THE CHAPLET OF PEARLS.
  LADY HESTER, AND THE DANVERS PAPERS.
  MAGNUM BONUM.
  LOVE AND LIFE.
  UNKNOWN TO HISTORY.
  STRAY PEARLS.
  THE ARMOURER'S 'PRENTICES.
  THE TWO SIDES OF THE SHIELD.
  NUTTIE'S FATHER.
  SCENES AND CHARACTERS.
  CHANTRY HOUSE.
  A MODERN TELEMACHUS.
  BYE-WORDS.
  BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE.
  MORE BYWORDS.
  A REPUTED CHANGELING.
  THE LITTLE DUKE.
  THE LANCES OF LYNWOOD.
  THE PRINCE AND THE PAGE.
  P's AND Q's AND LITTLE LUCY'S WONDERFUL GLOBE.
  THE TWO PENNILESS PRINCESSES.
  THAT STICK.

  =By ARCHDEACON FARRAR.=

  SEEKERS AFTER GOD.
  ETERNAL HOPE.
  THE FALL OF MAN.
  THE WITNESS OF HISTORY TO CHRIST.
  THE SILENCE AND VOICES OF GOD.
  IN THE DAYS OF THY YOUTH.
  SAINTLY WORKERS.
  EPHPHATHA.
  MERCY AND JUDGMENT.
  SERMONS AND ADDRESSES DELIVERED IN AMERICA.

  =By FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE.=

  SERMONS PREACHED IN LINCOLN'S INN CHAPEL. _In 6 vols._

  =Collected Works.=

  In Monthly Volumes from October 1892. 3s. 6d. per vol.

  1. CHRISTMAS DAY AND OTHER SERMONS.
  2. THEOLOGICAL ESSAYS.
  3. PROPHETS AND KINGS.
  4. PATRIARCHS AND LAWGIVERS.
  5. THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
  6. GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN.
  7. EPISTLE OF ST. JOHN.
  8. LECTURES ON THE APOCALYPSE.
  9. FRIENDSHIP OF BOOKS.
  10. SOCIAL MORALITY.
  11. PRAYER BOOK AND LORD'S PRAYER.
  12. THE DOCTRINE OF SACRIFICE.


  MACMILLAN & CO., BEDFORD STREET,

  STRAND, LONDON.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sir Tom" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home